Saturday, May 7, 2022

Happy Mother's Day and a love letter to mothering...

"I know I must have been loved like that, even if I can't remember it. I know my mother must have loved to comb my shiny hair and rub that Johnson's baby lotion up and down my arms and wrap me up and hold and hold me all night long...so I'd have enough love in me to know what love was when I saw it or felt it again."   --Cynthia Rylant in Missing May

      The day our son, Elias, was born... Little did we know, he would change our lives for the better when he would be diagnosed with autism three years later...

Happy Mother's Day to all! On this Mother's Day, I am spending it in London with my first grandchild--a  new season of wonder and awe in the journey of life. Observing my own child become a parent, I am filled with memories of who I was when I became a mother long ago. Of course, there was anticipation, fears, apprehensions. But perhaps more than anything, there was a willingness to plunge deeply into unknown territory--to give this unchartered work everything I had. Deeply, I knew it was a new sphere of understanding how to love outside of myself--in a way I had never known. 

Suddenly, with unexpected abruptness, I was content to be enclosed in a new world with my little daughter. Outside of our cloistered circle, the world outside continued to rustle and beckon. But I remember being content to stay wrapped in this newly formed cocoon with her and my husband. There was nothing I would not do for this new little babe. As I looked out of my New York City 24th story view and heard the noise and rustling of the city, I wanted to crowd out the world for a while. Of course, I knew this exquisitely beautiful cocoon of time would not last long. There was so much newly-mint joy in that space of time. I suppose that is why we had six more children. 😀

Every child is a journey. They come with their own passport of where they will eventually go. Each of them has an unmistakable and individual divine nature that comes to imprint on your soul. Sooner or later you learn they were never yours to tightly hold on to and sequester. In fact, they cannot be endlessly protected; we are not our children's shield of safety. They were meant to fly away from the sheltered haven we tried to lovingly build for them. Yet, I have learned they will migrate back for you to hold and love again-- teaching us new things of their own journeys.

A few years ago, I met the mayor of a small village in Normandy, France. He was an older gentleman who was painting on a hillside overlooking his village. As we spoke to him, he told us a story I have always remembered: During WWII, his parents who were part of the French Resistance Movement, were caught and imprisoned in a camp. His mother, who was pregnant with him, was later delivered there by a very kind, compassionate doctor. On that night, she begged the doctor to save her baby's life and bring him clandestinely outside the camp to freedom. The doctor, knowing full well the parents could never see the child again, agreed. He knew of their impending death sentences. That night, in the dark, under a long trench coat, he swaddled the child under his cloak. He risked his life for a baby whose parents would never know their child.

A few minutes later, our French friend took us to see a picture of the mayor's parents. As I looked into their faces--so young, hopeful, and beautiful, I was and continue to be moved by their story. A young mother, knowing her fate and wanting to keep this child safe from the world gave him up to an unknown stranger--a doctor who happened to be on call that day in a prison camp. Perhaps I am further moved by the story because my own husband has delivered about 25,000 children and I know he would have gladly done the same deed on that night long ago in the early 1940s in France. But as I said, mothering takes you to places, both literal and figurative, you never thought you would or could go.

Here are a few thoughts on mothering I have had over the years:

--Give yourself a break. Mothering, especially in the first years, can be almost all-encompassing. When you daily try to fill the needs of little ones, carve moments to reset. And that means giving yourself permission to take a nap. That was always my own mother's healing balm of advice. Recalibrate. Rest. Relax. Every. Day.

--Reach out. Recently I heard of a young mother I know who has been having a difficult time because of the pandemic. Lift, encourage, and say a kind word. People so desperately need affirmations. We don't know the wounds or the current state of mental health of others, but we can connect and help out. Today when I was walking into Herrod's Department store in London, not one, but two security men opened the door for me as I pushed my grandson's stroller through the door. They smiled, nodded, and just made me feel better. We might think it is a small and inconsequential act, but kind acts have a long shelf life. 

