As if the world isn’t bruised, battered, black and blue enough these days, one morning last weekend, I slammed my mother’s hand in the car door. I had just picked her up to take her to a dear friend’s funeral. Yes, “Ouch!”
Wrapping her hand in ice, apologizing profusely, I broke speed limits getting us to the church on time, parking illegally behind the legendary red brick structure known as “Holy T,” all the while noting swollen and darkened shades of blue and purple invading her right hand. The one she relies on for writing, quilting, sewing and cooking.
Assuring me she was fine, grimacing while clutching her walker, I watched as she channeled the “inner warrior” she’d shown me for years – when my father died, when she fell and broke her hip and shoulder, the knee replacement saga, and countless other life episodes requiring super powers, courage, resilience and grit.
Inching our way toward church steps, avoiding ancient cracks in the cement, sensing a slight shortness in her breath, I braced her good arm, sighing to myself, thinking about how our Saturdays had always been reserved for lunch dates and trips to Stein Mart and Macy’s. In recent months, these jaunts had been replaced by funerals, farewells.
The sacred sight of the church’s façade did us both immediate good. It would forever be our center of gravity: a symbol of deep rootedness to something larger than ourselves and an unwavering pride in our Armenian history, culture and heritage.
My mind raced from present to past, flashing back to the eve of my own daughter’s wedding (13 years ago) where at this precise spot where the sidewalk meets an unwelcome and awkward crack in the earth, we had both tumbled – my mother falling on top of me. Three of my ribs broke that night but, like today, nothing could break our spirits.
Wiping ourselves off, in complete denial of pain or suffering, we had entered the church, mother and daughter, all set to rehearse walking down the aisle.
Chuckling to myself, I thought about the chaos and calamity of it all. Our lives. How many times we had instant replayed that moment over the years, each time adjusting the narrative ever so slightly, adding new details, threatening to sue the sidewalk czars, laughing at our own clumsiness.
A new memory was now in the making: her blue hand wrapped in ice and hiding in her pocket, surely becoming the next installment in a series of “unfortunate events” worth talking (or writing) about.
Minutes later, something magical happened. Entering the church, navigating crowded aisles and hundreds of people, a calm grew over us. Watching my mom’s shoulders relax, both of us exhaled. Maybe it was the smell of incense infusing the air, filling our lungs. Or the presence of aunties, uncles and friends – a treasured collection of angels on earth pausing to exchange smiles, warm embraces.
Whatever “it” was – its power delivered instant relief from any aches or pains.
Time standing still, my mind quieted to that place I so often yearn for but cannot reach during (these) troubled and turbulent times. Finding serenity on a simple wooden bench, there I sat surrounded by the very people who had shaped and influenced my life. I was breathing pure oxygen.
It’s no secret we’re living in crazy, mixed-up times. I don’t know about you but for the past month, I’ve been walking in circles, feeling dazed, crazed – as if hermetically sealed in a globe of dense fog – the kind with zero visibility, where nothing is for sure, everything feeling slightly off-kilter, tentative, fragile to the touch.
Listening to the eulogy, I wondered how I might be remembered someday, what stories and moments might matter the most.
As for my mother, I know she was thinking less about her hand and more about the sorrow of losing a good friend. She had experienced this moment over and again during the past 12 months but leaning over reminded me, “It never gets easy.”
The truth and beauty of humankind.
A few nights later, my grandkids spent the night. The following morning, I found a message from them drawn on an upstairs chalkboard: “Keep Calm. Love Rainbos.”
Fearing their innocent world is changing, I am admittedly, more than a little concerned about what the future holds.
Later that same day, I read a passage by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, an American poet.
“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend that part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely…”
On an otherwise ordinary Saturday, a church overflowing with hope, faith, love – plus a mother and her ice pack, became my saving grace.
Armen D. Bacon of Fresno is a writer and co-author of “Griefland: An Intimate Portrait of Love, Loss and Unlikely Friendship” and two collections of essays, “My Name is Armen: A Life in Column Inches” and “My Name is Armen: Outside the Lines.” Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org, @ArmenBacon.