by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
May 11, 2004
TO MOM, ON HER 90TH BIRTHDAY
Today my mother achieves a summit of 90 years. It must give her a certain feeling of pride to have seen so much of humanity's sprawling genius exercise itself on her watch, to have watched her child, her 20th Century, the cornucopia of endless riches, spill so much treasure before her, like her five children spilling so much milk on so many childhood tables, in her simple passage of a single life.
The sun is coming up now here in Florida, as triumphantly as it's ever done, and it reminds me of her great devotion to Nature. She is a decent gardener and a careful cultivator of her flowers, but her real gift is to admire the beauty of creation. She loves to look out on any Spring morning into the green and dewy sloping field we call the orchard and breathe in from it the singular beauty of God's world. If there has been so much for her to do across the span of 90 years, and there has been, there has been equally much to stop and admire, and that is what makes a balanced life.
"Seek ye first the kingdom of God," she reminds me at times, "and all the rest will be given to you."
I can only imagine what it must be like to look back upon such a roiling sea of change and innovation from the perspective of nine decades. Her life has seen two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and two Gulf Wars blow across the landscape like the chilling ice storms that visit her Hudson River Valley every few years. The Soviet Union has lived and died in her lifespan. She has seen the invention of the radio and stainless steel, the zipper, the Band-Aid, the toaster, the highway and the traffic light. In her lifetime, indeed, so much of the foam of change has spilled from the churning sea that as most humans see it, a different world has come and replaced the one that went before.
So it is the comfort of my mother that binds me in the old world and the new. She keeps whole my own far more modest span, places a human kiss on the breadth of time that begins with her life and metaphorically ends at the close of my own. As long as she has lived hers has been a heart beating the pulse of her particular love into the world, a love not only of me and of my brothers and sister and father, and her mother and father and her sisters and brother, but so many others who have been touched by a kind and gentle goodness that fuses with the very marrow of God's world.
She would demur from such encomiums. She is only too aware of her frailties and flaws, and quick to tell us of them. She has never cast herself in the role of saint, never sought a halo or a plaque. Yet I know, as someone who has felt to the very depths of my being the good warm light that pulses from her, that God exists; it is too much to ask of a human being to create such a light on their own. Looking from me to her and beyond, I see God in all his mystery and wonder, creating all that is with that same good light.
I know she'll be terribly embarrassed to read such things about her, and I want to assure her that it is my brother Billy's fault. He asked me if I was planning to write something for her birthday, which so often seems to fall on Mother's Day, and after that I felt compelled to do it. I didn't want to, because when I think of writing I despair of finding the right words; they are so rare, those words that can approximately describe the gift of her loving, generous life, that I feel both humbled and graced in this precious moment to have them here, for her.
My father and my brother John are with her on the farm today, and my brother Pat visited over the weekend. My sister Mary Ann and I could not be there except in spirit, as all of us are today My mother was the sort of person who bakes a cake for every birthday but her own, but who has breath for 90 candles, anyway? I just want to be in your wish, Mom. Along with everyone that has ever had the privilege of knowing you well, I love you and salute you and send you the prayers of my wife and family. Keep on climbing, Mom. You make the world the good place it really is.