As I was driving around today, I was caught by surprise when a couple of yellow leaves drifted across my windshield. Yellow leaves? I had to do a double-take to make sure I really saw what I thought I saw. Yes, yellow leaves. I then looked at the trees lining both sides of the street, and sure enough, some of the leaves on the trees were turning yellow. That’s a sure sign that Summer will soon come to an end. But, as I mourned the passing of relaxing Summer days, I also felt the anticipation of the soon-coming beautiful Fall colors.
Seasons seem to go by faster and faster to me as I get older. Days quickly turn into months, then months into seasons, then seasons into years. Life also has its seasons. You come through one hardship, into time of ease, only to find yourself in another hard time before long. The joy, the grief, the making of new friends and the parting of loved ones, time of need and time of plenty, all go round and round in cycles like the seasons.
I have learned that the secret to peace is the ability to anticipate with hope the next season as the current season passes by. In season of grief, to remember there will later come a season of joy; in hard time, to remember that time of ease will surely come; in the midst of a good friendship, to cherish every moment for there will come a time when you will have to part as your lives diverge in different directions. Moments, days, weeks, months, seasons, years. . . they all keep passing by, and weaving through them all is the love that you give and receive.
When I reminisce back in time, it’s not the circumstance, the event, time of plenty, or time of hardship themselves that matter, but the love I share with those whose lives intertwined with mine in the fabric of time. And it’s a beautiful tapestry indeed. I think wisdom is to keep the beauty of this eternal fabric of time in mind as I interact with people from moment to moment, season to season.
Today Neil Armstrong passed away at the age of 82. I still remember July 20th, 1969. It was my birthday, and I was in a boarding school in Thailand. All the kids and teachers were huddled around the black-and-white TV set, watching a man walked upon the moon. Nothing mattered at that moment, as we all focused on that TV, pondering the significance of what that one man was doing, what it meant for all mankind. Neil Armstrong (and all the people who made that moment possible) united the whole world that day.
The news of Armstrong’s passing reminded me of a song by Lobo that was released back in 1974 called “Armstrong.” The song was first written and performed by John Stewart back in 1969, but I never knew it till I heard Lobo’s version. On the third verse of the song, it talks about how the world stopped everything in the midst of hate and war to watch Armstrong walk on the moon. I believe we will never know the whole impact of that day upon humanity. . . all the generations of children inspired. . . everyone on earth seeing ourselves in the perspective of the vastness of space. . . how small we are. . . how alike we are. . . united as one human race instead of hating and fighting.
Written by John Stewart (1969); Performed by Lobo (1974)
Black boy in Chicago,
Playin’ in the street;
Not enough to wear,
Not near enough to eat;
But don’t you know he saw it
On that July afternoon;
Saw a man named Armstrong
Walk upon the moon.
Young girl in Calcutta,
Barely eight years old;
The flies that swarm the market place
Will see she don’t grow old;
But don’t you know she heard it
On a July afternoon;
Heard a man named Armstrong
Walk upon the moon.
River’s getting dirty;
The wind in getting bad;
War and hate are killing off
The only earth we have;
But the whole world stopped to watch it
On that July afternoon;
Watched a man named Armstrong
Walk upon the moon.
And I wonder if a long time ago,
Somewhere in the universe;
They watched a man named Adam
Walk upon the earth.
Ever since I left her home for college, I haven’t spent anymore than a couple of weeks at a time with my mother (often just a few days). In my early to mid 20’s, I had gone through the whole healing process, from being angry and not wanting anything to do with her (because after all she doesn’t accept me as I am), to forgiving, accepting, and loving her as she is (after finding God’s unconditional love for me to be all I need, I was freed from the need to have her approval). But still, whenever we come together for more than a few days, there would always be a moment of high drama where she would be mad at me because I’d somehow failed to do something she’d hoped I’d do (but never told me). We’d part with many things left unsaid. This has been the pattern for the past 30 years.
But My mother is really getting old now, and I’m not so young myself anymore. In recent years, with many older friends passing on to the land yonder, I’d been wanting to really talk things over with my mother, in hope that we can somehow live the rest of our time together in true peace and mutual acceptance. So in March, when my mother called to say she would like to come for an extended visit, I talked it over with Paul, and we both thought it would be a good chance not only for me to finally have time to talk things through with my mother, but also for us to test the waters about the possibility of her coming to live with us in the future when she’s too old to live alone.
The past couple of months have been both the happiest and saddest time I’ve had with my mother. I enjoyed reminiscing with her as we looked through the things from my childhood that she’d kept but now wanted me to keep. I loved seeing her smiling face as she enjoyed the flowers at the various conservatories we visited together. I was glad to finally be able to hug her and show her some affection that was impossible to do over the phone. On my 50th birthday, I was glad she was here to celebrate with me, and we laughed till we cried at my son Tristan’s gag gift to me (a package of Post-It notes). I still chuckle whenever I think of how, after being the subject of my photography and taking directions from me for a few weeks, she began to pose herself and directed me to take pictures of her, and I will always cherish the photographs that I’ve taken of our time together.
I was sad though, when she scolded me as if I was still a child for laughing too loud, for wearing my hair loose instead of tied up, for not wearing the jade earrings she gave me (they didn’t go with what I was wearing then and I was saving them to wear later), for not sitting next to her at dinner one time at a restaurant, and a multitude of things I didn’t even know were offensive to her. I was sad when she misinterpreted what I did (or did not do), and no matter how I tried to explain, she still believed that her version was what happened. I was sad when she became jealous whenever she perceived that I was paying more attention to anyone else, especially Auntie Sarah, a family friend, whom my mother had invited to come along. Auntie Sarah and I have been close ever since I was about 13. She’s the one whom I talked to when things got rough at home. But I guess my mother had no idea how close Auntie Sarah and I were until these past couple of months when we were living together.
The saddest thing of all was seeing in the pattern of my mother’s behavior for the past couple of months that she has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). I am not a professional psychologist, of course, so this isn’t an official diagnosis (and she will never willingly go to a psychologist to be evaluated), but I have studied psychology enough to know what the characteristics of NPD are. Moreover, I know how impossible it is for someone with NPD to change, to grow, to have healthy relationship, to truly love, simply because one of the characteristics of NPD is that the person cannot see or accept their own fault. It’s a fact that one cannot grow or change if one is unable or unwilling to see one’s fault or mistake. What this means is that I will never be able to truly talk heart-to-heart with my mother, for she cannot see anyone else’s perspective but her own. This is the reason why all attempts in the past years and these couple of months had failed.
As I said good-bye to her at the airport, I looked into her eyes and saw her longing to be close to me, and her sadness that, once again, things did not turn out as she had hoped. There were so many things I wanted to say, things that I had been saying for years, and especially the past two months, to her, but she couldn’t hear me. I saw the pain in her eyes as she suffered inside the prison of her personality disorder, and there wasn’t a thing I could do to free her from it. All I could do then was to hold her close so I could take my eyes off of hers and cried silently to myself.
I’m hurting, but not because she doesn’t accept me or love me as I am, or that our relationship isn’t good. I had dealt with that loss long ago when I realized that I could never be the daughter she wanted me to be. I’m hurting because I love her and I can empathize with her pain, the prison that she’s in. The only way I can stop hurting is to stop loving and caring about her. I can’t stop loving her because she’s my mother, not some unrelated person on earth that I can just cut out of my life. And so, I hurt, because I choose to love.
Jesus, you came to set the captives free. Please, set my mother free. Amen.