"Mommy, did you love sunsets?" I asked aloud. As I asked her that question, I wept as I saw that I had never really known my mother.
I have chased after sunsets wherever I am in the world; from the Thansa Valley in Maharastra, India to Cali, Colombia...from Santa Fe to Santa Cruz...from Cancun, Mexico to the bridge connecting Maine to New Hampshire. Some of my favorite sunsets have been those rosy, striated beauties I'd been privileged to witness as often as I liked at a riverside park near my former home in New York City's Greenwich Village, where the light descended on New Jersey across the Hudson every evening. In the year before I left the east coast and moved to California, I'd been depriving myself of our waterfront. My "ex" and I regularly did the "sunset thing" together and I thought that meant it would be painful to do it alone. What did I get for holding this belief that sunsets are romantic and best viewed with a partner? No sunsets. So a year after he and I parted, I headed down to the water to catch a late summer view. It was spectacular.
Midway through the viewing, my late mother came up for me. Maybe it's because I was contemplating leaving New York, where I was raised and where I've lived for most of my life; maybe, in midlife, I was feeling closer to my own mortality. Whatever the reason, I'd been talking to her lately, although she had been dead for seven years. When she was alive, I spoke to her only when necessary; we'd had a difficult relationship from the time I was five years old and our conversations usually culminated in arguments.
Why the sudden need for communication? I was very confused when she was alive. I had a picture of my mother as cruel, undercutting, a bad parent, unloving, withholding and insane. I didn't have the tools of self-inquiry then. In recent years, I have made amends to her, in my mind and on paper, many times. I have no idea if she hears me. It doesn't matter; I do.
"Mommy, did you love sunsets?" I asked aloud. It was not a premeditated act; it did not arise out of loneliness. She was just there. As I asked her that question, I wept as I saw that I had never really known my mother. I don't even know if she loved one of the things I love most; she never shared that with me and it never came to me to ask. The "I know" mind was convinced of who she was and I rarely acknowledged the other side of her, the part that was brilliant, creative, humorous, the part that sounded like criticism but that may have been her way of expressing concern...the part that housed and fed and clothed me and did the very best she could to raise me while she lived in an apparent mental hell.
The mind's job is to be right. It will spend a lifetime proving itself to be the authority on things like nagging mothers, deadbeat dads, lying partners, intractable kids, officious shop clerks, murderous dictators. It misses out on sunsets, on intimacy, on real life.
Do I love sunsets enough to view them without a story of how I should have done it all summer, how I should be watching it with a partner, how my mother and I should have shared sunsets instead of shouting matches? Yes. I wouldn't want to miss the beauty of life as it is showing up, right now.
Deepening Transformational Inquiry: Mothers and Others
©2006 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.
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