How many cups of coffee will it take this morning? Yesterday it was three, and the cups were not cups, they were mugs ó a blue-rimmed bucket with bumpy tulips on the sides, not unlike a decorative flowerpot. Like so many of her other cups, my mother has no idea where it came from. It might have been a gift, or she might have bought it herself years ago, possibly after having lunch in a restaurant with Janet, her best and oldest friend, who has since passed on. Dear Janet ó one of twelve children, whose names my mother could recite in the order of their birth until just a few years ago. For a time, she could still manage with a pencil and paper, but then even that became difficult. Now she is content to list a few, and then to say that she used to be able to remember them all. One brother was a minister who wrote poetry. Not long ago, I found a couple of his self-published books on the shelf in the big room facing the street and took them down for my mother to read.

Itís a shame Janet is gone, and, with her, the soothing-precious reminder of the old times her telephone calls would bring. When her husband called with the sad news of her death, it was as if a favorite old tree had been uprooted in my motherís heart. But what could she do? She called the florist back home and ordered flowers. Since then, she must have said good-bye a thousand times.

This is something my mother remarks on ó the fact that so many of her friends, and so many of our relatives, are no longer with us. It makes her feel lonely, and reminds us both that there is no turning back ó for her, for me, for everyone. But she is also comforted by her rich past, and this in turn comforts me, because it is hard to imagine anything more painful than a family member who suffers in that dimension. Memory is a powerful realm: vast, mysterious, often dangerous. Its ability to undermine, torture, and destroy is every bit as potent as that of physical pain. The deadly snake raises its head and strikes without warning. Its victims are all around us. Blessed, then, are those lucky enough or intelligent enough to build a good life, who are able to notice and relish the passing days, and who look back on them with an abiding sense of satisfaction.

May 23, 2006

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