Dear Mother Earth by Thich Naht Hanh
Dear Mother Earth,
I bow my head before you as I look deeply and recognise that you are present in me and that I am a part of you. It is from you that I have been born, and you who are always present, offering me everything I need for my nourishment and growth. My mother, my father, and all my ancestors are also your children. It is your fresh air that we breathe, your clear water that we drink, your nourishing food that we eat, and your medicinal herbs that heal us when we are sick.
You have all the qualities of a mother. You are nothing less than the Mother of all Beings. I call you by the human name Mother, and yet I know your mothering nature is more vast and ancient than humankind. We are just one young species of your many children. All the millions of other species who live–or have lived–on Earth are also your children. You are not a person, but I know you are not less than a person either. You are a Great Being, not in the form of a human, but in the form of a planet–a living, breathing being.
Each species has its own language, yet as our Mother you can understand us all. That is why you can hear me today. That is why I can open my heart to you and offer you my prayer.
Dear Mother, wherever there is soil, water, rock or air, you are there, nourishing me and giving me life. You are present in every cell of my body. My physical body is your physical body, and just as the Sun and stars are present in you, they are also present in me. You are not outside of me and I am not outside of you. You are more than just my environment. You are nothing less than myself.
I promise to keep the awareness alive that you are always in me, and I am always in you. I promise to be aware that your health and wellbeing is my own health and wellbeing. I know I need to keep this awareness alive in me for us both to be peaceful, happy, healthy, and strong.
But sometimes I forget. Lost in the confusions and worries of daily life, I forget that my body is your body, and sometimes even forget that I have a body at all. Unaware of the presence of my body and the beautiful planet around me and within me, I am unable to cherish and celebrate the precious gift of life you have given me. Dear Mother, it is my deep wish to wake up to the miracle of life. I promise to train myself to be present for myself, my life and for you in every moment. I know that my true presence is the best gift I can offer you, the one I love.
I don’t like Mother’s Day.
As a childless woman.
As a motherless daughter.
As a woman in a country that doesn’t actually value mothers or the bodily autonomy of anyone capable of gestating and giving birth to another human. Mother’s Day is, in fact, a day I dread every year.
It’s as if our country says…
“Here. We’ll constantly threaten and eventually take away your sovereignty by restricting your access to affordable child care, health care, paid maternity leave, ongoing mental health support—ultimately exploiting you for free mental, physical, and emotional labor—but we’ll at least give you this day to publicly praise you for all your sacrifices. Even?”
On the face of it, I’m sure this can come off as cynical and jaded. But I say in all sincerity as someone who strives to be A Mighty Kindness in the world, it’s not cynical in the least. It’s the truth. For millions of mothers. About 85 million of them in the US.They give and give and give of themselves, of their minds, of their bodies, of their souls only to have their country take and take and take and give absolutely nothing in return. No support. No assurances. No reciprocity of any kind at all.
I was lucky. I was raised by a single mother who loved me. But I watched her give more of herself than she was ever acknowledged for. I watched her sacrifice her dreams and stifle her brilliance and potential in order to care for her kids and our home. To keep us safe. To support us emotionally. Physically. Mentally.
My father paid his alimony and his child support, sure, but he didn’t do much, if any, of the labor needed to shape a human into someone good. Kind. Tender. Worthy. He didn’t hold me in the night when Darth Vader was surely going to get me. Or stay up late when I forgot I had a paper due the next day and I hadn’t even started it. And he wasn’t there to see what happened when his child support checks bounced over and over again due to a clerical error and it quite literally broke my mother emotionally to the point that I saw her hopeless and afraid for the first time in my 14 short years. He wasn’t there for that.
And of course not all fathers are like that. My father’s not even like that anymore, the pages of his life softened by the passage of time and by thoughtful reflection. It’s been fascinating to watch him become someone more relatable and human than the person I had built up in my mind.
God. Family is complex isn’t it? Motherhood is complex. More complex than a brunch and a bunch of flowers. Because the truth is that not all mothers are good mothers. And not all mothers are women. And not all mothers raise their children. And not all children are raised by their biological parents or even any parents at all.
In truth, my mother isn’t even the only person who raised me. I was raised in part by my sister, who is 13 years older than me. I was also raised in part by a gay man—my mother’s best friend, Patrick. And I was also raised—most significantly in my mind—by my Aunt Nancy, my mother’s youngest sister.
I haven’t shared any stories about my Aunt Nancy before. She’s actually been on my mind a lot this past week. Because almost exactly 3 years after my mother died, my Aunt Nancy died from the same rare form of breast cancer that killed my mother. Although to be accurate, she really died from the underlying health issues and side effects of a rigorous and brutal chemo protocol. Or perhaps she died from fear and a broken heart. I suppose I’ll never really know. But on Thursday, May 2, 1996, she died nonetheless. At age 46. The exact age I am right now.
