17 May 2014

Present Perfect

I met my mother for the first time when she turned 60. 

Granted, I’d known her my whole life.  It was just that by the time I was 30 or so I mistakenly thought I had her figured out. 

I grew up knowing my mom as the provider of such things as advice, a listening ear, “emergency” nursing care, food, assurance—all those things that mothers seem to be natural at offering.  When I was a teenager, we connected over our favorite soap opera, which she faithfully taped and shared with her daughters after school.  In college, I would find myself dialing home for that famous medical advice, or with my recipe questions, or just to talk about whatever mundane thing had happened that week; she listened to it all.

As I became more “self actualized,” shall we say, I began to see my mother in a different light: as one who had never fully discovered her “niche” in life: not landing solidly in one career, having aspirations but not completely following through.  I longed to see her blossom into whatever was waiting to emerge.  I frequently wondered who Mom would’ve been if she hadn’t been, well…Mom.

As her 60th birthday approached, I wanted to acknowledge my mother’s life in some way.  Knowing how she loves reminiscing, my sister and I solicited memories and pictures from her friends and family, to comprise a birthday book honoring the six decades of our mom’s life. 

Soon the replies came, but they were not at all what I had hoped for.   Where were the side-splitting funny stories?  The gut-wrenching griefs?  Where was the high drama of 60 years, of a life which had known major surgery at 15, romance in college, marriage and motherhood as a young woman, and the frequent relocation and obligations associated with being a pastor’s wife?

What we actually got were recollections of the most ordinary things imaginable: shower gifts, birthday cards, and tea breaks.  Jars left in a basement after moving.  Peas rolling down the side of her face while she was immobilized in her body cast.  Daily stuff.  Stuff like I always talked about with Mom—things that mattered only to me—and she would not only listen, but somehow she would actually seem interested.

As we compiled the stories and pictures, some patterns began to emerge.  Two different relatives expressed their gratitude at how my mom always remembered their children’s birthdays, especially when their own mothers had prematurely died. An uncle remembered Mom’s refusal to let a smoker enter our house, cancer stick alit.  Many others remembered the special tea she always made.  People knew my mother as babysitter, as conversationalist, as gracious host and companion—all the things she was—and still is.  I looked at the pictures of Mom holding her babies, her relative’s babies---anyone’s babies—and saw the genuine delight on her face. 

After awhile I began to realize the lesson for me in all of this: my mother wasn’t waiting to “find herself.”  She was living who she already is: a caregiver, a defender, a listener.  She was and is exactly who she has chosen to be.

Mom was delighted with her gift and continues to cherish it.  What I received from a simple three-ringed binder with plastic covered pages was the unexpected gift of seeing the woman I thought I already knew in a whole new light: as one who raised me, by example, to be exactly who I have chosen to be.

this apple, falling
and rolling over oceans
still knows its own tree

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