Sunday, May 11, 2008

saint marilyn

I am among the most fortunate people on the face of the earth.

Many people claim to have had good luck come their way. Some truly have. There are some who have won lotteries, some who have gained fame and world-renown, some whose words influence countless millions. There are some who, being in the right place at the right time, narrowly escaped some fate that could have ended their lives. Others have been very fortunate in their choice of friends, careers, or even roommates, finding connections that later redouble to their benefit.

My good fortune did not come in these packages. I did nothing to deserve it, made no move to bring it about, and had, in fact, absolutely nothing at all to do with its existence. It was there from the earliest instants of my life, though for many, many years I did not truly recognize it as the amazing boon that it was. My good fortune has been that I have known a saint. Not, perhaps, a canonizable saint––I have no knowledge of any miracles she has brought about––but a saint nonetheless. This is what I have called her for years: my mother, Saint Marilyn.

As a child, my mother's presence ranged from Giver of Needed Comfort to Sheer and Utter Annoyance; in other words, she was pretty much what any mother is to any child. And as the oldest of six, not to mention as one possessed of several emotional issues I did not feel like sharing, I simply slipped away on my own very quickly, so I did not take the time to notice her as I should have.

I did not, for example, recognize the fact that this mother of six was willing, more than once, to take in cousins and friends whose parents were having difficult times, kids who sometimes lived with us for months. I did not know that a young cousin coming into our home was deeply troubled, but that my mother took him in anyway. I could not see the strength she gave to our family as my father grew more and more involved in his own (quite literal) affairs, indiscretions of which my mother was unaware. I did not see the internal struggle and pain she felt when I and other siblings grew apart from the Catholic Church she loved, and how difficult it must have been for her to let us find our own ways.

One thing I did see, though I did not truly comprehend it until facing a similar moment with my own child decades later, was the way tears filled her eyes every time she said goodbye to me at an airport so I could head out to another semester at college. Even then, though, I missed the stark pain of knowing she would likely face arguments with her husband about their declining marriage during the long drive home.

After her divorce, my mother, who had spent most of my life as a maternity nurse, found herself a victim of the economy. Her hospital cut from the top to save money, and she was among the highest salaried employees, so she was suddenly unemployed. This did not last long, but something had shifted in her, and it resulted in dramatic life changes. Together with a friend, she bought an old farmhouse and converted it into a Christian hospice, taking in end-of-life patients and easing their passage. Among her first patients was one of my cousins, an AIDS victim from his youthful drug-abuse days, now a hard-working carpet-layer, who held on long enough to die in his own home.

When the funds ran out and the farm was no longer sustainable, they reluctantly sold it and my mother left her work at the hospital and went to work as a hospice nurse, where she has remained ever since. Having started her career bringing babies into the world, she has finished it helping the dying to leave it peacefully. It takes a special woman to handle all of this with the dignity and love that she has always exhibited.

Somewhere in there, my own emotional issues bled out, and my meltdown was a source of much panic and angst in our family. My mother was the one left to keep everything and everyone together, and her patience and love sustained me through the darkest times. But even more, her calm acceptance and understanding of difficult realities set the stage for others to accept and understand as well, and (once again) her difficult--and I am sure painful--insistence that everyone must find his or her own way allowed us all to grow together again.

I am sure that there are other mothers whose love and lives rival this. I am sure I am not the only daughter who sees her mother as someone to emulate, someone she wishes desperately she could be like. I am sure there are mothers whose struggles on behalf of their children and others are far greater than those of my mother. But I have not know them. I have had the privilege of knowing, loving, and being loved by Saint Marilyn. And on this Mother's Day, that is the most wonderful thing in the world.

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it's your hair that i notice first
streaked with morning
it frames your face
you lying there eyes closed
soft breath not quite there
i follow its path as it bends the sheet
and i can touch you there
touch what i feel is you
in the spark of daylight
you'll rise
pull on the wrinkled shirt from last night
say something you think is beautiful
drink some coffee
from behind my paper
and drive away,
leaving a kiss on my lips
and a hole in my heart
where a fire ought to be

Favorite Films

  • The Wizard Of Oz
  • Amelie
  • The Princess Bride
  • Casablanca
  • Annie Hall
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • All That Jazz
  • Citizen Kane
  • Love Actually
  • Moulin Rouge
  • Big Fish
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • Almost Famous
  • Bull Durham
  • Notting Hill
  • Apocalypse Now (Redux)
  • Magnolia

All-Time Favorite TV Shows

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Gilmore Girls
  • M*A*S*H
  • The West Wing
  • The X-Files
  • The Daily Show
  • Ally McBeal
  • Picket Fences
  • All In The Family
  • Seinfeld
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show
  • Star Trek
  • Firefly
  • Wonderfalls
  • Northern Exposure
  • Get Smart
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show
  • Twin Peaks
  • The Larry Sanders Show
  • Monk
  • Felicity
  • St. Elsewhere

Current TV Shows I Enjoy (in no particular order)

  • Perception
  • Major Crimes
  • American Horror Story
  • Louie
  • Suits
  • The Newsroom
  • Falling Skies
  • Franklin and Bash
  • Veep
  • Scandal
  • Fairly Legal
  • Girls
  • Don't Trust the B---
  • Justified
  • Portlandia
  • Psych
  • The Middle
  • Person of Interest
  • Happy Endings
  • Hart of Dixie
  • Real Time with Bill Maher
  • Nikita
  • Raising Hope
  • Castle
  • Drop Dead Diva
  • Covert Affairs
  • Elementary
  • Rizzoli and Isles
  • Revolution
  • The Last Resort
  • Alphas
  • SNL
  • Revenge
  • Community
  • Suburgatory
  • New Girl
  • Once Upon a Time
  • Grimm
  • Nashville
  • Downton Abbey
  • Smash
  • Homeland
  • Fringe
  • Glee
  • Haven
  • Community
  • Warehouse 13
  • Modern Family
  • Vampire Diaries
  • The Daily Show
  • How I Met Your Mother
  • The Colbert Report
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Leverage
  • Rachel Maddow Show

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