One of my earliest memories with my mom is when we had first moved to our home in Charlotte, North Carolina. I must have been four or so. The property behind ours was a farm, and they had horses. We walked out back carrying a bundle of carrots, and when we got to the fence, a few horses came over and poked their heads over the top, ready for a snack. Mom put a piece of carrot in my tiny hand and instructed me to hold my hand palm face up with the carrot inside. While it was tempting to make a fist around the carrot and let the horse take a bite off the end, the safest way was actually to let the horse take the carrot from you. “Trust me,” she said. And then, she showed me. She placed a carrot in her palm, held it up to the horse’s muzzle, and the horse sniffed, then ate it in one bite. “See? Palm wide open.”
I didn’t realize it at the time, but my mom was beginning to teach me an important lesson. Sometimes you need a fist, other times you need nothing more than an open hand. One of my favorite poems is by Nayirah Waheed. She says, “You don’t have to be a fire and burn down every mountain in your path. You could be a water, and soft river your way through it.”
Lately, I’ve been feeling an acute need to take control. This urge has been helpful in some areas of my life, like in my search for a new job. I’ve found myself drilling out cover letters with a fire in my belly and my inner voice shouting “I’m a strong, independent woman!” When it comes to situations that are more complex, say, moving out of a long time home, or living through a global pandemic, this need for control can get a little dicey. In moments when I’m feeling especially unanchored, I find my inner controller trying to “help” those closest to me. I’ll start to hear that same inner voice nudging me to say things like “Well, maybe you should…” It's classic projection. I’m not proud, but this is a safe space, right?
Instead of grasping at situations that I have no control over, I’ve started asking this question: “Where do I actually have a say in this?” Turns out, I don’t have a say in what other people choose to do with their lives. By turning towards what I do have a say in, I get to spend my energy on really going for it. No holding back. And as for everything that is changing or uncertain, I’m working on training my inner voice to be a little more fluid, and softly river-ing my way through it.
So, my offering to you this Mother’s Day is a little serenity prayer, of sorts. When it’s time to fight - to raise our fists and let our fire lead- may we fight like hell. And when it’s time to unfurl, to hold up an open palm and let the horses eat, may we surrender. And lastly, may we give thanks to our mothers - the ones who raised us, all those who have come before us, and the Mother that lives within - for granting us the wisdom to know the difference.