Lessons of The Heart

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I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand.  It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.

-Harper Lee, “To Kill A Mockingbird”

            She lived in her own world; one created for her, and by her.  A world that, on the best of days, I wasn’t truly a part of.  In her final days, she was as glorious as any woman I will ever remember.  More beautiful than when she dressed up for family pictures at Sears, or when she sat folded into our burgundy couch; her favorite Christmas cat pajama’s scrunching at the knees.  She was a symphony of sound and life; a fighter until the very end.  A fighter for seven long years, left behind by friends and family alike, and whispered about as a great “loss” to the community.  The constant butt of gossip, “What good is it to spend time living with a disease, and not dying from it like so many before her?”

            Moments spent with my mother were precious; one moment to learn an old family recipe for chocolate éclair cake, another to learn the family tree.  Moments to cherish and remember during the harder years, when grief would become a constant cloud bearing tidings of misery, and depression.  Simple moments, but one’s that I remember more clearly than any toy left wrapped under the tree; more than any box of Godiva chocolate set upon my dresser for Valentine’s day.

All growth is a leap in the dark, a spontaneous unpremeditated act without the benefit of experience.

-Henry Miller

            I sit watching the fireworks as they explode in a brilliant array of colors so near to our very own back porch.  At some point tonight, Earl will light himself on fire, as he does every year, and have to be rushed to the hospital by his hostile wife.  She’ll moan, and carry on about how, every year, he somehow manages to light a body part on fire, and how he never learns.  Huddled next to me, covered by a pink blanket featuring black and cream colored cats, my mother rests her head upon my shoulders.  Her hand inches towards mine, shaking with the toll even such a small movement as that takes upon her body.

            “Pumpkin, can you get my hat?  My head’s cold, and I want to watch the fireworks,” she says, her head tilting back so that she can read my face, as she always manages to do.  As gently as I can, I reach across the wooden picnic table my father painted her favorite color, red, and grab for her multicolor ski cap.  I bought it last year at a craft fair my school was holding; five dollars for the hat, and a scarf.  With shaking hands, I gingerly place her hat upon her head, kissing her forehead as it creases with thought.  Moving slowly, I pray that she’ll acknowledge that I plan to sit next to her tonight.

            “Baby, no…”  Her voice is horse, barely a whisper, strained.  Her bedroom blue eyes twinkle and I’m thrown backwards into memories of hula hoops and camping trips.  Happier times than what I exist in now.

            My heart races and my mind seems to speak of its own accord.  She’s too weak to speak to me; to make demands.  This disease attacks anything that moves, including vocal cords, and lungs, and especially hearts.  My heart, my father’s, my brother’s.

            “Baby, you can’t see the fireworks if you’re sitting down.  I want you to watch them with me.  Time’s running out, baby, and they’re so pretty.”  I jerk my head in what feels like a nod; my throat has closed, and fear clouds my thoughts.  Fear that her desperate hopes and dreams for me won’t come true in time.  I silently pray that my father will call me into the house, that he needs something from me, and shame courses hotly through my body.  How dare I hope for our moments to be cut short!  Shifting my eyes to look at her, I realize that my internal struggle goes unnoticed; her shoulders begin their familiar sway, that loping shrug my mother is famous for.  She grins lopsidedly up at me, and with a slow curving of her finger, she motions for me to sit next to her.  Collapsing heavily beside her, I lean, resting my head upon hers, careful to keep the weight from crushing her.  I can smell the familiar rose scented lotion that blossoms from her body; my mouth opens and closes against her ear, throat dry, as I whisper softly to her, as if speaking to a child.

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