--Build on your interests, both former ones before children, but also be brave and bold to learn new things. Everything you know and love can be shared with your children. Hold onto those passions you have always cherished so you can inspire your loved ones. Those are some of the tender gifts they will always remember and connect to. Books, nature, swimming, tennis, music, art, and cooking are some of my interests. For example, I love art museums. When we lived in Baltimore, we would sometimes trek down to the National Gallery. By the time one of my daughters was seven, she could give family and friends an amazing tour. Blog on My Cello Love Story

--Gather. Become a part of a community of mothers who help one another. Many parents do not live by their families. It does not matter if women are much older or younger than one another. In my younger years, I had sage counsel from women who I looked to for advice. Now I am older, I try to do the same for others. We can always learn from one another--even if we initially think people are not in the same "stage of life" we are in. Learn from unlikely sources who can teach you how to think in different ways and give you new perspectives. I will always remember what my Muslim neighbor told me when I first moved to Qatar, "Don't make boundaries with me, Maryan." She said it lovingly, and I knew she meant it. I learned so much from a mother who wore a burka. My life would be so different if I had not been her friend. Learn from others who are different than you. Blog on Spilling Love and Celebrating International Women's Day

--Have fun! Be creative. Give lots of hugs. Have a fun game, art, and/or music nights. Laugh a lot and go out and see the stars or a sunset or a firefly.  Carve holy moments of time. I remember celebrating St. Patrick's Day with a friend. We all went on a picnic with our kids and dyed our hair that day. As we tromped through a park in Los Angeles, we sang and told stories with our green hair. We came home exhilarated, breathless with happiness to be outside laughing and frolicking with our children.

--You can do harder things than you realize because you have learned to love with no bounds. Being a mother of a child with autism has stretched and blessed me. Blog on My Autism Mountain Having a young baby die taught me to be outside of my skin. Blog on Traveling Through Time in a Day

Some of my South African friends in China. The little girl told me, "You have taught me how to be brave and kind" on the last night before I left China. I teared up and told her I would try to live up to her estimation of me. Children's words, so pure and unfiltered, spark me to be better.

                                                                  A mother in India who I met


             A Cambodian mother who I often visited in the refugee camps when I worked there in Thailand and the Philippines in the 1980s. She was so grateful to be in a refugee camp and to have boxes for furniture and a hammock for several of her children to sleep in. At least now she knew they were safe from Pol Pot's genocide.

                                      A very special single mom with her triplets who my husband delivered 18 years ago. They have been like family to us. 

One of my best friends, Yoyo, in Tianjin, China with her son. She told me, "I think my children choose me to be their mom before they came down to be on earth with me."

                                       A grandmother with her grandson at Ikea in Tianjin, China

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Rare intersection of Ramadan, Passover, and Easter 2022 fall simultaneously together....

                                     
Another of Michaelangelo's Pieta in Milan

Easter is the day that changed everything. --Dieter F. Uchdorf

The exodus from Egypt occurs in every human being in every era, every year, and in every day. --Rabbi Nachman of Breslov

The fact that the Muslim holy days coincide over time with various holy days of Christians and Jews should remind us that we are all siblings in humanity and must work together for good. --Abdassamad El Yazidi

I wrote this blog during the weekend when Easter, Passover, and Ramadan intersected--reminding us that we are siblings in humanity. Of course, like much of the world, I was deeply saddened to hear of the violence in Jerusalem that weekend. I never finished it. But now tomorrow is the end of Ramadan.  

On April 2, here in China, I looked up at the barely-bowed moon, missing my Muslim friends. The small crescent moon that was barely visible, I knew, was the beginning of Ramadan all over the world. I thought of my friends' fasting and memories of iftar feasts with friends from Jordan, Palestine, Sudan, Egypt, and other Middle East countries when I lived in Qatar. A few days later, I reflected on the upcoming Easter Holy Week--the Passion Week, which is commemorated as Jesus Christ's last week of his life. Also, long ago, I lived near Jerusalem, where I witnessed the Palm Sunday procession and going to the tomb of Jesus. During that time, I was invited by a Jewish family to be with them during their Passover--a time when Jews remember the deliverance of God to end their slavery in Egypt. Often, Passover and Easter are at the same time. However, this week, in a beautiful intersection of religious calendars, believers of these three world religions are going on spiritual journeys to be restored, heal, and feel peace. This convergence of holidays emerges every 33 years.

