I'm walking through a field when I am struck by a realization. They've been coming more often in the last couple of years -- one of the gifts of getting older. Sometimes they are about God and the universe but more often they are about my life and relationships -- little crystallization of experience, ripples surfacing from the unconscious realm into the conscious one.
Today's goes like this: "I think I don't matter to her. I think it's all one-sided."
"Her" is my mother. She is 93, propped up in her bed, an invalid since a break in her femur eight months left her unable to walk or even turn over.
I've been trying to get there every day, squeezing in visits before work or after the kids are in bed. Thursday, I didn't make it. I call her in the afternoon and she says: "Where were you? I've been waiting and waiting for you," sounding not unlike a three-year-old who's been missing her mommy.
It's that phrase that pops into my head as I walk in the field. It makes me simultaneously realize that I've always assumed that I don't much matter to my mother - and to question that assumption.
I tell my best friend about this and she says, "And you carry over that feeling into other relationships."
I think: I've been my mother's daughter, albeit the baby and youngest of seven, for 51 years. How can I not matter to her?
And I'm left with other questions.
Where did this assumption come from?
How has it affected my life?
What is it my mother did or didn't do that led me to feel this way?
There weren't many hugs and kisses when I was growing up and not a lot of attention paid to my experiences or feelings. Was my mother's parenting style just a reflection of her times?
Or was she super-defended because of the pain she had experienced in her own life due to the vagaries of fate, history and sexism (father dying at age three, being a refugee twice during her childhood, arranged marriage to a man twice her age whom she did not know, separation from four of her children for six years because of war…)
I have only questions, no answers yet.
As I'm re-reading this piece, written several weeks ago but, in my mind, unfinished, I see the following words at the bottom in a different font:
To learn that there are persons that love them dearly, but simply do not know how to express or show their feelings.
Where did these words come from? Who put them there? Could it have been me and I just don't remember? I've definitely been introduced to the concept -- and experience -- of senior moments. But I don't type in Times New Roman 10 and I would have written "persons who" (or "whom" - I would have had to think about it - but never "persons that.")
I choose to look at these words - wherever they came from - as a gift. They make me want to cry. For the little girl in the new school who didn't have the self- esteem to stand up to exclusion. For the adolescent who didn't believe in herself enough to choose the boy instead of letting the boy choose her. For the young woman who doubted her ability to love. For the woman who can't trust.
If I had always known what those small words say, I would have been spared a lot of pain, doubt and indecision. But then I would have had to find other ways to grow in compassion, in empathy, in my desire to help.
We're all on a path strewn with stumbling blocks. We fall, we bleed, we hurt. Eventually -- and for some of us it takes longer than for others --we learn.
Copyright Ruth Mason, 2000