“Thank you” is a magical phrase. That’s one lesson (of many) my mother taught me when I was growing up. But, mom? I have to break it to you: there are times when “thank you” just will not do. There are moments where these words – repeated millions of times per day in a million languages and places – just cannot adequately convey the depth and breadth of one’s gratitude.
Today, Mother’s Day, is one such occasion. How can I – how can we all – find a way to express adequate thanks to those who have given us life, who have cared for, consoled, inspired, and even chided us?
Actually, I’ve given up on the search. After a long time slaving over Mother’s Day notes and gushing expressions of thanks, I’ve done what so many others have done: I turned to the poets. Every other year or so, my Mother’s Day card includes this poem by U.S. poet Billy Collins. Characteristically hilarious and moving, it gets to the heart of the matter on this important day of the year. Here’s Collins reading the poem (with the text included below):
By Bill Collins
The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the pale blue walls of this room,
bouncing from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.
No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one more suddenly into the past —
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.
I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.
She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sickroom,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.
Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift–not the archaic truth
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hands,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.
From all of us lanyard-toting Jesuits at TJP, a very happy Mother’s Day to all of our readers.
Cover photo by Smeerch via Flickr.