Ancient History

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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

13 comments to Weaving bulrushes

  • Gretchen, that was heartwrenching. Your imagary is beautiful, you touched on a universal fear amongst mothers everywhere. Picturing a mother standing on the shore with her hands cupping her ears just makes me want to weep.

    I’m so, so sorry about all the loss you have suffered this year.

  • Your grandmother’s words were so beautiful. How I hope that I can have that same perspective if I should ever find myself in that situation.

    I am also struck by the juxtaposition of your post against an article I read on just before making my way here today. It was about a Brazilian woman who put her 2 month old daughter in a plastic bag, tied it to a board, and set her afloat on a river. The baby is fine and there have been hundreds of adoption offers.

    So many women set their baskets afloat through no choice of their own. I can’t fathom why or how any mother could do so voluntarily.

  • This was beautifully written. I was at the funeral of a 33 year old friend yesterday. I have to agree. That basket, that pain …

  • This is lovely, Mopsy. I will be thinking about this today, it is truly a beautiful, heartwrenching image.

  • Beautifully expressed, Gretchen.

  • I feel a little odd leaving info about sledding on this post because it is so profound (the post, I mean) but I can’t locate your email!

    We found a great hill at Lake Isabel. It is about an hour from where we live–I think it would be about 2 1/2-3 hours from your area. It has one huge run and a smaller one–and if you are truly brave you can take the huge run straight over the frozen lake. No-one in my family is allowed to be that brave, by the way! 😉

    If we get another snowstorm and you feel like heading this way, please let me know, we could meet you there! Sounds like fun!

  • You have such a way with words, tying to thoughts together in wonderful, touching ways.

  • Jenn

    Beautiful. I’m speechless.

    I think, with your permission, I will print this out to share with my Gramma.

  • mopsy

    Randi, no problem. It sounds like a great discovery. I am with you on not sledding across a frozen lake…

    Jenn, of course you may share it with your Gramma. Hugs.

  • write a book, would you? I adore the newsboys. must go download song now.

  • I’m freaking out G! I thought the newsboys went defunct long ago!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! oh my gosh i have alot to catch up on!!!!!!!!!!!!! i went to 3 of their concerts and caught peter furler’s water bottle 😉

  • That is a beautiful, gentle metaphor.

  • Such a lovely post. Thank you.

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