Many years ago, when I was five, or thereabouts, my mother was taking me on a road trip. She and my father had divorced when I was one, and since then, she had devoted herself to creating a world for me filled with love, wonder, and new experiences.
I don’t recall where we were headed in her little gray coup, but it was a long enough trip that she had made us a lunch for the road, all neatly wrapped in wax paper and packed in a bag.
My memory begins when we pulled over to eat after some time on the highway. Mom opened the bag and handed a sandwich to me. Money was tight when I was young, and mom was ever-inventive, so for this trip she used what was available and made tomato sandwiches – white bread with mayo, sliced tomatoes and a little salt and pepper.
Unfortunately, by the time we had stopped, the juice from the tomatoes had sopped into the bread, and when I opened my sandwich, parts of it were literally dripping off as the two slices dissolved.
I could see my mom’s expression shift from the joy of taking her child on a fun trip to one of sadness and disappointment. She told me she was sorry but that was all the food we had brought, but I didn’t have to eat it.
I know now, having had my own children, how emotionally devastating something that minor (in other contexts) can become, when you feel you have failed your child. But at that time, all I knew was that not having a good lunch to give me was making my mom sad.
So I recall telling her, “That’s okay, mommy. I’ll eat it.” And I took a bite and eventually ate it all. And I remember my mother telling me how good I was for making the best of the situation. I also recall seeing her expression become a strange mix I now recognize as sadness and joy, along with a sense of failure and pride. She felt so bad because she thought she had let me down, but she was so happy that her child showed that kind of love.
And so, in that moment, one of many thousands of bonds was forged between my mother and me. Each of us a participant in a unique human connection that defines the essence of the ideal we craft and call motherhood.
That merging of the souls, mother and child is so primal, so strong, that it forms one of the foundations of who we are and unconsciously guides us into who we become, from cradle to grave.
And even in those last moments, for many of us, our thoughts turn to our mothers for comfort, not from our adult selves, but from our child selves that still reside deep within us.
I recall a movie in which a young soldier, perhaps only eighteen, has been fatally wounded from an explosion to the intestines. He is laying on the ground, and as he is dying, and he calls out one word, over and over again, “Mommy….”
One might see this as a horrible downer or evidence presented in making a case against the cruelty and futility of love and life. But for me, it is the most wonderful thing – that even in a time of the greatest fear and trauma we may face, the love of mother is so strong as to dispel the horror and comfort the heart.
I suppose one might think of mother even at the end of a long life, as the most powerful embrace, well beyond the extent of the physical presence of the woman. And perhaps it is the hope of an afterlife in which one might return to the arms of that special person who protected and soothed you might allow for a reunion.
My mind, being a logical creature, does not allow for an afterlife. The concept flies in the face of all that I know, and all that I can reason. Yet my heart, the emotional counterpart, could not bear the losses I have experienced in life without the belief that somehow, in some way, we will meet again.
Mind, though logical, becomes dismayed when Heart is saddened or despondent and seeks to find a remedy for that condition. And so, it reasons thus:
I [Mind], have no evidence of an afterlife, no data to support such a belief, and nothing but anecdotal information to support it. And yet, to be unbiased, I must also admit I have no evidence against it and can think of no way to gather data to prove it one way or the other. Therefore, admitting that an afterlife is a possibility, let me identify the functional problems with such a belief and then, for the sake of Heart, see if I can counter them to at least allow the possibility.
So my mind settles on this issue to examine: If there is an afterlife, and if I were reunited with my mother, what age would we each be? Would I see her as I did as a young child, or when I was a teenager, a young adult with my own family or later in life, just before she died? And would she see me as her baby, or all grown up, or as the parent trying to fashion a career?
And then, the show stopper… What if my desire is to be in her thirties again, but my desire is to see her younger, when I was very small? And what if my desire is to be eighteen, but her desire is to see me as a fully grown adult? These forms of existence are incompatible with one another. And even tricks whereby she sees me as an adult and I see myself as eighteen are not possible to rational thought, for my mannerisms and the things I would say and do would be completely different at those two ages and they cannot be that divergent and still be one thing.
