the work of the heart might be imperceptible in terms of its inner churnings, but not for a minute will i concede that it’s any less Nobel Prize-worthy than tense negotiations on some faraway international border.
i write defiantly this morning because in just the last half hour my world has been shaken by a friend i love who is on suicide watch with her son. and for my friend and all who love in ways seen and unseen, all who have run out of words, run out of hope, i say, you are not alone, and we are throwing you every lifeline this old lifeboat has ever known.
i know what it is to be afraid for my children. i know what it is to see some measure of brokenness in their eyes. they’re human, after all, and what human makes it through unscathed?
but i don’t know what it is to have to lock up all the sharp objects, and all the potentially lethal ones too. i cannot imagine how much it hurts to breathe when each and every breath comes dry and hot and not without effort.
this is not the hallelujah mothering day post you might have imagined. life never unfolds by the calendar. not in the places that matter. i worked with kids with cancer, i saw them die on christmas, on birthdays, yes even on mother’s day. i saw them die despite all the prayers and the pleadings of the ones who, in a minute, would have given their own lives — the ultimate pleading, “dear God, take me instead. please.”
that it’s mothering day weekend, and my champion-of-the-heart friend is trying with all her might to simply make it to monday is, in so many ways, the essence of what it means to take on a life beyond measure. i count in my life so, so many glorious souls who mother beyond measure, who love beyond measure (in my book, blessedly, those two things are synonymous, interchangeable, neither one tied to biology).
they are the ones who belong in my great hall of courage. the ones who, hour by hour, stand up to forces that would surely topple any lesser mortal. i know women who’ve watched their baby, their one-year-old baby, be wheeled into brain surgery, and then spent the rest of their days pushing wheelchairs, threading in feeding tubes, chasing down every last therapy that might ease an ounce of some suffering. i know women — and men — who’ve bent low, all but collapsed, to kiss the forehead of a child who has just breathed his or her last. i know others who’ve stood at the bus stop, swiping away tears, as the big yellow bus rumbled away, carrying a child and the bully who taunts.
all of which is to say, in bold sweeps, that taking on love is no greeting-card endeavor. it comes in a thousand million equations, as many equations as there have been humans on earth. no one arrives without a mother, and no one — no one — could make it through infancy, or toddlerhood, or too far beyond, without the tender fierce protections and vigilance of one heart being sealed to and for another. in the world i inhabit, i’ll posit that motherers are indispensable clear through to forever and ever.
pray for my friend, please. pray and pray mightily. pray even harder for her son, a beautiful beautiful child who is finding it so hard to be.
pray for any and all who, day by day, hour after hour, take on the weight of the heart. of carrying one someone across some invisible finish line — staying alive, writing the exam, that the blood test comes clean.
it’s mothering day just around the bend. and every one of us with a heart, we have work to be done. maybe invisible. never ever imperceptible.
here’s a poem that fell in my lap just after i read my friend’s email. it’s titled “invisible work”…
because I don’t mean these poems only
but the unseen
unbelievable effort it takes to live
the life that goes on between them,
I think all the time about invisible work.
About the young mother on Welfare
I interviewed years ago,
who said, “It’s hard.
You bring him to the park,
run rings around yourself keeping him safe,
cut hot dogs into bite-sized pieces for dinner,
and there’s no one
to say what a good job you’re doing,
how you were patient and loving
for the thousandth time even though you had a headache.”
And I, who am used to feeling sorry for myself
because I am lonely,
when all the while,
as the Chippewa poem says, I am being carried
by great winds across the sky,
thought of the invisible work that stitches up the world day and night,
the slow, unglamorous work of healing,
the way worms in the garden
tunnel ceaselessly so the earth can breathe
and bees ransack this world into being,
while owls and poets stalk shadows,
our loneliest labors under the moon.
for everything, and the sea
is a mother too,
whispering and whispering to us
long after we have stopped listening.
I stopped and let myself lean
a moment, against the blue
shoulder of the air. The work
of my heart
is the work of the world’s heart.
There is no other art.
Dear Barbie, The timing and content of your post is ordained. I am passing it to a friend in a similar place. Is the poem in the public domain and licensed to be shared? I’d like to post it on Social Media, if permitted.
Blessings of mothering and birthing hope to you and your this weekend!
