Observations: Reflections on the living room wall
In the early morning darkness, I could see the flashing lights of the police car parked outside my house reflecting on the walls of our living room. I was a skinny 15-year-old kid, still reeling from a scene in the middle of the night that I don’t need to discuss, my Mom was sitting at the kitchen table, a police officer was standing beside her until he took me aside to say, “You have to be a man now. You have to take care of your mother.”
My Dad died a few hours later from the heart attack he experienced while sleeping. For the next three years until I left for college, my Mom never again managed to get a full night’s sleep. Before I would turn in, usually at some stupidly late hour, I would always poke my head into her bedroom to ask her some inane question about whether or not the cat was inside for the night. What I was really doing was checking to make sure she was still alive.
I’ve never forgotten that moment from nearly 35 years ago, of course, but I’ve thought about it more lately due to circumstances with my Mom’s health and because I received a letter from an elderly man who carried a good bit of anger towards me. He did not have the strength of conviction to sign his letter with his name, thus preventing my ability to reply. His bottom line message was, however, that I need to “man up.” Perhaps he is right, but clearly, we differ on at least one element of what that means. Anonymity is easy.
None of us knows what someone else is going through at any given time. Some people walk around with cancer, some with clinical depression, some with unseen disabilities, some suffering from loss, some with worries about money, children or parents, and others, of course, with joy. But if I’ve learned anything in life it’s that I need to be fairly slow to judge someone. I have not walked the miles in their shoes.
This column contains a lot of “I” and “me” in it. It’s a personal column so that is often a necessity by default. I can’t possibly claim to speak for you, to try to describe what you or anyone else thinks about anything. What I do try very hard to do, however, is to present things in life that may cause a few people to say, “Yeah, I know how that feels.” I don’t write about things I may or may not do for people because I don’t believe in blowing my own horn. I won’t even admit to having a horn. My intention is not to be a narcissist, but rather someone with questions that I suspect others may have as well. In writing this column, I have to believe that I’m not the only one with those questions, and I firmly believe people are out there with, if not outright answers, then at least wisdom they can share with others. I’m quite certain I fail at that objective now and again — maybe more than that. But I’ve also seen evidence of it working. Besides, in an age of vitriol and 140 character tweets, a little introspection isn’t the worst thing in the world.
My brother lives in the same town as my Mom, both of my sisters live in the same state. I’m 1,700 miles away and have been for the better part of 15 years. They don’t need my help. My Mom probably doesn’t need anything I can offer her. But my Mom and I spent three years alone together after my Dad died, trying to figure out, sometimes separately, sometimes together, where life would lead in his absence.
I thought I became a man back then, but now I’m not so sure. I’ve lived my life trying to be a decent one, but now I’m wondering what I’ve really been doing and what I’ve become. I’ve missed so many things with my siblings and their wonderful children, all adults now and all people I am proud to know. So, the only thing that makes sense right now is the thought that it’s time to take care of my Mom for a little while. That is largely selfishly for me, but it’s also for her… I hope, anyway. A little extra time up there means that I wouldn’t have to just rush in to say hello and then rush out saying goodbye. But the reality is, I let a lot of better years slip away and I want to stop the slipping. Even if it’s just for a week or two.
Christmas is approaching. Maybe you are blessed to have your family nearby; perhaps they are coming to you in the winter paradise in which we live. Perhaps you are going somewhere far away to see them or spending the holiday with your family via Skype. Christmas is a time for togetherness, love, compassion and reflection. This Christmas, I can see the reflections of the police lights and I can hear the words of a police officer from long ago.
It’s time to go home.