As beautiful as she is, it’s because of her mother….

9 05 2010

Yesterday, Sunny and I had the distinct pleasure of being invited to celebrate a young woman’s twenty-first birthday. As we now know, the 21st birthday is a big deal in South Africa. This is not for the same reasons as in the States. Instead, 21 is seen as the beginning of adulthood, a time to take stock on where we’ve been and where we’re going.

The party was everything that our birthday parties should be, but never are. Well, not everything. We arrived at 1, the program started at 3, and by 5, we were still waiting to be served lunch. So, there was some room for improvement.

However, what I loved was the way the community gathered around this young woman to tell her stories. Older aunties and neighbors reminded her of what was she like when she was a child. A pastor talked about the kind of person she is to the church community. Her work colleagues spoke of her character. And each and every person got up to contribute their evidence for the claim, “This young woman is ours, we know her, and we can speak about the woman she is becoming!”

One of my favorite parts of the Xhosa tradition is the singing. Sunny and I have been to several events now where singing is treated almost as punctuation. When you’re ready to speak, you start a song and walk to the front. When someone makes a powerful point, the crowds responds in harmony.

Early on in the birthday celebration, a woman gave a lovely speech about this young woman. She spoke of her pride that Amanda has made it to the age of 21, an achievement that is not a given in this community. She praised her for not “falling pregnant,” which is a true victory in her context. And she went on to speak of her identity as an honest, confident and no-nonsense young woman, who has managed to not only make it through, but flourish in the midst of sometimes tenuous surroundings.

After her speech, a different woman stood up and said it was time for a song. For the benefit of us Westerners, she translated the words before we sang it, and then taught us to sing the Xhosa. The song is simple. It goes, “As beautiful as she is, it’s because of her mother.”

It was not only a lovely song, but a simple, huge truth. Maybe not for all of us literally, but at least metaphorically. For me, I’m lucky to have quite literally, a ideal mother. At the same time, I have a variety of metaphorical “mothers,” and I imagine everyone does. It’s the people in our pasts that inform who we each have been able to become.

When I think of all the celebrations we have at home-the birthdays, the times we land some job, win this Fulbright award, find a fantastic life partner, or what ever, maybe I need to start saying, at least to myself, but perhaps also publicly:

As beautiful as this is, it’s because of my mother.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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One response

29 05 2010
Anne Marie

I just wanted to let you know I’m still reading along and enjoying the trip. Our school year is just about over and I’m sliding into summer here in the northern hemisphere. Yes.

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