Several weeks have last since my last post. My silence has its source in the reticence one inevitably experiences when a loved one dies, in my case, it was my mother; however, her passing was absent the pain and anguish I have heard recounted that others have suffered. Whereas I have had an intellectual and philosophical understanding of the nature and meaning of death, that is not the phenomenal equivalent of the actual experience of the death of another human being. A few years ago I acquired such knowledge first hand when the loss of a dear friend struck me to the core of my being and I found myself inconsolable until I was able to make some sense of his passing by remembering him in writing. While the news of my friend’s death precipitated an immediate response in me the loss of my mother did not. The mind is a master at misdirection and it allowed distance and absence to mask the finality of our condition, both mine and my mother’s. The eight or nine hours of travel time which separated us made her only absent, unavailable for the moment, as if she had stepped out to go shopping or to have her hair done. Although her voice could not have answered mine and proceeded to meander from one non-sequitur to another using her failing hearing and memory as both guide and crutch, tacitly I knew that if I did not call, I could extend the reality to which I had grown accustomed and, if such power was implicit in the choosing, I would enforce my own temporal hegemony over death.
The hurt of reality can become a constant agony if we are unable to accept the endless flow of life and not rejoice in its variety and celebrate its creative advance into the unknown. My mother was alive to me in the reality with which I had wrapped myself; that world burst as the family entered the funeral parlor. I had dreaded this moment; the penultimate things that we humans feel the need to say to each other were already said and understood by both of us–I had always loved her and she had always loved me; there was something so elemental in our relationship that more addenda was simply superfluous. So I did not want to evaluate the beautician’s or the mortician’s skill; I did not want to view a hollow shell that bore no resemblance to the living whirl-a-gig that was my mother. The first half-hour in the funeral home was torment for me; as I entered I was unable to breathe, my breath felt as if it had been sucked out of me, and I was overcome with emotion. I hurt all over, every part of me wept and would not be consoled. When I thought I would never recover, I did, in time to stand and speak about my mother, to color our memory of her with authenticity bereft of cliches that so often are uttered in eulogies and have no connection to the life being celebrated.
This has been a season of mileposts for me. I became a grandfather on our nation’s birthday and subsequently, in a little over a month’s time, my mother died and I turned sixty-four–today, in fact. We often are seduced by the notion of infinity–a delicious prospect on many levels and just as daunting and dismaying on others–but we fail to comprehend the freedom and limitations of finitude. Probability ascribes to me a remaining longevity that can be reasonably calculated by the addition of all of my digits(fingers, toes and thumbs) with the caveat that scientific discoveries may require something more extensive than digital enumeration: this little piggy went to market…might embark on a journey slightly longer than we anticipated. When I extend my hand, in truth, there are times I see the wrinkled, spotted hands of an old man, but more often I am reminded of persistence even in the midst of the ephemeral nature which is our life long habitat. There are so many tasks left undone; many are daunting, but they are all the obligation of the living. We’ve endured so much how can we not be intrepid as we shape the future?
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it
— Omar Khayyam