Thursday, January 30, 2014

In Memoriam--

I have just finished reading Marilyn Robinson's Gilead for the third time.  Near the end of the novel John Ames reflects back on his years of solitude after the death of his first wife and the quality of joy he has found in the wife and son of his old age.  He writes that for years he cherished his loneliness as an act of fidelity to his deceased wife and child.  In a passage, written to his 7 year old son,  he makes his suffering love and joyful consummation part of one long movement:

I can tell you this, that if I'd married some rosy dame and she had given me ten children and they had each given me ten grandchildren, I'd leave them all, on Christmas Eve, on the coldest night of the world, and walk a thousand miles just for the sight of your face, your mother's face.  And if I never found you, my comfort would be in the hope, my lonely and singular hope, which could not exist in the whole of Creation except in my heart and in the heart of the Lord.  This is just a way of saying I could never thank God sufficiently for the splendor He has hidden from the world--your mother excepted, of course--and revealed to me in your sweet ordinary face.

This time reading these line reminded me of my mother and my great love for her.  It also reminded me of a defining experience in my own life.  It had to do with a boy that I loved and admired and imagined possibly marrying. There were some harsh words said about my mother, but they could have been forgiven.  It was the sense that I wouldn't ever be able to communicate to this person how precious my Mom was to me.  Who knows?  Life is contingent and love opens up all kinds of alternative futures.  Yet, it was no small part of my falling in love with Doug that he understood the crazy method of love in my mother's madness and that he encouraged me to stay true to my knowledge of that love. 

My love for my mom was not mere stubborn commitment. It was not an act of Christian fidelity-- loving that which is unlovable, sticking with someone despite their illness.  As she aged she wasn't easy to be with,  but I never wished for a different mom or a more normal family.  I don't and I have never wanted to have lived a more obviously good life. It is through her eyes that I still see the world as  "slant."  Her perspective is still there-- prodding me to see the truth as gritty, uncomfortable, perhaps, convoluted.   She provided a hermeneutic.  I see the wisdom in  "folly" whether it be the "folly of the cross" or the disarming love of Satyagraha, or in an intellectual life that risks disorganization for the sake of truthfulness.

 Which is just to say that even if I had been born to a mom who smelled of baby powder and apple pies, who came to all my games, and who wrapped me in quilts of improbable domestic security, I believe there would still be part of me searching for the other mom who woke at 3am, to write poems, to tear up the linoleum, to paint flowers on the floor boards, and who loved me madly.