Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Our Children, Our Teachers

I just completed a lovely email exchange with a colleague who had purchased my book and wrote to thank me for “blessing all of us mothers with your insightful, wise book.” In this case, it was Carole who blessed and inspired me.

This kind and accomplished therapist had previously shared that she had been grieving the inconceivable: the recent death of her adult son. But the details she shared in her email brought tears to my eyes. After reading some of my book, Carole explained “I found myself waking in the wee hours of the morning thinking of all the lessons my deceased mentally ill son had taught me over the past 40 years.” Just one of the transformational lessons her son taught her was “how to offer unconditional love under extreme duress.”

Carole’s son’s serious mental illness brought untold heartache to himself, his family and others. She could have turned her back on him and no one would have blamed her. And, yet, somehow, she realized that her son could help her evolve as a human being. What she learned from him did not emanate from how he functioned or his treatment of her, but, rather, from how she reacted to how he behaved. She made the decision to learn to love him no matter what, and, as a result, he knew he was loved right up until his life ended.

What a great gift this mother gave to her son. Carole believes her son offered her the gift of learning what a mother’s love is really about. Still another contribution has benefited many besides her son: “Because of his life challenges, I decided to get my Masters in Clinical Social Work, and that was the smartest decision I could have ever made. His death has deepened my understanding and sensitivity and opened my heart so that I can guide those who lay their suffering before me.” And so this son’s gift to his mother keeps on giving.

Searching for what we can learn from our children and their life experiences empowers us and prevents us from feeling like victims.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Lanyard – an ode to his mother by Poet Laureate Billy Collins

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

The Lanyard – an ode to his mother by Poet Laureate Billy Collins