Today is Mother’s Day. It’s Sunday, May 9th, 2021. The sun is out, at least here. I’m sure it’s not in some other parts of the land, the continent, the planet. All a matter of perspective.
Mothers are a matter of perspective as well. I loved my mother. Truly I did. But that came later in our time together. The very early years were difficult, then contentious, then finallly peaceful and loving.
Our mothers are the people we’ve know the longest in our lives, regardless of when they leave us. The initial time spent in the womb means everything about who we are at this moment. For some, even that time was a battle, a struggle to survive. Post partum, some of us never had relationship with the mother, and some of us wished we had not ever had anything with her past the end of the birth canal. But, a mother got us all here, one way or another.
The observance of Mother’s Day, at least in the United States, began innocently enough as a worship service in a West Virginia Protestant church. It was the brainchild of a woman (Anna Jarvis) who simply wanted to honor mothers and mother hood. Unfortunately, it has become a highly commercialized “holiday”, which even Jarvis herself found problematic. But, we’re a capitalist bunch, so I suppose that is to be expected.
The focus of Mother’s Day is supposed to be mothers, although it has expanded in some circles to celebrate motherhood. For women having fertility issues, women who have not birthed children intentionally or because of health issues, and anyone who has issues with mother, this becomes as problematic as Christmas Day for members of non-Christian faith communities.
For most people, Mother’s Day is a spring-time celebratory occasion, so what’s the big deal? Let your mother take a load off, enjoy having a nice dinner that she didn’t have to cook, send flowers and a nice card, maybe some chocolates, spend time with mothers and daughters and daughters of daughters and mothers of mothers and…life is good. Raise a glass.
Unfortunately, like most mainstream and high-profile holidays in the country, it’s not quite that simple for everyone. If your mother is no longer living, there may be feelings of grief and loss still brewing and brought sharply into view on Mother’s Day. If you are estranged from your mother, or your daughter, it may be very difficult to focus on celebrating a day focused on the maternal relationship. If you’re a mother who is going through a divorce, and separated from your children today, the widespread happy wave can be excruciating. And if you’re a woman having fertility issues, or has lost a child, this is not a day likely to bring a ready smile to your face.
When I took the dog out earlier, I was having a good time just sitting in the warm sun, watching birds flitting back and forth in the trees, listening to myriad sounds around me. I watched the dog searching for the perfect blade of grass that would mark the even more perfect patch of growth to make her deposit (this goes on for a while), and it made me smile, as it usually does (unless it’s raining or below freezing).
While smiling at the zany canine, entirely unbidden thoughts of my mother assailed me. As is sometimes the case when that happens, I found myself conversing with her in some deep, internal place that I cannot explain. I was acknowledging Mother’s Day, and immediately saddened by her absence, yet again. Mother’s Day had become a bit of our ritual over the years, and when I lived in the same city as she did, we always went out to a nice restaurant for dinner. I usually gave her some kind of remembrance of the day, sometimes a book I though she would enjoy, sometimes a piece of jewelry. Always a commemoration of the day. It began as merely obligatory, but as i got older, it became a source of pleasure for me, and for her.
Today, I was remembering that, and missing the routine of it, the enjoyment of it, and found myself basically and quite simply…sad. Sitting out there, with the dog oblivious to the storm of emotions coursing through me, I shed quite a few tears, silently and unobtrusively. I just let them come, and I was receiving some kind of messaging from her.
The message had something to do with her not being upset that I had let this ridiculous neighbor’s daughter get away with not paying rent in the house she had left to me. She was telling me, not in words of course, but nonetheless letting me know that she was glad to have raised me to be an inherently kind person. She said that my heart was actually too big for my body, and that was a problem for me sometimes. But she was proud that I was kind. And she did not regret that, even though while she was here she often said otherwise. That was because she feared it would be difficult for me, which it is.
That was all. It was not words, it was feeling, and it brought up more feeling, and that’s OK. It’s one step closer to being OK with myself, one more piece of the puzzle. The puzzle that is being filled in with the inside pieces, and not just the edge pieces – the frame is there, just being filled in now. This is a good thing.
The day my mother died, I managed to get there before she took her final breath, and I had “the talk” with her. She was no longer able to open her eyes, or respond in any way, but I know that she knew I was there and I knew that she could hear me. So, I talked out loud, and did what I had been told to do by friends in the past, I did what I had done with my father in the same situation. I told her what was on my heart, that I wouldn’t be who I am today – warts and all – without everything she had given to me.
