Sweet Mother


A few weeks ago, I joined three friends I grew up with in Ghana to celebrate their mother’s eighty years birthday. It was such a lovely evening, and I was particularly impressed with the desire of my friends to honor their mother for reaching that milestone. At the party were siblings of the birthday lady, Agnes, as well as her children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces, friends of the children like myself, and many others who knew Agnes and/or her children. Serenaded by all these wonderful people, and with great food and music, Agnes danced the evening away as she relished the incredible gift of motherhood, and the joy of being able to keep a fetus until birth and then shape the life of that innocent baby into a responsible adult.


By the time you read this piece, you may have heard the news of the birth of the Royal Baby. And if you had had the chance to listen to or read the remarks of Prince Harry, who said, "It's been the most amazing experience I could ever have possibly imagined. How any woman does what they do is beyond comprehension.” I couldn’t agree more. Women are exceptional, and those who have had the joy of caring for a baby or two - whether biological or not - bless those children and many others with the gift of fortitude, compassion, perseverance and resourcefulness.


At the party for my friends’ mother, the DJ played one particular song that has captured many an African heart. The song is Sweet Mother - a highlife song by a Nigerian and Camerooniansinger Prince Nico Mbarga. The song remains one of the most popular songs in Africa. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to insinuate that there isn’t a child in West Africa who doesn’t know this song or has never heard it. It is a song that celebrates motherhood, and chronicles, from conception to birth and beyond, the depth of a mother’s affection and, in fact, all that a mother pours into raising a child. Although I have heard it many more times than I can ever remember, I don’t think the song has made as much impact on me as it did on that evening. For once, I wasn’t consigned to the inherent character traits within the song; I could see and touch the life within the song - a life which is made possible because of a woman who is a mother.


During times like these, I am also reminded of my own mother and the depth to which she went into pouring out her very self in raising my siblings and I. She is nearing eighty years herself, and does not really need much more than the joy of hearing the voice of any one of her children. She calls as often as she can - sometimes daily - and depending on her mood, she either has lots to say, or is simply checking in. Other than picking her calls and talking to her for however many minutes, I always wonder if there’s anything more fulfilling that I could do for her and, in fact, care for her as many of you so wonderfully care for your mothers.


I was reading an article in the New York Times - it was actually a rejoinder to an article - Yes, This Is What Gifts Are Now by Monica Heisey. In her rejoinder, eighty-year-old Ms. Monica Starkman Schteingart recounts a mother’s joy in receiving an often-misshapen ceramic bowl with the words “For My Mom” carved into its side from an elementary school child. She is eighty, and doesn’t need much, the writer argues. She thinks, however, that even if you are old and possibly have children of your own, a handmade gift to your mum on Mother’s Day is still the best gift - even if it is misshapen. Well, since I never got the chance, like many of my friends, to make a misshapen ceramic bowl with “For My Mom” inscribed on it, it wouldn’t hurt to do something more memorable for her. And I think the desire to do something memorable for mum was one of the reasons underlying the party my friends held in honor of their mother. 


Amidst all the celebrations honoring mothers on Mother’s Day, I am also reminded of women who desired to have children of their own, but for many varied reasons could not or did not. Mother’s Day is for you as well. Many are those who have shaped the lives of children and offered them more than what life was willing to give them. To that child who was not your biological child, you are the wonderful Sweet Mother he or she never had. To that child whom you mentored, you are the epitome of all that is gracious, beautiful, compassionate, and life-giving. I also acknowledge, with deep sadness, those who have either lost their mothers or did not have a great relationship with them and so prefer not to interact with them or even hear their names being called out. I pray for God's compassion, and add that if you are by any means estranged from your mother, I hope you wouldn’t ever close the door to the possibility of reconciliation.


Sweet Mother - there’s never a moment that passes without the touch of a mother’s presence, even if you may be as far away from your mother, or as close as you can be to her. To me, the joy of motherhood is represented by the dance of Agnes. It was more than a happy dance; it was a dance of gratitude for the blessings of motherhood.


Sweet Mother - I love you for teaching me what it means to love, and for expressing the beauty of what you love in all that you do. I love you, Sweet Mother, for nurturing the beauty of love within me. I love you, Sweet Mother, for making me a better person.


I wish you all a Happy Mother's Day.


~Manny



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