Her fate seizes her and brings her down. She is heavy with it. It wrings her. The great weight is heaved out of her. It eases. She moves into what she has become sure in her fate now as a fish free in the current. She turns to the calf who has broken out of the womb’s water and its veil. He breathes. She licks his wet hair. He gathers his legs under him and rises. He stands, and his legs wobble. After the months of his pursuit of her now they meet face to face. From the beginnings of the world his arrival and her welcome have been prepared. They have always known each other. ~Wendell Berry “Her First Calf”
Seized, brought down, wrung from, heaved out, pursued, then eased:
there is nothing gentle in what it takes to be birthed a mother;
once emptied, mothering becomes sweetness
as never tasted before,
a filling back up
in a face to face meeting
destined from the beginnings of time.
I have known you,
I knew each of you,
you have known me all along,
born in covenant promise
and set free at birth.
Lying still, your mouth gapes open as
I wonder if you breathe your last.
Your hair a white cloud
Your skin baby soft
No washing, digging, planting gardens
Or raising children
Where do your dreams take you?
At times you wake in your childhood home of
Rolling wheat fields, boundless days of freedom.
Other naps take you to your student and teaching days
Grammar and drama, speech and essays.
Yesterday you were a young mother again
Juggling babies, farm and your wistful dreams.
Today you looked about your empty nest
Disguised as hospital bed,
Wondering aloud about
Children grown, flown.
You still control through worry
and tell me: Travel safely Get a good night’s sleep Take time to eat Call me when you get there
I dress you as you dressed me
I clean you as you cleaned me
I love you as you loved me
You try my patience as I tried yours.
I wonder if I have the strength to
Mother my mother
For as long as she needs.
When I tell you the truth
Your brow furrows as it used to do
When I disappointed you~
This cannot be
A bed in a room in a sterile place
Waiting for death
Waiting for heaven
And I tell you: Travel safely Eat, please eat Sleep well Call me when you get there.
Great Grandma Elna meeting Noah 5 days before she died, 2008
Elna Schmitz as Elizabeth Barrett Browning in a WSC production in Pullman, Washington in 1940
People have said, “Don’t cry” to other people for years and years, and all it has ever meant is, “I’m too uncomfortable when you show your feelings. Don’t cry.” I’d rather have them say, “Go ahead and cry. I’m here to be with you.”
~Mister Fred Rogers
I am a crier, no question about it, whether it is listening to the old “whistle” theme from the Lassie TV show, or watching any children’s choir sing. Certain hymns will always trigger tears, and of course, baptisms, weddings, and graduations. Yesterday was joyfully tear-filled, with our youngest child receiving her college degree.
Tears don’t bother me, whether it is my own or someone else’s. My office and exam rooms are well- stocked with tissues, and one of my routine mental health history questions is “when did you last have a good cry?” Some patients will look at me blankly, not sure they ever remember crying, and others will burst into tears at the mere suggestion.
No matter what the reason for tears, it is a powerful expression of feeling, like a smile or a grimace. I watch for those cues and sometimes can feel the emotion as surely as if it were my own.
There is nothing comparable to the smell of a newborn’s skin, still awash in amnion and vernix, still waxy with protective coating. It is a timeless brine, pungent with salt and sweetness, instantly magnetizing infant to mother.
Each of you were still soaked as you moved from an inside world to the outside, placed dripping skin to skin on my bare chest. Your eyes opened, blinking, lids scrunched, focusing on the light and shadow of our faces, trying to memorize our shape and color, learning our smells, knowing the rhythm of our voices. We could only marvel at that first glimpse, that first touch, knowing only moments before you had been floating, anchored deep inside.
I fell headlong into the brimming pools of your eyes. My heart raced with the anticipation of sharing everything with you who had been knit together by invisible fingers.