You May Be Right

By Pam Hawley

You May Be Right

Mom introduced me to imagination by reading to me. Once I had learned to read myself we sat side-by-side, a Stephen King paperback on her lap and a Laura Ingalls Wilder tale in mine. I’d pretend to be Laura, until the TV caught my eye, and I wanted to be Marianne from Gilligan’s Island instead. She helped me turn our living room into a prairie cabin or tropical island.

The importance of imagination was probably the only advice she gave me that I took without question, for she had also handed down a need to march to the beat of my own drummer.

She wanted me to be a teacher when I grew up. Instead, I dabbled in social work, psychology and political science before finally settling on English and journalism. I never did become a teacher, but I have devoted my life to working at universities because I love being surrounded by learning. She must have been on to something.

As I neared my mid-thirties, I grew frustrated. I had a decent job, a loving partner, hobbies that sparked my passion and a wonderful circle of friends. But in spite of my blessings, I saw my life as tedious. I wanted to be a novelist. I wanted adventure. I wanted acclaim. Without them, I struggled to see all the little miracles in front of my face.

She had her daughters and granddaughter, her gardening and her books, my father and her dogs. She, too, had a good life, although not exactly the one she had envisioned. She had wanted to go medical school and become a brain surgeon, but I came along, and she chose stay-at-home motherhood instead. Unlike me, she appreciated her life instead of constantly wishing for something more.

“Learn to be ordinary in an extraordinary world,” she often said over a glass of her much-loved wine.

“But I don’t WANT to be ordinary,” I whined.

In my late thirties and early forties, I went through a phase of high anxiety. Car problems or setbacks at work would send me into a tailspin of exhaustion and self-pity. Why couldn’t I seem to get ahead?

She had faced life’s setbacks for twenty years longer than I had, and would simply tell me not to sweat the small stuff.

“Not having transportation until the truck is out of the shop is hardly small,” I’d groan.

“You have a job to worry about getting to,” she’d reply. “There are many people who would love to say the same. Now let’s go have a drink.”

We “had a drink” once a week in the little pub that she and Dad owned. She was my mother, my best friend and my happy hour buddy. Our nights out helped me put all that ordinariness and small stuff in perspective – at least for a little while.

Then those nights started taking a strange turn. We often played the jukebox, and she loved Billy Joel, especially “You May Be Right.” You may be right, I may be crazy, but it just might be a lunatic you’re looking for. It seemed an odd choice, a song written more for Dad, me or my sister than her. We were the crazy ones. She was the glue that held us all together.

“Promise me you’ll play this song at my funeral,” she said one night.

I was surprised, but agreed. It was a promise for many, many years from now, when I was gray-haired and retired and she was a wizened little lady in her eighties. She began reminding me of that promise often, swearing she’d haunt me if I forgot.

Once, I said the day I would honor that promise was so far off that surely we didn’t need to talk about it every week. She said she thought it would be sooner than I realized. I chalked that up to rough times and a few drinks. I was still struggling with her advice on appreciating our extraordinary world and wasn’t about to believe she would leave it anytime soon.

But here we are. That promise I was to keep when I had gone completely grey? I honored it almost a year ago, after her brief but painful struggle with cancer. I had a lot more grey that day than I ever thought I would at 43. But it wasn’t nearly what I’m sure the much-older version of me who was supposed to queue that song up for a crowded room full of friends and family would have had.

Some days I can’t believe she was right about how soon I’d play that song. But all the other things she told me? I understand them more now.

After those cruel, fleeting months of being both powerless to ease her pain and empowered to make the most of the good days we still had, I am no longer capable of sweating the small stuff.

I finished the novel I was writing in her final years, but haven’t yet found the strength for the adventure of pushing it out into the world. Instead of despairing over that, I marvel at every little thing that reminds me of her.

Sipping coffee on her porch with my aunt, who was also Mom’s sister and closest friend, I see a hummingbird flit incredibly close to us. I start reading a new book on Friday night and can’t put down until I’m bleary-eyed Saturday morning. I have a day at work where I cross more to-do items off my list than I receive.

I love these moments with a new-found intensity, and they will be here whether my book becomes a best seller or never leaves the laptop where it sits. That doesn’t mean I won’t try. It just means I appreciate the journey in the meantime.

She may be right. Being ordinary in an extraordinary world is pretty nice.

About this writer

  • Pam Hawley Pam Hawley is a humor, essay and short fiction writer from Baltimore, Maryland. Her work has appeared in eFiction Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Here Comes the Bride, and Sasee. She also blogs at

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2 Responses to “You May Be Right”

  1. Pam’s story is so poignant. It brought a tear.

  2. Bridgette Gubernatis says:

    I love stories that allow us to lean into the lives of others and travel a bit of their journey along with them. There is always something to be learned about love. Just wonderful.

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