“Like a welcome summer rain, humor may suddenly cleanse and cool the earth, the air and you.” ~ Langston Hughes.
When I relocated from the UK to Jamaica at the age of almost eight, one of my first friends who lived close by had the added bonus of a having a houseful of younger siblings. Since I was the youngest in my family, that was a treat! I loved babies, and soon learned to burp and rock and even braid hair! My own mother claimed not to have a single maternal bone in her body (despite giving birth to five kids, with an older sibling joining us through informal adoption). I never doubted I was going to have plenty kids of my own.
Fortunately, my own kids started arriving after I had finished high school nursing school, and obtained my nursing license, so I wasn’t trying to juggle kids and school (and a job), like so many of my nursing students are. It was hard enough juggling work and motherhood and pregnancy (and breastfeeding), but agency nursing allowed for a more flexible schedule. I was able to cancel at will, or be cancelled at short notice. I would joke that in those years I dreaded the phone call I would get before each scheduled shift. I would either be confirmed to work and have to leave my sleeping family at home, or be cancelled, and lose out on the money. But it kept the family afloat, and provided me with a wealth of nursing experience until the kids were old enough for me to go back to a full-time job.
The mother-daughter relationship can be tricky. We mothers of daughters are often accused of bestowing curses on our spirited daughters – you wait until you have your own daughter, then you’ll understand! Of course, those (grand) daughters often pack twice the punch, and somehow we grandmothers are to blame! But it is the act of becoming a mother that enables us to be more forgiving of our own mothers. It changes your perspective, makes you realize how challenging it is to be a good mother, a good parent. It is unfortunate that most of us only develop compassion for the plight of another only when we have a personal connection to that situation. We are impatient with the substance abuser until we find out that one of our close friends has been hiding that secret for years. We are judgmental about those who break the law until one of our own has to spend years in the system to learn expensive lessons. We have no tolerance for those who cannot break the cycle of poverty until we lose our job and have to count pennies.
It is the stories that capture us, and help us to recognize the humanity in each other. This week I watched the TV series about Aretha Franklin. Everyone knows her as the Queen of Soul, and has been moved by her amazing voice. But her own story she kept very private, and it was complicated. After her mother left the family (she tried to take the four children with her, but her womanizing husband blocked that move), she went on the gospel tour with her father, and without a parent’s watchful eye over her, she was pregnant at the age of twelve. It broke my heart to watch the portrayal of a twelve-year-old trying to handle motherhood when not even a teenager. And yet Aretha would go on to command a stage with her royal presence and soaring vocals.
Another story that chilled me was the telling of the murder of a man called Wharlest Jackson Sr. in Mississippi in 1967. At a time when the Ku Klux Klan still ruled, a community of armed Black men organized themselves into the ‘Deacons of defense’ to show force and solidarity in protecting their families and their homes against acts of violence and hate. One of these men worked for the local tire factory, and bravely took a promotion to a position for which he was the most qualified. There had never been a Black man in that position before. He knew he was risking everything by taking the job, but the Korean war veteran had a family of five to feed, and the job came with a seventeen cents an hour raise. He did not come home. A bomb had been set in his car, and when he put on his left indicator, he was killed.
There was a subgroup of the Klan, the Silver Dollar gang, who at the time (they later discovered) was responsible for several bombings and murders. The FBI were unable to find evidence to charge anyone, and justice was never served. Fifty years later his children still cry.
As I think about parenting, and the sacrifices made by our parents and grandparents, I think about our mother Earth. Since we cannot give birth to new earths, we should take better care of her. But we have become careless, taking her abundance for granted. They say that we have done so much damage to our planet, that even if we were make drastic changes now, we cannot undo the fact that in South Florida, the sea level will rise by a foot by 2050. In an area already prone to flooding, this will mean a tenfold increase in flooding. Mother Earth is crying, begging for us to heed the warnings, to change our ways. But like all children, we think we will live forever, that we have more than enough time to fix things.
This Friday morning, I hope you are blessed with happy memories of your parents and your childhood. I hope you have the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of our planet, and the urgency of taking better care of her. And I hope you get a chance to learn the stories of those who have gone before us, for half the story has never been told.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!