My Mother’s Fiery Heart
Updated: Jul 9, 2020
My mother's love isn't soft. It's fierce.
Belly-of-fire fierce. She has the kind of fierce love that brings 11 children into the world during the height of the zero-population craze. People asked her what she was doing. Didn't she care about the condition of the world? She said she certainly did. That's why she was raising so many children to make it right.
I think other kids would call for their moms when they were afraid at night. Not me. My mom worked so hard during the day that she'd never have heard me over the sound of her own snores. But those snores were comforting. I would creep out of bed and crawl in beside her because I knew the monsters were afraid of her.
Her love drove her to politics. Once, she called party headquarters to inform them of chicanery that was going on in a local nomination contest. The party official she talked to tried to patronize her. "Ma'am," he said. "Politics is not an honest business."
"Well it should be!" she answered. "And that's why I'm in it."
She made enough noise that they had to send an official to the contested nomination, at a sports arena. But they really just wanted the problem to go away. Since the only people standing up against the back-room politics were women, they decided to hold their meeting in the men's change room. Mom just went on in.
At home, love looked like a 100-foot long cord on the telephone. I don't actually know how long it was, but you could pretty much get to every corner of our main floor with the telephone on your ear. Mom needed it. She would spend hours on the phone, helping people in crisis or organizing some worthy cause, all while managing the household, chopping vegetables, getting supper on the table on time every night.
Some of my favourite memories are of evenings spent crowded around Mom while she told us stories from her own youth. Those conversations would morph into discussions of the ways we were going to resist peer pressure. It was exciting to feel a little bit of fire in my own belly when I anticipated how, if I ever had the opportunity, I would say no to drugs.
She raised us, all eleven of us, by dint of sheer determination. Her will was so strong and her mind so firm that we bent to it, like trees to a hurricane. A benevolent hurricane. Just as kind as it was forceful. I can't begin to count the number of people that came through our home for a piece of her love, delivered in the form of driving lessons to an immigrant who was also learning English, a temporary home for numerous teenagers, meals around our table, meals delivered to someone else's house, a listening ear, a phone call to a Member of Parliament to successfully intercede in someone's behalf where their situation looked hopeless. I know that the list was endless, and yet, somehow, when I stayed up late at night finishing a handwritten essay that had to be typed out and handed in next morning, Mom was there to send me to bed as soon as the work that only I could do was done. And in the morning, she would hand me my essay, all typed out.
I know my mother's strength. It's her vulnerability that's a mystery to me. I don't think I've ever seen her cry. Faced with impossible, my Mom never cringes or weeps. She sets her jaw and starts to organize.
I have spent so many of my years in deep water, wrestling with uncertainties, seeking clarity and strength, grappling with fear. She is fearless. She surfs on the tumultuous surface.
It has taken me decades to recognize that my familiarity with vulnerability is another form of strength. And longer yet to discover that I can be both vulnerable and bold.
I wonder if our progression is opposite. As age places limitations on her and loved ones struggle in ways she cannot fix, is my Mom learning vulnerability like I have had to learn courage? Maybe she learned it long ago, just in private. I don't know. I only know that if life should yet peel away all those exterior layers of bold and fierce, my mother won't fall down. Because underneath it all, driving it all, ever and always, is her inexhaustible love, for God and us.
When I was little, she was bright perfection.
All-knowing, wise, and yes, omnipotent.
Nothing ever escaped her sharp detection
And she was everything to all, and never spent.
I never guessed that she was less than boundless,
That there lived anything outside of her control.
If there was offence, I knew my side was groundless
For she reigned peerless on my pedestal.
She had to fall, for me to be an agent.
I had to know that she had feet of clay.
I had to face hard questions I had buried,
Sift through them in revealing light of day.
The sifting done, shall I resent that she is mortal?
Accuse her for mistakes her judgement made?
Shall I insist that she get back upon the pedestal
Or trip her with it, now that she's been weighed?
No. Never. No, for now I see her clearly
With perspective that is grounded and can hold
And I honour still and love her yet more dearly
With her feet of clay and heart of purest gold.
(Originally posted May 10, 2020, Mother’s Day)