I am thinking today about my mother

January 2nd, 2011

I am thinking today of my mother, who died on May 26, 2009, after a long siege of cancer.  Her struggle at the end was not so much with the disease – you can’t really struggle with something you can’t see, touch, or for the most part feel – but with her body’s extraordinary resilience and vitality, which far outlasted her desire to remain within it. Her body fought on long after the war was lost and everything it was fighting for, which we may subsume under the pallid rubric “quality of life”, was irretrievably destroyed.

My mother was the most intelligent person I have ever known.  Most of us think of intelligence as the ability to score well on standardized tests, or to deploy fluently a large and abstruse vocabulary, or to work mathematical problems and send rockets to the moon.  Such a shallow notion of intelligence is part of what has landed us in the pickle we are in today.  My mother showed me that intelligence means accurately and comprehensively evaluating what is going on in your world and responding appropriately.  She was a person you could go to for advice about whatever was happening in your life.  Her understanding was unfailing.  She knew when to give you the direct, unvarnished truth, and when to be vaguely supportive, when to say you were right, when to say you were wrong, and when to say nothing in such a manner as led you to the right decision.  The best example, though, is how she faced her own terminal diagnosis.  After the initial shock, she unhesitatingly took the steps she needed to take to ensure that she would be able to live the best she could the way she wanted, considering her own diminishing capacities.  She made sure to enjoy what there was to enjoy in the ever more restricted sphere of her life; the sight of flowers, good books, the presence of grandchildren.  She valued rationality over comfort, declining painkillers until the pain clouded her mind more than the painkillers would.  When the treatments stopped working, she refused to clutch at straws and declined further efforts, accepting the inevitable and fearing it less than she detested the process of getting there, but rarely allowing her discomfort and humiliation to overwhelm her.  Her last meal, which she requested after over a week of eating and drinking nothing, was a few bites of chocolate ice cream.  She died a couple of days later.  She made sure that among her last conscious sensations, floating in her sea of agony, would be the taste of chocolate ice cream.

I think of my mother, well, a lot, but today in particular because of a conversation I had  Thursday with a young woman I have known since she was a child.  I was giving her a ride home from a holiday gathering.  She is not much interested in politics as such, but, like my mother, she is a keenly intelligent person who finds amusing, incomprehensible, and offensive the blatant stupidity that rules so much of our public life.  Thursday she spoke eloquently at length about global warming and the idiocy of the ruling classes in the face of this accelerating disaster.  I apologized for my generation, from whom I had expected so much more.  She said, “Well, nobody’s to blame,” and threw her cigarette butt out the car window.  It was one of those perfect moments.

My mother comes into it when I think about the politicians squabbling over “national sovereignty” and “fairness of sacrifice” and “preserving jobs” while the death and dislocation of millions and the consequent disruption of civilization impends, a bunch of little Nero-wannabes fiddling while Rome burns, abetted by the media idiots and expert whores who strenuously impugn the undeniable science that tells us, yes, the ice caps are melting, the sea is rising, the climate is changing, species are dying and we are responsible.  I think about the half-smart leaders of the GOP who killed carbon emissions cap and trade legislation this year, good at manipulating certain segments of public opinion and good at facing down the many cowardly and feckless among the Democrats, not so good at recognizing the waves lapping at their own feet.  I think about the people who make and sell and buy the chemicals that give us cancer and warp our children’s sexual development ever earlier (all of us, that is), the ever increasing radiation to which we subject ourselves, the pretense we’ve no idea what might be causing our epidemics of autism and auto-immune diseases.  I think about our obsession with terrorism, which kills practically nobody compared to the death toll on the highways any holiday weekend, at which we barely even shrug.  I think, we need more people like my clear-eyed and courageous mother.

This entry was posted on Sunday, January 2nd, 2011 at 4:13 pm and is filed under Environment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.