The season when I really miss my mom is the run-up to Mother’s Day. She’s been gone for almost five years now. So who knew that the worst possible/best possible choice for reading was Divergent by Veronica Roth?
“Go see the movie first and then read the book,” my daughter said, “because they change lots of things in the movie, but you’ll never read the book if you don’t see the movie.”
My daughter was right.
Here’s the dedication: “To my mother, who gave me the moment when Beatrice realizes how strong her mother is and wonders how she missed it for so long.”
I think I stopped breathing when I read that sentence. The point in the movie when Beatrice comes to this realization was my favorite part, and in the book, the realization about her mother is actually in two different parts. So, spoiler alert.
Quickie summary: When Beatrice, age 16, gets to chose what faction she will belong to for the rest of her days in this dystopian society, she chooses to leave her family’s faction, which is Abnegation (the selfless), and join Dauntless (the badass fighters). I certainly would never have chosen Dauntless as my faction, but at 16, I would have chosen any faction other than the one my mother belonged to.
It wasn’t until Mom’s cancer returned after I had my own children that I began to see her struggle with the perspective that only adulthood brings. In some ways, it took her death for me to see her clearly.
In Laura Lynn Brown’s book Everything That Makes You Mom, one of the questions is, “What is something about your mother that you know only through someone else’s storytelling?”
Since my mother died, my dad has told me more of the story of her 29 years with cancer. I’m realizing that my parents told me the truth but not the whole truth, and that was appropriate, because she first got cancer when I was 10. They never told me, for example, that when the radiologist got the results of the metastisis to her vertebrae, he dropped to his knees and said, “Oh, my God.” And that when her oncologist said to the radiologist that he thought he could buy her up to 18 months with a hysterectomy, the radiologist thought he was crazy. Her oncologist bought her 23 years of remission.
In the Divergent book, there’s a scene when Beatrice, now called Tris, and her mother talk in a dark hallway of the Dauntless compound on Visiting Day. Her mother gives Tris some unexpected advice, revealing that she knows a whole lot more about what’s going on than her daughter does. And the truth dawns on Tris: “She has been to the compound before. She remembered this hallway. She knows about the initiation process. My mother was Dauntless.”
Squee! I think I actually squealed when I read that. Of course! Her mother was born into the badass fighting faction and gave it all up for a life of service in Abnegation! Hallelujah!
When my mother had cancer all those years while I was growing up, I didn’t realize she was Dauntless. How did I miss it for so long?
I’m sure my daughter doesn’t see me as Dauntless either, and maybe I’m not. But Laura knows what Tris did not know and I did not know for a long time—that our mothers are strong. It just takes awhile for us to notice.
I never could figure out which house of Hogwarts I belonged in (although I leaned toward Ravenclaw because I adore Luna Lovegood). While reading Divergent, I had the same problem with knowing what faction I would choose. Wouldn’t it be awesome if I were Divergent, like Tris?
Divergents are people whose testing reveals they could belong to more than one faction. Tris qualifies for Erudite, Abnegation and Dauntless. That means she’s smart, selfless and brave. Divergents are dangerous to the authorities because they can’t be controlled.
“Mom, how do you know about Divergence?” Tris asks her mother. “What is it? Why …”
“I know about them because I am one,” she says as she shoves a bullet in place. (In the movie, this is when Ashley Judd gets her gun and saves the day.)
After a bit more explanation about factions and her personal history, Tris’s mother says, “I wanted you to make the choice on your own.”
The hardest part of being a mother is letting our children make the choices on their own.
In Laura’s book, she asks this question about mothers: “What simple pleasures did she invite you along on?”
I remembered our trip to New England together when I was 15. It was supposed to have been a romantic vacation with my dad, but he couldn’t go because of work. So Mom asked me to come along on a quiet adventure through Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Not having my dad along forced Mom out of her comfort zone to do all the driving and deciding. I was her navigator backup, which was a tragic mistake. One day we were heading for Freeport, Maine, and we knew we had taken a wrong turn when we saw a sign proclaiming, “Welcome to New Hampshire!”
Clearly, Navigation is not a faction I would qualify for, if such a faction existed in any society.
During that trip, my mom confronted me about my anorexia. When we got home, she arranged for me to get counseling. And when that didn’t cut it, she found a place for me to get treatment.
As Divergent unfolds and Tris confronts her divergence, she realizes that Abnegation and Dauntless share a quality—bravery. It is expressed differently in each faction, but even selfless people can act bravely in order to save someone else. Or, as Four/Tobias puts it, “I have a theory that selflessness and bravery aren’t all that different.”
That makes my mother Divergent. She was selfless and brave. She didn’t just fight her own battles, but mine, too, as much as she could.
Next year my 15-year-old daughter is going away to a boarding school—her choice. I’ve never seen her work so hard for anything in her life. I hope she becomes convinced of her own strength. I hope she sees that bravery takes many forms, especially selflessness. If she is Divergent, it will require more of her than she can imagine. It might even be a little dangerous.
I know because she is so much like my mom.
This is a modified reprint from two posts at meganwillome.com.
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