Yesterday afternoon—on our way to visit family and friends—my wife and I stopped by a local store to pick up a few gifts. As we were exiting the complex, on the corner was a mother with her child in a carriage with a sign asking for some change. Both of us were struck by this jarring sight; we gave what we had and shared a few words of encouragement with her before drove off to our destination. These scenes of poverty and hardship have become all too common; while Wall Street keeps reaching record territory, too many Americans are sucked into the abyss of indigence and hopelessness. We have come to accept the shocking disparities between the haves and the have nots; helpless to do anything about the iniquities of the world, it has become easier to protest against injustice overseas than acknowledge human suffering at our feet.
The scene kept repeating in my mind throughout the day—a mix of remembrances and regret hovered over my head. Once my initial ennui of witnessing such dire straights subsided in the streets of Arlington, Virginia, there was another reaction that emerged. As desperate as her situation was, the destitute mother did not show defeat on her face. In the midst of sorrow, she imbued a spirit of determination and fortitude. Seeing her resiliency reminded me of my own childhood and the struggles my mom endured when we first arrived in America. Though we never faced homelessness as children, we did face the penury an exodus to a new land induces.
We left everything we had back in Ethiopia and arrived in America with few possessions to our name. Fearful of triggering alarms that we were leaving Ethiopia for good and drawing the ire of the brutal Derg government, we left my native land in phases instead of leaving as a family. For the first five months, my mom took care of my brother and me while my father stayed behind to ensure my two sisters’ safe travels. We went from being privileged in Ethiopia to finding austerity in America. Long gone were the days of eating homemade Ethiopian cuisine in Addis Ababa, our new normal became fried bologna sandwiches and Raman noodles with Spam.
My mom did not have time to mourn our circumstances; she woke up each morning determined to take care of her children and put our well-being ahead of her comfort. The burdens did not become any less once my father joined us after successfully migrating to America. Both my parents toiled for the next two decades to care for us and broke their backs to make sure that their children had a bright future irrespective of the dark moments we encountered growing up. My mom was my North Star; she believed in me unflinchingly and instilled in me the gifts of compassion and empathy. Where my father showed me the value of hard work through stern love, my mom showed her care by being my best friend—she was always the glue who kept the family together. Click To Tweet
I was struck with an epiphany yesterday afternoon upon seeing a mother struggling with her baby. Too often, we expect our parents to be superheroes and measure them as such. But they are just like us, wisdom is earned through many trials and oversights. Parenthood is no different, having a child is a crash course unlike any in life. Too often, the proximity of children to parents blinds us to the struggles they encounter on a regular basis. We don’t see the adversities they went through and the pains they sustain as they give to us. We take for granted their presence and only count the times we lacked. Prisms can become prisons in this way; it’s not until we learn through first-hand experience the difficulty of parenthood that we realize true superheroes are humans who give in spite of their flaws.
This is especially true of mothers. Motherhood starts at the womb but being a mother is a job that doesn’t end until the last breath is drawn. On this day we celebrate mothers, I take this moment to thank my own mom and note in the process the toils and tribulations that all mothers bear. Too often, we overlook the sacrifices they make and discount the unending love they provide. Yesterday’s encounter reminded me of the scene from Life is Beautiful where Roberto Benigni’s character shielded his son from the horrors of a Nazi prison camp. Art imitates life, mothers shelter us for nine months only to spend the rest of their lives sustaining us with the gift of their love. #MothersLove
“A mother’s arms are made of tenderness and children sleep soundly in them.” ~ Victor Hugo
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