Sunday Morning ~ Mothers and Broken Hearts
Wolira samugwira pakamwa. ~ A mourning person, they cannot count his words.
~ Chewa proverb
August 4, 2019
Were they young or old? Were they black, white, yellow, red, or brown? Are their mother’s still alive to bury them? I’m particularly curious about the last query.
I think my earliest memory of random killing is of Northern Ireland. I mean repetitive senseless killing where one group hated another so much they just killed them. It seemed different from the war in Vietnam. In my child’s mind the killing in the war was expected, but the killing in Northern Ireland was scary. It happened on the streets and in stores and churches, not in uniforms and jungles. Vietnam’s the first war I remember coexisting with, but that was far away, and even though my brother was in there fighting, it seemed an unreal made for TV drama, just like the TV show Combat that my brother loved to watch. We’d fight about that. I never enjoyed being entertained by people getting killed or things getting blown up. I still don’t. I wonder what young children think of our country now. How does this all manifest in young minds and mindsets? How will it shape their psyche? Gandhi experienced violence so what was it that made him such a powerful non-violent activist? Wouldn’t it be so nice to know just the trick. I chuckle when people worry about me going to Africa and warn me that it’s dangerous.
What is it like for family members to get the call? At his daughter’s funeral, a friend said, “I got the call that every parent has imagined, but no parent is prepared for.” A fun night out at a club or a concert, a shopping trip for toilet cleaner and paper towels––what is it like when that turns deadly? Minding their own business, enjoying the show, maybe turning to their friend and sharing a joke or an observation or exclamation, and then…bang…lights out. How do mothers bear it? Well, they have to and that’s that. That’s what my mother would say. You strap your ankles and go out there and get through your day. That’s what she said when I asked her about growing up in the depression. I asked if she were hungry, She said, “Well, yes of course we were! We stood in line all day to get a potato or a loaf of bread.” Like, what a stupid question, were we hungry? But she wasn’t out there lobbying for transparency in banking or attending political rallies because she endured hunger. Her son was in active duty in the most senseless war, yet she wasn’t out protesting with students. She stayed home and cleaned the oven, starched and ironed shirts, made cream cheese and olive sandwiches, and burned the rubbish, but the war and her son must have been on her mind constantly. How did she cope? I wondered about this and thought, well if she isn’t worried, I’m not worried. I watched her, though. I thought I detected a hint of concern when she’d check the mail for a letter from him. It seemed to me like there were lots of letters from him, but she didn’t think so. She’d say under her breath, “Jeeze, couldn’t he just jot a couple of words?” I overheard her telling someone that he’d written how much he appreciated the Tang she’d sent, even though he’d had to mix it with muddy water. She and her friend had a little chuckle over that humorous remark. Hahaha, such a wit that boy. It never crossed my mind that he wouldn’t come home, but I was just a kid so what did I know? I never detected anxiety about him from either my mother or my father. But were they always looking out the window for the official car? A letter like that doesn’t come in the mail.
My father fought in WW2 and it seemed rather romantic going though all the old photos of his navy ship crossing the equator and the risqué celebration that warranted. I think about that now and wonder, how fucking weird is that? The men all dressed up like women and had a party when they crossed the equator? During a WORLD WAR? But it was all very exotic back then, a kid, looking through black and white photos with white scalloped borders of men wearing coconut shell bras and wigs made from mops. What fun war must have been! No wonder they weren’t worried.
Sure, plenty came home in body bags from Vietnam, but they didn’t affect us. Not my family. We were playing Monopoly at the kitchen table on a winter Sunday evening when the phone rang. It was a rare event that the family was all playing a game together, having fun, no fights, some laughter. My mother went to answer the phone and we heard her yell in a screechy sort of way, “You’re at Logan?!” And without a word we all ran from the table, threw coats over our pajamas, and ran to the car, my father already behind the wheel with the engine running. We drove to the airport and somehow found my brother waiting, spiffy in his uniform, standing on the curb. How we found him there I don’t know. Maybe in 1969 there was only one door. (How strange to think of how small and simple that airport was then.) Someone in the car yelled, “There he is!” We pulled over and my mother got out so my alive brother could slide into the middle of the front seat of our Chevrolet station wagon. A seat bigger than my living room sofa. Pulling away from the curb my father laid on the horn until my mother said, “Reno! Stop it!” and to this day, that is my happiest family memory.
My brother came home from the war, my kids came home from school, my son came home from the rock concert, my husband came home from Walmart, I came home from church today. I guess I should be thankful that no one shot us.
Church today. The church was filled to the brim with the year-round community and lots of summer visitors. I always marvel that people on vacation go to church. Tanned families with small kids in flowery summer dresses and teenagers in clean shirts and khaki pants take up pews and pews. They go to communion and I watch the little ones with their arms crossed in front of them because they are too young to receive. They smile as they receive a blessing instead of a wafer. How I always believed that those blessings would protect my kids. I had to. It was how I controlled my anxiety when I couldn’t protect them myself. Mikail, the student living with me for the summer, studies opera and sang an aria during communion. His voice filled the church, bouncing off the windows and walls and seemed to form a bubble around everyone there. What a gift. We have a priest here for the summer, a biology professor, who’s sermons I love–– a hybrid of science and spirituality. He’s a gift. At the end of his sermon today he asked for prayers for a woman who grew up here, whose wedding we attended, and whose child I delivered. Just last Sunday I was chatting with her mother, Nancy, about raising kids and how we worry about them forever, and we wondered how anyone can have kids and not believe in God? I mean who else do you turn to when you are anxious for them and can’t do a thing about it? We laughed and chatted and said we’d keep each other’s children in our prayers. They’ve all got stuff to deal with. Our kids grew up together. We care about all of them. That was last week when the world was different. I wondered why Father Matt would ask for prayers for Amy? Was she sick? I saw her mom go up for communion and she looked ok, not grief-stricken or anything. Hmm, I thought, I’ll find out after mass. At coffee hour I found Nancy and asked, “What’s up with Amy? Everything ok?” Nancy looked at me and said, “She died on Monday.” as she choked back tears.
So Amy wasn’t shot, but a young woman with small children has died and her mother is heartbroken. I’m heartbroken for her. Could something we’d done have saved her? Probably not in her case. But for other mothers who got the call this week, yes. There is something we could have done. And their blood, as well as their mother’s broken hearts is on our hands.
Love to all with a prayer that we find a way to stop this madness,