Although Florence Littauer had been married for many years, she had never had a meaningful conversation with her mother-in-law Marita. In Florence’s mind, Marita had always been a little too busy, a little too distant, and never seemed real. But all that changed one evening when Florence asked Marita, who was nearing 80, a simple question: “Mom, what was life like for you when you were young?"
Marita hesitated, took a breath, and then started, “I was once in love. Really in love. We dated throughout college and planned to marry." Her eyes looked downward for a moment and she continued. “After college he went to Europe. He promised to call me when he returned." Marita hesitated again, her eyes moist. “But he never did. Mom told me that he wasn’t good for me…that he didn’t make enough money. She introduced me to Fred and told me how wealthy Fred was and how he would be a good provider." Another pause, “So I married Fred. And although we had five children together and although he was indeed a good provider, I never loved him."
“Mom," Florence stuttered, “I never knew."
“There’s more." Marita’s voice began to quiver. “A couple of years ago, while at a party, I looked across the room and saw him. I walked toward him, just to be sure. Our eyes met and he uttered my name, almost in a whisper."
“‘Why didn’t you ever call?’ I asked."
“I did, Marita. I did. I called many times. And each time your mother would answer and each time she told me, ‘Marita doesn’t love you. She is going to marry someone else. Don’t call here any more.’ So finally, with great reluctance, I quit calling."
“Florence," Marita paused, pursing her lips together, “What had happened had happened. Our lives had taken different paths, separate paths, and there was nothing we could do about it. I left the party and I was out of his life again."
Then Marita’s eyes sparkled. “There is something else. I used to love to sing."
“Mom, I had no idea. I have never heard you sing."
“Well, my mother told me that I was no good at it, and there was no future in it. She insisted that I apply myself to the family business. So I just quit singing." Then Marita jumped up. “Wait a second. I will be right back."
She came back with a box, somewhat bigger than a shoebox. Opening it, she removed a picture. “Look! I loved opera, and I was the star of this college production." The picture revealed a large cast, and in the middle, seated on a large wing-backed chair, was Marita, wearing a tiara and smiling brightly.
Marita developed a form of Alzheimer’s which eventually deprived her of all speech. One night, after visiting with Marita, Florence asked the nurse, “Tell me. Does Marita ever say anything at all?"
“No she doesn’t. Not a single word." Then the nurse’s face lit up, “But allow me to share something amazing. She sings. I have heard her more than once. Her voice is majestic, full of joy and expression. I think it is opera music."
I write this story so I may ask you some questions.
First, have you, like Marita’s mother, ever stifled someone else’s dream? Perhaps you openly discouraged that person or maybe your lack of interest caused them to lose heart. Is that person still alive? If so, you need to beg forgiveness and try to rekindle that dream. Do so without hesitation.
Secondly, whom can you encourage to follow their dreams? Your children? Your grandchildren? Your church family? I challenge you: be an encourager. Your positive words will have more impact in someone else’s life than you could ever imagine.
One more question: What music in you is still waiting to be sung? It is a tragedy that Marita Littauer’s music had been buried deeply for decades, but how about you? What skills, desires and dreams have you been putting off, perhaps for years? The time is now to awaken those gifts. Sadly, some people die with their music still in them. Don’t let that be you.