To Rose Pearl, with love, on Mother’s Day--
In my mother were the secrets of the garden, in the garden were the secrets of her soul. -lkr
I live some distance from my mother and have for quite some time. But there are days with Mother when I travel to see her, and we talk and eat. Occasionally, as we sit across the room from each other, or walk, her leaning against me as she takes small tentative steps, I think we’re secretly wondering how the other got so old.
Currently, one of the phrases my mother utters most is, “I never saw . . . like that before.” Sometimes she is commenting on the strong winds that buffet her frail body or the dark tresses she observes from her church pew. But many times, she’s referring to the cloud formations scattered across the sky. At first, I attributed this repetitive habit to her aging process, but one day, as I heard those recurring words, a voice within me silently responded, “No, you’re right, you never have.” And then, because of that inaudible response, I realized the legitimacy of her claims. What she saw or experienced in any moment was unique and unrepeatable. The strength of the wind lessened and grew as it pummeled her body, light bounced and shifted as it illuminated strands of hair, and the clouds were ever morphing in color and form. All of her observances were true, and each had no match in space and time. It was only now, when this vitally strong woman was forced to pause from a lifetime of limitless activity, that she’d developed a newfound acuity, or perhaps reclaimed what her young self once possessed.
The child that was my mother will always remain unknown to me, but I’ve been seeing more and more of her as my mother and I have been sorting through family photographs. I’ve become ever so slightly acquainted with that young girl—the one with the dancing eyes and mischievous smile. I marvel at the different childhoods we experienced. She crisscrossed the ocean with her immigrant parents on more than one occasion. I spent my growing up years in one small Texas town. I wish her stories were not as scarce as the photographs we’ve unearthed . . . or her memories, either. But perhaps limited recollections are best.
Because while I was slightly saddened when she’d forgotten her fondness for coconut macaroons (like those I’d excitedly brought from the bakery), I later concluded that a similar forgetfulness might serve as a healing force. Perhaps she’d forget the torrent of hurtful words we’d hurled at each other when we were afraid and alone. (We’d never established a vocabulary for hurt, loss or fear.) And maybe she wouldn’t recall the awkward moments we realized the other would not be what we’d imagined them to be.
Yet now, all those unalterable truths seem insignificant, because we’ve also never said, “I love you.” as we presently do, rushed and uncertain at the end of every phone conversation. (We’d never developed a safe place for love, tenderness and affection.) And it’s becoming abundantly clear that each moment we share, past, present or future, will retain its singular and impermanent form. We both know that now, as we gaze upon clouds, the likes of which we’ve never seen before—steeply banked, tinted with the faintest hints of pink and violet—drifting, dissolving, upon an ever deepening cerulean sky.