Friday, December 30, 2011

Remembering birthdays

Today would have been my mother’s 95th birthday. It’s been on my mind for days, and this particular one arrives in a period during which both my parents have been on my mind a lot. These days, that’s kind of unusual.

Three years ago, I wrote about my mother’s birthday, how she felt about it and how I tried to respond to that. I didn’t specify back then, but I was mainly talking about how I acted when I was a kid. By the time I became a teenager, I’m not sure I was as thoughtful or concerned; I wish I could remember better, but a lot of those years are now a bit blurry.

The problem is arithmetic: Both my parents have been dead a very long time (I’ve never been a fan of euphemisms about death, like “passed away”, etc.; I think they just screw up our attitudes toward the inevitable end of life). I’ve lived some three decades without them, after only about two with them, so the number of years, combined with my own aging, means that memory fades, and the times I think about either one of them become rarer.

Last month, however, I was missing my parents, and the specific cause was, oddly enough, New Zealand’s election.

I remembered talking a lot with my parents, my mother in particular (at least until what turned out to be the final years of my father’s life), and as I got older those conversations were often about political issues or electoral campaigns. For example, I tried to convince my mother to stop buying Florida orange juice because their spokeswoman at the time was Anita Bryant, who was in the midst of her anti-gay hate crusade (I was a closeted teen at the time). My mother didn’t join the boycott because my father, recently diagnosed with diabetes, was on a strict diet and orange juice was part of it; I think she thought avoiding one state’s product was too difficult with all the other things she had to take into account, and I didn’t press the point.

However, neither my mother nor father ever dismissed what I had to say, or told me to be quiet, even though I had far less life experience than they did, and very little of my own. If they ever thought that I was naive or immature or my views simplistic, they never said so, even though some of my views had to be one or all of those things at least sometimes.

I eventually realised that by encouraging me to think, to discuss and to debate, they nurtured my growing interest in all things political, something that would lead first to my political activism and, ultimately, to this blog, my podcasting and continuing discussions.

Still, while I miss being able to discuss things with my parents, I’m grateful to them that I have the passion to talk about political things. Politics is part of who I am; clearly my parents recognised that when I was still quite young. No wonder I miss them.

So, today is my mother’s birthday and I’m talking about the gifts I got from her. That’s because I obviously can’t give her gifts anymore, so my remembering and noting what she gave me is the best I can do.

So, happy birthday mom—and thanks for the gifts.


Roger Owen Green said...

Very lovely.

I know what you mean about euphemisms, but I'm feeling different about "passed away" since I was present at my mother's death earlier this year. First she was there, then she just passed on to the other side from life.

Arthur Schenck said...

Thank you kindly.

The wording isn't a hard and fast rule with me. In the context you mentioned, I think that wording is MORE accurate than the more plain speech I'd use normally.