My (exceedingly overdue) Mama Post…
Tom heard his mother’s voice, the remembered cool, calm drawl, friendly and humble. “Let ’em come,” she said. “We got a’plenty. Tell’em they got to wash their han’s. The bread is done. I’m jus’ takin’ up the side-meat now.” And the sizzle of the angry grease came from the stove…
Pa stepped inside, clearing the door, and Tom looked in at his mother…Her hazel eyes seemed to have experienced all possible tragedy and to have mounted pain and suffering like steps into a high calm and a superhuman understanding. She seemed to know, to accept, to welcome her position, the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken. And since old Tom and the children could not know hurt or fear unless she acknowledged hurt and fear, she had practiced denying them in herself. And since, when a joyful thing happened, they looked to see whether joy was on her, it was her habit to build up laughter out of inadequate materials. But better than joy was calm. Imperturbability could be depended upon. And from her great and humble position in the family she had taken dignity and a clean calm beauty. From her position as healer, her hands had grown sure and cool and quiet; from her position as arbiter she had become as remote and faultless in judgment as a goddess. She seemed to know that if she swayed the family shook, and if she ever really deeply wavered or despaired the family would fall, the family will to function would be gone.
She looked out into the sunny yard, at the dark figure of a man. Pa stood near by, shaking with excitement. “Come in,” he cried. “Come right in, mister.” And Tom a little shamefacedly stepped over the doorsill. She looked up pleasantly from the frying pan. And then her hand sank slowly to her side and the fork clattered to the wooden floor. Her eyes opened wide, and the pupils dilated. She breathed heavily through her open mouth. She closed her eyes. “Thank God,” she said. “Oh, thank God!” She moved toward him lithely, soundlessly in her bare feet, and her face was full of wonder. Her small hand felt his arm, felt the soundness of his muscles. And, then her fingers went up to his cheek as a blind man’s fingers might…And her joy was nearly like sorrow… And she set the pot of tumbling coffee on the back of the stove.
– (a somewhat) condensed excerpt from John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath
I distinctly remember reading The Grapes of Wrath for the first time, many, many moons ago in the cool grass of my parent’s backyard. I specifically recall my somersaulting heart after devouring the above excerpt and wondering, how on earth, this Mr. Steinbeck knew my mother. Well, she doesn’t talk with a 1930’s Oklahoma drawl and she has nutmeg brown eyes. But still. Such is the description of my Mama.
“Let’em come, we got a’plenty.” Such is the generosity of my mama’s arms. Always welcoming, always giving, my mama fills each day with an abundance of gifts which nourish mind, body and soul for all those around her. She gives without judgment, without expectation, without personal agenda and always with the knowledge that if you are giving the most important gifts in life there is more than a’plenty.
“…mounted pain and suffering like steps into a high calm and a superhuman understanding.” Such is the insight of my mama’s compassion. She not only bears her own pain with astounding grace but seems to transcend with it into a celestial realm of peace. If that were not enough, she simultaneously reaches her heart out, without thought, to any trembling lip or shaking soul holding their burden too with an angelic tenderness. The sanctuary she has built within herself has room for anyone who needs rest.
“…the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken…the children could not know hurt or fear unless she acknowledged hurt and fear.” Such is the altruism of my mama’s protection. I know she has protected us from so much in life and, even today, she will probably not admit just how much she weathered internally so that we could stuff our little pockets with a few more carefree smiles. And yet, in the wisdom of her protection, she didn’t shelter us. Even though I have no doubt it hurt her, she let us explore, make mistakes, find our own definitions and boundaries of hurt and fear so that we might know our own spring-wells of healing and courage. Her protection was an unwavering, selfless, encouraging love revealing to us that if we knew our reserves of strength, sometimes, when everything feels like it’s falling apart, it just might be everything falling into place.
“And since, when a joyful thing happened, they looked to see whether joy was on her, it was her habit to build up laughter out of inadequate materials.” Such is the reliable wealth of my mama’s laugh. There have been countless, countless times when a situation undoubtedly legitimizes worry, panic, the wringing of one’s hands and there is my Mama finding the one dusty speck of the scenario from which to not only be thankful for but, from that speck, wash the entire predicament with her rejuvenating laugh. With her laugh alone she makes the world right.
“And from her great and humble position in the family she had taken dignity and a clean calm beauty.” Such is the loveliness of my mama’s being. My mother is, physically, a gorgeous woman. More importantly, however, she doesn’t even realize just how stunning she is and this speaks not only to her humility but the sincere serenity of her heart and soul which make her radiant.
“From her position as healer, her hands had grown sure and cool and quiet; from her position as arbiter she had become as remote and faultless in judgment as a goddess. She seemed to know that if she swayed the family shook, and if she ever really deeply wavered or despaired the family would fall, the family will to function would be gone.” Such is the reservoir of my mama’s soul. The strength to soothe and to heal or just to help you cry, the sagacity to mediate with others or within oneself with nearly divine insight, the dignified fortitude to bear that vital Foundation, ensuring everyone will not merely function but vibrantly flourish.
“And her joy was nearly like sorrow.” Such is the greatest lesson my Mama taught me. Through her, I learned that the deepest joy and the deepest sorrow are inextricably linked because they comprise the long experience of Love, the highest and noblest of all causes. She taught me that to truly love is not a journey for the faint of heart but for the heart willing to be scathed and the stamina to grow stronger with each scar, ever-learning what love gives and what it takes. And that Loving, filling beyond measure both our capacities for pulsating joy and crumpling sorrow, is a state of being that shines just a little more light into this world if one is not afraid to hold all that it is.