I’ve forgotten what spring looks like when Mother Nature wakes up in the wintery and frozen North. I’m here in Wisconsin for a month to visit mom and do some writing.
“I'm sure glad all the snow is gone.” I look out the window with mom.
“I think we had a pretty mild winter.” Mom says it as a question.
“Actually, mom, it was one of the snowiest winters on record.”
“Really? I’m glad I don’t remember.” She remembers the name of her Bible College professor who 70 years ago once told her she was a good writer but can’t remember that I just told her what day it is. She is in the winter season of life yet another spring has arrived.
Wisconsin spring is urgent and determined. I’ve been trying to discourage a Sparrow from building a nest above the front door. I don’t want to be dive-bombed by a protective mother every time I enter the house but she’s not deterred and she’ll probably win. The Red-winged Blackbirds are downright sex crazed—doing the nasty right outside the dining room window. And male, bright orange-breasted, Robbins are flying kamikaze missions into the glass windows. They think their reflection is some good-looking stud invading their turf. All around I can almost hear the ticking bomb in the birch and willow tree buds. Mother Nature is about to let us have it!
I’m staying in a cottage near mom’s nursing home. There is a pond outside the front window and a bubbling fresh water creek out back. There are fields of golden corn stock stubs and I'm surrounded by wooded hills with tree skeletons waiting for the advent of green. I’ve seen Goldfinches, Morning Doves, Baltimore Orioles, Ring-necked Pheasants, a Sandhill Crane—I think, bunnies, deer, turkeys, ducks, hawks, horses, cows, dogs, cats and hardly any people except us Fredricksons.
Mom loves it here but mostly she loves being with us. We are celebrating her 95th birthday. She is absorbing the moments, trying not to be greedy but it’s hard.
“Let’s play kickball,” I suggest.
She plays kickball in the nursing home. I remember the first time she described the game. Dad was still alive.
“We all sit in a circle." Mom's eye's twinkle. "We have to kick the beach ball when it comes to us, no hands.” She pauses and with naughty glee adds “Sometimes we hit each other in the head.”
Mom still has something urgent and determined. "Just like this." I dare you to watch without smiling.
My siblings have all left. It’s just mom and me.
“You don’t get depressed, do you?” Mom’s hands have developed a subtle shake.
The weather has changed. Spring has taken a pause. It’s cloudy, rainy and cold and seems in sync with mom’s internal state. The green buds that showed such great promise just a few days ago have slid back into gray hibernation. She feels the monochrome color of discontent in her bones.
I can hear my heartbeat and hold my breath. I feel like hiding. It’s hard to go with someone, especially your mom, who is contemplating a dive into darkness. “I sometimes get depressed too,” I respond.
It’s not the answer she wants. “But you don’t stay there. How do you do it?” Her hazel eyes lock on me and won’t look away. She has thirteen-year-old eyes, deep and lonely, that still mourn her mother-less adolescence. And now they also hold the empty space where dad once lived.
I answer like there’s a solution, “Having faith and purpose helps . . . great friends and family.” Mom nods her head.
In these moments with mom I am never sure when to problem solve and when to just be present. I think of the serenity prayer.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Much of this stage of life is not fixable. Later, alone, I wonder if I missed an opportunity—for her and me. Mom’s question, “You don’t get depressed, do you?” took my breath away and rather than breathing, I tried to fix it. I wish I had let the question hang in the room for a while. It took courage for her to ask. I wish my heart had felt more courage to let the question vibrate awhile.
The next day during my meditation mom’s question found more space. In this opening I found my tears. She was describing pain--depression hurts. But behind her question is the second arrow of suffering--I don’t like what I’m feeling, something is wrong, something is wrong with me. There is a moment before the second arrow flies to pause and breathe. The pang of pain is allowed to be—"just like this." And in this space where fear, worry, and discontent is held rather than fed, compassion allows our fists to unclench and our heart to open. Suddenly there is room for more.
Daily Bites and Blessings
Welcome to "Daily Bites and Blessings." Pull up a chair. I’ve set a place for you at the table. These edibles are sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet and often they are both. This is a come as you are party. I invite you to bring your compassion, courage, and curiosity as we dine together on life's bounty. May our time together give us more light and more love.