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This is your Mother’s Day card, mom

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POSTED May 10, 2009 1:48 a.m.
Dear readers:
My mother, Cynthia, recently visited from Washington State.

Having recently completed 81 years, she still surprises me with her energy. Raised Christian Scientist by her parents in the Boston environment, she learned that maintaining good health requires a real balancing act.  Loving the outdoors, she became early on a camp counselor.   Wanting to promote the health of others, she studied physical therapy and perfected her art on the island of Guam.  Knowing what makes for strong bodies, she made us eat our vegetables.  And caring about spiritual health, she and dad brought us to church every Sunday, rain or shine, like it or not.  In spite of all our protests, we five kids eventually adopted all of these healthy life habits.

So it shouldn’t surprise me that my mom played tennis until less than two years ago, when the time came to leave Seattle for Bellingham.  I shouldn’t have worried so much last year, when she and a friend flew to Kenya and Tanzania to visit my brother.  Her plans to spend the summer at our remote family property in Vermont (settled around 1770) shouldn’t faze me at all.

When her husband of 56 years passed away last Sept. 2 she felt the emptiness and pain of loss.  But she got back up and kept right on going.
In fact, at the rate things are going, she’ll still be going strong when my batteries run out, my moving parts fail and my mind no longer works right.

That’s my mom.  When she came down for Easter, she was determined also to visit some Laotians in Merced.  Following the aftermath of the Vietnam War, in the horrible bloodbaths of the killing fields and communist take-overs in Southeast Asia, mom volunteered in Seattle, receiving refugees and helping them to get established, strangers in a strange world.  She’d always been there for the most underprivileged.  So in her golden years, what joy filled her soul as she visited the refugees she assisted, over thirty years later!

Those original immigrants struggled over the decades to learn some English, while maintaining their cultural traditions, visible in the lush medicinal herb gardens in humble back yards.  Now their children have professional degrees, and the grandkids are all doing very well in school.

When I was ordained in 1995, mom was there, together with the rest of my family, none of whom are Catholics.  Shortly afterwards, she got to meet, for the third time, Mother Teresa of Calcutta.  Their first encounter took place two years before, in Calcutta.  Mom had joined a Presbyterian group travelling in Asia to visit mission projects.  In India, they met with Mother Teresa.  Mom showed her a picture of me, together with other members of the Missionary of Charity Priests’ community in Tijuana.  Mother Teresa recognized me, as we had met numerous times during her visits to Mexico.

The next morning at 5 a.m. mom and a friend jumped on board a rickshaw and sped off for Mass at the Novitiate.  There, she again had a moment to spend with the saint, who unbeknownst to me had for years been her hero.

The third time, December 12, 1995, a hurricane-like weather struck San Francisco.  The winds were so strong and dangerous, great trees fell and power was out.  

But Mother Teresa was going to be at the sisters’ novitiate there, and I was going to concelebrate Mass.  Mom would not be deterred, either.  Very few people were present, due to the high risk of travel.  This meant that both I and my mother got to spend more time with Mother Teresa.  When I drew mom near to the living saint, the elder woman grabbed her hands and said:

“Thank you for giving your son to Jesus.”  Suddenly, everyone was silent.

Mom was characteristically demure and polite, but behind her etiquette I could tell that she had been deeply moved.  All the years of self-giving, of losing patience and running after a hyperactive kid, of struggling to instill deeper values in the midst of a disintegrating moral and social environment - all of these sacrifices, and many more, suddenly paled in comparison with the satisfaction of knowing that she had, throughout, given us her very best.  

She had offered herself in our upbringing, her values and her faith in our formation, and her loyalty to my father who was definitely a character of his own right.  And she will continue to be the most giving of mothers until the day Jesus calls her home.  This is the mother whom I celebrate today.

 I’d like to close with my earliest memory.  It may have been a dream, or perhaps the symbolic product of an infant’s earliest thought.  Mom and I were standing in the pouring rain, having left a round, red car.  Apparently, it had broken down, or a tire was flat. Ahead of us lay the Montlake Bridge which connects Sand Point Way in Seattle to the area of the Arboretum.  

Mom was signaling for help.  I would have been overwhelmed with fear, but she had my hand firmly in hers.  With mom at my side, I was strong.

This vivid memory, whatever its origin, is an allegory of birthing into a threatening world in which one no longer enjoys the security of the womb.  This same mother who raised five children so well, sheltered the homeless, welcomed the refugees, and remained faithful to the end, will one day in turn cross that bridge.  Jesus will take her hand and draw her up, whispering “well done, good and faithful servant…now enter into your inheritance…”
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