Lara Stewart-Panko

Mother of the World

This Sunday morning in September I rode my bike -- hair and teeth bearing the signs of sleep -- to a neighbourhood park to enjoy communing with Nature. I took a paved path in, coasted past the children's playground and tennis courts to begin the long route that circled the naturalized storm pond. Wildflowers and grasses stood thick and tall, buffering the wildish water from the asphalt. I took a ramp to the water's edge, my heart carrying a wish to spot a turtle, and instead I had three ducks make wakes as they headed my way, their hearts carrying wishes for food.

I took my leave and continued further along the path, riding past two women who had stopped to talk. I overhead the one expressing her upset about a man who left his dog's shit on the walkway.

I rode on, soon noticing a snail inching its way along the manmade terrain towards the safety of plants. I stopped and photographed it and stood guard, striving to be patient as it moved along. The woman who had been airing her complaints earlier approached me. "Oh, you like that?" I smiled and explained I was trying to protect it. She didn't care much about that, and launched into a fresh rant about the man and his dog's shit. I didn't really want to hear what she had to say insofar as it was harshing my buzz. I got compassionate, supported by the humbling the snail had given me (our pavement runs through its homeland, who the fuck do we think we are?). I spied a beautiful pendant of Mother Mary hanging from the woman's necklace, and she held a rosary in her hand. I interrupted her, "I have a question." "Yes?", she said. "Tell me about your pendant." "Oh! It's Mother Mary, Mother of the World! Not just Jesus's mother, but my mother and your mother and everyone's mother." I nodded my appreciation and then looked down at her rosary. "Oh, yes, my rosary." "It's so great that you're doing it out here.", I said, gesturing to the vibrant Life all around us. She smiled, and began repeating her impassioned story about the man leaving the dog shit where people walk. My redirection tactics didn't quite work.

I served up a friendly laugh and said, "You're being a mother to him, telling him to be responsible and take care of his shit!" She laughed and wished me a good morning. Poetically, this woman was my mother. My biological mother has significant mental health problems and she's prone to negative cyclic thinking. It can make it very, very hard to be around her. One of the tools I've learned over the years is that making her laugh by reframing the thing her mind is stuck on usually frees us both. And here was the Mother, in this particular form in front of me, caught in her sense of justice in a way that was holding the wrong person captive. I got to be the Daughter (she even referred to me as "Sweetie" during our exchange), getting to give the gift of development and progress afforded each successive generation. Just think how many more resources younger generations have with respect to mental health!

As I began to pedal away she called, "God bless you!". This is not a phrase I would ever naturally use, and sometimes it lands as an affront to my personal spiritual sensibilities. But not today. Today I could accept it as her genuine expression of neighbourly love -- Motherly love -- and I authentically replied in my Daughterly way, "And you as well."

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