Every now and then, when the waters are still and I can hear the rhythm in my own wave-lengths; when the covers are pulled back and I have nothing pressing me, I can feel it. It’s there in the deepest layers of my being, taking up small space, giving me little trouble but nonetheless, lingering. A sadness, like a tiny tenant wishing to remain anonymous, it resides quietly and speaks in subtle whispers to my soul. Only in the stillest of moments am I even aware of its presence.
I’ve spent many sunny afternoons with this inkling of emotion, interrogating it, looking at it under a microscope, trying to identify its origins. When did it get there? What event brought about its residence? I have no recollection of its attachment to any of my own experiences, and so, after much consternation, I have come to the only possible conclusion: as it bares none of the scars of my own heartaches and soul-sickness, it must not belong to me at all. At first I was perplexed by this thought, this idea that I could carry with me someone else’s scar. But the more I thought about it, the clearer it became. You see it’s always been there. It’s always been a part of me, inside of me like the particular shade of auburn in my freckles. I came by it honestly; it was passed down to me, but it was never mine.
And then I thought about the mothers. Only a mother’s heart could be torn so wide and so deep that fragments of it were passed along from one generation to another, the way the corners of my grandmother’s mouth make an appearance in my daughter’s smile. Maybe it was the shattering of hearts when my mother learned that her beloved little brother had killed himself that sent the rippling of broken pieces through a generation. Or maybe it was before that, the day the officers stood on my grandmother’s porch and told her that her husband was hit by a train and would leave her a widow with 5 children at home to care for and 4 more trying to make their way in the world. Perhaps it was the years of loneliness and longing that followed. Or maybe it happened long before these women and maybe it’s bigger than this family tree.
We often pay homage to the fore-fathers who founded our country, but I find myself wondering when we left out our fore-mothers. Their legacy runs further and deeper than just the founding of a nation. They have been bandaging wounds, baking bread and breaking their backs for us since the beginning. As women we have choices today that our grandmothers and great grandmothers couldn’t even dream about, because of the sacrifices and work of women. All these are our mothers. And all these have left scars behind in us.
Emerson writes (and I substitute the pronouns here), “that unity, that over-soul, within which every woman’s particular being is contained and made one with all other; that common heart, of which all sincere conversation is the worship, to which all right action is submission; that overpowering reality which confutes our tricks and talents, and constrains everyone to pass for what she is, and to speak from her character, and not from her tongue, and which evermore tends to pass into our thought and hand and become wisdom, and virtue, and power, and beauty”. Wisdom, virtue, power and beauty: are these not the qualities of our mothers? We are the living experiment of Emerson’s over-soul. This is why I carry the scars of the fore-mothers. Those truths that they lived and the battles that they fought are evident in the deepest recesses of my very being. And what I have discovered about my resident sadness is that it closely resides with a strength that I also know is not my own. A strength that the women who walked before me built, one generation after another of picking up the pieces, mending broken hearts and healing each other’s souls. I find in my moments of most devastating heart-ache, that I have the ability to rise again because the fore-mothers taught me to.
Mother Theresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other”. As women, as daughters, as mothers, as sisters, as friends, we belong to each other. Whenever I whisper love and concern for another, the mothers are splinters in my voice; whenever I look out for those around me, the mothers are the shards of gold that make my brown eyes hazel. And I see my own daughters, how they brave their bruised knees and childhood heart-breaks and I know someday they’ll discover that they too carry with them fragments of our sadness and strength: slivers of the fore-mothers.