“Vicky,” I said to my brand-new college roommate, “will you go in with me on a rug? It’ll cost us 40 dollars.”
She said yes. And so off I went, via bus and subway, into a Boston neighborhood not normally frequented by Wellesley College freshmen from faraway states. I bought the rug: short nap, sky blue. I truly can’t remember how I got it back to the dorm.
What caught me by surprise was how impressed my roommate and hallmates were. To me, this was a logical reaction to a crisis of ugliness. To them, it was all about me being a plucky Western girl, an Annie Oakley who got stuff done. But I knew the truth, which was that I had simply channeled my inner Arlene: my mom, that is, and the example she had always set of moving right past hand-wringing and right into making things better.
I always wince when I use the words “lost” and “mom” in the same sentence. Because she’s not lost. She’s right here, inside me. I am sure my brother and sisters feel the same way. She was and is far too powerful a beacon to be “lost.” Gone, yes, and too young: Alzheimer’s started stealing bits of her when she was my age and kept at it for quite a long time. She died in 2006, at 74, after many years during which she did indeed appear to be lost inside an unforgiving forest of plaques and tangles.
And yet she wasn’t. She was right here, inside, the whole time. And she still is.
I saw my freshman roommate, Vicky, just last weekend. I stayed with her in North Carolina; we attended our friend Lindsay’s daughter’s wedding. Of the three of us, I was the one taking a break from the duties of motherhood. Watching Lindsay in action reminded me of how much Mom had enjoyed every one of her six children’s weddings. Two of us gave her the chance to enjoy two weddings, and in each case, she embraced the second as enthusiastically as she had the first. And watching Vicky stay calm and out of the way as her youngest made it to the college finish line also reminded me of Mom, who was always a cheerleader and moral supporter but never a meddler in our young adult lives.
Vicky is an Episcopal priest. A highlight of my visit was seeing her in action in her beautiful white and gold robes. Her homily was inspired by the beautiful passage from the letters of John about how God is love, and how love casts out fear.
This was my mother’s great gift: to love us in a way that helped us overcome our fears.
Buying a rug may not be the most dramatic example. But I was 17, I had never lived away from home, and I needed to do something that felt like taking action, that felt like saying no to all my fears about living in this concrete and linoleum room 3,000 miles from Seattle. All I had to do was find my inner Arlene: the mom I’m forever finding, not losing.
I know I’m not alone in having had a mother like mine. I know that what she did is what loving moms simply do: love unconditionally, and teach their children to do the same. Because love is stronger than fear. It’s what keeps us from getting lost.
My next reading: May 26, 7pm: Her Beautiful Brain reading, Book Culture, 450 Columbus Ave, New York
Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:45 a.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area. Podcasts available too.