The following letter was inspired by Gregg Krech’s reflections during a two-week Naikan Retreat in Japan. During the retreat the author was deeply struck by the depth and breadth of the care he had received throughout his childhood. He felt compelled to acknowledge this by offering his sincere appreciation to his mother in a letter he composed spontaneously after finding a robin’s nest in the garden. He realized that, throughout his entire childhood, he couldn’t once remember saying thank you to his mother.
I hope this letter finds you doing well and that your back is feeling a bit better. I’m thankful to have the opportunity to see you next week – a delayed mother’s day meeting – and I look forward to my visit.
I have enclosed a picture of some beautiful baby robins in a nest by our garden last spring. It was a wonderful experience to find the three soft, blue eggs and watch them hatch one by one. I would go up to the nest and make a squeaky bird sound and they would pop up their heads and open their mouths. They reminded me so much of myself. They couldn’t yet see, but their automatic reaction was to think only of what they wanted. Their mother and father cared for them diligently, searching for food and bringing it back for the children. I doubt these robins were as difficult children as I was, but it wasn’t long until they were strong enough to fly away on their own. Perhaps they are building a nest this spring and raising their own family.
At the time I left for college at age 17 I mostly felt relief. I wanted to get out of the house more than anything in the world. Maybe the robins felt the same way. It took me many years to begin to understand the love and care that you provided me when I was younger. I looked at the little robins and realized that I was just as helpless as they were. I survived and became healthy in our home/nest because I was so well cared for. Though you seldom, maybe never, received a word of thanks, you cooked for me, cleaned house for me, bought and washed my clothes for me, arranged for me to take music lessons, and went to work for me. Mostly you heard complaints or I made noise when I wanted something I didn’t have.
Thank you for your patience, love and care for those first 17 years of my life. Thank you for making sure I had food when I came home from basketball practice. Thank you for encouraging me to take piano lessons and practice. All of your concrete efforts became part of me. When I write an essay, give a lecture or plant flowers, you are with me doing those things. When I smile at a beautiful sunset or make a dinner salad, you are part of that experience. Much of my own genetic makeup which provided me with a healthy body comes from you and your parents. Perhaps this realization was more clear when I first emerged from your body. But it is no less a fact today, even though my own nest is many miles away.
I continue to be well-cared for and I have a very fortunate life. Life has taken over where you started and I receive food, shelter, clothing, sunsets, fresh air and water, a lovely wife and dog, and the grace to appreciate all this when I’m not so wrapped up in what I want that I’m not getting. Like these little birds, it’s hard to open my eyes when my mouth is always reaching for more. Thank you for making my life possible and for being a part of it.
I wish you a heartfelt, happy mother’s day. Thanks to the airplane, pilots, mechanics, engineers, factory workers, travel agents, traffic controllers, flight attendants, cooks, welders, electricians and thousands of others I’ll be able to visit you next week. How kind of them to bring us together again. Having never learned to fly, I remain, forever, dependent on others.
All my love . . .
from Naikan: Gratitude, Grace and the Japanese Art of Self-reflection (Stone Bridge Press) by Gregg Krech. More information about the book can be found at the ToDo Institute website here.
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Thanks for your comment, Ken. Given the prevalence of mental illness, alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic abuse and addictions of all kinds in our society, many of us were exposed to these problems early on in life. But it’s important to at least look for the ways that we WERE cared for, because they can easily get lost in the shuffle. And they’re just as true as the rest of the story. I’d encourage you to also look for any positive moments that you may have experienced with your mom, any moments when she tried to be a good mom to you. Good luck with your reflections.
For those of us who did not have such a normal childhood it can be difficult to recall our parents with a sense of gratitude. I grew up with a mother who suffered from mental illness since I was 6, and she was often institutionalized, and when not there was drugged to keep the demons away. Pair that with an angry, alcoholic father unequipped to deal with taking care of me, the only child. But still, there are times to be grateful for…I just need to dig deeper. Both are gone now, leaving me to reflect on the sadness of my mother’s life, and the mystery of it all.