Hummingbird/A Love Letter to the Mothers at Berry

10 May

I moved here and I had no idea why.  In the hindsight of these last two years – you are the ones who crop up everywhere – the most tenacious ones.  My guides.

I saw you.  Not like “I noticed you” – it was not casual.  I mean, I saw you in this room– all the time – all of my watchful energy pulled to your steady balance. I can see your hand on her/his back – this image is so clear to me.  You’re sitting about a foot behind them in the pew – they’re leaning forward with their armpits pinching the restraint – the pew in front.  Your elbow is resting on the pew behind and your hand is in the middle with your fingertips pointing to the right.  Your palm is open and touches both of their scapulas at once.

I saw you in this room.  In all of your ways – all of the very small things you were always humming with.  Your bodies moving with perfect economy always in these small tasks that you can’t even know now, they’re so inseparable from you – the way cells make a body.  Your children flowed – flowered right out of these economies.  The stream of your care like a fuse and their tiny shocks of hair at the end bursting into the space like fireworks.

I have so many questions for you.  Like, “how do you keep humming with all of these moves – all of the pickups of dropped things, finding of lost things, wiping, spooning, holding, whipping of hair – so quick! Into a neat little elastic, pulling up, tucking in, unwrapping, ENDLESS – how do you keep humming like this and still clearly sing your song?”

“How did you trust the long line of that fuse – your care?”  Because that fire – it smolders on the fuse – taking forever to make that burst of color – that firework.  Work.  So very much work.  Which sometimes – best ones – feels like steady, and consistent and purposeful and love, and fullest fullness, but other times feels like monotony, and numbness and an endless ebbing away.

I have watched you looking exhausted in a million different ways – have catalogued the differences between your tiredness that comes from stress, or sickness, or sleeplessness or loneliness.  But still there is a hum and that smoldering work burning along that fuse.  Braiding, and lighting and stoking in this sort-of wild and unimaginable sustenance I see you masterful – strong and flexible.

And the hum is steady and just right.  In the same way that our swaying from side to side is universal – Amy told me once – your hum is part of this larger, openly secret thing.  I saw it and it consumed me – first taking root in my mind where you were always laying hay – tending – and later in the form of Ida – my initiation, my amazing membership.

These doings, your being – the sum-hum of these million things was, is the holiest thing to me.  I still feel compelled, whenever we are together to say that I’m just so glad I get to be here looking at you. Every time, with brand-new excitement and discovery, I want to tell you that you are amazing and that I knew, from the moment I saw you doing this incredible work that your story was a big deal to me – that I loved you all of a sudden.  I know now – and it’s weird for me to make such a mystical statement – but I know it, so I’m going to.  I know now that I came to be here, to you, on purpose – that your lives were, in part, for me to witness and that the force of your love for your children drew me from Michigan to Chicago – pulling me with those thousand tiny, unknowable things.

And if I were being perfectly honest – which you really should in a love letter – I would raise my hand every week.  It would be a joy and a concern and one of those splatter-y, fruit-bursting-out-of-it’s-skin kind of things – and say the same thing over and over because it is always on my mind.  “I am so grateful for you.  I am so glad for the way that you share your children with me.”  And if I were being perfectly honest I would get crazy and be crying and shaking my head and trying to find bigger and bigger gestures to express just how intense this gratitude feels and I’d try and press my gratefulness into you – so you’d know, and feel as loved as you are.

I’m telling you this so that maybe you can think about yourself this way – who you are to me – when you feel invisible or when you feel like someone’s grubby little hands are extracting the last of your wits or will, or when any encouraging thing just feels like a platitude.  When you make a steely decision to laugh and play. When you just really want to eat a sandwich in the bathroom with the door closed – when the idea of that seems luxurious and not at all sad.

So all of this to say that I love you ferociously, and that to me, there is no ebbing away of you but only flourishing.  And that even though there are times when it feels like the end of everything, there are other times, like right now, when it feels like a holy gift to flex in these thousand moves and know that I’m humming too – to know that I’m part of this most amazing collection of women doing this most mysterious work.  I am so very glad that we are mothers here, together, right now.

Like all the best love letters, this one will just go hoarse and lose it’s voice, exhausted from trying so hard to say everything, of never being able to say it just right – to tell you how much, and how fully your life has inspired my own.

A Hummingbird.  A frantic pulsing that’s performed so expertly that it looks like stillness – like nothing.  Moving your whole being all the time until those movements disappear from view.  We say “oh look!  A hummingbird!  How nice!”  But we know, we see each other, and that is not nothing.


6 Responses to “Hummingbird/A Love Letter to the Mothers at Berry”

  1. Nate May 11, 2010 at 12:25 pm #

    I feel like your writing is like a literary version of impressionism. Instead of giving the impression of an image, it creates the impression of a idea that’s just beyond my grasp. I love to read through quickly and let the words wash over my mind. At the end, there’s no specific point or line that stands out, but instead a feeling of something profound and exciting.

  2. Steve Alspach May 11, 2010 at 7:23 pm #


    Simply wonderful. Thank you for sharing this with us Sunday.

    Steve A.

  3. Johanna May 11, 2010 at 9:24 pm #

    This is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read.

  4. Amy E. May 20, 2010 at 6:29 pm #

    I’ve forwarded this to some hummingbird mama friends. Each has been pretty awestruck. People do not have to know you or the Berry context to get how special this is. Writing ability is a great thing. Using it for unique, sideways entries into compassion is a gift.

    • lizjoyntsandberg May 20, 2010 at 11:51 pm #

      Awe, thanks, Amy. You’re very sweet and encouraging and I like the crap out of you.

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