Recently, one of my younger brothers reminded me of the story he told about my mother at her funeral….I had forgotten, but it strikes me powerfully today, perhaps because it carries more freight for me now than it did 15 years ago.
He recalled sitting in church one Sunday shortly after my father died….young, at 45, leaving six children between the ages of 2 and 13. We were all there with my Mom, a widow at 41. I do remember feeling like ducks in a row, over-exposed, and slightly humiliated to be with Mom and all the sibs at my mature and righteous age of 11.
That day, the reading was the Widow’s Mite, the story of the poor yet generous woman who gave everything she had; her very last coin went into the temple treasury. When it came time for the collection that Sunday in 1963, my brother noticed that my mother contributed, but did not give away everything in her wallet. When we got home, as only a pre-adolescent can do, he went for the jugular and called her out on it. Why hadn’t she given it all? Calmly and easily, she replied, “I gave everything I could”.
I could weep with the simplicity and truth of her admission, not only for her, but for all of us. We are all pretty much giving everything we can, and who is to judge the sufficiency of our giving: of money, of love, of time, of ourselves? Were we to walk in each others’ shoes, we would do precisely what the other does. It seems far more important to look into our own hearts and assess the quality of our own giving and receiving, and when pondering others’ lives, to simply know that they are giving everything they can.
I am thinking of so many mothers today; some of us are fairly hard on ourselves, second-guessing our giving and loving, questioning our adequacy. Some of us are narcissistic, some of us give too much. Some of us are smug about our children’s accomplishments, some are sick with worry, some are humble and filled with wonder. Some of us are bravely engaging our depressions or addictions; some of us have succumbed to self-anesthesia. Some today are joyful, and some of us are in deep, bone-shattering grief. We all struggle to get it right; all of us are doing the best we can, right now.
Earlier this year I watched my own daughter take those early parenting steps herself. I am awed and honored to have an intimate view as one more woman on the planet takes the responsibility of another fragile human onto her own shoulders with such fierce tenderness: I am witness to love and grace, curiosity and diligence, toughness and vulnerability. This feels cosmic to me…all the generations of mothers stretching backwards and forwards in time, nurturing life and love with our bodies and souls, in whatever ways we know. My mother. My daughter. Myself.
I honor us all, every single one. It takes guts and bravery to be a conduit for life, and then let life happen and give everything you can. Thanks, Mom. You did GREAT.