Tuesday, December 7, 2010

the important stuff

I called my mother on the phone today. At 94, her hearing is going and she sleeps a lot and when we are on the phone together, I can feel her knowing that once she had a crisp tongue to wrap around crisp thoughts. Nowadays she is befuddled that she is befuddled. "Shit!" she said once or twice. And I can feel her dwindlings creeping up in my life as well. Yes, it is possible to think and enunciate and make nice, but the energy required seems just out of reach.

Once I went to a Vedanta temple to hear a very old teacher deliver a talk. He had walked and talked with people I revered only on the page of one book or another. But he was old now and his energies were banked. He got stuck as he read the pages he had written out for his talk. Again and again he read the same lines. Then he would look up at the audience and then back down at the page ... and read the same thing again. He did not say, "shit!"

And yet somehow it was OK. It was just the passing of time. The connection and affection were no less just because the sinews and muscle of mind had grown weak. The words might have been nice, but they were not the important part. Words were just the part that had once been imbued with importance. Now the important part was front and center. He, like my mother, might have said "banana, banana, banana, banana, banana, banana, banana, banana, banana ..." and still the important part would not have been missing.

Finally, because I did not want my mother to feel uncomfortable in her inabilities, I said, "I love you," and she echoed the sentiment and we both pretended that the words summed up what was important. They didn't, but sometimes bananas is all you've got.


  1. .."I said, "I love you," and she echoed the sentiment ..... the words summed up what was important."
    Nice, thanks for sharing this. The heart-felt words to your Mam was, as you put it, all that was needed. I have been reflecting on the way our society, at the drop of a hat, lauds the annunciation "I love you" phrase as if it was that odious "Have a nice day" throw-away. Growing up in a family and a era that guarded its emotions the "I love you" was so very special and generally left too late in its declaration. As a begrudging old man I somehow prefer that reservation and specialness. If the scattering of one's love rolls so easy of the tongue are we not belittling it without some realization that it also must translate into appropriate actions? When those special times occur, like you have mentioned above, when the most sublime of words are needed, what can we fall back on in our tired and trite vocabulary?

  2. I have always thought that "I love you" is one of the great koans of life. What's left after tired and trite vocabulary is, perhaps, enjoyment...of tired and trite vocabulary, perhaps.