Memories of Awe Episode 22

Liz wanted to continue to explore the role of parents in producing memories of moral beauty. Professor McKown had described his role as an enabler. Could that also be a role of parents? The debate of nature vs nurture would always be present, but was there a type of nurturing that works best for producing those whose lives are extraordinary for their contributions to others?

LJ: I’d like to probe your thoughts on how parents develop their children to support them. Last time we talked, you showed me an example of what not to do. Do you have a memory of what role a parent might have in nurturing a caring/supportive child?

KMcK:  I have a story, but I think you may find it to be different from what you expect.

Carolyn faced a life altering change right before finals her freshman year of college. Her mother died. From that time on, finals were not only traumatic academically but personally for Carolyn.

The next semester after her mother’s death, Carolyn was in my office right before finals. You could tell something was terribly wrong. After a brief conversation, I concluded that she needed to see a mental health expert immediately. We didn’t have mental health specialists in student health centers in those days.

LJ: What did you do?

KMcK:  I called the behavior medicine unit at our local hospital. I described her condition to the counselor and was told that they could see her but not for a few weeks. In no uncertain terms I told the counselor that was unacceptable. She needed to be seen now. As I recall, I wasn’t very calm when I tried to convey the seriousness of the issue.

I was transferred to the head of the behavior medicine unit who agreed to see her as soon as I could get her there. What they found was a serious chemical imbalance that needed treatment immediately. She also needed counseling and therapy.

LJDid she get better?

KMcK:  Somewhat, but her mental health status was always fragile, especially as finals neared.

LJThis is a wonderful memory, but I’m not sure it helped me think about the nurturing role of parents in producing moral awe.

KMcK:  That’s because you haven’t heard the rest of the story. Carolyn went on to have a very successful career, but the memory of her mother’s death continued to guide her life.

Carolyn and her husband have created a school to teach English to those coming to our country. This is a total volunteer effort on their part. They charge nothing. In fact, they often support the immigrants they teach in other ways by providing food. They have also created a care network for things like housing, medical care, clothing, and for other basic needs.

Carolyn has told me that at the end of each day she sees a smile on her mother’s face as she goes to sleep.

LJ: You’re right. I never would have expected that a tragic event like a parent’s death could play such a nurturing role.

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“We’ve got this gift of love, but love is like a precious plant. You can’t just accept it and leave it in the cupboard or just think it’s going to get on by itself. You’ve got to keep watering it. You’ve got to really look after it and nurture it.”  – John Lennon

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