Yesterday morning I picked up coffee and pastry on my way to an appointment. After I parked, I looked down at my jacket and lap to find that coffee had been dripping out the to-go lid. I twisted the lid so that the seam of the cup wasn't at the spout, I pushed the lid on 'tighter' and tested with a sip, this time catching a drip in my hand. I examined the lid and cup considering their materials and design. I thought of my dad and his many inventions for just these kinds of situations; never the major scientific discovery, just some simple styrofoam and masking tape shim or jig to fit the moment and solve the problem. Sitting there alone in my car I pictured my father, smiling, deeply satisfied with making something better. I twisted the lid on my cup and re-tested. Coffee dribbled down my chin, hit my jacket, and made a final splash on my jeans. I giggled and took the lid off. And drank. I enjoyed the steam on my nose. I gobbled my tasty scone. And, I contemplated the half full/half empty deal.

My father has always pushed the mind-over-body philosophy. He is hardly a Pollyanna, but he recognizes the need to refrain from feeding off his emotions, even if he catches himself after slamming the door. He is also a consummate problem solver, always looking to make things better. And to do that, you have to be able to see the flaws. And prioritize them. Make a list, start at the top of the list and don't go on to the second item until you finish the first. This is the secret to success he says. Choosing what to fix and how long to spend on it. My own mind gets in the way of this system. I continually re-prioritize my list.  I get attached to line items and hang onto them longer than might be most efficient. And I have half a dozen major lists going at all times instead of one. 

My mother's view feels harder for me to evaluate. On one hand, she seems to find a lot of satisfaction in her own daily life.  She appreciates the mundane and recounts precious details of a day as if seeing the sun rise is for the first time or unexpected. The frustration that I hear most is that she feels like doing more, learning more, trying new things, tasting more exotic foods, seeing new places. The biggest one of these is to learn to play the piano. Her want to do things is not out of regret or dissatisfaction but out of a hunger for more discovery and refinement. If you mention a trip, her bags are already packed. She has been this way all of my life. She likes to be on the go. And now in her 70s, she continues to go more than anyone I have ever seen. If only within a 20 mile radius, she is busy. She is the first one up and last one down. Like water tumbling a rock, with edges smoothed, she lasts. No matter what. Moreover, her compassion runs deep. Her family is one story of pain after another and even so, they cut up and laugh most. Still, everyone delivers their pain to her. All of us. Even strangers. Perhaps because she is the oldest and quietest. But she never turns it away. She accepts her role as a healer. To me, these are bigger and harder problems to solve than a coffee cup. There is nothing passive about this process. But she never tells you what to do. And after letting most or some of the pain out, you remember that you can breathe on your own. But after saying all of this, I think the most powerful key into Mom are the surprises. She is not hip or savvy, but where it counts she is open. Countless times, I have heard her whistling a peppy tune in the kitchen, and I turn the corner to catch her in the middle of a dance move. This old woman seems so young to me.

These are my models of halves, fulls, divisions, corresponding parts, equals, and degrees of measure. I am very close to my parents. I admire how close they are to one another. I respect their individuality. I look to them to understand my own struggles. I want to follow their intuitive lead to move ever forward. What is my balance?  Right now, I am tasting the continuum. I don't want to be defined by the damn cup. But I'll drink from it. And eventually, I'll need refills. 

1 comment:

Laurie said...

What a wonderful introduction to your parents and their legacy. They've turned out an incredible daughter. Its so fun to read your blog Toni.