A few years ago, my mother noticed me shivering. It was a cool May evening in New Hampshire and I had only recently arrived from India where, having lived for over 25 years, my blood had thinned and my tolerance for cold had evaporated. Mom could relate. British by birth, she had grown up in California and Florida and she hated the cold with a passion surprising in one so generally non-judgmental. When she saw me shivering, she gave me her shawl. Later that night, when I tried to give it back, she told me it was mine to keep.
I held that shawl close and I felt my heart fill. By that point, Mom's Alzheimer's was far advanced. By then, she seldom noticed if she was cold herself - let alone if anyone else was - and so her sudden awareness of my discomfort was like a gift: a reminder of the person she had once been and of the generosity and selflessness which had always defined her.
But it was more than that.
The shawl she gave me was a special one. Made of Scottish wool, it was soft and warm, with beautiful muted colors. Her sister (my godmother) had given it to her as an engagement gift in 1953. She loved it so much she wrapped each one of her seven children in it when bringing them home from the hospital (or, with Moy Moy, from the airport). She wore it herself on special occasions (I have photos of her in various fancy gowns with that shawl on top).
And then, 53 years later, she gave it to me. Here in India, far, far away from the world she knew and the babies she wrapped it around, I wear it as often as I can. When it's too hot (which is most of the time), I drape that shawl on this blue chair in our bedroom where I can see it every day and remember the darling mother who wrapped the baby I once was in its very fabric, who held me close (and my brothers and sisters) in its lovely folds and who then released me, and sent me forth, with her blessing and her love, to become the person I am today. How lucky we all are! How fortunate to have been once enclosed and protected and now strengthened and renewed by her love and care and nurturing spirit.
The shawl she gave me is an emblem of all that she stood for: justice, grace, generosity, the warmth and protection of a loving presence.
Now that she is gone, I feel it passed on to me like a sacred trust. That shawl is a symbol of our best selves, a reminder of what we might be if we let ourselves achieve the dreams our mothers had for us when they held us in their arms, wrapped in the most beautiful shawl they possessed.