Monday morning found me standing in the Social Hall of my daughters’ school listening as the incoming principal spoke of his hopes and ideas for next September. Afterwards, having forgotten to turn my cell phone off, it barked and vibrated in my purse. (My “ring” is a dog’s bark. The vibration is always a pleasant surprise.) I was in the middle of a conversation and so, out of courtesy, ignored the call from “Blocked”. Moments later, “Blocked” called again, so I answered. It was Mare, the Encino sister.
“Claudia just called me. Mom hasn’t shown up for work.” Claudia is my mom’s boss at the college where she’s been employed for the past twenty-seven years.
I could hear the concern in my sister’s voice. Claudia has never called any of us to report my mother being late over the decades she’s worked there. If she had a doctor’s appointment or some other obligation, Mom would’ve let Claudia know.
Our mother is eighty, so her age alone puts her in that category where you consider that she tripped on the stairs and broke her hip. She wasn’t answering her phone, and the cellular situation is a bit of a charade, so we were doing the only thing we knew to do. We headed out to her condo. I told Sis I’d meet her out there. She told me she’d call when she arrived if she discovered Mom’s car was gone. We’d assume she got stuck in traffic or delayed by some other benign excuse. My sister was ten minutes ahead of me.
If you offer me the potential of bad news, chances are I won’t take it. I won’t immediately go to worst-case scenario because, simply, it bums me out. Which is not to say I don’t go there a little bit. I briefly imagined my life as an orphan, and then just as quickly put those thoughts aside because, after my dad died in ’97, I decided my mother would and should live forever. She may well yet.
My phone barked while I was on the freeway. It was Mare. Indeed, my mother’s car was not in the garage and minutes later she was in touch with all of us. There was a doctor’s appointment and some miscommunication. All was well. Mom apologized for worrying anyone.
During the five or ten minutes when I imagined the earth might rotate on its axis without my mother upon it, I questioned whether our relationship had been good lately. Her retirement dinner at the college last Wednesday was great fun. My siblings and I cheered when she received her metaphorical gold watch for years of distinguished service. Mother’s Day before that was full of laughs. Though in the weeks and months previous, we hadn’t spoken at great length. Talking on the phone has never been my favorite pastime, and my mother’s social life keeps her impressively busy.
But what if Mom died? What if anyone close to me died without a moment’s notice? Were we in a good place with one another? We’ve all heard stories of loved ones whose last communication had been angry words. I don’t want a tale to tell like that. But I also don’t know how to treat a relationship, or life for that matter, as if it could be gone in an instant.
Live each day as if it were your last.
I hate that quote. Who said it? It’s so impractical. Who can live like that?
May you live all the days of your life. – Jonathan Swift
That’s more like it. Open to interpretation. Just vague enough to mean different things to different people. Am I copping out because the words Carpe Diem make me feel like a failure? I can’t remember the last time I seized a day. Hmmm…
And yet, shit happens. There are no guarantees in life. My mom’s car could have been in the garage. What then? We’ve never been a verbally demonstrative family. I don’t remember the last time I told her I loved her. (Mom, are you reading this? I love you.)
Vanessa Redgrave’s character had a line in “Letters to Juliet”. I’m paraphrasing, but it was something like, “One of the great pleasures in life is to have someone brush your hair.” She said it as she ran a brush through Amanda Seyfried’s long locks. There was love in the gesture. That evening, Miss T ran her little fingers through my hair and I felt connected to her. I felt her love. And in spontaneous hugs with Goldie and Bun-Bun’s high pitched “Love you” as I’m nearly out of her bedroom at night, I think things are all right between us. So why did what happened (or didn’t happen) Monday morning make me so contemplative?
I suppose thankfully, I’m seldom reminded firsthand of how fragile life can be. When tragic news does arrive, I mourn. I vow to shower the people I love with love. I promise to live each day to the fullest. And I do, and then I don’t because I’m much too busy. I can’t possibly communicate to my friends and family how much they mean to me because don’t they just know? We should all gather ye rosebuds while ye may, but I have to think about dinner tonight. If I serve it on the china we received for our wedding twelve years ago and never use because it’s only for special occasions, does that count? Because every day is a special occasion?
Seriously, life is short. I’ve even been known to say that to people from time to time. Encouraging others to seize a moment, “tell them how you feel”, is counsel I’ve given freely. Would it be the craziest thing for me to heed my own advice, even if it requires little Carpe Diem post-it-notes scattered throughout the house and car? I could carry a hairbrush with me at all times and spontaneously coif the heads of those I hold dear.
I don’t know how to end this post other to say I love many of you (look, there’s a lot of you I don’t know) and allow Annie Dillard to end it for me.
Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.