Monday, April 23, 2012

Mother/Son Communion Breakfast 2012

Some of the mothers encouraged me to post my talk to my blog. I know that it is long, so I'm going to post it in such a way that you have to click the "read more" to get to it. This was given on April 22nd, 2012, at the Detroit Golf Club for the Moms of Seniors graduating from U of D Jesuit. We had a great attendance at the event and I want to congratulate Dr. Deb Wolfe on a lovely day. I also wish to thank her for extending the invitation to speak on such a wonderful occasion as we celebrate what Father Kiser calls the "Long Goodbye" preparing to send our graduating seniors off to college.

Mother/Son Communion Breakfast 2012

I would like to begin this morning with an excerpt from one of my favorite stories: Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s 1943 classic, The Little Prince.
It was then that the fox appeared.
"Good morning" said the fox.
"Good morning" the little prince responded politely, although when he turned around he saw nothing.
"I am right here," the voice said, "under the apple tree."
"Who are you?" asked the little prince, and added, "You are very pretty to look at."
"I am a fox," the fox said.
"Come and play with me," proposed the little prince, "I am so unhappy."
"I cannot play with you," the fox said, "I am not tamed."
"Ah please excuse me," said the little prince. But after some thought, he added: "What does that mean--'tame'?"
"It is an act too often neglected," said the fox. "It means to establish ties."
"To establish ties?"
"Just that," said the fox. "To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world . . ."

As we look toward graduation, I think it an understatement that each of us feels the ‘ties’ that bind us together. Many of you seniors are feeling too tamed, too tied down, and are chomping at the bit for the academic year to end and to begin the adventure of college. Mothers, you, too, certainly feel these ties, although perhaps in a different way. Each day, you realize that your son is preparing to leave home, that he is growing up, that soon it will be the case that you no longer have to wake him up, do his laundry, nag him to do his homework, or make his lunch. Deep in your heart, you feel these ties acutely as you realize that there are many ‘lasts’ taking place over the next few weeks: the last dance, the last day of school, the last time to hand out lunch money, the last time for…well, for many things.

This is an exciting and terrifying time. Today, I would like to reflect on the wisdom of the Little Prince, using three insights from the fox to explore the special relationship between mothers and their sons. I will list them and then take each in turn.

1.     It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the naked eye.
2.     It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.
3.     You become responsible, forever, what you have tamed.

Let us begin, then, with our first insight:

·      It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the naked eye.

In the story, the Little Prince comes to earth from the planet B-612. There he maintains one dormant and two active volcanoes and tends to the needs of a single rose who is impossibly demanding. The Prince loves his rose, whom he believes to be the most beautiful flower in the universe. It amazes the reader how much the Prince puts up with: she demands to be watered, sheltered, boasts of her power, expects the Prince to cater to every whim, and is, in all senses of the phrase, very high maintenance. Where most of us would be tempted to uproot the self-righteous flower, the Little Prince endures her with patience and grace.

If the mothers are exchanging knowing glances, it is because many of our students are every bit as precious as the rose.

Yet when the Prince arrives on earth, he is dismayed to find bushes of roses looking exactly like his rose. His heart freezes with the realization that his rose may not, after all, be unique.

It is with a heavy heart that the Prince meets the fox. He longs to make a friend, but the fox denies his instant friend request. True friendship takes time and involves mutual taming. Yet the result of this taming, for the fox is that,

“To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world. It will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat . . .”

Mothers, how well you know the sounds of your sons. When he was babies, did you ever creep in to listen to him as he slept? Did you sometimes “just have” to check to make sure he was still breathing? Did you linger over his crib, adjusting the blanket over him? Do you remember those times when you held your son, smelling his hair, or lifting his limp and sleeping body off of the couch and carrying him to bed, pausing for a moment to behold your own little prince?

