Sunday, May 08, 2011
Today is Mother's Day. I love to see children honor their mother, though the Scriptural injunction intends far more than Hallmark would endorse or flower shops promote. Its a good start, but that commandment is one for every day not for one in three hundred and sixty five. That said, I especially enjoy seeing my children honor their mother with some thoughtfully prepared cards and gifts, making a general fuss over her, just as she deserves, and perhaps as atonement for the angst they layer on her heart between the joys they just as equally offer.
While it will be fun to celebrate the moms we see daily hugging, tending, feeding, comforting, confronting, instructing, taking to, picking up, and cracking on the head the often ungrateful louts we call our offspring, the day also reminds us of the moms who did all of that - and more of course - but who are no longer with us on this side of the great divide. I received word yesterday that a good friend and great lady we know had gone to be with the Lord after a brief battle with cancer; one can't blame her daughters if they aren't all that excited about celebrating Mother's Day when they are making arrangements to bury theirs. Just a few weeks ago, another dear friend also buried her mother, likewise after a painful but mercifully short battle with cancer. Is today sweet? Maybe bittersweet; joy in the remembrance, sorrow in the absence. Mother's Day can be tough. I'm glad its not part of the Liturgical Calendar because frankly, I'd skip it. It would be too painful.
Moms really aren't around forever. Intellectually we know this is true and experience teaches us this hard fact as well. Yet emotionally we keep that reality at bay, telling it go lay down if it rears its head, sending it into a time out or threatening it with the loss of dessert if it won't be quiet. But one day, sure enough, it stomps right through the living room of our hearts and plunks down rudely, smashing vases, interrupting everything, and wrecking the moment, like a lightning bolt blowing out the television right in the middle of the Super Bowl. Death - especially the death of a mother -is horrid and altering and damaging. Especially if it is premature, at least in so far as we can label such things.
My mom taught me to read and to love sports; she taught me about civil rights and to love politics; she taught me what it meant to celebrate gifts and make the most of what little abilities God has given to most of us - making me take piano lessons (torture!), but equally taking me to art lessons, and sending me to basketball camp. She taught me to pray, and to pray for the people I didn't like very much, like my Little League coach. He benched me when I was ten, and I felt quite aggrieved by this slight. He was no doubt right to bench me - I am baseball fan in part because I couldn't play the game very well, and understand from terrible experience how exceptionally talented even the most unsung minor leaguers must be - but at ten I was certain the man was secretly a warlock, working a dark conspiracy of spells against me in an effort to make me look bad before my peers. I did what all other ten year olds do when they get mad - I huffed and stormed and then lay down on my bed and cried. Mom came in and sat with me. I expected some comfort after telling her about the great injustice inflicted upon me by 'the man'. After all, my mom, strident Republican to the core, was nonetheless a big Bobby Kennedy and MLK fan, and knew injustice when she saw it. No luck though. She had a deeper magic. "Lets pray for your coach", she gently said. "YOU pray for him", I half-shouted and half-sobbed. And she did, out loud, one of those kinda long prayers that were unusual for her and signaled to me she really meant it.
I didn't see a dove descend or anything like that while she prayed, but that terrible anger did lift, her prayer sucking it out of me like some medieval poltace applied to a festering wound. Mom had the goods.
My mom's name is Dolores Anne Cassidy, and she is the daughter of William and Reta Saunders. My maternal grandparents are buried on a hill overlooking what used to be the fifty yard line of what used to be a high school football field. Things change. My mom died unexpectedly of of a massive coronary on Easter Sunday, April 16, 2006. She had an appointment with a cardiologist scheduled for the next day. Too late. She was a wonderful mom, a good nurse, and terrific friend. She possessed little fashion sense and did not care. She loved literature and she thought I was an artist. Hey, everyone's entitled to at least one major misjudgment. She is buried in a Veterans Cemetery outside Nashville, Tennessee, not because she is a vet but because my dad served.
My sister lives in Nolensville, Tennessee and so visits her grave regularly. I love my sister - and she looks just like my mom, which startles me every time I see her. Whenever she goes to the grave she takes my mom a cup of Starbucks coffee, with cream and sugar; my sister drinks half of the coffee, pours the rest on the grave and then sets the cup on top of the marker. Then she cries. Last week we drove out there together, bringing some flowers freshly picked from my sister's pretty incredible garden. We stopped for the Starbucks. We stood there arm in arm on a bright Tennessee Saturday morning, fabulous green hills and lush trees all around us and remembered her; we thanked her; we cried; and for me at least, that was Mother's Day.
Sure, I don't cry every day about her death - that stopped some years ago. But at any moment, spurred on by some distant echo of a very present memory, I still cry about her and all her absence means to me and my family. I still want to call her.
Not that she's utterly gone. One Sunday morning a couple years ago I was standing in the chancel behind the Table as I always do during the Lord's Supper, singing 'At the Lamb's High Feast' with the rest of the congregation, feeling nothing but great joy, and not thinking about my mother at all - nor had I been doing so that day or the day before. And then suddenly, just to my right, she was there. Or I was there. Not sure really - one of those unexpected moments when the veil of seeing through a glass darkly gets pulled back slightly and the audience sees the stagehands moving the pieces around for the next scene. She was singing along with the congregation quite happily. Then that moment passed; as quickly as that awareness came, it left, but not without leaving a mark.
Was it real? I think so. We serve the God of the living, not the dead. And mom liked to sing in Church and take communion. Fine, the psychoanalysts and cynics can make of it what they will, and the anti-supernaturalists can register my experience as mere projection; or maybe a kind of madness brought on by postponed grief; I get it. Yet nothing like that has ever happened again - I peek out of the corner of my eye at times during communion to check for such things! Its no use doing so during sermons; she'd just be sitting there telling me to wrap it up, that 'the brain can only absorb what the butt can stand', as she liked to say.
I'm pretty sure that one day she will welcome me to the service that doesn't have a benediction and we'll get to sing together again. Until then, well, Happy Mother's Day, Mom. I still miss you. We all do.