I was just remembering the conversation mom and had one day after work in early December. I sat in the church parking lot behind our little house in Greenlake just north of Seattle and we talked. I told her that everything I know about the mother I want to be is in my memory of her. That means giving unconditional love selflessly, passionately and often to my children. It means giving them a home to be proud of, filled with laughter and an inexplicable warmth.
The kind of place that feels instantly like home, smells like home. Before you know it, your feet are up a drink is in your hand and your laughing louder than you have all day. It's a place where time stops, well, as long as we can manage it. In my mothers house, people catch themselves sighing. Breathing deeply. Wanting more. Wanting to stay and stay. People forget whatever else they had planned and simply linger. They forget what always seems to plague them. The remember who they are though. That's what light does. She is light.
You were a lioness, I exclaimed. Am I not that as well? You guarded us. You huddled us into your bosom and reared us alone for many years. How will I know how to share the task of parenting? What will keep me from guarding my children as you did?
I didn't want to be a lioness, she said. I had to be. You work in a flower shop. I could hear her smile: You have a beautiful husband who will be a wonderful father. You have a powerful community around you. You won't need to be the lion. And if you do, you'll know. Just trust yourself. You'll be magnificent. You'll be the flower child I didn't get to be.
It brought to mind this fable told to me by a dear friend, Katie who lost her mother from Pancreatic Cancer a couple of years ago. A fable she heard through a shaman in Seattle whom, I imagine, heard it from Nietzsche:
When we are born, we are camels. We drink and we drink. We drink in all that we can and store it. It is important that we drink in much, so that we may be large camels.
And, it is important to be a large camel, because when we reach the desert, as great a camel as we were, so we are great as a lion.
It is important to be a great lion, because we must cross the desert. And, when we reach the edge of the desert we must slay our dragon. The dragon is: Thou Shalt.
Once we slay our dragon, we become a child.
I've thought long about this story. I love old stories. I think I was born a lion. A desert child. And the desert was my home. The only home I knew or wanted or knew to want. I didn't know to hope for more. I became quizzically adept at guiding new born lions from one end of the desert to the next, offering pointers on how to locate, name and ultimately defeat their dragons whilst mine thrived from neglect. I remained paralyzed from a fear of my dragon. Little wisdom I have shared, have I consumed.
As I sat again on our porch, staring into the lake, I saw the evening light dance on the water. Street lights spraying pink, yellow and green lights in ticklish streaks down the black quivering surface. I followed the light, crisp and electric into the foggy blur of cloud cover reflecting hazy on the water. In that moment, the scene changed. The axis of the planet changed. The bright lines were not tracing the waters face, but pouring down an abysmal cliff face. The fog wasn't a gray mirror, but a billowing fog nestled in the basin of an interminable canyon. Perhaps it was the smoky breath of a dragon hidden beneath.
I felt dizzy. Turned my head. Restored my field of vision. But, then I couldn't help myself. I peered again into the pitfall and drenched in its possibility. A lair. Where my dragon hides. I want to see his face. I want to slay him. Let him surface, I called to the cavern. I summoned some haughty attempt at courage and waited for the challenge to be answered. Nothing. Like the Nothing of the Neverending Story. Just nothing.
Fear gripped me. Nothing is more frightful than the unknown. Better the devil you know, they say. But to walk up to, no, to jump into an unknowable trench to face an unknowable enemy with an unknowable outcome. Pass. It occurred to me far later, much longer than it probably took you to sort out, that it is the Unknown itself that I must slay. But, what kind of weaponry does one bring to a battle with the unknown. How, for instance, does one approach the question, will this pregnancy survive? Why do I get this sinking feeling when i think of my mother telling me she was not feeling well?
If I bring power, I end up yearning for control only to be dismayed. The earth need simply shudder beneath my feet to dismantle that illusion. If I bring cunning, it will take but a moment to find I'm outwitted and bitterly humbled. To prepare for the unknown is to howl at the moon. It occurs to me, I cannot fight this dragon. So, how do I accomplish its death? This meditation returned nightly and grows in meaning even today.
I gather hints here and there. This weekend, in fact, a wise young man simply said to me: Accept. I keep hearing words like that. Surrender. Release. Breathe. These words are my mantra now, though they sit heavy and dry on my tongue like a bad case of cottonmouth. I keep licking my lips and sloshing my tongue about to shake it off. But, perhaps this dragon will lie down to a my new song of concession. Then, if I'm lucky, I'll arise a child again.
I want to be a child when I have a child, I told Mom. Maybe then I won't have to worry about relying so heavily on the lioness at the expense of those closest to me. She always understand my crazy way of saying things. You will be, she told me.
Then she asked me what I was making for dinner. I can't remember now. She always asked that though. I almost don't know how to make dinner anymore, without her asking. What should I serve with the pork loin, I'd ask. Ooh, I just got this great recipe for a Warm Apricot Spinach Salad with Prosciutto and Goat Cheese, she'd say.