Once upon a time, a brand-new mother moved half-way across the globe. She knew no one, and hadn’t a clue — although she had a lot of books — how to raise her baby boy. Her husband was very busy w/ his new job, and the wind blew constantly. Did I mention the wind carried razor-sharp sand?
The young mother was as lonely as she could remember being. And scared to death of this highly breakable tiny animal that never seemed to sleep. What the heck did she know about babies? She was a writer, for cryin’ out loud!
But as many stories of clueless young women feature, there was a fairy godmother. Her name was Ione, and a less likely fairy godmother you can’t imagine. A laconic, no-nonsense Vermonter, Ione had no daughter. Hers — born the same year as our hapless heroine — had died at the age of 5 from a never-solved hit&run accident.
So this is the story of how one woman’s grief became a way in to saving another woman’s sanity.
I hadn’t realised some babies don’t sleep. Years later, I told Ione that my elder son didn’t sleep until he was in high school, and I’m not sure about that. Laundry, sleepless nights, and the ubiquitous sand…
It was Ione who got me through it all. Got me through the move, got me through a subsequent miscarriage, helped me juggle the 2nd infant and the active pre-schooler. And it wasn’t simply that she loved me, although certainly love is a big fixer.
No, it was that she had gone through the worst of possible losses, to me: she had lost a child. Had it fall through the fabric of her life. And she had lived through it. Came out the other side able to love again. Laugh. Be a mother figure and mentor for me, so many years later.
It was years before I realised that I was probably good for Ione, too. It was a visit long after we first became friends — possibly a decade later. She & her husband Robert drove from Vermont’s ‘mud season’ to visit the boys & me in Oklahoma. She brought me a small roadrunner to hang from a chain. Because, she said, I was always so damn busy w/ those boys. And she laughed, happy to be in Oklahoma. Happy — I realised — to be with me.
Maybe a year later, I flew to Boston to study at Radcliffe on my master’s. Ione asked if I’d like to drive up to Vermont to see her & Robert, in the log house they had built after retiring. So of course I did.
What tropics-reared Okie girl knows jack about blizzards?? How was I to know that I was driving through FEET of snow, into a blinding snow storm? It took me HOURS to get to Ione’s, three times longer than it would take me to drive back to Boston after the snowstorm cleared, days later.
Many of my friends have no biological (or adopted) children. Their ‘children’ are the women (and sometimes men) they nurture w/ their infinitely large hearts. Just so Ione mothered me, seeing me through one of the most difficult times in my life. There were days when all I could eat and keep down was her pumpkin bread. Because I knew I was really eating love…
This Mother’s Day, I’m so grateful for the many women in my life who have mothered me. And I’m particularly grateful for a woman long-passed, but often thought of. Whatever happens to our hearts when we die, a piece of Ione’s remains with me.
Happy Mother’s Day, dear heart. I miss you.
Inside the box were 2 blankets — one my mother-in-law made so many years ago for my son. Carefully embroidered w/ slightly faded animals on white squares, surrounded by bright green gingham checks. Edged w/ handkerchief-fold edging. The other a nursing blanket given by one of the many wonderful aunts who have mothered me over my life.
The picture is of one — my Aunt Carol, who still lived at home when I was this toddler, and my mother & I moved back in w/ my grandmother (& Carol) while my father went to one of his many wars.
I am so very lucky in my mothers. My blue-haired old ladies — Grandma, Aunt Bonnie, Aunt Ina. My elder teachers: Grandmother Britton & Aunt Velma & Aunt Alene & Aunt Mary. The women who watched over me as I wrote: Fran & Ivy & Jerry. Women older (I still miss Ione…) & younger & older (Shelley & Joye & Pat & Soha) and … and … and. Friends & my sisters & all the women who have saved me from despair, from grief, from losing sight of who I am and can become.
So moving up to Mother’s Day, I’m saying thank you. To the next round of mothers coming up (this is for you, Estrella). To the women who have mothered me throughout my life. And to the women who every day reach out to their friends, their children — born or chosen — and give them love.
Happy Mother’s Day weekend! I love you ~
This picture is an entire poem to me. It’s taken from a great website, featuring the photography of Dr. Gary Greenberg.
What do you see when you look at these tiny grains of Maui sand, photographed under a microscope? I see jewels. And having just spent a week on Maui, much of it on three quite different beaches, I can tell you: the sand is far more like velvet than jewels. Nary a piece of tri-cornered crystal to be found. Or any beautiful red pebbles, or crystalline flower pieces.
In fact, it all looked pretty much like the same ol’ same ol. Sand, that is. But this is what those velvety grains look like close up. And I am bedazzled by that metaphor.
You all know I’m nuts about metaphor. I would have done an entire dissertation on metaphor, had I thought of it (oh wait! I did! That’s what poetry is, isn’t it? :)). Because what metaphor teaches us is that everything connects. And for me? This single picture of approximately 30 ‘grains’ of sand is the perfect metaphor for almost anything.
Feeling like you’re one of the sheeple? That everyone follows the latest trend, and you can’t get out of the way? Examine the incredible differences here. Every one of those ‘sheep’ has beauty, individual beauty. Think you really have a clue what you’re seeing? It’s all an illusion, as Buddhism has been saying for centuries. That velvety sand actually has POINTS. And bright, vivid colours.
In other words, pay attention. Try to look verrry closely. Because what’s within the simplest things — a handful of sand — is beauty. And it’s all around us.
If you know me at all, you know I’m not quite rational about poetry. Of course, poetry isn’t a rational subject. And writers of it tend to not be, either. How could we be? It’s all about stories and metaphor and images and following a silvery thread through the labyrinth of the human heart… How’s that for an image?
Really, though, it’s more like the picture. It’s gears in your head, and a kind of writing machine that’s powered by your blood and thought and experience and who knows what else? Not (in other words) rational…
But the practice of poetry has changed my life. These days, when I find myself eaten up with anger at the injustices visited upon so many Americans — and even more world citizens — I try to write it out. Or read it out. And when I’m missing my long-gone father, or my mother, or friends half-way across the country? I focus my attention on poetry.
It’s a kind of tonglen, I guess. Certainly I try to practice poetry that way, turning my own anger or grief or sorrow (even my joys) into a form of practice. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mean that the zombie tanka I submitted last night to a journal (really) is Buddhist practice. But the concentration on the moment, the attempt to observe (even imaginatively!)…? These are components of practice. They keep me in the moment, and move me away from attachment. Well, except for the whole ‘get-it-right’ thing…
That’s the beauty of practice, though, as I’ve said here, here, and here. You’re always beginning, and it’s always a fresh start. There’s not even a word for ‘guilt’ in Tibetan, a lama once told me in a session. Lama Chokyi, a translator for several monks as well as of several Buddhist texts, said that when he tried to explain the concept of guilt to the monk for whom he was translating, the monk’s eyes widened and he exclaimed: Why would you DO that??
I agree. Why do we do that?