Sometime in the womb, as we evolve over months from a single-celled organism into the complex mass of neurons and flesh that we recognize as ourselves, an awareness of our place in the world emerges. The world as we begin to know it is a warm, liquid soup, filled with nutrients and enveloped in a thin translucent film. The steady drum of a heartbeat just outside the womb begins to set the pace of your own fledgling heart. An umbilical cord connected directly to our tiny bellies pipes in nourishment to fuel our rapid growth.
And then bam! In a moment that ideal world comes crashing to an end. The pain and travail of our mother’s struggle seems like a banishment from the land of milk and honey to a harsh, cold world. Our lungs struggle to take breath as our eyes adjust to the blinding light of the outside world. And in that moment, we must truly believe we have died, for the world we have known our entire lives up to that point has been torn from us never to return again. Like King Lear’s fool, “We wail and cry,” striking out in blind fury at having been kicked out of paradise.
As infants, we cling closely to our mothers, suckling directly from our mother’s breast, literally drawing from her own life force like a battery charging from a wall socket. We learn the world through her eyes. Her smell, her smile, her very presence becomes the blanket we seek against a world we do not know and cannot survive on our own. This deep attachment does not end, no matter how old we get and how many conquests we achieve.
And so, it is no wonder that we return to our mothers again and again during life. As young children, we hide behind her skirts when other children are being mean to us, or when we find ourselves in the company of strangers. We run to her and cry the first time we fall down while playing and scuff our knee. And every time we fall, she is there to reassure us, to mend our fingers or soothe our bruised hearts. Even as we mature in life, we find ourselves constantly returning to the feeling of security and warm and unconditional love that only a person born of her own flesh can offer.
Amid the gnawing doubts we suffer in our early adult lives, not knowing for sure whether we are equipped to confront a world in which there are rarely easy answers—amid the complexities of relationships, education, business and public life—we return again and again to the primal comfort of our mothers.
Although it is often said that we inherit at least half of our genes from our fathers, the nurturing care of our mothers, her flesh and blood, literally give us life. My father taught me the virtues of work and industry. Those instilled values have given rise over the years to my public persona. My mother, who was equally hard working, taught my siblings and I the importance of nurturing our physical and spiritual bodies. We inherited our Christian faith from her. And those values have given rise to an unshakeable inner strength that has undergirded my soul and given me confidence and comfort in times of turmoil.