Saturday, July 22, 2006

quietly understanding

It's late in the day, the sun disappearing behind some slow-moving clouds, giving a much-needed break from the unrelenting heat. I've been on the phone with my dad for about a half-hour, mulling over the mundane details that now characterize my mom's day-to-day life: Has she eaten? Does she respond to touch, to sound? Has she left the bed at all the last few days?

His voice cracks; he assures me that he has many fond memories of their life together, tucked away in his mind like a coveted family relic. Last night's phone call brought bad news, but the news has rarely been anything but, so "bad" is merely a formality. She has stopped eating, she is not responding. He went in to see her, by now the contours of the nursing home known to him with the same degree of accuracy as her numerous quirks, the contours of their shared world. He was clear to them - she is not to experience pain, she is not to receive "outside assistance" to help her life to continue beyond natural means.

His thick Texan drawl is comforting to me, as it has always been. He begins important sentences in the same way he always has, with a soft yet determined "My boy," launching into what can only prove to be something he does not want me to miss. Our conversations have always gone back and forth like this, my mile-a-minute speech tempered by his stroll-in-the-park thoughts spoken aloud, taking their time.

It is in this phone conversation that I feel the farthest from Texas, from my family (both of blood and of choice), from the place from which I, as a person, come. The place in which I was formed – all of me, my faults and my strengths. I often think about the fact that my mother made me, for nine months she formed me. Everything I have, everything I am, is because of her. Now that she is wasting away, it seems counter-intuitive that I should still be alive. I am connected to her more than I am, or ever will be, to any other person in this world.

Yet my dad continues on, speaking of the phases he is experiencing, of the transitions he has felt between being angry and being accepting of this horrific situation. He doesn’t speak of God; he speaks of my mother, his beloved. I nod in agreement, wishing I could be sitting in a chair next to him, soaking up the late Texas summer with a Corona and a clove. I don’t bring up God, this presence so strong in my life, so present in my thoughts and deliberations over the past months, so pivotal in my decisions for the next phase of my life. It doesn’t make sense to. I learned about God from my dad, and I will continue to learn, happy and privileged to be a perpetual student of his unique wisdom. His accent disqualifies him from sounding intelligent and learned (in the view of contemporary society), but his life-experience gives him more authority than I will ever know in my time in academia.  God to him is merely different now, a quiet presence, coloring his days in a subtle way, painting his new picture of life beyond my mother with small, gentle strokes.  I silently thank God for my dad.

The conversation is coming to an end. I’ve mostly listened, as is common to our talks now. He tells me he’ll call me tomorrow after visiting my mom, giving me an update. Ever since junior year in college, when her condition took a severe turn for the worse, the appearance of my dad or my sister in my caller ID has brought with it a deadening drop in my throat, traveling throughout my body. This could be the call, I think, excusing myself into a corner, preparing for the worst. Tomorrow will bring a similar moment.

He ends the discussion like he always does. “I love you, my boy.” I’ll never tire of it, of this claiming of his youngest son. After twenty-three years of life, I still unabashedly yearn to be claimed, as I was in my baptism, performed by my dad in Canyon Lake, Texas, when I was 18. My mom was there, grinning from ear to ear, her disease yet to claim her mind. What a thing, she later told me, to see her son being claimed by God, assisted in this process by her own beloved. “It was”, she continued, “one of the proudest days of my life.” She doesn’t remember that moment, but I always will. I’ll remember it for the both of us. She won’t be there for any other milestone in my life, but her fierce love of her children, of her beloved, will persist.

Maybe that’s what it means when we proclaim that the Holy Spirit is present in our worship. That Jesus is present in the bread and in the wine. That we are claimed by our baptism. Many people don’t remember that moment, when they were mere babies. But God does, keeping that memory alive simply by existing. The moment, lost to many, persists in the witness of others, in the love of God. Hopefully my family can do the same for my mother, long after she exits from this world.


At 11:31 AM , Anonymous benjamin said...

I enjoy what and how you write.

At 12:15 PM , Blogger Meow said...

Thanks for sharing, J.


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