The purest form of love must be that between mother and child. Though that is not always the case. A bond formed in the deepest recesses of our consciousness, that we can only feel it, never understand it, reacting instinctively to love, protect and nurture.
It is this bond that makes it harder for a mother to leave. It is this love that sacrifices itself for itself. And that is why they say you educate a woman, you educate a nation. It is not out of strength that mothers hold together families – it is out of love. The more we attribute it to their strength, the more we exhaust their already heavily taxed reserves.
My mother is my hero. She has never seemed strong to me. In fact throughout my childhood I felt an overwhelming urge to protect her. To make everything right and bright in her world. She always seemed overwhelmed by life, seeking solace and a quiet strength in her God, so she can see her children through another day. I watched her day in and day out. Because children see the real you, not the face you show the world or what you say, I saw all her vulnerabilities. I saw how the responsibility of her love weighed heavily on her. In her panic she would sometimes lash out at us if we asked for new things like the other kids had, or if we came home later than normal. How would she make sure we were provided for? How would she protect us from being damaged by life?
By watching her I learned what love can do. How love makes a hero of us. This is the kind of love I know. It is the only kind of love I can give. And now I have seen myself being engulfed by the same wave of helpless love towards my own children. The fierce need to love and protect.
For most mothers it seems this love is not a choice, it is way deeper than that. A mother’s capacity to love is the cornerstone upon which a society is built. Only because a mother’s love will weather any storm.
Does this love naturally mean it is okay for a woman to raise children on her own? I see a growing phenomenon of single motherhood. Where the father is not too preoccupied with how his children are doing. It seems, for an increasing number of fathers, loving their children and how much loving they do is a choice. And it is a choice that they take lightly. Love and sacrifice go hand in hand.
For my mother, I wish I could give her back so many of her years she spent breaking her back for us. So much of her life became us. So many of her years flashed by in a blur as she struggled to pay loan after loan so we could have a life. Not once has she ever wished her life were different. To her we are the pearls in her battered smile. Unconditionally, I wish her life had been different. But then where would I be?
Everyday I treasure the lesson she is. In keeping the flame alive. Never giving up on there being sunshine just over the next mountaintop. In being humble to God’s process in our lives. In fighting to the bone for love.
I am blessed to have been born of her. I am my mother’s daughter. And I know that despite my unhappiness about her hard life, we are a blessing to her. We have kept her alive, given deeper meaning to her life. I know this because this is how I feel about my own children. I see the same look in their eyes, the look I used to give my mother when I could see through her efforts to act as if her world was not shaken. I would try to hide my understanding to keep up pretenses because I knew it meant the world to her for us to believe everything was just fine. Our happiness meant the world to her. That is unconditional love.
I cannot give her what I wish her. I cannot give her a life without misfortune. What I can do is continue being the reason she smiles through her misfortunes. Through our mothers’ smiles God smiles at us.
Happy Mother’s Day.
Article first published in Sowetan, 9 May, 2013