Over the past three years I’ve entered a few essay contests. I haven’t won but on a personal level each is a huge victory.
This is another one of my losing essays. I proudly share them here basically for the same reason I write them—it makes me happy and it feels good. This particular prompt was to write about our most courageous moment—and once again my life doesn’t fit into the “all-or-nothing” experience.
I hope you enjoy.
As I look back over my life, it is marked by bravery. Each triumph is very different and more importantly no less brave than the triumph that lived before. I’m certain we each have such milestones. I am inclined to celebrate them equally.
In my first ten years I remember bravely grasping the handlebars of my shiny green bike, charging ahead, determined to ride over that enormous gravel pile left near the new house construction next door.
Bikes and gravel don’t mix—lesson learned.
Knees and palms bloody. I cried.
Ages ten to twenty I buried the secrets of abuse at the hands of people I had trusted. It followed me for years as I navigated life in silent torment.
I am a survivor—lesson learned.
Heart and soul betrayed. I cried.
Years twenty to thirty I watched my mother fight cancer. I sat with her as she spoke of her life, her dreams, and her wishes for my future.
Sometimes all you can do is be fully present for another human being as they retrace their past—lesson learned.
Inner child frightened and lonely. I cried.
Thirty to forty I watched my fifty-nine year old mother take her final breath and I sat for hours with my father in her presence as her soul lifted to heaven. I also had my first and only child six years later that she never got to meet. I was a motherless daughter wanting to call my Mommy and ask questions about my newborn.
Parenting is learn as you go, and you do the best that you can with what you have—lesson learned.
My heart filled with a new kind of love. I cried.
Forty to fifty I calmly watched my husband leave me, and I smiled every day in front of our six year old to show her that she would never have choose between her parents; that she could always be free to think of her Daddy as her Hero. Just like my Daddy is to me. I also left behind a twenty-three year teaching career to begin my own business. It’s not the spectacular success I dreamed it would be.
Sometimes the things you think are going to be so perfect turn out sad and disappointing—lesson learned.
My heart broken and my ego bruised. I cried.
Bravery or the price of being alive? Which is it? I can’t answer that without remembering something my Mom would say to me when I was little and things didn’t go my way, “Into each life some rain must fall,” and today I’m sitting in a torrential downpour. Hell, I’m feeling brave and impressed for just getting out of bed this morning.
Next year I will be fifty. Every day I wake up. I put my feet on the floor and I face the day. I smile as I pack a new 5th grader’s lunch. I know I need to find a new career—well any job really. I call my dad to say “I love you.” I talk to my Mom while I’m folding laundry. I forgive myself for abandoning my inner child, and for failing at a marriage and business. I still hate riding a bike.
Being alone in silence, learning life lessons, knowing when to cry, and knowing how to brush myself off and try again—these are the bravest things any one of us can do when we are given the beauty of another sunrise.
I think my mother was right; to be fully alive is the most courageous thing we do for our soul; rain or shine, but my favorite Longfellow poem this week is Loss and Gain because it is my anthem to bravery and to my decades of courageous living:
Loss and Gain by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
When I compare
What I have lost with what I have gained,
What I have missed with what attained,
Little room do I find for pride.
I am aware
How many days have been idly spent;
How like an arrow the good intent
Has fallen short or been turned aside.
But who shall dare
To measure loss and gain in this wise?
Defeat may be victory in disguise;
The lowest ebb is the turn of the tide.
For me mothering is a non-stop, learn-as-I-go adventure with no one to call for help. My mom died when she was 59. I was 32 and it would be another six years before my daughter Skye was born. I wish they had met.
I remember once sitting on my mom’s lap with my hands wrapped in hers—she looked down and said, “Oh God. These are my mother’s hands.” I didn’t understand the tone of her voice at the time. It was almost a mixture of matter-of-fact sorrow, resignation, and exhaustion. Nearly forty year later I finally understood—completely—as I stood flipping a pancake and there she was--her hand—holding my spatula.
My own reflection even surprises me these days. Sometimes I will pass a window and I will have to do a double take because I think my mom is staring back at me. It makes me laugh.
I am sad sometimes that my mom never got to meet my daughter, but I realize now that her hands have. It’s my mother’s hands I see holding Skye’s hand, or face, or brushing her hair. Folding her granddaughter’s clothes even; it makes me smile.
Mom died with typical regrets of not being a “better mother” no matter how much I would try to convince her otherwise. She did crazy little things that made me feel special. She sewed a box full of Barbie clothes, let me “run away” (to the basement), take apart my bed and put it on the floor, and leave my room a holy mess as long as I shut the door. She also taught me to finger paint on the glass top table, to bake, and how to enjoy summers on the patio.
I’m sorry Mom, but you aren’t remembered for putting me through college, although you did, or for the arguments we had during high school, or for any of those harsh words we may have spoken to each other. You will always be remembered as the woman who set up her own mother’s ancient sewing machine to make teeny tiny jackets, skirts, and dresses for my Barbie. It is all these little things that happened in the course of the days that are my lasting memories of “motherhood”.
Sometimes I even have a dream with my mom in it, and I get to watch her with her granddaughter; her face looks like the mom I had when I was ten—before grey hair, before cancer, before regrets.
As I hold my daughter’s hand I know my mom is here—I see it in my hands. She gets to be a part of Skye’s life by proxy. My hair is now turning grey, and I make mistakes, and Skye’s room is a holy mess, but I try not to have regrets. Thirty years from now, when my daughter notices her hands have started to look like mine, I pray she knows just as I have come to understand, that she has four generations of good hands holding her, guiding her, and loving her—always.
This article originally appeared on May 7, 2013 on The Brown Falcon and each year near Mother's Day it needs to be revisited by me, so here it is :-)