The day after I bought Wild I discovered that the dearly loved indie bookstore of Wayzata, The Bookcase, would be hosting Cheryl Strayed. Strayed is from Minnesota, so I suppose it made sense, but it excited me that one of my writer-heroes would be visiting my hometown bookstore—a place I can picture perfectly in my mind, next door to Caribou. Mom, Dad, Maddy, Charlie, and I would boat over in the summer, pick up a coffee and then I’d wander the bookstore and Mom would always offer to buy me a book.
Our little clan
I immediately emailed the readers I know MN, but my mom was the only one to buy the book and go. Knowing my mom read all those words that meant so much to me, made me feel close to her. Knowing that she went out of her way to see Cheryl Strayed, and even had her copy of Wild signed to me (!) almost made me cry.
I know I’m being sentimental. But Wild has a lot to do with mothers. Because her mom died when Cheryl was 22, “I didn’t get to grow up and pull away from her and bitch about her with my friends and confront her about the things I wished she’s done differently and then get older and understand that she had done the best she could and realize that what she had done was pretty damn good and take her fully back into my arms again…[her death] had cut me short at the very height of my youthful arrogance.”
My beautiful Momma holding my baby sister Maddy.
Well I did get to grow up and realize my mom had done pretty damn good. In fact, she did better than that. She was spectacular! amazing!…as good as humanly possible. Sure, sometimes she forced my siblings and I to wear matching outfits beyond the point I thought it was ‘cute,’ but she loved me, and she gave me everything. I didn’t realize how lucky I was to be loved like that until my late twenties. To have my mom tell me every year how the day I was born was the best day of her life because I made her a mother. A mom who woke up at 5:30 AM every day for years to drive me figure skating lessons even though I was only mediocre and had no future in the sport. A mom who never reprimanded me for my crappy grades my first two years in college (a clear result of too much partying) when she and my dad were paying my tuition, having faith that I would learn and grow on my own. And she was right. I did. She let me make mistakes. She encouraged me, supported me, she let me be stubborn and think she was wrong, when, in retrospect, she was almost always right.
Yep. She was right. These are cute.
I wrote her a letter after I finished Wild to try and tell her how grateful I was. How I was sorry for ever letting her down, for my own youthful arrogance. But it felt like a paltry effort. How could I ever tell her in words how grateful I am? How much I love her. It’s one of those things that’s just too big. Big like the universe.
Cheryl writes,“I had plenty of friends who had moms who would never give them the all-encompassing love my mother had given me. My mother considered it her greatest achievement… She’d come at us with maximum maternal velocity. She hadn’t held back a thing, not a single lick of her love.”
My mom is the same. I know she considers her love for us her greatest achievement.
I think it’s hard for kids to think of love as an achievement. Achievement is measured in grades, sports talent, extra curricular activities, then what college they get into, how they do there, what job they get and so on. But as I round the bend into my thirties, into the second year of my marriage, I am humbled by love.
Me and Mom on my wedding day
Love isn’t easy. It’s not a given; love is complicated. It requires work and a strain of generosity I am only beginning to understand, the kind where you hold another person in your heart with every breath. There is sacrifice involved. It is also our lifeblood, what heals us. Love is what gives all of this meaning.
I told my mom that if anything had prepared me for being a mother, it was her example. My greatest dream, and hopefully my greatest achievement will indeed be to pass on what she gave me. In the end, I know it will be love that made it count.
Someone once asked Sugar (Strayed) What’s it all about? Her answer was simple:
It’s all about Love.
Chris Marshall, a friend of Dan’s from Vancouver made a wonderful comment and attached this video. It’s so good and beautiful and tear-jerking that I’m posting it here. I love how it gets at the universality of motherhood. I love pretty much everything about it actually. Enjoy dear reader.