In thinking about my mother’s illness, her complaints, her loves, and her passing, I wonder what she knew about getting what she wanted. It appears that her stroke was inevitable given how she chose to ignore the potential ill effects of her lifestyle. Yet her life style was one of the things that made her happy–attend to the things that worked and ignore the things that didn’t.
That raises some interesting issues. My mother did not like her childhood, at least as I remember her presenting it to me. In fact, her three favorite things to talk about, in no particular order, were food, travel, and the past, especially the negative aspects of growing up and the positive aspects of being in the Women’s Army Corp stationed in London during World War II, as well as her membership and her friends in a military widow’s group. This is not to say that she didn’t have good things to say about growing up or bad things to say about the war. In fact, a major story that seemed to drive her when she was mad at God was when innocent children were killed by a buzz bomb (which she did not directly experience, seeing the bus after the victims had been removed). I was never clear how many people were killed, but I was clear that she was not happy that such a thing could occur (most of us wouldn’t be). Being raised with the notion of an all-powerful God, it was a major concern that man’s puny political battles and despicable acts somehow seemed to triumph.
I think that while she recognized that one’s own individual efforts had much to do with one’s reality, I think she believed that the biggest element of creation seemed to lie outside of human control and was up to some other power. This notion was congruent with her belief in how little control she had as a child and how much control seemed to reside in the world of men and God, both of whom possessed masculine qualities.
Her dispute with her mother was about this issue. I think she felt her mother capitulated to males and held females as subservient. In order to avoid the work required of women, her mother just passed it off onto her female children. In such a manner, my mother was twice bitten, once by some masculine ideal and once by her very own mother.
The idea that a big portion of the world was lacking in good sense as well as lacking in the qualities of nurturing propelled her towards independence while rendering her resentful and dependent on her past and on any present or future that reminded her about that past. But I think she liked the conflict. It gave her an avenue of enjoyment and it gave her an out.
I wonder if this is our heritage, both genetic and memetic (the passing on of information that is both biological–some from genes, and social–from memes). In such a world we can do some things and not others. In such a world, when we don’t get what we want, we can blame something external and when we do get what we want, we can embrace something internal. It’s convenient, it’s easy, and we don’t have to do too much. And we have the added bonus of being able to be a bit indignant and self righteous, which can elevate our status and numb our pain at the same time. That’s a long and powerful history to overcome.
I learned a lot of things from my parents, most of which I was not aware I was learning. Perhaps no one lives or dies in vain. Somehow, on some days, it almost seems as though everything that is, is an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to create.