My beautiful mother, Shantha Mary, has been the strongest creative and spiritual influence in my life. She passed away three years ago. Remembering Mum on Mother’s Day…
When I was growing up, one of my clearest memories of Mum is of her regularly bursting triumphantly into my bedroom, interrupting some Very Important Book I was reading, claiming,
“Malini, I have a BRILLIANT IDEA!!”
Eyes shining, brimming with excitement, Mum would launch into her Brilliant Idea without pausing to check if I cared (which I didn’t, given I was a self-absorbed teenager).
Her brilliant ideas always involved me having to do something to make them a reality, a fact that reduced my interest in them considerably.
There was the time she had written lyrics to sing along to a well-known tune, at one of her Big Business Conferences. Unfortunately, I had to sing it! So, at her insistence, I reluctantly found myself on stage, guitar in hand, leading 500 female entrepreneurs in one of mum’s rallying songs. (Thankfully it was the 70s, so no one cared.)
Her other brilliant ideas were less embarrassing. I was often roped in to design something to adorn one of her favourite inspirational quotes from the Baha’i Writings, which she would then turn into a bookmark or plaque and have printed in the thousands to give away.
Her most ambitious creative project was writing a book called Mystic Connections, which was a collection of stories of the spiritual journeys of many of her Baha’i friends. I was in Art School back then, and I took a year off my studies to edit that book, and bring it to print. It was probably one of the most meaningful and worthy things I’ve done in my life. But… Mum was exquisitely logical in her thinking, held very strong views, and never shied away from a debate! Editing Mum’s book was exhausting.
My most enduring memory of that project is one of guilt and frustration: guilt at my lack of patience with her, and frustration with what I perceived as her combative attitude to my ideas. After every heated exchange, I would berate myself for being so short with her. How could I be such a terrible daughter to this amazing and wonderful woman?
But if I apologised, mum would look at me with a puzzled expression and genuinely have no idea what I was talking about. Brushing my apology aside with,“What tone? I didn’t notice anything, don’t give it another thought,” and she would promptly forget the whole exchange.
She was like that with gift-giving as well. Like an ever-flowing spring, Mum gave away astounding amounts of money (even when she couldn’t logically afford to). Holding firmly to her belief that “To sacrifice is to receive a gift,” she would frequently quote this phrase from the Baha’i Writings. Mum didn’t just believe it, she lived that idea.
And there was that so-called ‘bad memory’ which she blamed for many things, including forgetting what and to whom she gave gifts to. The reality is that Mum was so spiritually detached from her acts of kindness, that she truly did not remember them. She took ‘giving with no strings attached‘ to another level.
I’m not sure how Mum managed to edit and publish a monthly magazine, run a successful business and raise four children, survive and thrive in her marriage to a temperamental and highly volatile husband, be a spiritual mentor to hundreds of people all over the world, travel, deliver public talks, publish a bunch of things, and maintain a huge house and garden which was constantly overflowing with guests from all corners of the globe and down the street, but she did. (Granted, she did have an assistant and a cook, but it was still an amazingly productive life.)
And in case you surmise that she must have been very organised and strategic, let me assure you, she wasn’t. Mum was incredibly disorganised and gave new meaning to the word procrastination!
In contrast to my father’s habit of getting to airports at least three hours before takeoff, Mum would rush in at the very last minute, breathlessly boarding her flight just as the gates were closing. (Fortunately, they rarely travelled together!)
Her bed often doubled as her desk, and was littered with papers and notes and folders as she worked, comfortably propped up with pillows. And one of her most bizarrely creative and disorganised traits was that her “To Do list” was often written in talcum powder on her mirror! (True story).
She was also terribly forgetful of most of the facts and faces that came her way. In her business life, she managed hundreds of people, and was regularly stopped on the street by one of them. Mum would then engage in a long, intense conversation with what looked like a close, personal friend, while I waited impatiently in the car. Curious about this apparently important exchange, I’d ask, “Mum, who was that?” And she would often respond, “Malini, I haven’t a clue!”
Mum befriended everyone. No one was excluded. She became life-long friends with people she met on planes, trains and automobiles, in every corner of the globe. You couldn’t sit with her at an airport or stand in a queue without finding her chatting with the person next to her, leaving them bemused at how this wonderful, big-eyed, saree-clad, Indian woman had managed to uncover their life story and their hopes and dreams in less than five minutes.
But this easy way with people didn’t stem from an easy life. She lived through the Second World War as a teenager, including the difficult years of the Japanese occupation of Singapore, and then married my Dad, a handsome, amazing, creative genius whose inner demons were as powerful as his many gifts and who often made our childhood lives a misery.
But when I think of Mum, it is not misery that comes to mind. The bright side of her life – the side she chose to live on – illuminates all of my memories.
I recall her last moments with my Greg as he lay on his death-bed. By this stage of her life, Mum rarely made complete sense, as her mind was lost to Alzheimers disease. Miraculously, her love and respect for him seemed to surmount her physiology. Holding his hand, tears streaming down her face, Mum’s last words to my husband were heart-meltingly eloquent and deeply loving.
And now, my mind is flooded with images of her, wide-eyed and mesmerising, telling her stories. I see her pacing the garden, lost in prayer, or camera in hand, happily photographing flowers.
I remember the long, newsy letters she would hand-write, the piles of mail next to her, getting higher by the hour, as she kept in touch with friends, acquaintances and family, all over the world.
I feel her joyful enthusiasm for life, and her cute little expressions: “Well, blow me down!” “I had a WHALE of a time!” and “How about THAT?!”.
I recall the delight she would take at finding a beautiful leaf that had fallen from a tree, or her unbridled joy at the magnificence of roses, which persisted even when her rational mind was gone.
I marvel at her faith, her generosity, her interest in people, her interest in life.
And most of all, I remember her laughter. It started slowly, in her belly, and then erupted into a generous, infectious burst that had everyone laughing around her 🙂
Happy Mother’s Day to everyone, as we think of our mothers and everything they taught us, including how to use a spoon 🙂
Malini Parker is an artist, writer and teacher.
From her home studio perched amongst the eucalypts,
she runs art classes in Perth, Western Australia
to help awaken creativity and amplify joy!
Find out more here:www.maliniparker.com