Universal Mother

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I recently lit a candle on the 10th anniversary of the passing of a woman who was a genuine hero. A poignant reminder of her spirit, the candle burned a few days beyond its advertised life.

This woman was small in stature yet grand in her effect. A mother of three boys, she was an extraordinarily beautiful, dark-skin Black Jewish woman who left the island of Jamaica in the late 1960s. She had only $5 in her pocket, but she was rich with perseverance. After spending some time with relatives, she found work and then secured a modest one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx, where she managed to reunite with her boys, and over the years, in several other apartments and then a small two-bedroom townhouse, the only home she ever owned, take care of many relatives, friends, and their children.

Always facing the brutality from those who saw a young black woman as there for the taking, she fought hard to maintain her dignity and that of others. She became a union representative at her job; an organizer for the Democratic Party; a fighter for community resources here and there; and so much more for so many. She was so proud the day she became a U.S. citizen. She was well aware of the nation’s racial and class contradictions.  But she saw the best of what the country promised as something worth fighting for. One of my favorite photographs (which, unfortunately, I cannot find) is of her holding a picket sign on her way to a protest. She was not only a mother of three boys and then eventually a boy and girl whom she adopted but also a community’s mother. As Sinead O’Connor would say: a universal mother.

So many people reached to her in times of need. Her closest friend, who I also consider to be a universal mother, twenty years ago faced every mother’s greatest fear: Her son on his deathbed. He held on because he wanted to see his mother’s best friend, whom he called his aunt, before he passed. It was in the midst of a snowstorm, and although his aunt was afraid of flying and most flights were grounded, she managed to secure a chartered flight that took her to him a thousand miles away. He died in her arms within an hour of her arrival.

I often wonder how such people could exist. To love to that degree means to carry so much on one’s shoulders and in one’s heart. I have heard many stories of such universal mothers. A friend once told me of a woman in Antigua who took care of many children who weren’t her own and that many of them became the most accomplished people in that country. Her funeral exceeded that of the Prime Minister’s.

We could think of such mothers all across the globe who held together otherwise devastated communities.   They embrace so many lives in arms that, many of us forget, although comforting and empowering are also fragile and mortal.

The woman to whom I dedicate this segment died in an automobile accident en route to a birthday celebration for her eldest grandson. She received a funeral audience of nearly 2,000 people on short notice. Every one of them had a story of how she uniquely affected their life. Many called her their mother. Yet I knew this universal mother in a special way, as it should be obvious that I am one of the children from her womb. There is no explanation for the loss of someone so spiritually powerful that we expected her to live forever. It shakes the soul to lose someone who seemed invulnerable.

In Judaism, we remind ourselves that everything, which includes everyone, ultimately belongs to G-d. Part of love, however, is our also belonging to those who nurture our spirit. It beckons us to continue radiating the light from such a precious soul. To my mother, Yvonne Patricia Solomon, now a decade gone, I love you. I miss you. A thousand years with you would have still been too short.

I thank G-d, in spite of my anger and sorrow at my family’s loss, for all you gave to so many in the little under 61 years you spent in this world.


© Lewis R. Gordon