The gift of motherhood

“Do you know what this is, Miss?”

I was visiting my friend’s mother at a home for the elderly when another resident stopped me. I groaned inwardly, realizing my schedule was about to be thrown off kilter.

I could make an excuse and be on my way already, but something in her eyes drew me in and compelled me to stop. It was a strange mix of fear, uncertainty, regret, hope, and resignation.

I checked the time and decided I could spare ten minutes. The truth is, I didn’t stand a chance! Her eyes told me to take a break from life.

“Do you know what this is, Miss?”

I took the parcel she held out. I could see it had already been opened and then wrapped again. I hesitated, not sure what I was supposed to do. Or say.

Before I could respond, this dear lady opened the parcel, and with it the entrance to some dark space I didn’t even know I was in.

Maybe it’s true that sometimes we get so used to the darkness that assails us that we do not even know our state until someone lets the light in.

Ten minutes? I have a lifetime to get used to this light now flooding my space.

I learned that life had dealt her cruel blows. Born into affluence, she had known nothing but poverty of the soul. No one understood her situation because she had mastered, from an early age, the skill of digging holes and covering what the rest of the world should not see.

The problem was, the more holes you dug, the more you needed to dig. Eventually, your life becomes like fabric eaten thin by moths. Or like termite-infested wood, not easily clear to undiscerning eyes that it’s already falling apart.

Time flew by, like it always does, depleting the space available to her to continue digging.

“But how long does one have to dig before it’s enough?” I asked her.

She held the parcel to her chest, wiped a stray tear, and exhaled, as if in relief”. “I don’t know where my children are, or how they’re doing”, she told me, “I’ve heard I have grandchildren but I’ve never met them”. Then she smiled, “Those tale-bearers don’t always get their numbers right, you know”.

Tell me about it! I smile and nod my agreement.

“This whole time I thought I had four”, she said, “But I’ve just been told I have seven grandchildren”.

“And you’ve never met any of them?”

She shook her head, then added quickly, “But it’s fine. I might never meet them, or see my children again”. She shook her head again, “But it’s fine”.

Why!?! How is it fine!?!

I’d be cursing and filing complaints in heaven continually if I’ve done half of what this woman has done and still be abandoned by the recipients of such benevolence! This is not fine!

“Are you visiting your mother?” Her question interrupted the rising levels of my annoyance and probably saved us all from something, “Do I know her?” The excitement in her voice this time broke my heart.

“Each new breath is an indication that we still have time and grace on our side”. She held out the parcel to me, “A gift for you”.

When I wouldn’t take it, she insisted, “It’s my birthday today, and I want to share this with you”.

As I bent to hug her, I asked if I could help her find her children, “Maybe they’re looking for you”.

She chuckled, “I like you already, and I hate to bring the envisioned adventure to an end already, but they wheeled me through those doors seventeen years ago”.

“And that was the last time you saw them?”

“It’s fine, Miss”, she wiped another stray tear, “It really is fine”.

I informed her I was visiting my friend’s mother, and explained the circumstances of my visit. My friend, too, had sworn not to set eyes on her mother again.

I thought we could celebrate her birthday together, but when she saw where I was taking her, she began to protest.

My friend’s mother heard the ruckus and came to see what was happening, “Why are you bringing her here?” she shrieked.

I explained we’d be celebrating her birthday together and inadvertently started a battle of some sorts.

“Are you serious? Are both of you serious right now?” I turned to my new friend, “What happened to all the holes, and digging, and covering?”

“What holes?” My friend’s mother asked, “What does she have you covering now?” She followed us as I wheeled my new friend in, “I don’t want her in my room! Don’t let her corrupt you!”

“She’s not that bad”, I replied. I brought out the parcel, “See, she even gave me a gift”.

I think she took the bait because she dismissed the nurse who had come to see what the excitement was all about.

When she turned to me and asked, “What gift?” I knew I had underestimated many aspects of this situation.

I turned to my new friend for help. She shrugged, “Maybe it would help us find our children”.

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