Rock me to sleep: Guest Blogger Sarah Flaherty on a Mother’s Love

It is an honor to welcome social media maven and talented wordsmith Sarah Flaherty to share her best Mother’s Day thoughts for readers of All Nine. A self-described bookworm and work-out junkie, Sarah is also one of those rarest of individuals: a quietly insistent and steady voice for kindness, fair play, and quality work. Follow her tweets at @SarahLiz815.

Rock me to sleep: Sarah Flaherty on a Mother’s Love
Over my heart, in the days that are flown,
No love like mother-love ever has shone;
No other worship abides and endures,—
Faithful, unselfish, and patient like yours:
None like a mother can charm away pain
From the sick soul and the world-weary brain.
Slumber’s soft calms o’er my heavy lids creep;—
Rock me to sleep, mother, – rock me to sleep!

From “Rock Me to Sleep” by Elizabeth Akers Allen
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/182732

When I was young, my mother used to hold her hand to my forehead and rub her thumb in the space between my eyebrows. It was as though she had hit my own personal “Relax” button—a switch that would calm my breathing, stop my tears, ease my mind. I wouldn’t be able to stop my eyes from closing. I do the same thing now to my husband when he has a headache, and I’m sure one day I’ll do it to our children. It’s more than just a soothing movement; it’s an expression of love.

For Mother’s Day, I wanted to find a poem that would express the gratitude and love I have for my mother. The passage above was a little too Hallmark-card for me at first pass, but what I love is its simple message. So many of the poems I found were too complicated, too modern, too focused on the memories of a mother who has passed, or the complications of dealing with a mother’s illness, or the intricacies and faults of a mother/child relationship.  All true expressions, in their own rights—but not what I was looking for.

With a few exceptions, I don’t normally connect with poems published before the 20th century. They feel too grandiose (case in point: the exclamation point at the end of the stanza above), too large to find a way in. The camera is “zoomed out,” as one of my college professors would have said. I can’t get close enough to see the intimacies, the brushstrokes, the imperfections that invite me into the poem in a human way.

As I write this now from my husband’s parents’ house, I hear my mother-in-law on the phone upstairs speaking to one of her other three children (all in their 40s). “Love you, kid,” she says as she hangs up. That’s what I’m looking for, I thought. A poem that expresses the purest, tender love a mother has for her child that prompts her, 40+ years after their birth, to still call them “kid.” And that’s what I like about the excerpt above: it gets at that timeless love, the love that remains regardless of illnesses, passings, disagreements. It’s beyond that. It’s above that.

In Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert describes writing in her journal when she felt scared, lost, or drained. It’s been a few years since I read the book, but I remember she talked about a voice that would emerge from the page and guide her forward. It was her own voice, of course–but a wiser, more honest part of herself that spoke only when she was willing to listen. I’m blessed that my mother lives just a few miles from me and I can call her or stop by when I’m overwhelmed with life, irrational fears, or anxiety.  And she’s always there to help me dig for what’s true, to tell me (and, more importantly, help me believe) that everything will be okay.  But when she’s not immediately available and I have to find that voice to help me move forward, the voice of wisdom in my head is my mom.  If I can think about what she would say, what advice she would give, I’m always better off.  It’s just one of the gifts she’s given me, but it’s one of the most valuable, guiding my writing, my work, and the way I live my life.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there—and to my own, I love you.

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