Her story is not that different from my own mother’s story: raised during the height of our second wave feminist movement, a single mother to a boy and two girls, raising her kids mostly on her own, putting herself through school to support her family. She was present, funny, easy-going, incredibly loving, creative—this generous gap-toothed woman with the warmest hugs and the kindest smile. She was an amazing mother, friend, and aunt. An easy confidante. A wise mentor.
When my mom died, Nancy was my back-up plan. I was certain that once the deep shock and grief of my mother’s death would start to wear off for both of us that she would be the one who I would eventually gravitate back to for advice, holiday gatherings, hugs, laughter, and deep motherly love. But in my junior year of college, she was gone. Just like my mother.
God killed my back-up plan.
I know that’s not actually true but it’s how I felt at the time. A real “kick me while I’m down” moment. For my whole family, really. Especially for their sister, Ginny, who ended up losing her two sisters. Most especially for my Grandma Elsie, who had to bury three out of her four children.
What strange and precarious times those were for us all.
I don’t talk about Nancy that much. Not because she wasn’t important to me but I suppose it’s because I’ve never really let myself feel the loss of her. I was numb when my mother died. Numb when I got news that Nancy had the same rare form of breast cancer that had killed my mom. And numb when I got the call Nancy had died. So I think it’s hard to let something in when you’re afraid the tsunami of grief will overtake you and slowly drown you in your own growing wave of tears.
But, as I’ve shared, she’s been on my mind a lot these past several days with the anniversary of her death having just passed. With another Mother’s Day upon us. And with this clear and present threat to bodily autonomy for women, trans men, and non-binary folx that now sits in the unqualified hands of our US Supreme Court.
She’s on my mind because she and my mother helped shape me and make me into the strong, independent, and powerful woman that I am today. She and my mother helped me understand my strength, my inherent worth, my capacity, and my capabilities as a woman not as inferior or beholden to man but as equal to man. Or my mother would have even gone so far as to say superior to man.
Nancy is on my mind because she, along with my mother, had always been outspoken and strong advocates for the rights of others who have been perpetually ignored, grossly underserved, horribly underrepresented, and who generally fly in the face of conventional society.
Nancy is on my mind because every May, I am reminded of what I have lost as a niece when I lost her. I am also reminded of how brief and fragile and uncertain life is. And I am once again immersed in feelings of sadness and regret that I didn’t do more to drink her in, to let her know how important she was to me, how grateful I am for her, for the example of sovereignty, strength and power she—and my mother—modeled for us, and how much I miss that in my life.
A number of years ago, I found this little painting with a quote from Gloria Steinem that says: “many of us are living out the unlived lives of our mothers, because they were not able to become the unique people they were born to be.”
As you might imagine, having lost two of my primary mother figures by the time I was 20, this quote has been a touchstone for me throughout the years. As a woman, it has helped me navigate the choices I’ve made and to push the edges of my role in our culture. As a feminist, it has helped me speak up for myself and others even when I’m trembling and afraid. And as a human and interspiritual minister, it has been a powerful reminder that my ancestors are watching over me and that my life is lived in service of the sacrifices they made for me.
But today, on this Mother’s day, after so many years of our forebears fighting for equality, for justice, for the restoration of our planet, for a return to the earth-honoring values of the Divine Femine and Indigineous Wisdoms, I look at this quote through a new lens—a lens of what I consider to be both political AND spiritual regression. I look at this quote and I am struck by how it’s fast on its way to becoming relevant again. In 20 years, how many young people are going to look back at this critical time and realize that they too are now living out the unlived lives of THEIR mothers, people who were forced into lives they didn’t want because of the grip of obscene patriarchal and capitalist values? That instead of finding ways to repair Mother Earth, our pastors and politicians have found ways to destroy the choice and privacy of motherhood?
As much as we might like to, we simply cannot separate the spiritual from the political in our lives. We do not have that luxury. Our society and our policies are in fact a political extension of our spiritual lives. We vote our values—the way we want to live. The way we want to be remembered. Intersectional feminist values are the political expression of the Divine Feminine in all its forms.
And so if you came here today for spiritual respite and renewal, good. Perfect. You’re going to need it. We’re going to need to enter the cave of our heart in order to build our internal capacities for reverence, for kindness, for patience, for peace. We’re going to need to stay rooted in our love and connection with the Great Mystery, with the Divine, with the Sacred, with our Beloved. We’re going to need the perspective and wisdom of all the ancient ones who have come before us in order to persevere, to speak up, to speak out, to stay strong, to vote and educate and teach about the impact of our interbeing and about the importance of personal sovereignty that all humans deserve.
In the words of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, “In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.”
My friends, we are the keepers of the world and the tenders of all our children’s light. We are responsible as a community, as a collective, for what we leave behind for future generations to inherit. May we surrender to our conscience and may we choose wisely: May we always, always, choose kindness and love.