Going Home to Mother

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“Comrade General, instead of a decoration, could I go home to see my mother?”

I was sixteen, taking second year high school Russian during the Cold War, partly for the challenge, but mostly to understand better who our “enemy” was.  Our teacher assigned us unusual homework one weekend: watch the 1959 Russian movie  Ballad of a Soldier being broadcast on PBS in 1970.  It had English subtitles, but the point of the assignment was to experience the sounds and inflections of native Russian speakers.  Although the movie was a fictional story of a Russian soldier’s brief leave from the front during WWII, it complemented a concurrent assignment in our World History class, reading All Quiet on the Western Front. The unforgettable juxtaposition of these two works of art helped me appreciate, in the midst of the nightly news from Vietnam,  the terrible cost of war.

Recently, some forty seven years later, I watched this movie again. The tale is a classic “returning home from war” saga with the twist that young Alyosha is only on a brief leave granted by a compassionate general rewarding the front line soldier for an extraordinary act of bravery.  Alyosha asks only to return to his home village to fix the leaking roof of his mother’s home.  Given the extraordinary difficulties of war time travel in an economically struggling country, as well as the challenges and people he ends up meeting along the way, his time home ends up being only a few precious minutes before he has to turn around and return to the front.  He only has enough time to hug his mother, and say goodbye one last time, never to return again.

Although the story focuses on a son’s determination to get home to his mother, it also allows a view of war’s permanent damage to bodies and minds,  as well as the toll of war time separation on relationships.  There seems little sense of hopeful future for the characters in this story, so the immediacy of what they experience takes on greater significance.

Alyosha meets a young woman on the train and their evolving connection offers a glimpse of a potential love that can transcend the ugliness of war.  They part not even knowing how to find each other again, after having spent precious few hours in conversation.   Acknowledging that lack of future hope is the most painful of all;  there is no ability to make plans with confidence, no sense of a long life stretching ahead like the dusty road leading from his village that reaches endless to the horizon.

I remember sitting in my childhood home, watching this movie as a teenager with so little life experience at that point.  Tears streamed down my face, touched forever by the tender story of a man made too old by war and hardship for his young years and his simple desire to once again hug his mother.   This Russian soldier did not feel like an enemy to me.  This felt like someone I could easily love and hold on to–as a brother, someday as a cherished husband, eventually as a precious son.   Years later I would identify with the role of the mother with moistening eyes, watching my children leave our home, heading down that long endless road to their own uncertain futures.

On this day — May 26 — what would have been my mother’s 98th birthday — I have the simple desire to once again hug my mother and feel her tender love.  The wrenching moments of saying goodbye as I left home remain my precious bittersweet memories of her, even as my own road now grows shorter.

There will come a time, in our forever home,  when there will be no more goodbyes,  I’ll never have to let go of her and neither of us will walk away to an uncertain future.

 

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Sudden Ends of Time

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These sudden ends of time must give us pause.
We fray into the future, rarely wrought
Save in the tapestries of afterthought.
More time, more time.
~Richard Wilbur from “Year’s End”

Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention.  They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.
~Frederick Buechner

I’m not paying close enough attention if  I’m too busy looking for kleenex.  It seems the last couple weeks I have had more than ample opportunity to find out the secret of who I am, where I have come from and where I am to be next, and I’m loading my pockets with kleenex, just in case.

It mostly has to do with welcoming our children, their spouses and their friends back home for the holidays to become a full out noisy messy chaotic household again, with lots of music and laughter and laundry and meal preparation.  It is about singing grace together before a meal and choking on precious words of gratitude.  It certainly has to do with bidding farewell again, as we begin to do a few hours from now and, to gather them in for the hug and then unclasping and letting go, urging and encouraging them to go where their hearts are telling them they are needed and called to be.  I too was let go once and though I would try to look back, too often in tears, I knew to set my face toward the future.  It led me here, to this farm, this marriage, this family, this work, to more tears, to more letting go, as it will continue if I live long enough to weep again and again with gusto and grace.

This is where I should go next: to love so much and so deeply that letting go is so hard that tears are no longer unexpected or a mystery to me.   They release the fullness that can no longer be contained: God’s still small voice spilling down my cheeks drop by drop like wax from a burning candle.  No kleenex needed.  Let it flow.

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Heartbreaking Summer

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photo of supermoon by Harry Rodenberger
photo of supermoon by Harry Rodenberger

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Heartbreaking summer beyond taste,
Ripeness and frost are soon to know;
But might such color hold the west,
And time, and time, be honey-slow…
~Léonie Adams from “Midsummer”

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photo by Karen Mullen Photography
photo by Karen Mullen Photography

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A Heart Bared

421152_10150518298024422_958316185_nThrough the blur, I wondered if I was alone or if other parents felt the same way I did – that everything involving our children was painful in some way. The emotions, whether they were joy, sorrow, love or pride, were so deep and sharp that in the end they left you raw, exposed and yes, in pain. The human heart was not designed to beat outside the human body and yet, each child represented just that – a parent’s heart bared, beating forever outside its chest.
~ Debra Ginsberg

The best way to keep children at home is to make the home atmosphere pleasant, and let the air out of the tires.
~Dorothy Parker

I would expect to be used to this by now; saying goodbye to adult children who come home for a visit, and then return to do what they have been called upon to do, living far away from us.

I may be used to it, but it gets no easier.  Each parting serves as a reminder of how deep and wide is the love for family yet how necessary is the letting go.

My tear ducts are due for a good washing out any way.  I consider it necessary maintenance along with checking to make sure the tires are well inflated.

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Our three in the middle,  leading outdoor church worship last night, photo by Brian Vander Haak

When we asunder part,
It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart,
And hope to meet again.
~John Fawcett, last verse, Blest Be The Tie That Binds