All good mother’s are intuitive. They anticipate when their children needs a diaper change, when it is time to feed them, and when their cries signal something more than just fussiness. At times they even appear to possess latent psychic abilities, able to feel when their children are up to something they shouldn’t be, or if they’re in some type of danger. And they understand that more than anything their children need not just love, but unconditional love; the kind of love that allows for mistakes and imperfections. Unconditional love does not hold grudges. It disciplines without shame or condemnation so that the child grows up with a secure sense of self, nurturing exploration and self-forgiveness. My mother possessed all of these qualities, who along with my father, raised myself and my brother with a strong sense of autonomy and individuality, allowing us to grow up with the ability to speak our minds without fear of being shut down or diminished.
Great mothers not only anticipate the needs of their children while they’re young, but also what qualities they’ll require for successful navigation of the world once they enter adulthood. Great mothers understand the words of the poet Kahlil Gibran:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you, but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
My mother taught me how to read at a young age, instilling in me a love of the written word. She was always reading herself, usually books about spirituality or religion. She showed me how to be curious about things I didn’t understand, as well as teaching me that there is more to the world than what we can perceive with our five senses. When I aged into my cynical teen years, I decided that religion and spirituality were not for me; I was more of an intellectual, having no need for the faith of my ancestors. But at twenty-seven, when my alcoholism finally crushed me, I was left with no option other than to reach out for a God unknown. It was the faith that my mother demonstrated that enabled me to find a spirituality that would become the foundation for my recovery. Books she gave to me became vital to my early sobriety. Writers like Victor Frankl, Carl Jung, Anthony De Mello, and Thomas Merton were the teachers that altered my perception, showing me that faith and the intellect were not mutually exclusive, but worked in conjunction to form a healthy spirituality. And when my journey took me into Buddhism and Eastern Philosophies, she never insisted that I adopt her idea of a Higher Power, giving me books on Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism.
My mother has always been an example of service and generosity. She visits the lonely and sick in nursing homes, giving of herself without expecting anything in return. She taught me that in order to find meaning in life, a person must strive for something more than one’s own desires. Again, these lessons are the essentials of not only my sobriety, but also my marriage and career as a counselor and healer.
There is a story my mother tells that I thought about often when I was trying to get sober and no longer liked the person I had become in my alcoholism. I was about seven or eight years old. The school was having some type of May-Day where the kids had races and tug of war and other games. My mom watched with the other parents as I stood around the starting line with the other kids, waiting for my turn to shine. When the race began I took off sprinting, only to come to a dead stop halfway through the contest. My mother couldn’t figure out what I was doing, watching me walk off the track into the grass where I jumped into a ditch. A few seconds later I emerged with a single red flower in my hand. Abandoning the race, I walked to my mother and handed her the flower, a big grin spreading across my face.
That was the part of myself that I lost in my addiction, the part of myself that put love, beauty and generosity above all else. And that is the part of myself that my mother helped me get back in my recovery. For that, and thousands of other things she has done for me over the years, I am eternally grateful for the mother I was gifted. Though I can’t see her this Mother’s Day because of the Corona Virus, she is still near to my heart.