Tuesday, April 28, 2015

It matters who you spend time with!

Tuesdays in the Chapel
April 14, 2015

My mother and I walked now through a town I had never seen. It was unremarkable, a gas station on one corner, a small convenience store on the other. The telephone poles and the bark of the trees were the same cardboard color, and most of the trees had dropped their leaves.
We stopped in front of a two-story apartment building. It was pale yellow brick.
“Where are we?” I said.
My mother checked the horizon. The sun had already set.
“You should have had more dinner,” she said.
I rolled my eyes. “Come on.”
“What? I like knowing you’ve eaten, that’s all. You have to take care of yourself, Charley.”
I saw in her expression that old unshakable mountain of concern. And I realized when you look at your mother, you are looking at the purest love you will ever know.
“I wish we’d done this before, Mom, you know?”
“You mean before I died?”
My voice went timid. “Yeah.”
“I was here.”
“I know.”
“You were busy.”
I shuddered at that word. It seemed so hollow now. I saw a wave of resignation pass over her face. I believe, at that moment, we were both thinking how things might be different if we did them over.
“Charley,” she asked, “was I a good mother?”
I opened my mouth to answer, but a blinding flash erased her from sight. I felt heat on my face, as if the sun were baking down on it. Then, once again, that booming voice:
I blinked hard. Suddenly, I was blocks behind my mother, as if she’d kept walking and I’d stopped. I blinked again. She was even farther ahead. I could barely see her anymore. I stretched forward, my fingers straining, my shoulders pulling from their sockets. Everything was spinning. I felt myself trying to call her name, the word vibrating in my throat. It took all the strength I had.
And then she was with me again, taking my hand, all calm, as if nothing had happened. We glided back to where we’d been.


"A Third and Final Visit" from For One More Day by Mitch Albom, p. 174-175

I believe that the One Thing that is most important is the time and the people you spend it with. You can't control time - but you can control the people that you choose to be with as time goes by. 

I think that this is the very thing that Mitch Albom is getting at. As time goes by, we become swept up in the "should's" and the "could's" and - sometimes - more focused on other people's "shoulds", "coulds", "haves" and "have nots". I find that the more years that add up - I refuse to say fall away - I try to fill life as much as possible with those people who count. Only if...work didn't get in the way. If the "next best thing that I know that should be happening to me right now" wasn't getting in the way. If worrying about what others have and what I don't wasn't getting in the way. 

The one thing that is most important is the people that surround you. It can be your family, your friends, your teachers, your colleagues, your students, your mentors. It can be people that you have known for your whole life or people that you met just yesterday. There is something to be said for folks in their 90's and 100's that didn't wish that they had worked more, but that they had spent more time with the people that mattered to them, the people that they loved. The people that wanted them to be the very best that they could be - that ironically, probably pushed them to do the great things that took up so much of our precious time away from them. We get caught up in our own troubles awfully quickly, don't we? Take Charley’s father for example - here was a person he had worshipped and looked up to, and then his father ended up disappointing him. However,  his mother was there all along, as frustrating as she might have been to him, she remained steadfast in her presence.  Do you know someone in your life like Charley’s mother? That no matter how much you might push that person away - they snap back to you like a rubber band right when you need it? Can you think of someone in your life that forgave you and that loved you unconditionally, no matter how much you might have hurt them? That when you may have been down in the dumps and hit rock bottom - you forgot that they were there - until they were? 

Now think about those people that you have lost in your life. If you were able to go back in time and see them again - what would be the first thing that you do? What would you say to them? How would you spend your time with them? We probably won't get the opportunity that Mitch had - but what if we did? 

I would tell my grandmother thank you for the Cabbage Patch kid on Christmas and the homemade tuna fish sandwiches and letting me eat Cool Whip out of the container. I would thank my grandpa for letting me play in his garden in the summer, pretending I owned a flower shop and for using his house as a great hide and seek spot. I would thank my boyfriend from high school for making me laugh, for campaigning for my votes  when I got Homecoming Queen junior year. I would ask my dissertation advisor about what she was afraid of - she always seemed so sure of herself! - what made her scared, about her failures in life. I would ask friends that my classmates and I had lost too soon -what was your favorite memory with your friends - what are your dreams? How can I help you.... If I had one more day.

Personally, I like to surround myself with people that make me laugh, that fill me with so much emotion that it's impossible to not feel like I'm truly alive. I'm so blessed to have those people in my life --- whether it's here, back in my hometown, or across the country. It is those people that are the most important. That have seen me at my worst - my best - my failures and successes. It is those people that keep me coming back swinging each day - no matter what life tosses me. So we can't control time. But we can control the choices we make within it. What you allow is what will continue. And that goes for the people you choose to surround yourself with. 

Now, as I said when you first sat down, I don’t expect you to go with me here. I haven’t told this story before, but I had oped to. I waited for this chance. And I’m glad it’s come, now that it’s done.
I have forgotten so many things in my life, yet I can remember every moment of that time with my mother, the people we saw, the things we discussed. It was so ordinary in so many ways, but as she said, you can find something truly important in an ordinary minute. You may think me crazy, that I imagined the whole thing. But I believe this in the deepest part of my soul: My mother, somewhere between this world and the next, gave me one more day, the day I’d wanted so badly, and she told me all that I’ve told you.
And if my mother said it, I believe it.
“What causes an echo?” she once quizzed me.
The persistence of sound after the source has stopped.
“When can you hear an echo?”
When it’s quiet and other sounds are absorbed.
When it’s quiet, I can hear my mother’s echo still.
I feel ashamed now that I tried to take my life. It is such a previous thing. I had no one to talk me out of my despair, and that was a mistake. You need to keep people close. You need to give them access to your heart.
As for what’s happened in the two years since, there are so many details: the hospital stay, the treatment I received, where I’ve been. Let’s just say, for not, that I was lucky on many levels. I’m alive. I didn’t kill anyone. I have been sober every day since—although some days are harder than others.
I’ve thought a lot about that night. I believe my mother saved my life. I also believe that parents, if they love you, will hold you up safely, above their swirling waters, and sometimes that means you’ll never know what they endured, and you may treat them unkindly, in a way you otherwise wouldn’t.
But there’s a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking. But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours began.
So this was my mother’s story.
And mine.

I would like to make things right again with those I love.

"Chick's Final Thoughts" from For One More Day by Mitch Albom, pp193-194.

Leah Flynn Gallant
MIT Assistant Dean and
Director for Student Leadership and Engagement