Where to begin? I can try to follow the train of my thoughts, but they quickly become/became a confusion of threads, not tangled, but criss-crossing and delightfully complex. I was thinking about my mother; it will be seven years in June since she unexpectedly left this world. If you know me at all, in person or through reading my online voice, you know that our relationship was not always the best.
I remembered a letter that a friend of hers, who had become a friend (and confidant) of mine, wrote to me when mom died; I located and read it. This was a friend she made in the final years of her life; they met at the Life Care Community where they had each moved with their husbands, to spend their final years. Fran had advanced Parkinson’s disease when we met, extremely limited in what she could do physically and one of the most alive people I have ever known. Her life force filled any space she entered and likewise nourished those she encountered. In this brief letter, she told me more about my mother as a friend than I had ever known. I will quote a bit of it here….
Written the night of your mother’s death: It’s 11:50 p.m. and I’m not sleeping. I almost called you up, because I think you are not sleeping either. I am thinking of the twinkle that lived [here] at PL for too short a time. Mary Johnson, the perfectly wonderful. She was so terrific I cannot think of a single flaw. I wish I had known her years ago, so we would have had more experiences in common, what a blessing that would have been… I’ll always remember the humor, the twinkle, the perfectly wonderful Mary Johnson, my friend and pal for too short a time.
As a child and carrying on into adulthood, I always believed that my mother had few, if any, real friends. Her dependence on my siblings and myself, (expressed differently once we were grown, but with the same intensity), indicated to me that she had little support from her peers. My father, of course not; her mother, a difficult self-absorbed woman; the other moms in our neighborhood, she believed (or appeared to) that she had nothing in common with them. There were a few friends from her college days, one she had known since childhood, with whom she corresponded occasionally for decades, by mail.
What did I know? I thought I knew so much, knew everything about her and her ‘little’ world. Time has rubbed my face in the fact that I did not. What did she think friendship meant? What about the giving and receiving that underlies relationships? Where did I learn the ‘safety’ of giving, instead of asking and receiving? There I was, busily setting limits on how close others could get to me, in order to protect myself, that they not see my true, flawed self.
At the same time I was ever so judgmental about her ‘hollow, care-taking’ relationships with others. “Where was the substance?”, I thought, condescendingly. When I reread what Fran had to say about her, I realize how wrong I was. The arrogance of youth, I’d like to say, but I carried that arrogant ignorance for an awfully long time. Never too late to learn, I hope.
I am reminded of some lines from a poem, written by Marge Piercy, entitled The Seven of Pentacles.
Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground. You cannot tell always by looking what is happening. More than half the tree is spread out in the soil under your feet… Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses. Live a life you can endure… Keep tangling and interweaving and taking more in, a thicket and bramble wilderness to the outside, but to us interconnected with rabbit runs and burrows and lairs.
Words are beginning to fail me here, as I move through the thoughts and feelings that arise. There is so much that was true about my mother and her connections, that is true of each of us, that is unseen, that grows underground. In her letter mourning and praising my mother, Fran spoke with clarity and insight about the woman she knew.
She also said something that struck me to the core. “You have within you her practical nature and patience, and her appreciative spirit, her ability to bear the ‘not so swift.’” Fran may have been referring to her own disability, her need to use a power chair. But she tapped right into something that rang so true about my mother. She, in the words of Piercy’s poem (above), continued to “reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in”… Through all the years of her life, she continued to make new connections.
I will conclude now, by going back to the idea of my mother on Facebook. In the last couple of years of her life, she had begun to use email a bit. She learned how to play solitaire on the computer and just months before her death, I taught her how to use a search engine. She was Depression-era frugal, but loved to shop (with my sister – I wasn’t much of a shopper – which is a tangent I could follow, but will not.) I imagine that given more time she would have taken to shopping on the world wide web with great pleasure.
But Facebook? That we shall never know, but perhaps I can begin to imagine…