I like to give. I also like to receive. But giving just feels so much better. You get that warm and fuzzy feeling. All gooey inside like a hot fudge sundae. And there’s this glow that appears all around your edges. Like the kind Angels wear and Beyonce sings about. You know what I’m talking about. The halo. There’s also music. Harps and lutes and chirpy birds. It’s marvelous. All this just from the simple act of giving.
Ma was a bigger giver. And The Old Man would give you the shirt off his back without hesitation. But I learned all about giving to people I didn’t know, and who lived in worlds far beyond our borders, from Ma.
Little back story. Many years ago, when I was a much younger version of myself, I was living with my two oldest kids in the Italian neighborhood of Toronto. It was a bleak period in my life. I was separated, raising two kids alone, had a low-paying job, not much of a social life, lonely, frightened and lacking in resources. I was also an insomniac. Still am. I spent endless nights ruminating over the state of my life. Looking under every imaginary rock to see what was lurking there. Leaving no stone unturned. It was torture. Self-inflicted torment. Oh the wretched scourge of it all. Woe was me.
Much of my time was spent worrying about money. There was never enough. I took the expression “robbing Peter to pay Paul” to all new heights. Gave it fresh and new meaning. I was equally inventive and creative with my money management. Plus, I was a master juggler of serious magnitude. My financial situation was in such delicate balance that I was a one-woman circus act. It would have been hilarious had it not been so pitiful. Or my life.
It was during one of these sleepless nights that I learned one of the most profound lessons on giving. Typically when I have insomnia I stay rooted to my bed like a beached whale on a California shore. I toss. I turn. I thrash. I flip pillows. Pound them. Beat them to a pulp. Then ultimately toss them on the floor. I kick my legs in and out of the covers. I roll my eyes inside my head until they hurt. I try to substitute my dark morbid thoughts for pleasant ones that involve sunshine and fields of daisies. Eventually I succumb. I never really know when or why. But eventually the Sandman pays me a visit and I slip fitfully into Dreamland. Or Nightmaresville.
But on this particular night long ago, something mystifying compelled me to get out of my bed and walk down two flights of stairs to our basement rumpus room. It had a television and was far enough away from my sleeping children not to disturb their peaceful and tranquil slumber. Oh how I envied them.
It was the hour of the wolf and I was fully expecting to see nothing but snow and static on the television. That suited me just fine. My head was spinning and my heart was howling with fear and bitterness. I was in no mood to be touched by anything broadcast in those murky unsettling hours before dawn. But I was. Deeply. So powerfully in fact, that what I saw would stay with me for the rest of my life.
I guess it was an infomercial. Although that seems far too trivial a description for what this was. There were no hawkers of magic mops and make-up. Nothing of that nature was going on. But it sold me none the less. It grabbed a hold of my heart and hasn’t let go since.
In the quiet of that early morning gloom I stared into the faces of sweet innocent children thousands of miles away who had nothing. And I was broken. And humbled. Saddened beyond description. I saw bellies swollen from hunger and thin tiny limbs covered in sores. Poverty. Sickness. Strife. Yet in the eyes of these beautiful ones I also saw my own two children. No different. They were children. Kids. Just like mine. Suddenly my first world problems were put into perspective. So I did what I often do in situations like this. I had a little chat with God.
It went something like this. “Okay, here’s the deal. I’m on my own and I’ve got these two kids and three cats to take care of. I can barely make ends meet. Just ask Peter and Paul. But I can’t deny what I just bore witness to. I need a few extra bucks every month to help one of these kids and their families. That’s all. A few extra bucks. Plus I need your help with my own kids too.”
That was the promise made. That has been the promise kept. On both our counts.
I also thought of Ma that night. And wondered if she had ever made the same deal. She had four kids and an alcoholic husband, who often in their early years together, spent his paycheck before it was earned. She was like the woman in the Bible who had little but gave much. Ma’s five or ten dollars sent off to this charity or given to that cause was like the millions given by the wealthy. She too supported a third world child. I remember the photographs she received of her foster children over the years. She never boasted. She just quietly and faithfully gave every month for years. They could count on her. She loved children so. No matter where they came from. She wanted to help. To do something to change the course of even one child’s life. Ma was a shining example of the power of one.
Flash forward. It’s years later and I’m living on the Westcoast. It’s the middle of the night. I can’t sleep. But I can’t stay in bed either. I have a room of my own now with a computer where I dream and make magical things happen. Life is different. I no longer ride it out. Instead I write it out. It’s raining as it so often does out here. I’m worried. There are wars. And rumors of wars. People are suffering. Everywhere. My heart aches and my head can’t make sense of any of it. I get up. I go to my computer and I write this poem.
A Mother’s Prayer for Peace
It’s the middle of the night,
And I cannot sleep.
The rain is pounding on the roof
And the wind is howling outside my window.
But I am safe and warm,
Comforted by my feather duvet.
My faithful dog curled up at my feet
And my husband breathing softly next to me
Our children safe in their beds
Surrendered to dreams,
Sweet sweet dreams.
Yet my heart is not at peace,
It is broken with sadness.
For out there
Somewhere in a world I do not know
In countries I’ve only seen on TV
Are other families
With mothers just like me,
Who but for your gentle grace
Live a different life.
One not privileged with
Warm safe beds to rest,
To sleep, to dream of tomorrow.
Their lives, every bit as precious as mine
Are torn apart and shattered –
I pray for these loving mothers
And for their dear families
That they ALL
Each and every one
Have what I have
And know, truly know
What it’s like
To go to bed at night
And NOT be filled with fear
That their beautiful child,
Every bit as precious as mine,
Won’t be harmed
Or blown to piece
By the enemy lurking at the door.
God, I pray that all these mothers
Know at least one moment of peace.
And that that moment grows and grows
Like a wave across the world.
A graceful, gentle, loving wave of peace.
It begins with one moment
And grows from moment to moment.
It begins with one mother
And grows from mother to mother.
And it saves one child
And grows from child to child.
May we share this moment of peace
Mothers of the world.
Now I lay me down to sleep.
In gratitude and love,