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A mothers heart never stops beating
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Wednesday morning, I was doing knee therapy on the oscillator, squinting at the overhead monitors, reading along the computerized script.  Deepak Chopra’s studies on mother-child bonding were a hot topic on the Today Show.  “Of all the attributes that define human beings, our need to form strong emotional attachments to each other may be the most profound”, his website states.  “And of these attachments, the bond between a mother and her infant is the most fundamental.  It is a human being’s first attachment, a powerful bond that is formative in the broadest possible sense…”  

This promo invites online viewers into a fascinating world, one which confirms a mother’s instinctive intuitions about the period of pregnancy and the early stages of an infant’s life.  Everything does make a difference.  

According to the talk-show hosts, Deepak’s earlier studies about the effect of intra-uterine experiences on the gestating child are further substantiated by his more recent research.  Even the developing folds of the brain, the blossoming memory center, and the release of key growth hormones can be enhanced by more eye contact, physical nurturing and a mother’s smile.

By way of contrast, orphans observed in places like Russia demonstrated a deficient level of mental, psychological, and emotional development for lack of sufficient affection.  I had heard such an argument before, even the claim that otherwise healthy preemies will actually die if not cuddled or caressed in the arms of a mother or a maternal figure.  “No wonder I seem to be missing something upstairs,” I joked Friday night at evening Mass.  

“My mother must have been busy with more urgent matters than her son.”

At that point, I hadn’t yet read of the many questions people have raised regarding Deepak Chopra’s reliability as an authority on medical science.

And I hadn’t yet found out that my mother’s doctor had just grounded her.

At 82, mom is still a healthy, spunky, highly active and outdoors-loving person.  She played tennis into her 70s and used to keep dad on the move.

She’d been preparing to fly east for my niece’s graduation from Duke, then north into Vermont for another summer at her ancestors’ rustic cabin.  But due to the detection of a minor irregularity in the functioning of her heart, her doctor mandated a slew of precautionary diagnostic tests.  She has to put her travels on hold.  This will cause her more heart troubles than any barely detectable aortic fribulations ever could.  Still, doctor knows best.

Fifteen years ago or so, mom took a fall that cut deep into her leg.  This freaked me out, since I’ve always seen her as invincible, together with the fact that I could never stand to see her suffering.  From time to time in our childhood, she would come down with migraines.  I didn’t understand this cruel affliction until I began, at thirty or so, enduring them myself.  No wonder she would stagger down the hallway and have to lock herself in her room.  We would stand outside the door, our universe suddenly shaken.

In fact, the evidence is that mom did nurture us, putting heart and soul into the raising of her children with genuine motherly love, laughter, and light-ness of being.  Though she worried about things she ought to have left to us, she did it because she wanted the best.  My brain, after all, does work.

I was just entering the gym again Thursday morning, May 6, when my business manager called.  “My daughter’s in the hospital.  She’d having her baby.”  It was early for me, and so I misunderstood which baby this was.  Somehow I heard “first”, not “fifth”, so I figured it would take the daughter at least three or four hours to dilate far enough beyond her current “2” to be able to deliver.  “I’ll be there as soon as I get in a quick swim.”

I felt the water to be necessary, as I’d been wearing out from the stress load and a chronic lack of sufficient sleep.  On exiting the club, I dropped by the Chevron station to fill a far-too-empty tank.  Calling grandma as I sped along toward the hospital, I was taken totally by surprise when she said, “The baby’s here!”  Yes, little Perla had arrived at 9:41 a.m., 6 pounds, 14 ounces, already spilling ears in the background with her shrill crying.

It’s all about mothers this week. That plump, pink little newborn was already perfectly formed, as if she’d been around for years, and was already in charge. She had us all running around in circles like free-range chickens.

The nurse put her on mommy’s chest, “skin against skin”. This baby didn’t seem impressed.  Little Perla wasn’t interesting in bonding.  She wanted her milk, she wanted it warm, and she wanted it fast.  Soon, everyone was laughing at the way she got the white stuff all over her rosy cherub face.

Not far from Labor and Delivery lay another baby girl, this one having been born at 25 weeks.  Up now from 1 pound, 13 ounces, she’s living proof of the will to live, but also of the nurturing she’s received by the surrogate mothers who “man” the neo-natal intensive care unit 24-7.  I love dropping in from time to time, just because it’s full of professional moms.

But I also know a lot of grieving mothers.  One just lost her son in the South Stockton shooting this past week.  Members of the family came in yesterday to set up the services.  Another’s son has been deported.  A third mother’s daughter told her off in no uncertain terms; twenty years of self-sacrifice seem to have just been washed down the drain.  A girl comes around whose baby never opened its eyes.  And in the midst of our Friday healing Mass for mothers, at which we heard some moving testimonies, in walks Consuelo, to hand me a broken rosary.  “I found this in the parking lot,” she yells over the praise and worship music.  “Can somebody fix it?”

Yes, for every contented mother, there are doubtless a hundred whose hearts need fixing.  Somewhere, somehow, the chain of relationships, of inter-connected meanings, of kind deeds strung one after another, of life-giving events linking up to a vision of ultimate fulfillment and personal satisfaction seems to have been snapped, leaving a broken-hearted woman.

We’re having a big party for mothers today.  First, long masses full of families.  Then, the surprise of mariachis marching in to sing mañanitas.

Following that, everyone will parade into the gym, where big round tables are draped with mantles and crowned with flowers.  Men will serve their wives and mothers, and we’ll break protocol and serve some wine - but just to the ladies.  Then, little children will dance and grownups will sing.

I know it’s just a gesture.   It’s only a small token of our appreciation for those women who’s steadfast love and undying dedication have made our lives in this world possible, and whose heartfelt care have deepened the folds of our awareness that God is, in the final analysis, infinitely good.

All this happens in May, the month of Mary, the woman who made our salvation possible by saying her “yes” to the Father.  She received Jesus in her heart by faith before conceiving him in her virginal womb.  She nursed him at her breast with a grace, and dignity, and depth of compassion so great that her Son knew, in the recesses of his DNA, that He was all hers.

As she stood there beneath the cross of his agony, he entrusted her into the arms of his Church, so that she might be not only his mother, but ours.

And thus she became the perfect model of all mothers.  Having had her heart pierced by the sword of sorrow, she now invites her children to take refuge there.  Close to her, hearing the beating of her maternal pulse, we sense that we are all that much closer to God, and we know that all is well.

May you, whoever you are, celebrate this day with great joy and gratitude.