This is the first thing I wrote in January of 2014.
(Note: a Wing Egg is an egg with a soft shell; from the belief that such eggs were conceived by the wind. It is a fragile, ineffable thing.)
A Wind Egg
I was born blessed with the world’s best father, a man so original, brilliant, kind and decent that I grew up sure of God, and sure of good. This everyday saint with whom I share a love of Puccini, writing and wonder, still graces this planet. We talk philosophy, love and travel.
As much as I learned to love the world and all its quiet wonders from dad, my mom taught a very different lesson. She, with every gift a woman could desire and despite the support of her family to attend Stanford, took the advice of the nuns from her small Catholic college and became a frustrated and unhappy housewife. Ignoring my father’s efforts to foster her dreams and despite her proud beauty and quick wit, she would not take the world on its terms, staying instead at home to torment the next generation, and I was her favorite target.
I sometimes wonder what was it about me that made her hate me so, though I already know the answer. Her attempts to exert a rigid control on our lives and prove that life was hard, that God was hate failed utterly with me. I rejected the lie, the control and acted out in various ways not knowing the impact of my actions. I skewered holes in her paper cups so the milk piddled on the dinner table and dropped water on lit lamp bulbs just to watch them explode. Between the storms of her anger and the quiet of her neglect, I bucked her attempts to shackle me with her views and paid a heavy price still through direct confrontation.
Often our duels were small affairs that sparked and burned out just as quickly. Others, such as the time she almost drowned me by forcing my head repeatedly under the water of the bathtub in the name of teaching me to swim were terrifying events that left me emotionally annihilated. Growing up, I wanted to be just like dad for dad was kind and she was crazy. I became a tomboy and blazed a trail away from the enforced insanity of home life. I became expert at reading her moods. I didn’t trust her.
Taking stock as a young adult of the shrapnel she left in my space, I approached the world like a bandit risking neither head nor heart and in that wake, left a heady damage for others to suffer. I am sad to this day that I can’t take back the words and wounds I scattered, all in defense of my own mother wound.
In my twenties, having passed from Catholicism to Agnosticism and from there to nihilism, I discovered this quote from the Dalai Lama, and it became the guiding force of my life. This venerable yoda-like man has done more to advance the cause and understanding of his people through love, humor and mutual interest then could ever have occurred had he gone forth in anger. He said, “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”
My love of his idea and nascent understanding of this advice heaved me in a different direction and opened my eyes to Buddhism. Looking at the bombed out remains of my spirit, this one quote led from the busy marketplace of ideas good and bad into a curiosity about what might be if I stopped projecting my hurt onto the world. Through Buddhism, I considered the idea I had chosen this incarnation and faced the question “Why would I have chosen this mother?” Why this hateful, destructive wretch who so often had told me “I wish you had never been born.”
While I spent months fighting the idea that I might be responsible for my own early suffering, I gradually saw that I was certainly responsible for all the suffering I was then creating in my life. Eventually, I arrived at the place where I understood what I had learned from this mother of mine. I had learned hate, selfishness and fear.
As the years progressed, my father had finally had enough of forty years of verbal abuse and left the marriage. He simply couldn’t take anymore. No one blamed him.
As I watched my mother’s angry tantrums and experienced her vitriol over the demise of her marriage, I watched her drive everyone away. I stood there as she buffeted me with rage, wondering why I wasn’t running too. Despite all the years of her abuse, I still fought her. This was NOT it. It was not enough for me. I was broken not destroyed. She owed us something more.
“I love you,” I said though at first it didn’t register as she grumbled on. I said it again, louder and with defiance “I love you.” That quelled her fervor for the moment. She didn’t ask what I meant though saw her absorb it slightly. And for the next eight years I told her over and over again “I love you” even when I didn’t, with a “Fake it till you make it attitude,” sure my new strange direction was the right one. Having handled her rejection from the cradle, I held a unique position to ask for change. Over and over again I said it, smiling when ignored or rebuffed. I know I am one stubborn-ass kind of person, but I just couldn’t stop. In this game of “uncle” I was going to win.
