[Although this little piece was written a month ago, circumstances around internet access have delayed its posting. I’m three weeks late, but how relevant is time when it comes to love?]
Last month, on January 29, my mother Miriam would have celebrated her 100th birthday.
Looking back I find something quite remarkable: I don’t EVER remember seeing her cry. *
I remember asking her about this; wondering if she’d intentionally decided to never again cry, as some do who have seen more than their fair share of life’s hard knocks. She said that on the death of her little sister, Bessie, her grief was so enormous she thought it would kill her, but that by some kind of Grace she’d discovered a way of shifting the weight of her personal sorrow. She would have hardly been in her teens at the time.
Her simple secret was to stop and look for something unexpectedly good about the apparently tragic, sad or crazy situation life was dishing up. It was years before I understood the value of this – at first I saw it as an evasion of reality, a Pollyanna prescription, mere ‘positive thinking’. During my years as a card-carrying member of the Thought Police I accused her of simply replacing one thought with another. She’d never waste her energy in argument though; she seemed to quietly trust that eventually I’d come to understand the dynamics of thinking and figure it out for myself. Compassion!
And I did. I came to understand that thinking is always dual – polarized – and that you can’t simply turn a negative one into a positive one to any effect. Pitting thought against thought is not an effective remedy for the relief of suffering. Mum knew better than that. She had found out for herself, however, that if you look for the opposite of the ‘bad’ in the news – playing a kind of game with your mind to release its death-grip on the certainty of tragedy – you eventually reach a space where the polarities cancel each other out, and given time, it becomes second-nature to abide in that spacious equanimity. Note that the same dynamic applies to thoughts that insist on the ‘goodness’ of any news.
Mum’s natural response was seldom to comment from her own position. She reflexively put on the moccasins of the ‘other’. Here’s an example. My Dad passed away just ten minutes before she arrived at the hospice. I went to the door to tell her the news, expecting her to be sad that she had missed his last moments. (They had, after all, been married for 73 years.) She broke into the sweetest smile, raised her arms and said, “He’s free at last!”
Mum’s wisdom was not about right versus wrong or about passive complacency; it embraced an energized equanimity that lies on the other side of thoughts altogether. She mightn’t have done much crying, but her heart was always poised at-the-ready to meet whatever life dished up. Her quiet presence was often all the comfort a suffering soul needed: her innocent, dry-eyed, whole-hearted presence.
This Earth Mother image – scanned from a greeting card years ago – bears an uncanny facial resemblance to Miriam. And the symbolism couldn’t be more perfectly aligned with her virtues – from my perspective anyway!
On the 100th anniversary of her birth I’m taking a leaf out of her book and looking for the ‘good things’ about her departure.
- Like Dad a year earlier, she was “free at last” from her frail, weary, broken body. Ninety six orbits of the sun were quite enough.
- I learned that I could carry forward the immense love and compassion she had for the world, and that I could slowly, with no little agony and humility, grow into her gracious wisdom.
- Thanks to her departure, this blog was born. And that’s a very good thing because it honors and celebrates a great soul who, uneducated and without any personal need to promote her wisdom, left almost no trace in this world.
* Although … when I first left home at 19, bound for Sydney (crying all the way across the Tasman Sea) she wrote that she had roamed the empty house weeping all day at the shock of my absence. We were joined at the hip, Mum and I, and as she reminded me in the last hours of her life – “It never ends!”
Image: Scanned from a greeting card years ago. I vaguely remember that the artist was a New Zealand woman, living in Australia. If you know more, please advise me – I’d love to give credit.