We live in a world that is all about ME!

I don’t mean Scott Peterson. I mean self.

Facebook is all about telling others how we are feeling. Football players are all about celebrating in the end zone. Christmas cards that once offered holiday wishes have been supplanted by brag letters or photo montages. Everywhere you go, people feel entitled to be first in line. Flashy homes, flashy cars and flashy vacations all seem dedicated to the glorification of the ME in all of us.

This is one of the reasons I appreciate my mother-in-law. Perhaps not many men have uttered those words before, and it’s taken me a long time to appreciate all of her qualities, but as every year goes past I admire her more and more.

What is amazing about Mary Lou is that she is a fighter; she is strong in ways that took a long time for me to understand and appreciate. She has a quiet, inner strength that is, sadly, lost on the people of today.

One of the big reasons is because she is almost never about self. Her entire lens on life is rooted in the idea that self is subservient to the greater good. She doesn’t practice false humility. Instead she embodies genuine humility.

She is a product of the so called Silent Generation, and her quiet, soft-spoken approach to life belies her inner strength and fortitude. She doesn’t shout look at me and all that I have done, but she has a dignity that is disarmingly refreshing and honest.

Yes, she lived through the Great Depression, World War II, had to make due while her husband was overseas in the Korean War. When he returned, she and her husband built a new house together, doing much of the work themselves, and then raising three daughters.

When her husband was diagnosed with what is now called bipolar disorder, it was her strength of character that held the family together. It rocked her family and her marriage, but she remained strong. And in true Mary Lou style, she quietly decided that, for the good of the family and its financial well being, she would have to get back into the workforce to get a job. She taught for decades at John Marshall High School in Milwaukee public schools. After her husband died, she took care of her home by herself for many years.

She survived breast cancer, heart-valve replacement, heart failure, and is now dealing with several maladies of old age, including Parkinson’s disease. She never complains. She never burdens. She just stays quiet and strong, always at peace with herself and God.

One of my brothers-in-law once stated that her daughters are some of the least high-maintenance women he had ever met. That’s not only a tribute to them, but to their mother. Each of her daughters carry her modesty, her inner resolve.

These days she is heading toward 94 years old and it was tough news for all of us to hear, when the health-care professionals around her said that it was time for her to switch to hospice care a few weeks ago.

Naturally, she took it in stride. There was not a lot of emotion. No impassioned speeches. Just quiet acceptance: so strong, and so different than today’s world where we are taught that we need to proclaim from the highest rooftops: I will fight this and win!

She walks softly, but doesn’t need to carry a big stick. Her power is her zen-like selflessness and self restraint. How can you not admire that? Why can’t we all be more like her?

Although the family accepted this news with a heavy heart, it did not come as a complete surprise. Contrary to my pre-conceived notions, this does not mean her death is days or even weeks away. They are saying it is months away.

Her body is feeling the effects of nine generations of living and her mind is not always as sharp as it once was, but her courage and inner moxie only seem to grow with age. Sure the nurses have only given her a few more months, but as for me, I would not bet against her. When I see women raise their fists in signs of liberation, I just sigh and think of how much they have to learn from people like Mary Lou, and how wisdom and inner strength are far more advanced than flashy words and gestures.

She has lessons to teach all of us to this day. We all just need to have the time to savor them.

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