Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Mother's Day 2007

there was a time when the 2 of you got along.

it was before you could remember. before you could talk or stand on your own. when she could cradle you in one arm. when she still dressed your clothes and fed you meals and brushed your teeth and combed your hair. when she still sat next to your bed and put you to sleep and sang you songs and read you stories.

that time went away, but the stories you remembered.

you remember she loved mythology. zeus and achilles and apollo and hercules. odin and thor and balder and loki. she loved epics. the iliad and the odyssey, beowulf and roland. she loved legends. leonidas and hannibal, augustus and hadrian, arthur and robin hood. she loved history. thermopylae, cannae, carthage, rome, britain, gaul.

you remembered the stories. they were her stories, and she meant them for you.

but there came a time when the 2 of you didn't get along.

it was when you became a creature of time and age and society and place. you saw her as a relic of a prior generation, still holding to a sense of history; she saw you as an impetuous fool, reckless for the modern. you saw her as just another self-centered, self-obsessed baby boomer; she saw you as just another slouching, pouting, apathetic teenager. she was about memories returning to life; you wanted a life beyond memories. she was the past; you wanted the future.

it didn't help that you had different personalities. you thought of her as frenetic; she thought of you as placid, even lazy. she was mercurial, fickle; you were moody, introspective. she was rage and emotion; you were stoic and distant. she was not always tender, nor sympathetic, nor sentimental, nor calm; you wanted to pause and think and ponder the world and see what there was to see. she was a cynic; you were a dreamer.

and there was that great curse to all immigrant families: culture. you viewed her as caught in an outdated British colonial world of manners and mores and conduct and codes; she viewed you as all too eager to explore the morass of confusion and restlessness and lost direction of American society. she saw the world as black and white, absolutes and rules; you saw it as complexities and questions, uncertainties and possibilities. she thought of duty and piety; you thought of freedom and the need to live without fear. she was irrelevant tradition; you were the lessons of the street. she was out of touch; you knew better.

that time split you apart. you didn't talk for years.

and you forgot the stories your mother told you, so that you could search for your own. you ran away, as far as you could possibly go, seeking the space you thought you needed. the space for a story that was yours. the space that could only be found in the long, long reaches of the distance away from home.

you ran for years.

yet eventually there came a time, by the grace that came from family, that you stopped running, and the 2 of you spoke once again, even though you didn't get along.

it was when you reached a distance beyond time and age and society and place or personality or culture.

you were not the creature you were before. neither was she. you saw her as a human soul doing the best she could with what she had. just like you. you realized all that she was doing--all she had ever done--was to make her way as much as she could, in a world that didn't really make much sense to her. just like you. you understood that she'd just been trying to live her own story. just like you.

it was then that you discovered that the farther you had gotten away from home, the closer you had come to find it. because it is only in the distance that you learn what is important, and what you learned was important was the stories you shared. beyond time and age and society and place or personality or culture. the stories were, and are, beyond them all.

oh, the stories have changed. there's not so much mythology now. not so much epics, or legends, or history. not so much her stories. nor so much your own. because you're not the creature you were before. neither is she.

still, there is a chance for time when the 2 of you get along.

it's when you call. she'll answer. the 2 of you will talk. and you'll exchange stories.

you'll begin with eliot, and she'll begin with homer. you'll turn to cummings, she'll turn to beowulf. you'll mention yeats, she'll switch to shakespeare. you'll recommend joyce, she'll propose dickens. you'll quote wordsworth, she'll recite tennyson.

eventually, perhaps by serendipity, perhaps by resolution, you'll settle on kipling. and then you'll move on to carroll. and that will lead to someone else. and then another, and then another. and the lines will begin with one of you and finish with the other. sometimes, you'll say the lines together.

and then there'll be a pause, and a moment that needs not discussion, and the silence of serenity. and there'll be just 1 story shared by both of you.

and now is the time when the 2 of you get along.

if you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch...
if you can fill the unforgiving minute
with sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
and--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!
--rudyard kipling, if

"the time has come," the walrus said,
"to talk of many things:
of shoes--and ships--and sealing wax--
of cabbages--and kings..."
--lewis carroll, the walrus and the carpenter (through the looking-glass)

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