One day, she said it back. It came unobtrusively with the tiny force of meaning we reserve for statements such as “I love pretzels” but it was there nonetheless and sat timidly in the space between us gnarled and weather-beaten. I tried not to get too excited or scare it away, a frail wind egg of bare beginning.
We became over the course of the next several years, the best of friends. I loved her wicked sense of humor when not applied to me. As domineering as she was in the lives of her young children, she strongly respected their adult lives and never imposed her views always stating “She’s a grown woman, I can’t tell her how to live.” Her funny observations invariably hit spot on where they burst with truth provoking my raucous laughter. She’d laugh all over again and tell me stories of my “lecherous lumberjack laugh” which entertained her so when I was a child. I began to see the abuse as a smaller part of a greater whole and in that whole, she had loved me, though not always well.
When she unexpectedly developed ovarian cancer in 2009, that laughter became our frontline coping strategy. I chose her nurse based on her competence and humor. Hana Zilker, a tall and imposing Georgian Jewish woman who’d come from Israel, helped me fill mom’s days with meaning and laughter and spoiled her like a baby while bossing her with the command “Jojo, EAT.”
When we entered the cancer experience together, I hoped that love would conquer all and aggressively set about with the help of my husband to find the best medical care to save mom’s life. Mom was a bad patient, a bad guest in our home. Taking no pride in her appearance, she’d allow her colostomy bag to burst so the whole house smelled like effluent and would then wallow in her own wastes for someone to come fix the problem and I learned new ways to use paper towels and horse bandages. My husband and son took it like champs and learned to carry air freshener wherever they went. Sadly, I attribute my son’s early interest in men’s cologne to a desire to escape this affront of death, as he longed for the future promised in a can of Axe.
When mom came home one day and announced that her “lungs were full of snowflakes,” I knew metastatic cancer resided there. Sometimes at night as we sat watching Agatha Christie I would ask her what was wrong, though she would never say. One day, she said “You know,” At that point I knew my efforts to keep up the bright talk should come to an end, that I should stop my parlance of hope and accept that she was dying and love her aggressively, completely and certainly, right up to that end. That end, its journey of fearful consequence, broke heartstrings each by each. When the bedside commode entered the picture, I braced knowing my antipathy for strong smells.
My sisters asked, “How can you stand this?” I couldn’t explain but to say, “Where else could I be?” With Hana not there one day, I forced my older sister to face her resistance and help me so I didn’t drop mom on the ground and Boo said, “You’re so good at this stuff.” I looked at her strangely as I gagged. She was missing the point: “I’m not good at this. I suck at this. I’m a rotten nurse. I just show up and do it badly.”
Three days before mom died, just after Hana had changed the sheets. The sun streamed in the window casting little globes of light on the ceiling reflected off the marina’s water. Mom said, “Hold me” and I lay on the bed with her holding her in my arms. I wanted to hold her forever even while ambivalence ran through me. I lay self-consciously on the bed, as the Hana walked in and out. It felt a spoiled intimacy to lay captive there for the anyone to see.
The last thing mom ever said to me was a joke. Our final communion moment was laughter. Thank you God.
When she died on June 20th, I was out of the room debriefing my husband and she lay attended by two of my sisters. She had a sudden heart attack, and my sisters screamed my name. I ran to her room to see her, confronting a wild storm of magenta butterflies, seen by my eye alone. They flew from her liberated, mad with joy, and raced around the room before migrating en masse from my minds eye. She lay dead and glorious. I sat there with a grin wondering if I’d snapped. Later, would come the stumbling uncertain grief that ran headstrong and voracious through my life. For now, I was just happy that she was free.
So, what is the point of this?
You want to see a better world, LOVE IT. Step away from the pitfalls of hate and judgment whether you are liberal or not and know that love is the fastest way to change the weary world. Go into your mental warehouse and find the big dusty box that says “Love” dust it off and open it. Don’t be surprised when it grins back at you. Love everything, starting with you and roll forward, a vast ineluctable wave. Knock people over with that love. Hate is easy. Judgment is simple. Love is the big Kahuna, the not so easy challenge that rends our souls and spits out the bitter pips.