Brigid's Mantle

Brigid's Mantle January 31, 2018

This week my work has been with Brigid / Bridgid / Brigit / Bri’id / Breed or however you want to spell her Celtic name in our peculiar American English.

She is rather insistent that I still don’t pronounce it ‘right.’

Brigid’s Mantle (2018)

She asks me to focus on the traditions of Brigid’s Mantle, long labeled ‘superstition’ by those who came later: the idea that draping a cloak or shawl over a bush near the barn on the eve of Imbolc is explicitly asking The Lady’s blessing on the impending births of lambs, kids, calves, and babies. And that, passing by your farm at midnight, She will pause to bless that mantle and all born beneath it, and to explicitly promise that all injured parts wrapped in it will heal well.

That’s a powerful magic. Tradition has it that these blessings last the whole year. A shawl thus blessed, year after year, became enormously powerful.

Bridgid asks me to attend carefully to the powers she thus grants.

Do you not see, she asks, that in blessing the birth of babes I have also blessed their lives? And the lives of those that bear those babes?

I see, of course, but there is something I am not seeing.

Look at your own mothering, she says. Recall the carrying of your firstborn. Notice all that you did not know.

Mothering of the Firstborn

Ah. And here she has hit a nerve.

I have three children (all with children of their own, now). Two I carried in my belly and have loved since before they were even conceived, and one I met before she was born and have loved all her life. Each of them, in different ways, I have treated shabbily. None was born with Brigid’s protection, though each of them deserved it. They have always deserved my protection, too, even when I foolishly (or stupidly) failed them.

The eldest was born 50 years ago this week. I recall lots of moments from that pregnancy, from morning sickness to regaining my balance in about the sixth month, from excited confirmation to childbirth-prep classes, from my mother’s advice to the stories other women insisted on telling me. The part I remember best, though, is the first day after his birth. This tiny person seemed so magical: his translucent scalp with its beating fontanel, his tiny fingers with their impossibly sculptured nails, the already-engraved lifelines in his palms. He snuggled close and responded to our voices, and I was simply thrilled to be his mother.

If I could have seen ahead, I might have been frightened – for him and for myself – but in those first months he was the center of my world, and my love for this baby and his father was all I could think about, even though all around me the world was changing.

Among the events of that spring: in order, the death of my mother’s stepdaughter in a fire (the day before I gave birth, though we didn’t hear of it for a week), the death of my brother from a highway accident, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the sudden death of my grandmother from a heart attack, the assassination of Robert Kennedy.

Author and baby (1968)

Much of that grabbed my attention at the time. But always there was this lovely miniature human to come home to, if I’d even left him at all. Before he could sit up, this child attended concerts and lectures at Yale, rode on city buses and airplanes and trains. When he was two weeks hold he even attended a funeral and was passed from shoulder to arms among the mourners like a living miracle. In those years we imagined he could do anything, go anywhere, and be welcome always. It was often true, too.

But I wasn’t able to give him a charmed life. In a misguided attempt to leave my clinging (and grieving) mother’s domineering, we moved him across the country, cutting him off from all three of his living grandparents, both uncles, and a host of my cousins he might otherwise have known. When we (his parents) separated, I worked long hours and left him in the care of wonderful people, imagining that he wouldn’t miss me. He did, of course. And when we moved away and I lost touch with those wonderful people, he missed them, too.

There is so much I would have done differently if I had understood better what would happen. But of course, lots of life is like that. My apologies can’t repair the damage I’ve done to any of my children.

It is good that you know that, She says. And it is still good to apologize. One of the blessings of this work is that you are able to acknowledge what has happened. One of the blessings you all have is the ability to heal.

Brigid’s Blessings

I sit with that a minute, nearly wordless at this keyboard. But she is not finished with me.

You imagine that my blessings are confined to bits of cloth and ancient traditions. But you know each of your children has been blessed, in their own lives and in their own ways – even the ones you did not bear are blessed. The blessing is in this life, not merely the traditions.

She’s gone silent. I ponder what she has said. Even, I begin to think about how I will carry her words forward into the work of the day. But just as I think to stand up, she speaks again.

More than that, as a Mother you have your own Blessings to convey, and it is well time you did so.

I see that you have been afraid – to say the wrong thing, to act presumptuously, to say what might offend. I have seen you afraid to give a gift lest the recipient feel obliged to express gratitude for something unwanted. You must let that go. You must offer what love you can without worrying whether it will be received as it is meant. You must.

And so I do. Though of course the fear has not left me. I see that there are important things to tell my children, each in their separate ways: apologies to give, regrets to express, and also pride to express, and love, and joyful honoring of the people they have become in the world.

Each of them has been a loving parent, in three very different ways, and each of them has built lasting partnerships of three very different kinds. And I am so proud of each.

And so on the eve of Imbolc, on the 50th anniversary of the birth of my firstborn, Brigid bids me remind you that all life is blessed, however short or long, however delightful or painful, of whatever species or station. The purpose of life is to live it. As some of my favorite teachers often say, your job is to participate in your experience and experience your participation.

Happy Birthday, Morgan!

and Blessed Be

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