Who Lives Better Than We Do?

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New Tricks

My adolescent need to challenge her beliefs
long gone, we sit at the late summer table,
laughing at the birds’ feeder antics, peaceful in
our ritual of my cooking, her cookies and tea for
dessert, and the surprisingly comfortable exchange
that seems to emerge from sugar, caffeine, my
genuine desire to see through her eyes, and her
willingness to let me have a look.

I ask what she believes, she asks, about
what?   Everything.  She smiles, I specify—
life, death, religion, politics—you know, everything.
Like, do you literally believe God created all of this
in six 24-hour days, what do you mean by heaven,
who’s worse—Clinton or Starr, what are we here for,
anyway?  She engages, throws questions  back at me,
we try to discern what this all means for us, here and
now, and slowly, almost imperceptibly, find ourselves
immersed in open, receptive spaciousness with room for
difference, disgreement—each other—unburdened by
expectation and desire—present, light, in this very
moment           and this              and      this.

She tells me what she believes, filtered through
warm, luminous faith, occasional showers of
doubt and the grace and openness to learn after
eight decades.  We compare the Gospels with
the Dhammapada, Big Bang with Creation,
species evolution with individual development;
she sits in at the college, and strains with her
left ear to hear about Ken Wilber—all quadrants,
all levels—but the mutual lessons fare best in the
evening kitchen with the cookies, tea and birds.

When we dare to make it real, she tells me she can’t
forgive someone, we remember forgiveness releases
anger and hurt—doesn’t require the other’s apology—
is the best gift we can give ourselves, and she looks at
me, says, not many people think the way you do, as if it
were all my idea.  We try it on her real-life target, learn
to differentiate theory from practice, embrace clarity and
ambiguity, forgive ourselves when we fail, and try again.

We bring up fear of death (and life), and when I ask, she
responds in calm so pure I feel it, that—no, she’s
not afraid of death, in fact, she’s ready to go.

Lesson over, dishes done, we take turns yelling at
Jeopardy and Wheel in the living room, laugh like
sophomores, then I work or read until it’s time to
say good night—see you in the morning, and
await her inevitable tag: God willing.
_____

December 2, 1999

420A is empty when I arrive, but
June Moore sees me, says Mom’s in
the solarium, so I walk down the hall,
find her in the wheelchair, draped from
the neck down in a white blanket, facing
the window, headphones on, peaceful in
the solitude of late morning sun on the
Palisades, the river, plants and flowers
that June (with her guidance) nurtures.
I walk to her left side—she sees me,
stops Nat King Cole and we kiss hello.

I sit, we talk about the wedding, how happy she is,
how fortunate we both are to have found Marianela.
Nurses and aides remind me to get ready for our
mother-son dance, which seems as genuinely
important to them as it does to us.  We laugh,
hold hands, sit in warm silence before the vast
expanse of gray river, brown cliffs, and to the
south, a miniature Manhattan’s futile attempt
to reach for the deep blue winter sky.

June walks in, Mom credits her for the plants and
flowers, but June is quick to thank her for lessons
on how to bring a dying poinsettia back to life.  When
she says she’s tired we wheel her back to the room,
help her from the chair into the bed, then slide her
gently up until body and bed become as one.

She sighs.  Smiles.

Flat on her back, scars and bruises from too
many IV’s, bypasses, staples, and stitches
hidden tastefully beneath crisp white sheets,
her smile transforms to laughter, then language:

Who lives better than I do?
_____

November 19, 1999

Happy 83rd!

Good morning—I feel as
            good as I’ve felt in weeks
               (knock on wood)We pack the wheelchair and
roll our way to a 9:30 AM
gastroenterologist at the
blue-dot building where
both-end exams find diverticulosis; we

leave prescriptions at Walgreens
then to the cemetery where from the
car       five feet from the stone
she says

            Hello, Dad—another birthday—
            I hope it won’t be long before
            I join you         Miss you

Next, to Stew Leonard’s—not to shop, just to
see—wheel our way through the aisle—
a few grapefruit? –those pies look good—cookies
for the dialysis center on Thanksgiving?  Back to
the car. Then

Red Lobster—adventurous, we leave
the wheelchair in the trunk, take
our time walking arm-in-arm—
salmon looks good—please
cook it with as little
salt as possible

Halfway through she puts her fork down

            You know how much I appreciate
            all you do—this has been a great day—

it still is—

(she laughs)     I feel so lucky

If you were really lucky, you’d have two
working kidneys and a heart that—

            you know what I mean—a lot of people have
worse   problems and no one takes care of them

yeah, I know what you mean
_____

Copyright © 2001 by Reggie Marra
All rights reserved.

__________

Ordering Information: $18.99 shipping included. | In CT, price including shipping and sales tax is $20.20. All books shipped USPS 1st class.

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