Friday night, there were a couple poetry anthologies sitting by my coffee table that she’d been wanting to borrow for a while. So of course, my mother and I end up talking about Whitman, Dickinson, and Frost. About how we both prefer Faulkner to Hemingway, even though A Farewell to Arms had such a profound impact on me, re-reading it after ~7 years in the Army. We talked about how even though she was alive during the beat generation, it made sense to her that Burroughs and Kerouac had a greater impact on my life than hers. How she was excited to finish the new Harper Lee novel I’d given her for her birthday, but hadn’t found the time yet.
So many books, so little time. Perhaps Silvia Plath put it best when she said “I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones, and variations of mental and physical experience possible in life. And I am horribly limited.” When I’d earlier mentioned that quote to Mum (I think after she’d asked why I have a different Plath quote recently inked on my left arm), she said she didn’t care, she’d try anyway. And she did, always.
My mother, in her life, owned… I have no idea exactly how many thousands of books. Seven thousand seems like it would be a really low estimate — let’s just call it “umpteen thousand” — and she always found more she needed, much to my father’s occasional chagrin. Every time we moved, growing up, at least two-thirds of the weight was book boxes.
While it would be impossible to sum up the entirety of what Mum gave me, especially in just a few paragraphs, one of the greatest gifts by far was instilling a love for the written word. “What have you been reading lately?” was a constant, frequent question — whether I was twelve or thirty-one. Always encouraging me to expand the horizons of the world I was living in, I suppose I also have her to thank (along with the Army and growing up as a Navy brat) for my sense of wanderlust. To go out into the world and experience life in any and all it’s beauty, and not forget that every person I meet has their own struggles and a story to tell.
We had differing opinions on all sorts of things, of course; like while we both love Bach’s cello suites, she always preferred Yo Yo Ma, and I prefer Rostropovich, for reasons I’ve never been able to properly put into words. Death was another one of those things, at least for a time.
We talked about that, Friday night, as well; how when Epicurus wrote to Menoeceus and said “Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not. It is nothing, then, either to the living or to the dead, for with the living it is not and the dead exist no longer.” she could agree in part, but not whole. Hardly surprising, since she was Catholic; death, to her, was simply the beginning. Just a part of life, and the transition from this world to a far better one.
Everything has a season, and while this may still be the time for grief (and writing this, really, as part of that process), it seems hard to really properly miss her and know that where she is, she’s happy and at peace, and death is hardly permanent. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
So until we meet again, Mum.
I’ll always remember how, no matter the person I’d see in the mirror, you’d look at me with love and say that what you always saw was the toddler who’d bring you dandelions.
I love you.