Monday, November 11, 2013

My Mother's Death

On January 27, 1951, was a study in contrasts inasmuch as a B52 bomber dropped the first in a series of nuclear bombs onto the testing range in the desert of Nevada, while in Oak Park, Illinois, it was the dead of yet another seemingly endless winter, with no less than three consecutive days of subzero  temperatures. One page within one volume within an infinite library that is yet to be read and I suspect if all of what constitutes every life, neither entirely past nor entirely present ( let alone the future,) it is a story of velvet mixed with steel. The eternal vagaries mixed with revisions made in the present in hindsight toward the past which could be the point on which we are occupied. The root word of religion in Greek translates into a re-link. If the rope we are suspended upon has two ends then perhaps it is tied into a Gordian knot..The butterfly effect wherein all that will be must return to it's original state and yet not one iota of that state is left as it was, as a living system, it is always under the influence of reinvention much like a genetic strand..and in this butterfly effect perhaps the present is enfolded into the past that unfolds before us like a sleight of if the future, the past, and the present are not one entity in search of itself in a mirror. The universe explores itself through us and we explore ourselves through a universe and what links the two halves of the mirror together are what we have gathered, borrowed or stolen that constitutes an ever changing genome of memory.

“I am not sure that I exist, actually. I am all the writers that I have read, all the people that I have met, all the women that I have loved; all the cities I have visited.” 

― Jorge Luis Borges

The war in Korea had settled into trench warfare, and I was about to enter the world such that it was and much like it is today, a mixture of tumult and the trivial, errands and necessities, small pleasures and the unexpected. 
Such that it was nearly six years earlier, as my father’s convoy made it’s way to the shores of Japan as the fleet made it’s way to what some have called the most disastrous invasion ever conceived if it had happened. 
As assigned to the first wave to reach those shores, had the landing occurred, from what I understand, my birth would have never taken place has it not been for yet another nuclear weapon dropped on the unsuspecting cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 
The fleet was turned back, the seemingly endless war had ended, and such that it was and is, here I am typing this essay some weeks after my mother has passed away on the eve of her 87th birthday.

And so, in my own mind, my birth was intermixed with the charred corpses strewn around the rubble of those cities, and perhaps it so that the meaning of original sin is that which is yet to be reformulated in the past and perhaps this applies to a personal past, and as an aggregate sum, in the historical world and in the internal world, birth and death seem to constitute a singularity yet to be determined.

Earlier that wintry day, some 63 years ago, after experiencing false labor pains due to my reluctance to make my appearance, the benchmark of her first child, it was a waiting game that had hopscotched from the expected to the unexpected, back and forth..from the expectations of her mother to enlist her assistance in the daily care of responsibilities within a household of ten brothers and sisters, to the outbreak of war that sent her boyfriend into an exile from that life, filled with full time employment as a bookkeeper, while remaining at home, that was yet another waiting game, one transition to another.

My father remained at work at the printing shop,that day, having long since discarding his dream of being a commercial artist, for the immediate necessities of providing a home. The snow fell, the telephone calls between family members on that day signaled a community sense of anticipation amidst a day that was far from extraordinary  in the larger sense of events.

And so, my memories of a life with my mother and father began and if you look up at that third story window at that apartment that my maternal grandfather Matt had arranged, from the rented house they had occupied close to another of my father’s parents, it was a smaller world back then, closely knit and shared before my own and all such families dispersed to the four winds of what was then the remote suburban enclaves being plunked down here and there in the middle of the prairies. As I write this, the disbursement of families now has increased by the distance of physical space as if what was once gathered is now hither and yon pulled by this or that as a higher priority..and yet in the winter of 1951, looked upon as a microcosm of what was yet to be is imbued with an innocence that, in of itself, is deceiving, as it was not so, as that year was built upon the one before it, to the extent that it had a momentum of it's own that did not require us, unless we look back upon it.

What was gained and what was lost, in the rapid movement of those times, remains unaccounted for except by my own memories and those shared with me by my mother. As it was, so it is.

I vividly remember the neighborhood grocery with it’s tight aisles and tall shelves, of the smell of fresh rye bread and Polish pastries as well as an equally vivid memory of obeying her strict command as there I am posted at the window watching for her exit from that store across the street, my face pressed up against the window. 

On summer days riding my tricycle up and down, back and forth in front of that apartment building while she sat on the stoop keeping an eye on me. 

Those simple things and their memories remain alive in me, like our journeys down the sidewalks of a crowded Oak Park and Cicero, to visit the park full of swing sets, noise and bustle, or lunches at the local greasy spoon long before the advent of franchised food, from which we were banned after I threw up there more than once..
My poor mother took me to the showing of Pinocchio after a trip to the concession stand, the lights dimmed and there we sat in that flickering light until the whale appeared and I instantaneously had a panic attack to the extent she had to  flee with myself in tow. 

Small vignettes of what now seems an extraordinarily naive childhood which was a gift that remains with me, in spite of my own haphazard transit of triumphs and calamities over the span of over a half century since that time, I see her there undiminished, with bright eyes full of gossip and laughter, answering the crank call of our downstairs neighbor who could not stand our little gang of kids running up and down the back porch balconies. 

There she was and there she is and I fully expect to find myself in the midst of my first memories of her once again, there in Cicero, once I depart from my overly complex entanglements in this life.

Christmas at Fields, the Lake Street El, the radio shows always in the background of my time in that apartment, lying on the floor with my circle of track, watching my small tin train make circles around the Christmas tree..small, small things that can well tears from the corner of my eye from what I am called now.. an old man. 
That is my small resort, my safe haven always with my mother close by which I have absolutely no compunctions toward admitting from my position now at 63, was my version of a heaven, one to which I will return sooner rather than later.

