My friend tells me in Peru they say every illness is a mother, because it births you into a new state of being, a new realization about life. I say, every illness is also a mother, as in this hurts like a mother. It hurts like someone giving birth. It hurts like being bound to someone beloved, but vulnerable, cranky, and demanding.
The left side of my head and jaw hurt like a mother, and I don’t know if that means anything more than blocked energy. Is my back molar caving in like old cheese, from the core outward? Am I developing some slow tumor, the left side to match my childhood friend’s right? Neither of these stories is worth remotely as much as the sober sense of being in the presence of pain, an intractable pattern of not-letting-go, with no sense of where relief might come from. It hurts like a mother, and I am its daughter. Or, I am its mother, tending to my stricken child. Something true and unavoidable: this body.
I practice tai chi while some women nearby tend to their children: the unknown mothers of my fellow students’ children. I choose not to have children, precisely so that I can whirl under afternoon cloudbanks, tending to this body and being. I move to a part of the lawn further from playground entreaties.
I tell my friend that I am grounded, at the moment, in my weaker parts. What does this mean? Present, but shaky. Present, while being mothered by suffering. I tell my friend that I know I need help, but I don't know what I need. Armpit farts? That's a good start. Really, I want to be held. I want my mother to be, not this stubborn soreness, but something unctuous and unbound. I understand why people get hooked on heroin, if heroin means, for a little while, your mother is unconditional ease and surrender.
Wanting. Not-wanting. My mother right now consists in bearing with the discomfort of being, as a bridge rather than a barrier to connection. Here I am, shaky, but present. I am listening. I care, and my need is immense, but contained. I won’t hurt you. I see that you and I are marvels, mothered and mothering, carrying ourselves with humor and brilliance in this world.
May we be well, O, be well, and may all our mothers be well, too –
the sullen, and the radiant
the worn-out and the glittering
the incoherent and ever-truthful mothers.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.