I told her that I wished things had been a little different, but that it had all been necessary for me to be standing right there at that moment. I told her I wished we had not had so much contention, and that I was sorry if I had disappointed her at times. And then I told her that I loved her. I don’t know why I was so afraid to do that, but I did it, and then I left the room to take a break, get something to eat. She died before I got out 15 minutes away from the hospice parking garage. I had told the hospice staff that she was going to do this on her own terms, and that is exactly what she did.
So, remembering all of that, and getting the message that I got today, brings it all back in the proverbial “stark relief”. I am not sorry, but I am sad. I am happy that so many people have good reason to celebrate this day, happy for all the new and old experiences of mothers and motherhood. Truly, I am.
We all find ourselves at different places on days like this. There’s no crime in that, and we all have a right to whichever place we claim. I have a right to any of my feelings that may choose to show themselves, today or any day. Same for everybody else.
So, it mystifies me that so many people seem to appoint themselves guardians of emotional conformity. One of my favorite authors, Anne Lamotte, posted something on FaceBook reflecting on Mother’s Day. It’s not a simple day for her, and she offered her feelings about having had a difficult mother, and feelings of loneliness that some have on the day. She talked about the complex emotions and expectations, about obligation and judgement. She spoke of her experience as a daughter, and a mother. There was so much of what she wrote that resonated with me, and so much to which I could not relate. In either case, though, I accepted it as communion, a sacrament given and received from some deep and authentic place of love.
Because social media is what it is, there were thousands of comments about the post. Most were effusive in their praise and love of the author’s writing, and the content of her offering. But, of course, there were a couple that I could have just smacked off the screen and been none the worse despite a cracked video monitor. One nice person made a comment about being happy for the people who were enjoying the day, because it was about them being happy and not “your” feelings. They went on to say that people should not “inject” their negativity into the happiness of the day. Hmmm. I’d like to inject something a bit stronger than negativity into that commenter.
Thanks for sharing, you insensitive clod. Don’t go away made, just go away. I’m not here to decorate your world.
So, the whole issue of insensitivity and presumption that conformity is correct makes me a cranky girl. I’ve reflected before about how much I abhor conformity for the sake of conformity. Conformity likes to masquerade as order, as easy management, as strength. In reality, conformity makes it easier to control people, but that never lasts. I’ve said before, you can only keep the dragons in cages for so long before they remember they can spit fire.
Many years ago, I had the opportunity to hear Shirley Chisholm speak at a Martin Luther King Day event. I have counted Shirly Chisholm among my heroes ever since I found out who she was, and that she was the first Black woman elected to Congress, and the first woman to run for President of the United States. This budding feminist always enjoyed hearing her speak, particularly during the time when the women’s movement had little to no voices from women of color.
That Martin Luther King Day, which I believe was somewhere around 1986 or so, she talked about political power in the Black community. I remember distinctly she said, “You are like sleeping dragons. You have immense power, and if you would wake up and stick together, you would be unstoppable.”. I have never forgotten that, and the image of sleeping dragons sticks with me.
We have all, regardless of gender or color or marginalization, forgotten how to breathe real fire. We may open our mouths and shout insults, knowing that our words can bring harm, and can hurt, but those are the tales told by idiots and signifying nothing, as the old bard said. Any bully can throw out harsh words and momentarily stun their target for some finite period of time, but the effect is ultimately only temporary.
We’ve been stunned by the sting of some very bad predators, possibly murder hornets. We’ve forgotten that we can breathe fire strong enough to incinerate them. I forget this all the time, and allow people to get away with all manner of disrespect. When I react with fire, I am frequently assailed by others who have claimed to be merely “seeing both sides”, and who caution me that “you can disagree without being disagreeable”. However that goes, the message to me is clear – you are not heard, no matter how loud you speak. You are not seen, no matter how large you get.
Judgement has been rendered, and I have been deemed as a difficulty, a problem to be solved. No attention is paid to the root cause of my resistance, just the mechanism I have employed. It’s like doing an autopsy on a murder victim, discovering they have been shot, and not investigating who shot them. Yes, it’s true the victim died of a gunshot wound, but who pulled the trigger is an important part of our justice process.
I contend that justice has to be pursued and rendered at even the smallest of opportunities. We can’t just talk about justice at the level of the courts, and the level of legislation. Individually, we all have to be about the business of having just and equitable interactions all the time. It will take courage, humility, and a lot of practice to do that, but we have to try.
