Today marks six years since my mom died and the world became a little less bright. Every year, on her birth and death days, I do my best to honor her in one way or many.
When I walked into work today, the music playing was all her favorites: Elton John, Neil Diamond, and–especially–ABBA. I boogied as I made juice and smoothies, washed and prepped vegetables, thinking of all the times we danced to the Pointer Sisters in our living room after watching Solid Gold Dancers when I was a teenager.
This past Sunday, I was in the final stages of kicking a cold, forcing myself to really rest, in bed, slathered in Tiger Balm, drinking every liquid I could manage. I decided to watch one of my mom’s favorite movies: National Treasure. I have a strong though foggy memory of her saying she loved it.
It started well enough. I like adventure movies, and the main character as a child was engaging and spot on, But then when the story forwarded to him as an adult, my attention wavered and my eyes rolled. I can’t stand Nicolas Cage (as an actor…as a person, I’m sure he’s lovely?).
Those words, “can’t stand” are literal. I want to like Nicolas Cage and watch his movies. But my whole self rebels when he comes on the screen. The way every spoken word seems to fight past his head-tilts and fake drama. Even his “straight” face seems too self-aware to be authentic, like he’s always trying to ACT.
I know, I know. My response is irrational, pushing up directly from my subconscious. Who knows why? Maybe someone who looks like him scared me when I was a child. Maybe he reminds me of someone who betrayed me. Who knows the source of this gut hatred?
Today at work, a coworker and I discussed how we should make our oatmeal. I said I always put frozen or cold additions (like raw fruit) in at the beginning so they cook with the oats. She said she fixed them that way, too, but only because of customer feedback. She “can’t stand” the texture of some cooked fruit, especially apples, so she used to leave them raw or only lightly cooked, putting them in the oatmeal at the end. When customers complained that they made their oatmeal cold, she changed. A customer has no way to know that her visceral preference is why their oatmeal was “wrong.” Knowing how she “can’t stand” the texture brings understanding and clears any negative response.
Perhaps we could defuse many of the conflicts we find ourselves in if we graciously assumed that what seems wrong has a source, a root in simple preference, taste, or just how we are, without intent. It was so nice to understand the why behind my boss’s way of making oatmeal.
I wish I could have the same conversation with my mom about National Treasure. Who knows why she liked it? Maybe someone who looked like Nicolas Cage was kind to her when she was a child. Maybe he reminded her of her first crush. Maybe his tics and head tilts made him seem more believable to her. I will never know.
But perhaps I could assume the best possible reasons for her to love this movie, that her love of it has deep, real, logical roots, like my coworker’s penchant for cold and crunchy oatmeal. Perhaps if I watch National Treasure with this in mind, I would enjoy it as much as my mom did, as though she were sitting next to me on the couch, laughing and enjoying the suspense and adventure.
Dear Mom, I miss you, so much, and I’ll see you on the couch tonight, watching National Treasure. Love, your daughter