The Other I

July 12, 2011

My mother’s myth

Filed under: Uncategorized — theotheri @ 3:23 pm

I was reflecting today on the fact that my mother’s mother died quite suddenly of a massive heart attack at the age of 42.  My mother was sixteen.

This was not something we ever talked about as I was growing up.  Not because it was too painful, but because my mother’s family and her background was somehow just not as important as my father’s family.  I knew my maternal grandmother and grandfather had died before I was born and it never occurred to me to ask any other questions.

But certainly my own mother, when she was faced with the doctors’ verdict when she was 48 that she had no more than six weeks to live, must have remembered.  My own mother was leaving behind ten children between the ages of 19 and 6.  Looking back, I am in awe of her generosity, her bravery, her honesty.

She was a committed Catholic and, although she told me she found the prospect of her death a little frightening, she never so much as once in our conversations during that six weeks, questioned that God was a God of love.  Somehow she accepted that her death was part of a greater plan than she could understand.  Somehow she could accept it.  She could trust it.

Okay, I do not put life together that way.  Even when I believed in God, I never exactly trusted him in the unquestioning way my mother could.

For many many years I thought her strength came from her beliefs, from what I called her faith, and all I saw was her philosophical naiveté.

I don’t think that anymore.  I have seen too many people who share her beliefs break under the whip of apparently meaningless pain and loss.   I think now that my mother was one of those rare people who could trust that life is valuable, that it has meaning.  That however incomplete and broken and askew it might seem, that it is good.

We all have our myths about the universe.  Even hard-nosed scientists do not possess some absolute truth.  Nor the Buddhists or the holy gurus of  the East who seem to so many to see beyond the horizon of our Western civilization.

Like so many I search for a coherent myth, for a story, that does not require me to do too much violence to the realities that appear before me.   I think the myth we adopt is important.  I think it can influence us for better or for worse, and as Tony Equale says so strongly in his post Resident Holiness, I think Catholicism is often suffocating, even hypocritical and destructive.

But some people have the capacity to see beyond the crippling institutional aspects of their beliefs, and somehow with a kind of innate goodness trust the essential value of life, even of existence.  However terrible things are, however unjust and cruel and askew.

I think my mother was one of these people.

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