As a child I thought of my mother as a redwood oak. Six foot tall in stocking-feet, she loomed over everyone else, even my father, who ogled her like the cat who ate the canary even when she was covered in sweat from doing Jane Fonda. Especially, come to think of it, when she was serving him matzo brei. With her blue-gold eyes and curving mouth and cheekbones, I guess I knew she was beautiful. But mostly I read her frustration–stuck in the suburbs, stuck with two screaming brats, stuck in compromises that whisked her away from a city career as an art designer, barely making ends meet but having so much more fun.
My father would tell me, “You’ll never be as beautiful as your mother” while she’d look away demurely, and even when I was small I’d think, What a fucked-up thing to say. But today I was nosing around the recently refinished basement of my apartment building and stumbled upon a box containing old letters and photos from my teens. There gleamed my twentysomething mother in a repose I’d long forgotten–lowered lids, pursed lips, goddess dress and tresses flowing. Venus in your bloodline: That’s something all right.
I find it no coincidence I excavated this image right before revising my book.
Today I turn 49. I was born at 4:25 am, so naturally I woke at that exact time. As the moon still shone bright, I sat in the mermaid woods of the Outer Cape and breathed in the briney possibilities of a new year. What I hope to concretize and what I hope to create.
I thought about what I learned in my 40s, which was how to survive as a lone wolf–strong, strategic, resourceful, fierce, sometimes kind but never, ever nice.
And I thought about what I most want to learn in my 50s–which is how to thrive in beautiful collaborations. For even wolves roam in packs–a lesson that I overlooked until this wondrously challenging last year. It was a year I would not have survived without the clear heart of so many others. My bank broke and you were there. My back broke and you were there. My heart broke and you were there. And because of this unflagging, gorgeously textured support, I did not just end up surviving. I ended up thriving–completing the goal of the girl whose story I was writing. Which is to say: I wrote a whole book, one I pray goes on to foster others as you have fostered me.
Marge Piercy writes:
Attention is love, what we must give
children, mothers, fathers, pets,
our friends, the news, the woes of others.
What we want to change we curse and then
pick up a tool. Bless whatever you can
with eyes and hands and tongue. If you
can’t bless it, get ready to make it new.
Today I celebrate the new. And I also bless you who helped me accomplish what I alone could never.
Thank you for granting me what my past did not: faith in others, not just in myself.
Love and light to all today. it’s what we need if we’re going to put this world back to rights. That’s my birthday sermon and that’s my birthday wish. Take it if you please.