Wednesday, May 12, 2010

To My Son on Mother's Day, 2010...

My sweet boy,

This is one crazy planet.

You know all about the galaxies and solar systems and you share with me amazing new facts about obscure space-related trivia every day, that, honestly, I'm not always listening all that well to because I've got a million other thoughts that seem to always be bubbling over on the front burners. But that's not all. I know that your brain and spirit are nearly bursting with enthusiasm for what's out there: nebulas (oh, my goodness, they are actual star nurseries!) and the unfathomable vastness of space and black holes. It's just that thinking about space has always made me feel a little queasy in much the same way that I feel when I contemplate the idea of eternity. That when I die, I could very well be gone forever, registering no more than the merest of blips in the universe, if that. Space makes me think of death, of an incomprehensible, limitless, unearthly place, of the ultimate black hole. This might be why I blank out when you talk about space, my sweet boy: it scares me. Death scares me to, well, death. What gets to me the most, I guess, is how much I love this life. I love sitting here and drinking tea, writing in our sun room in this sweet home our family created together. I love the cardinals singing outside now that it's springtime and watching you skip down the street, your hair whooshing. I love your father and how much he still adores me, despite knowing what a mess I am. I love my amazing friends and your little smudgy nose and the way our little lilac bush scents the whole back yard. I am not ready to be sucked into that void or melt away into a pile of bones. The idea that I'd never hold your hand or hear you laugh again, ahh, it's just too much. Loving so much can be bittersweet sometimes.

How can I put this? We humans are a bunch of colossal fuck-ups. Okay, don't say that word. We're screw-ups. As you and you friends run on the playground at school, oil is gushing out onto the Gulf of Mexico, a thick black pool of unctuous, stinky poison shooting out. Aquatic birds, fish, gone. As you draw me pictures of the space ship you created in your mind, your beloved whales with their enormous hearts, dazzlingly bright dolphins and elderly sea turtles that successfully dodged tiger sharks succumb to the volcanic deluge of crude oil. This is why we don't watch the news; I can't bear to let you see, with your pure, trusting heart, what we foolish grownups have wrought yet again. The world is going to worm its way into your awareness, though, and then I fear that you'll hate me for being part of it. After more than a year without one, we have a car again. Although this car takes you on day trips to the forest where you go on UFO crash site explorations and weekends away to Michigan with friends, this car also means that we're officially more a Part of the Problem than we were before. Life is full of compromises, that's a cliché you'll hear a lot in your lifetime. Isn't that lousy? I'm not so keen on these sort of compromises. They feel like lies, like a slow, settling cynicism. Being an idealist will break your heart sometimes, not at all once but bit by bit, guitar strings being snapped. The beauty of it is, though, is that really, to survive with your spirit intact, it's simple to just re-string, next time with more resilient, supple strings.

What the hell am I talking about?

I guess that this is part of life, reconciling the kindheartedness and vitality and impossible beauty with the child abuse and cancer and sea lions covered in oil. Is this why we think we need to suffer to succeed, to internalize the drama of this endless conflict? When I just return to the breath as countless gurus have patiently reminded us or get to the calm feeling behind the knot in my stomach, I am forced to return to this very moment, and the scale tips in favor of beauty again or least it all becomes much more bearable. This exquisite life, this irredeemably flawed world: somehow, it snaps together. Trust me. You have to work at it sometimes, but the act of allowing these two powerfully dichotomous parts to coexist, or at least accepting that they do, will help to bring you peace of mind. Go with the flow, as they say, but make waves where you need to in order to live your truth. Life doesn't need to be hard, though. Please remind yourself this: life doesn't need to be hard. Self-created suffering will not bring you redemption. Self-created suffering will bring you, yeah, you guessed it...suffering. Wisdom, too, once you break the cycle.

Back before you were born, I worked at an animal shelter for five years. I would see the absolute lowest forms of humanity - the people who would set cats on fire and fight dogs for fun and profit - alongside the very best, the pinnacle of humanity. These are the people who would be outside in the middle of January trying to rescue strays on the streets, the ones who seemed to radiate with kindness. For every person who would call the city to file a complaint about the senior citizen who was giving bread crumbs to the pigeons, there was a person collecting the bread crumbs. For every monster who would fight a dog, there was a person who wanted to adopt that dog, no matter if he was missing an eye, how scarred his muzzle was. The dogs and cats themselves were peerless teachers. The dog who'd been kept chained outside all his life, frost-bitten and malnourished, he would still wag his tail when a stranger would walk into the kennel. He'd known only the smallest measure of kindness, maybe none at all, but he still saw the best in us. I saw cats who'd been set on fire, rubbing their raw skin against the wire cage, purring with delight at seeing a person come into the room. (One stranger returns my smile with a dirty look, doesn't thank me for holding open the door, and I am ready to write off all of humanity: I'm still learning about optimism, grace and forgiveness from the shelter animals.) I think that the world is a forgiving place, too: humanity has just got to stop committing acts that require so much forgiveness so much of the time.

