An Orphan’s Mother’s Day, that is my Mother’s Day with my mother is silent, somnolent, serene and solemn. I never take her out to dinner, not even to lunch. Bouquet of fresh flower? Even that’s out of question! May be a physician son like me would like to buy something expensive, something exotic for my mother! Well dead wrong again! Then what do I do for my mother on a Mother’s Day? Nothing, and nothing, and yes, nothing. Plain and simple.
Paraphrasing Mark Twain, there are only two kinds of people in the world: the ones who have mother and the ones who don’t, I mean a mother who is living in flesh and blood. I belong to the latter kind. We are Orphans. For us, Mother’s Day is not a celebration in traditional means, for us it is a mixed emotion; a strange state of mind where celebration and mourning happen together.
Have you ever known people without mother or people who lost their mother early in life? If you didn’t yet or if you had not have the occasion of conversation with one of them on this then let me let you know that we walk, talk, laugh and live our life with a strange subconscious burden every day, but as the Mother’s Day rolls around, that burden becomes heavier, more conscious, more real. I know exactly when the Mother’s Day is coming: the UPS guy in the neighborhood gets busier delivering packages form Amazon, malls and restaurants are busier; when I open my browser, blinding colorful Pop Ups announce: Send Your Mother Something Memorable; beautifully animated flashy announcement from 1-800-Flowers: Send Your Mother Flowers, let her know you love her.
Oh! Yes, let your mother know you love her. My mother is far beyond this flower or dinner business, beyond the reaches of UPS or FedEx, beyond the blinding internet Pop-Ups. I still remember the day: it was a sunny Midwestern day in Detroit, September 17th, 1989 to be exact. I was in first year of my internship; this was post–call day for me. Although tired, sleeping is not for me, I ate breakfast and showered and got on new pair of hospital scrubs, which were my usual 24 hour attires at that time, and I was trying to get some studies done in internal medicine. A friend called and wanted to visit, I sensed something wrong, but kept the feeling inside and welcomed him with his wife. “How’s the family back at home?” they asked, “Fine, okay I think”, I answered, investigating their facial reaction and knowing subconsciously that it was not the real question or answer they were interested in. “How’s your mom?” the friend’s wife asked as her second sentence. “She’s always weak, she works so hard…..” my heart stopped for a moment as I caught myself talking and my words dropped off, “Wait a second are you saying that something is wrong with my mother? Are you saying that? Are you saying that? “, I became frantic and couldn’t help screaming. I just picked up the phone right in the living room, in a reflexive response and started dialing the phone line. 1989! This was not yet the time of cell phone and internet! Back in the old country, the town of Chittagong, 8000 miles away from Detroit, Michigan, my family did not even have a phone, I mean land phone. If you could bribe the government owned telephone monopoly, you could get one in 10 years and if you didn’t have the money or means to bribe, the wait could be forever.
So I used to dial a neighbor’s house and they were always gracious to call my family to talk to me and this used to be the way to communicate. As I kept on frantically dialing, the only message I got from AT&T was, “All international lines are busy in the country you are dialing, please call later”. I frantically called the AT&T operator, call could not go through even with her help; no one could help. This was the state of communication in those days in the poor 3rd world countries. Even emergencies had to wait! I did the only thing I could do, sob and kept on trying, finally reaching one time after five hours of trial! Just think about it: getting phone line after five hours of continuous dialing.
Strangely, in the worst of grief and loneliness, the human benevolence takes over: I only wanted to know how my mother died, what she said as her last words and my main worry was my family, especially my younger siblings, how helpless they were feeling without a mother, how they will be taken care of. I totally forgot of myself. By the time I could make arrangement calling the med school and airplane ticketing and other formalities, and then finally reached the old hometown after 3 days of grueling journey, my mother’s body was only represented by a freshly turned pile of red dirt lying in her ancestral graveyard on a hilltop next to a 16th century mosque that was founded by a revered Saint of Chittagong, my ancestral home town. There is always a strange silence in the graveyards, even in an overpopulated country. After the eight thousand miles journey that was my first stop over, I fell on my knees, I cried but my eyes were dry from the dehydration of three days of journey over the oceans, mountain ranges and continents. As I prayed, I felt my mother would come alive at any moment, a strange, lunatic sense of denial conquered me over, I prayed and prayed but the miracle never happened, my mother never rose up, she never talked to me, I never saw her in flesh and blood, never again.
