Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Importance of Mom(s)


I smile at my wife as I walk up my parents’ driveway. Snow lines the edge of the street, but most of it has melted. Another green Christmas. When I was young, it snowed more often, and Christmas was the way Bing Crosby would have liked it. That was long ago. Like many things, the weather has changed.
My parents have lived in this house for forty-two years. They moved here two days after I was born. That, at least, has not changed. It is a red brick bungalow with white siding and a carport hedged with hanging ferns and flowers. The big evergreen in the middle of the yard is gone, replaced by a birdfeeder. But the old maple beside it, the one I used to climb and swing on as a child, remains. It is even cozier inside.

As soon as we enter, my dad’s voice booms across the room

“Heya, Partner!”

We hug. I greet my sisters the same way. My mom gets a hug and a kiss. No snow, but it is still Christmas. My mom takes me by the hand.

“I want you to meet my friend.”

“Okay.”

She’s told me about her friend, an elderly woman who moved in down the street and lives alone there. This is my first chance to meet her. Her name is Aluweya. She wears an African style dress that sweeps down to the floor and a matching hijab. She has a kind face and smile lines around her eyes. She is from the Sudan, a widow with eight children, all of whom are highly educated, two of which are doctors in the U.S. My mom has told me this before I met her. I say hello and we exchange pleasantries before I am swept away by the entrance of more family.

My mom takes her friend’s hand, the way she took mine, and leads her to the front entrance. I watch them, not surprised, exactly, but it still hits me with a quiet, redeeming force.

Aluweya is black, and she is a Muslim. That is not a big deal in Toronto or Ottawa, my two cities of residence the past sixteen years, but this is not those places. This is Welland.

WELLAND

My hometown of fifty thousand seems to shrink every time I visit. That is not an insult. It is slower here, the pace less frantic. A walk down the street seems more reflective and less harried. Born sometime in the late 19th Century, it was birthed on the edge of a canal, which fostered ships along between the great lakes and down the St. Lawrence and out to the ocean. It became an industrial town, steel mostly, and filled with Italian and French immigrants, nearly all of them Catholic. Most of the steel mills have gone now, but the makeup of the population remains the same. Many Wellanders are Catholic, nearly all of them are white. In my high school of over a thousand students, there were two black students. Neither was Muslim.

This does not seem to bother my mother. Nor does it bother her new friend. Both are devout. Neither would ever consider the other religion. Neither care. My mom has bought her a gift. That Aluweya doesn’t celebrate Christmas does not matter. At Christmas we give gifts to people we love. People we appreciate. Aluweya has also brought a gift for my mother. It does not to bother her that she is, in a manner, celebrating a Christian holiday. When Ramadan comes the next year, my mother will make her friend special cookies without yeast. Sometimes wisdom is not spoken, it is only seen.

MOM

My mom is a small woman, quiet and strong with a good sense of humour. She hovers in the background during family gatherings. She takes pictures at odd moments. All moments. My sisters and I have become good at insta-smile. I am faster than most gunmen with my camera smile. It is a learned behaviour.

My father is as generous as he is boisterous. He is loud and fun and was beloved by many of the boys he coached, both basketball and baseball, for over forty years. He has received awards for his volunteer work. That is not why he did it, but he is known in the community. My mother’s kindness is quieter.

During my childhood, any stray cat was welcome. My mom kept a food dish on our porch. We adopted many of them. Mitsy. Professor. Blacky. Smokie. The same was true of any dog. Any wounded animal. She spent hours walking the neighbours’ dogs, or walking the homeless ones at the Humane Society. She cooked for people. Cooked for us. Cleaned up after us. Nothing was done for attention. Nothing to get attention. She taught us that kindness does not have to be loud to be effective. That it is more powerful when it is quiet.

TODAY

The world has changed since I was young. We hear stories about faraway places more often. Stories of tragedy and conflict. Every day they are thrust in our face. We are asked to choose sides. Sometimes they use nations. Often they use religion. We are told that if one is bad that all are bad. That one idea is better than another. That we can tell a book by its cover. Things are so fast that mostly we look at covers. We have stopped reading books. We don’t have time.

But kindness is not fast. Kindness is slow. Kindness volunteers hours at the soup kitchen teaching the poor to cook. Kindness walks homeless dogs. Kindness provides a home and love and care for family. It does not make waves, except the gentle kind that ripple slowly to shore. It does not seek attention for its own sake. It does not counter angry rhetoric with argument, nor ignorance with logic, but acts of its own accord and dares one to challenge it.

My mom will never win an award for this. She would not want one. She does not expect such things to be calculated or quantified, because this is how we are supposed to be. We help those who don’t have. We help the wounded and the strays. We befriend our new neighbours. We do it because we are human. 

Because this is the life for which we were created. It is not a life of affectation, but affection. We do not have all the answers. We do not know what will happen in the future. We cannot be sure what will happen when we die.

But we do know the people next door. We do know our family. We do know our friends and family and work colleagues. We know them because we know ourselves. We know what it means to struggle through a world and life that often befuddles us, resists our attempts to be strong, steals our resolve to be better. And so we don’t try to change the world. It is too big.

Instead, we put out food for the stray cat down the street. We call him Ginger Ale, because of his coat. He is too scared to come inside. And when he disappears, we continue putting out food for him. Maybe he has been killed. Maybe he’s just gone for a while. But we put out food for him anyway, every day, just in case. And if something has happened, another kitty will be able to eat.

We put out food for him, and we tell our son and daughters about it. We become friends with the elderly woman down the street. We volunteer with Pathfinders. We join an organization and take our dog to senior’s homes, to let them visit with her. We are quiet and gentle and what people are supposed to be. We inspire our children with our kindness. With our wisdom.

The world has changed. The weather has changed. But our mother has not. She is mom. She is kind. And she is amazing.

Dancing with
mom at my wedding.