It’s a Friday in the middle of winter in Indiana. I am surrounded by my things as I prepare for a move to a new apartment and begin yet another chapter. I’m listening to a personal playlist I created on Spotify for when I write about my mom.
This is the seventh post in the Cleaning Out Your Stuff series. To start the exercise at the beginning go here.
Last night over a warm cup of tea I met with two men who work in Government. We were meeting to discuss legislation that I am championing in the current session in Indiana for a consulting contract I have with the city. As I prepared to leave my house for the meeting, anxiety rushed through me. I didn’t want to drive back downtown after an already long day of meetings trying to convince people of the importance of our issue. But I know this is how all of this works, you keep fighting, you keep championing, you keep believing even when no one else does. So I put on my big girl boots and I drove into the city.
The conversation was typical, the status of our bill, had we gotten anyone from the Governor’s office on board, questions of where we were having trouble and where we might need support. Two warm cups of tea later and a few chardonnays for my colleagues led to discussions of modern day etiquette, #metoo and my credentials in the film industry. These men were of an older generation, not like my father’s generation but something in between. I could tell by their questions that they were actually very serious about inquiring on my opinion of women in the workplace, sexual harassment and my generation’s work ethic. The conversation was positive, they listened, they shared their experiences and in a lot of ways, it felt like more important work than the legislation itself. A few stories in, my colleague asked me if I thought the generation coming up behind me were hard workers. I said that in my coaching business I work with a lot of people a few years younger than me and a few pre-med students so I have some experience with their work ethic. I said I didn’t know why it might seem to them (my colleagues) like they are entitled or directionless other than perhaps they are too far removed from the Immigrant generation I had as grandparents and The Great Depression to understand what even brought them to all of their privilege and opportunity. Maybe that’s what you’re feeling?, I said sipping my tea. We all contemplated the importance of history and continued chatting.
I went on to say that the only thing I can credit for my work ethic is moving to New York City with no plan and a wave from my father at the airport six months after my mom died. My parents always threw me out to swim in deep waters. They never coddled me or gave me more than I earned. They also let me fail and fail and fail and never rescued me. There was an understanding in my household—that understanding was that we all knew how to take care of ourselves and only if something was on fire could we call for some help. But even then they might come running in saying, “well didn’t you try the fire extinguisher?”.
Since it was a professional setting I didn’t get very deep on the meaning of time or how since the young age of 22 I have been very clear on the shortage of that time. That warm June summer morning when my mom took her last breath changed me. If you’re a follower of my blog you perhaps know how much that moment changed me. I don’t know what parenting style is best, I can’t tell you what rules to create in your house to mold little people into hard working big people. You could try my mom’s chore chart method and only let up on your kids birthdays, but they might carry some resentment deep into their twenties. All I can say is that when your mom gets diagnosed with cancer and you’re a six grader, life get’s pretty serious pretty quick. There wasn’t a lot of room for complaining or frivolous behavior. We had scary surgeries and overnights at my parents’ friends houses as mom and dad navigated scary cancer stuff. We had pain killer protocol and quiet evenings when my mom went to bed early. We did our laundry and we found our own way to dinner when Dad wasn’t home to cook. We didn’t have a traditional upbringing—we were all homemakers. Gender roles only applied when emotions were at play. Dad was a yeller and mom was a guilter. “I’m so disappointed”, she would whisper with tears in her eyes. We knew better. We always knew better.
That morning when my dad woke me at 5:00 a.m. to come to the living room to say goodbye, I felt a deep pain in my stomach that was so familiar. The anticipation of death is a haunting state of being. Ten years of cancer, ten years of surgery, ten years of scans and questions and scares. We were ready, like a well trained army. I pulled a sweatshirt over my head and I followed my dad through the entryway into our living room where my mom had been sleeping in a hospital bed for two weeks. I sat next to him on the couch but felt a sense of protest. They all seemed ready. We had the conversations about letting her know it was ok to leave us, and I played along the best I could, but I wasn’t ready, perhaps you are never ready. I stared at my mother lying there so gentle and soft. Her skin was like the skin of an angel, her breathe was fluid and slow. Everyone was telling her that they loved her, that it was time, that it was ok. I floated above the room and felt as if I was observing someone else’s life. My mom took her last breathe and the air left my lungs too.
A life worth living is defined by the person who is living it. I don’t exactly know how my mother defined the value of her short life. I am not exactly sure what lists she had that she never got to or what dreams were deep inside of her that were never made true. I’d love to ask her, I’d love to help her make them come true, but I can’t.
All I can do is a live a life worth living . All I can do is remember that some summer day somewhere off in the hopeful far distance I will take my last breath. It will be the end, time will be up. I will have had a chance to do all of the things I dreamed to do. I will have had a chance to leave the world better than I found it.
I don’t know how you infuse that into someone who hasn’t experienced that before. The thing I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy is the thing that is partially responsible for the beautiful life that I live today. Without that loss perhaps I’m more causal with the truth. Without that loss perhaps I’m lazier or complacent or wasteful. Did we have to sacrifice my mother’s life for me to have one worth living? No. But am I going to waste this one life that I have? That’s a very firm, hell no.
And since I can’t infuse energy into her dreams and I can’t have conversations about living a life worthwhile with her, I’d like to have them with you. I’d like to infuse energy into your dreams. I’d like to help you build a life you find worth living. I’d like to help you leave the world a little better than you found it when you arrived.
I can’t teach you to live as if time is a luxury. I can’t make you feel what I felt that warm June morning when my mom took her last breath. I can’t and wouldn’t ever want you to have to feel that in order to value your one and precious life—that is too high a price to pay for meaning. Just trust me on this one, your life is precious. Time is a luxury and our allotment is limited.
So, as you continue to clean out your stuff, I hope you believe, like I do, that within all of that stuff is a very valuable and powerful life. If you haven’t been afraid of wasting it yet—I hope this story helps you see why it matters how you spend it.
Your exercise for today is to imagine that you’re 90 years old. Your in your cozy living room taking your last breaths, surrounded by the people that you love. What will you be feeling? What will have been your impact? Will you be worried that you wasted too much time worrying? Will you be sad for the things you didn’t do because you were afraid? Will you feel shame for being careless with the hearts’ of others? Or will you be celebrating your life of meaning…smiling and waiting for the light to come for you?
Your move chief.