Tomorrow would have been my mother’s ninety third birthday. She died only days before turning eighty three. After her death nine years ago my brothers and our families decided to meet each year at the Cracker Barrel restaurant in League City to celebrate her life. She often chose to dine there whenever we took her out of the solitude of her home. If it was a Friday she invariably adhered to the old fasting tradition of eating fish. She found great joy in the simplicity of the menu and the potpourri of candy and doodads offered in the country store that adjoins the dining room.
This year her medical doctor granddaughter advised us that we should not adhere to our tradition of convening together even though the restaurant will be open. She fears that such a large gathering would be unsafe for us, and I have to agree. My brothers and I are all of the age considered vulnerable to the worst effects of Covid 19 as are all but one of our spouses. This year we will have to remember our mother from our homes. Maybe we will set a Zoom conference just to “see” each other and share our stories of the remarkable woman who lead us through so many difficulties and taught us how to be empathetic and generous.
My mother always viewed life from a lens that was far bigger than her own seemingly simple existence. She had a poetic way of seeing the human experience. She was a woman of immense faith who quietly forged a powerful relationship with Jesus and his mother, Mary. Somehow the irony of her life and death has not been lost on me during these days of virus and struggle for justice. It is as though everything that she ever attempted to teach me has come together into a coherent sum of multiple parts. I have dreamed of her night after night as though she has been attempting to tell me something very important. As her birthday nears I have felt her presence in my very soul providing me with an understanding of the chaos that seems so rampant in the world. This daughter of immigrants who had bravely struggled through prejudice and poverty and illness for most of her life was still smiling even as she gasped for each precious breath in her final hours. It is in remembering the ending of her life that I have unlocked the message of hope that defined the many active years of her life.
Somehow thinking of my mother has helped me to make sense of the world’s present situation which is unlike anything that twenty first century humankind has ever experienced. It is as though God himself is sending us an important message that is difficult to hear but to which we must force ourselves to listen. What is happening is so much bigger than any one of us. It is a wake up call from the dreamy indifference that has defined our society for all too long. We are witnessing a virus that threatens our very ability to breathe. We have watched the murder of a man begging for the love and protection of his mother as he could not breathe. We have heard but all too often ignored the cries of those whose sexual orientations are different from our own as they have worried about losing their livelihoods. We have neglected the children who call themselves dreamers, immigrants like my mother who only want an opportunity to breathe freely.
All of these things have upended our lives at the same time. We don’t want to see them or hear them or think of them. We just want our lives back the way they were many weeks ago. It is too difficult to deal with all of it at once, to unravel the complexities of it. Surely if we simply ignore it all we will soon be our old selves going out to eat, watching ball games, celebrating with friends. Sadly, it is not a simple thing to put the pieces back together, to unsee what we have seen. To forget what we have heard. To pretend that all will be well if we just refuse to wear masks or speak of injustice.
How many of us have silently cried out for our mamas during the confusion of all that is happening in the world? How many of us have at times felt breathless as we search to make sense of a seemingly senseless time? Do we not realize that everything has meaning in the human experience? Nothing is to be ignored. There are important messages in the unfolding of our histories. It would behoove us to silence our hearts long enough to hear the whispers inside our souls, for surely as my mother so ardently believed, God or some force of life is trying to get our attention. We would be foolish not to consider what all of this might mean.
There are watershed moments in our individual lives and in the arc of history. They are often difficult to handle. They challenge us to think out of the box, to make uncomfortable changes. We are in the midst of what will either be a cataclysm or a redemption for humanity. How we accept our individual responsibilities for the welfare of the whole of the earth will determine our ultimate fate. Our focus cannot be inward at this time. It must be outward. It calls for soul searching and honesty, compassion and sacrifice and the kind of love that is bigger than our own selfish needs, a mother’s love.
We are all brothers and sisters regardless of the color of our skin, the countries in which we were born, the orientation of our sexuality, our economic status. We will overcome the virus and the inequities of our systems only if we work together, only if we are understanding and forgiving. We have run out of excuses for our unwillingness to love unconditionally. Nobody should have to die because our vanity does not allow us to wear a mask. Nobody should have to die because we have not been vigilant in eradicating prejudices. Nobody should have to live in a closet because we judge them to be deviant. Nobody should have be unwelcome in their quest to build a better life among us. These are systemic wrongs that we must right. The message of our need to do so is loud and clear if we are willing to hear it.
My mama was a kind hearted soul. She dissolved into tears at the thought of any person suffering. She would have given her last dollar to someone in need. She experienced insults and slights of her own and never lost her gentleness. In her honor I fight for those who have too long struggled in the shadows. I join them as a sister. We are all one team, one family and as my mother always reminded me from Matthew 25: 40, “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” Let us learn from a mother’s love.