It’s been awhile since I’ve written here. I’ve been writing, just not here. And so, like an old friend, I think it’s time I revisited it and continue to remind myself who I am. I’m a big believer in reminiscing of the heart. Several people have written me and asked why I stopped writing on here and asked me to write several specific posts, specifically wisdom I had learned from my mother. So, it’s strange that what has kept me from writing, is exactly that…my mother.
Recently, while barraging through my mother’s old Newsweek magazines and Beatles albums, in hopes of rewarding myself with some great fortune on Ebay, I came across a photo album I had never seen before. It was packed neatly between my mother’s high school scrapbooks and photo albums from her later years in college. This album had Indiana University 1964 stamped across the black, leather cover. I sat down on our couch in the basement, excited to see photos from a bygone era I had never been privy to before, and found instead, a book my mother had written. Now, many people have written books before, but this was precise journal entries starting in 1967 and ending 10 years later, wound tightly around humor, anecdotal wisdom and cynicism. It is beautiful in parts. It is traumatic and depressing in parts. But through it’s entirety…it is raw. A verbal voyage of The Fifth Season; what my mother refers to as the forgotten dreams of girls as they mature.
For the past month, I’ve read through the journals several times, looking for clues to missed opportunities and lessons unearthed, and it’s all there in blue and black ink. And now, in between, I’ve begun weaving my story.
Several years ago I wanted to write a book about the simultaneous recoveries from addiction of my mother and myself being that there weren’t really any great books out there about addicted families in recovery together. The book was going to be called Mirror, Mirror and would show the similarities between our addictions and or recoveries and how we acted as guides for each other while making sure not to step on each others’ toes enabling our separate journeys to manifest themselves. For some reason, the book never took off in my head. At the time, I thought it was because I saw myself more as a fiction writer but I think now it’s because I was attempting to write the sequel without having the original in place. This book is the original.
I remember the day of my mother’s death, my friend and I sat in my mother’s closet, her journals and scraps of notepaper all around me and I cried at the insanity of almost sixty years of journal keeping. “It’s a gift.” My friend had said. “Someday you’ll have all of this to look back on.” And that’s true, but at times in the last month, it hasn’t felt so much like a gift. At times, it’s been a curse to look into the soul of my mother and know exactly what she was thinking. And most of it was, as Peggy Lee once sang, “Is that all there is?”
Somehow, my life always plays out like a movie, because late last week, I found myself telling this same story to one of my clients. I feel blessed daily to have a job where I can honestly say I adore everyone of my clients and feel as if I learn just as much from them as I hope they do from me. And so, as I walked her to the door, finishing my story, I felt the edge of her leather purse and told her how much I liked it. “It’s not real leather, you know.” she laughed. “I wanted real leather, but this will have to do. What difference does it make anyway.” And then she looked up into my eyes and grabbed my arm. “What difference does any of it make, really?” She said and smiled, walking out the door.
And I was immediately reminded of the moment in the hospital right after my mother died. As everyone began leaving he room, I could hear my uncle consoling my hysterical aunt, asking her to give me a few minutes to be alone with my mother. And then everyone left. It was just she and I. For years, my mother had always said she was simply a bag of soul and when she died I shouldn’t be attached to her body, but like true to my nature, I do not like change and am always attached to anything animate or otherwise. But for some reason, I wasn’t attached to my mother’s body. At least, not anymore. She was gone. And as I looked down at her hand, holding it softly in mine, I had one overwhelming thought repeatedly going through my head. “Is that all there is?” It felt, painfully so, like there had to be more.
It did help me to realize that life is truly, truly short. And we are the leaders of our own band. What we want to happen will happen only if we set it into motion.
Last week, Oprah Winfrey finished her 25 year reign as the queen of daytime television. This was specifically profound and poignant for me because I can remember watching the very first episode with my mother on our small 16 inch television in our kitchen. My mother had always wanted a world that didn’t see past color, age, sex and difference…but embraced it. The fact that a black woman was on her television screen in the middle of the afternoon was as big a deal as a woman president to her. Last week, I found myself driving home, excited to watch the finale, with some sadness that the show was a milestone my mother would never witness. But, like many of you know by now, she would laugh and think I was wasting my time with such thoughts. “Just wait til you see what Oprah does next with her life”, she would have said.
And while watching the show, I was reminded, in Oprah’s words, of all of the lessons my mother had taught me through her years. “Your life is speaking to you. What does it say?” Oprah said. And “ The biggest adventure you can ever take is to live the life of your dreams.” I was reminded of some of the words of my mother and I realized, quickly, the difference between my mother and Oprah. My mother never got it. Oprah did.
For years, I’ve been telling my clients the difference between me and Tom Cruise is that he showed up for the audition. While that’s quite an overstatement, it’s the profound moments of our lives that help us to realize we are no different than anyone else. Our chances and our circumstances are all building blocks helping us to become the person we want to become the most. “Turn your wounds into wisdom”, Oprah said, and “Live your life to serve the world.” Those are the two pieces my mother missed.
I needed to be reminded this past week, between the journals and the letters and the client calls, just exactly I’m here to do. I’m a storyteller. I’m a writer. Recently, one of my clients told me she couldn’t imagine me being a therapist much longer. Not in an office.” She said. I was confused. If not in an office, where? “On the pages of a book. You’re a storyteller. That’s what you do best. You help people through the stories of your life and you translate them in a way that better helps them understand themselves. Once you figure that out, you’ll be much happier and fulfilled.” For the record, I hate when my clients are smarter than me, which is typically daily.
So I guess I’m a writer. A storyteller. And I will finish this book of my mother’s because it’s her story. And then I’ll write mine. I have lots of books in me. I just need some help in getting them out there. And I will adhere to Oprah’s lesson, “Start embracing the life that is calling you. Find your calling—know what sparks the light in you so you in your own way so that you can illuminate the world.”
Because we’re on borrowed time as it is…