As I was sitting in front of my computer tonight, waiting for Alex’s family to come over for dinner, I was thinking about how much my mom loved having people over on Sunday nights. She would invite a few people over and we would all sit around the dining room table and eat chili and raw apple muffins or chicken curry with homemade garlic bread. Later, after the other guests would leave, my mom and I would sit in front of the fire and drink coffee while talking about a range of topics from her desire to have Hilary Clinton as president to the best Woody Allen film to random memories of her being a Pi Phi. The night would drift on as we would play Bob Dylan and Neil Young records, smoke cigarettes and the stories would turn funnier until we would both be rolling in laughter. Finally, it would be time for me to go home. She always asked me to stay overnight, but I always refused, desiring to be in my own bed. Now Alex and I live in my mother’s home and I sleep here every night.
While we were waiting for Alex’s family to arrive, I was daydreaming thinking about how a week from today is my mom’s birthday. She would have been 72, which is sometimes hard to believe since her spirit was always so youthful, full of political passion, intellectual thirst, a bohemian sense of amazing style and a desire to weave together wisdom of her years with the fight of a teenager. Sometimes I paint this picture of my mom that I’m not sure is really fair. Many thought she was nuts and that she didn’t know how to pick a battle. While that’s true, she was compassionate as hell and could talk for hours about stuff that would surprise anyone. Even though she could be extremely difficult, she was a really cool lady and she would have loved that Alex and I were cooking dinner, making a fire, lighting candles and getting the house ready to entertain his family on a cold, November night.
I was thinking about all of this when suddenly Alex said “Peter look, it’s your mom.” The statement stunned me. I turned and looked to find Alex staring out of the back window. Per his suggestion, I moved slowly and found a strong, brilliantly red cardinal sitting on our patio staring in the window. As soon as it saw me, it flew away into the yard, but came back and perched itself on our patio again, not sure if it wanted to stay or leave.
A month or two before my mom died, she told me she thought it was time to have “the talk”. We sat side by side in her bed while I asked her all kinds of questions I wanted to know about her life. Although, much of it I already knew, she told me her beliefs about forgiveness, accomplishing your dreams, the afterlife and spirituality. She told me what things she wished she had done, including being an attorney or a costume designer for movies, and stated that her two biggest regrets were not going on a date with Mick Jagger and regularly listening to jazz at Elaine’s with Woody Allen on Thursday nights in New York City. A devout Christian, my mother’s faith was also grounded in Eastern religions and at times, she entertained ideas such as karma and reincarnation. “No matter what, always remember that we’re on borrowed time. Life happens much faster than you ever imagine.”
“If there is an afterlife, I”ll come back to you as a cardinal to let you know that I’m OK and that I’m happy,” she said. My father laughed later when he heard this stating that the cardinal is the state bird of Indiana and that it wouldn’t be hard to confuse the spirit of my mother with a hungry bird on a wintry day. Nonetheless, this bird was different. It was interested in what we were doing inside. It was observant.
A few minutes later Alex’s family arrived. We turned the TV to the Spanish HBO station so the kids could watch The Fantastic Four in Spanish while the adults sat around, telling stories and catching each other up on our lives. The fire crackled and the candles burned and again the house was alive with energy on a cold, November evening. While I stood in the kitchen talking to Alex’s mom, his grandma sipped wine on the couch and his little cousins chased the dogs around the house, while his older cousins laughed and told stories with Alex. I was suddenly filled with such a feeling of transition that finally this house was ours; it was longer my mother’s house. For a very long time it still felt like her house, especially since some of her favorite paintings are on the walls, but now it felt like ours.
They’re still here and I’ve stolen away for ten minutes while they’re eating to write this since I’m on a diet, but I should probably get back to visiting with them. I’ve learned that time is precious and the moments we spend with people are the most important things in life. I’ll never forget my mom and I’ll always think about our Sundays together, but its time to move on and make some new memories. It’s time to heed her words and figure out what things I’ll regret someday looking back on my life and make them happen today. It’s time to stop being so afraid and start to live life to the fullest.
And maybe that’s what she came to say today. Maybe she was just stopping by to remind me that we’re on borrowed time as it is…
Please follow me everywhere!