Friday, May 28, 2010

Love and Mothers

I had meant to post this on Mother's Day, but I was traveling. In fact, my mother was with me, having just helped to support me through something awful. This blog is for her.

One night, my husband and I lay beside each other in conjugal bliss with a book of Rumi’s poetry between us. We were discussing love and how to describe it. We each had been thinking about the bonds of love between parent and child in addition to that holy bond between spouses. How does one truly articulate love? Difficult to define and express, efforts have been made for love to be explained, questioned, pondered, answered, and spoken through the written and verbal word, through acts of physical intimacy, demonstrated in gestures of sacrifice and service, painted, photographed, sculpted, and even shouted from the couch on Oprah. But really, in the quiet moments at this writer’s desk, what is love and how can I really tell someone exactly how and how much I love? I cannot pour it into a glass and measure it. I cannot buy it. I cannot put it in a box, gift it, and say: Here is this love. All of it.

Lately, I have thought in particular about my mother. I want her to know how I feel about her. It is impossible to capture precisely, this love. Simply said, it is too big, too profound. In a recent and beautiful letter, my mom described the loss of several friends and her gratitude to still be alive and well and sharing her life with us: her daughters, my dad, her friends. I was moved to tears both reading her lovely words and penning more back to her. My love for her runs as intensely as romantic impulse, deeply as protective instinct, and joyfully as the wagging tail of a happy dog. I so love her. Does she know how? I think she does, in her own way of words and gestures, because we are both mothers.

My mother made sure my childhood would be as free from pain as possible. Having been unprotected from certain hardships, she sacrificed aspects of her adulthood to guarantee my own secure entry into the grown up realm. For the painful end of my first marriage, she sometimes blames herself for the reasons parents do—if only she had said, if only she had showed me, if only she had prevented this from happening. She considers my children her own and thinks about them constantly. She sets quiet examples of incredible work and success. I think she is the first woman in both my maternal and paternal families to earn a master’s degree, and to do what she does for a living. She made it possible for me to get my own degrees by setting that example. When my babies were born, she was there. She bundled them and stayed up all night with those precious newborns so my then-husband and I could sleep. When holidays came, she sacrificed her own time so we would not have far to travel with children. She came to us.

On my recent visit home, my parents showed me baby pictures that had survived Katrina. Because of so much lost, these photos were a particular jewel. I only had one image of myself as a baby—until now. The best image in this newfound collection, the most touching, was my mother sleeping beside me. I was less than six months old. Curled toward her, my forehead pressed to her breast, she cupped my body in the bend of her own. Light from the window poured in—clean, pale, ethereal, soft. The stillness in the photo, the very peace of the shared nap could be felt nearly 37 years later. It is the most beautiful picture of my mother I have ever seen. The preciousness of that photo spoke volumes of love, past and present. It is just a glimpse though, of the sacrifice made, the words spoken, the tenderness exchanged.

There is no love like mother-love. It is a cycle repeated timelessly, endlessly within one relationship, and passed down to other generations. I can only truly honor her love by living well, loving my own children, and when the time comes to care for her in old age, accepting the responsibility with grace and gratitude.

Love to you always, Mom. Love.

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