This past week, I found myself with about an hour to kill between commitments, so I headed over to a nearby Starbucks; maybe I could squeeze out a few paragraphs before meeting a friend to catch up on the past couple months. Walking to the front door, I noticed a decade-old white SUV in the nearest handicap parking space. Outside the open passenger door, a lady in her seventies – smartly dressed with well kept silver hair – was helping her husband out of the truck.
She waited, patiently, for him to settle into his wheelchair. His motions were deliberate, aching, and slow. When he finally was seated, he slumped forward sharply – very little of his back pressed against the stretch of vinyl intended to support it.
Knowing she would be pushing him to that door, and with all the time in the world to wait, I was determined to make sure I was there to hold it open for them when they made it across the lot. I feigned use of my phone to pass time, stationed conveniently next to the entry, until they arrived at the exact moment I ‘happened’ to be ready to enter the store as well.
They both looked at me and smiled, the lady more than the man, but I think that had a lot to do with their respective capacity for smiling at the moment. When I made eye contact with the lady, as she smiled, a lump grew in my throat. She looked like Mom.
I figured that was the extent of our interaction. I deferred to them to get in line in front of me, though, to which the lady politely thanked me. Immediately after, she proceeded to explain to her husband what each of the baked treats in the glass case were. He was seated too low and slumped forward too far to see for himself, so she patiently leaned down to his ear and listed “they have a brownie…. and a cream cheese brownie…. and they have a cookie… and a lemon cake,” pausing to pop up and survey the rest of the case, “… and rice krispie treats… and…oh! that muffin you like!”
Great, now I’m crying in line at Starbucks.
Her mannerisms, her patience, her sweet tone – it was all Mom. Now I’m here biting the shit out of my lower lip so I can get my Frappucino without melting down in a fucking Starbucks. When the time came for them to pay, I had to pay for them. I had to. This wasn’t some lame ‘Pay it Forward’ Oprah shit, this was the only way I could say ‘thank you’, even though she was completely unaware why I would need to do so.
Of course her reaction was as sweetly, innocently, adorable as you would imagine it would be. She said something about blessing me, I mumbled something about it being a long story but I appreciate her and they should go have a great day together. We crossed paths one more time at the sugar and cream station; her husband mumbled something, prompting her to bend over and ask him to repeat it. She listened intently and replied “yes, this is him.” The old man looked up. meeting me in the eye, and said “thank you, sir” in a gravelly rasp.
I smiled and nodded, tucked my chin into my neck, and shuffled over to a tiny round table to take a breath. My first thought was to open up the laptop and write about it. My next thought was you know, Dave, you can’t write about your Mom again. It’s been almost two years. You can’t be a one-trick pony with this stuff. Just let it go.
The more I pondered it, though, the more I realized I’m not over this—not yet—and I may never be. I know exactly why, though; because our mothers are the world to us. It is simply the most special bond any two living things can have—that of mother and child.
For virtually our entire first year of existence, we are physically attached to them. For years that follow, we might as well still be. They heed our every cry. They feed us. They hold us. They are, quite simply, our God in this world – we know nothing else, but we know we’re safe in their arms.
As the years pass, the distance between us widens, and we move on to our own pursuits—we form our own connections and indeed become providers and protectors ourselves—but we can neither forget nor replace that unconditional love. We can never duplicate that total and complete acceptance, that enveloping support that our mothers have for us from the day we were born, and before.
Several months into my time living in Paris, everything was going wrong. I was convinced I couldn’t find happiness there, but I was too proud and stubborn to come home and admit it.
Walking to the gym one night, I froze in my steps near a fountain outside Comedie Francaise, and the pain spilled out. I did what any self-respecting thirty-five year old man would do in that situation – I called my Mommy. Called her and sobbed like a toddler leaving a toy store empty-handed. She didn’t have any clue what the hell I was talking about, and at this point her memory issues made me wonder if she remembered the start of the conversation by the end of it, but she told me everything was going to be alright, and I believed her.
It’s all I needed to hear. If Mom said it was going to be ok, it was going to be ok. Our lives get more complicated, our responsibilities mount atop another, but somewhere deep down inside we never lose the instinct to call Mom when shit hits the fan. She will always care, she will always be there.
Less than a year later, she was gone. It was the ultimate ironic tragedy – I had to face the single most terrible thing that had ever happened to me, which was losing the one person that could hold my hand through it. The hardest moments for me, still, are when I do something noteworthy and my hand reaches for my phone to share it with her.
So tomorrow, celebrate that relationship as much as you can, however you can. Make calls. Give hugs and don’t let go until you’re ready to. Tell your Mom exactly—at great length and in great detail—how much she means to you. Don’t assume she knows already. She will cherish every word of it.
Laugh together. Cry together. If fate has left you with no other alternative, find a quiet place and say hello through whatever cosmic channel you connect with. Because in our time on this planet, no one will ever possibly mean more to us than Mom will.
To hear the whole story of Mom’s life, read The Year of the Roses...