As it is rarely done, I received an email from my mother this morning from her sickbed. This is otherwise known as her self-designed "sanctuary" amid all of the self-designed inventions, which she has artfully created over the decades in her fervent (and equally eccentric) insistence on what she calls "independent living". Of course, it is no matter to my mother that her sanctuary is also her tomb. She prefers very low lighting and the constant noise of a television. She only receives the visitors that come to feed and bathe her. Because of her now-advanced quadripelgia due to 40 years of living with Multiple Sclerosis, she rarely ventures out. What she calls her sanctuary is a small, two-bedroom apartment located in the lowest of a low-income American housing projects. Of course, she has made it into a lovely little place. It is decorated to her taste, with ornate curtains on the barred window, and a wall full of oddly shaped mirrors that hang behind her rose-colored mechanical reclining chair, where she spends her waking hours performing random research and formulating her latest inventions. She is especially fond of her large fish tank and all of its inhabitants that sit to her left. G-d only knows what she are going to do with that thing when she passes.
During my late teenage years, it occurred to me that my mother is the mother that Frida Kahlo never physically had the opportunity to become. (Plus this, I can honestly say that she would be the first to mount a mirror to her bed if she decided to do a self-portrait.) There is a very strong resemblance between them. Dark, petite, frighteningly sharp and incredibly volatile in temperament, my mother's emotional and physical constitution has always been a source of study for many. On many occasions, I have marveled at the idea that two things have allowed her to live into older age: her vanity and her uncompromising will. For example, she has always been very open with her daily considerations of suicide, but has consistently maintained her refusal to ever do such a thing because it would be "very ugly" and, worse, "such a cliche!". The truth is that I know very well that my mother chooses to stay alive because it is one of the few choices available to her. She has always been a refuser of the refusalists. G-d love her. Despite her transparent claims that she is "holding on for grandchildren", I have always known that she is simply in no rush to leave the life she has because it would mean leaving me and my brother. We are, as she says, her "favorite inventions".
My mother has been so ill for so very long that I have often seen her in my mind's eye hovering between heaven and earth. I regularly wonder if all the pain pills she takes each night before bed causes her to liminally visit me in my dreams. Our connection has always defied distance, and has been intensely psychic by design. Of course, it was never always the easiest of relationships, but there has always been an easy understanding between us that has allowed my mother to cheer me on through all of endeavors, but also hold me to ground according to her idea of excellence. In my own, forgiving sort of way, I have always known that we came into each others lives for the reason of working through our respective karmic purposes. (I told her this at the age of 10.) It always seemed so clear to me that I could have easily been my mother, and how easily my mother could have been me. (Perhaps we'll experiment with this the next time around.)
It is all too often that I note that it is against this realization and equally because of this that I frame my life. It is because of how bearing witness to my mother's suffering--and how it has caused me to suffer so deeply as her child--that I am incapable of fearing anything for very long. In the end, I always know that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. In the end, I guess, I know what I am made of, because of what and who made me. But, of course, I don't tell my mother this in the fleeting time that I have left to share the planet with her. Instead, I fill her appetite for knowledge with my papers and stories. I satiate her own love of adventure with pictures from the furthest corners of the world. And, yes, I call regularly.
In the meantime, she would like to know if I plan to come back to American soil before I go to India for the fall months? Do I plan to visit? Do I know (because she has already done the research) that it only take 24 hours to fly to India from the USA?
"Of course, I would like to see you, Dear. But I was assuming practicality...," she writes in her usual code of formalities.
I note the code and responded accordingly:
"Don't worry, Mom. You are the first person on my list. I will see you in mid-August."
I am sure it is not normal, as much as I am sure that the vast majority of people my age don't save all of the letters and emails their mother ever wrote them because there is such a finite amount that will ever be sent. I can only hope that my children will be half the source of unconditional love and amusement that my mother has been to me in this lifetime. With luck and her trademark perseverance, she will live to see this, too. She makes the firecrackers in the Middle East seem far too tame by comparison.