After Mom died, I expected to never be able to listen to James Taylor again. She loved him, she grew up with his music, and his music seemed to define a part of her. Yet I found I still enjoyed him.
I was surprised to find that the song I can’t listen to, the song I only engage with when I’m ready for a cry, is Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl) by Looking Glass.
The first time I heard that song after Mom died, I remembered listening to it on the radio with her when I was a kid. She turned it up and started singing along in that funny way she did.
“I loved this song when I was a teenager,” she told me. “I remember driving around in the summer with the windows open singing this song.”
In that moment I saw her in the before. It was a moment she reminded me that she was there before she was a mom, before she was a Mrs. Delp. She gave me a glimpse into her life when she was young and wild and free.
In that moment I imagined her, not ironing my dad’s shirts on a Saturday night or making us breakfast in the mornings, but cruising around the hills of West Virginia soaking up the sunshine. It may have been the first time I saw her in that light.
Mom loved us fiercely. She was one of those moms the mom-bloggers talk bad about, the kind that goes overboard for holidays. The kind that makes things too special, tries too hard, teaches her kids that thing you’re not supposed to teach them – that every moment is made to be special and celebrated.
And yet she taught us that there was a before. She got tears in her eyes when she listened to John Denver because he reminded her of home. She told us about the time she and her cousin had a wedding under willow trees – her cousin to Elvis, her to Tom Jones.
She left us for a weekend or a week to go to church events or missions trips. She left us on the second row of the church while she played piano or sang. She left us to figure out some stuff for ourselves.
There was a piece of my mother that remained absolutely her own. When I hear this song, I see her that way – not as a mom or a wife or a woman doing ministry. But as a teenage girl, the girl with the best ponytail at Princeton High School, young and a little crazy. And that is the piece of her that she never lost. And even when she was 50, that girl lived on and shone through in her.
It was this song that was a catalyst for one of the greatest lessons she taught me – that as a woman, you’re not simply absorbed into a new life, be it marriage or motherhood or ministry or career or whatever else. You don’t lose your identity. You can give yourself absolutely to others – be it friends or a spouse or children or parishioners – and yet remain absolutely yourself. And that piece of you that is you – that piece that makes you who you are – that is the piece that changes people.
So if you are young, be crazy. Put your phone down for the weekend. Drive around with the windows open and your car full of friends and sing. Look stupid. Have adventures. Live wild and someday tell your daughters about it. Let them see you sparkle when you talk about your before.
And if you are old(er), still be crazy sometimes. Talk to your daughters about the before. Have a piece of yourself that they can’t quite reach or change. And maybe find a song – your own Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl) – and sing it, embarrass your kids, and introduce them to the you that was there – and let her out to meet them.