When she was born I became a wild bear. She was my cub and I’d do anything to protect her. I guarded her day and night in the dark woods.
It was then that it suddenly made sense. That my mother was a wild bear once too. Though her dark woods were so bleak and scary that I struggle to imagine how she did it.
My mother raised her cubs in Indonesia. Three daughters. White girls. It was a charming, real, and full life, but one marked by unpredictability. Danger skulked about us every day. The list of near misses is long. Sometimes I wonder how we made it out alive. These days my sisters and I joke about it… Remember that time when…. Can you believe that we survived that….
When I was 9 we caught a boat from mainland Sulawesi to an island off the coast. An overnight passage on a small creaky old ferry. I’d heard many stories of boats not making the crossing. Men clinging to rocks in the dead of night, sharks swarming around them. These thoughts crammed into my tiny head.
The seas was rough that night. Down in our bunk room my sisters and I drifted off into an uneasy sleep. The waves splashed harder against the hull. I swayed and slammed into the heaviness of my dreams.
I awoke half way through the night. Queasy and frightened. I crept up to the crowded deck where women and children were trying to sleep, squashed in amongst the sweet potatoes, bananas and packets of tea. One crying baby was tucked under her mother’s shirt, taking shelter from the wind.
I found my mother at the front deck, looking out to the sea. I snuggled into her arms, just like that baby. Safe and warm. We watched the waves together until eventually the sea calmed.
It was then that we noticed lights around us. Not on the boat, but in the dark sea. Luminescent blue creatures were glowing. They lit up the ocean for miles. We watched in awe. She said the lights would guide us to land safely. I had no reason to doubt her. I was her cub.
She remembered it all. Half-jokingly I blurted out: Wasn’t that boat dangerous? Do you ever wonder about all the danger we were exposed to?
I regretted my words. They weren’t blame. But she swept in before I could grab them back. She was sorry. It had been weighing on her mind. All that danger.
She didn’t need to apologise. I’d forgiven her years ago. When my own daughter was born I understood that a fierce love does not necessarily translate to perfect decision making. That you do what you think is best at the time.
All that danger? She was probably scared too. I would have been a gutless mother who ran away from it. But she held strong in the face of it. Her strength was to create a sanctuary in her heart where we took shelter. In our unsafe world we had a safe harbour.
No wild bear loved her cubs as much as my mum did. She would have done anything for us. And she did. She brought us home alive. And loved.