For my Mother
“Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is like the roar of a lion. What sickness can, therefore, be an obstacle?”
I am thinking today about the line from Mary Oliver’s poem (above). Our lives — the moments and years that we often take for granted; the minutiae of every day life; the value of each precious minute — do we ever really know the value of these things until we are about to lose them?
My mother’s in the hospital today — being tested and poked and prodded — to ascertain what is wrong with her. She’s been sick for the past six weeks, but due to her own reticence (and her infuriating refusal to ask for help) we did not know she was sick until she could not stop throwing up for the past week. Day in and day out. She said the ER told her she had food poisoning. I said, “Food poisoning doesn’t last a week. You are not in agony for days from food poisoning.” Even in the face of my questions, she still refused to return to the emergency room until last night. They sent her home at around 1 a.m. after running tests, only to call her back this morning and tell her to come in and be admitted. They think it is a bowel obstruction. The radiologist studying the images was troubled. He couldn’t ignore what he saw.
The degree of gratitude I feel for his careful analysis, is incalculable.
At this point, all I do is pray.
Pray that they can sort it out. Pray that she didn’t wait too long to go to the hospital. Pray that she’s strong enough to withstand surgery if she needs it. She’s 77. She’ll be 78 this Thursday.
She is not just my mother. She is my confidant, my sounding board, and my friend.
She’s the person I’ve turned to my whole life in expectation of solace, but I cannot call her now. I cannot ask her what to do.
She is the child now, and my brothers and I, we are the parents.
I know she’s getting older. I know that her health is not what it once was. I know she feels the moments slipping through her fingers, like water from a tap. I wonder each time I call her, will she pick up the phone? Will she mend this broken part of herself? Will she let go of whatever it is that she has clung to — to the draining energy of her dysfunctional childhood, her abusive father, her sense that the world is just not a safe place — or will she refuse? Will the dam break and will she ride the current downstream toward a cleaner and clearer life? Will she accept my love for her? Will she take it into her cells, her marrow, her heart?
I realize that it is time to remember to live fully, completely, without holding anything back. To treat my life — and the lives surrounding mine — with tenderness and gratitude and care.
One day, you are the child.
Your mother is hanging up the picture you painted in kindergarten or feverishly sewing a new Halloween costume for you. You are living with the crooked bangs she botched. You have an old Samoyed dog nesting in your lap. Next thing you know, your mother can’t stop crying because her marriage is over. Your father’s packing up the car, and driving away at twilight. When he returns, he’s spent too much money on you for Christmas and your parents fight because your mom couldn’t do that. She had too many bills to pay. She fears you will love your father more because of his largess.
Eventually you leave home, travel, and head to London, Seattle, New York City to chase your dreams. But always, always, always, your mother is that ghost that sits with you in the dark. As you listen to the uptown train rattle the windows of your second floor walk up in the village, she’s the voice on the phone who quiets your tears. She’s the one who learns to believe in you more than she ever believed in herself.
Decades later, you comfort her as she sobs into the phone. You assure her that she will be OK — that the doctors will take good care of her, that everything will turn out fine — whether you believe it or not.
You are the mother now.
It is your turn to repay your debt of gratitude to the woman who so selflessly made your very life possible. Will it be enough? Will it fill her up with light as she goes under the knife? Will the doctor monitor her vitals and return her to you, whole?
The only thing you have is trust in the benevolent forces that surround you. Trust.
And the hope that there’s still some time left.
© 2012 Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved
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