An Ongoing Celebration
I am spending some precious time back in Spain with my Mum after more than two years of separation and feeling very fortunate to be able to catch up.
Mum has turned 95 and moves around with a walking stick in one hand and her “old age crutch” as we say it in French, in the other (the “old age crutch” meaning someone like myself or my brother at her side). When she comes across her former French students during her daily strolls, their names and faces slip away from her memory. People very kindly give her clues to help her remember. One of them confessed the other day that 40 years ago he used to cross over to the other footpath every time he saw my Mum from afar in the street, anxious at the idea of having to speak French with his teacher outside the classroom. We cracked up at the idea that someone could ever be so wary of such a kind and petite French woman.
Mum’s short term memories are becoming elusive and old memories are resurfacing, sometimes with a new meaning. Over the past few days she recalls what her grandmother used to repeat in Occitan, like a litany, when Mum was a child: “Qué cau har? Qué haran? Qué haram?”(“What are we supposed to do? What are they gonna do? What are we gonna do?”). Mum’s grandfather had been killed by bandits on his way back from the market after having sold the family cow. Those thieves robbed him of the money he was bringing home. Mum’s grandmother was left with a broken heart, three babes in arms, with no house nor money to provide for them. She had to send her two young daughters to a convent and her son, my grandfather, to her brother’s house. Inconsolable, Mum’s grandmother was rehashing these words in her old age: “Qué cau har? Qué haran? Qué haram?”. At that time, Mum was just a little girl who could not grasp the meaning behind this prayer. Now she sees the depth of that woman’s pain, my great-grandmother, and the courage of her existence.
In spite of the vicissitudes our ancestors went through, the vigorous stream of life has still managed to flow down the generations until now. If we are here alive today is because an infinite line of couples received life from before them, got together and perpetuated life. We are the fruit of all of them. We also received through them the wisdom of the whole history of our humanity. Thousands of years of evolution are carried in our cells. A pure miracle and a reason for celebration.
This extraordinary gift of life is embodied in the moment of our conception and the time that we spent in the womb of our mother. During that period we were one with her and we had everything we needed to survive and to thrive. We lived in abundance, without having to do anything. Later our mother gave birth to us, risking her own life. This is the greatness of our mother. A wonderful act of generosity.
So what do we do with the enormity of what we have received? With the gift of being alive today? The systemic principle of compensation requires a balance between giving and taking. As children we took so much from our parents, particularly from our mother, that we feel in debt when we grow up. This is why we have the impulse to give forward to our children and to others. This is our way to create balance.
Sometimes, life gives us the chance to give back to our elderly mother and to look after her. We give back caring for her. These days I am slowing down my pace, sharing moments of quietness with Mum while she is having that long conversation with her past. Mum is closing cycles, making peace with the world and with herself. It is a privilege to be here with her, to bear witness.
And then there is gratitude. Gratitude to compensate for what we have received. Feeling consciously grateful to our mother, just for being our mother and together with our father, giving us life . At that very moment and place where it happened. Grateful that she did what she could, with all that came before her. That she transmitted to us the wisdom of all the generations before. Each generation with its own challenges and its unique destiny: conflict, famine, displacement, disease, progress, revolution, creativity. Gratitude as a permanent attitude towards our mother, our ancestors and ourselves. Gratitude as an ongoing celebration that we are alive today.
Photo: Pep Gasol