love letter at the end of a chapter
it’s pitch black as i sit here at the old maple table. the softest ping-ping-ping syncopates the ticking toward dawn. it’s the sound of rain dripping from the downspout, a sound we’d nearly forgotten, the long parched days washing out the memory, the garden all but shriveled, each leaf clasped, as if in prayer, awaiting benediction from the heavens in the form of holy blessed rain. it’s the ablution this old world needs, the rinsing away, we can only hope, of all our brokenness and sin. the sin of evil, a dust that’s blown in, caked every surface in fine-grained sediment. we might need a long day’s rain, to rinse us, cleanse us, clear away that which dirties this old and broken world.
but this morning brings with it a swelling-up of love, of gratitude. and that, for me, is the lasting ablution, time after time. i woke up early because last night i came to the close of a months-long chapter, a chapter of being out and about with my little book, motherprayer, the one that gathers up quiet little moments from the landscape of mothering, the one that whispers in no uncertain terms: this is holy work, this mothering. this just might be my life’s deepest calling, this curriculum in loving, sacred instruction like no other i have ever lived and breathed or known.
for months now, i’ve done what writers do when they birth a book to the world. they carry it forth, literally. they amble hither and yon, and say a few things about why in the world they sat down to write those words. it scares me every time. scares me something fierce. but then a holy thing begins to happen: people raise their hands, tell their stories. or come up to me, clasp my arm, my hand, and whisper stories, their stories. or send me notes, ones that break me out in goosebumps or find me wiping away yet another tear.
last night i came to the end of the last such outing on my calendar, the last one for awhile anyway. and like every other outing that preceded it, it was stitched with moments and stories i’ll not forget. this love letter — a thank you, really — is for each and every someone who’s raised her hand, whispered her story, who’s added verse and stanza to the motherpoem that will not end….
dear you who raised your hand, you who told your story, you who never said a word but brushed away tear after tear,
thank you. i’ll never forget you. i’ll never forget your story.
the one about how you were one of nine, and you’d all but gotten lost in the noise of your old house, so you wandered down the lane, found motherlove in the old lady who lived alone, but who always made time for you. the one (your “other mother,” you called her) who asked what you wanted for dinner, a question you’d never realized existed, a question you’d never before been asked in the house where you were growing up. the one, the other mother, who taught you love in the way she sat across from you, looked you in the eyes, listened to your words. the one whose house you would have stayed at night and day, and sometimes did, because sometimes no one noticed you were missing from your own.
or, just last night, you with your blessed story about how you had only one child, and you were older when she was born, so surprised, really, to find yourself a mother so late in the game. you knew, you said, that roots and wings were what was asked of you. your job, a mother’s job, you said, was roots and wings. and then you said, so unforgettably, how you were really good at roots, really good. but wings, not so much. you struggled with the wings, you said. you struggled so with letting go. you struggled the whole first year she was away at college. and then, her sophomore year, when she regaled you with college stories, you realized, “she’s never coming home.” and so, you said, under cloak of nightfall, sitting in a football stadium, you needlepointed a pair of wings. you sent them off to her, your beautiful daughter (the one who sat beside you, held your arm as you spoke last night, just home from the cancer doctor). you said she called you “in hysterics.” (we think you meant that she was laughing.) what in the world was with the wings, your daughter asked. you said she wondered if maybe you were telling her it was time for her to fly away. you told her, though, that they were wings for you, the mother who was having a hard time coming up with the requisite pair. and she, your daughter, was to hold onto them so that when she flew (not if), she could give them to you, because you were having a really hard time with the wings part of the mama equation, you were the one who’d need help with all this letting go. and your daughter, who is breathtakingly alive and beautiful, she piped in to tell all of us crowded in the room that all these years later, 38 years later, she had those needlepointed wings hanging in her closet, so each morning when she got dressed, she’d remember that her mama gave her wings.
or the stories you’ve whispered to me about grandbabies who nearly died, who at the brink of death got a liver transplant from a baby two beds away in the pediatric ICU, and how you’ve watched your daughter’s motherlove as she stood guard, stood watch, loved beyond measure. or the stories about kids at college who got so sick, so scared, so you name it, you leapt on planes and stayed for days or weeks or months, depending on the reason you leapt in the first place.
or you, the woman who months ago raised your hand to tell me that just that afternoon you’d lamented to your grown and beautiful daughter that you regretted that you’d “never done anything important with [your] life.” and that after listening to all of us talking about motherlove and motherprayer, you’d started to think that maybe, just maybe, you had done something important with your life, mothering those two lovely daughters who were now, in kind, mothering good and gentle children of their own.
and i’ll never forget the very first mama who reported back that she was reading motherprayer and — an answer to my prayer — she’d filled the end pages with scribbles all her own, as story after story uncorked for her some tale from her own raising of three boys, stories she’d all but forgotten, but now recalled and recorded vividly.
i know i don’t know all your stories, but i do know you have them, tucked away in your heart. i know that every room i’ve been in these last many months has been brimming with stories, told and untold. there is not a motherer among us who is not a profile in courage, who is not an encyclopedia of loving. it all comes with the job. the holiest job that’s ever landed in my lap, my arms, my heart, my whole.
may motherGod anoint you, bless you, and whisper holy words into your heart: you are living breathing blessing, you motherers of the world. however and wherever and to whomever you ply your love, you are putting flesh and sinew to the gospel. love as you would be loved.
and thank you.
i mean it, of course. as trembling as i get before i clutch a podium — as if holding on for dear life — it always erupts in blessing. i open my heart each time i write, and thus i’m endlessly showered in the reciprocal opening of others’ hearts. and i am blessed beyond words. if you’ve not had a chance to raise your hand and tell your own story of motherlove, from any angle, feel free to tell it here. it’s why this old table has so many chairs. we always find room for one more story. who taught you motherlove? what are some of the most powerful lessons you learned, and how? what are the moments when you’ve found it easiest to love beyond the point of exhaustion? and the most challenging? who inspires you? how do you refuel? have you ever considered the motherly capacities of the Divine?
