"...When we're hungry,
Love will keep us alive..."
From those first sweet notes sung by Eagles' bassist, Timpthy B.Schmit, "Love Will Keep Us Alive" stops me in my tracks and helps me remember how little we really need in this world...beyond the loving.
My mom knows all about the power of love to keep children "alive." She is a genius at it.
For years after our dad passed on...leaving her to raise eight children alone without insurance, pension, or even the necessary job experience to secure employment at a working wage...mom depended on the divine power behind her love for us, and our love for her...and eachother...to house, feed, clothe, and educate us all.
Her love for us didn't lead her to acts of desperation or fear, but to creative ways for stretching a budget, remaking hand-me-downs, encouraging us to share (or make do with less than we may have wanted, but more than we needed), and to always, always be generous. Even when the whole world was screaming we should hold on tightly to anything we had, because it might be gone in an instant, leaving us empty and threatened with homelessness, she was looking that demonic suggestion in the face and fearlessly telling it to back off, all the while offering it a meal, a helping hand, a ride to work.
My mother is the most generous person I know. She has never known material wealth, but the richness of her life is found in the love she engenders in the hearts of her children, decades of friendships with their friends, and the adoration of her grandchildren...and the children she nannies each day.
My mother's "bank account" is not found in a 401K, or a pension, but on bookshelves stacked with photo albums. Each one lovingly filled with pictures of my siblings and our friends...and it doesn't take a genius to see that we were oblivious to any sense of poverty. Our days were so filled with the joy of being her children and the abundance of beauty, order, and affection she showered on us all, that any sense of lack was lost in the abundance of her kindness, the sound of her laughter, and the warmth of her love.
Soon after dad's sudden passing, our family station wagon was in desperate need of an oil change. Mom never mentioned it to anyone, but knowing her, she must have been praying for an answer. There was no money for a visit to a service station, much less the oil needed. But she didn't seeem worried...even though our car was her only way to get to the grocery store or to the children's school in an emergency. We lived on a farm in rural Pennsylvania Dutch country...a move we'd made in the year before dad passed. And although the families living on neighboring farms were friendly and kind, none of us knew anyone well enough to ask for help.
One weekend I got a call from a high school friend I hadn't seen since he'd left for college months earlier. He was home for the holidays and wondered if I thought it would be okay if he drove the 70 miles up from his parents house to visit my mom and siblings. I told him I thought she'd love to see someone from "the old gang" (a group of our friends who often came by the house when we'd lived close to the high school my sister and I attended) and the next day a car full of college freshman arrived at the farm ready to work.
They sorted and organized the garage, changed the oil in the station wagon, cleaned leaves out of the gutters, and on, and on, and on. The years of kindness, and the simple meals my mom had offered them whenever they'd come by during high school, had made those boys want to help care for her...and her children.
From then on, while home from school for breaks, the boys would drive over 100 miles round trip (from a neighboring state where we'd lived in high school) to shovel snow in the winter, mow the lawn in the summer, prepare the soil for a vegetable garden in the spring, and rake leaves in the fall. I think they were as blessed by their trips to mom's farmhouse, as we were blessed by their help. When I attended my 2oth high school reunion, 17 years ago, there were as many questions about my mom's well-being from friends I hadn't seen in almost two decades, as there were about my own life since high school.
Last month I stayed with mom on my way to...and from...a brief weekend at camp. I'd driven through the night just so I could have an evening at "home" with her. We stayed up way too late looking at photo albums together, talking, laughing, and remembering. Those photo albums were filled with faces I'd long forgotten, but included young men and women who'd stayed in touch with mom through the years.
One photo showed a group of college-age boys on the front lawn of the farmhouse kneeling on one another's backs, stacked in a human pyramid, with my youngest siblings laughing from the top. We were all happy. We were with her.
Which one of those boys would remember whether they were served small bowls of rice, or thick, juicy steaks for dinner that night...I doubt that anyone cared. What I remember is that we laughed, we pulled weeds in the vegetable garden, we played card games at the kitchen table, and I remember, clearly, that no one wanted to leave at the end of the day. My mom gave those boys a "place to hide" from the social demands of being college boys, fraternity brothers, star football players, heartthrobs..."too cool for school." In the space of her heart, and her "home" we were all generous, cooperative, selfless, and childlike...just like her. She fed that hunger, in all of us, to be filled with our best selves. We didn't need frozen mini pizzas, video games, soda, or lemony Pledge-polished furniture...we needed to be needed.
My mother taught me how thoroughly "alive" love will keep us, when we put "loving" first in our lives. It's a lesson I need to revisit, and refresh myself on, continually.
In a poem, titled, "Love," Mary Baker Eddy writes,
"Love alone is Life"
My mother has not owned her own home since I was eight years old....it's very difficult to purchase a home when your priorities are the raising, and educating, of eight children as a young widow. But she has taught me everything I know about the importance of home and what a real home feels like. She has taught us how to make any house, apartment, condo, cabin, or rented room feel like home, not by filling it with new furnishings or expensive foods, but by filling it with the light of her laughter, the warmth of her smile, her genuine interest in your dreams, the depth with which she listens to your heart...and her love, always her love. In my mother's home, Love has always kept us alive.
thank you mommy,
Kate Robertson, CS
[photo credit: Lila June Jones 2009]