Susan's Blog

Friday, April 24, 2015

Praising (and Loving), Not Burying

I burst into tears today as I was riding my bike — not because of the ride but because of where my mind suddenly went. I was thinking about my Uncle Alby who had just died, and then, of course, of my mom, his little sister. I call her that because around him she really became a younger version of herself, naive, innocent, waiting in joyful anticipation of what Alby would say next.

It was thinking of Mom that brought on the tears. Mom, and then Dad. The two of them have been hit very hard by a string of peer and family deaths lately. All of these people died of old age, but they were not that much older than my parents. I think Mom especially is feeling her own mortality very deeply lately because of this. Her small copper face seems a bit more closed in on itself, her eyes seem lighter brown than they used to be, and when she was here a few days ago they seemed to be looking for something. She hugged me quite a bit that day she was here to say goodbye to Alby — and I hope that for those moments she’d found a little of what she was needing. I could feel the full force of her vulnerability, lying against me, yet also, the way her arms bent around me there was also the age-old care of the mother for her child. Mom is complicated, young and old at the same time, brilliant and naive, nakedly open and yet mysterious. And if you happen to be one of the lucky ones she loves, you will always always feel that.

Dad is likely feeling the same kind of sorrowful things, but he shows it differently. He’s all silver and gold these days, his hair gleaming gray-white, his skin burnished tan from always being outdoors. He’s like a benevolent floaty cloud in a summer sky, watching over you, playfully hiding now and then with the sun. A life of hard work, muscular movement and exercise, and constant thought have polished him down to his very essence: joy.

I don’t mean for this to sound like a eulogy. But it occurred to me today that I need to say these things while they are alive.

I did not have a perfect childhood. But unlike many people, I had parents who desperately wanted and tried to be perfect. And for years and years I believed they were, even though experience told me they were not. When I finally realized they were not perfect people, and that they had actually made mistakes parenting me, I was so angry. And this was later in life, I’m ashamed to say.

Now what I know is that goodness in a person is not about perfect, it’s about being human. And they are so very human. Yet their drive to be perfect for me and my sister Laura shaped me into the same kind of person. Someone who does not question trying really really hard for those you love, someone who wants to make loved ones and others, too, really really happy. In being that way, they made me a good person. And they gave me a wonderful childhood. Not perfect, but that’s okay. Because it was wonderful. With some awful times, but still — amazing. Should I name these things? Give you a picture of what I mean?

First thing that comes to mind is a sense of wonder. The four camping trips out West, returning each time to a favorite campsite in Rocky Mountain National Park. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon “because it’s less crowded.” The smell of the wilderness that Mom wished she could “bottle.” Driving through the desert with water strapped to our car “just in case.” So much adventure. These trips gave me the feeling that I could go anywhere, do anything, that the world had endless places to discover. That you could spend hours and hours with people in one car and only get closer to them. I need to be honest, of course, and say that there were times when I’d be so angry or hurt by them that my throat would choke with rage and sorrow. But I understand it all now, and I forgive them. This is so important. To forgive and let go so you can love even better.

Second thing they gave me: humor. My Mom probably learned from her father and then Alby all about laughter and she found my father early in life — age 13, married him at 18 — because he continued the tradition of making her laugh. You have never seen high cheekbones until you’ve seen Mom laugh. Diamond bright teeth. And Dad is so funny, I don’t know where to begin. I have wanted to write about his humor for years but I just can’t yet. It’s so much a part of my own wiring that I can’t untangle it. I hope to someday. For now I will say that I hear his jokes without him even being there. My sister Laura and I are also funny because of Dad, and we both chose husbands who make us laugh, accordingly.

Third thing: activism. My parents are dedicated to helping people. They are teachers by profession. But they help so many people other than students. They have changed people’s lives just by their own honesty and hard work and no-nonsense attitude. I was miserable in my first year of college. “So transfer,” Mom said. And just like that, I learned that I never have to accept a miserable situation. And I don’t. Even if that means that I’m confronting her for something she said! And Dad, asking me one evening if a certain boyfriend was “making me happy.” And the answer, of course, was No. But Dad made me face it, and end that destructive relationship.

Fourth thing: duty. My parents always try to do the right thing. You must take care of your loved ones and friends. You must tell someone when they are not being wise or kind. Stand up for others. Stand up for yourself. Sometimes it drives me crazy, I feel like they sometimes put off happy things because there’s Something They Must Do. But that’s in me, too. I do the same thing. Everyone around them relies on them, on me.

Fifth thing: health. My parents tend to overdo their dedication to their physical fitness, but that is who they are. And they are very strong because of it. For their age, and for any age. I still do not want to try to race my Dad on a bike. Certainly not in running. Mom walks sometimes 10 miles in a day, listening to NPR or books. Always learning. Dad listens to nothing but his own thoughts and he simply becomes a part of the road he is running or riding on, his breath is the air around him,. Both of their different ways make perfect sense for who Mom and Dad are.

Sixth thing: to be learned. The constantly admonished me to read, know the classics, be conversant in current events, philosophy, literature, ethics. Both of them are always reading more than one book. Always. They feel what they read, they think think think and then they tell you all about it. And now I’m the same.

I grew up in love with Mom and Dad. They were larger than life, they were my Gods. Then they fell from grace, simply because I learned they were just people. I had to learn that no one is larger than life, no one is a God, but that this is okay, that this is right. I had to also learn that I was okay. This took so long. So much to learn again and again, as an adult, so much gray confusion, black struggle, blood red anger.

Only to find that the beautiful elements of diamond, copper, silver, and gold outlast everything else.




1 comment

“To forgive and let go so you can love even better”- loved this. I work on it every day. This was a gourgeous piece, thank you for sharing!

— added by kim mccafferty on Friday, May 1, 2015 at 10:40 am

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