I wrote this a couple of years ago in my previous blog. I was thinking pretty much the same things today. I don't have any way of knowing, but I like to believe that my mother would have laughed with me about blue jeans and cried with me over our kitty ~ that she would have appreciated how life careens from silliness to sorrow in the blink of an eye.
My mother died on a day exactly like this. A day in early October in which the sky was a limitless blue and the trees hinted at sublime changes to come. A wholly ordinary day in which she started a load of laundry, packed her three children into the car, tooted her horn as she passed my grandmother's house, turned left at the bottom of the hill, glanced behind her, crossed the middle of the road, and ran headlong into the car coming over the hill toward her.
My mother was young when she died. Twenty-eight. I was seven and I barely had a chance to know her, but the same is true of everyone else, including, most likely, herself.
I know, of course, that I grew up without a mother. And I know, in a way, what that is like -- but in something of an indirect way, although I am the one who lived it. When you experience a direct hit at such a young age, it becomes part of the fabric of your life. Too young for reflection and analysis, incapable of the evaluative process that is second nature to a well-educated adult, you simply absorb searing pain into the heart of your being and carry it with you ever afterward, without particularly noticing it.
A little girl takes life as it comes. An adult, not so much. If you are seven and your mother vanishes from the face of the earth, then you have learned that that is what happens. Beautiful, loving, needed, and beloved people die senselessly. That is what happens. If you are an adult, you resist the crises of your life with everything that you've got, but children have no adult illusions of control.
If you are a young child when your mother dies, you keep putting one foot in front of another, while surreptiously becoming a keen observer of adult behavior -- all the adults in your life having gone temporarily or, perhaps, permanently insane. But you don't rail against the gods. What happens, happens. The determination to move mountains comes later, when you have children of your own.
What I wonder now is, who was that young woman? My mother missed so much. She did not share in our school days, hear about our first jobs, witness our first romances, or sit proudly at our graduations. She never got to talk over our college and career choices, caution us about marriage, or babysit our children. She didn't get to go back to college or embark upon the career that would surely have been hers for the taking. She didn't even get to go back and sing in the church choir when her children were old enough to be left on Sunday mornings. She never got to hear the Beatles or Joni Mitchell. She never got further than Massachusetts or Florida.
I have a picture of the four of us, my mother and her children, taken in the Florida cottage in which we we lived that last spring. She holds the baby in her lap, and embraces my other young brother with her free arm. I sit at the far end of the couch, turning the pages of a book. What would she have said to that girl at the end of the couch, already making her move toward independence, already finding the world in a book? Who might we have become together?
Most of us want big things. I want to hike long trails, spend a week at Chartres, kayak in the Mediterranean. But if you told me that I were going to die tomorrow, all I would want is one more clear October day with my children. I suppose she would have taken that as enough.