Ancient History

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I am reposted “Weaving Bulrushes” today. My mom’s cousin died yesterday. It was unexpected—she left three teenaged children, a sister, and her elderly parents behind. My memories of her involve family reunions, Yahtzee marathons, her dog, her laugh. Growing up, I thought she was glamorous and cool. She had been a pretty blonde flight attendant who eventually settled down in her hometown with a childhood sweetheart. She is gone, and I am sorry.

Her parents (my great aunt and great uncle) are feeling incredible sorrow. It’s a blow beyond belief to them. They aren’t in good health. Please keep them in your prayers. Losing a child at any age is tremendously painful. Parentless children are called orphans. Parents without children? There is no word.

Originally published on February 1st, 2006:

Weaving Bulrushes

…float her basket over the sea
here on a barren shore
we’ll be waiting for
a tailwind to bring us your sweet cry
don’t you worry, child
I’m gonna sing you a lullaby…*

One of my husband’s favorite songs is “The Orphan” by the Newsboys. He wrote about it several months ago because it encapsulated many of his emotions regarding 2005.

I too have grown to love the song. Musically it is lovely, but the imagery is what haunts me the most.

A mother weaves bulrushes along the banks of the Nile. She puts her baby inside the crude basket and pushes it away from the shore. The story ends well, with the freeing of the Hebrew slaves and the exodus out of Egypt, led by the bulrushed baby, Moses.

Every mother has woven a similar basket. Our fingers bleed from pulling and binding long strips of pliant green together. We braid and tie and hold the limber shoots between clenched teeth. As the baskets take shape and size out of marshy air we dread imagining placing our babies, our children, inside. Please, God, don’t require this of me…

Thankfully, most mothers never have to fashion the lid to keep the dear passenger inside for the journey across the waters. They will never feel their robes soak up hungry and greedy river or have to pull their shoes out of the muck of a lake’s lining. They will never cup their ears to hear the wind-carried cry.

I’ve floated my baskets away from my shore. They were light but contained so many hopes and dreams. No matter how long I live, I will always watch them and love them. Thinking about this, I feel striken when a woman must let go of her grown child. Amazingly, the 32-year-old or 50-year-old or 67-year-old child still fits inside the basket started decades ago.

It violates the senses. Logic. What seems fair or just or natural. My late-Grandma Alice buried two grown sons, my dad’s brothers. My friend, Jenn, lost her mother to a very sudden illness a week ago. She is concerned about her dear grandmother, who lost her daughter. Contemplating their sorrows, my heart buckles. I can’t compare my circumstances with theirs. It isn’t remotely the same. The only thing we share are the scars from the weaving and the wringing of our wet clothes.

After she died, my aunt found several things my Grandma Alice had written. This was dated in 1996:

I have known the very good times and now, again I have a bad time. One does not think that your sons will die before you do. But I know for certain that God’s plan is the best. And also, there is nothing I can do about it. Nothing bad will ever happen to them. I have grown to be philosophical about lots of things. But life has been very good and I appreciate my family so much. Lovingly, Mother.

*lyrics by the Newsboys

9 comments to Orphan

  • Weaving Bulrushes was one of my favorite posts you have written Mopsy. You are right, the imagery is haunting, and yet so many mothers have been asked to walk that path. Not asked, I guess, but chosen. Thank you for reposting this.

  • Erin

    I have never left a comment here, but this post is so timely for me that I wanted to comment. It’s beautifully written and the analogy of weaving the basket is perfect and touching. It has also given me things to think about during a week where I too have lost a cousin and have an anniversary of a passing fast approaching. Your Grandma Alice was a wise woman and I’m touched by her comment that nothing bad will ever happen to them.

  • Mopsy,

    This is my first time commenting. I always enjoy your posts, and just wanted to let you know that I’m sorry to hear about your mom’s cousin’s sudden passing.

  • I am so sorry for your family’s loss

  • Oh Gretchen, I remember reading this for the first time when it was originally posted…and I truly didn’t understand.

    I’m sorrowful, and yet oddly joyful, that I do now.

  • Just wanted to explain a bit of my previous post; realized later that it might have sounded…callous? Just plain strange? My explanation is that I’m joyful to find out that I really did survive the sorrow with my faith intact. This was something I worried about, silly as it might sound.

    My prayers for your family in their time of loss. I think there should be a word for parents without children. Why isn’t there?

  • mopsy

    Hey, Jenni. I know exactly what you meant. No worries.

  • Stacey

    Sorry to hear about your cousin. How awful.
    When I was 15, my uncle died of cancer. He would’ve been in his early to mid-50s. I’ll never forget my grandma, saddened with grief saying that no one should ever have to bury their child. Even though he was a grown man, to her he was still her baby.
    Hugs, prayers and sympathy to you and your family.

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