How your world has been transformed. Eighteen years ago, you may never have imagined being called upon to manage multiple schedules, personal crises, laundry, cooking, and work…and now you do so handily. Your hearing has changed: you know his sounds, you know the way your son throws his bag into the house after school, the sighs and moans that mean either “Mom, I need to talk” or “Mom, I need to be left alone.” Where some would fear an intruder late at night, you know his footfalls and feel secure that, while he is past curfew, at least he is home. Your sight has changed, too: where some would see a mess or a pile of crumbs, you see the assurance that at least he is eating.
Men, your world too is shaped by being tamed by your mothers. You know that your mother’s single-word answer “Fine” means that it probably isn’t. You know the smell of cookies means that mom is in a good mood, you know that your pre-packed lunch, the kind word, the stolen kiss all reinforce to you how much you are loved. To the rest of the world, countless simple gestures, words, glances are easily passed over. Yet, you understand. You understand because it is with your heart that you see rightly. You know your mother you know that she is unique. Yes, in many ways she is like many other moms. Yet to you, she is your mommy.

Mothers, this is your little boy. Sure, at times he smells bad and is ungrateful, but he is your sometimes smelly, sometimes ungrateful son. It takes a mother’s heart to see past the grime, the anxiety, and myriad day-to-day crises. Your eye pierces through the ever-present layer of dirt, the masks, and the lingering odor…and you can see your son because you have been tamed, you have learned to see with your heart.

·      It is the time you have wasted on your rose that makes it so important.

Being a mother isn’t a set it and forget it endeavor. It’s certainly not as though you gave birth and, along with the epidural, came a guidebook. Let me modify the fox’s words:

People today buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy motherhood. Mothers must be very patient. First, you will sit down at a little distance from your son. He shall look at you out of the corner of his eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But every day, you will sit a little closer to him.

New mothers often report feeling terrified that they will somehow break the baby. Did you have this fear? In those first weeks, did you feel sad, or depressed, or anxious because you felt yourself to have already failed – so early on – at motherhood? Think now of how you would advise a new mother. Would you not counsel her to be patient with herself, to not fret, would you not assure her that babies are far more resilient than one might initially think? When you think back to those early days of motherhood, can you remember spending long hours, maybe even entire nights, just looking at your son? In the quiet of the night, did you look down at him and fret about the future or did you ever dream about what kind of man he would become? Did you offer silent prayers to God in thanksgiving and desperation, asking for the wisdom to be the mommy this little boy deserved?

Men, look at your mothers. Consider the times you have rushed out on mom, maybe mumbling or totally skipping an “I Love You” when you knew you should say it, when you wanted to say it but chose to remain silent. Think of how many times you haven’t taken out the garbage, cleaned your room, set the table, or joined the family for an outing. It is always a temptation to leave you mom and dad behind, to regard them as a ‘drag’ or as ‘boring.’ Do not forget, though, that there was a time when you were the drag when you had to be pushed along in a stroller or had to be carried through the mall, or when your tantrums caused quite a scene at the supermarket. Bear this in mind the next time you get into the car and get snippy when your mom asks you about your day, remember that without her you’d be taking the bus. Consider this the next time you mutter under your breath that dinner out with your family is nothing but a “waste of my time.”

Who better than a mother to speak to wasting time? How have you wasted time? Zipping snow suits and putting on boots, searching for lost gym shoes and his baseball glove, the baths, the hours of cuddling, the burping, the mountains of diapers, sports practices, music lessons, school conferences, forgotten lunches rushed to school, athletic games, trips for ice cream, kitchen table conversations. Time, the commodity you hold so dear, has been lavished upon you. Consider this: boys smell awful. Your practice gear smells like something the devil himself would buy Febreeze for, and you have expected your mother to wash it, which means handling it, which means having to smell it. I wonder if she would consider this ‘wasted time’? I doubt it.  She would say it is time invested, time well spent. It is the hours of calming your cries, patching your scraped knees, reassuring your fears, salving your bruised ego, calming your broken hearts, and soothing your anxieties that make you so special, so beloved. In a world where we log hours and measure productivity, the time your mother has lavishly wasted on you has been spent out of love. It is this reckless spending of her time, of her love, that makes you so important to her.

·      You become, responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.

Let us return to the Little Prince. The fox, once they have become friends, tells him to go back to the bushes of roses. When he first saw the rows of bushes, he was sad because his rose no longer seemed special, no longer appeared unique. Yet after becoming the fox’s friend, after going through the ritual of taming, after learning to see rightly with the heart and learning about the consequences of wasting time on a loved one, he sees the roses differently.