I could not say goodbye to her and did not attend her funeral as she remains with me, and there is no need for the insertion of a formal finality into the continuum in which I reside, where the past is melded into the present, and so I can imagine and suspect that this aspect of her passing is only transitory, and I will be seated in that trike ,legs pumping away at the pedals on that summer day I shared with her, once again as my ashes sit like a kitchen commodity in a jar.

In this perhaps none of us are immune from the self comforting concept that all things have a beginning, a middle and an end.

In this life nor the next, we are the stuff of memory as a genome that cannot be erased once it has been fashioned and so what has been manifested sits atop what has considered past that remains embedded in a location we can scarce imagine. I am there now as I am here writing of her can be no other way such that I can hear her voice, it’s nuances as clearly as I can my hear my own internal voice setting this account with this recording   

The linearity of life remains a wheel within a wheel that comes full circle, and what was returns to it’s original state while what has been fashioned moves further afield..that one can be in two places at once, perhaps countless varieties remains hidden except from with the provinces of the mind.

“Child, child, have patience and belief, for life is many days, and each present hour will pass away. Son, son, you have been mad and drunken, furious and wild, filled with hatred and despair, and all the dark confusions of the soul - but so have we. You found the earth too great for your one life, you found your brain and sinew smaller than the hunger and desire that fed on them - but it has been this way with all men. You have stumbled on in darkness, you have been pulled in opposite directions, you have faltered, you have missed the way, but, child, this is the chronicle of the earth. And now, because you have known madness and despair, and because you will grow desperate again before you come to evening, we who have stormed the ramparts of the furious earth and been hurled back, we who have been maddened by the unknowable and bitter mystery of love, we who have hungered after fame and savored all of life, the tumult, pain, and frenzy, and now sit quietly by our windows watching all that henceforth never more shall touch us - we call upon you to take heart, for we can swear to you that these things pass.”
― Thomas Wolfe, You Can't Go Home Again.

What the heart knows, the mind will not believe.



  1. My condolences on the passing of your mom, Bruce. Your essay is a wonderful tribute. Thanks for posting it.

    I think when we get to that stage in life when more of those we've loved have passed than remain, we become truly suspended between "worlds." I'm reminded of the"Hanged Man" of the Tarot deck, although it's interpretations vary, and none, in my opinion, are precise. Perhaps "Hanging Man" would be more appropriate.


  2. Without the past there is no present nor future and I think it's a matter of a certain relativity that hides it all unfolds like being on a train that passes various stations, and the stations do not vanish once they are out of sight, like the butterfly effect, all events seem to return to their original state only to be variegated by our reformation of the past in the present pretty much as Kurt Vonnegut saw this, or PD Ouspensky..there seems to be a revisionism that the past reinvents itself and unlike the film Groundhog Day, it could be that no two versions of yesterday would be alike should we return in a sort of feedback loop, as one distinction out of many..we seem to be suspended in a sort of tunnel vision as there are no right angles and straight lines in nature.All these thoughts went through me after her passing inasmuch as her experiences were also mine as it were and vice versa, and yet they do not go away like the train stations we pass, the question is what Ouspensky posed, how much do we remember, how much of us are actually in the present tense rather than in a sort of fog that we take for wakefulness? What happened last Wednesday? There is always this sort of internal babble of associations as a compulsion..can we be still? Sounds like Buddhism doesn't it ? Perhaps if the past remains viable, what does not change is what we cannot remember if we return to that state. It's always been a sort of method perhaps we are gamed by..a labyrinth within a library..all this too reminds me of Borge's metaphor of The Crimson Hexagon, a library filled with the same book written in a infinite number of missing a comma, the other a noun.the question remains, what is the librarian?.

    1. If I remember it correctly, Jane Roberts/Seth had an interesting take on time... in that no moment in time was fully formed or static, and each moment reverberated in several directions (dimensions) simultaneously. In other words, (what we refer to as) the "past" changes and as is changes, different futures emerge. Likewise, future events influence the past. Accordingly, we are constantly discovering "new" things about the past, because there actually *are* new things to be discovered!

      Perhaps, like each station along our hypothetical train track, an event is a locus point from which a number of other tracks emerge... manifesting new stations/destinations. So, no, once an event occurs, we can never return to that exact same event ("station"), because it transformed the moment we left it.

      Does this make any sense? No, I'm speaking in tongues. But, as you said: "Sounds like Buddhism doesn't it ?" And/or Borges' The Crimson Hexagon.

      Perhaps, reality is such that we are always "hanging" in a state of suspension... but, it's the death of those we love that finally forces us to be cognizant of it.

    2. PS I suspect there is an infinite number of librarians! ;-)

  3. Your comment makes a lot of sense to me as it's a given that we concurrently occupy 11 dimensions of space time at any given point of reference. Rick Phillips and I discussed at one time, the non existence of "now" at one time, which then, if this is so, what is it we are entangled in that is running in more dimensions that we can sense simultaneously
    ? I agree that any death and in this case, that of my mother, is what Tim Leary called "enforced meditation" on the infinite versus the finite and I fairly suspect that in this case what we can ascertain is the tip of the iceberg. We may be our own forebears in a sense that unfolds in a manner that exceeds our own ability to conceive any imaginable visualization of this along more than one pathway of parallel universes, something that physics suspects as well in a strong sense of suspicion. One of the strangest aspects of yours truly relates to childhood in that in several instances beginning at the age of four, I made an oath to myself that I would remember where I was what I was doing..once when riding the aforementioned tricycle in my essay and once on a trip to the city with my father, as if I were setting markers as a surveyor. The best way I can relate as to why I did this is simply to say I don't know why but something that can best be described as instinctual perhaps was operating on what specifically, again I don't know.Well, I have always been the odd duck