I usually hate the sight of graffiti, but today I spotted a message in the subway that looked as if it had been written just for me.
I was riding the N train and as we pulled into 36th Street—one stop short of my destination--I looked out through the open door and saw two words crudely painted across a pillar.
That’s it. Just a simple phrase, scrawled in black ink on a mustard-colored girder. But I felt like I had discovered the secret of life.
I paused for a second because I really wanted to get home and enjoy the sunshine, but I didn’t want to leave those words behind, not on this of all days.
So I jumped off the train, took out my smart phone and lined up a shot…
I thought I could get through Mother’s Day without any kind of emotional turmoil, but I wrong. Even though my mother has been gone for nearly 12 years, I still feel the pain of losing her.
It started earlier in the week when I walked into a Hallmark store near my office to get a birthday card for my sister and found myself gaping at three aisles full of Mother’s Day cards.
I was so overwhelmed that I actually grabbed the side of my head to steady myself. How I held on long enough to buy my sister’s card I’ll never know.
Sometimes I wish that we who have lost our mothers could have filters on our inboxes to block the emails advertising Mother’s Day specials; controls on our remotes to silence the “just right for Mom” TV commercials, and special blinders to keep us from seeing all those goddamn cards.
But I know that this is unnatural, that the pain is part of the gift we get for having our mothers, and that love and loss are inseparable.
I fear I’m becoming the Ebenezer Scrooge of Mother’s Day. I heard someone on Houston Street today call out “Happy Mother’s Day” and it was all I could do to keep from turning around and shouting, “shut the hell up!”
Guilt also plays a leading part in this day’s drama, as I tear into myself for not being a better son and vainly long for some way to undo all the stupid things I ever said or did to my mother.
Don't You Cry
This is a day for memories and one of the strongest goes back 30-odd years when I was first diagnosed with chronic fatigue. It was a little incident I came to call “The Dumbo Affair.”
At the time I was unemployed, so hideously sick I could barely move, and so filled with self-loathing I hated the sight of myself in the mirror.
My mother and I were sitting in the living room watching, yes, Dumbo, the famous Disney cartoon about a flying elephant.
I thought it might distract me from my illness, but I quickly discovered that it made matters much worse as I thought about how that, with my failing career and worsening health, I hadn’t progressed much since childhood.
I was trying to hold myself together, but when the song “Baby Mine” came on, when Dumbo’s imprisoned mother tries to comfort him, I fell to pieces and began sobbing uncontrollably.
“What’s the matter?” my mother said, obviously shocked at this outburst.
“I feel like a kid!” I wailed.
She was sitting a few feet away but her voice sounded so far away as she--like Dumbo’s mother did for her offspring--tried to comfort me.
I eventually calmed down, got hold of myself, and limped off the bed. But I knew I had upset my mother terribly and that just made me feel worse.
The next morning my mother came into my room to see how I was doing. I told I was I feeling a little better. As she walked toward the door, she turned back to say something.
“No more Dumbos,” she said softly.
No more Dumbos—no more abuse, no more toxic guilt, no more self-inflicted misery.
In other words, my mother was telling me to love myself...
I got my picture and hopped back on to the N train just as the doors were closing. The conductor was probably annoyed, and rightfully so, but I had to preserve the message.
This will always be a tough day for me and for all of those who have lost their mothers. If your mom is still with you, then hold her close, tell her you love here, and thank God for every second she’s here.
Happy Mother’s Day.