Mother’s Day

On Children
 Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Motherhood: the single most fulfilling and accomplished part of my life. I will make no apologies to feminists for how beholden I am to my children – Thomas & Kalianna – who have made me richer by far. There is no time in my life as precious as those days from early infancy spent with you two. Still today women find themselves, perhaps in some ways more so than before, in that impossible position where they must choose between a career, great love, financial independence and motherhood. Often the factical will not bend to compromise, and it is as dramatic as choosing either/or and not both/and! Hands down I have always, despite painful loss, unhesitatingly chosen these two treasures. As I have said elsewhere: my children are feisty, strong-willed, and spirited, but they are also distinctively amazing young adults who each in their own way have evolved into caring, passionately driven by fortitude to fulfill their aretic virtues. I am blessed. But there are others who have been wonderful, committed, loving and supportive mothers and things have nonetheless gone tragically wrong. Gibran’s words speak mightily to all parents: our children are not our children! We are beings-alongside our children and in early life care-givers but never are we, nor should we aspire to be, care-takers. Alas they must forge their way through life on their own ultimate initiative and all we can do is pray that they will not run afar from their own happiness (eudaimonia).

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Don’t Ask Dr. Phil. Ask Socrates!

Agnes: I’m feeling depressed.
Socrates: Why that’s glorious! How wonderful for you!
Agnes: No, no, you don’t understand, I’ve come to you in despair. I’m unhappy!
Socrates: I assure you my dearest Agnes, I understand you perfectly.
Agnes: For the love of God, Socrates! I’d heard from others that you’re a quibbler, even downright accosting with your elenctic style. But never have I heard it said that you are malicious or uncaring.
Socrates: I intend no harm whatsoever, said Socrates earnestly!
Agnes: Then perhaps you do not care for me?
Socrates: Quite the contrary, of course!
Agnes: I’m sure I don’t understand.
Socrates: Do you suppose for a moment that being depressed one is also in a state of indifference to oneself or others?
Agnes: What do you mean, Socrates?
Socrates: Simply this. One is in a state of depression because one feels altogether too much, or do you suppose that one can acquire this overall feeling from a position of detachment, or uncaring?
Agnes: Detached? Indeed, I do feel cut off, detached, alone!!!!
Socrates: Agnes! Do try to follow along my dear. I’m not offering a diagnosis for how you are feeling, but rather ask if one can come to feel this way from a position of indifference to oneself, or to one’s sense of feeling disconnected or uncared for.
Agnes: Well, it has occurred to me that many of my happiest friends and relatives seem to sail through life quite undisturbed.
Socrates: Hardly an enviable state of affairs, my dear! Are you familiar with the words of Kahlil Gibran: “Your joy is your sadness unmasked”?
Agnes: I await your counsel, Socrates.
urlSocrates: My counsel? Think of me as the ladle that stirs the soup, or the current that moves the water, for I have nothing of my own to conjure into conversation.
Agnes: So what of joy and sadness, then?
Socrates: What was it a moment ago you said of your happiest friends?
Agnes: Oh, that they seem unaffected by the goings on in the world around them.
Socrates: Well tell me, have you known them to experience great loss?
Agnes: Quite so, if you consider the experience of financial ruin and death amongst them.
Socrates: Most certainly. But why question it?
Agnes: As I said, these of my friends seemed unaffected by the events; one day seemingly rolling into the next with no variability in their expression.
Socrates: Tell me this, when one is angered, does one lose one’s composure?
Agnes: Oh yes! But I am told that this is terribly unbecoming!
Socrates: Shall we suppose then that one’s emotional disposition shall be the same whether one wrongs us or benefits us?
Agnes: That seems unreasonable to my mind, and quite unfair to the latter. I would be most moved by an act of kindness, and wanting to express my gratitude most warmly.
