April is a special month for me. It’s the month that both my mother and my daughter were born: Shantha and Mary, one born sixty-six years and sixteen days after the other. Both photographers. Both lovers of nature and animals.
Both woman most responsible for turning me into me. I owe them my life.
On April 22, 1992, the night Mary was born, I had a dream that my mother had died. I insisted that the family checked because the dream was so real. Turns out it was my brain messing with me. Mum was fine, off on one of her international trips, speaking at some conference somewhere in the world. It was probably drug and exhaustion-induced, but everyone said it was symbolic.
Mary survived that long traumatic journey from my womb to the world, and twenty-seven years and a myriad challenges later, I’m grateful that she has turned herself into an amazing, insightful, courageous human. Although we are separated by vast oceans and huge land masses and exactly 14,624 km, (and for some mysterious reason, we don’t really resemble each other physically), Mary and I are close.
And I guess we both miss our mothers.
I miss my mum’s constant presence in my life. I miss being able to share things with her, the kind of mundane things that only mums pretend to care about. I miss being able to ask for her prayers, to show her my latest painting and delight in her enthusiasm for it. I miss her simple love of flowers and the joy she derived from them. I miss her eloquent speeches and her deep faith. I miss being able to say, “Hi Mum!” and have someone beautiful and joyful and radiant answer me. I even miss having to introduce myself to her, every time I visited during those last ‘Alzheimer Years’ so that she wouldn’t have to wonder who I was.
So, if your mum is still around, hug and kiss her. Sure, she has her faults, but she did an amazing thing, and grew a human inside her body, that turned into you. Then she suffered unbearable pain to expel you from her body, and most importantly, didn’t hold it against you for the rest of her life.
And she taught you how to use a spoon.
Spoons are really important, but I’d like to share some of the other things that mum taught me 🙂 I’ve shared them before, but perhaps you’ll indulge me. I love remembering these lessons:
- Flowers make EVERYTHING better – mum’s obsession with flowers coloured my life from my childhood. Memories of cascading pink flowers in beautiful trees, dancing yellow daisies that lined the driveway … and even as she was clearly weak and dying, she would gather her strength to arrange flowers beautifully in a vase, or give me instructions on how to do it, from her bed. Mum harnessed the power of BEAUTY.
- To sacrifice is to receive a gift – she gave with no fear of lack, astonishingly generous amounts of money, time and love. And when thanked, she would always reply that she was truly the recipient, not the giver, as she lived by her favourite quote from the Baha’i Writings: “to sacrifice is to receive a gift.” In doing this, Mum taught me the power and joy of GENEROSITY.
- “Remembering” is overrated. Mum would give generously, but the thing is she would also immediately forget that she gave anything. And she didn’t really need to practice forgiveness, because mum didn’t bear a grudge – she forgot them! She once remarked that it’s great that she has such a bad memory, because she can enjoy the same stories over and over again, as if it were the first time! I learned from her that Remembering is over-rated, and there is true power in FORGETTING … This brought new meaning to the spiritual principle of DETACHMENT.
- The magic of STORYTELLING … Experiencing the magical power of her speech took me from the ridiculous to the sublime – first hand – from selling Tupperware, to proofs and evidences of the existence of God, mum captivated everyone with her big eyes, her pregnant pauses, her ability to connect with an audience, and she used her stories to sell, persuade, inspire and change lives, all over the world, or at her front doorstep.
- The power of PRAYER. Mum did a great many things in her life, but there were lots of things she wasn’t good at. But this never stopped her! For example, she couldn’t add up, and couldn’t recognise faces, yet she ran a large successful organisation of businesswomen, who all loved her to bits! She would often have long conversations with someone in the street with whom she seemed to have an intimate connection, and when I later would ask, “who was that mum?” she would reply “I haven’t a clue!” And Mum was often nervous or worried, who wouldn’t be, with four kids and a complex and challenging husband? … yet she survived and thrived by praying her way through every adversity, and taught ALL of us, her children and grandchildren, to do the same. And so I learned from her that PRAYER changes things.
Mum motivated and inspired people wherever she was … but she was not your classic motivational speaker who was confident and self-assured! Mum was humble and self-effacing and really rather unaware of her superpowers.
So perhaps the greatest thing I learned from mum, was that contrary to popular culture, it’s okay not to fully “believe in yourself” … as long as you believe in something greater than yourself.
And those were some of the things I learned from my lovely mummy.