"When you know a thing, to hold that you know it, and when you do not know a thing, to allow that you do not know it—this is knowledge." (from The Analects of Confucius)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Thank You to Mom

Mom and my sister Julie (Ju-Ju) ca. 1960.
"It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us."
– From A River Runs through It by Norman Maclean

Not all that long before this picture, my mom was a farmer's daughter spending much of her time tending to five younger siblings. At 19, despite her vows to never marry a farmer, she became a farmer's wife and then mother to one-two-three children, then four, and then five (me).

More than a decade after this picture, I came along, so the story goes, not without some difficulty. Mom was in labor from early evening until late morning the next day, when the incompetent doctor finally pulled a shockingly purplish baby from an emergency C-section. In the words of that doctor, we "almost didn't make it." Perhaps there is something in our bond that was forged in that natal struggle.

"Oh, is this the baby of the family?" As a little boy, I can recall this frequent question being put to my mom. Chances were good that if I wasn't in school and she wasn't at one of her jobs, my mop of brown hair could be seen peeking from behind her. I went where she went. I actually believed, for many years I think, that if I was with her, she could never die. An idea only a child could concoct, I suppose, and yet I still carry a remnant of that notion with me to this day.

I believe that with the passing years – and especially now in her retirement – my mom has found a previously unknown peace and acceptance in her life. More important, she lives her life forward, demonstrating to me that the engaged life is the life worth living – not the life lived within one's head.

Notions of her God sustain her and enhance her life – all without the misguided, psychologically destructive fixation on the “right” notion. Likewise with other aspects of culture. Her sensibilities, to a great extent, elevate her above the hysterics of political "insight" so pervasive today. Maybe she wouldn’t put it this way, but I think her glory in the cardinal’s song or a flower’s full bloom suggests that the real urgency in this life is to not squander the precious moments that we have right in front of us to enjoy.

All of this leads me, of course, to this second Sunday of May, to this Mother's Day – yes, an arbitrary date, I suppose. On the other hand, quite apropos if you look around: Nature herself is in the midst of delivering life, sometimes not without struggle. And so today is as good a day as any for me to pause and take a step back from the assumptions I have about the woman who gave me life.

Before mom was mom, she was just a girl. I’m now old enough to realize I have a unique opportunity, a possible gift of seeing mom as person first, not parent. Then, if only for a moment, I can imagine the country girl who had dreams of a beautiful life – the way we all do.

And that girl, whom I never knew, can never know, became my mother. And her dreams have become woven inextricably with the dreams of her children. When I hurt, so she does as well. When I hope, she is there hoping with me, even if she scarcely understands just what it is I'm hoping for.

It may be that those we are closest to and should know do indeed elude us. But that's only half the reality. We can try to know, and keep on trying, always.

And yet we do not need to know, nor can we ever know each other fully. But I for one know enough to recognize a reason for rejoicing: I know something about a love unconditional. That is the rarest kind of knowledge, and I have mom to thank for it.