On the other hand, we all could probably stand to be a bit more grateful to the person who brought us into the world.
Many of you may know my own mother died unexpectedly five years ago. She was tremendously healthy for her age; she was vegan, and she taught yoga to seniors, the people she called ‘her old folks,’ (tellingly not including herself in that category). She had tons of friends and was amazingly active, probably more active and zipping from place to place and activity to activity than most people my age.
But something went wrong (we think) with an additional medication she was prescribed for an ongoing heart murmur issue, and she just died in her sleep while taking a nap one afternoon.
None of us, I don’t think, thought she was anywhere near to this point when it happened. It really came out of the blue. You never met a woman her age more bustling and chattering and full of life and energy. I honestly half-expected her to outlive me.
Another thing many of you might know about me is that I am a smart-ass.
Yes, it’s true, don’t deny it. And I have something of an anti-authority streak. I probably have my mother to blame for that too, as she was definitely a control-freak’s control-freak. She would out-OCD the OCD, when it came to trying to control every detail of the world around her. I could imagine her going to a support group meeting for OCD people and ending up arranging them alphabetically or by height or weight or something.
She was meta-OCD, if you will.
(SIDEBAR: One of the strangest insights of my life came a couple years after she was gone, when, while fretting over a girl who just_wouldn’t_call I realized that I carry the DNA of that control-freak. I realized that, oh shit, I AM my mother on some level. I never ever ever knew that before, when she was alive, and I still probably wouldn’t know it today were it not for her untimely passing.)
I struggled against her even from early childhood. And with puberty came the certainty that I must have been secretly adopted because there was no way this stupid woman with her stupid, annoying, pushy bossiness could possibly be a blood relative to someone as insightful and brilliant as I was at age 14. (How is it possible I’ve gotten so much more uncertain and ignorant over the years?)
After falling off the map completely with my family for about six years (I dropped out of sight quite deliberately in New Orleans, and later LA, not deigning to contact them that entire time, nor did they know where or how I was) I finally got back in touch with them following a particularly nasty and lonely drug and alcohol-addled New Years’ Eve in LA.
And I was grateful I did. Not only in terms of my mom’s gratitude just to hear that I was alive, but for my own well-being and growth too. The weight of all those years of loneliness and being without family really was much heavier than I allowed myself to think it was. I envisioned myself as a stoic wanderer-philosopher, a strong, brave loner who doesn’t need anyone--and in many ways I was and still am that, if, hopefully, with a bit more humility and insight into my own shortcomings.
But I am here to tell you, there is a loneliness so terrible no one can bear it, not without losing his mind.
I remember my mom telling me that during my six-year absence she once brought a jacket of mine to a Teacher she knew to ask if he could see anything regarding my condition or whereabouts. (She followed a strain of Buddhism in which certain people are deemed to be Teachers, people who have lived past lives and have particular insight. I know, I know.)
He told her that I was angry (go figure, right? The disappeared child is angry...)
But he also told her that I was loved, and that I had love in me, and that even if I was far away, I would be all right.
Now, to me, that last part seems a little more daring of a prediction than your typical fortune-teller. For what it’s worth.
Another thing he told her was that he believed that people are not necessarily born into the family to which they belong. He believed that part of our journey on earth is to seek out our true families, wherever and whomever they might be.
So maybe she did learn some letting-go over the years.
Maybe I did too.
At any rate I am grateful to her that I am the person I am. There is nobody on this earth with whom I would trade my brain or my heart or my soul, and I owe a great deal of what I am to her. If I could say anything to my mom today, it would be that I am very sorry for all the pain I caused her. And that despite all our problems, all my problems, I always loved her.
I would say, Thank you, mom.
So. Ahem. Something in my eye. Here’s this Iron & Wine song, ‘Upward Over the Mountain.’ I tried to find a decent live version but eventually gave up and settled on this one.
“So may the sunrise bring hope where it once was forgotten / Sons are like birds, flying always over the mountain...”
Happy Mother’s Day, everyone.