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May 11, 2020

Honouring our Mother

Fostering Community

In this time of COVID-19, many celebrated Mother’s Day across North America with feelings of love, gratitude and deep reflection. Some felt the warm embrace of a mother at home. For many, the poor substitute of a virtual hug fed hopes of a promised embrace in the weeks ahead. For others, the memory of a past embrace is all that remains.

Many things have changed during our time of self-isolation and social distancing. Daily routines, travel, work and shopping to name a few. But also changed is our understanding of what it means to be a global citizen – the idea that some things know no boundary, that boarders may keep us separate but they don’t immunize us to events around the world. Not all of these events are bad. In fact, this time of stillness in many parts of the world is providing something beautiful – time for Mother Earth to breath.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has distinguished herself from many world leaders through her empathy, decisiveness and strength. In listening to her speak and reading her words, we find a woman who thinks and feels deeply – someone who is simultaneously shepherding her country through difficult times while asking them to reflect on the bigger questions being raised, particularly as we look to the future.

Following this weekend when we honoured mothers, it seems fitting to share this poem by New Zealander, Nadine Anne Hura. It was brought to the attention of the world when it was shared by Jacinda Ardern and speaks to the restorative promise of this difficult time.

Rest now, e Papatūānuku (Mother Earth)
Breathe easy and settle
Right here where you are
We’ll not move upon you
For awhile

We’ll stop, we’ll cease
We’ll slow down and stay home
Draw each other close and be kind
Kinder than we’ve ever been.

I wish we could say
we were doing it for you
as much as ourselves
But hei aha
We’re doing it anyway
It’s right. It’s time.

Time to return
Time to remember
Time to listen and forgive
Time to withhold judgment
Time to cry
Time to think
About others
Remove our shoes
Press hands to soil
Sift grains between fingers
Gentle palms

Time to plant
Time to wait
Time to notice
To whom we belong
For now it’s just you
And the wind
And the forests and the oceans
and the sky full of rain
Finally, it’s raining!
Ka turuturu te wai kamo o Rangi ki runga i a koe
Embrace it

This sacrifice of solitude we have carved out for you
He iti noaiho – a small offering which is a treasure
People always said it wasn’t possible
To ground flights and stay home
and stop our habits of consumption
But it was
It always was.

We were just afraid of how much it was going to hurt
– and it IS hurting and it will hurt and continue to hurt
But not as much as you have been hurt.
So be still now
Wrap your hills around our absence
Loosen the concrete belt
cinched tight at your waist
Rest.
Breathe.
Recover.
Heal.
And we will do the same.

Author’s Note:

I wrote this poem on the train home after the announcement of total lockdown was made here in Aotearoa, New Zealand. I felt like I could hear Papatūānuku – Mother Earth – exhaling in relief as we all began our journeys home. In truth, one month of lockdown is not enough. Even six months would not be enough! We need a total and sustained change of habit, globally and within our own communities.

I hope so much we take our time to reflect on the fact that if we can do it to save ourselves for a month, we ought to be able to make similar habit changes for Mother Earth for the long term.

The most telling thing for me was how empty our veggie plant aisles were after lockdown was announced – in a crisis, we will turn back to our mother to provide (and of course she will!).

Lots of people have asked for translations:

Papatūānuku – Mother Earth (the addition of the “e” in front signals the words are addressed or spoken directly to her).

Ka turuturu te wai kamo o Rangi ki runga i a koe – means something like, “tears from the eyes of Ranginui drip down on you.” Ranginui is our sky father, it is common to refer to rain as the tears of Rangi for his beloved, from whom he was separated at the beginning of time in order that there could be light in the world. Not long after the announcement we were moving to level 3, it poured with rain in Porirua after many months of hot and dry weather. I could feel my garden rejoicing.

Hei aha – this can be translated in many ways, but I meant it like the English, “ Oh well, whatever.”

He iti noaiho – “something small.” Because our sacrifice feels enormous but in reality I think it is not sufficient to truly see Papatūānuku/Mother Earth recover. However, in Māori, we often talk about the significance of small actions or gestures. We say “ahakoa he iti, he pounamu.” Although it is small, it is a treasure.

Thank you so much for the support.

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