But Heart is distraught. And Mind won’t have it. So, I consider the world of the Graphic novel, movie, and series, Watchmen. This seems so far from yearning to be one more in my mother’s arms. And yet, there is a key of sorts within this fiction to allow for the possibility of multiple simultaneous realities, that might allow Mind to support Heart’s desire.
The most unusual character is Watchmen is Dr. Manhattan who lives every moment of his life simultaneously, being fully present and engaged in each, though they be in different times and disparate places.
As another example, in StarTrek: Deep Space Nine, Captain Sisko encounters a species that does not live linearly through time, but observes the whole experience of it at once – similar, though not identical to the existence of Dr. Manhattan.
Taking the next step then, if one could be fully involved in every moment of life simultaneously, then it would be no more than an organizational challenge to match up the selves of two people so that all combinations are fulfilled.
Unless, of course, one does not wish to be the age the other party would have you be, and so on, leading to all kinds of conflict in such a heaven, and perhaps spiraling into dissension and even rebellion against the creator himself for actualizing such a mess in the first place!
But that is another story and separate line of reasoning. Heart has not heard a word of this part, for heart is truly happy – Mind has given it the possibility that reconnecting in a hereafter cannot be summarily dismissed. And where there is hope, there is comfort.
Still my thoughts, born of compassion, are drawn to those who do not know their mother, or lost her at an early age. Perhaps their mom was not the protective teacher, but a drunken, hateful, abusive woman a child might desperately wish to forget.
And yet, as a mammal, as a primate, do not even such children year for the gentle voice and kind hand that we are so programmed to imprint upon and to cling to, outwardly in our early years, then inwardly as the days go by.
The biologic necessity of “mother” is reflected in her ideal in our culture, but for those lacking a real connection, the combination of the yearning of the flesh and the expectation of that image in their experience must bring horrible pain, instead of comfort, and a sense of isolation and alienation.
And so, on this day, all the pathways being explored and considered, I celebrate my mother, gone now so many decades ago, with love, gratitude, and admiration. I hold her in my heart, to be with me always to my dying breath.
But I also offer that motherly love is not just a biologic or imprinted condition that, if missed, does not come around again. Rather, it can be fulfilled at any time, and in many ways.
Last night we saw the movie, Fly Away Home, about a young girl who saved the eggs of a deceased goose and raised them. They imprinted on her, but needed to fly south for the winter and had no mother to lead them. So, in this true story, the girl’s father built her a one-person powered glider and the geese followed her when she took off of a several hundred mile journey that followed the species migration. Over several days, stopping each night at the end of one leg, they finally arrived at the lake of their destination, and the geese remained until it was time to migrate again. And then the flew north once more, right to the farm where the girl lived, and stayed there every season.
In a real life example, I sometimes sense my cat, Oak, needs a mother’s love as he was a rescue cat taken too soon from his own mother. So, when he is laying down, I put my face down to touch his fur. My hair falls around him, enclosing him in a safe space. I speak to him in gentle tones and rub my nose along his ears, and the top of his head, and down over his closed eyes like a mother cat would do when cleaning a kitten. And he responds by closing his eyes, becoming fully relaxed, and gently purring in complete bliss.
If we can do this across species, we can do it outside of the biologic. And each and every one of us can find that experience for which every fiber of our beings yearns. We can find mothers in our lovers, our dear friends, and even the the fictions and fantasies of our narratives in movies, song, and art.
In an ideal world, we would all find that fulfillment naturally from mother to child. Yet though this world is far from ideal, we may all still fill that need. And beyond, we may find the hole within ourselves is best filled by providing motherly (or fatherly) love to others. For in saving them, we may discover we have also saved ourselves.
Happy Mothers Day to one and all.