Ramadan

In my five and half years living in the Middle East, one of my favorite times of the year is the holy month of Ramadan. A blog I wrote when I was in Qatar about Ramadan It is a time for a regeneration of spirit--to read the Quran, fast (both food and water), pray more duaas (prayers) that plead to Allah to be a better, devout person. Prayers at this time show more intention to ask for forgiveness and to forgive others, express feelings of joy and gratitude, and think about those who are unfortunate. Ramadan's purpose is to both isolate oneself to reflect upon how to improve, but also to build more community-bonding experiences, as well. 

During the daylight hours from when the sun rises until sunset, the streets are quiet, almost empty. Most commercial businesses do not open until after the sunset--signifying the time to end their fast. Many attend the mosque before they end their fast. Perhaps the reason I enjoyed the month of Ramadan so much was that all around me people conveyed a peace that was visibly transformative to an outsider looking in. Conversations were elevated. My Muslim friends spoke more about their feelings for those who are suffering and poor. They not only abstained from food and water during the day but there was a restraint and reining in of anger, arguing, swearing, and gossip. Negative emotions are consciously and purposefully controlled. 

Before Ramadan began and during the month, they evaluate their lives and with those who, perhaps, they needed to forgive. Relationships were intentionally strengthened. They carved necessary time in their abstaining from food and drink to truly ponder their life and to reach out to family, friends, and those who were suffering. As my dear friend and neighbor said, "I need to rebuild myself during Ramadan. A blog I wrote about a Non-Muslim's perspective on Islam

                           I always like to see the shoes outside the mosque before prayer time. 

                                                        Prayer time at the mosque

                                                        One of the main mosques in Doha

Passover

Passover is a holiday, for the most part, celebrated at home.  Home during Passover is a place of remembering, gathering, singing, eating, and storytelling. Sedar means setting up the sedar table full of ritual foods and objects, saving chairs for Elijah, and sometimes those who are forgotten in our lives. The longest part of the sedar is "maggid," which means storytelling. Passover comes directly from the Torah and commemorates the story of the ancient Hebrews' exodus from slavery.

Passover reminds me that miracles happen and that God can deliver us in unexpected and astonishing ways. In a way, we are all running from being a captive or slave to something, and we all need deliverance. Exodus prompts us to remember and to tell the stories of our miracles to our families for generations to come. 

                        The Wilderness of Egypt near where the Hebrews escaped                                   

Easter  

Easter traditionally was the center of an entire season of the Christian calendar. During Lent, Christians prepared themselves spiritually for Holy Week, which focused on Christ's final week of mortality. They considered it a time of penitence--a time to seek forgiveness. Beginning at Lent (usually about 40 days before Easter), the common penance was fasting. Lent was patterned after the 40 days Jesus prayed and fasted in the wilderness. Easter Sunday, always comes between March 21 and April 25, on the first Sunday after the first full moon, following the northern spring equinox. 

As a Christian, I believe that the gospel did not end with Jesus' burial. The Easter message is that the "good news" of Easter is there is no death. We go on living because Christ rose from the grave. On the first day of the week when Jesus was resurrected, the most memorable Sunday in history, Jesus emerged alive from the tomb and appeared to Mary. And it brings hope to all of humanity.  

With the world in a commotion of pain, angst, and struggle, Easter brings hope. As John Updike said in a poem "May we not mock God with metaphor" and Gerard Manley Hopkins said, "May easter in us." Hopkins made Easter be easter--a verb--a change, a transformation. 


                   A favorite painting by Caravaggio of Thomas touching Christ's wounds


"If Jesus defeated death one morning in Jerusalem, then suddenly every revitalization, every new birth, every repaired relationship, every ascent from despair, every joy after grief, every recovery from addiction, every coral reef regeneration, every achievement of justice, every rediscovery of beauty, every miracle, every found hope becomes a sign of what Jesus did in history, and of a promised future where all things will be made new."    --Tish Harrison Warren

So today when Ramadan is ending this year, hopefully in even small, ordinary ways, these three religions can remember they are "siblings of humanity." All three faiths remind us that hope and deliverance are what we are all yearning and searching for.