Your heart and my heart, are very, very old friends.

 — Hafiz

We live in a connected society, but in reality, we are pushed to disconnect. When my son was born, I was told to let him cry himself to sleep. When he was three, I was told I was ruining him if he did not go to preschool. When he went to school, the school did not value parental involvement. Now colleges abhor a bond between students and parents. It is an unhealthy relationship verging on helicopter parenting. Once out of school, children are encouraged to move away from family to find a better life. What all of this really is, is the un-anchoring of the human spirit. It is as if love needs boundaries.

We live in a society of lonely, depressed, and anxious humans searching for home in an existential way. We talk about love, and are forced to ignore the pull of the heartstrings. We talk about being a Christian nation, and we ignore the vulnerable, the hungry, and the sick; we beg for purpose, but become cogs in a profit machine. It is the paradox of our current existence to feel deeply, and yet be maligned for that audacity to truly connect with others. And so my life, in a lucky twist of fate, was anchored in a sea of drifting. My mother was my anchor. She was this intelligent feminist, sturdy and strong, but radiating an unconditional love that transcended modern society’s cultural norms. As I watched her, I learned about true love, sacrifice, and survival.

My dad was thirteen years older than my mom. They married shortly after they met in the mountains of North Carolina. My dad a sharp looking Air Force pilot returning home from WWII, and my mom a beautiful college student dreaming of a career singing on stage. The two left Asheville for San Francisco. My mother fell in love with the city by the bay, and it fell in love with her. After a couple of years, my dad was offered a job in education back east. They moved, but my mom left a part of her heart in San Francisco. My mom left with one child; soon, there were three. My oldest sister had developmental disabilities. I watched my mother, a warrior, get up every day, happy and determined to give my sister a better life. The first time I saw my mother cry, she became my best friend, not just my mother. I was probably eight years old. Without understanding it all, I became aware of caregiving, and that sacrifice is really just love. A love that goes unrequited in a world of humans searching for an anchor.

As I grew up, I felt a huge tug towards my mother’s heart. We were connected at a level that most parents never experience with their children. I would return home often, and when I would leave, she would stand at the garage door waving, smiling, tears in her eyes as I backed out of the driveway. I, too, would have my heart shaken, and a tear would form and sometimes fall. Is this love? Is this the human experience we long for, but eludes many because of the norms society places upon us?

When my mother became ill, her generosity was apparent by the emptiness of her bank account. Thirty-five years after my father passed away, she still was on a mission for my sister. The money transferred into the hands of promises from the desperate to the belly of a society afraid to feel the suffering of the vulnerable. So I became her anchor. As dementia robbed her mind, she knew me. Our hearts, so familiar with each other, the disease could not break the tie. I gave up, no, I sacrificed, no, I loved her to the end. The three years were the hardest of my life, and yet the most relevant in dissecting the person I had become because of her. Before she died, I left the room for a few minutes to step outside with my own son to eat a bite of food. As I opened the box of fried rice in the darkness of my car, a cold chill embraced me not once, but twice. A strange feeling surrounded me, and I asked my son if he felt it. Within minutes, my husband was walking to the car to tell me that my mom had just passed. That feeling was my mother as her soul took one last dance over the Blue Ridge Mountains, where her earthly being was born. She hugged me one last time as she flew away. The anchor that kept me balanced was now gone. I unmistakably felt my life begin to drift. I felt her absence in my life. Call it grief, call it heartbreak, I call it love.

The anchor, I realized, now had to be me. As I watch my own son drive away, I feel the joy, the tears, the heartstrings that connect us. I too, will always be his soft place to land. We are not weak, we are not too sensitive, too caring when we choose to be caregivers. We are the epitome of humanness, open and naked, bearing our hearts to sadness and joy. To be the open hand for another is what our world needs. Society sadly discourages it, doesn’t allow for it, and rarely rewards it. The only reward is a solitary one. It is a moment when we realize the depths of our emotions, that tears are heartbreak and that tears are joy.

Every time our children fall asleep in our arms, every time we advocate for our children, when we are there for them during young adulthood, when our roles become that of best friends as opposed to parental authority, we anchor our children in love. We teach them what life is, the sacrifice of being human. We are messaging our children that they are not alone, that in the battle of life, there is a warrior at their side. Today, the world’s children walk in uncertainty, and hopelessness. It keeps them drifting and searching for meaning and purpose. To become the intelligent species we claim to be, we must give every soul a home, a safe place to return to again and again, and then pass the anchor to the next generation. A generation of hopeful caregivers and caretakers that will grasp this broken world into their open hands with no norms disqualifying the power of sacrifice. In the invisibility of caregivers, we find the answer that eludes us… that pull of the heart that refuses to say no. Listen for it, and then be a rebel and act on it. The reason we are here becomes vividly clear.

What a privilege to love you,
to teach you all that we know.
To watch you build a collection
of dreams that you can call your own.

 — Sleeping at Last