In Greek mythology there were nine Muses, goddesses of knowledge and the arts. They both personified and inspired such creativity as song, dance and poetry, and were therefore the source of knowledge passed on, at that time, through these mediums.
It is both apt and ironic that I would recognize my mother as my muse, and she would laugh to hear me call her by that name.
Still, my mom is the one who exposed me to music and poetry and art. She is a singer and loves to dance, and though she criticized my abilities, she filled our home with song. It was years before I ever heard her say to someone that I was a good writer, and yet she had an amazing library where I found and devoured classic literature from Dante to Chaucer to Dickens. And while I have never explored what I suspect (or dream:)) could be a hidden artistic talent, I knew my way around all of the museums and galleries of the nearest urban center before I could locate it on a map.
My love of knowledge and science and learning also comes from my mom and she did an amazing job at allowing me to seek out and question and discover whatever called to me. A gift that I treasure but one I fear she may regret, especially given what I imagine to be her great grief at my current apostasy. For my mother also gifted me with the presence and familiarity of faith, which to her falls primarily in the realm of religion, the Catholic religion.
And for that reason, my mom can also be called Nemesis (“the spirit of divine retribution against those who succumb to hubris or arrogance before the gods”). She is responsible for the things I most treasure, including my values, ethics and sense of self. But she is also responsible for my greatest co-dependencies, my most hidden shames, and my most difficult barriers.
We have struggled always with the stilted dance of our differing wills. As a child I waged a crusade to prove that I was good enough (for her? for me? for life?). As an adolescent I fought for my own personhood. As an adult I walked my own path, but with desperate hopes of recognition. And as a parent…
Well, the battle, as I continually vacillate between resemblance to and divergence from my mom while working to be the mother I want to be, has been wearying to say the least. It has not been graceful. It has included shouting and being hung-up on, having my son witness her slap me and, worse, seeing my knee-jerk reaction as I slapped her back. It has comprised much silence and the devastation of her actually saying to me, in the fall-out of an Easter morning family argument, that she had decided to no longer be a part of our lives.
I thought we’d never come back from that one.
And yet, as I suppose muses, musees (?) and nemeses must, we have.
The story of my relationship to my mother and my relationship to Catholicism is the same. It is filled with paralleled juxtaposition, with safety and strife, with constancy and contradiction. It is an ongoing story, one, thankfully, in the process of evolution.
And so I imagine my mom will be a large part of my presence here. Acting both as Muse and as Nemesis, her presence will surely guide and poke and keep me true. And in the end, I hope there will be greater peace between not just me and the Catholic Church, but me and the woman who most represents it in my mind.