Friday, June 26, 2009

On turning 50.

Tomorrow, I will celebrate fifty years of living consciously on the planet and among people. Fifty years. I remember when twelve years felt like a goal I would never reach. I simply could not imagine what my life could conceivably look like, who would populate my world, what I might look like, whether I would get any taller, any thinner, in the years that stretched ahead of me. Still, I feel that way. My hair has begun to silver some, and if it follows the pattern set by most of my older relatives, it will continue to silver, strand by strand, very slowly, over the next twenty, thirty, or maybe even forty years. Or, will it become a head of soft white cotton, as my dad's mother's did? I simply can't imagine. I simply can't wait!

A few years ago, maybe ten or fifteen, I would have said my life has been uneventful, nothing to write home about. I was at least a decade younger, and a million years less wise about many, many things. [The joke is that today, I am less wise than I will be in another decade or so!] So much has happened; I've had so much to think about, and have so much more experience to stand on now.

In the past five years, I've adopted a girl. She was just thirty-three days old when I stood in a corporate parking lot speechless, spurting tears, staring at my little, bitty Boopsy. Her five pound majesty slept through my total personality freeze, and I tried desperately to pull myself together in the few moments before we all went up to sign the papers and take our first official photos together. That was the day my world changed, my destiny was altered, my stars realigned, and my future truly became unimaginable. Motherhood is that gift that renders everything else a second-tier priority.

Becoming a mother, adoptive or birth mother, is a type of stewardship that is profoundly humbling. As I have watched my daughter grow over the past five years, I have seen myself become, at times, my own mother, and at other times, myself as a mother. What I mean is, I have had a chance to review my own childhood and my understanding of my mother from my childhood perspective. I have had an opportunity to review every scene from an adult, active mothering perspective as well. The picture is not pretty. It is lovely.

My mother was not an ordinary woman to me, but a special woman. Her hands, her voice, her creative mind, were all bent to the work of raising me, my sister, and my brother. My dad's time and energy were similarly directed, but, now, I want to tell you of my mother. As I remember back over the three decades I spent with her, I recognize now that her life was very much about trying to keep her feet on the ground as she lifted us up to reach the treetops and then the sky. She lived long enough to see us all reach the treetops knowing that the sky was promised.

What I think her death snatched from her, though, is a chance to see herself reach a sky she may have wanted to redefine after we left home and truly and earnestly began lives of our own. I was so busy growing up, and, toward the end, watching her die, that I forgot to ask her what her next dreams for her own live might have been. I forgot to ask her what sort of a grandmother imagined she might be, and what she would have wanted her granddaughters to call her when they chatted with her on the telephone.

Though I was forgetful then, I am thoughtful now. I wonder what she would say about motherhood if I asked her to reflect on her own mother. I wonder what she would say as she watched me become a mother. I think I can guess. I think she would say it is hard work, especially if you do it by yourself. I don't think she would have chosen to do it alone. But, since that was my choice, I think she'd say it is hard.

If I asked her what she believes is so hard about being a mother, I think she'd say that the everyday living of it is not the challenge. You simply get that part done. The challenge is in the theory and philosophy of it. You raise your kids, and you simply have to trust the hard work you've put in over the years and hope they use what you've taught them well.

Then, I think she'd say, you have to think about the way you've done what you've done. Have you been true to your own principles? Have you been true to the principles your mother taught you? Have you grown beyond the mother whose home you left to create your own? She would assert strongly that you should have grown, motherhood should have pushed you to become not your own mother all over again, but the mother of your unique children, and the mother of the woman you were destined to become. We mother children for their lives, for the future. We do not mother children for the past, for times they will never know. My mother was a strong believer in progress, as risky as it can be.

So, I believe my mother would conclude if she were with me today, raise your children to grow away from you and into their own lives. Love them enough that they will return with their own children to reminisce about mothering in her day and their parents' youth. After all, the desire to be a grandmother grows directly out of the work of being a mother.

So, I am grateful to be fifty on June 27. I am grateful for the first day of my born life, June 27, 1959. Thanks, Mom. Thanks, God, for letting me see this many days, and for letting me spend so many of them with my mother, Melba. Amen.

What does God want from us?

Michael Jackson died today. Farah Fawcett Majors passed, too. Just the other day, Washington, DC Metro driver's train collided with the stationary train in front of it, killing nine people, including the driver. Yesterday, I attended a memorial Mass for Jonathan Harding, a 41-year old colleague from Loyola College in Maryland, who died in his sleep on Friday, June 19, 2009.

