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Lessons from my Mother
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Monday the counselor asked me how I felt about my mother. I had to stop for a bit and try to put it into words (Cognitive Dissonance, it is I).

I loved my mother; I hated her disease. I love to travel, and as a child I had great fun with her, travelling all over New England and the Great Smoky Mountains. On the flip side, I lived in dread of her next crazy episode, when my world would be turned upside down.

I loved the conversations she and I had, about everything from the human condition to how to plant tomatoes. But I tiptoed around her when she was sick, coming in silently to her bedroom to see if she was still breathing and making her milkshakes to try to get her to eat. I spent a lot of time reading as my escape.

I learned from her what was important in life, and what was not. Early in my childhood my uncles (her brothers) tried to take legal action to remove me from her care after she was released from the mental hospital. One night she woke me up, saying to get in the car, we were going on a trip. I didn't think of it as unusual (except for the time of day), as my mother and I were often off on spur-of-the-moment adventures.

But this time we did not return to our house. We brought nothing with us (everything I owned was left behind). When it got light, we stopped at a general store and my mother bought me a pair of jeans and tee shirts, since all I had for clothing were the pajamas I'd been sleeping in and sandals. That night, we slept in the car which my mother had driven into a cornfield. The next few nights we stopped at State Parks all along the seacoast. Eventually we ended up in a small village where my mother rented a room for us (we never went back).

That was the first time I lost everything: books, toys, clothes, toothbrush.

The second time I lost everything was when I put all my stuff in storage and went to India as a Peace Corps Volunteer. My mother, though she had promised to pay the rental (very nominal amount), did not pay a dime, and my stuff was sold as salvage. I returned to the U.S. to discover that I owned nothing but the clothes on my back and another change of clothes in my daypack. The B of A had closed my checking account for inactivity (she was supposed to use it to pay the storage place). So I had no money available, either.

The lesson: stuff is only stuff, evanescent, to be replaced (or not). People are precious, and to be cherished, but even the relationships upon which we rely end some day, if only by our own deaths. Nothing is forever, not even love. At the time, these were hard lessons. My attitude towards stuff and belongings and so forth was changed totally. I enjoy it while I have it, knowing that at any time it may be gone. I love my friends and my extended family, knowing that they, too, may be gone some day (or I will).

It's not easy being human.

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