Friday, January 2, 2009

The language of kindness

Kindness is a language we all understand. Even the blind can see it and the deaf can hear it. Mother Theresa

It's always the challenge for me after an altercation with my mother. The hangover lasts days. My regret for straying from my path of harmony disrupts my peace of mind as I work through the feelings of being disappointed with myself for having risen to the occasion of engaging in discord with her. For having given into my child's desire to be right. To have it all my way.

In my introspection that always follows such encounters, I realize that in my mother's words is a truth she carries in her heart. It is a heavy truth. A burden. She does not feel appreciated.

I have spent most of my lifetime trying to 'get over my mother'. Trying to protect myself from her mood swings, her misuse of the substances she abused to help her cope in a world she did not understand. I've spent a lot of time, and therapy, working through why and how I don't want to be like my mother, putting up barriers to protect myself from being foisted on the petard of her pain, and, in my protective stance, I have not taken the time to tell her of the many things she has done in my life for which I am grateful.

My mother was a war bride. At 22 my father took her away from her home in India, a place where she was born a foreigner to the native soils she loved. She was not equipped to deal with the harshness of the world beyond the protective confines of the colony where she was raised. She was not prepared to cope with my father's anger, the long lonely stretches of time when he was away, leaving her alone with few friends and no family to support her.

When I was a little girl money was always tight in our home. My mother got a job. She'd trained as a teacher in her native India, but her training was not accepted in Canada. English was her second language, all her training had been in French. She didn't know the Canadian way. She started working in a hospital as a clerk. She loved that job. Took great pride in doing it well. In being the best at what she did. Where ever my mother worked, her co-workers always loved her. She was gentle and kind. Supportive. Cooperative.

I remember going with my father to pick her up after work. It was always my favourite time of day. I had time alone with my father where I could pester him with questions, gaily chatting about anything that came into my mind. He'd drive and nod his head and though he seldom answered my questions directly, he never told me to quit asking. We'd drive downtown and wait outside the hospital where my mother worked. Across the street there was a park with leafy green trees and giant firs. A statue of a man on a horse kept watch. I wondered who he was but was never allowed to get out of the car to find out. My father was always on a schedule. Always looking forward to where he had to be. He hated being kept waiting. Hated even more being late.

My mother would hurry out of a side door of the hospital, walking quickly towards us. She knew he didn't like being kept waiting. She'd hold her hand bag in one hand, her sweater or coat in the other as she struggled to put it on before she reached the car. She was very beautiful. Raven haired, dark eyed, petite. People always looked at her twice. She'd reach the car and in one breath, smile, wave at me in the back seat and open the passenger's door. She'd barely be in the car before my father had moved away from the curb into the line of traffic snaking by.

As we drove, she'd tell my father about her day, all the comings and goings, what doctor said this, which nurse did that. I would sit in the back seat, listening closely to every word she said. My father, busy negotiating the traffic, would respond with 'uhuhs' and 'hmmms' until something some other driver did caused a fissure of anger to burst out and he would tell her, "Not now Iris. Can't you see I'm driving."

It is one of my earliest memories of my mother. The sudden stiffening of her shoulders. The swallowing of her tears, and her voice.

Years later, after I became a mother myself, I would one day ask my mother to tell me her life story. She began with her birth in Pondicherry, India. She began with tears. "It was a beautiful place," she said. When she's emotional there is always a slight French lilt to her voice. "It was Shangri-la."

My mother's life with my father was never easy. Not until their 'golden years' when his anger had mellowed and she had come to terms with the man who had stolen her heart on a dance floor way back when and whom she'd married two short weeks later. It was war time. He was not there for long. After their marriage and a brief honeymoon, he'd returned to the war and she had waited anxiously for his return, the voices of the nuns with whom she taught a constant reminder that the soldiers would come and take advantage of the young women and never return. My father did come back, two and a half years later. He took her away from India, from her family, from work she loved, from the life she knew and transplanted her to a land of strangers and strangeness.

My mother made her way and along the way took refuge from the cold and harshness of the world around her in the warm fuzzy haze of prescription drugs the doctors gave her to help her cope. It was not a conscious choice on her part. She always did what she was told. Always took what others gave her without questioning the rightness or wrongness of their actions.

At eighty-six my mother lives amongst other men and women who have come of age in a place where all they have to share are the memories of their past, and their gossip about who is doing what, who said this or that, who went here or there. Gossip has become the coin of their realm. It fills the hours of their days with the comfort of the routine to which they are bound. Breakfast, exercise, card games, lunch, bingo, perhaps an excursion, dinner, cards.

There is a rhythm to my mother's days now. A rhythm she never had when she was with my father, surrounded by four boisterous children constantly demanding her attention. She wants my attention now. It is the least I can do.

There is no gain in my taking offence to what she says. Being kind is important to my mother. She's taught me well the importance of being kind in the world today. Yet, when she's with me, she feels the unkindness of our past, the turmoil of my years spent resisting her love as I husband the pain that keeps me entrenched in my need to be right.

I need to step into the language of kindness and let go of the familiar fissure of anxiety that erupts when I watch her swallow her tears and silence her voice. I have no desire to cause her pain. No desire to disrupt the gentle flow of her days. She has given her life to finding peace today. I can give her this day in peace.

It is time I let her voice sing for as long as she can. It is time I shared my appreciation, not my anger.


1 comment:

CZBZ said...

So beautiful, Louise. You have touched my soul with this post...