I said something to Allan almost a year before he was ever diagnosed that haunts me not because I wished I wouldn’t have said it but because I wished I would have acted on it more. I repeated it to my mother in her last month’s visit with me. I’m sharing it today because I want you and me and the rest of the world to wake up and know that it behooves us to be present in the now.
I said, “We don’t have as much time as you think we do.”
I don’t really know why I said it, maybe to ward off another “No” from him about a trip I’d wanted us to take together. I’d already booked the business trip and wouldn’t he like to come with me? A part of me knew, perhaps it was a premonition, a tug of the conscious world that our time together was limited.
I discovered during my mother’s four-month visit that she likes hot dogs – the woman enjoys a good Vienna sausage – who knew? I learned that she had a thing for a young John Wayne and she wouldn’t have said ‘No’ to an older version of The Duke either. Who was this woman? But as I came to know a different side of my mother, I interpreted my new knowledge to be an invitation to plan whole days around eating and watching those times from the past. I must have dragged my mother to at least three hipster hot dog places in Austin.
“Oh no,” she’d say every time, “let’s go later.” Or tomorrow or not today, “Another time.”
My mother’s deep seated arthritis is real. It’s not something in her head. When she’d wake me up in the middle of the night for a pain pill, it was sometimes the only way I knew it was going to rain, because her bones were always at least one day ahead of humidity predictions than weather.com. But she (and I) paid for that knowledge, her with knife-sharp stings in her arms and her legs, and me with sleepless nights. When I would coax her into dragging her walker from the house to the Jeep to whatever venue I had picked out for us, just the wienie-eating alone was our day long adventure. For someone healthy like you or me, we cannot really understand what it means to constantly feel cold even in 70 degree weather, or the mental preparation she had to have to go along in these outings.
I used to coach her two or even three days in advance, gearing her up with, “Were going to have a GREAT DAY!” My manic smile plastered on my face hoping to radiate some energy into her 79-year old body. When she pushed back, and she did daily, I would remind her.
“Mom, there is no other time. Seriously.”
“Why not?” she’d ask and I could only ever tell the truth: “Because, you know, I’m not the boss of time.”
And I’d have to say out loud the obvious and ask of myself: Is what I want in her best interests or mine or both? Obligation is a heavy thing. I could have put my mother on a plane anytime, back to Michigan and their sub-zero temps. My younger sister said, “No one expects you to do this.” But I expected it and once I got over myself, I could look at the situation and willingly choose every single day to poke and prod my mother to live just a little bit more. I made sure that the now we shared together was worthy of us and us of it. Could her life be improved by trying even small things? Is it a disservice to care-taking if I allowed her to sit for hours at a time watching t.v. instead of pressing her to improve one afternoon with something as mundane as driving 30 miles to eat a Chicago-style hot dog on the lake? I chose the juicy wiener adventure and she bragged about it the next day to her during-the-week caretaker, Peter. So I’ll say yes that it was worth the effort to both of us.
With Allan, it was more the premonition of we’re not 30 years old. Our bodies will start to ache just like our parents or God forbid, one of us will get sick. One of us did get sick, and one of us died, and now one of us is wondering why didn’t we live more of our days together when we had the chance.
I’m not saying never rest, always go go go. I spent this past weekend writing and reading and talking to the cat and listening to music and occasional crying (okay, maybe more crying than usual because I’d kept a lot of it in for four months while Mom was here so that by the time she went to bed at night, I was too exhausted to cry and when she finally returned to Michigan, I had a lot of pent up grief!). I love weekends like that, but it’s not exactly a recommended way to live forever. I can’t wonder, What’s Next?, indefinitely.
I know what is next for me or at least I know what I want to be next, and the only question still to be answered is if I am willing to throw my heart over the bar so my body can follow. (Dr. Vincent Normal Peale)
After Hook died I ceased to have heart, to have passion for anything. There was nothing to throw anywhere. I threw my body over the bar and trusted that eventually my heart would re-open and maybe even follow. It did and it didn’t. It’s open again but not for what I’d expected – not for love; I don’t expect that to happen. Hook was enough for a lifetime. My heart opened to exploration, to wonderment, to change … lots and lots of change.
I’m no longer willing to wait for tomorrow or maybe next week or another time. I don’t ever want to wish I had more time because time ran out. When I shed tears, they are bitter drops that reflect a regret for not enough time. Hook and I, we didn’t live our married life to the max. We pushed a lot of things aside saying they were next – after I was finished with school, and after he did one more summer in Trinidad, and after and after, and next and next. But what came after and what was next was decided for us.
A year ago, I attended a spiritual retreat and a young priest talked about Ordinary Time which is the time that comes after Lent and Easter which many will celebrate this weekend. The priest said that for God there was no such thing as time – that hours and minutes were relevant only to man. I’d heard this from wise professors years before when I was completing my graduate work. Women were the moon; Men were the sun. All of us were timeless. According to this priest, God operated only in the now. There was no past, no future, no present – everything was happening now. At the first retreat break, I cornered the priest in a 1:1.
