Mother talking to teenage boy in laundry room, father in background
My mom never stops giving me advice. She didn't stop when I thought I knew it all in college. She certainly isn't going to stop now, just because she's no longer alive.
Our deal was that she could give me all the advice she wanted as long as I didn't have to follow it. That arrangement worked great when she was alive, but now she has more resources and a bigger stage.
I go by the hospital almost every day and hardly notice the stately building but, occasionally, I see my mom on the roof, waving her arms to get my attention. The lighting is usually just right to see inside the rooms and I think about the difficult decisions being made there.
I realize, hidden in plain sight, patients are tethered to machines, waiting for test results that might not bring good news, while I drive past, lamenting my water bill increase.
Other times, I'm just minding my own business in an uneventful day, reading a book or making dinner. I'm neither happy nor sad and could be doing any of a million other things. In these quiet times, when life can slip by so quickly, I hear my mom whisper in my ear, "Hey, kid. Enjoy this moment. This is life."
If I feel uneasy because I can't control a situation, I hear her yell, "Cut!" while stepping onto the stage. The harder I try to make someone do what I want, the more I see her face, with that knowing smile, gently reminding me I'm just the entertainment. I don't run the show. I have a part to play, so I bow to the audience and play with gusto.
She also shows me how to work the system. When I go clothes shopping with my wife, I'm ready to leave before she's even tried anything on. My mom's playing in the clothes racks with the kids and pokes her head out, handing me a shirt my wife would love.
I give her a look to indicate she's not helping, but she explains that the more I help, the faster I can leave. Soon, I accumulate a handful of cute tops as I scrounge shelves for my wife's size and, in a flurry of activity, I discover purpose and a little inner peace, which isn't a bad thing to find while shopping.
I catch myself judging people. Whether I only think it or say it out loud, I critique body shapes, personal preferences and tattoo placement. I'm annoyed by the overuse of drive-thrus and make rules about grocery-cart use. My mom laughs, not with me, but at me. Apparently, nothing is funnier from her perspective. The more I find fault in others, the funnier I look.
My mom's absence is a stronger force than her unexpected appearances. It's a constant reminder that our time is limited. I didn't believe parents could die, just as I believe I'll never die.
This isn't the invincibility of a teenager, but more the bewilderment of someone who has crested the middle of his journey and still doesn't recognize what's on the other side.
There are so many things I don't know. I imagine clues flying though the air, literally bouncing off my forehead. My mom's sitting back, watching with the patience that comes from timelessness, knowing I'll learn what I need when I'm ready. Meanwhile, the universe peppers me with answers.
Last night's sunset was no doubt loaded with messages and my mom's mantra comes to me: "Throw it out to the universe."
Whether the problem was worrying about polluted groundwater, how to pay for a new roof or running out of eggs, her advice was always the same. The theory goes that everything you need is in the universe and, if you release your problems into it, the universe will provide the solution, as long as you're ready to accept it.
Now I can't look at a sunset or garden without wondering what they're trying to tell me, like struggling to understand a 6-month-old expressing her ideas. For all, I know maybe the 6-month-old is screaming the answer: "Hey, I just came from there! Relax and enjoy the ride. It all works out in the end." But I never learned to speak Universe.
I try to decipher images in clouds and listen to what the trees are whispering, only to be distracted by the sensual colors in the sky. One minute, I think I understand everything, and the next, it's just leaves rustling. The universe is a poor conversationalist, always over-talking me or answering a question I asked three years ago.
I want to know what the future holds but, at the same time, I cover my eyes from the gory details. Perhaps the universe doesn't think I'm ready, even if my mom put in a good word.
I certainly have my doubts. I've asked for hints about what lies beyond, but apparently the answers are right in front of me. I'm just looking in the wrong direction.
I'll keep searching for clues and looking for the right angle to see around my fears. Meanwhile, my mom continues giving me advice, and I pretend I'm not listening, but we both know better.
- Christopher Kunz is a Neenah resident and a Post-Crescent Community Columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org