Years ago my mother was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. The disease is brutal.
It’s robbed her of mobility — not an easy thing for a woman who’d taught me every dance from her childhood and was still the first up to out-dance younger folks at the family reunion. And it left her in the kind of chronic pain that meant she could no longer work — not an easy thing for a woman who’s worked all her life, from a childhood of picking and chopping cotton to factory work to working two jobs while she put herself through college, earning a degree some 30 years after graduating from her segregated high school.
This was after she’d made sure I’d gotten mine first. Sadie Leigh has worked hard for everything she’s ever had. She’s doesn’t take anything she doesn’t feel she’s earned.
That’s her. That’s who she is. Because she lives in another state I worry for her. A lot.
One day she called and said she’d been in the grocery store when a man began following her around. She said, “When I walked in he was by the door, eying me up and down. Everywhere I went he was there.”
She wondered whether he was store security on alert for thieves. Then she started to worry that, noting the way she moved, he planned to follow her out of the store and rob her.
She said she was standing there trying to decide which when he walked up to her and without a word slipped $100 into her hand. He smiled into her shocked face and walked out of the store.
She doesn’t know who he was. I do.
He was all the goodness she’s ever done coming back to her on the moral loop of the universe. He was that last $5 in her wallet that she gave to the single mother down the street for gas.
He was that next-to-last potato she loaned a neighbor because she already had a hot one on her plate. He was the old lady she runs errands for just because they’ve read a few Scriptures together.
He was every child who ever followed my mother home because their own mothers were working, overwhelmed or neglectful — because there was hot food, a clean bed and a warm heart at my mama’s house. He was $50 of the money he’d just handed her that she passed on to a friend for kids’ school supplies.
My mother is neither angel nor saint. But she’s good.
She cradled me through a childhood of segregation with such fierce love that most of its indignities fell on her back instead of mine. She set my chin when I entered my school’s newly desegregated kindergarten (Head Start) because she knew I was going to get a face-full of “n*gger.”
Then she soothed my pain, cleared up my childish confusion and taught me to never hate in return because that would make me as small and closed down to the power of human love as the people who hated me for no logical reason. She brought me up to believe in love as an action — something you do for people because it’s right.
I’m thinking of my mother. Not because of Mother’s Day on Sunday, but because she’s my mother.
And, I love her.