January 31, 2008 The Feast of St. Marge
My computer's calendar reminder tells me that today is my mother's birthday. She would have been 85 today. How I wish I could call her and tell her Happy Birthday.
But St. Marge died almost two years ago. And while I have tried to convince myself that time heals all wounds, I still sometimes find myself overwhelmed with grief at the sound of a song I remember her loving or when one of her favorite programs, like "The Golden Girls" comes on the television. I find myself weeping in my car in parking lots and exclaiming "Mother, I want to talk with you. I miss you so much." Time has not healed this wound, it has only made the ache a bit duller and less constant.
And yet, in some ways, Mother seems more present than she was in her lifetime. I continue to address the butterflies in my yard, her beloved symbol, with a cheery, "Hi, Momma!" I find her presence is particularly strong in my garden when I touch the earth and listen to the sound of the birds each morning. I can hear her favorite hymn, the one we sang at her funeral at her request, ringing in my ears: "I come to the garden alone, when the dew is still on the roses." Most of all, I hear her voice speaking in my head when I entertain mean spirited thoughts, the violation of Mother's Prime Directive: "Now, son, don't be ugly."
Perhaps the saddest aspect of my mother's absence has been seeing how lost my father sometimes seems without her. St. Marge took the rough edges off of Sam much the way that my gentle spirited and genteel partner, Andy, smoothes my own rough edges. While I often doubt whether I deserve his presence in my life, I know how lost I'd be without him. Without anyone to tell my Dad to turn the channel from the angry white men on Fox "News," he seems consumed with a sort of undirected smoldering anger at times that occasionally erupts when the topic of global warming comes up. All of us children do our best to see him and spend time with him. But, he is lonely, truly lost without his beloved "Fats," as he called mother, a reference to her doubling in size during her pregnancy with me (or so they tell me).
I sometimes tell myself that by living out the best life I can, by serving the human beings my mother served so many years without complaint, by refusing to allow their dignity to be ignored or impugned, by insisting on the ethic of life she embodied in her own love of creation, I honor my mother's memory. Sadly, I doubt I will ever completely be the human being she saw in me but if I can live into her example of loving people despite their warts as she did so readily and consistently even half as well as she did, I will have lived a decent life, a life worth living.
I found myself dreading my first birthday after she died in 2006. Mother always called me on my birthday, usually at the time I was born, 8:20 a.m., and went through a litany that went something like this: 'Fifty years ago right about now a little boy was coming into the world. And you were so pretty, and while the other babies were crying or sleeping, you were looking around the room trying to figure out where you were and what was going on. It was the hottest day in September 1953. And when they brought you to me, you were so beautiful." She loved to tell that story. And Sept. 1, 2006, I knew the phone would not ring and the story would not be told.. I left for school with a dull aching in my heart that morning.
When I arrived home that evening I had a message on my phone mail. Without checking the number, I simply pressed the speaker button and the message began to play. "Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you!" The voice had a strangely familiar sound to it. It sounded so much like my mother's voice that for a second I lost my breath. She had found a way to call me on my birthday, through my sister. I laughed. And I cried as I remembered the many morning phone calls and their litanies. It was a bittersweet moment of gratitude for an unusual woman whose life had left a major impact on the world she loved and served.
In the past two years, both of my mother's brothers and her nephew, my beloved cousin, Ansel, have all departed this life. Mother spoke of her father visiting her in her dreams just before she died. I have comforted myself with the many losses of family members I have sustained these past few years with the hope that my sweet mother met them at the door to the afterlife and guided their souls home. And I hope and pray (even as I am not sure I can say I truly believe anymore) that when it comes my turn to die, I will be met at the gate by St. Marge.
Happy Birthday, Momma. Your family and many friends miss you. But, perhaps more importantly, our lives are better for the gift of having known you.
The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando
If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.