Mama

Five-month-old Ruby is a Heinz 57 mutt

With a weak bladder, a lot of energy

And a ton of affection.

Much of her puppy love is lavished on me:

She follows me everywhere,

Cries when I leave the house,

Greets me after a 10-minute absence as if I’ve been gone a week.

Why? my children ask. Why does she like you best?

After all, they complain, that’s why we got a puppy.

‘Cause Chai is clearly your dog, and we wanted a pup who’d prefer us.

Well, I tell them, I can list concrete items, like water and food and walks,  

But bottom line is,

She’s knows I’m the mama.

I’m not just playmate or pal;

I’m Mama.

I know another Ruby.

I met her nearly a year ago

When both of us stood on an L platform together.

She asked for change,

But my pockets were empty that day.

I asked her where her coat was—it was bitterly cold.

She said she was only going a couple stops—

then gonna’ get herself some food and warmth with the Catholic Sisters of Charity.

“They’re good to me there,” she told me.

I’ve run into Ruby several times in the last few months.

Right now I know where she’s sleeping, and I purposely ride my bike through her particular tunnel on my way into work.

If she’s there and awake, we greet each other.

If I have a few minutes, I stop my bike and we chat.

Ruby has what some call “issues”:

physical—many probably related to addiction;

mental/emotional—she’s still a child in many ways;

social—she compiles some interesting things in her hoard.

Ruby’s forgotten my name.

At least, I assume she’s forgotten it—

Because she calls me “Mama.”

“Mama, I’m not having such a great day today.”

“Mama, the police told me I have to clean up my stuff. They say it’s too messy.”

“Mama, I don’t wanna’ stay overnight in one of them shelters, not till it’s cold. Too many rules.”

She calls me “Mama,” and it makes me wonder if she’s ever had one.

Our Ruby pup can actually count on me to act like a “mama” for her. I make sure she’s warm enough, fed enough, exercised enough. I check on her water bowl. I train and teach her. It’s nothing compared to the “mama”ing I do for my children, but it’s still enough that Ruby pup knows she can trust me; I am a safe and dependable person for her.

Did Ruby the woman—made in the image of God, bearing the likeness of God—ever have a mama who did these things? Did she have anyone? A sister, brother, auntie, grandfather?

Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” He was the first of us to abdicate responsibility for a fellow image bearer. He was speaking of an actual family member, but this thought brings me to the question: who is my brother? My sister?

Who is my neighbor?

If Jesus expected the kind of care given by the Good Samaritan for his “neighbor,” what does he expect of his followers—who are called to love so, so many as brother, as sister?

Or—I’m thinking of Ruby’s vulnerability—as child?

What does it mean to “family” each other? To extend our notion of “kin”? To accept not just the crazy uncles we must put up with because they’re biologically related but also other broken, difficult, hurting, needy people? How messy is too messy?

Is there such a thing in the family of God?

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