Opening the front door of my parents’ home was a walk into my soul.
“Hello darling!” Mom’s greeting was instant. She would be sitting on the couch at her control center with a warm smile and a gleam in her eye. The center consisted of a table that was a perfect height for reading, writing or paying bills. The corded, salmon-colored rotary phone sat on a corner of the table, one of her links to the outside world. The television’s remote control was another vital opening to life.
Books, pens, crossword puzzle magazines, an address book, a lamp clamped onto the table, dishes and a coffee mug cluttered the table and the available space on the couch.
Above all other portals, however, the person who walked in the front door represented the most refreshing taste of freedom for my mother. Visitors brought a fresh world to explore.
In spite of cataracts and prescription eye-wear, Mom captured more detail in one swift scan than a spy doing special surveillance with sophisticated technology. Whether 68 or 85, Mother enjoyed having a good look at new fashion trends, but mostly because she wanted to learn about the person wearing them.
“Oh, don’t those earrings look good with that shade of blue! You’ve kept your good posture. How are you today?”
She couldn’t remember where she put her coffee cup, but she remembered details about people she had never met. “How did Leslie do on her exam last week?” Weeks before, I had casually mentioned this employee who was studying for her CGA designation.
“I’m great, Mom. Leslie thinks she aced the exam. I just came through the Saturday Market. Tourists galore. There’s hardly room for anyone to move. It would be impossible to safely take a senior into that chaos – even in a wheelchair.”
“Did you see anyone you liked better than yourself?” she said, eyes smiling impishly.
There it was again. When she first began nailing me with that question, I came up with lame, fumbling, non-dynamite responses. As a diversion, I’d tell her about the weird people I’d encountered. Or, about the different outfits people wore. Often, I’d relate a fascinating conversation I’d had with someone.
On the drive home, I’d try to figure out what answer she wanted.
Was I supposed to love myself above all others? Did ‘loving my neighbour as myself’ mean I had to first love me? What’s the difference between liking and loving myself? Did I really like myself? Was that arrogance? Or, acceptance?
Years later, with some seasoning under my belt, I may have gained some insight.
With my parents both gone, I cannot confirm the answer, but I’m certain the question wasn’t about me – or any of the people she asked. It was about energy and will.
Back in the pre-Internet days, Mom’s hips were unreliable so leaving the house took energy she could seldom spare. Though she read an average of one book a day, she missed her favourite pastime – meeting strangers and getting to know them. She needed to find a way to bring them to her.
A fellow recently said in jest, “Where there’s a way, there’s a will”. When bodies fail, folks turn to will. Most seniors have a litany of physical failures so their wills strengthen. Mom was no exception. She used hers to design the perfect question: “Did you see anyone you liked better than yourself?” It was deep enough that most of us avoided it. When she threw it out, I’d think, ‘I don’t know what she’s up to, but I’m not going to play into her hand.’
I’d ignore it by talking about fascinating, brilliant, ridiculous, ordinary and unique people in my life. I handed them all to her. My well delivered defiance unknowingly played perfectly into her will determined hand.
The question worked. An endless stream of strangers passed through her home. She would forget to ask to have her pain medication picked up, but she’d remember what a crumpled professor said to me over a cracked bowl at the market.