I have seen my mother weep. I have seen her sob and wail. Life has affected my mother and I have witnessed it. You can be surrounded by good people, those you love, and still be battered by life. There are any number of things at play against you, time and love not the least of them, and if we knew what was ahead of us, we wouldn’t ever step forward; if we kept a record of our hardships, we’d read it and doubt our survival.
My father is the unbowed governor of his life. My mother has a favorite image, that of a lighthouse, an aged and weathered monolith beaten by the rain, the sea, and the salt, but unchanged, commanding until the day it collapses in a heap of broken stone. My father’s strength is outward and necessary, sure footing for a wife who would climb to the extremes of her being for him, for their children.
If I learned all of life from my father, it might have seemed too easy. My mother has opened herself to the scalding hot and frostbite cold, the depths and heights of life. I have seen her cry and I have seen her ecstatic with joy. I have noted the bad days and the very good days through her, and I have been given an idea of what to expect and what is possible.
I don’t know what my mother intended to be but my mother. Which is to say that she has dedicated her life to me. The idea overwhelms me that another person should be so committed to my health and happiness for so long, even to this day, a decade after the end of my childhood.
The list of my mother’s achievements is dominated by the seven children. Her life has been dominated by her seven children, some of whom are still children. She has served us for thirty years. I have seen pictures of her as a young woman, a beautiful girl with long hair and no children, a girl that was not my mother. She was an ordinary pretty girl, not the agent of a supreme and steady love that has formed me, defined me, and guided me. By the time my memory allows me to know my mother, she was already the tested matriarch of a family of six. The definition of mother is unique to us all, and mine has it the most powerful word in the language.
Some are lucky and the world knows them. The world doesn’t know my mother, who has done greater things than most, greater things than me. There are seven of us and we are whole and right and happy. We are fragments of our mother, pieces of her love breathing. We are in the world now, across the world, holy and dreaming, and new wives and new mothers. We are our mother’s children still, envoys of her love.
I am an adult now and I am in greater awe of her. Life is difficult even for the prepared, even alone. That I am here, that I am happy, in spite of cruel odds, must be entirely due to my mother and father. That my mother, an ordinary pretty girl with long hair, did what she did—and it is the special connection of my siblings that only we know all that she did—in spite of a sometimes unkind universe, and that I am here and happy, cannot be celebrated enough.
It is my mother’s birthday today and mine tomorrow. I am walking through life on my own and my mother, whose troubles must be over, is a dancing child, a beautiful, smiling woman whose heart still beats large and eyes still shine bright. I am glad I am old enough and smart enough to know my mother now as a friend, too.
Happy birthday, Mom.