“You said that everything is in the now.”
“That it’s all happening now,” I pressed.
“Yes,” he said and his eyes shone with excitement.
“So what I’m hearing you say is that Hook is alive now, and Hook is sick now, and Hook is dying now, and Hook is healthy now?” I stopped because I could feel hysteria rising in my voice.
“Yes,” the priest said. “It blows your mind, doesn’t it?”
It blew my mind so much, I left the retreat so I could cry in the Jeep on the drive back to Austin from Belton. I believed and still believe that yes, everything is happening now – our past, our future, our present – all of it, right now.
I don’t even think Hook is completely gone anymore at least not in the sense that I spread his ashes and that’s that. That was him as far as earth was concerned, but he’s somewhere, somewhere I can’t see nor can I visit. Every time I get pissed about some dirt bag I think who doesn’t deserve to live when my fine husband is dead, I remind myself that he exists in the now, on some other plane, some God time that I cannot reach in my now. He’s there because he was ready to be there. Me and dirt bag aren’t there because we’re not ready to be.
Hook had lived in the now as a scientist, maybe not as a husband. That was indeed his one fault, and I will not let him off the hook (pun absolutely intended) just because he is dead. But maybe in his now he doesn’t keep those who love him at bay. Maybe he’s learned how to let the love of science and the love of people to co-exist, where they don’t have to be separate but complimentary to one another. Maybe he’s learning what I’m learning every day — we are our imperfections and it’s from this beauty that we learn. And, I know he’s learning that although man needs science, science benefits from man, too, when we promote its wisdom and care for its future.
I wasn’t always clear where Mom existed when she was in Austin with me, and I don’t think it was for me to figure that out for her. I thought perhaps she missed my father so much that sharing stories of him would feed her heart. But after peppering her with questions about how she grieved through some things in the hopes of learning how to advance my own mourning, she shushed me with a quick, “No more questions about your father.”
On Facebook, I posted photos of places I took my mother to during her Texas visit. I do not mind admitting that I tricked her into every one of those outings to stave off the onslaught of “No” I knew was inevitable. She is back home now in Michigan, and I’m sure she’s been sharing with everyone about all the places we went, and the things she saw, and the ceramic cup she painted, and the new people she met.
This all makes me remember the one and only Hook Wine & Cheese party that Allan and I hosted a year after we were married. He did not know it was a wine and cheese party until the day before the event when he saw me sneak in two crates of rented wine glasses from the utility garage door into the kitchen.
“What are those for?” he asked.
“They’re wine glasses.”
He sighed, “But we have wine glasses. You said it was only going to be seven people.”
I peered into his eyes and debated how much information he could handle. This incredibly intelligent, selectively social man that I married had his limits, and I was still learning what they were. I’d forgotten what fib I’d originally given him. Apparently I’d said something about seven people coming over for wine or dinner or both or who knows what I said.
“It’s going to be more than seven,” I said.
“How many more?” he asked with a slight whine to his voice.
I narrowed my eyes looking into both of his, back and forth. No, he could not be trusted with this data. His head would explode for sure.
“Fourteen,” I lied.
“Fourteen people?” Hook cried. “You said seven and now it’s fourteen!”
“Do you promise it’s not more than fourteen?” he asked.
That was all the confirmation I needed as I looked him straight in the eyes and said, “You’re on a need to know basis.” And with that, I ended his interrogation of the 45+ people that would eventually show up the next night for our gathering.
But let me tell you how it all turned out: Hook had the best time and it was a great evening for both of us. Although my husband resisted most Homo sapiens, he was an ideal host because he wanted people to be comfortable so he was keen to fill a glass or offer an hors d’oeuvre if a person appeared starved. In the same way he knew a little bit about everything in nature, his knowledge of world events and culture and sports made him an ideal listener and conversationalist at any gathering. I knew all of this after our third date and saw it play out in action during our intimate wedding.
After the last of our wine and cheese guests left at 1:30 in the morning, Hook hugged me and said, “We’re a great team, baby” then he followed with, “and I’m on a need to know basis from now on.”
Allan and I were a great team. I didn’t know it then. I’d stopped living in our now and had jumped to a future that would never happen. My Mom for all her unwillingness to live in the now is still a good mother. I cannot live her life for her, though, any more than I could prevent my husband from dying. The only way I know to honor them both is to live the life I have been granted, in the now, with no regrets of the past or the present or fear of time that is not infinite on earth.
There are things I want to accomplish before I move onto that other plane, and I want to do these while my body is still healthy and my mind still alert. I’m sure you do, too, so let’s live in our now and say Yes instead of No, and when necessary, put yourself on a need-to-know basis.