A superstar, a 62-year old starlet who endured even after the TV series, an unknown woman known through the public tragedy that claimed her life, a private citizen who'd planned to join a friend on a local bike ride. Four people who have passed in just a few days. I knew personally only one of them, but I have come to know of them all. What does God want us to understand through these deaths, through the deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq, the death of the young martyred woman in Iran's unrest? What is God showing us? What am I to take away from all of this?

I remember when my mother died on November 28, 1989. She'd struggled mightily with cancer - the big "C," she'd called it when she telephoned her friends to inform them of her diagnosis - for more than 5 years. Surgeries, treatments, pills, fatigue, weakness, and chemo-singed skin and blackened palms and plantar surfaces on her hands and feet became the physical signatures of the cancer. Finally, it just overwhelmed her. She passed with integrity, though, having squared up with everyone she'd ever had a difference with, and purchasing little Christmas gifts for us because she knew she'd be gone before we'd get the tree up and decorated.

The one lesson I recognized that I was to learn from her death is brought back to me as I reflect on the deaths of these four people. Though I have not integrated the lesson into my deepest consciousness - and have therefore not truly learned it - I believe the lesson is that we must love without attachment and unconditionally. Here's what I mean.

Jesus said we are to love our neighbors. It is easy, he warned us, to love those who love us. Our greater challenge is to love those who do not love us, those we may hate, our enemies. In fact, we are to demonstrate our love for Him by serving selflessly the poor, the imprisoned, the shelterless, the hungry. When we do these good works for the least of them, we do them for Him. We are our brother's keeper, even when we do not know, or would rather not know, our brother.

Though we are to love expecting nothing in return, as humans, we love on condition. We love as if loving required a receipt and had a return policy if we are not happy with the outcome of our acts of kindness. It is the nature of our humanness, our humanity, unfortunately, that we love with conditions, and with deep and abiding attachment. It seems all the World's great religions, and even the lesser known ones, teach that love with attachment is not love at all, but a selfish desire for self-gratification. Love, though, in a divine sense - and we can love in the likeness of that agape love - is not about self-gratification. Love is about the "Third Chair", as we say in spiritual direction circles. Love is about the relationship between you and God and is manifest in your relationship with God's creation.

I believe - and I guess I am trying to work all of this out to understand my own belief, or to watch my belief develop - that God loves creation, and loves each of us uniquely, but does so without the sort of investment that would wrest our freewill from us. God loves us respecting our freewill, wanting the best for us always, and knowing that we might choose to forgo His best and highest desires for us.

My challenge, then, is to love and let go. Love like Jesus taught me - without judgment, without condition, knowing that a promise of at-one-ment is an eternal promise of connection to the Divine.

I know my mother rests in the new life God has for her. I know these four people, ordinary and extraordinary, have new lives awaiting them. They will learn how to be where they are after this life. Perhaps that’s what we should celebrate when we celebrate their lives. Perhaps we should not celebrate the life we have seen them lead thus far, but we should celebrate the life each of them will lead beyond our human limitation. Jesus has promised us that life would be a glorious one!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Being a single, middle-aged mother is not easy. I will be fifty in three days. My daughter turned five about six weeks ago. The nearly forty-five years between us is like a wormhole, the type they traverse in Star Trek and other science fiction space movies. The years collapse and expand at will. They appear as a long and lengthening corridor down which I can slide and perhaps end up somewhere completely different. At other times, they are that impossible distance that I dare not attempt to overcome because I am the Mom. That counts for something.

This blog is about being a single, middle-aged mama, African American, educated, and working. It's not a complaint page, though there will be times when I complain. More, it is my opportunity to talk about the life I'm living. I don't think many people really think about the lives of well-educated single African American mothers. We are swept into the same category as poor and working class single African American mothers. Those are hard working women with fewer opportunities for money-making and further education than I have. Grouping me with women whose prospects in this economy and culture are quite different from mine is not fair to either of us. To take my case as representative of the lives of African American single mothers is to misrepresent the lives of a class of women whose lives deserve elucidation and respect. I am of the group who has been given a modicum of class privilege.

Nonetheless, I recognize and acknowledge my sisters' struggles. In some important ways, her struggle is distinguishable from mine, especially economically. In other ways, these matter most, perhaps, our struggles are identical.

Here, I will write and read (hopefully) the experiences of women like me. I won't write everyday. But, I will write as often as I can. Write back. Enjoy!