session six: letter to my mother
by Elizabeth DeBarros
Geraldine Mary Robertsky Clarke
May 28, 1935 — September 4, 2012
Who are you? Who are you apart from me? For so many years, I thought we were one and the same. Unfortunately, we made that mistake. But God, He changed all that — by fulfilling His purpose of setting us both free. How do I know? In my hands I hold the mirror you gave me and I see a perfect reflection of myself.
Mater. Madre. Mère. Mum. Mom. Mommy. Mama. Ma. Mother.
Greater than an ordinary sailing vessel, larger than a merchant ship — Mother — she’s made to exist for others. Her hull is commissioned with strength to brave the high seas of life, to carry goods from afar. She maintains the spirit of the ages, takes her cues from above, has eyes in the back of her head, can tell a storm is coming by the way the wind is blowing. Her arms are of borgana softness, providing for the heads of all her children. She remembers everything, keeping all her yesterdays for memento and posterity. Patina is her middle name and by which time itself is framed. Not only does she know best, but better. She perceives beauty in blackness and light in darkness. And her kitchen is never closed even if tomorrow is another day.
But what about all those storms?
Oh, those…they were just stepping-stones to all the mountains I had to climb and the Rock I learned to cling to.
Love endures all things.
You taught me this, too.
On my right hand I now wear your wedding ring.
♦ ♦ ♦
In Letter to My Mother, Barbara Kingsolver delicately scans every stage of her developmental life, recounting how it was, who she was, and what she saw — from her earliest memory at 3 to gawky adolescence and those fierce, independent college years to the time when she herself became a wife and mother — where egotism’s bloom finally fell off and her arms opened wide at the realization that giving supersedes taking and love truly is possible. She’s amazed at love, really. Amazed at how her firstborn daughter’s “tiny hand is making a delicate circle, index finger to thumb, pinkie extended…” just like hers did at eight weeks of age. Amazed at how loving and being loved by a man is not horrible and how willing she is to bear the cross that is motherhood. She celebrates the event known as coming full circle and when Mother receives her reward. Sort of. Let’s face it, the need for Mother doesn’t ever really go away. And mothers and daughters don’t ever actually retire from the mother-daughter relationship, as Kingsolver admits:
“A week past my due date you are calling every day. Steven answers the phone, holds it up, and mouths, “Your mother again.” He thinks you may be bugging me. You aren’t. I am a woman lost in the weary sea of waiting, and you are the only one who really knows where I am. Your voice is keeping me afloat. I grab the phone.”
♦ ♦ ♦
We cut our teeth on the figurehead of Mother — a developmental task that extends far beyond toddlerhood. Emotional growth is painful — like cutting teeth. But it’s teeth we need and a good mother knows that. She offers her edge and bears the pain along with us. She cries for us, too. Then she cheers us on. Through a million and one little things, she shows her love, mirrors for us who we are. How else can we know ourselves but through the eyes of another? Children need a face to look into to know they’re loved. And they need eyes that speak back to them, eyes that say, “Yes, you are loved.” Sure, it is God who has made both man and beast, but only through our most significant relationships do we become that person of certain expression, disposition, demeanor, stature, spirit. He’s ordained it so.
Mothers are God-given.
But I am only too aware that not everyone is fortunate enough to have been fed from the spoon of a mother’s love. Sin, brokenness, sickness, absence, narcissism, selfishness — how often the effects of the fall play their role, rob us of the good things. Inasmuch as we want her to be, expect her to be, demand her to be, Mother is not perfect. But love is. And why there is forgiveness. If we are looking to Christ, He redeems the faults. Heals the wounds. Fills the gaps. Works wonders.
Kingsolver does a masterful job in this essay at capturing and conveying vivid moments of her life and the genuine love from and for her mother. She writes with depth and candor, both which I can relate to on so many levels, except for maybe the phone call her mother made tracking her down at a remote café in Beaurieux, France. Amazing how mothers have a way of knowing. They just know.
And why a letter to my mother would not suffice when only poetry will do.
A BIBLICAL LENS:
If there’s a single trait that binds mothers together the world over, it is the sacrifice of self.
I think of Eve, mother of all the living, and how she models for us the quintessential role — the woman of firsts: She was first to be second. First to be deceived, to feel guilt, shame, and fear for her sin. After Satan, she was first to stand before God in judgment to receive her sentence. First to receive a promise, to find mercy, to submit to her husband’s authority, to suffer pain in childbirth, to bear children, to lose a son. What did God require of her? Body, soul, and spirit, the sacrifice of self.
And what of the other mothers who beckon to us?
Sarah was called to sacrifice many years while waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise of a son. Hannah sacrificed on her knees in prayer, asking God for a son, only to give him back to the Lord. Rachel travailed and died in childbirth. Upon the angel’s announcement, Mary said, “May it be to me as you have said.”
These mothers have not flatlined somewhere in the annals of history. By faith, we can receive from them still today, be fed from their spoon, receive instruction, emulate. Mother love is synonymous with sacrifice.
Our spiritual DNA is secure.
Next Thursday: Household Words by Diana Lovegrove