Mother. It’s hard to imagine a word in the human language that evokes a more diverse collection of emotions. That collection of emotions is deeply individual. No impetus in the human experience is more profound or formative than that of “mother”.
When I was a child, my mother was fiercely devoted to fostering independence. When I was two, my mom put a small container of milk on the lowest shelf of the fridge. She put my cups where I could reach them. She kept a small bucket of water and a rag under the sink so I could clean up my messes. I was allowed to get dirty because Mom taught me how to do my own laundry. She let me climb things that other mothers thought were too high and too dangerous. She let me adventure because she trusted me to be careful.
When I had an 9th grade crush on a boy from All State Lutheran Choir, my mom drove ten hours so I could see him again. The summer after 10th grade, she encouraged me to raise the money to attend the Junior Statesman convention in Washington DC. She supported me when I left high school a year early to go to college. She supported me when I left college a year early to work with an organization that sponsored cultural exchange between Eastern Europe and the U.S. during the Cold War. It was one of the most exciting, dangerous, perspective-altering times of my life. My mother didn’t just support my safe decisions. She encouraged me to take risks as well.
Many people would characterize their mothers as “always being there” for them. But my mom went far beyond a traditional mother’s call of duty. When our daughter, Gracie, was born, John and I were working as manufacturer’s reps in the outdoor industry. Work required us to attend many sales meetings and trade shows throughout the country. My mom and dad would fly to various locations at their own expense to care for Gracie so she could be with us when we traveled. They spent endless hours painting our houses, doing house repairs, cleaning fridges, doing laundry, doing ANYTHING that needed to be done to make our lives easier.
Most recently, both of my parents and my brother, Curt, drove 16 hours from Northern Minnesota to spend ten days constructing Ellicottville Coffee Company. They worked 14 hours a day. They slept in less-than-ideal conditions and never complained once. They didn’t take a dime for their work. Three months after the coffee shop was finished, I announced that John and I were getting a divorce. Neither my brother, my mom nor my dad made a single comment about all the hours they contributed to building the coffee shop. I am humbled and awed by their generosity and grace.
My love for my mother is something ferocious and something soft. It brings me comfort when I’m feeling alone. It gives me strength when I’m feeling weak. My love for my mother is all tangled up in giving and receiving and it’s not clear where the giving starts or the receiving ends. In short, my mother is proof that there is a God and that God loves me.
As I write, I feel a little guilty knowing that not everyone has had my positive experience of “mother”. Some of us were blessed with mothers who showered us with love, graced us with wisdom, and imbued a deep sense of purpose, place and belonging. Others struggled with mothers who were narcissistic, pessimistic or otherwise disconnected. I am compelled to share a special message to those whose experience of “mother” is less than ideal. One of the strangest, most mystical experiences of my life centered around the concept of “mother”.
Exactly two years ago, on Mother’s Day, I was beginning a wilderness quest in the Inyo Mountains to the east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California. It was a cold morning. Temperatures in the low 40’s were not ideal for camping. Our group of questers was apprehensively looking at weather forecasts for the next 10 days, since we would be camping in the wilderness with no protection other than our personal tarps.
Our trip leader, Mike, began to explain the Native American belief in the seven arrows of the medicine wheel. The seven arrows represent the four compass directions, the sky above, earth below and spirit within. As we stood in a circle around Mike, I was overcome with the feeling to drop to my knees. I heard a voice say “Get to your knees. You are on holy ground.” Surrounded by people I’d just met, I felt uncomfortable and awkward. But again I heard the voice, compelling me: “Get to your knees. You are only holy ground.”
I excused myself, pretending to head to the bathroom. But I walked past the outhouse and went out into the desert. Picking my way through the sage brush, I breathed the clean astringent scent of dirt mixed with sage. Suddenly, my legs buckled and I dropped to my knees, engulfed in an overwhelming wave of an emotion that would best be described as ecstasy. I’d never felt anything like it, but I knew its name was “mother”. Waves of bliss washed over me again and again until it felt like this human form would explode from the sheer force of love and light. Tears of awe and gratitude streamed down my face.
In that moment, I received a message that was more an image than words. In my journal, I translated the block of thought: “Whether you had the perfect mother, a terrible mother, or no mother at all is irrelevant. All pale in comparison to the all-encompassing love of the One Mother.” I knew that the love of the One Mother was the birthright of every human. She gave herself the name Pachamama, though many cultures know her by many names. She is the essence of mother love and she loves each person more than any human mother is capable of loving.
Today, I celebrate the concept of mother: mine, yours and ours. I offer you warmth, love, and the total, complete acceptance of the Mother. In my mind’s eye, I see the perfection of who you are. You are delightful, spectacularly beautiful and SEEN in this moment by the mother-love that is within me and within every other human being. Know this and hear it in your heart of hearts: I love you, precious child. You are mine.