W. Hunter Roberts & Associates
Transformative Arts

Portrait of a Lady
A Tribute to My Mother
on Her Unnamed and Unnumbered Birthday

with appropriate homage to Henry James

by W. Hunter Roberts

I eye the woman sipping coffee wearing peach marabou high heeled slippers and a turquoise embroidered kimono, reading the newspaper. She reads with fervor. She is passionate. Today she is concerned about the growth of the neo-Nazis in Germany. They are mostly East Germans, she tells me, resentful of the Turks competing for low-level labor jobs, and of course, the Bavarians. I look at her with wonder. Yesterday we talked of men, the changing role of women, the need for meaning in children's lives, and the space program. She knows so much--ask her about the Hubble telescope, international treaties, theater, business and economic trends, art. Her wit and wisdom on any subject will astonish you. When you finish, you will both know more, with more depth, and be richer for the conversation. This amazing woman is the woman I am privileged to call my mother.

I do not know where to begin my tribute to this woman I have known since before I was born, this woman who allowed me to annex her body in my first months, and who has shared herself so fully with me ever since. I do not wish to make this a maudlin and sentimental homage to motherhood in some generic way, for this is no generic mother. And that, perhaps, is the point.

This is a woman who is fully her own person, and who has encouraged her daughters, husband, and friends, to be the same, even when there was a cost to them or to her. That takes more than most of us have in the way of courage. It takes a love and - dare I say - a faith in something, that extends beyond the usual mode of suspicion and fear that governs so much of so many lives. It takes a commitment to something larger, which she would never call God, that is a possibility of Beauty and Love and Fulfillment in all of our lives, including her own.

That is not how it began so many years ago before she defied her loving parents' concerns and the conventions and popular wisdom of the times, to marry an opinionated, fascinating, and gifted Jewish man who would change the course of her life. She was not groomed for this. It seemed to many like a bad idea, one she would regret. She did not. Nor did she ever, as far as I know, look back.

It was a defining move, this decision. It shaped her. She risked everything for fulfillment, love and the beauty she saw in this man's profile, voice, and soul. She gave herself to this decision, to the choice for beauty and love and fulfillment, which shaped her. This man shaped her. Her tastes in music changed, her passions and opinions and politics grew. She grew. And that is the thing. Once begun, this growth could not be stopped. She grew way beyond her Junior League beginnings.

We expect our children to grow. But I have a mother who grows. She has allowed herself to be shaped and molded by the forces of the world around her, as well as by the forces of love and beauty to which she has dedicated her life. She is willing to be touched, to give, to receive, and to be changed by it all. I have shaped her, as she has shaped me. We have shaped and molded each other, year by year.

It has not always been easy. Sometimes, in earlier years, it was more like sandblasting or sandpaper, as our wills rubbed up against each other, each eager to please, each unsure of how to please this strange other. Still, we had magic and tenacity. We sculpted each other with love. She was willing to be molded and sculpted. She even tolerated being embarrassed by daughters, who, as they grew, wore strange clothes or became activists in radical causes. Her love of beauty and her faith in life's ability to grow and transform, guided her.

I look at the woman in the kimono and what my sister fondly calls her slut slippers, worn simply for her own unabashed pleasure, her love of beauty, and her own sensuality. I look with admiration, love, and a respect that grows greater every year. Neither of us would be who we are without the other remarkable women we love, and most of all, each other, the three of us who grow closer with each passing month and year, in our laughter and our love.

One day recently my mother called while my friend Russ was visiting. I spoke to her briefly, a warm, but ordinary conversation, and returned to my friend. " That was extraordinary," he said. "What?" I asked, unaware of anything unusual in my life. " The conversation with your mother. It was so easy, so authentic, it was just amazing!"

I stopped for a moment to reflect on the ordinary extraordinary event that had just occurred--ordinary in that there was nothing unusual about the call, extraordinary in that it was beyond the realm of what most people would consider possible in a conversation with their mother, or perhaps with anyone. This she makes possible. And thus she gives me the legacy of expecting life to be not problem-free, but remarkable, extraordinary, and full of beauty, grace and love. She is my model for this, and if our expectations for life are based on our earliest relationship, the one with our mother, how could my life be otherwise?

copyright © 1996-2004 by W. Hunter Roberts