One day when we were young women, my sister and I stood with our mom in her little bedroom, poised to go through a whole lost continent of items she kept in a small wooden chest her grandfather had brought with him as a dark-eyed lad of 18 on his journey here from Ireland.
Then, the chest was filled with all his worldly goods. Now it held our mother’s special family documents, including some photographs of her only love, the father my sister and I never knew.
The day before, we had pulled out the pictures of him, speaking in soft voices of poor Hap Sheehy and his difficulties with alcohol and his inability to save even himself – not even for the love of a wife and two babies. Now though, Mom had her hand into a different section of the chest, from which she drew out a photo of her late father’s brothers and sisters, like him, the children of the dark-eyed Irish lad, all born in the time of our great Civil War.
In this picture though they were seven decades on in life, squinting against the sun and standing awkwardly, like children, their work-gnarled hands clasped in front of them.
She named them for us: Here were Bridget and Margaret, Eugene and Dennis, Annie and Katherine.
When she got to this Katherine, she paused.
“This is Aunt Kate,” she said, shaking her head in a kind of wonderment. “How she loved and delighted in her children! How they loved and delighted in her!”
The way she said these words struck me so that I have never forgotten them. They come back to me now not just because of Mothers Day just past, but because of a letter I recently came upon written to me four years ago by an incarcerated man who used to see my column in The Connecticut Post.
He began by wishing me a ‘Happy Mothers Day, belated’ and went on to explain why I hadn’t heard from him in a while:
I’m back in prison for another six months. I had goals in the past but I abandoned them. I became despondent over my inability to get a job.
I guess I’m holding up pretty well though. Sure, some days I feel sad and lonely. I really wanted to find work and some money but I am reading about the great poet Alexander Pushkin. He wrote of passion and regret. He gave Russians a romantic image of themselves.
I have learned along the way that we addicts are not less fearful than other human beings, we are more fearful. Our pain is not milder, it is more severe. I have learned that I cannot not drink and drug my way toward self-esteem anymore than I can buy happiness in toxic relationships.
This time around I will believe more in myself and try to make the world a less frightening place.
I know I’m a creative person, but I got tripped up along the way, allowing other people’s bad habits rub off on me.
I will start from the bottom up and hopefully take pleasure and pride in my achievements and allow myself to experience satisfaction.
I would love to hear from you when you can take the time. I enclose again my name and prison number. Take care and God bless.
With great respect, Jose.”
I offer these two stories on this May morning because they help me remember how much we all need human love – every day – to blossom and to make a frightening world less frightening.