Monday, July 24, 2006

Motherhood breaks your heart, even when all is well

One of the best conversations I've ever had with a friend was the car trip to Pinehurst last March with my friend and podcast co-host Sheryl Grant. Our weekend spa retreat was a gabfest of the highest order, and I am really sorry our car trip coversation was lost to the ages. Too bad we didn't do a podcast from the road--it would have required a lot of editing, but some truly illuminating nuggets of wisdom came out of our discussions.

I am telling you about this four months later because this week I came across two things that brought back that conversation. The idea that was really crystallized on that trip was that motherhood is a spiritual journey because it creates a tender spot, a chink in our armor. Motherhood makes us vulnerable, and breaks our hearts, so that the pain of the world can reach us, as well as the tremendous love flowing to and from our children. I loved my husband a great deal before we had a child, and I loved my parent, family, and friends, but I never felt that incredible vulnerability and I never really understood unconditional love until I had a child. Motherhood continues to change the way I look at the world. That's why I want more mothers/parents/primary caregivers representing us as leaders. I want leaders that have soft spots, not just armor and masks.

This weekend I visited Pinehurst again with my husband to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. We had a great time, and yes, we talked, but nothing like the verbal exchange that goes on between to female friends on a weekend away. (Digression--my husband's co-worker asked what you do at a spa retreat and the complete conversation went like this: David: So what do you do there? Michael: Chill. David: Chill? Michael: Chill.) Reveling in a few hours of free time, I picked up Anne Lamott's book Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith and she had the greatest quote about being open and vulnerable to love and wisdom:

"There's a lovely Hasidic story of a rabbi who always told his people that if they studied the Torah, it would put Scripture on their hearts. One of them asked, 'Why on our hearts, not in them?' The rabbi answered, 'Only God can put Scripture inside. But reading sacred text can put it on your hearts, and then when your hearts break, the holy words will fall inside.'"

I loved that. I've felt vulnerable but guarded lately, waiting for the latest set of cracks to burst open. My daughter and I finished reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo last night, and the floodgates opened. The book is a rather strange story about an arrogant china rabbit who is being owned and loved by a series of people. The story succeeds despite seeming to break many of the basic rules of fiction. The main character can't act, he can only be acted upon, though he does change the way he feels inside. The story evokes The Velveteen Rabbit's journey to become "real," though I haven't read that story in about 30 years so I can't compare them side-by-side. Edward Tulane learns to be vulnerable, learns to love, and yes, breaks and learns to love again. Throughout the story he loves looking at the stars. At the beginning he can just see them throught he cracks in the curtains if he is facing the right way. That image made me think again of the broken heart--the cracks let the starlight, grace, love, and healing in as well as pain.

So on a day when I saw Tiger Woods, one of our generation's greatest sports figures, break down in tears for his lost father after winning the British Open, at the end of the evening I was crying like a baby, choking out the last pages of Edward Tulane to my daughter, who patiently said "It's okay to cry, Mom," and brought me tissues to dab the streams rolling down my cheeks.

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