Socrates: And of he who wrongs us?
Agnes: Well, yes….I should at least desire that his wrong doing does not go unnoticed!
Socrates: And would you be equally desirous of this whether a child accidentally destroyed your best dress or a man injured your child?
Agnes: You’re toying with me now, Socrates! Of course not! A child is well…a child and can’t be faulted. Do you really take me to be so heartless that I should condemn in equal measure one who destroys my garment with one who dares harm my child?!
Socrates: Clearly, that would be unreasonable!
Agnes: Well, of course! The love I have for my child is immeasurably greater than all else. My garment is something that is easily replaced!
Socrates: A very reasonable state of affairs indeed. It would seem therefore that one’s emotions are reasonable, after all.
Agnes: Certainly. Did I suggest otherwise?
Socrates: Indeed you did when you spoke of your happiest friends with such high regard. They would after all display no emotional variability, treating or relating in equal measure to all events that should befall them.
Agnes: I see where you are going with this now, Socrates. It does seem quite odd, unreasonable in fact, that one should feel and display no emotional variance at the loss of a child than the loss of a garment!!
Socrates: Indifference then is not the mark of temperance, that admirable virtue Plato and Aristotle have so much so say about! Rather, indifference is a state of uncaring, a position of emotional detachment and aloofness.
Agnes: Sigh! I do sometimes wish I could be so unreasonable, Socrates!
Socrates: Perhaps you now understand why I initially found your present state glorious!
Agnes: In part, yes. Still, I take no pleasure in my despair, Socrates, and wish to be done with it!
Socrates: Feeling everything in equal measure? Is this any less unreasonable than feeling nothing with equal measure?
Agnes: Surely not! I think I already made this quite clear when earlier I discriminated between the care of a child and the care for a garment!
Socrates: Indeed you did, dear girl!
Agnes: (giggles) Okay…okay…I see where you’re going with this…
Socrates: Really? Enlighten me, Agnes! I await the current of your thoughts to take me away!
Agnes: I should look for the object of my despair and consider its emotive value.
Socrates: I’m intrigued. Tell me more.
Agnes: Sigh! Okay so here goes…. I’m married to a wonderful man.
Socrates: Sounds alarmingly good!
Agnes: What was that? Oh nevermind, you quibbler, you! He is! He’s a wonderful man. My soul-mate. My love! My life! We met in our early 20s and fell completely and madly in love! I still recall how dear life seemed to me then! How everything seemed magically colourful, alive, present to me!
Socrates: Such joy!
Agnes: Yes!
Socrates: And now?
Agnes: He’s a wonderful man.
Socrates: I don’t doubt it. But is the world not quite as vibrant? Not quite so magically colourful to you?
Agnes: (crying) No, she muttered softly.
Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 10.53.15 AMSocrates: And so Kahlil Gibran said “The deeper the sorrow carves into your being; the more joy you can contain”.
Agnes: (weeping now) Wh..a…t?
Socrates: I’m only saying that the wondrous, tantalising, almost inexpressible sense of joy one feels when in love creates a void, a space so empty and daunting that one will despair when it is lost…gone!
Agnes: So yes, I get it now. The intensity of one’s joy creates the possibility of despair!
Socrates: Your despair is then not a sign of weakness or disease. It is only a sign of love once earned, now lost!
Agnes: But I’m so unhappy!
Socrates: And so you may be for some time to come. But let me ask you: is the world unworthy of your care now?
Agnes: Of course not!
Socrates: Are your children, your husband and your friends not deserving of your presence?
Agnes: I haven’t abandoned anyone, Socrates!
Socrates: No, you misunderstand. I am asking if you are present to them? And if they no longer deserve your abiding attentiveness?
Agnes: I’m not entirely sure I understand your meaning.
Socrates: Is a flower’s scent no longer deserving of your attentiveness for your lack of smell?
Agnes: So you’re telling me: “Wake up and smell the roses?” (more giggles)
Socrates: (Also amused) Clever girl! Yes…yes… “stop and smell the roses” but “wake-up an smell the coffee”!!

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