My mother died as a young woman, only 47 years old. This just a few months after I had left New York for a new life in Israel. Ill with multiple sclerosis for nearly as long as I could remember, our family was a bit different than those with two healthy parents.
She parented us through a time of tumultuous change. The foment for civil rights had swelled into protests against an unpopular foreign war and crested into a growing desire for equality between the sexes. Yet for all this, it was still a time when full-time mothering was a perfectly acceptable choice for women, and in my suburban milieu, more mothers stayed at home than worked elsewhere.
The Hasidic master, R. Simcha Bunim, taught: a person should always carry two quitlach (notes) in his pockets. One should read, the entire world was created for me alone. The other, I am but dust and ashes. The dichotomous upbringing of stay-at-home mother, out-at-work father (for whatever faults it had) reflected this tension with a certain grace. For as my father shepherded us towards the world beyond our small, Long Island home, my mother remained just there, focused on the children whom she bore.
Each summer, arriving at sleep-away camp, I would find a letter already waiting for me on my bed. My mother would have written it weeks before to ensure that the mails carried it to Duchess County in time for me to read her queries about the bus ride, my bunk mates, and how I planned to spend the summer free from her at last.
When I was a college freshman, she learned the UPS delivery schedule to central New York so that every Thursday evening, a package would arrive for me at my dorm. Two challot baked early that morning, along with homemade cookies and brownies, all packed in fresh popcorn against breakage. Besting Pavlov’s own hounds, my entire floor of never-not-hungry college boys would appear at the door to my room within seconds of hearing the distinctive rev of that brown truck’s motor on the quad.
Midsemester, on Homecoming Weekend, when freshmen’s parents all came to visit, my father wheeled my mother up to the dormitory building’s door in her wheelchair. Two steep flights of stairs up to my room meant that she wouldn’t be able to get much further. But when my dorm mates spotted us outside, she and her wheelchair were effortlessly hoisted up the stairs by a bunch of husky college athletes, as everyone greeted her with a hearty, “Hey, Mrs. Moses, welcome!!”
She was surprised at her royal reception. “How is it that these boys all seem to know me?” I explained how everyone looked forward to her weekly care-packages. How they got eaten each Thursday nearly before I could finish unwrapping the box. “Everyone loves your challa, Mom.”
“Everyone!!??” She was actually shocked. She gave me a withering stare and said, “I bake those for you!”
We all live our lives as part and parcel of some collective. Family, friends, work—dormitory. It is not often that a bright light of singular attention, of exclusive focus, is shone upon us. A mother’s true love places us, even if just for a moment, at the very center of the entire world. Reminding us how special we are. Gestated within her very body, a mother knows how the entire world was indeed created just for us.