* ~ ~ ~ *
*joannie degnan barth*
*The father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours…” **[Luke 15: 31]*
sweetheart, i love that you ask about “licensed to be shared.” i got it from Panhala, and let me see if i can find a solid answer to that. i take that seriously, too. but mostly, i always get shivers when i find out that what’s written slip-slides into someone else’s life. i pray for your friend. oh, i pray. (p.s. your phone number showed up in comment, so i took it out, thinking you might not want the world calling you this weekend. guessing that was the right thing to do. xoxox)
joannie, i’ve sent a note to the poet, alison luterman, and will let you know if we’ve permission. i apologized for not asking before i posted here. i assumed it came to me with permissions, but once you asked, realized i should be certain of that……i try to be so careful in that department…..
Thanks Barbie! I was responding to the email post, and failed to check the return route (or my typos). I do hope my little world calls this weekend, but the rest of the world should call their own mothers 😉
xoxoxo i hope your heavenly world makes your phone ring right off the hook! (an expression i realize that is already outdated. haven’t seen a phone on a hook in a long long while….)
dear joannie and all, i just heard back from the lovely poet Alison Luterman, who thanked us for requesting permission, and generously said she welcomes our posts. So share where you please, with credit to Alison. xoxoxo
Praying… For the benifit of all to know we are never alone…the illusion of separate self can be so devastating… thank you for this reminder …xoxo
love you my friend, and thank you….
By the second paragraph I was running from the computer into the wonderful prayer room we have here at my “work church” — unspooling the prayer rug, and dropping to my knees, hands and head bowed to the floor, praying, praying, praying, and holding you and your friend, son, and family all close in heart, repeating my mantra prayer: dear God, please comfort, bless, help, heal, save, and protect. It’s what I say as each emergency vehicle passes, a prayer habit inbred by the good Sisters of the Poor at St. Theresa. So many heartbreaks. You know so very many brave souls, and have a brave soul yourself. Bless you, thank you, for putting your heart out into the world, where sometimes it is trampled, to keep the healing flowing to one heart at a time. xoxoxoxoxo Love you.
oh, dear darling. love that a prayer rug is in your artillery. or should i say apothecary. of course it is. and of course you went running. because you live to heal all……
love the prayer of the Sisters of the Poor….i am going to put it to heart. xoxox
The Sisters taught us to pray … the words are from my heart, and now they are yours, and whomever else’s who may want them.
Sent from my iPhone
Sending prayers to your friend. Love is so hard, but so worth it.
Dear Famous Author,
You always know how to level set a Friday and put thingsin perspective, in beautiful writing.
Big prayers out to your friend and her son.
Greetings to Joan Degnan Barth!
And where can I find the Chippewa poetry?
searching for Chippewa now…..
and, thank you, for making this a friday stop on your tour!
i found this from Songs of the Chippewa, sacred texts. This, apparently, is Song of the Thunders:
SONG OF THE THUNDERS
I go about pitying
while I am carried by the wind
across the sky.
Heartfelt prayers for your dear friend and her son… Your words this morning are a poignant reminder of the ferocious challenges mothering sometimes must face. Thank you for the reminder.
I am stunned by this exquisite poem. Thank you for sharing!
And Nan, your prayer is absolutely gorgeous. Thank you for sharing, too!
xoxoxo thank you for filling this table with your sumptuous presence…..always….
Mothering is the most fierce yet tender work I know. Complete extremes born of deepest love. I will hold your dear friend in my heart in prayer and compassion. We mother one another, so bless you for bringing her hopes and fears to the table so we may also add our prayers and love, weaving into the invisible web of support. The poem sums up the energy of mothering beautifully. May we all find a moment to “mother” ourselves this weekend as we lean into the art of it all.
amen, sweet angel — you who knows better and deeper than many….
Sending many, many prayers to your friend and her son. What an awful situation!! And happy mother’s day to all!
thank you dear dear jack……and happy blessed mother’s day to you, too…..
Blessings and prayers for your dear friend and her beloved son. xo
thank you, sweetheart. my beautiful friend saw these love notes scattered about the table, and she soaked them in. thank you all.
Thank you for the beauty and the call to prayer. Holding your friend in my heart.
thank YOU for pulling up a chair and for tapping me on the shoulder on the sidewalk the other evening!!!! and most of all, thank you for holding my beloved friend in your heart…..