When do we become our parents? Is there some switch that gets flipped or is it more like a dial that gets turned gradually? Sooner or later we will hear ourselves say something and suddenly clap both our hands over our mouths and mutter to ourselves, Oh my god, mom used to say that to me. Whether you have your own children or are blessed to be an auntie/uncle, a godparent, or have friends who have kids, at some point or another you will have this experience. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all. It’s just like eye color, facial expressions and mannerisms, height, or dimples or receding hairlines. We have ideas, sayings, questions and actions that we get from our parents (often our mothers).
Case in point: the other week when I was out visiting with my sister, I started feeling really unwell. “Hmmm,” she thought for a moment as she pondered potential diagnoses, “when was the last time you when to the bathroom?” Oh my god, mom used to say that to me! “Are you asking me when I had my last bowel movement?” I had to smile. It seemed that whenever we weren’t feeling particularly well that was often my mother’s first question to us. You could have a headache and mom would ask if your bowels were moving properly. “Who says ‘bowel movement anymore?'” my daughter asked me recently. “When you have two medical parents–a father who’s a doctor and a mom who’s a nurse–they’re going to ask about bowel movements.” I replied. I can’t recall ever hearing my mother use the word “poop,” at least not in connection with a human. Before I go any further into scatological conversations, let me shift the topic slightly to the point: at some time we use the same advice, “momisms,” witicisms, and wisdom– homespun or sophisticated–as our elders used with us.
I was fortunate enough to have two parents through my entire childhood and into my adulthood. I wonder if it is nature or nurture that causes us to turn into some facsimile of our parents. I think it’s a bit of both. My guess is that even people who have not known or grown up with their biological parents, have characteristics of those parents nonetheless–some of it has to be in the genes.
So at some point we become our parents and at yet another point our children start to become us. I haven’t noticed tons of direct evidence yet, but have seen enough tendencies in each of my children to know that it’s just a matter of time. I’ll know it when it happens because I’ll see that momentary panicked look come over one of their faces and I’ll nod sagely (I’ve always been really good at nodding sagely) because I know they’re having that “Now I sound like dad/mom” moment.
What has this to do with the 40 days contemplations? Well, I was pondering what Jesus’s mother Mary had to endure watching him grow up, become a young man, and enter into his ministry. There was the time when the precocious 12 year old disappeared on her for a couple of days only to turn up down at the church arguing with the elders. There were other experiences she had watching him grow up that were so painfulcthat it was said to be like a sword in her heart. I have known that feeling, when one of my children said or did something–often unintentionally–that hurt me to the core. I knew solidarity with Mary in that moment as I could feel the sword sliding into my chest.
One day, Mary showed up in the town Jesus was preaching in. When she stopped by the place where he was staying and asked to see him, what he sent back was kind of rude–essentially that he was busy and that everyone was family to him. Imagine being his mother standing out there waiting to see him. I’d have been fuming (and let’s face it, I’d have been very hurt.) In the last days she had to endure his torture and suffering and watch him get brutally nailed to a cross and hoisted into the air as a spectacle to the people around him. Famous works of art show Mary cradling her son’s lifeless body in her arms. The ultimate sword through the heart.
It has been said many times that no parent wants to bury their child. I have known friends and family who have lost children, some as infants, some as youths, some as young adults. I cannot imagine the anguish. And quite honestly, I try not to think about it. They are not ready to lose me and I am most definitely noot interested in losing them.
As I think about these 40 days, I think not only about Jesus and what he went through, but the people around him, how they suffered, questioned everything they believed, experienced deep grief and loss. These are universal experiences that we share with others as we walk the paths that are set before us. We become our parents, our children become us and the wheel of life turns.