As the new year approaches, I’ve been thinking about my mom. She was about my age when she died and she often said to me that if you don’t have your health, nothing else is worth having.
Chronically depressed, obese, on a daily regimen of both pharmaceutical and narcotic drugs – I figure she knew what she was talking about.
This is the same woman I knew as a child; the one who painted herself free and naked on a cliff overlooking the canopy of a lush green forest. The one who made sculptures of horses and dreamed of living in the country. The one who opened all the windows on sunny Sundays and played Gold Dust Woman on the stereo. Wore red lipstick and blue eye-shadow. Brushed long golden hair.
She often took me to work and let me choose gifts from the back of a comic book. I got Sea Monkeys once and then X-Ray vision glasses. The glasses didn’t work, but the anticipation of getting them in the mail kept me happy for weeks. The Sea Monkeys were kick-ass.
She walked me down a creek when I was just a boy and in the middle of some magic forest she showed me things I’d never seen before. “If it bites you,” she said of the first snapping turtle I ever held, “It won’t let go until lightning strikes.” Wow. I was full of wonder. She was full of beauty.
And then life happened. Seasons changed. I suppose water ran under bridges. Feelings got hurt. Things loved were lost. Dreams died. She receded slowly down the downward spiral into some cold darkness of chronic depression. The only thing that could take the pain away was drugs and the only thing that could make her feel good was food.
When the higher-level abstract concepts of the mind are weak or gone, we have only such things left – basic chemical reactions; animal pleasures.
“If you don’t have your health,” she said, “nothing else is worth having.”
She died in her early forties. She was taken out by a bee sting, believe it or not. It elevated her heart-rate and then a vessel burst in her head – weak, no doubt, from all the shit she’d been pumping into her body for so many years. She fell back in her chair onto the floor as her eyes rolled back in her head and then spent the next month with a machine pumping breath into her lungs. A tube sucking saliva out of her mouth. A strange odor like formaldehyde and old people and freshly unwrapped medical equipment all mixed together with the lukewarm coffee in my styrofoam cup. Her eyes were still open, but in a lifeless gaze toward the ceiling tiles.
My wedding was close to that hospital and I dressed for it alone there in the room with her. I told her how scared I was and how bad I wished I could talk to her. I told her about the grandson she had coming and how sorry I was that she would never get to meet him. I told her I loved her and then went and got married.
I later got a call from my dad who said the doctors were pressing him to sign a piece of paper. “It’s OK, dad.” I said. “At least she’s not in pain anymore.” Everyone had been holding out hope that she’d come back. They would cite other cases where people had been in comas for years and then come back. But I never shared that hope. I knew in the first instant I saw her eyes that there was not a shred of life left in them, even if they wereopen.
It seems that we all start sliding into the downward spiral every so often. Life happens and we start taking it for granted. Days blur into one another. Work takes our focus. Flowers speed by unnoticed. Suns rise and set unseen. And the further we go, the darker it gets and the heavier the weight of the world until alas we can barley see or stand at all – much less muster a genuine smile. Or a sense of wonder. Or gratitude.
We begin to think that each day is just another ordinary day. Or worse, we don’t even reallythink much at all because we’ve convinced ourselves there just isn’t time to do so.
But this is NOT just another ordinary day. There are no such things. To think otherwise, is an insult to God, is it not?
And yet, like my own mother was, many here on earth are here in hell.
If you’re not paying acute attention to your health, you are well on your way or already there. That is what my mother was trying to tell me; I know this now. And if you’re waiting for a doctor to tell you your in trouble, you can bet your ass one eventually will.
When you’re on your way or near the bottom of hell on earth, there are only two ways out. One is the way my momma went. The other is to put your fingernails into the dirt and start crawling your ass the hell out of there.