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May 9, 2004
In the beginning, every parent thinks their child is the most perfect baby ever born. Alas, this evaluation is subject to change over the years, but even less reliable is the affection of the child, and most of us pass through (at least) a period of antipathy towards parental authority as such. Well, let me say that I have not suffered much, maybe too much largess if anything; but while I may have had my “awkward age”, and moments of embarrassment, I don’t believe that I have ever uttered that blasphemous shibboleth of childhood: “I hate my parents.”
The modern holidays honoring parents have no place in Tradition. Their institution may reflect a need accentuated by a lifestyle that takes us further away from our parents than was formerly the case in the days when most people lived and died in the same place where they were born, and many an aging parent lived with an adult child, exchanging in actuality what we now exchange in symbol. Certainly I do not take the cynical view that Mother’s and Father’s Day are essentially “commercial” holidays, marketing flowers, cards, and dinners out. They are worthy additions to the cannon, and if they recall but coarsely the old Commandment to “honor thy father and mother”, so our secular society must find its own way.
In celebrating parents on this page I have spoken more about my father than my mother. This is only partially due to my need to process the fact of his death in 2000, which took up several posts. One wants to believe in (and genetics teaches) a sexual equality of parenthood, but the fact of being borne within, and born from, the physical body of the mother lends her a certain preeminence, extending to our notions about the world at large. The Western tradition of patriarchy has succeeded not so much in dismissing the Goddess as in displacing Her, and Motherhood is now Her prime refuge, for which cause we find it all the more replete with metaphorical meaning, offering a greater range of reference than our Father, remote in heaven. So it was that I found mother birds to write about in 2000 and 2002, and Mother Earth in 2003. Only in 2001 did I express my regard for my own mother.
That seems like a long time ago, so let me take this opportunity to say that my mother is the best one in the world (though I won’t argue if you think the same of yours.) As a child, I thought she was the smartest person alive, but the years have only left me more impressed by the breadth of her learning; her endless curiosity and insight. Looking at old photographs, I see that she was always beautiful, but she has learned the art of living within one’s body, and bears her beauty more comfortably now, enriched with the wisdom of her years. And all this has been hard-won, in a life she had to make for herself, after she departed from marriage.
In my youth I often wished to hide the secrets of my inner life from her probing mind, but now I find that there is virtually nothing I cannot talk to her about, and it gratifies me to be able to share what many adult children still withhold. Having received from her the gift of Life, revealing such strands as I can of its reticulation is the best I can do by way of repayment.
We live at distance now, and I don’t see her as often as I’d wish, but she is ever in my thought, and remains a guiding voice. I measure the fitness of my every impulse by testing it against my image of her judgment, even though I know that she would forbear me much in the temperance of her love. And yet, I do not even speak to her as often as I should, but that is the way of the modern world, where families are far-flung, and too many are happier that way. But I will take up the duty (and the telephone) of this holiday, and call her on Mother’s Day, and talk around the bush of things trivial and things important; of my life, hers, and all the world’s; all as a prelude to the words that come just before the final click and silence on the line: “I love you, Mom.”
I truly do.