Saturday, March 24, 2012

Migrant Mother

She was earnest in her attempt to explain to him he meant the world to her. It wasn't meant to be but she ignored the quiet little voice in her head and figured she should at least try and explain to him how she felt. He cautiously listened--much to her surprise--and seemed to inch further away from her with each spoken word. She noticed but she didn't let it phase her, she was determined to show him how genuine her feelings were.

They spoke for a brief time and it did not go how she had hoped. She expected a bit more appreciation if not mutual affection and what she ended up with was pain. He explained who he really was wiping away the facade that had been "him" for the past six months. Each moment they spent together, she swore she could feel a connection that felt stronger with each meeting. Yet throughout, there was never any mention of romance or commitment, just friendly banter that often led to encouragement and optimism. And there, that night, the leap of faith of truly expressing her desires to him backfired in a way she was not expecting despite having the emotional scars of someone twice her age.

"I could never be with someone like you--at your age. It might be great for a while but I would worry as time went on that you're too old to be a good mother," he said without malicious intent but as if it was fair, relevant, and even logical.

She could feel the blood drain from her face as her mouth gaped open ever so slightly. There wasn't much she could say as the tide of emotions from this bold rejection overwhelmed her entire body. After a few moments, she could only look down, accept reality, and nod her head. She was done. Her case was plead and jury deliberations were quick and painful. She utter a few more words that were probably unintelligible, picked up their trash from the table, and headed out the door without looking back. The long walk to her car actually felt good and after getting in, she sat there for a while letting the truth sink in. It would appear his stinging honesty must have reflected how others feel, too. And so her thoughts turned to a grim outlook for her future and the seeming perpetual singleness that would plague her for the rest of her life.

Migrant Mother, by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), is the black and white photograph of a woman named Florence Owens Thompson and three of her seven children. Her expression is derived from their family's car breaking down just minutes before the photo was snapped, yet in her eyes we can see miles of struggle and the last bits of hope fading off in the distance. In her arms is her youngest while her other two hide their faces in admitted shame; meanwhile her husband and two of their sons are off someplace else attempting to find someone who can repair their vehicle. Taken in 1936 during the Great Depression and during a time where many were still struggling despite some miniscule upswing in the markets, the image and the family exemplify pure poverty and destitution far too many others suffered during those days.

It feels as if this one moment captures an expression of how we all feel in our hearts from time to time. It's as if pessimism is no longer a reaction but a means to face reality. When so much has been lost and each attempt to move forward is met with failure, as a defense mechanism our emotions and minds begin to expect nothing good can ever come. For if nothing good is expected, only then can good truly be recognized as good, right? At least for some, this is the type of philosophical ideology that is accepted and is exuded in this portrait.

Reality, however, is not evil. The inclination to think the worst is all one can expect and to emphasize adverse aspects only serves to beget the worst. Therefore, I would suggest that pessimism is a faulty emotion stemming from weakness. Being human, of course there will be moments where it's near impossible to expect anything less than rubbish. But should one allow that emotion to run rampant and overcome one's ability to see beyond one's own feet, then one has allowed the reality of the future to become meaningless. And how foolish is it to think that?

Beyond our own pains and struggles, there lies the very real and true future of what has yet to pass. One could argue that tomorrow could bring fortunes a plenty, or a catastrophe that leads to one's ultimate demise. So who am I to suggest that either future outcome is something to be met with optimism? Because I have experienced both. I have had moments where amazing opportunities have been handed to me or earned, and I have lost my mother to cancer. Selfishly, those opportunities brought financial and professional benefits I am still able to reap. Unselfishly, my mother's passing has helped me grow up to be a man with strong morals and passions few others have the chance to experience.

And while imperfection lies at every turn my life takes and I have my moments where my heart expresses the same weary hopelessness we see in Mrs. Thompson's eyes, I have the experience to know that tomorrow is in fact a new day! Will tomorrow be wrought with fortune and blessings? Maybe not but it will most certainly have moments where I'll be challenged as a person, a professional, a brother, a son. And that's because I allow my optimism to overrule my inclination to be pessimistic. I've faced my own fair share of struggles but I decided long ago that I would learn from them and to accept my own failures as opportunities to make me a better person. And were I to die tomorrow, I can rest peacefully knowing those who have seen my plight to improve my life can find hope for themselves. I cannot change what tomorrow will bring and by accepting that, I can change how I will bring myself through tomorrow.