As we near the holidays, wish each other well, think a little more about giving and sacrifice, and the passage that the new year will bring, it seems appropriate to think back to when and where it all began - our mothers. We were all formed in the womb of her care (along the spectrum that that special care can connote for each of us, of course). The significance of those nine months and the birthing process is immeasurable; the later bonds created and dependence established - unfathomably formative of all other relationships; the further un/reliability exponentially impressed into personality, into the sense of in/security each of us projects and lives and experiences in life, work, and play. Mothers then, at least in part, create for us a system of familiarity, care, love, bonding and relating, if not so much more. Systems by definition are premised on a set of rules and so mothering is our first brush with the law. If we are lucky, these laws of our origin are the laws of love and compassion and not hate.
I have been blessed with understanding the law of mothering to include inner fortitude, complete sacrifice, equality, acceptance, such compassion for the other as to accept brutal punishment, incisive brilliance of the kind that beckons the stars to appear all along the profound and strategic cut created by her thought, love and unquestioned devotion, and finally the innumerable mistakes she has made so I could not forget the humanity of which the rest was born. In my turn I have tried to correct some of those mistakes, making others as a consequence. Letting her push me to be no less than my brothers and accept nothing I could not give in return; to think more of the possibilities born of my own imagination and the love fed me than the limited reality born of possibilities created by those who went before me. And with each passing year, to know that I will speak to her almost every day (or not if we do not get along), the ability to yell and scream at each other and to love each other in a glance, to cook with each other, to speak about anything and everything that concerns the world, the men in our worlds, our children - what has changed and what remains the same, to learn still from her how to run my business(es) for she has always harbored the entrepreneurial spirit without the opportunity to express it, except through me. And her earnest and forceful righteousness and sense of fairness; or inherent compassion and pragmatism at which I still marvel for I have seen it in few other people, except maybe my daughter, who so takes after her grandmother.
I have had blessings bestowed on me in the past couple of weeks of being close to the birth of a baby girl of a close friend perilously and prematurely born this week, and simultaneously hearing of the reappearance of a brain tumor in my own mother. You can understand as a writer I have no choice but to write this out. Somehow this young and old life are related through me and I can sense that each has an incredibly strong spirit - old and courageous. Regardless of age, these lives must be strong in the face of life’s physical limitations, and overcome the challenge their bodies present, the imperfect understanding of medical technology, relying on more than just science, but in addition on the energy of care and love their doctors, friends and family provide and focus upon them.
I think too about the fragility with which love comes and goes…the care, the patience, impotence and courage it demands of us in all moments but especially in moments of need, in moments of fear, in moments that most test our equilibrium…and it makes me question its rules. How can so much be expected of us? How can such complexity be formed in one breath taken in and expelled? What is a feeling when it is weak and then when it is strong? Can it be called by the same name? Is language the limitation, or the intellect’s ability to fathom emotion? Is there a rule to capture and govern that feeling to do our bidding so the complex rush is more palatable? Where will the caregiving courage come from to overcome this emotional challenge bred by the interdependence characterized by the closest and strongest bonds of mother and child? We are of course calling up our earliest and most primal self-sacrificial impulses, learned from none other than our mothers.
And whereas we take good care of babies, newborns even premature ones, bestowing on them the law of maternal sacrifice (whether it comes from Mom, Dad, or Doctor), how do we rate on this law of reciprocal sacrifice for our mothers? When it comes to pregnant women, we allegedly fare poorly in the U.S. behind countries like Serbia and Kuwait, for instance. “Marsden Wagner, former director of Women's and Children's Health at the WHO, writes in his 2006 book Born in the U.S.A. that "in the United States, at least half of maternal deaths are not reported anywhere ... and that with adequate medical attention, close to half of these women need not have died." (from the article “No Country for Mothers”; http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=no_country_for_mothers). As for tumors and cancers, brain tumors are the tenth most common cause of cancer death in women in U.S.(http://www.cancer.net/patient/Cancer+Types/Brain+Tumor?sectionTitle=Statistics). That being said…statistics do not relate the exceptional character and spirit that forges forth from a deep survival instinct of which we may be intimately aware in our own families, in our mothers and daughters, nor do they express the spirit of our own loving energy to care and support recovery in those who require our sacrifice.
As we close this year then, perhaps we can all evolve in ourselves a deeper resolve to be governed by the law of sacrifice we have learned from that primal bond so we may celebrate and support all the mothers in our lives!