On the second day Miranda was born, I sat looking at her asleep in her little bassinet and I felt like crying. I couldn’t understand why at this most joyful moment of my life, one that I had waited for, for so long, I should want to cry. Seventeen years later as I said goodbye to her at an airport in El Salvador, I realized why. Somehow my heart knew, way before my head, that I could hold her (or any of my babies for that matter) close to me only for so long; that the day would come, too soon, when I had to let them pursue their own calling. It is the ultimate act of trust and detachment and as mothers we will play this dance of tug and throw from the moment they are born and for the rest of our lives. Motherhood becomes a delicate balance between putting them to our breasts to fill them with all kinds of love and then letting them wiggle away to practice that love in the real world. As they get older, the rhythm of this dance changes. Early on, we lead. Then there are those years that they not only want to lead, but may not even recognize us as their dance partner. But if we are patient and detached and cognizant that they were never really ours to begin with, they come back dancing, now so much more polished in their steps and on a much more equal footing.
When she was 6, Miranda told me one day that when alone by herself, she really wasn’t alone, that there was always someone with her. "Do you have an invisible friend?" I asked. She looked at me like I was crazy and said: "No, the person who is always with me is God." I asked her where she had learned that, to which she replied: I thought it myself. But I want to believe it was really the effect of all those prayers I sang to her as I rocked, walked and drove her around so she would fall asleep. That’s why she was brave enough to go to El Salvador to serve for a year when she was 17 years old and now she is embarking on another great adventure as she graduates from college. She knows she is not alone.
When she was a toddler, her part of the dance was her constant questioning. Once I counted how many questions she asked in a 10 minute period: 20. That’s 2 questions/minute, 120 in an hour and 1440 in a 12 hour day. Sample questions: Why don’t clothes have bones? What is the moon for? How did Cruella Devile’s parents know she was going to be cruel when they named her that as a baby? And If God doesn’t have hands, how did He make everything? Encouraging children to question also makes it challenging to keep them close by. Once they have answered all the questions nearby, they want to venture further. Any attempt to keep them from pursuing their quests will make the music of our dance scratchy and dissonant.
When my babies were born, I whispered these words from a Baha'i prayer in their ears: "Verily, thou hast come by the command of God. Thou hast appeared to speak of Him. Thou hast been created to serve Him Who is the Dear, the Beloved." Yes, one can and should, live a life of service wherever one lives. But when children are braver than their parents, they hear the call when it comes from far away places and arise to answer it. Holding them back will also spoil the dance.
Miranda, I have never been a good dancer but thank you for teaching me my first steps. I am grateful that I get to keep practicing with your three siblings. I know each one of them will be dancing to a different beat, in a different style and at a different speed. I will try to keep up. It's the best and only thing I can do.