With Valentines Day fast approaching, Megan and I thought it might be fun to do a “love letters” series! Over the next few weeks, we’ll post shout-outs to all of things we’ve developed mushy feelings for though motherhood.
Or, another possibility is that we’ll have the best of intentions and only post a letter or two (the fact that February is half-way done and I’m just now gearing up for this endeavor should perhaps serve as an indicator). Basically, we’ll do our best. Just like you. And – a reminder for all of us – it will be enough. I hope it goes without saying that we love you, dear readers, a whole heaping bunch.
So without further delay, please enjoy my letter to the first women I really saw doing mothering work, the incredible mothers at Berry United Methodist Church. And keep your fingers crossed for me, as this essay is in the running to be performed at Chicago’s 2013 Listen to Your Mother – the nationwide essay-reading event designed to “give mother’s day a microphone” (yes, please!).
Hummingbird – A Love Letter to the Mothers at Berry UMC
I moved here and I had no idea why. In the hindsight of these last two years – you are the ones who crop up everywhere – the most tenacious ones. My guides.
I saw you. Not like “I noticed you” – it was not casual. I mean, I saw you in this room– all the time – all of my watchful energy pulled to your steady balance. I can see your hand on his back – this image is so clear to me. You’re sitting about a foot behind him in the pew – he’s leaning forward with his armpits pinching the restraint – the pew in front. Your elbow is resting on the pew behind and your hand is in the middle with your fingertips pointing to the right. Your palm is open and touches both of his scapula at once.
I saw you in this room. In all of your ways – all of the very small things you were always humming with. Your bodies moving with perfect economy always in these small tasks that you can’t even know now, they’re so inseparable from you – the way cells make a body. Your children flowed – flowered right out of these economies. The stream of your care like a fuse and their tiny shocks of hair at the end bursting into the space like fireworks.
I have so many questions for you. Like, “how do you keep humming with all of these moves – all of the pickups of dropped things, finding of lost things, wiping, spooning, holding, whipping of hair – so quick! Into a neat little elastic, pulling up, tucking in, unwrapping, ENDLESS – how do you keep humming like this and still clearly sing your song?”
“How did you trust the long line of that fuse – your care?” Because that fire – it smolders on the line – taking forever to make that burst of color – that firework. Work. So very much work. Which sometimes – best ones – feels like steady, and consistent and purposeful and love, and fullest fullness, but other times feels like monotony, and numbness and an endless ebbing away.
I have watched you looking exhausted in a million different ways – have catalogued the differences between your tiredness that comes from stress, or sickness, or sleeplessness or loneliness. But still there is a hum and that smoldering work burning along that fuse. Braiding, and lighting and stoking in this sort-of wild and unimaginable sustenance I see you masterful – strong and flexible.
The hum is steady and just right. And in the same way that I now notice the telltale swaying of whose hips have held somebody, your hum is part of this wider secret thing. I saw it and it consumed me – first taking root in my mind before I knew what pulled me, and later a knot in my guts – Ida – my initiation. My amazing membership.
These doings, your being – the sum-hum of these million things was, is the holiest thing to me. I still feel compelled, whenever we are together to say that I’m just so glad I get to be here looking at you. Every time, with brand-new excitement and discovery, I want to tell you that you are amazing and that I knew, from the moment I saw you doing this incredible work that your story was a big deal to me – that I loved you all of a sudden. I know now that I came to be here, to you, on purpose – that your lives were, in part, for me to witness, and that the force of your love for your children drew me from Michigan to Chicago – pulling me with those thousand tiny, unknowable things.
And if I were being perfectly honest – which you really should in a love letter – I would raise my hand every Sunday. It would be a joy and a concern and one of those ripe-fruit-bursting-out-of-it’s-skin kind of things. And I’d say the same thing over and over because it is always on my mind. “I am so grateful for you. I am so glad for the way that you share your children with us here.” And if I were being perfectly honest I would get crazy and be crying and shaking my head and trying to find bigger and bigger gestures to express just how intense this gratitude feels and I’d try and press my gratefulness into you – my hand still warm from my daughter’s back like you taught me – so you’d know, and feel as loved and thoroughly seen as you are.
I’m telling you this so that maybe you can think about yourself this way – who you are to me – when you feel invisible or when you feel like someone’s grubby little hands are extracting the last of your wits or will, or when any encouraging thing just feels like a platitude. When you make a steely decision to laugh and play. When you deeply, not as a punch line, want to eat candy in the bathroom with the door closed – when the luxury of that is real and not at all sad.
So all of this to say that I love you ferociously, and that to me, there is no ebbing away of you but only flourishing. And that even though there are times when it feels like the end of everything, there are other times, like right now, when it feels like a holy gift to flex in these thousand moves and know that I’m humming too – to know that I’m part of this most amazing collection of women doing this most mysterious work. I am so very glad that we are mothers here, together, right now.
Like all the best love letters, this one will just go hoarse and lose it’s voice. I am trying so hard. It matters so much to me that you know. I just …
A Hummingbird. A frantic pulsing performed so expertly that it looks like stillness – like nothing. Moving your whole being all the time until those movements disappear from view. But me? I see you all the time. And I will always hold onto you and count myself blessed, ears tuned to your impossible hum.