Wednesday, December 21, 2011


In the RSVP envelope for a baby shower I'm planning to attend, the hostess threw in a card for notes. Our instructions read: Please use this card to write a short message, a quotation, words of wisdom, or any other supportive message that will help J through her first few months as a new mom. You can even specify on the envelope when you would like for her to read it (during 2 am feeding, when her baby is one month old, the day she gets home from the hospital, etc.).

I sat and stared at the 2 x3 inch teeny, tiny card for at least thirty minutes. Paralyzed, I debated a thousand different messages, trillions of quotes and dozens of potential "times" she should read my card. Then I wondered if everyone else felt the same anxiety over this simple task. Do people actually sit and ponder before they write? Do they brainstorm first? Do they carefully eliminate ideas until they land on the one that seems most fitting?

I feel pressure when I see blank spaces calling for wisdom or advice--particularly when it comes to giving wisdom or advice about something for which I know nothing. I teach kids, so of course I understand the awkward teenagers. But I don't understand the intricacies of childbirth, or infants or toddlers. What could I possibly have to say that would be worthwhile?
I pulled out my trusty journal of quotes, and I turned to my friend, Rainer Maria Rilke. He always seems to pen perfect pieces of wisdom. Worthwhile musing saturate the pages of Letters to a Young Poet, and since it set my brain ablaze when I most needed it to find a spark, I figured I might find something in there for J too.


"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and...try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer" (Rilke 35).

I don't know much about mothering, but I do know that as a teacher, I always find myself worrying about what I cannot answer. I find myself desiring insight so that I might resolve my students' anxiety or fear. I want to heal the kids who hurt, and I want to energize the ones who feel deflated. I want to know why they make bad decisions and I want to know what I can do to help them make better ones. I want to know what makes them smile and laugh, and I want to know what I can do to help them become better people. And even though I'm not a mom, I'm pretty sure mothers feel the same desires tenfold.

I suppose sometimes we aren't intended to know the answers though, and most of the time, perhaps it is better that we don't. We just have to keep loving, we have to keep giving and we have to keep trusting that we will live into the answer we are meant to discover. And as we do our living, we simply need to enjoy it. I'm not sure whether that's a good thing to read at 2 am or one month in, so I decided not to specify, and to let J live into the answer

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