To my Mother on my 60th Birthday

My 60th began just a few minutes ago. I had been thinking to write a personal note to my Mother to say “Thanks Mom for what you did for me 60 years ago today”, but decided possibly others might appreciate the sentiments as well.

For every single day of 6 decades I have had the alive presence of MOTHER in my life, something that every human yearns for, but which many sadly experience as absence more than presence – physically or emotionally. I have had good fortune, great blessing in this regard. My mother has been committed to her role with her complete heart and being. In the worst time of my life, she was there for me like a rock, she would not let me drown. Every day I know I am supported and unconditionally loved, and that my joys truly mean joy to someone else, and my even my tiniest discomforts are cared about. What more can a human being want? Truly, what greater gift is there?

I want to take this occasion to thank my Mom, Kathryn Whitlow, and to share in her honor this delightful poem, a favorite of mine by Billy Collins.

The Lanyard – Billy Collins

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

3 Responses to “To my Mother on my 60th Birthday”

  1. Darita-Rose Alden Says:

    Happy 60th! I have so many friends born in 1951, including my wonderful brother Richard. You posted that poem before, thanks for re-posting, this time I copied it into a document and saved it in my poems file and will print it out, and put it in the binder I have for my favorite poems. Great choice. Yes, you were very blessed in your mother. I’m so glad you were. So glad you had her in that hard time. Much love and many blessings, DR

  2. Nancy Whitlow Says:

    Mama very sweetly said she felt honored after I read her the first part of the letter. She was really touched. Then I called up Billy Collins on youtube to read her the poem. I knew he would do infinitely better than I !

    P.S. She does want to know when she gets the lanyard.

  3. Tayria Says:

    In my case it will be a dream catcher. When she gets the dream catcher I will know we are even.

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