When it's a good day, the universe gives you a story. A story that you need to live better. "Eleven" by Sandra Cisneros was that gift about fifteen years ago during some teacher training. The story was used in a procedure for teaching story elements and it was a helpful sticky note exercise that I have used many times to help students identify and discuss literature. I still remembering hoping to avoid becoming Mrs. Price, the cranky pants teacher in the story whose thoughtless comments ruined a child"s day. That wasn't, however, the theme that came to me as I approach this Mother's Day.
In the story the character is having a birthday and she says, "What they don't understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you're eleven, you're also ten, and nine, and eight..." She compares the years of one's life to the rings of a tree. It's a helpful image as I age and as I relate to my mother. It's easy to think of the aging people in our lives and just view them as they are now, forgetting that inside they are all of the ages they have ever been. We celebrate those years sometimes after our loved ones die, but probably not often enough while they are still with us.
My mother, 88, has to stop to catch her breath more often when we walk. She often tells me the same thing two or three times in one conversation (my kids tell me I do too) and I frequently have to finish her sentences or give her a name she is trying to retrieve. Again, I admit I sometimes have to look to my younger friends for the same support. She can still walk a 5K, read about 70 books a year, make a mean casserole, and keep an active social schedule. Sometimes, I forget and I think of her as "just" my elderly mother instead of the woman who is still 10, 18, 28, 45, and 60. It helps though that she has shared life stories and that I have my own memory bank of her earlier days. Just yesterday she shared with me about her first teaching position. "I made $1800 for the year. Can you believe that?"
The Tree of Mom. Inside the strong, slight exterior of this lovely woman are the rings of experiences touched by grace. The 18 year old who was first in her family to go to college, the teacher in a one room schoolhouse, the young bride, the tired mother of three, middle school teacher, the retreat leader, spiritual director, ordained minister, and voracious reader. The woman who could shake one mighty finger at my sassy 14-year-old self,and bring my back to my senses. (This particular memory is why I still show her the respect she deserves!) The woman who has the most beautiful singing voice I have ever heard. The woman with magical dreams and strong bones. I often rest in the shade of this mighty woman and when God is with me, I don't take it for granted. I listen more, walk slower, and look for the rings of life which sustain my own.
Happy Mother's Day!