When I go to make a retail transaction, sayin the grocery store or the pharmacy, I always make eye contact and acknowledge the cashier or store representative in some way. Many stores require their employees to make some kind of greeting to customers as they begin a transaction – “Good morning/afternoon. How are you today?” I always respond directly, and return the greeting in kind – “Good morning/afternoon. I’m doing OK. How are you?”. Once the transaction has concluded, I ALWAYS say “Thank you! Have a good one.” or “Thanks. Hope you have a good rest of the day.” . Or SOMETHING. Even “Man it’s hot out there.” or “I wish this rain would let up.”.
I don’t ever like to feel that I’m expecting people to “serve” me on some unequal level. I detest feeling that I’m elevating myself to some level of superiority. I understand the relationship inherent in the transaction, but that’s a temporary state of circumstance. If the cashier and I were at the mall, we’d be just two consumers at the mall. If we were at the stadium, we’d be just two sports fans. I’m neither better nor worse than someone from who I transact some kind of business.
When I see people in, say, Starbucks I am frequently appalled a the lack of courtesy show to the baristas. People often will remain in active conversation on their cell phones, expressing irritation that the barista is asking questions in order to complete their order. They will stomp angrily back to the counter after receiving their completed order to loudlyl complain that something wasn’t exactly the way they ordered it. These are jobs I could never have. I would surely wind up in jail.
I could never be a barista, wait staff in a restaurant, a bank teller, or a teacher. In all of those jobs, you’re supposed to be nice to the so-called customer, who may be rude and demeaning from the onset of the transaction. Ain’t nobody got time for rude. That’s just not happening for me these days. Being rude is sometimes a death sentence – be rude to somebody who has a gun, and they may demonstrate their shooting prowess very quickly. Truth be told, though, you can only get away with that if you’re the Vice-President of the United States. Just sayin’.
A few years ago, people were having active conversations about civility. Not so much any more. People talked several years prior to that about good customer service, and rudeness at the point of sale (the employee as well as the customer). Not so much any more. We’ve now got a wave of resistance to “political correctness” that says a person should be capable of saying whatever they want to say, no matter how offensive that may be to someone else.
People get killed for saying offensive stuff these days. People get killed for going to bible study at their church. People get killed for looking at each other wrong. People get killed for texting in movie theaters, or playing their music too loud. People get killed for all kinds of things to day, and I contend it’s the easy access to weapons of mass destruction. That easy access coupled with the lack of compassion, lack of empathy, and the legitimization of bad behavior has made us engage in uncivil war without a cause.
Many people feel they have a cause, a cause for which they are willing to kill, willing to destroy everything to achieve. These are the people who are saying they want “their” country back, they want things to go back to the way they were during their things in the good old days.
This “I want my country back” is problematic in a number of ways. First, whose country is it? It’s not any one person’s country. It’s OUR country, but some of us have been excluded from the dream we talk about so often. But we know all this. We know that everybody wasn’t included in the American dream, we know that everybody wasn’t included in the American way. There was a silent acceptance of that for a long time, lest your dissent got you killed. But now, people are being killed for no reason at all, so…silence isn’t working. Obedience isn’t working. Compliance isn’t working. For many, guns seem to be working. This is NOT good.
FaceBook popped up a memory for me today:
We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope. (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
My comment for today was this:
I accept finite disappointment, but it seems to be tending toward infinite betrayal at this point. Infinite hope remains inherent for this idealistic romantic, but despair chips away at the corners of a smile that is not so quick to shine most days.
Raise a glass to freedom! (“Hamilton”)
I am a realistic idealist. I can separate my idealism from the reality of the world in which I find myself. My idealism is hopeful, aspirational, sometimes childishly romantic. It all seems very simple in my mind, before I get out of bed, before I realize the dog has made her digestive presence known in the living room. Then idealism and hopes for justice seem unwieldly, impossible, and even foolish. Who am I to imagine such things? Who am I to ignore the dream such improbable fantasies?
Well, I suppose that I am one of a long line of dreamers, a long line of people who refuse to let the darkness of night overtake the sun of the day. A long line of people who simply cannot march in line, even if our lives depend on it, which frequently they do. I have a t-shirt that says “I am a December woman. I was born with my heart on my sleeve, a fire in my soul, and a mouth I can’t control.” . That really is who I am. My heart has always been on my sleeve, fair pickin’ for the unscrupulous and those with no heart of their own.
As my mother recently told me, my heart is too big. I imagine that means when it’s pricked, it bleeds quite a lot. Some of us do bleed quit a bit, all our lives. So far, it hasn’t been enough to kill me, even when I thought it would. But, my heart is still beating, and I’m still standin’., in the figurative sense and in the literal sense when my back isn’t hurting. But, it is what it is for now. Whenever that changes, I suppose it will be time to do something different.