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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Mom and Mandela

The other day my eighty-two year old mother remarked that she’d never had anything to look forward to in her life, “just wash, iron, cook, and clean.” It made me sad to hear her look back on her life that way, but it also made me think about my own life and what gives it meaning.

I certainly don’t do as much cleaning and ironing as my mother did at my age. (Once I pulled out an iron for a special occasion, and my daughter asked me what it was.) Even though I’m the primary cook for my family, my life is full of so many other activities that I hardly count cooking as a major way I spend my time. When I do clean or do wash, I think of them as necessary chores, not integral parts of my life, even of my work as a mother which I associate more with the children themselves than with the chores that keep them fed and clothed.

As I started reflecting on what gave my own life meaning, I couldn’t help thinking of the book I’m reading, Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. It’s striking how much meaning Mandela found during his twenty-seven years in prison, and how much he enjoyed life’s small pleasures: an extra piece of bread on his birthday, a visit from his wife, a small plot of crummy soil in which to start a garden, a glimpse of sky. The government could lock up his body, but not his mind or his spirit.

Mandela reminds me of the importance of a good attitude. Not an attitude of passive acceptance, because Mandela never passively accepted his lot. He was always pressing, even within prison, for better food and more respect. But his work against what was wrong in the world didn’t keep him from appreciating what was right in it. I want to emulate both parts of this attitude, on the one hand showing that women can be more than cooks and cleaners, while on the other hand living those parts of my life to the fullest. I could be more mindful, to use the Buddhist term, more appreciative of the chance to be there for my children, and for my mother.

None of this is meant to judge my mother, who is not the least bit interested in finding the deeper meaning in house work. If hospice workers are correct that despair is one of the stages of dying, I think my mom has reached that stage. I can only hope she’s able to come to peace with her life before it’s over. One of the things I’m learning from watching her go through this process is not to wait to come to peace with my own.


Blogger Jennifer said...

Well this is getting to be a bit uncanny - - I currently have Long Walk To Freedom by my bedside. Nelson Mandela is an incredible and inspirational person. I am reading slowly, hoping to absorb.

Blessings to your mother, this sounds like a difficult time. And good thoughts to you as well.

9:28 PM  
Blogger expatmama said...

Hello! I found you through your article in Brain, Child (coincidentally I had just read that essay by Faulkner Fox the day before.) I've really enjoyed what I've read, both of the article and the blog, and I'll keep checking in for more. Good luck with your book-- it definitely sounds like something I'd like to read!

6:45 AM  
Blogger Lone Star Ma said...

I just found you through Brain, Child, too. I am a Quaker mama-writer, as well! I'm going to put a link to your blog on mine. I really like it! The very same thing happened with my daughter asking what an iron was...but she asked my mom, who looked at me...

2:00 PM  
Anonymous Stephanie said...

Friend, you speak to my condition! I am making my way through your posts to date, and I keep finding more and more that I relate to *so* well. Jennifer -- who commented above and elsewhere on this site -- told me about your blog because she thought I would appreciate it. (She knows a fair amount about my parenting style, approach to life, and Quaker spirituality. Who says on-line friends aren't "real" friends? Love ya, Jen!) Eileen, thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. I look forward to reading more. I will be purchasing 2 copies of your book when it is published -- one for myself and one for our Meeting library. :o)

9:49 AM  
Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

It's great to connect to other mothers, and it's especially fun to find other Quaker moms. Thanks all for visiting and posting comments!

1:01 PM  
Anonymous Staci said...

I really enjoyed your article at BrainChild. And the ironing -- my iron (purchased for me by my mother) is kept in a place I can't even reach!

4:17 PM  

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