I can eat alone in any restaurant. No problem. I might even prefer to be by myself, truth be told. I realized the other day, however, that there is nothing lonelier than sitting at the family dinner table at home with food laid out as usual, but with only one place setting.
As I sat there listening to myself chew, I wondered how many times Mom had to eat alone. The guilt that overcame me weighed on my chest heavily, physically like a slowly developing heart attack. Or was it a memory of indigestion? Mom was always so happy when we were home for Sunday lunch, she’d prepare or order all our favorites; and when we spent hours around the table, she’d smile as if she’d won a silver medal at the Olympics after years and years of solitary struggle.
It’s been nine years, this month, since we arrived at the hospital too late because she had already passed on. I bring flowers religiously to the cemetery—again, the guilt—I should have brought them when she could still see them. She would have loved them. What she really deserved though were gold medals, not silver.
Now it can be told as we’re closing in on fifty years after the fact: Mommy did some of our homework for us when we were kids. In those days, before Xerox machines, personal computers, and the Internet, we learned geography by drawing our own maps. Of every region of the Philippines. Of Asia. Of the other continents. I would start the maps in pencil and crayon, but as midnight approached, I’d fall asleep. I hadn’t learned how to pull off all-nighters at that point. Yet in the morning, the maps would be ready for submission, wax colors buffed with tissue, borders and labels finished in ink, and everything covered in plastic. We didn’t have house elves back then. It was all Mommy Magic.
When we left home to conquer the real world, she must have been anxious about our moving beyond the reach of her powers. Were we studying hard enough? Were we being hazed? Had we gotten involved in that rumble? Had he eaten dinner? Did he have enough clean underwear? Did he wear his shirt inside out again? How were we being treated? How were we treating others?
Mom needn’t have worried. She was always in our heads, reminding us to do the decent thing, the fair thing, the right thing because it was what she had taught us, what she had shown us and it was what she would have done. We didn’t always listen, but she never gave up. In truth, she couldn’t give up because it was never a matter of her giving us verbal instructions. She was just living her life, and her example was the lesson. Whereas Dad made the big announcements, the declarations of principles and the inspirational messages; Mom made sure we had our allowance every week and put in the hard work on all the other little things that enabled us to move forward step by step. Dad reveled in rough language, shocking our young ears with words we boys couldn’t wait to copy; while M0m never uttered an inappropriate word and could rein in our language with one look, one quiet expression of dismay. Dad could rush to judgment and go straight to punishment without hearing our side, though often we did deserve what we got. Mom listened. To everyone. To the point where you thought she was on your side, but also on everyone else’s side. Then she would bring compassion and understanding and forgiveness into the picture. And, ultimately, she would restore sanity.
If dads are superheroes, moms are saints. Why is it there are more movies about superheroes these days? Hmm. Maybe this is what our country needs right now: a mom.
To this day, my mom watches over me. I know it sounds crazy but she does. Well, at the very least, she reads my email. Not long after she passed away, I wrote an email about something that was important to her but that I had not been able to consult her about. I sent the email to the intended recipient. The next day, the email showed up in my Junk box. If it had gone to the recipient and bounced, it would have come back to my Inbox, and only messages from other people went to Junk. This particular email had gone out and come straight back to Junk, and there was no indication anywhere that it had been seen or touched by any other living being. You techies out there may have some explanation for this, but I don’t want to hear it. As far as I’m concerned, Mom was telling me she didn’t agree with my idea in the email. It still gives me goosebumps.
It happened on other occasions, not often but always with email. (Mom was an early adopter of email among those in her generation.) Emails that contained unusually ill-advised intemperate language or relied on less than sound reasoning somehow just didn’t get sent despite my clicking the send button. They moved to my Outbox and simply stayed there. Again, it could have been lousy Internet connections, but I prefer to think Mom was reaching out, saving me one more time, and without a word helping me do things better. Maybe she does see the flowers I bring her.
Does she drop in from time to time to act as my guardian angel? Or is it more like Interstellar where Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) communicated with Murph (Jessica Chastain) through space-time across different dimensions using gravity? Or am I imagining it all because, like I said, Mom got into our heads? Whatever it is, this article (emailed to my editor) is my way of saying, Hi, Mom! Thanks, Mom.
And to everyone else out there, call your mom. Skype, Facetime or WhatsApp. Don’t let her eat alone. Don’t wait too long.