Who knew that two years ago on my way to the United States, when I said goodbye to my mother in the dusty Second World War era airport of Chittagong that was going to be my last goodbye to my mother. I remember I was so happy and excited about getting on the plane to America, which was my dream since I had developed intelligence and memory. But looking back, my unconscious must have known, for right before boarding something made me look back and for some unknown reason, I just spontaneously fell on her feet crying and sobbing and asking for her forgiveness as a child, for all the troubles I had caused her, all the suffering that she had endured to raise me up. The good Lord makes you do things that you do not know in advance: this is the only way I can explain this today.
My mother was a school teacher, and we were nine siblings. My father was also a teacher who did his best. It was the mother although who was the anchor of the family. Out of all the blessings that I had gotten in my life, a mother so caring and working both inside and outside the house was the best blessing in my life. She showed me the way. After coming back from her work, she would cook, clean and feed us and then after cleaning up all the pots and pans, even in our upper grade levels she would come and sit next to us while we were studying into the midnight or beyond. She had never gone to bed before we went to bed. Now only I realize in retrospect how valuable this action was, what a strong message it was from a mother to her children: when you are studying hard in depth of night, you are not alone, I am your mother, and I am with you all the way!
I can still see her gaze fresh like a moment ago when I used to leave home after the weekend visit to go back to college and trotted my way on the dusty road, she would stand by the door and watch me all the way till the last shadow of mine had disappeared in the haze. She never wavered, never hesitated, never veered in her act of loving, giving and guiding. Her last letter come to me with big stamp on the envelope “By Air Mail/ Par Avion” as were expected in the age of dinosaurs before the internet, cell phones and Skype. Well, I should say two letters arrived in one envelope: one from my father who wrote about the realities of life, electric bills, house rents, inflation, commodity prices, shortages of poor third world realities everyday and the other one from my mother, with simple neat hand writing, “We are very happy, we have no shortage, you can do as much study in America as you like son, no worries for us. Our worries are only about you, since you are all alone, we are here together”! This is my mother, ever ambitious, ever encouraging, ever uplifting, ever bountiful, and ever optimistic!
So how do I celebrate such a mother? A mother who is not in flesh and blood, a mother discarnate, a mother who is beyond phone call, beyond beautiful flower bouquet, a mother beyond dinner in a fancy restaurant, but a mother who is my very existence, a mother who is my very thought, a mother who is my very life blood, a mother who is my conscious, subconscious and even unconscious, a mother who is my very essence and form?
I don’t really know! I don’t know any better at least. So my Mother’s Day for my mother is subdued, silenced, and solemn: a walk in the garden perhaps, a care for a patient, a kind word for a concerned person who is worried about her/his own mother or father perhaps, a gesture of love for my own children, an appreciation for my own wife who bore my children. My Mother’s Day is therefore, everyday: in my breathing and living, in my caring of patients as a doctor, in my loving of nature and God’s creatures, in the love that I have for everyone. I love you mother and Happy Mother’s Day!
Magic Bullhorn Moment: Everyone has a mother, every mother has a special story. Every Orphan has a story. Next time you come across an orphan, ask about his or her story. Story is kindness, story is healing, story is revealing, story is soothing, story is human. And sometimes, story is everything we have.
Physician Commentary: I am so happy to share this story or rather a little glimpse of the story of my mother with you. All the blessings I enjoy in my life, having a mother like this has been the best of all, without her I would be….., well I do not know what I would be. My mother is the juice of my life, she is the one I always look up to in the moments of despair and joy, in the moments of triumph or great challenge, she is the role model I have. I am humbled and am proud at the same time that I am her son. I am immensely grateful to God that he sent me in this earth as her son.