I want to take this opportunity to tell you I have learned so much from you over these years that I have been privileged to call you “mom.” I watch you, as you get older, as I also get older, and I continue to learn from you. You are always telling me that a person cannot know something truly until they get there; that every decade of life is different; and that life becomes, in the end-game, a process of letting go. I see you, and I know by watching you that this is true.
I remembered you today, from when I was just a child, getting ready to go out for the evening with Dad. You were spraying your hair into an impressive beehive, pulling on stockings, and fragrancing your wrists with Fabergé cologne. You were beautiful then, and you taught me that life should be beautiful, our home should be a place of refuge, and every day was worth celebrating. You used to sing about loving your home, and you maintained it so elegantly. It was lovely to be your child in that home. Thank you.
But, you had to let that go. Your marriage fell apart; you had to return to work; Elissa and I needed a babysitter and our own key. It was difficult to watch you go back to work, but, I have to say, the happiest years of my childhood were living with you and Elissa alone on Ruth Avenue. Especially the nights when I was one who got to sleep in the middle of the bed, with you on one side and Elissa on the other, those were the safest days I had ever felt. You made us take turns because it was too hard for you to sleep in between us, and you needed to go to work in the morning. You needed your rest. It was then I learned that I would always work. You never quit singing in the kitchen, and you were gracious when Elissa and I attempted clumsily to cook or decorate the house for you.
Time in the other house, after your remarriage, was no cakewalk for any of us. There are so many difficult things about those days that it would be possible to think that all the memories there are negative ones. However, this is not true. The dominant memory I have of those years is running errands with you. Every errand was a party and an adventure. Every trip to the drugstore was an opportunity to laugh. Do you remember? Your sense of humor and play was huge, and I learned to take every bend in the road as an opportunity to see or feel or discover something new. When I dream about that house now, it feels like a nexus where important ideas live. Your spirit was indeed, for me, a shield and a protection.
You have always said that basically people like people. It is that attitude that draws people to you. You are quick to laugh, open to listen, and easy to relate. People love you because you love people, and I learned from watching you that you never have to be intimidated or afraid of anyone as long as you are able to show up in your own skin. And, this, you always said to me: Be the best of yourself. I like this particular “momism” almost better than any of the others because it is unconditional and non-directional. There is no if-then contingency here. It’s just: be yourself the best that you can be. What wonderful advice for anything, for anyone, in any given situation! You are akin to the great works of art, Mom. Michealangelo’s David; the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers; the Parthenon. These, so excellent and iconic, one might almost take them for granted, forgetting that there was a time when they were not and a time after which their decay will have been completed.
I become scared sometimes when I think about facing this world without you. Sometimes, I say, only because I refuse on some fundamental level to believe it could actually occur that I will likely one day have to walk no longer in your shadow but as an elder myself, a true grown-up, a woman on my own. It is a horrendous thought, until I remember your words that we come into this world alone and go out of it alone. We, all of us who are blessed to have a friend or companion or parent, are so fortunate to be accompanied. Yet, we cannot do the task of living or face down the fears of existential being-ness for any other human person. We can only walk alongside, assist, cheer, worry, regret, love, reach for, mourn. As a mom myself, now, I am starting to understand this. What a thing it is – to be able only to do so much and no more for the ones we love. Is this not what God’s love must be like for all of creation, letting it walk on its own, perhaps even understanding in the middle of things that it was always about learning to let go, even for God, to pour it all out? (Ah, she even teaches me how to let go. Now that is the essence of gift itself.)
As you know, I have a great dislike for mother’s day, mostly because I believe that every day should have some element of mother’s day in it and that no annual-Red-Lobster-Sunday brunch is really adequate to say “thank you” to any mom. Like every kid, I know it may appear that I take you for granted, but please rest assured that I do not. I see you. I bear witness to you as a mother and as a person. I stand as a guard in honor to your work and life, and I will do my best to be the best of myself, to trust people, to stand when I am alone, to grow and learn through every decade, and to let go when letting go is what is left. I love you.
Natalie Kertes Weaver, Ph.D., is Chair and Professor of Religious Studies at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Natalie’s academic books include: Marriage and Family: A Christian Theological Foundation (Anselm, 2009); Christian Thought and Practice: A Primer (Anselm, 2012); and The Theology of Suffering and Death: An Introduction for Caregivers (Routledge, 2013). Natalie’s most recent book is Made in the Image of God: Intersex and the Revisioning of Theological Anthropology (Wipf & Stock, 2014). Natalie has also authored two art books: Interior Design: Rooms of a Half-Life and Baby’s First Latin. Natalie’s areas of interest and expertise include: feminist theology; theology of suffering; theology of the family; religion and violence; and (inter)sex and theology. Natalie is a married mother of two sons, Valentine and Nathan. For pleasure, Natalie studies classical Hebrew, poetry, piano, and voice.