About 10 days ago my aunt called and texted to say my mom was in the hospital. She’d fallen, and my aunt found her hours after that when she hadn’t heard from her. Her prognosis at the time was unclear. Why had she fallen? Was the fall the result of her Parkinson’s disease? Was her condition just a result of dehydration? What was clear was, as her son, I should be there.
It took me days to plan a trip and to build the momentum to break out of COVID isolation and go to Albuquerque. There wasn’t much I could do there anyway; doctors and caretakers were doing their jobs. I had phone calls and asked questions. I could do that anywhere. But I wanted to go. It made sense.
Maybe it’s because I’m an only child but everything is always about me. This solipsism, I’m convinced after self-reflection isn’t sociopathic. Rather, I think, this focus on my self formed sui generis,a self-preservation mechanism that is rational, based not on hurting others but protecting myself by being aloof and analytical. I hate sympathy for me or others. Sympathy to me is an admission of weakness, death, and dissolving willingly into nothingness.
Worse, sympathy seems to be part of a complex of socially appropriate and normative behaviors that rankle me. The best example I can think of is the dreaded sympathy card. Someone is dead. And now a kitschy card with big cursive bromides is being circulated like a memo about parking spaces in the office lot. “Sorry to hear about your loss.” Then check the box next to your name. Bob’s relative — who I never met and who Bob may have used as one of his free bereavement days — is dead. Check! I don’t like Bob and I never met his relative, but I must perform.
Still, love really is showing up. Yes, it may seem abstract and sociopathic, but I usually tend to admire people that show up — anyway. And I use that word “anyway” because the best people who show up didn’t have to. Jesus is an example. Thomas Becket. Thomas More. Jet Li in the movie Hero. I’ve written about this struggle to show up, to be present, in my short bio and in autobiographical fiction.
Here’s where it would be appropriate for you to ask, “Yeah, but how’s your mom, asshole?
She’s better than she was. Parkinson’s is a mysterious disease that consumes both body and mind. I spoke with her today on the phone. She’s been moved to a skilled nursing facility on lockdown because of COVID. So while I’m here, I’m not. Perfect irony. But we had a good call. I’d say she’s in a dream state. She’s not suffering from dementia. She complained about how much things have changed, the slowness of the nurses to respond, and that she couldn’t wear her contact lenses; all rational things to complain about.
But she adds lots of what I would call dreams, that the doctor’s office was full of contact lenses and the nurse was hassling her about trying to pick them up off the carpet.
“So you miss your contacts?” I asked. “You can see better with them.”
“Yes,” she answered.
So she’s not incoherent or scared. She’s mildly annoyed at having to be where she is and would rather be home. But she’s able to carry a conversation. I said, “one day at a time.” And then we talked about the hymn, and she said my grandmother loved it in Spanish.
Un día a la vez, Dios mío
Es lo que pido de ti
Dame la fuerza para vivir
Un día a la vez
We sang a little bit of it together but I couldn’t get the music to play on the phone.
“And God does answer prayers,” I said. “I had wanted to spend more time here and this happened and now here I am.”
My mom and I have always been able to communicate best about faith, even though mine is a work in slow progress. I explained that God doesn’t work in straight lines. He didn’t wipe out COVID so I could travel. But he kicked my ass out the door when this whole thing happened. That made sense to her.
I had planned to try to spend much more time here in 2020. I had been talking to God about what I was supposed to do with the rest of my life.
“Well,” I’d say, “If this whole COVID thing hadn’t have happened I’d try to spend a month at a time in New Mexico.”
Prayer answered. I can live at my mom’s house and avoid COVID there. I can take care of her cat and plan for her return home if that happens, something I hadn’t prepared for earlier. Maybe He’s given me a second chance to show up, to be present. And thanks to COVID nobody will know the difference unless they’ve been analyzing the background of my Zoom calls.
From Idaho to Utah to Colorado to here in New Mexico, the fires have caused the light to be a cold blue and white, like being in a poorly edited Instagram picture. Life is changing, and that light, harsh, bright, and painful, is that way because our eyes have yet to adjust to the change.
So that’s the latest, and as her situation, mine, and the world’s unfolds, we’ll be taking it one day at a time.
Tú ya viviste
Entre los hombres
Tú sabes mi Dios que hoy está peor
Es mucho el dolor
Hay mucho egoísmo
Y mucha maldad
Señor por mi bien
Yo quiero vivir, un día a la vez