“…always an act of courage.”

by bam

maybe it happens to you, too, sometimes. you are reading along, and words reach out, like some sort of net strung between trees in a thick jungle. they entangle you, stop you in your tracks, don’t release you, really, for days and days.

so it was, as i was reading along in tina brown’s new newsweek, reading a story about barack obama’s mother, when i stumbled on the words, at the top of a paragraph, nestled inconspicuously into the rest of the black-on-white sentences.

i read: “Motherhood is always an act of courage.”

just like that, it caught me.

as always, the best writing is stitched with wisdom. it catches you unawares. elegant french knots of deep truth tucked in among the narrative.

one minute i was reading that obama’s brave single mother, ann soetoro, a cultural anthropologist by training, was as curious about men as she was perplexed by them, the next i was entangled in a thought that would carry me for days.

“motherhood is always an act of courage.”

indeed it is.

from the moment that seed of life burrows deep into the womb, makes its way to connect to the richness that is a mother’s blood. will feed, will sustain.

from conception on, there is no going back, if God is willing, if prayers are answered.

we move on, one corpuscle tied to the next. we are in this, literally, together. we are forever entwined. though birth will begin the separation, there are separations deep down inside that will never truly be cut with any knife.

from those blurry days of daydreams, before the labor comes, when in hazy fuzzy terms you try hard as you can to imagine this someone, to imagine how it will be.

it will be nothing like those dreams.

it will be nothing like anything you have ever known.

and the one sure thing, the only certainty, is you’d better tap deep into a tank of high-octane courage. no watered-down concoction can take you where you need to go. this trek has no roadmap, and too often, no shortcuts.

it’s courage that will carry you round the skinny mountain passes, where the edge is steep, is precipitous. it’s courage that will carry you through unrelenting passages, when you’d rather turn in swift retreat.

after all, they send you home with this squirming, hungry bundle–and no instructions attached. you shake as you sit in the back seat, the baby’s father driving so cautiously you fear you might be rear-ended, the car behind you not understanding just how deep a journey home this is, this long trip, the maiden voyage.

then, the first morning you are left home alone with this babe, you break out in sweat. or tears. more often, both. the baby squawks, you try to figure out how in the world you will do this. how will you spoon the cereal into your own mouth, so you, in turn, can feed your screaming infant?

courage? oh, mother courage, you came to me, you filled me. shaking, quaking deep inside. uncertain, scared, somehow we carried on.

all along the way, it’s darkness up ahead. we never know what might be around the bend. we simply keep putting one foot out, before the other.

how in the world can you take on the task of mothering if you are not filled up with courage? if you do not gulp it for breakfast, inhale it like undiluted oxygen?

i consider, in a slide show that makes me weep, the moments of courage of mothers i have known:

the mother, just this week, who watched her little girl’s legs be strapped into braces, braces for a year.

the mother who sat outside the OR while oncologists poured hot chemo in her daughter’s belly, a last-ditch hope to stop the unretrenching cancer.

the mother, so many mothers, who bravely steps into the school conference room, where so many minds–and unknown faces–are gathered to map a plan to help the struggling child, the child for whom learning doesn’t come in straight lines, or quickly.

or what of the mother who took the call, from a stranger, who listened to the voice telling her that her bike-riding son had fallen, been found unconscious, limp and bloodied. that mother who drove, trembling, who carried her son to the ER. who listened as the doctor said his vertebrae, high up in his neck, were fractured, one for certain, another most likely. an airlift would be arranged.

and what about the less dramatic, but no less daunting frame: the mother who drops her child off at the classroom door, who hears the cries from in the room, as she cowers in the hallway, barely breathing, wondering, how in the world will he make it–will she, the mother, make it–through the next endless hour?

i think of the mothers i admire most, the ones whose unbroken, unwobbling faith makes me stand straight, breathe deep, reach down and get a grip. i think of those mothers and realize every single one is a profile in pure courage.

you take on life when you bear a child, when you become a mother through birth or love or law.

and when you cradle that child in your arms, rock him or her through the night, on the nights when fevers soar, and cries grow shrill. and you are terrified inside, but you whisper to yourself, “this child needs me, stay strong. don’t waver.”

i’ve been the mother who talked to my knees, instructed, “don’t buckle,” when i thought they would, when i thought my firstborn might be with severed spinal cord. when i needed to wheel his cart down a long lonely hallway, when i could not look into his eyes, for fear of breaking down and falling into pieces. when i saw his life, and mine, pass before my eyes.

“…always an act of courage.”

is it not an act of courage, on any old school morning, when we wave our child down the sidewalk, watch them bravely board the school bus, when we know that there are kids on that school bus who taunt our child, who call him names, who make his schoolday an exercise in humiliation?

and what of the times we pick up the phone, tell the principal in no uncertain terms that we will not let this go on?

when we walk up to the baseball coach, when we tell him what just happened was truly painful, and he had better make it right, for this is no way to model grace under pressure?

even though, deep inside, we are shaking, quaking all the while. not so practiced at this standing up, and being counted. except for when we look around, realize we’re the one who’s being depended on. we’ve become, after all, the grownup. the one who will not let our children out in the rain, to fend for themselves, to march unshielded. we lift our voices, if need be. make decisions. stand taller than we’ve ever stood. because it is our children for whom we are called to be more than we have ever been before.

i think back to my own mother who, at 50, found herself a widow, with five children. who huddled us by the door as we were about to step outside to the long black car sent by the funeral home, who looked each one of us in the eye, who told us, “make him proud,” the father we were burying that morning.

it is courage—the hot wind of heaven that fuels our trembling wings.

it is courage—that makes us reach down deep inside and pull out muscle where we never knew we had it. it’s where the backbone is. it’s where, when we need to, we find the voice that speaks up, that won’t relent, that settles only in solid resolution.

we are charged with much in this lifelong journey called mothering.

the one piece of armament sure to go the distance, is the unfettered, unadorned, magnificent holy breath called mother courage.

how do you spell out mother courage? what profiles fill your bookshelves?

the picture above, curiously, captures my first act of mother courage, and not at the front of the frame, not merely cradling a newborn baby minutes after birth. it’s the nutrition book on the shelf behind; i was so afraid somehow that i would screw up the feeding of my unborn child, i followed along, unwilling to falter one iota. when i laid eyes on his chubby thighs, his thighs with gorgeous folds of fat, i heaved a sigh. i knew my deepest prayers had been answered. which is why i have never thrown out that old nutrition tome. it carried me across a bridge that demanded pure courage.

and, of course, happy blessed mothers day to the mothers among us, in whatever form we find ourselves mothering on this earth….