Today at the shop, I wished many people a “Happy Mothers Day”, in the same way that I grind out “Have a nice afternoon” or “Hi, how are you?”—without much thought or feeling. It’s what happens after so many years of retail. Those stock phrases come in handy, the crutches of conversation.
A few times today, a customer would ask if I had called my mother (I hadn’t) and/or if I was being celebrated (I was not). To both questions I answered no. And each time I was in conflict with the truth.
Sure, my mother is in San Diego right now, paying karmic tribute to my grandparents (her parents). She wishes I were there with her, praying alongside her and learning the necessary rituals, but we are strangers to one another. She no longer mothers me.
And how do you tell a stranger that you ARE a mother—in that you gave birth—but that you no longer Mother. I imagine women who have given up their children or had them taken away from them. I imagine women like myself who have lost their children, or those like my mother, who have lost meaningful contact with theirs. What does Mothers Day mean to them?
While we can superficially celebrate the importance of Mothering, which I believe Mothers Day is all about, that leaves us non-mothers, former-mothers, and if-only-mothers out of the equation. I do not know of Hallmark cards that honor the grief a woman must endure through the long and trying stages of terminal disease, that speak to the great gulf of generations that divide parents and their offspring, or that acknowledge societal conveniences like an annual Mothers Day.
Thankfully I had been offline for most of the day, pouring coffee for those tireless women who needed (and finally got) a break from the daily grind of holding it all together. Until now, I had been spared the syrupy thanks that many people offer once a year to those that have brought them to being. But now, after logging into Facebook and reading every other status update celebrating Mothers Day, I am in a whirlwind of emotions.
We are all so lucky to be alive. I am so lucky to be witness to a May snowstorm, to bite into pure chocolate and taste its dense, nuanced layers. I am so lucky. I’ve survived a life-threatening childbirth, as well as a Communist takeover of my home country. I am lucky enough to be happily employed, well-loved and self-aware. We are all so lucky for what we have.
One of my coworkers in California (ages ago) told me he didn’t believe in luck. He was a devout Christian and told me that luck and God’s Divine Plan could not co-exist. I can believe him, “Luck” being defined as an accidental effect of random causes.
But I’d call him lucky, “Lucky” being a condition of advantageous circumstances. He was married to a beautiful wife who loved him, and he was intelligent and immensely kind. I was lucky to have known him.
I am lucky to have been born—I tell you this from my first-world room edged with trimmed lilacs and yellow traffic lines. I am lucky to be living a life in the age of intelligence and technology. As much as I sometimes pine for the simpler ways of times gone by, I am in fact, grateful that I am not living those daily hardships. That there is medicine, liberty and libation. That I can call my mother over long, cloud-filled distances and declare myself her stern, distant imprint. I am grateful that I can choose not to.
Mothers Day has long been a day of sadness and longing. It has been a time to reflect on the complexities of my enate relationships. A day of self-assessment. Of re-admitting the truth.