“I’ve got MYSELF to remind me of love.”–the very first line from “Happy Feelin’s”, by Frankie Beverly & Maze
*The last time I spoke to my mother, I was saying bye.
She was sitting on the couch in our living room one evening in seemingly good health, enjoying the company of her children as I headed out to attend a high school basketball game.
I next saw her in the wee hours of the following morning, in a bed at Oklahoma City’s University Hospital. She was attached to a respirator–I can still hear its cold, urgent rhythm in my head–having suffered a cerebral hemorrhage shortly after I left for the game.
Though it was her body–through which five children had come–it was clear to me Mama had vacated it, taking with her everything that made this flesh form a human being and our mother.
It was November 28, 1971. I was fifteen years old and I distinctly remember declaring that Mama’s death marked the end of my happiness. Forever. Never again, I thought, can I smile or laugh. Nothing can happen in my life so good that I will ever lose this pain. I believed this.
Exactly how a child effectively deals with the sorrow accompanying the lost of a parent, I am unable to put into words. I simply know that somehow I did. It didn’t seem that way then, but apparently everyday got easier. Today when life leaves me in doubt, I consider what that 15 year old child endured, and the fact that he came through it, not utterly unscathed, but thriving nonetheless.
What I’ve discovered is that my past life experiences are as mighty a source of inspiration and reassurance as anything else I might call on. And those experiences needn’t be as heavy as a death in the family. Every difficulty or hardship, no matter how formidable or minute, brings its own lesson.
I know what I’ve gone through to get here. And when I am flustered, I remember that I’ve got MYSELF–the victories of one week ago, of a year ago–to remind me that I am anything but powerless.
There is might in the tender memory of an old mission accomplished. There is motivation in honoring past dreams come true, often neglected as insignificant in the shadow of current desires. Don’t dismiss the accomplishment of the very first pound you shed in order to lose 20. Before you lost that one pound, losing it seemed as difficult as the great Wall of China is long.
The thing required to quit smoking is the same ingredient required to free yourself from a job you hate. The verve it takes to walk out of an abusive relationship is the same thing allowing you to pass the bar exam or conquer the world. That “thing” is an implacable faith in self and being ever mindful of the fact that whatever high ground you’ve managed to corral was indeed captured by…you. And you possess the capacity to do this over and again.
A triumph in your past, no matter how small it now appears, is the clay able to shape your future. In my understanding of this I have also developed a certain respect for the hand I’ve been dealt: consider the notion that somewhere, someone looks longingly up from his or her predicament to what you call your problems.
I also now realize there is far worse than losing a loving parent: having parents who don’t care or who abuse; parents who cannot bring themselves to love at all.
After losing my mother, I used to say that they can drop the atom bomb and I’ll absorb it and keep stepping. I now know it is not always the bomb itself, but its fallout—how events of one’s life leaves one feeling about oneself–that can do you in.
I also discovered that we are never too old to learn something from a child. Particularly the one inside of us.
Steven Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected]