My father is all over my blog. He inhabits it in the ways fathers always inhabit the thoughts of their sons, but today is Mother’s Day, a day when it is appropriate to honor the person who teaches you what it is to love.
That is what my mother did for me.
It started with a Yes! Fifty years ago my world began when my mother offered a yes and soon a Kentucky teenager who never travelled more than a hundred miles from home would be halfway around the world. She did not have to say yes to that question and she did not have to say yes to children (especially me) or standing by a man who would have to spend considerable time away from his family ready to commit to the harshest actions while a nation would at once criticize him and all those others it sent to distant shores to fight and yet allow its citizens to sleep comfortably in their beds.
My mother did not have to say yes to a lot of things. But she did. She said yes to staying awake at night with her children when they were ill. When my father was in Vietnam, she said “yes, he will come home,” when she could not be sure of the thing herself. She became accustomed to the word and like many children, I soon learned that if I wanted to hear it, it was best to ask mom.
Under the surface, her life could hardly be called a yes. She was the daughter of a coal miner from Appalachia. She accepted a proposal from an enlisted army man from a tobacco farming family. She was very young, he was not.
In a generation she worked alongside my father to move from poverty to middle class solidity. She would never forget where she came from and she always remembered that the best families could relate to coal burning stoves and drawing water from a well. She encouraged my father to spend his income lavishly at Christmas and it was hardly money they had.
As I grew older she learned to chastise me albeit in moderation and she always silently prayed I would be a better person. In my years of doubt, it was her prayers that mattered. One of the things that could always bring me around again to that better place was looking at her and thinking there must be a God, for who else could have given her to him. And who else could have given her to my sister and me.
I think of all the elitism in the world. I think of all those who must think my thought about her silly or to think she was foolish for all of those yeses she uttered. I think I inherited my pragmatic nature from my father, but my foolishness I got from my mother. If only I could end my life in that foolishness that is no foolishness at all…. that I may always be ready to say Yes even when Yes makes no sense whatsoever.
And yes makes no sense. “No” is easier to say and easier to do. Jean Vanier says the primal cry is “do you love me?” To that question my mother would say yes. And that is just one yes that I learned from her. There were many, many others…..
Do you like gardens, mountains, the ocean, rainfall, the flowers that grow in the backyard, fruits taken off the tree and vegetables picked by hand? And children, do you like children? My answer to all of these is Yes. I love so much what my mother has loved. Granted I am quicker to say I will stand by you, protect, guard and defend you….all those things fathers say, but the most real things are the ones to which I answer yes and these I learned from a young woman from Appalachia.
The world will not know her. It will not know me. That is okay. She knows me and those others I know I know because of her. They are the ones who hear my yes. I can be harsh and pragmatic. I am quick to fight and unfortunately quick to say “no.” But that is not me in my better moments. In my better moments I have said yes to gardens and mountains, to others when they are vulnerable and weak and have asked if I will stay awake with them through the long night. I have said yes to these. And most importantly when in their own way, I have been asked “do you love me?” I have said yes. Without my mother these were yeses I could never utter.
Today is Mother’s Day. It is a single day on the calendar. It is a day for a “yes.” Tomorrow we can return to a world that is cold and brutish. We can practice saying No tomorrow. Let’s face it, our world has it perfected. But today, let us say yes. The world will think us foolish, but there are worse things than being a fool. Every “no” testifies to this. Today let us honor those who say yes to us. As for our mothers, call or send flowers, but mostly say “yes” to all of those good and beautiful things which we say yes to because of her who first said yes to us.
Image: My mother in 1963