Memoirs of a Naijamerican Bride II: Mom & Me: The Dance Between Culture & Change
There are very few things I had envisioned about my wedding before I had a ring on my finger- my mother walking me down the aisle was one of them. When my mother and I began to plan the wedding program and she asked me whom I wanted to do the honors, I responded enthusiastically: “You of course!”
“A woman cannot walk you down the aisle. It is not done in our culture!” She asserted. This certainly was not the response I was expecting. I could not understand why her sex should be a determining factor- or a factor at all- here. She on the other hand, could not understand why it was a big deal to me: “It’s just a few minutes!” she repeated over and again.
Albeit a few minutes, the walk down the aisle did matter to me. It was my way to say about my mother: this is the earth where I was planted, and the soil from which I have received so much of my life’s nourishment. A dozen years prior to my wedding, when my siblings and I walked down the aisle behind our father’s casket-the very same aisle I would walk on my wedding day- it was my mother who walked with us. When I had a severe asthma attack while in boarding school, it was her voice I heard when I woke up with drips in my arm and an oxygen mask on my nose. When I returned to America for college, it was my mother who stood with me in stores as we searched for a laptop, towels, bed sheets and other knick knacks, pointing to the best items: “Take that- your father would want you to have it.” I’ve heard this phrase numerous times over the years, not because her pockets are always full, but because she lives with open hands. I have at varying points watched her sell gold jewelry, liquidate investments, or piece together money from different accounts to provide not just for my needs, but my wants. The summer after my first year in university, when I was at my heaviest weight and fast approaching obesity, it was my Mother who sat me down and told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to lose weight A.S.A.P. Many times, my mother’s love is hard truths served like hard liquor- straight no chaser. But her love was also the voice on the other end of the phone between law school exams and the New York bar exams, assuring me that I would not fail, and reminding me that the world would not fall off its axis even if I did. At so many crucial life junctures, there has been my mother’s presence supporting me, and her prayers guiding me. This is why it was so important to me to have her hands with me at this juncture.
Alas, my mother remained as firm in her conviction as I was in mine. Thanks to my maternal grandmother, strong-will is in our genetic code. For every time she insisted, “It is not done!” I persisted: “But why does that mean it should not be done?”
I often recalled the Biblical story of the daughters of Zelophehad.* These 5 women-fatherless, brotherless and destitute- were frustrated by the laws of Israel that excluded women from inheriting property. So they went before the leader of Israel (Moses) and an entire assembly to plead their case. The Bible notes that Moses took their case before God, God told Moses their claims were legitimate, and Israel’s laws were changed to allow women inherit their father’s property, in the absence of sons. I tried to reason with my mother: if women from centuries ago could challenge a sexist law and make even God see reason, why couldn’t we (literally) take steps towards changing a sexist tradition? My mother was unrelenting. We were stuck between the rock that is culture and the hard place that is change.
The lawyer in me wanted justice: why should any human being other than one who has given me the most get to ‘give me away’? I needed reasons and receipts. The daughter in me, however, knew when to stop pushing. I realized that part of my mother’s resistance to the idea of walking me down the aisle, was the fact that she wanted to have my father remembered by having my paternal uncle do it. I also realized that if I insisted on honoring her in the way I wanted, I would inadvertently dishonor her. So I surrendered.
I am still learning the rhythms of the delicate dance between culture and change: when to move forward, when to hold back, when to sway, and when to stand still. Perhaps change sometimes is daring to just ask the ‘whys’ regardless of the answers. Perhaps we must journey to change with giant leaps at some points, and with baby steps at others. My mother did not even have her mother at her wedding, in part because she chose to marry a man from a different tribe. Baby steps.
There are no easy answers or quick fixes. But in the end, my mother and I found our happy medium: a not so delicate mother-daughter dance :-)
*You can read more about the daughters of Zelophehad in Numbers 27:1-11 of the Holy Bible. Google also has the answers.