By Shavawn M. Berry
I talk to my mother every Saturday. It is an appointment neither of us likes to miss. Now that she’s in her late seventies, I am acutely aware that my ability to dial the phone and hear her voice is a treasure. Those hours of random conversation are some of the best part of every week.
I’ve been talking to my mother every Saturday for nearly 35 years. Except for a few years in the early nineties when I moved home after many years in New York City and for the 18 months I lived with her after my father died, our conversations were situated over long distances. So, we’ve talked probably every Saturday for 30 of those 35 years. In other words, most of my adult life. I have usually lived hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away from her. Not because that is what I wanted, but because my ambition, educational aspirations, and vocational opportunities were just not available in the small town where I grew up. (Initially, I set out to be a rock star. That, as you may imagine, was not a job that regularly appeared in the local paper’s want ads.) Yes, I could have stayed there. Lots of people did (including both my brothers) but I had the itch to go out into the world and have a big life doing big things.
Initially, my mom wasn’t exactly supportive of that whole “big life” idea. But she grew into it. Just as I grew into my deep appreciation for the grounding she gives my life, for the way in which she allows me to find my own way, no matter how many times I call her quaking in fear, out of money or brokenhearted again, certain that love will never bloom for me. I called her when depression nearly derailed my life. I called when I converted to Buddhism (and celebrated with her a year later, when she converted as well.) We’ve talked when both of us were mired in grief so profound I wondered if we’d ever see the sun again. She’s heard about my victories and my defeats. She’s dealt with my navel gazing, and my star gazing, with equal aplomb. Absolutely, nothing is off-limits.
This much is true. My mother is the one person in the world that I know will love me no matter what I do, no matter where I go, no matter what happens. She is my advocate, my archer, my anchor and my shield. She “gets” me. She has known me since I started to flutter in her womb 50+ years ago. There is no living human being besides her who can make that claim. I started my life as a part of her, and I carry her with me wherever I go.
Our conversations — starting just after my eighteen birthday — up until today are as big a part of the weave and warp of my life as anything else I have ever done. Most of the early years, I talked and she listened. As I have gotten older, I longed to know what she was thinking, what she was reading. I wanted to hear her piece the week together: her day with my twin nephews (her only grand babies), the time she spent with friends, the to-die-for taste of lemon cream pie at Shoo Fly Pie in West Seattle. We talk progressive politics. She recounts what she hears on NPR. She tells me that she cleared the yard, took her blood pressure, and read five books her older sister gave her before she died. Every week, we untangle the days together. I drink coffee and pace around my house. I read her my latest poem. I tell her about my students and let her talk to my dog. I wish that she was closer, but the reality is, my mother lives in my blood and marrow. The miles do not separate us. We are always in each others’ thoughts and prayers. And I love those small moments — the times we choke on our tears as we say goodbye — because those are the things that actually matter in the long run. My ambition for the outside world could never buy me anything as valuable as my mother’s voice crossing through thin air to reach me each week. I hate to imagine what the void in my life will be like when she’s no longer here.
For now, I am grateful for the grace and blessing of her presence. And I look forward to our next sacred conversation, sure I will be surprised, delighted, enlightened and otherwise fed by the love carried underneath our words.
Photo Credit: Cathleen Cunniff
© 2012 Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved
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