Incompetent power executives. Millions freezing in the dark. Eight dollar eggs. Campus shootings. Train wrecks. Wars in far away lands. Nut Bag Politicians. Corruption in Motown and Vehicle City.
At least I got Ma.
Let me tell you the story.
I visited my sister’s grave. Many of us Christians consider the Saturday before Lent as the original All Souls’ day, the day to honor the dead.
My niece is buried with my sister; or my sister was added with my niece. I can’t remember. Our family is like that. They were laid to rest in the family plot of my niece’s grandparents out in Plymouth, near the courthouse, just outside the right field fence of the old municipal ball diamond.
I couldn’t bring myself to sweep the snow from their headstone because I’m not sure their names have been added. A decade later, the pain is too great. The thoughts make me weep.
The grandmother of my niece has her name chiseled in the granite. I’m not sure the woman has passed yet. How strange I thought. How we all fall away. There were some withered wreaths near the headstone blanketed in ice. I said my piece for my kin and left a tobacco offering.
I drove to see my mother afterwards. She lives on Joy Road about 10 miles away. My mom doesn’t visit their plot much either. Too many memories. Too much pain. My mom doesn’t like headstones, and doesn’t want one.
She doesn’t say it exactly, but her day is coming upon her. I hope her days are long and happy, but a time comes when we must all repay our loan from the Maker.
Mom lately has been giving things away. Furniture and old copper pots and such. She also says strange little things now like: “I want to get a puppy, but it would be unfair to leave it behind.”
In an upstairs closet she keeps the remains of her third – and favorite – husband, and her second – and favorite – son. “When I go,” she says, “put us on a Viking raft together, set us out to sea, and shoot fire arrows at us.”
This manner of dispatching of the mortal remains does not comport with the law of the Faith, nor maybe do episodes of her life, but surely my mother has conducted herself in the spirit of it. To that, I can bear witness.
There was always room in that raucous and crowded house on Joy Road for the wayward teen or the troubled child or a relation in need. There has always been warm coffee and buttered bread and a compassionate ear.
And now, in this season of sacrifice, my mother teaches me a last great lesson: how to conduct one’s self in the fading rays of life. Behaving with dignity and grace and courage while treating each new day as though it was no different than the one just lived. There is nothing to fear. A life passes, but a mother and son bond is forever.
And so we did not dwell on the maudlin. We watched TV and smoked cigarettes and talked the talk of mother and son without looking at one another. The cable news droned on. Train wrecks and egg prices and mass shootings on the college campus. She considered the future.
“Do you think it’ll get better?” she asked.
“Sure, just change the channel, Ma.”
“No son. I’m worried for the (grand) kids.”
They say every woman dies twice. Once when she is buried or set to sea. And once when her name is spoken for the last time. That is how some people can become immortal.
I am not wholly certain of what awaits any of us on other side of life’s door. I will pray and think upon it this Lenten season. But I do know this. Headstone or no, my mother’s name will be spoken for generations – within her circle of blood and beyond it.
Good deeds make good persons, and good persons are remembered.
Or as my mom says: “What does it hurt to be kind?”
I love you Ma.