Maybe during this quarantine shut down mask-wearing time, we have a choice. We can spin out and get mad and blame the government and our (alleged) toilet paper hoarding neighbors. Or we can pay attention to what is actually happening inside our homes, inside our brains, inside our hearts, and decide what needs to change and what can stay the same. I’ve done both over the last month. It is a daily struggle.
A few months ago, while I was out of town, my mother’s oncologist told her that there were more tumors. In her lungs and in her vertebrae. I knew she had been getting tired. She is a night owl, it’s where I got it. But she had been going into her room at 9:00 pm after saying goodnight to all the dogs. And not getting up until after I left for work. This was unusual, since the last round of radiation and immunology. The doctors gave her some options.
She told me, “I am going to fight. Besides, Mochi would miss me. [Mochi is her name for my dog, Atticus.] Everyone else he loves has gone. I have to stay.” First, Atticus is now Mochi because he is now round and roly-poly. (Mochi loosely means “rice treat” in Japanese). Second, he adores my mother and follows her everywhere and when he does, she gives him another treat. But what am I going to do? Send in the dog treat police? To arrest a naughty 85-year old and a 75-pound ball of fur?
My mama chose to fight. More radiation. More chemo. Weight loss. Hair loss. Yet, she still has that beautiful face and skin she’s always had. She wears bright scarves and sneaks out into the kitchen to find sweet snacks to make her happy. I catch her reaching up into the cupboard for the sugar. She looks at me and smiles. And grabs a spoon from the kitchen drawer. It’s her treat. Whatever makes her happy.
A couple months ago, I came downstairs and I found her eyeglasses and her phone on the table and I was worried. I didn’t know where she was or why she would leave her glasses and her phone. But after about 10 minutes she came out of her room to get them. She told Atticus, “Lie down, Mochi. No more treats,” And she said to Tommy, “Don’t pee on the floor.” And I added, “You little asshole.” Then I hugged him. Lord, that dog is such a pain in the ass. But the pain in the ass in our life needs our love just as much as we do. It’s entirely possible that we are the pain the ass for someone else’s life. I’m pretty sure I am.
Despite the pain and the effects of radiation and chemo, my mom maintains her routine. Every morning she gets up and feeds the pack of dogs. She says to them, “Don’t stand behind me! I don’t want to fall over you!” And they obediently shuffle back. A few times a day, when she comes out of her room, she goes to the treat box and gives them all a treat. I say to her, “MOM, that is why Atticus is getting so big!” She just gives me that look. The teacher-librarian look I grew up with. We all know the mom look that can silence you. I have not quite mastered it with my offspring. But I’m working on it.
When I’m at my desk during the day working, my mom wanders out of her room with her iPad to show me the news stories she is reading. Last week it was Liam Hemsworth’s workout videos. Bless you, Liam. My mom loves your workout videos. She’s shown me photos of wildlife and ocean and flowers. She says to me, as I drive her to her doctor appointments, “Look how beautiful it is. The sky is so blue. Everything is green and growing. It is so beautiful here.” Then we get home and the dogs swarm around her because they know whenever she comes in and out of the house, everyone gets a treat. Mochi is getting incrementally bigger and squishing his way out of the doggie door. But who f*cking cares. He is happy.
I walked out of my house this morning with my cup of coffee and I sat and looked at the sky and the green of my backyard. And I thought, you know, whatever may come, I have this moment and I’m grateful. And maybe, just maybe. In these moments we are forced to pause from our fast forward numbing paced gotta have it lives, we are getting the treat of learning how to be present. Maybe we all needed to be literally grounded to be more spiritually and lovingly grounded. To stop and say, this is where we are. And this is what we need. Perhaps, we are finally learning that one of the biggest needs is how badly we need each other. So that we can keep fighting for each other to be healthy and safe. So that we can come home to packs of dogs and treats. Until then, beloveds, may you be well, may you be safe, may you be loved. I love you. Until we meet again.