Curious how, when the mind fixes on something in particular, it suddenly seems “everywhere.” So it was with resilience after last week’s post. Friend and fellow writer Loretta Willems, who lives just across the border in Bellingham, and I continued the conversation via email. She forwarded a Washington Post article, “How my mother prepared us to live without her.”
Loretta wrote (and gave me permission to quote),
It articulates what I have hoped to communicate in what I’ve written—the critical importance of laughter and fun and truly enjoying one’s children, giving them as much stability as possible. I had never thought of that gift of enjoying one’s children in terms of the concept of ‘resiliency’. For me it was to help them believe that life contains real goodness in spite of all the terrible things that can happen, faith that life is worth living in spite all the hardship that comes to us in the course of our lives.
This seems eminently transferable to the aging life. Predictability (aka routine). Slowing down to notice. (Yesterday, for one example, I was discouraged. I took my daily walk. In this town, people of all ages smile or greet when passing. Several smiles in, my day had changed.)
But for situations where resiliency seems inadequate, there’s grace, Loretta also reminded. “Grace and prayer…going into the darkness, acknowledging it, giving it voice then giving it to God. This time of life is not easy, but I am convinced that grace is real.” Yes. And as if to nail home the point that resilience isn’t enough, life not a pull-up-the-boots-alone affair, “Resilience is not a DIY endeavour” in The Globe and Mail began just then to bounce about the internet. Yes, again.
Last week I spoke of my pleasure in our children and grandchildren. I want to add that I sometimes watch the latter nine with a twinge of fear, because they have most of their lives ahead of them and who knows what will come their way?
Recently I was sent a photo of my grandmother Katherine (Quiring) Doerksen and her one-year-old daughter, taken in 1915, probably for her husband Johann, far away on the Russian front of the First World War, where he served with the Red Cross. I’m drawn to the face of my young grandmother, and what I see of both innocence and strength. I know what she didn’t know at the time of the photo, which is that the little girl will die at a year and two months, the husband and father still gone, the mother alone with her grief. I also know that she will get malaria, that the Russian Revolution is coming, that she will be poor, become an immigrant, bear another seven children, and lose a second child to death not long after arriving in Canada.
I’ve been reading Mary Pipher’s Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age. I’m liking it; it’s gentle with stories and encouragement. One word I’m especially noticing is resilience. We need resilience for new stages, new situations. We can learn resilience and we can draw on what we’ve learned already. Although I didn’t know my grandmother well, my dad spoke of his mother with admiration and affection. She was said to have a deep faith in God. This must have been the resilience that carried her through her circumstances. I hope for resilience too in the last stages of my life, and for my grandchildren beginning to learn it in theirs.
Musings on motherhood popped like spring blossoms last weekend, but my favourite sentence of the ones I read came from Mary Karr: “Despite the lacy, sugar-spun horse hockey around this particular holiday, being somebody’s mama does crowbar your heart open in the deepest way.”
Yes it does.
I don’t think I say much here about being mother or grandmother. I’m not sure why. Certainly my children and their partners and families are a huge part of my life. And isn’t it the duty of grandparents to bore others with tales of their remarkable progeny?
That’s a stereotype, of course, but I’d like to avoid it anyway. I also believe having children/grandchildren is simply one way to contribute, one way to grow up, not an essential element in being human (or woman). Life, after all, has opportunity enough to wrench hearts into joy and challenge. The late Jean Vanier is just one example of that.
But it was Mother’s Day, and long ago three children crowbarred me open, so let me say for the record that they and their partners exist in that deep core where I’m most inarticulate and in awe, most reticent to speak (they’re their own story, after all), where I simply bleat “I love you,” hoping that will cover the worlds they are. They were gifts. Being done with the work they involved is also a gift. The grandchildren are a bonus, flitting about like butterflies in the spaces already cratered to the sun. If there’s work left, it’s the adjustment to receiving more than one gives.