Saturday, May 9, 2009

Mothers in the Shadows

Mother's Day is usually not a big deal for me. I don't have children and let's just say that my mother and I have managed to put together the best superficial relationship that is possible, given what we have to work with.

But this Mother's Day, I'm thinking of the thousands of mothers I've come to know over the years who are battling the odds, usually in the shadows, to do the best they can to heal broken lives (including their own).

For example, there's someone I'll call "Nora." I don't know much about her childhood, except that I expect she didn't grow up dreaming of becoming a prostitute and drug addict. But that's what happened. Along the way she had three children who were physically abused and sexually assaulted by the myriads of men who came in and out of their lives.

I met Nora shortly after she got out of prison and was reunited with her children. Its hard to describe the woman I saw without sounding hyperbolic. She was a force to be reckoned with and had a fierce determination to be the mother her children needed. 

There was no pretense with Nora and she was clear about all the damage she had done. But she wasn't about to sit around and wallow in guilt either. She was like a sponge wanting to learn all she could about mothering and how to get her family at least moving on a different track. She knew the road ahead was going to be difficult. But she took it all on with a strength and courage that I have rarely seen in any human being. It was a pleasure just to be around her and try to keep up with her momentum.

And then there was Jackie. I don't know a whole lot about her childhood either, except that on a couple of occasions she alluded to abuse that was almost beyond my comprehension. Jackie had found some healing in her life and wanted to pass that on to other children. So she adopted two little girls who had experienced similar things.

When I met them, her daughters were 14 and 10 years old. During our first meeting, I remember thinking about confronting Jackie with how insensitive she was with her daughters. But something told me to pay a little more attention before doing that. Boy, was I wrong!!! Over time I watched as these two girls threw their pain at her in moments when she was most vulnerable. But instead of responding in kind, she embraced them. It was one of the most humbling experiences of my life to watch her and marvel at her love and strength.

At our last meeting, Jackie presented me with something that has become my prized possession...a poem. I'd like to share it with all of you as a testament to those mothers who demonstrate their strength in the shadows - away from the spotlight of our attention. Every day women like Nora and Jackie do the small quiet work of healing the brokenness that has too often been passed on from mother to child. And today, I'd like to honor them.

First there was the pain.
Sharp, searing and rushing through our lives.
Pain calls us you know,
some pains carry our name
from generation to generation.

We brought it in with us,
blaming, yelling and desperate for some relief.

We opened our mouths and spit it at you,
yelled it at you
and you found the reason to smile.
Each blow was warded off
and placed where it belonged.
Like a puzzle where slowly
the pieces begin to fit.
Not just one puzzle but three.
Not yet put together,
but beautifully begun.

First there was the pain,
and the ache of a thousand years of mothers.
Then slowly came the wonder
and some days even the joy.

- Jackie


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