This week, I spent a lot of time scouring collections of poetry and pouring through my usual go-to books for Sunday readings. I searched online for hours, googling: “Mother’s Day poems… SHORT Mother’s Day poems… Mother’s Day poems that DON’T TOTALLY SUCK.” There are a few good ones out there. But most are either really, really heavy or so schmaltzy and treacly that they make my teeth hurt. Or both.
I’m not one to shy away from emotional intensity — but I do prefer that it be at least a little original. I’m comfortable with effusive expressions of intimacy — but I want these to be genuine, and not some hackneyed variation on “roses are red, violets are blue.” I’m a romantic idealist at heart — but, dang it, Mother’s Day is so perfumed and candy-coated that it seems on the verge of losing all touch with reality. I don’t mean to sound like a bitter crank, but…
My own mother tended to cringe at this overly sentimental holiday. She liked things a bit sassy, a little snarky. It’s not easy to find bitchy Mother’s Day cards. And I’m finding it nearly impossible to come up with a good Mother’s Day reading.
Travis is scheduled to read this Sunday. I told him I couldn’t find anything for him to do. He suggested that we re-enact a short bit from the dreadfully wonderful camp-biopic, Mommie Dearest, starring Faye Dunaway as legend of the silver screen, Joan Crawford. He and I had performed the infamous “No wire hangers!” scene in a talent show about a dozen years ago. I reminded him that — even though we thought we were brilliant, edgy, and hysterically funny — nobody else got it. Nobody. We finished, and the audience just sat there in mute horror. We might have gotten a smattering of embarrassed applause, finally.
So, then I thought about having him read a short history about the founder of Mother’s Day. Anna Jarvis, who got Mother’s Day declared an official national holiday, ended up disavowing it because immediately it became terribly tacky and unbearably commercial. She spent most of her life at war with the floral, candy, and greeting-card industries. Jarvis protested Mother’s Day events that she saw as capitalization of what she had envisioned as a simple, intimate occasion of acknowledgment. She was arrested for disturbing the peace at a convention of the American War Mothers who were using the holiday to fundraise, selling carnations. She attacked First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt at a Mother’s Day charity event. She spent all her money on legal battles against those who would seek to profit from Mother’s Day. Anna Jarvis probably took things too far, but I see her point.
The truth of it — the rich reality of the mother-child dynamic — is that it’s complicated. It’s often fraught. It usually includes both deep love and simmering resentment. It’s riddled with expectations, conscious and unconscious. It can be sugary sweet, and then also leave you with such a tart aftertaste that you can’t un-pucker for hours.
Them’s are just the facts of most the mother-child relationships I’ve known. Of both literal and metaphorical mothering. Our interpersonal relationships with and as mothers and mother-figures, and also the figurative ways that we mother and get mothered. The ways that we give birth and get born. How we participate in the Creative Process of ever-evolving Life.
I think I’ll probably ask Travis to read Kahlil Gibran, from The Prophet. It’s been done a lot (so much for originality), but still it’s pretty darned good:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for Itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, Not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows form which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The Archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
And He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
So He loves also the bow that is stable.
“Life’s longing for Itself” seems to me a perfect expression of the creative urge, our living process, how we yearn ourselves into the future. Of course this might include actual offspring, but I think it applies as well to all hopes and dreams and desires, any projects and activities, all the ways we participate in creating what comes next.
We can gush with cheap sentiment, or try to protect ourselves by withholding affection and attachment. We can shop our way through the feelings, or post them all over social media. We can wage a lifelong campaign against how it’s been mishandled and refuse to enjoy a minute of it, suffering the complexity. Or we can simply embrace it.
It matters how we hold this longing, how we embody Life’s Longing. Our own Mother Nature.
I can’t wait to be with you this Sunday, May 14, 10:00am at Maple Street Dance Space. XO, Drew
©2023 Drew Groves