"You are not at all like my rose. As yet you are nothing. No one has tamed you, and you have tamed no one. You are like my fox when I first knew him. He was only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But I have made a friend, and now he is unique in all the world."

And the roses were very much embarrassed.

"You are beautiful, but you are empty. One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you--the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose."

Here, my young friends, we hear a great and chilling secret. True friendship – not some silly Facebook thing but, rather, real loving friendship – makes you responsible for another. In many ways, your mom is like any other woman in this city, this country, this world. Yet she is not any other woman, she is your mother. She is the one who changed you, bathed you, fed you, and tucked you in at night. She has given generously to you and seldom has she even counted the cost. Want proof: this is the person who washes your practice gear and your underwear. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is. Why does she do this? Because you are her son and she is your mother. By fate or by chance, you have been paired up with one another.

It is not easy to be a parent. Nor is it easy to be a son.  There is no perfect parent: Moms and dads are humans, too, and are marked with all sorts of faults and failing and limitations. Parents frequently make mistakes, sometimes lose their temper, and don’t always choose their words carefully. Son, as a matter of course you expect them to forgive you, to cut you some slack, or to show mercy when you make mistakes. Extend to them this same courtesy.

What is the consequence of this responsibility? For the moms, I suspect, the examples are countless. The “Mom, can you drive me over to my friend’s house?” “Mom, I forgot that I have to bring in five dozen cookies tomorrow.” “Mom, I know you just went to bed, but I have no clean clothes.” “Mom, I forgot that this project is due tomorrow.” And yet, it will be your mother who celebrates most as you walk across the stage to receive your diploma, your mother who will comfort you when you are fighting with your roommate next semester, and your mother who will offer to watch her grandchildren when you and your spouse need a night out…in the distant future, at least!

Sons are not absolved of responsibility. As you reflect on what your parents have done for you, how can you repay them? How can you be a responsible steward of what they have given to you? Are you working to your potential? Are you honest? Loving? Do you show forth the integrity and character they expect from you? Do you live up to your family name?

Let me conclude by repeating, again, our three insights – repetition is, after all, the mother teacher.

1.     It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the naked eye.
2.     It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.
3.     You become responsible, forever, what you have tamed.

Live these days, weeks, and months to the fullest. Yet, do so with a sense of how beloved you are by your families and, in a special way, by your mothers. There is no perfect mother and there is no perfect son. That is why, perhaps, the bond between parents and children are so strong: we complete each other, strengthen each other, frustrate each other, and love each other. As you head off to college, know that you are leaving a hole in your parents’ home and especially in your mother’s heart. She will awaken at night and strain to hear your footsteps on the stairs. She will come home to a quieter house and strain to hear the sound of your sighing, your harrumphing, your laughter. As she walks past your bedroom, I bet she will linger at the door and wonder how you are doing, what you are feeling, and she will hope that you are happy. And she will miss you.

The greatest gift you can give your mother is to tell her how much you love her. In word and deed, I challenge you to do this. Know that as you begin the next chapter of your life, a chapter in your mother’s life is ending. Be patient with her and realize how much you mean to her. To her, you are both the Little Prince and the Rose. She knows that you must be freed to explore, to embark on new adventures, but she will always want to protect you, to nurture you, to keep you under a glass jar. Be patient with her as she has been patient with you. Do not ever miss an opportunity to steal a kiss, to whisper ‘I love you’, do not throw tantrums when invited to join the family for Mass or dinner. Be men of deep faith, of sound integrity, and great joy. Be the man your parents have loved you into being and live each day for God’s Great Glory. Go forth and set the world on fire, live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and continue becoming a “Man for Others” who takes care of those in great need and who remembers to call his mother at least once a week.



Georgette said...

Absolutely beautiful. It speaks such truth. Thank you very much.

Sofia Gonzalez said...

Ryan! Wow I loved that speech! I wonder how you would have written something for a mother-daughter Breakfast.... ;)

Peace and Prayers from a faithful reader!

Anonymous said...

Thank God for the tin whistle as I would never have rwad this without it.

Jill said...

Oh Ryan, I am so glad I found your blog again. This is just beautiful!