by Calli Seren
Because parenting is beyond genetics, we honor those among us who touch us and teach us.
|The patina of her gentle eyes held safe the memories of generations. She existed in diminutive if rarified humbleness, neither awed nor inspired by recitals or her charges latest trophies. Her children would know greater rewards.
Her legacy wasn’t genetic, it needn’t be. Such limitations would’ve been a dearth to the possibilities realized, the birth she gave to so many more than biology would’ve allowed. Hers was the gift of parenting beyond conception, labor without delivery, and the transition to hope.
What I learned from Agnes was that parenting isn’t an exclusive endeavor, but the obligation of community, the surrender of self-obsession to foster the soul of another. Her fulfillment was not in seeing her progeny excel, but rather to compel an open adoption of altruistic philosophy, a voice that left vacant all judgment and criticism.
Perhaps it is fitting that the ancient beauty of the Byzantine city of Skopje should birth such a constellation. Did the meandering Vardar River instill in this quiet child the dream to follow its’ path to the clearer waters of the Aegean and beyond, or did she simply feel cossetted by the mountains surrounding her? How does one contemplate a vast universe except with abundant faith?
As the youngest of three siblings, she was graced with a certain tolerance, as is the way of the final child whose parents have long since surrendered ideals of perfection. Certainly there is a hunger to reap the greatest joy from that last child, to grasp and hold tight to the fleeting moments one might not have fully savored before. So bittersweet is the parent’s heart to hold close the last, loved no more than the rest, but a reminder of the era that has closed in its’ final chapter. It is the beggar’s plea at the portal of beyond, minute steps taken to impede maturation, doomed to failure by an unforgiving and unfailing certainty; time.
Still I wonder; when is a predilection born? Is it in the vast emptiness of a fatherless child of 9, so unexpectedly tossed into a vast grief she could neither understand nor assimilate at such a tender age? The unexpected passing of Agnes’ father Nikolle dimmed a constant light in her family and left behind a vast darkness.
Nikolle was a gregarious and charismatic Albanian patriot. Immersed in politics he possessed a keen intellect and applied this acumen to numerous successful business ventures. This affluence afforded Nikolle the opportunity to entertain the vagabond in his nature and his travels made rich the tales his children enjoyed at their doting father’s knee. They were nurtured with humor, passionate in their ideals, and believed the world a vast and inviting table awaiting their feast.
The Bjojaxhiu family enjoyed a reverent following, children and parents alike no stranger to celebrity and the mixed blessings of such adoration. An invitation to their home was cause for awe and celebration for the recipient. As Nikolle’s intellect gave way to the artistic, instruments hummed in the hands of the family and melodic voices filled rarified air. Hers was a charmed childhood of fierce and indomitable familial love. Yes, Agnes’ star was a latent gift of genetics, but her choice was denial of the worldly and adoption of the discarded. To inexplicably lose such a paternal “deity”, where but to heaven could one entreat infinity to find another.
When a star is extinguished – the darkness can be so dense that any mode toward illumination in undeniable. Agnes’ mother Drana existed in such a colorless void at the passing of Nikolle. She sought the solace of the church. She held close her youngest child and introduced her to redemption through penance, solace through faith, and hope as the only catalyst for healing the un-healable. Thus by the age of 12, Agnes embraced a philosophy alien to her siblings who fought toward a different testament to their patriarch, a life of rich celebration and joy.
Whatever we might believe as parents, our children absorb our legacy and ultimately are their own interpreters with no two hearing the same voice or weaving the same quilt to warm the next generation. We are ultimately messengers left with the task to supply the “thread” if not the needle or the pattern, for each child is meant to color the world uniquely. I believe Khalil Gibran understood this well when he penned this passage:
“Your children are not your children.
They are sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the make upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness.
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He also loves the bow that is stable”
And so began a trajectory that was true and inextinguishable. Child no more, Agnes would make pious her quest to honor another Father, absorbing His will and surrendering her own. It was the novitiate who blindly acquiesced to the impossible, parenting the poor with unerring compassion. She taught the world that charity had a taste, a hue, and a purpose. It was not always dressed in fine livery but garbed in the barest threads of human decency.
How but in gentle brush strokes do you paint the canvas of an extraordinary life. To limit a definition of parenting to the nuclear family would’ve been to deny the infinite alongside the finite. The will to “parent” lies in each of us. It is present when we review the newly arrived to our small microcosm of writers and give the gift of encouragement. It is present when a character is wayward and the author gently guides it back upon a path that speaks beyond the ordinary and dares to touch the imagination of generations. It is timeless and constant, but above all, it is divine and alive, birthed by many seedless wombs but never from barren souls.
The cadence of “this” woman’s heart gave birth to symphonies. She parented the parentless with grace and faith. If she meant to take a quiet path, the world simply hushed to listen. When Agnes abandoned the moniker of her youth in favor of the title Teresa, it was the world that deemed her “Mother”, but to Nikolle who cherished her – she would always be his little Agnes, a light to him before the world claimed her as their beacon.
Remembering Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu – “Mother Teresa” – 26AUG1910-05SEP1997 – Gone too soon
Word Count: 1184