The world is not supposed to be like this.
The skies are supposed to be an unobstructed blue. Wild strawberries are supposed to cover the fields. Dogs are supposed to smile.
Someone is not to die every forty-nine seconds of a disease we hardly understand and had not heard of a few short months ago.
My mother told me that her mother died of the Spanish flu. She remembers calling to her every night, “mom are you there?” And her mom would gently reply, “I am here my love.” Until one night there was no reply.
My uncle Tex. You remember, the one that had the farm show and recorded our conversation when we visited and gave you an orange basket of red onions? He told you stories of your grandfather’s first Model T and me as a young, gangly girl visiting the farm?
Well… he had polio. Which he caught at the county fair where he was showing his cows. He was in the hospital for four months and when he was home my aunt massaged his legs so he could crawl into the barn to oversee what was happening. He always had a limp.
I remember filing down a hall in elementary school to take a sugar cube with a red dot. The Salk vaccine. Some of the sugar cubes had it. Some had sugar water.
But that wasn’t everything. I remember air raid drills to hide under my desk in elementary school because of the imminent bombing by Russia during the cold war.
I won third prize in the fifth grade science fair by building a three-story house showing what the roentgen level was on each floor after a nuclear attack in a nearby city. Black ribbons connected rooms of the house with those horrific levels. It proved that the underground fallout shelter was the only way to survive.
John Kennedy was shot. Bobby Kennedy was shot. Martin Luther King was shot. Friends got drafted. Vietnam happened. AIDS started to decimate New York and San Francisco and the government ignored it all.
And then two planes took down the World Trade Center.
I sat with you and didn’t want you to see it. But I know you did. And I felt like the ground had been pulled from me. From us.
After your brother died I read every Buddhist book I could find. How did I keep moving through this impossible life? How? I wanted to hold you and never let go. Protect you from this existence I didn’t understand.
I read something at that time. In one of my books. It seemed so simple. But from an athletic place so different from me. So not me.
“Life is an ocean. Learn how to surf.”
When I was in my twenties and faced adversity, I thought that if I got though this one thing, everything that followed would be smooth. Smooth sailing as they say.
But that hasn’t been true.
One unexpected wave followed the next. Some holding me underwater. Some knocking me over. Some I could surf.
Lily, in your very short life, you have faced things no one should have to face in a lifetime. In several lifetimes.
It is not fair. But this is the same ocean that continues to toss me around. This is the unforgiving ocean of tidal waves and tsunamis and crocodiles and islands of plastic refuse.
But also remember, sweet girl, it is the ocean that gently covers your toes when you stand on its shore watching the fading sunset. And the ocean where I held you on my hip and we jumped the waves letting the water joyously bounce us along the shore. This is the ocean you sailed along feeling the wind tousling your hair and separating you from any cares life had ever presented. The ocean that gives you sand dollars and lobsters and mermaids and Nemo and Dory.
I don’t know how long this pandemic will last. I don’t know how you protect yourself. I don’t know if elderberry syrup will help. Or vitamin C. Or staying ten feet from everyone you know. Or when you can return to your apartment and feel safe doing your laundry and walking your dog.
I don’t know.
But, my beautiful girl, grab your surfboard. Be vigilant. Know that the wave that builds up behind you can help you plan your footing ahead. Look for for the starfish, follow the mantas… but be aware of the sharks.
I love you.
Join the discussion 12 Comments
Oh what a read! An incredible read Mary! What a gift to Lily. This is your virtual arms around her. Wish we could all write like this for our kids. Wow!
I just forwarded this link to my kids + their significants: “Mary Mott’s recent essay, which touches this mother’s heart too—thinking of/loving all of you”:
Thank you Mary.????????????❤️
Hello Mary, I checked your blog for inspiration and there this was…my next piece is going to be about letting go, about floating, about how sometimes that is all that can be done, and all that may be needed…at least in the short term. A little floating. Or surfing…a little moment of grace. Love you, thank you…Elisa
What a gift you are!
Dear Lily can be addressed to us all, realizing what we have struggled with and survived
the Ying and Yang of every wave. Thank you
Mary wonderful letter. We will all get though this and I believe we will be better people all around.
If we have not made changes in our lives then we did not learn a thing from this Pandemic.
You brought me back to the same memories you have. Even the polio. Dons dad got polio in his 20’s.
Thank you for sharing
gave me chills….LOVE…love you…
You took me exactly where I wanted to go with this. In the darkest times, we need to remember how good we feel most of the time. There’s a peculiar phenomenon that psychologists and smart investors learn about called the “negativity bias” that says the emotion of loss is much greater than the joy we derive when we win. There’s lots of explanations but the one that makes sense to me is that it’s evolutionary; it was how we stayed alive as cavemen from stuff that was trying to kill us. Back in the day, we paid more attention to not eating poisonous berries than savoring delicious ones. Our minds were shaped by the fact that we had to pay attention to risk. Social scientists have determined that we need four positive things to outweigh one negative thing. The “cure”for this is make four positive comments for every negative one. They’ve even said that couples who have an argument need to have sex four times to resolve the argument. (I think that one was created by the good folks who brought us Viagra.) I love this piece. xoME
Wow, Mary very well done. As my mother used to say “keep your chin up”. Bill
Mary, I love your letter to Lily. Thank you for your wisdom and your ability to express emotion so eloquently. You have a rare gift. Thank you for sharing it. Fern
Wow! What a moving letter. I wish my mother was alive to read this. Sending to my children, my grandchildren and to all my friends’ children! XOXOXOXO
I love to reread this piece, once again Mary, your big beautiful heart comes through, takes me done a different road. Lucky Lily, to have you as a mom.