It's the Circle of Life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the Circle
The Circle of Life
Tim Rice and Elton John
Like all young in the animal kingdom, I adored my mother when I was a small child.
I was absolutely convinced that she was the best mom, the one who smelled the sweetest, the one whose arms were the most gentle, the one whose hands could stroke any pain or sorrow out of my curly brown hair simply by touching it.
Everything in my biology told me that this person was the key to my survival and, as such, she was the most important thing in my life. From an evolutionary perspective, the mother-child bonding occurred perfectly and without a hitch.
And in harmony with nature’s perfectly timed clockwork, whether lion cubs, puppies or kittens or baby ducks, eventually it came time for this new member of the tribe to look around and see the rest of the world. Very quickly, I especially noticed the other baby animals and their mothers, and that is probably when the fall from the pedestal began.
Indeed, for the next several decades of my life, I could only see how the other mothers nurtured their young, what they gave to them and what I wasn’t getting. It was especially prevalent with my aunt and cousins: she seemed to be the perfect mother, suckling her young in a way that made me wistful.
My mother’s way of raising me was, to put it mildly, far more unconventional. Because of her formative years and growing up, she was much more of the “let-her-figure-it-out-on-her-own” school. After all, she had done it and it had helped her survive as a young cub.
I was the kid who would be picked up hours after school had ended with a sheepish look on my face, the one who had to figure out how to make friends without a mom at home who knew my classmates’ names, the one who had to go outside of the small cocoon of the nuclear family to get basic needs met from a very, very young age. One of my other aunts tells the story of how, at the age of four, I would climb up on the kitchen cabinets to get cereal to make my own breakfast. She was appalled and judged my mother fiercely for that, as did I.
But the circle of life gives us opportunities to go back to the beginning and see things with a fresh perspective.
Nearly six years ago, when I was living in Europe, my mother was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic breast cancer. From that very first phone call, I knew it was terminal and that there was no time to waste. Nature compelled me to return to my roots, to go back to the den and to see and accept this fierce lion as she truly was, not as I would have had her.
Two weeks ago today, my beautiful, fierce mother passed away after a long and valiant journey, not just through cancer, but through the pain and tragedy of her own years as a small, vulnerable cub with no one to consistently protect and nurture her in her formative post-war years in Greece.
We were given the opportunity, each in her own way, to let go of the mother and daughter that we had each wanted, and to fully, completely and whole-heartedly accept the other woman as a force of nature unto her own self.
Let’s face it, for all the times I judged and criticized her for not being Betty Crocker, I’m sure I wasn’t Daughter of the Year at all times.
As I sit in the grief and loss of this time, it is so clear that my mother was not only my greatest teacher in the Buddhist sense, but also did exactly what nature had compelled her to do: to create a young one strong and capable enough of fending for herself in the jungle.
It’s no accident – if you believe in that sort of thing – that we are both Leos, too. She didn’t do this by coddling me and making it easy and I can assure you there were many, many times I desperately wanted that. She did it by recognizing the truth of my spirit, honoring her own style of mothering and letting go of what the PTA ladies thought. Of the many, many gifts my mother gave me during her time here, the desire to seek and know my own truth and live it to the best of my ability was certainly one of the greatest.
The circle of life with my mother came full-circle in the days, months and years that I cared for her during her journey with cancer. When she passed, the only thing that remained was love, gratitude and forgiveness.
So many men and women I know stay perennially stuck in what they didn’t get and deserved as a child, what they were robbed of, how it is a wonderful excuse for not thriving today. I know it well because I, too, did it for a very, very long time. Indeed, I had to then, as it was an integral part of the slow, complicated process of healing and growing up. And I am so grateful for the teachers, counselors, coaches, friends and others who validated my experience and feelings while I went through it.
But while a child can be victim, as an adult, make no mistake about it: we are volunteers if we accept and embrace the burden of the victim story.
The men and women I know who thrive in this world are those who carefully, gently and methodically – and with the help of loving, compassionate witnesses – go through the stories of the past, grieve their losses, keep the stuff that continues to serve and empower them, and let go of what doesn’t.
My mother did a great, great thing by opening up to healing and forgiveness with me, too. She didn’t have to, but she chose to. And once more I adore my mother Lioness.
We have once again come full circle.