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Our Mothers in Our Hearts
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Our Mothers in Our Hearts (19 min.)
Transcript of a talk delivered by Terry Cortes-Vega
May 11, 2014 - Dallas, Texas

I love it so much when ChiSing sings. My mother used to sing to me, sing (sings), "Roll out the barrel. We'll have a barrel of fun. A penny a gift. A penny a hug. We're going to save our pennies in a big brown jug." My mom sang to me. My daddy did, too. So sometimes it is easier to remember the difficulties of our mamas in us, and sometimes it takes this extra effort to open up our hearts and let our difficult moment in, to offer our moms compassion for our mama's sake and for our own sake. Whether our mama is still living or not, we still carry her in us.

I volunteer at a prison. I have for 25 years or so, and this week I invited my friends to share with me their story of their mama. So one fellow, Victor, was in my class several years ago, and then he came in a couple of weeks ago again. I am in jail—well, I am not in jail. I volunteer in a jail, and so Victor came in, and I said, "Oh, Victor. Been in the jail. Gone to TVC, served his time, and now he is back in jail again. He said, "Yeah. I know. It takes some people longer than others."

So Victor said when it was his turn to talk about his mother, "I don't have a mother." I said, "Well, even when our moms have already passed away, they are alive in us." He said, "My mother died of cirrhosis of the liver." So I said, "She was an alcoholic?" He said, "Yes, and a drug addict. And she sent me to be a ward of the state when I was 5." And I said, "Oh. You lived with foster families?" "No," he said. "I was a ward of the state from 5 to 17, and I hated my mom. But," he said, "after 30 years, my sister told me that my mother had been abused as a child, and she had never gotten over it. She had then been abused by some of her husbands or boyfriends. So," he said, "I forgave her." And I said, "How could you forgive her?" And he said, "Because carrying hate around in myself was eating me up." That is the way he put it. "It is making me unhappy."

So when we take the time to look deeply to see what it is we appreciate about our moms, we do it for our mom's sake. We do it for our own sake, and we do it, I say, for everybody's sake. So I don't want to hog. I could tell lots of stories about my mom, who actually was a very—well, you could say arrogant, but I put strong on my card. A very strong woman. You could say bossy, but I put strong. So it would help all of us if each of us could share. You could share a story about your mom if you like, or you could share the words that you described her on the card. In some way, tell your mom's story, for your mom's sake, for your sake, for all of our sakes.

So, we will go around the circle, and if you don't want to, then just pass. But if you would like to share your story, we would like to hear it. So, Bobbie, you can start.

Bobbie: Well, I wrote on my card, "Generous spirit and kindness." Actually, I forgot what else I put. But when you were talking, because you mentioned a difficulty, I thought about when I was a teenager, my mother is much more an extrovert and outgoing than I am. She is really like a little social butterfly, and so when I was a teenager and we were in the church, the Baptist Church, you have little group gatherings at the house, and when all of the people would come to our house, it felt like mother was the center of attention, you know? I felt like I was just drab in comparison, and so it was like my mother is a lot more popular than I am was my feeling. Yeah. Teenage angst.

But I don't know. Somehow growing up, finally I just recognized that is her nature, and actually it is been beneficial in other times because she will kind of pave the way and greet people, meet people, and then I am comfortable with people. So yeah. And now, I am just so grateful. She is 91 years old, very, very healthy. She just got back from a trip to Arkansas with her boyfriend. So it is great. We had lunch today, and she told us all about it, and that is just great. So I am very, very comfortable with my mother now and happy that she is happy and healthy.

ChiSing: I am ChiSing, and my mother's name is Gloria. Her Chinese name is Lin-Ying, which means lotus flower bud. So I sometimes joke about how I must be living in the Pure Land, because when you reincarnate in the Pure Land, you're born in a lotus flower. So I was literally born from a lotus flower. And so, like any of us, my relationship with my mother is full of a mixture of things, and only recently have I felt like I have made my peace for the most part—not completely, but made my peace in my relationship with my mother.

I mean, there are so many wonderful things about my mother, right? She is the one who instilled my love of music. She always sang to me. I wish she was the cook in the family. I can't cook at all. I always took after her. She didn't cook until recently. She started to learn how to cook, and now she loves cooking for me and other family members. I guess sometimes I have felt over the years that my relationship with my mother is somewhat bipolar because there was so much good, but then there was also so much anger, too, there. And then from my twenties onward, there was a sort of separation that occurred with me and my mother. It wasn't as much of that closeness anymore. There was a lot more disagreement, which got worse when I told her I became Buddhist. She is Southern Baptist.

But you know, it is a funny thing about life-threatening illnesses. They can kind of cause everyone to wake up a little bit more, and I've been seeing that, and I am just feeling a lot of compassion for my mother. There are days when she gets angry still once in a while, and it just triggers all the past stuff, you know? But I am now able to just have a different relationship to that, and I just let her be herself, and I no longer need her to give me what I think she needs to give me because now I am giving it to myself. I'm giving that love that I wanted from her—I am giving it to me. I don't need her to do that so much anymore.

And in fact, I almost see that when she is acting like that, she is the one who needs my love. She really needs love. So I'm trying to see it that way, and I do feel compassion for her because there was a day recently when I realized if I die first before she does, that is just going to break her heart. So I just hope that is not going to happen. I really would rather not have her experience that kind of pain, if that is possible.

But I'm just realizing more and more that she is not my only mother, you know? We have been going through this so many centuries of time so many different relationships, and I intuitively feel that my mother and I have been in many different kinds of relationships many, many times. We have been lovers. I've been her mother. All kinds of different forms, husband, father, brother, all kinds. And so it is kind of nice at this point to realize I don't need her to be the perfect mother I have always wanted. I can just accept her as she is because I'm accepting myself as I am.

Terry: What is so beautiful is your openness and clear seeing and feeling of safety and the understanding what sharing from the deep place is healing, is what causes healing. So each story here, each mama's story, was a story of truth. You are not hiding, and as a result all of us have your mama in us. All of us have each other's mama enough. Both the mom that is the perfect mom that did just the right thing and the mom that didn't know how to do the right thing, and she is in you, and she is in me, and so she doesn't need to be angry anymore. She doesn't need to be afraid anymore, because she is embraced by you. And you don't need to be angry anymore. I don't need to be fearful anymore because my mama is in me, and I can love on her here, where it is safe and happy.

So, I really bow to you in deep gratitude for your willingness to open your heart the way you did, open your heart to your moms, and open your heart to us. So I would like to read this poem, which some of you may know. Billy Collins. "The Lanyard" is his poem.

"The other day, as I was ricocheting slowly off the pale blue walls of this room, bouncing from typewriter to piano, from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor, I found myself in the L section of the dictionary, where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard. No cookie nibbled by a French novelist could send one more suddenly into the past, a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp by a deep Adirondack lake learning how to braid thin plastic strips into a lanyard, a gift for my mother. I had never seen anyone use a lanyard or wear one, if that's what you did with them, but that did not keep me from crossing strand over strand again and again until I had made a boxy red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts, and I gave her a lanyard. She nursed me in many a sickroom, lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips, set cold face-cloths on my forehead, and then led me out into the airy light and taught me to walk and swim, and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard. Here are thousands of meals, she said, and here is clothing and a good education. And here is your lanyard, I replied, which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart, strong legs, bones and teeth, and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered, and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp. And here, I wish to say to her now, is a smaller gift, not the archaic truth that you can never repay your mother, but the rueful admission that when she took the two-tone lanyard from my hands, I was as sure as a boy could be that this useless, worthless thing I wove out of boredom would be enough to make us even."

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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