At 50: A Remembrance

Ohanapekosh, Mt. Rainier, Washington, August 1960
Momma & Shavawn – Baptism, Photo by Harry Ray Topping
Ohanapekosh, Mt. Rainier, Washington, August 1960

For Amanda Moore Berry

This morning as I woke, I thought about my mother.  I thought about this day 50 years ago when she was in the throes of labor, when morning light flooded her hospital room — and my father paced the hallway outside, smoking incessantly — back in the day when you could actually smoke in hospitals.  I navigated the intervening years — stopping to look at various incarnations of myself along the way.

Falling Back in Time

I recall the little girl: the one who loved to eat crab apples until her belly ached; the one who picked all the tulips in her neighbor’s yard — hundreds of crimson, lemon, cream, and fuchsia blooms — only to realize after she finished, that it was probably the wrong thing to do, to crave all those bursts of color, to long to gather Spring in her arms.

I remember the adolescent — all arms and legs, no fleshy bits — yet.  I look into her face — revisiting the difficulties of being that spirit in that body at that time.  As my parents divorced and the ground beneath me gave way, I felt both fatherless and motherless — a cork floating un-tethered in dirty water.

I come across myself splayed on the pages of journals — on display in photos that freeze time, that allow me to fall back into a sort of Wonderland, to hear my voice and realize that I cannot protect myself from any of the heartbreak to come.

And the thing is, that’s OK.  That’s all part of my story.  And my story has been a good one.

Along the way, twist and turns

Today, I think about the life I have left, as I reflect on the life I’ve lived.  I’ve made lots of mistakes.  I’ve walked out on real love — and stayed much too long with love that had soured.  I’ve often resisted learning the very things that might have made my life better, deeper, richer.  I’ve languished in sadness, wasting precious time — feeling bad about shit I had absolutely no option to change.  The door to my past remains open in my mind, but it’s just a parlor trick to think that I can ever return there.  What’s done is done.

And so I untangle myself mid-life, and I give thanks.  I give thanks for my three-week old nephews, T and M — for twin boys who arrived in time for my mother to caress and feed newborn babies again at the age of 75 —  while their 48-year-old father becomes a first time parent late in life.  I give thanks for the friends that ground me and bless my life — those with whom I talk spirituality and writing and process.  I am grateful for my students and colleagues, those who teach me, stretch me and transform me every day.  I am deeply thankful for my relationships—both with my human companions and my constant familiars, my cats and dog.

You cannot take it with you.

Material things are wonderful — but none of that “stuff” will travel with me when I leave this world.  I will leave with only the contents of my heart.

I ponder the notion of story — how we alone shape our stories into what they will become — with our choices, our perceptions, and our sense of purpose and gratitude.  I want to squeeze every drop out of my life.  I want  to live with even more passion, and without fear or regret.

My mother.  My heart.

So, I return to the image of my mother — bearing down, listening to the doctor as he told her, “Push!  Push!  We’re almost there…”  First my head, then one shoulder, then the other.  My mother pushed and I appeared at 2:01 p. m., in Los Angeles County Hospital, just a day before Easter. I imagine the room whirling with bright light and filled with angels, as the doctor headed into the hallway to congratulate my father.  After nurses placed me on my mother’s chest, I remember the feeling of her breath as it rose and fell.

She spoke my name for the first time and I felt the pages of the book of my life open. Her voice flooded my body with the story that would become my life.


I gratefully acknowledge that this essay was previously published in Kalliope Magazine in April of 2010.

© 2010 & 2013  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

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