If I ever said “Mother’s Day” my mother would immediately correct me,
“It’s Mothering Sunday” she would say, in a way which suggested she had reminded me more times than should strictly be necessary.
She was very particular about certain things, mostly connected with the church, and utterly oblivious to others, such as leaving sufficient space on the kitchen table that we might be able to get a plate on it when it was time for dinner.
When my mum died and I began to unpack the complexities of my relationship with her I started to see how much she’d taught me and how much I’d failed to learn.
One of her most important lessons was that optimism is not reliant on our ability to ignore the realities of the world but to find the resilience we need in order to feel the discomfort but keep looking anyway.
What most infuriated me about my mother in one moment would be my saviour in another. She had a way of “narrow banding” her emotions so that what I missed in affirmation and comfort I gained in pragmatism, strength, and determination.
I text my sister after her early morning trip to the supermarket.
“How did you get on?”
“It was as busy as Christmas Eve and still nothing on the shelves.” She replies.
I message back “A crisis brings out extremes. The best and worst of humanity living alongside”
She counters, “I’ve only seen the worst so far”
It’s true that sometimes we have to look harder for the good. It is no real surprise that selfish people hoard food and buy extra freezers so that they can hoard even more food, but there is positivity too if you look for it.
“Nature appears to be taking back control of the planet,” I say to my children, who are frustrated at having to cancel holidays and other plans in the coming weeks.
It’s tough for my son because he is 21 this week, a milestone he will mark with scant celebration.
“We’ll get the board games out,” I tell him with a grin.
“Monopoly?” he says, calling my bluff, a suggestion which tests even my positive spirit.
The children have begun to clutter up the house, popping up at times you’d least expect to see them. But optimism also requires adjustment and a shift in perspective.
“Think of it like this,” I tell them.
“If you live until you’re eighty or ninety this time of disconnection might seem like a long time when you’re in it but, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a tiny blip.”
They grunt an unconvincing agreement, but optimism can’t be created in anyone else, it can only be modeled.
My mother, if she were alive to have me avoid visiting her today, would still be channeling the majority of her efforts into helping other people. She continued like this into her eighties even when she was the one most in need of help.
I couldn’t understand such selflessness when she was alive but she knew something that I had to learn for myself. It is in the giving that we feel love at its most powerful and, like optimism, she could do nothing more than simply show me how it’s done.