WHY MOTHERS CRY
It happened just like that one day. I had been wearing my contact lenses for two straight weeks without ever taking them out at nights for cleaning like I was supposed to. When I finally did, my eyes were red, sore sandy, itchy, tired and gummy. I switched to glasses but could barely stand the discomfort of my eyes. I grew scared. I am a teacher, a researcher, a writer. I spend much of my time, reading, writing, working . . . eyes locked to a computer screen. Without sight, I’ll be done for. I need my eyes. I hoped I had not destroyed them for good with reckless behavior. With that thought at the back of my mind, and after several days of glasses wearing without much relief, I gave up on reading and sat to watch a movie on BET.
So there I was watching a father fight to save his son from the gang life of South Central LA. It was like seeing my own life flash before my eyes. My son did not have such a dad prepared to fight for his son’s life, to fight his son’s battles at his side, or even to disturb his watching of television, playing of poker, carousing or serial drinking and s----talking to say wazzup, son. (Yes, I said it). I realized there and then that I no longer needed to go through the repeated frustration of calling for moral, not to mention financial, support and hearing him go through the now familiar waddling paces of ducking responsibility. We have God; we don’t need him. Never really did, and now never will. I realized we had all the help we needed. Now while I am not a person who could cry easily -- I consider tears a sign of weakness -- I could not stop the copious flow that overcame me at that moment. By the time the final credits rolled I was sitting there with a renewed sense of peace. It was then that I realized my eyes were no longer sore, itchy, sticky or grainy. The red burning sensation was gone. I could see clearly now. The tears had washed it all away together with the long-lingering anguish of this mother’s soul. Did you know that tears heal?
Now I know why mothers cry.
But there comes a time when tears become just tears. They no longer heal. Like you, they just ask why? A child is born and you look with wonder upon that beautiful innocent face staring up at you gurgling – you, the center of its world. If you are there it doesn’t matter who else is not, and if you are not there, it doesn’t matter who else is. It’s your first baby; the father has long fled the coop, and is now pecking at other nests. You are wondering why the baby won’t stop crying. It suddenly dawns on you that it did not come with a manual and neither can you send it back. But wait – there’s help. There’s someone who has gone through this several times before – too many times to count -- since the beginning of time. And so, that omniscient one becomes your personal Baby’s First Years manual. Gripe? Check. Fever? Check. Colic? Check. Flip those pages. Scour that source of ancient wisdom. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check.
And then those first years pass, and that child finds his sea-legs. Gradually, you fade into the background with each passing year. Before you know it, he’s eighteen – and a legal adult. Old enough to work, to marry without your consent, to drive, and to vote, though not yet to drink and for that you are thankful. He can even prevent you from having access to his grades, from inquiring about his academic progress or even his medical status. He’s an adult now. He can even pick his own God now and place to worship or not as he chooses. And maybe he does, but maybe he doesn’t and over that you no longer have any control. And Lord help him if he’s a black young man in the US South (AmeriKKKa) now that you no longer walk with him and hold his hand.
You thought your role would stop as he attained adulthood, but No. Go check volume two or three of four or five or . . . as the case may be. Yes, they come in volumes like encyclopedia graduated according to age. The one in which 18 lies is entitled, Mom, You Cannot Hide Me From God. God, in fact, is the least of your worries. There are many other things – horrible things, people and experiences – that you cannot hide him from. So what do you do? You ask God to do it for you. And you keep on asking because perhaps someday he will hear . . . and even answer.
Yes, I know now why mothers pray.
So how do you manage in the event that the very thing you prayed won’t happen happens? I met a mother once who had no more prayers or tears left. She had lost her only son – her only child – her four point Oh so heart-achingly handsome, 20 year old son -- to suicide as a result of depression when his girlfriend left him. She has cried her heart out and walked through a hell she had, of necessity, to bear alone. She has discovered that the stages of grief are not seven but innumerable and that they do not move in linear progression but can tack back to square one just when you least expect. She has intellectually, though not emotionally, come to terms with the immutable fact that he is never coming back. She has lamented for what would have, could have, should have, been. She has dried up the supposedly everlasting wellspring of her soul’s tears.
But now she can sleep at nights. You see, she knows he is not out there on the streets, a young black man in the south, and thus subject to a random, completely arbitrary and race-profiled stop by some over-zealous limb of the law that can easily lead to the commencement of yet another living nightmare – as if she needs more. She no longer slows down to look and wonder and hope not to see a recognizable color or make, bumper sticker or tag plate whenever she sees a pulled-over car in front of malevolently flashing blue lights. In the late night and wee hours of the morning, she no longer lies awake waiting . . . just waiting. She no longer listens for the hum of the engine or the creak of the door or the footsteps on the stairs or the rummaging in the fridge and every conceivable cupboard in the kitchen. She no longer looks forward to the flood of relief that follows. You see, for her, the worst has already happened. And in some inexplicable and mind-boggling way, she finds a reason to give thanks.
And yes, I know now why
mothers give thanks.
And why they pray
And why they never