No project dedicated to the celebration of love would be complete without a story about my mother.
Anne Lamott (or Saint Anne, as she’s affectionately known) says, “Hope begins in the dark.” My mother, named Hope by her older brother, embodies that sentiment.
When my mother was born, she was not expected to live. My grandfather was asked to make a decision between saving my mother’s life or the life of my grandmother. My grandfather chose his wife. The minister was alerted and Last Rites were performed.
My mother, my predecessor and teacher in so many ways, refused to die and, despite all odds, she chose to live instead.
“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”
My mother’s life was not easy: she would struggle, she would get hurt, she wouldn’t quite fit in, which always seems the worst punishment to a growing child. She would be lonely, mocked by girls with better incomes and wardrobes. She’d knock around with the boys, ever their friends, and watch as they developed crushed on the prettier girls, the ones without bruises on their knees.
She questioned a lot and demanded the answers to “Why?” much to the chagrin of a mother who believed in the seen/not heard rearing of children. A mother who did not know how to nurture an inquisitive and energetic child, who could not understand the beauty she had brought into this world. The girl who showed up, even through the darkness. A girl who fought and won against death.
My mother sought solace in a gentle and loving father, whom she traipsed hand-in-hand with throughout the town. He was tall and warm and the love he bore her was palpable. Her brother – the peacemaker and calming spirit in the house. The farms and front porches of her grandparents. The trees in her backyard. Comic books and 60s television.
When money dashed her hopes of earning a medical degree in college, my mother continued to show up every day, fighting through the darkness, sharing sofa beds with her college roommate, working in factories and in fast food to make her way through.
She graduated, she worked, she fell in love, she began a family. And, several years later, I was in the picture.
When my mother told my father she wanted to have a second child, she became pregnant with me if not the next day, than close thereafter. When I was much younger, I told her that I had been waiting for her. When she was ready, I leaped at the chance to be with her.
You see, I always believed that I chose her, rather than she choosing me.
And so I was born 30 years ago today.
When the doctor and visitors had left her alone with me, my mother sat with my hands in hers, my body resting along the length of her bent knees. She talked to me then, just her and me and, though I was present, I’m not exactly sure what it was about.
If I’m thinking practically, I’m sure the conversation involved our future together, her plans for me, the love we shared from the get-go. However, if I am permitted a bit of imagination in this storytelling, (as it is my birthday, after all) I’d like to think that we swore an oath to each other that day: that despite what may be thrown at us and who may try to harm us, we could come together, hand-in-hand, and not have to face it alone.
That oath, I am proud to say, has never been broken.
Throughout my 30 years, my mother and I have huddled against unknowable futures, leaned on each other with sore limbs and hearts, and shared more secrets and sprinkled donuts than one can count. She’s bandaged my scraped knees, mended my cracked faith, and watched me on each journey (and misstep) I’ve taken.
We’ve discussed our days, our problems, our dreams, and our demons. She knows every chink in my armor and the source of every arrow. She knows every name that is written on my heart and the origin of every black and blue. She is the first person I tell when there is a cause for celebration and the last voice I hear before I go into battle. She has watched the fingers of anxiety work their way into my mind and seen the product of hard work and grit.
She has kept me alive, yes, but what is more than that, is that she has taught me how to be alive.
My mother taught me that to be alive, to LIVE rather than merely exist, is to live a life of love. With every lesson, with every Mom Talk, with every Ace bandage, and every kiss to make it better, my mother has taught me. With every Christmas dinner or cup of tea waiting for me in the morning. With every car ride singalong, or hug, or word of encouragement. She has taught me that life is hard, it’s a series of battles not easily won, it’s a lot of “not fair,” but it’s always worth showing up. Love can always be found, even in the darkest of places.
Saint Anne says that, “Hope is not about proving anything. It’s about choosing to believe that love is bigger than any grim, bleak shit anyone can throw at us.”
In this way, and in so many others, my mother lives up to her name. She is my living proof that the love we share will always protect us from the fear and anger of others. Sometimes, it may just be her and I huddled against the storm, but so long as there is that – I have Hope and because of that, I know the dawn will come and love will begin again.
And what more could one ask for?