|Abstract calligraphy made by participants in the LA Shambhala Art intensive I just attended.|
"Relationships," the first student answers, without hesitation.
"Ok, good, but get more specific..."
"Close relationships, people you are close to," she guesses.
"Getting warmer, keep going, more specific..."
"Family relationships," she tries out, but then a light bulb goes off as I say:
"Ok, yup, keep going..."
And she practically screams out: "Your Mom."
The air goes out of the room. Everyone smiles or grimaces, all pens hit notebooks. I smile.
"Could everyone feel the difference in the room when she said that?"
Eight heads nod - all eighteen, nineteen or twenty year olds.
"That's what we mean by specific writing topics - topics that have charge, that everyone can do something with, so universal but also hit the jugular."
This is my first Contemplative Writing college class, at Marquette University.
I was nervous at first, I have to admit.
We'll be JUST fine.
That was yesterday.
Today, I get a text in the morning, from a close friend who's my age. She's in need of some support with her mom - as she wisely notes - "Not so much what to do for her as how I can support myself in helping her." I tell her I am having lunch with a friend and can talk afterwards. I go to lunch and my lunch friend only mentions her mother once - she tells me she has great boundaries with only one person on Facebook: her mom.
After lunch, my morning friend calls, crying. Oh honey. It's been a rough long haul. Her mom has ongoing health issues and doesn't always take care of herself. The friend lived close to her mom for a couple of years but now lives far away. How can she have a healthy relationship when her mom, for instance, isn't always communicative about her health issues? I listen, acknowledge that it's hard, help her to see where the wise-boundary choices she's already making are wise, help her to see where the things she already suspects aren't good decisions aren't.
Later in the afternoon, another text, this one from a younger female friend who is about to live apart from her mom in the first time in both their lives. The text, totally ambiguous, begins "Do people become selfish when they get a boyfriend?" I laugh, then frown. Hmm. I have a feeling that isn't an abstract question. So I text her back "Sounds like a conversation, not a text. Want to talk?"
She calls, crying. Oh sweetie. I put down the dishes I was washing and move over to the couch. I ask her what happened, what's going on. Her mom is about to move away - today is her last day - and she is so sad, feels they have grown so far apart. She's worried - will they ever be close again? Guilty - did she cause this all to happen? And scared - what if her mom dies? She knows my mom died when I was 19 - the age she is now - and she wonders out loud, how on earth did I manage that? I tear up, and I tell her she has a good chance, don't panic about her mom dying yet. Stay present, feeling her feelings, be with her mom and trust they can work it out.
After we hang up, actually, immediately after her phone repeatedly dies and we decide to move to text and finish texting, my morning friend calls again. Everything we had thought out so clearly in the morning turns out not to be working by the evening. Morning friend realizes she needs to have a longer-term plan for her mother's health issues. I listen again, support, sympathize. She cries, but also we laugh because some of the situation is just ridiculous and this woman is my age, so has a bit more perspective. We talk about how nice it is to be older and calmer and trust more what will happen.
At the end of the conversation, I tell morning friend what happened from my perspective. In the morning, she calls me overwhelmed about her mother. I don't think it at the time, when talking to her, but afterwards I probably subconsciously think (as I often do) "Oh, my. I am sure if my mother were alive I'd be having similar issues. It's kind of a relief to not have to deal with that."
Then later, after talking to my younger friend, I feel sad - I wish I had a chance to have, as I told my morning friend, "an adult relationship with my mom." I can tell my morning friend can see the punchline coming as soon as I say that.
"So then you call again and suddenly..." I continue...
"...not having an adult relationship with your mom doesn't seem like such a loss, does it?" she finishes.
And we both burst out laughing.
Oh my. What a world.
PS. Big love and support to friends and students whose mothers are actually dying as I write this: Donna (her mother is Mildred) and Lucy (whose mother is Karen). And to Richard, whose sister Ellie - who is not a mother but a beautiful woman and sister - is also in her last days. If you do any kind of compassion practice, please include all these folks in your practice.