I can’t think of my mother without thinking of Mahalia Jackson’s recording of “Move On Up a Little Higher”, with its promise of seeing one’s loving mother in heaven, and its crazy-ecstatic refrain, It’ll be always howdy howdy and never goodbye, that makes me just fall apart. The heart-stopping idea is that loss is erased, that it’s just gone from us, in heaven.

My mother died in 1984, when she was 69 years old, of emphysema, in a race with heart disease. Her health was poor; in addition to lifelong asthma from hay fever and allergies, she had crippling osteoporosis and serious circulatory problems. She was also a life-long smoker, and — bless her — an alcoholic who stayed sober for over 25 years before her death. Like the other lucky ones of her generation, having squared themselves with their Higher Power and found sanity and sobriety in A.A., she smoked like a true addict, as Bill Wilson himself is said to have smoked, as if her life depended on it.

I’m my mother’s difficult youngest daughter, and one of her children who got the heritable propensity for addiction. Addiction: the blessing-curse that instructs me each day in who and what I am, as a guest on SOF once said. All by way of saying that having spent much of my childhood complaining loudly about my parents’ cigarette smoke and begging them to roll down the windows of our crowded Chevy station wagon to let some air in, I became a smoker in my late teens, and stayed a serious smoker long past the time most people had quit.

A year ago today, just as Krista Tippett and I were about to embark on the tour for publication of the hard cover Speaking of Faith, I too quit, using a smoking cessation medication called Chantix. Unbelievably, it worked.

It seems obvious to say I had no idea what I had been doing to myself with my cigarette habit, but it is sadly — even pathetically — true. And I don’t mean just the awareness that I was contributing to the threat of early death or ill health. I mean that once we lose our freedom, it’s almost impossible to know what it is to be free. Living life on a short leash didn’t seem odd, or unusual. It seemed like life. That’s one of the reasons so many of us, who in one form or another have had to come to terms with addiction, are actually grateful for it. As I am, today, marking 365 consecutive days of freedom, in memory of Marva Maxwell, my mom.

Share Your Reflection



You rock, Kate. Take in a deep breath and play.

Thank you for talking about your mom. My mother was also a lifelong smoker and only stopped after her sister pauline died of lung cancer. She used to use the machine at the end of her life and between puffs of her medecine she would say to my girls, never smoke! I'll have to listen to the music you suggested, she has been gone ten years but I carry her with me.

Congratulations on your one year! As someone with a propensity toward addiction, I feel your words. What a wonderful tribute to your mom -- both your writing and your act of quitting.

Thanks, Kate. I had to read these words a few times this morning to make certain this wasn't addressed to me personally. Some of us AAs believe that true coincidences are actually quite rare, and are more often examples of our Higher Power (kindly) whopping us upside the head.
I count eight "whops" to me in your nicely crafted words.
Indeed, many of us are grateful for our addicition...for the opportunity it affords us to rejoin our communities and families as contributing members.
Thanks again. Now I've got to call and refill my chantix prescription!

Kate, Thanks for reminding me why I stay smoke free. After many years of abstaining, I tried to smoke a cigarette the other day, trying to smoke down some anger out of deeply ingrained habit, and I felt like I was stealing breath from my self. I was choking myself off. It was such a visceral experience. My head was not involved at all, unlike the reasons to quit that I have written down many times. I knew with my body, heart and soul that I was harming myself and I was ready to stop. And just like I would never steal breath from a child, I will not steal it from myself.

Wonderful Kate. Thanks for sharing.

I so appreciated Kate Moos' reflections on her mother, Marva Moos, whom I knew when she worked at Petter's Fabric Store in St. Coud, Minnesota, in the 1960s. She was a perky, small woman with bright dark eyes that met yours with obvious welcome and warmth. I visited her and
her family once in their home on Kilian Boulevard. What I remember is a spacious room with a large table around which we sat to talk and books, books, books!

Her husband, Dr. Phil Moos, was my dentist. An annual visit to his office was enjoyable because
he talked about fishing on the Mississippi, books he was reading, like Thomas Wolfe, and his
hobby of jewelry making. I'll always be grateful to him for saying, "You really deserve to have that
front tooth capped, because you're a teacher and stand in front of a classroom of students every day."

I taught half of the Moos family: Margaret, Rebecca and Martha. I knew Mary, Kate and Joe as well.
Whatever it was, those unusual parents, all the books in the house, something in the genese, they
were a breath of fresh air in and outside the classroom!

Katherine Kraft, OSB

Thank you, Sister Katherine, for being around us all those years. Odd, I've always thought of you as a teacher of mine, but you're right I never actually was in your class. You bring back memories!