Kindness, patience, lightness: I'm working on it, my sweet boy.

You, on the other hand, will walk up to strangers and hand them dandelions. You will tell children at school who are being mean to you that you just want to be friends. The part of me that has been so hurt by the world wants to scream, "Don't do that! Do not give anyone the power to reject you," because I can't stand the thought of anyone trampling your kindhearted, trusting nature. I have worked very hard to become more thick-skinned, less vulnerable to others. I have failed miserably. I see your wide open heart and I wince in recognition and as your mother because all I want to do is protect it. I am learning to trust that beneath it all, you can bounce back from rejection, that you will find others who will happily accept your dandelions, your friendship. You are resilient and strong and still compassionate. You are teaching me, like the animals in the shelter, that we can be all of the above.

I started this letter thinking that I could share some wisdom but I just realized that you are the one teaching me. There are agonies in this world, really, really horrible things. There is tremendous beauty, grace. You can survive the former and I hope you will continue to seek out the latter, a plant reaching toward the sun. Yes, oil is pouring into the ocean and it's going to take a lot of work but we'll fix it, somehow. Somehow. We all are imperfect, even you, with your gorgeous dark eyes, your angelic profile. We all make compromises, even you with your pure spirit. It's part of being a fully realized person. Just keep reaching toward the sun, my sweet boy.

I love you,



  1. Dear Marla,
    What a beautiful letter to a beautiful child! Your son is clearly adorable, delightful, and a real gift to this world.

    Thank you for allowing us to eavesdrop on your heartfelt and (as always) eloquent letter to him. May I add a P.S. of my own?

    P.S. If I were ever lucky enough to have the chance, I would be honored to accept a dandelion from you, and give you one in return! And I want you to know (though I'm sure you do) that you are a very lucky boy. :-)

  2. I just wanted to let you know how beautiful I thought this was. I'm all damp-eyed now!

  3. Oh Marla, I am totally crying here. This is beautiful...sad and beautiful, just like life. May I share it with others?


  4. Laloo, my son will almost certainly give you a dandelion. :) He knows the special people.

  5. Thank you for your kind words, Allysia. What a beautiful name you have!

  6. Thanks, Lisa. Sure, share away! I appreciate it!

  7. The world is crazier than you think. We in the UK celebrated Mothering Sunday weeks ago!

    It's hard not to worry too much, but we can't be much use to anyone if we do.

  8. I agree with you completely about worrying, Vanilla Rose. I think we think if we worry that it's doing "something" but it's really just disempowering. Worry is a good signal that something needs to be considered, but that's about it. Dwelling in worry is not healthy.

  9. Dear Marla, your reply was very sweet and made me smile. Thank you. :-)

    Your remarks in your post about your worries and fears, and your exchange with Vanilla Rose about how hard it is not to worry but how disempowering it is, made me think of a proverb and a poem I want to share because I thought you might appreciate them...

    That the birds of worry and care fly over your head, this you cannot change, but that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent.
    ~Chinese Proverb

    I just love that. :-)

    This poem is one of my favorites, and I shared it in my Earth Day post. When I read your letter to your son, I thought of it again...

    Peace of the Wild Things

    When despair for the world grows in me
    and I wake in the night at the least sound,
    In fear of what my life
    and my children's life may be,
    I go and lie down
    where the wood drake rests in his beauty
    on the water
    and the great heron feeds,
    I come into the peace of the wild things
    who do not tax their lives
    with forethought of grief.
    I come into the presence of still water,
    And I feel above me the day-blind stars,
    waiting with their light.
    For a time I rest in the grace of the world,
    and am free.
    ~Wendell Berry

    Love, Laloo xo

  10. I have sweet tears reading your wonderful writing.

    I love you and your boys.

    Like the buddha said "we must embrace the 10,000 joys and the 10,000 sorrows."

    You and your boys are in my 10,000 joys collection.

  11. Marla,

    I found your blog through Lalofah, and have just read this entry. It is moving, honest, sad, and heartbreaking, and beautiful all at once...I too feel that animals have been my greatest teachers in life and also share your sadness about the state of the planet and your sometimes anger with the human race.

    I wish you and your lovely boy much happiness together navigating through both the good and the bad in this life.

  12. What a wonderful proverb and poem, Laloo! Thank you for sharing them.

    Rae, well, you know that you two in my collection, too. Just knowing you are out there fills me with warmth.

    Rose, thank you for your very thoughtful and kind message. Yes, the animals are amazing teachers. We're so lucky to be able to appreciate them, and they are so lucky to have you, too.


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