Take the word mother. To use this word it is not necessary to radiate maternal concern, to feel longings and stirrings, to be motherly. But it is possible to use the word without thinking, without feeling the loam and earth of it.
I do not, cannot, pretend to penetrate the spiritual, visceral, emotional, physical universe of what it is to be a mother, to mother.
Which doesn’t mean I’ve stopped wondering, or placing myself in the faltering image I carry, and so to get closer, somehow.
But it does mean I’ve stopped saying, when a mother is speaking, “I know what it feels like,” or passively thinking I know, and so escape any burden on my part to simply be quiet and listen to the many languages of mothers.
Or, to listen to the ones unable to be, yet carry the yearning. Or, honour those who have weighed all things, sometimes in agony, and have chosen not to be mothers. Or, receive those who have chosen be mothers outside of the way I, we, or Focus on the Family, expects them to be.
And too, I do not want to strain to revere and so hollowly romanticize a word so full of sorrow and delight, blood and banquet, pain and mystery.
Can you see how it conjurers up darkness and light when you say the word? If you don’t believe me, say it now, aloud.
There is of course, in the wake of some mothers, carnage. I do not understand the ineluctable despair that can manifest itself as psychosis, violence, toward self or toward a newborn. But it seems to me that within the exulted joy of life-bearing, there is also danger, a darkness felt only in the primal privacy of carriage. A void, a bleakness, undergone and understood only in the solitary depth of bearing—within the hormonal flux of birthing.
Too, there are the mothers whose beam of light has been slammed against cinder blocks by broken debased men. And yet despite unimaginable trauma, many endure.
And what of the mother who needed to choose. Here I am, my dinner is warming, I am safe, housed, nursing mere annoyances, how can I speak of a Cambodian mother who has chosen to drown with her child to save him from death by torture?
This is an extreme. And yet there is something about motherhood that is inherently extreme, latently extreme.
Which is why it is deplorable that again, every year at this time, there will be the self-elected speakers, preachers, politicians, who rise to notice motherhood, and proclaim, “God bless these vessels of predilection, these wombs of produce.”
We men, for most notably it is men, with dumb-bells in our eyes, think we acknowledge mothers by appealing to a kind of emotional patriotism, and do nothing but flatter ourselves, no, expose ourselves, in our abject ability to miss the point.
And now I will be silent. And try to honour that interior life, that landscape of physicality, that nesting I know next to nothing about. For these are small observations by one who carries a camera and not much else.
I will say this concerning the word mother and everything it denotes: I honour what I understand, and I respect what I don’t. And if there is any value here, it has either been gleaned or hammered home to me by my own nesting partner.