Now entering the motherland

April 12th, 2009

Last week I was reminded of one of the most refreshing aspects of an arduous trip to a foreign country: not speaking the language. What sweet relief! Being utterly, absolutely free of language and its insidious effect on me: reading, talking, eavesdropping, writing, judging, second guessing, comparing, competing and then, and then, and then. Last week I didn’t read, blog or bloviate. I didn’t charge ahead. I didn’t fall behind. I didn’t make a list. Here I’m home but for two hours, and the list is already lengthening at my side, the pen squiggling across the lines of my journal even as I fight a reunion with the cherished sleep I missed most dearly.

I’m striving again. We’re all striving. If we’re not striving, we might wonder, what then?

As I rapid-fire clicked through emails and blogs I returned twice to Kelly, who today stands in the nowhere between a very sick mother and a very sick sister:

The most challenging part of all the illness around me is accepting that I have absolutely no ability to help anyone get better.

That is the truest thing I haven’t said lately. Being with someone who is sick or dying can seem like being in a foreign country. Or a foreign airport, in my case, in an unmoving line leading to one Lufthansa ticket agent hammering uselessly into a broken computer while the cushiony minutes to takeoff disappear. The most challenging part is accepting that I have absolutely no ability to help. There’s no striving. There’s just being. And even though there is no striving in just being, some folks will tell you that there must be a way to steer the being along better. Not just a way to do nothing, but a right way, a good way, to do nothing.

I don’t subscribe to that expertise. We are all amateurs at death; in the same way we are all amateurs at life, although we rarely give ourselves permission. For those of us whose part in dire hours is to sit it out and sit beside, our part is to just sit. Sitting with my mother and my father as they died was the most intimate act I’ve ever known. And while I do not think it more sacred than going nowhere at a ticket counter, it was no less sacred.

You see, when it looks and feels as if we are doing nothing, we’re actually doing quite a bit. We are standing still on one of those slow-motion moving walkways stretching from terminal A to terminal E. We are crossing a threshold all the while, crossing a border whose demarcation is all but imperceptible. We are entering the motherland, the pure land, and in that nowhere else, we are coming home.

A tribute to my mother, and to everyone’s mother, on the eighth anniversary of her death April 13, 2001.

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  1. I love your posts about your mother. I bet she was a wonderful woman.

    Welcome home.

    Comment by Kristin H. — April 12, 2009 @ 9:53 pm

  2. welcome home, karen. so glad to be gliding softly with you.

    Comment by Holly — April 13, 2009 @ 2:56 am

  3. Thank you for this, Karen. A beautiful tribute.

    The 13th anniversary of my mother’s death was on April 11…spring and death for me are very intertwined.

    Comment by Leah — April 13, 2009 @ 4:50 am

  4. “There’s no striving. There’s just being”. So important to remember.I have these heart-felt scenarious ahead of me, and reflect on the wise words of those who’ve ventured into this territory before me. Thanks Karen, and welcome home.

    Comment by Pam — April 13, 2009 @ 6:57 am

  5. beautiful. powerful.

    Comment by curious girl (lisa) — April 13, 2009 @ 11:04 am

  6. Birth and death are one and the same, Leah. That’s what all mothers want you to see.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — April 13, 2009 @ 1:38 pm

  7. what synchronicity. this morning on NPR i heard a story about the late Katherine Reece. Hearing her story opened my eyes to perspective in life and death and offered great comfort and hope. I think you’d appreciate it Karen.

    and I do so subscribe to this line-
    ‘we are all amateurs at life’.
    I am understanding that more and more everyday.

    Comment by traceyclark — April 13, 2009 @ 4:27 pm

  8. well said, mae.
    welcome home.

    Comment by Wendy — April 13, 2009 @ 6:49 pm

  9. Karen this post has helped me overcome my fear of writing an email to my mother’s friend who has stage 3 lymphoma. I’ve avoided it for weeks because I don’t know what to write. It’s just not enough to say hello, wish her good health and tell her that one more person is thinking of her. Shouldn’t I write something more, well MORE than that?

    But after I read your post I thought, ah that was my Ego talking. Silly me! So I just went ahead and wrote what my gut told me to. After all, if I were in her place it would be enough to know that someone was thinking of me.

    Thank you.

    Comment by Mary Castillo — April 14, 2009 @ 11:15 pm

  10. Ohhhhhhhh. Yes.

    Comment by denise — April 16, 2009 @ 4:20 am

  11. I sympathise with you regarding the anniversary of the passing of your mum. I think I found your blog via a link from Rachael King (The Sound of Butterfiles) who had a link to Zen and the Art of Peacekeeping who had a link to you…

    My mother’s anniversary of her passing was March 25th – I was eleven and that was 36 years ago. It feels like yesterday and makes me realise I should spend more time writing about her. Thank you for letting me find this and for awakening me to the possibility of celebrating a woman I still love. Her birthday was April 11. She was 39 years old when she died.

    Comment by Zen Quill — April 17, 2009 @ 11:30 am

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