My mother, who left this world this past April, was an Asian tiger mother. She was a very easy going tiger mother, but a tiger mother nonetheless. She would ask me, “What did you get in your exam?” I would say 96%. She would reply, “Don’t worry. You’ll get 100% next time.” She would ask me what Gerard got, and I would say he got 98%. She would say, ”Don’t worry, you’ll beat him next time.”
From an early age I was expected to do my best to be the best, and that would have felt like a lot of pressure if she hadn’t been so easy going about it. My mother had started me on the road to the Magis.
What does the magis mean? It is a Latin word meaning “more fully”, “to a greater extent”, “more nearly”. Ignatius encouraged his Jesuits that they should “endeavour to conceive great resolves and elicit equally great desires.” The simple word “more” inspires Jesuits and those who follow their philosophy of life to seek something greater, something better.
Ignatius coined the phrase Ad maiorem Dei gloriam or “for the greater glory of God” which inspired the term Magis. The Magis gives reason and purpose to be the way I was raised to be.
In stressful times, my typical Asian mother was very encouraging. “Don’t worry, for every problem there is a solution, for every silver lining there is a cloud, and don’t cross that bridge until you get to the other side.” Well, she did get things kind of mixed up, but I got the message.
She never let me see any doubt about things working out. She had unshakeable faith in the good, and from that I extrapolated an unshakeable faith in God. To trust, to surrender to the idea that someone always has your back, through thick and thin, is something that has pulled me through a lot of difficult situations.
To believe my mother wouldn’t lie to me kept me seeking the answer, for there is always a solution. And yes, no silver lining is ever perfect; there is always a cloud. As one of my staff persons taught me about doing anesthetics, “The best way to ruin a good job is trying to make it perfect.”
And finally, maybe it isn’t wise to cross a bridge unless you know what you’re getting into on the other side.
What is on the other side? Why should we strive for the Magis, the more, the greater? Out of duty? Because we owe it to mankind, to God, to those deserving? to those undeserving? Is the Magis tied to success? Does it mean perfection? Where does it get us? Then what if we fail?
The other side I believe is the same for everyone. It isn’t wealth, power, or recognition. It isn’t the payment of a debt for the blessings we have received, or the good luck we have garnished. It is fulfillment.
To quote Henry Thoreau, “To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.”
Whether you recognize fulfillment as for the greater glory of God in return for His faithful love, or as the triumph of the indefatigable human spirit that we all share, it is traveling the bridge of the Magis – not perfection, but the effort towards that perfection that inspires us.
In the movie Rocky, Rocky Balboa, the loser, was the hero of the movie, striving to be more than he ever was, taking on the heavyweight champion of the world, Apollo Creed. We can identify with that deep desire to seek the more, to find the best in ourselves.
And so I would like to suggest that we are fulfilled when what we have achieved is excellent, not what we possess is excellent. Just as the janitor who mopped the floor at NASA felt fulfilled replying to John F. Kennedy, “I’m helping put a man on the moon!” we too find fulfillment in our everyday lives.
As my chief Dr. Dave Lacey says, “You know I really love what I do, and the funny thing is, they pay me to do it, too.” In a way similar to the Brain explaining things to Pinky, as he did daily, I tell my executive assistant Brenda, “What are we doing today? – the same thing we do everyday, becoming the best anesthesia program in the country.” For me the Magis lives on.
My mother is no longer with us in the world; she has found her way to a better place in eternity. She was a great tiger mother. Maybe not always 100%, but always 100%.