You are such a beautiful writer. Reading this was like a soothing balm to my to my troubled heart. Thank you. 😘
bless YOU for coming to the table, and reading, and leaving behind a love note. thank you. xoxoxo
How my heart is overloaded with joy and happiness knowing the Universe has brought our hearts together through the amazing air waves of communication. Bless you my friend ❤
bless YOU! i never ever cease to be amazed at the holiness that finds its way here to the old table. a rivulet of grace, unending. it’s the gentlest of souls who find voice here, and i am so deeply grateful…..
Thank you for this at the end of such a difficult month. My Mom taught me everything about mothering, yet she lost her own mother at 16. It was instinct and just pure love, I think. Still miss sharing tea with her at the end of the day, just talking. I think that’s what it was–she just gave us her full attention.She shined her light on us and we were blessed.
some of the finest mothers i know taught themselves — perhaps out of wanting it so deeply. perhaps to fill that aching for motherlove. i love that you shared tea at the end of every day. sacramental, to be sure…..
paying attention: the devotional heart of mothering. what makes it a spiritual exercise of the highest order.
you were blessed, indeed.
It just fills my heart to so beautifully be reminded of the importance of mothering. My mother’s sister, with no children of her own, was my safety net. Even as the early stages of Alzheimer’s began to claim her and our roles changed, she would greet me with “Hi, hon, do you need anything?” Thanks to her, not as much.
Now Motherprayers abound as I look forward in the next few months to the cherished role of Grandma. So blessed.
so blessed indeed. love that she opened each conversation, asking what YOU needed…..
bless you as you get ready to cradle that sweet babe……
The needlepointed wings story brought a tear to my eye. I love that her adult daughter has those wings in her closet and sees them every day. Last night before parent-teacher conferences, the art teacher at my elementary school installed a large piece in the school hallway based on the artwork of Kelsey Montague. Each 3rd, 4th, and 5th grader created a feather in art class and then all 300 plus feathers were used to create two enormous beautifully colored wings. I wish I could share a picture of it with you all here! The 5th graders also came up with hashtags about the art like #spread your wings, #believe you can fly, #fly to success, #together we rise up, #to inspire is inspiring.
oh my! wings seems to be a theme today (thus, my gold-winged angel up above). i LOVE the artwork you describe. love the image of a giant span of wings decorating a school hallway. right now we need to fill the children’s world with as much flight and fancy and brilliant color as we can possibly muster. as scary as it is to be a grownup these days, can you possibly imagine being a kid???? my high schooler this morning heard the news about the las vegas shooter having reserved two rooms overlooking lollapalooza in grant park this summer, and he said, staring ahead, “oh, that scares me. i’m never going to an outdoor concert again.”
#believeyoucanfly, indeed. xoxox
Parents are here for parent teacher conferences and they are stopping at the mural to take pictures of the children in front of the wings, so that it looks like each child has huge brilliantly colored wings.
I know how your high schooler feels. “Hope is the thing with feathers…” Hoping we can overcome the fear of evil with hope again and again.
OH, MAN OH MAN! i LOVE that image of each child wrapped in brilliantly colored wings. and bless you for bringing dear Emily D and her feathered hope here to the table, wrapping hope and feathers and heartbreak all in one fine and endless circle…..
I am beyond words… Thank you, my most beautiful friend, for telling and sharing stories of deepest meaning and worth. ❤️
oh, and i know there are SOOO many more stories to be told. and i am listening, will ever be listening. no brahms or beethoven can come close to the exquisite beauty of motherlove that will not be stopped, not for anything, ever.
and thank YOU, dear A, for sharing so so many stories back and forth across the cyber wires…..xoxox
Barbara, once again your words are obviously inspired and inspiring, thank you May God our Mother hold you with the motherlove you most need and desire!
bless YOU, mary jo. bless you for being there last night, for giving me a hint of what’s to come, should i ever be so blessed to cradle grandbabies in my arms…..
Bless you BOTH. So blessed to be in the room with you two beautiful women…and many others. Still feeling the glow in my heart. Heaps of gratitude.
i too am still glowing from the other night, from being so deeply surrounded by radiant souls. i’ve weathered a WHOLE weekend of feeding 500 debaters for a debate tournament at our high school, and not even that has dialed down the glow of thursday night. you and MJ are glorious. xoxox
I am reminded of this Emily Dickinson quote:
‘Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops–at all’.
Thanks Barbie, for adding words to the tune. You are a rich blessing to so very many. Love you! joannie
one of my favorite favorites — emily and YOU! thank you sweet angel. thank you for bringing the two of you here to the table. all the more sacred because you are here. bless you. xoxoxox
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