Stop the Excuses and
Finally Get on the Bus, Gus
People who come here and who know me also know that I think New Year's resolutions are a game for suckers. But since I don't get a chance to write these very often anymore, I do want this "new year" piece to have somewhat of a long shelf life. So I'm going to talk about a very important lesson (one of many) I learned in 2008: you don't get unlimited time or unlimited chances in life. So you better stop the lame excuses and finally get on the bus, Gus. Or you may end up missing it. For good.
I have a pretty simple story that illustrates this lesson, and most of you already know part of it. I got a call at 10:00 on a Friday night in early October telling me that my mother had to go to the emergency room and was in the hospital. My mother's 87, so anything like this is a big deal.
The day after I got there, she took a sudden big turn for the worse, and I really did think she was going to die. Fortunately the final outcome was okay. She ended up not even needing surgery, and she was out of the hospital after six days. But had it not turned out that way, all I would have thought about was all the times I said I should visit her, and how I was going to...someday. (And considering I only live four hours away by train, it's not like it's such a big deal.)
So I was lucky enough to get what I consider a second chance. I'm making sure now that I'll visit my mother every few months, and major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. (I'm writing this now at the desk in my old bedroom at her house.) This is cutting into my vacation time from work, starting to add up financially, and I've had to cut some stuff out of my life/budget to accommodate this new routine. (And I'm not saying ANY of that implying "oh, look what I'm giving up; aren't I wonderful?" I'm not wonderful — I should have been doing this years ago.) So all that doesn't matter, because this is what I have to do.
I had been putting off something that couldn't be put off, because the fact is, at 87 my mother won't be around forever, as much as I don't like to think about that. No unlimited time, and no unlimited chances. Emerson said it best: "You can never do a kindness too soon, because you never know how soon it will be too late." That may sound really trite in today's "it's all about me, me, ME" world, but it's still 100 percent true.
My older brother, on the other hand, doesn't seem to feel the same way. He only lives 90 miles away from my mother, has a car, yet has not been to see her since she first went into the hospital back in October. (Another reason that I have to make sure to be here.) Before then I don't think he had seen her in years anyway; I asked her when she saw her grandchildren last and she said she didn't remember. And of course, my mother says she doesn't mind and lets him get away with it because he's "the son." (Don't even get me started on THAT one.)
I only spoke to my brother briefly in October, and apparently his life really kind of sucks right now. And while I get that and am sympathetic, my feeling is, "Okay, but you know what? Your life being crappy just does NOT absolve you of all responsibility in regard to other people, especially your mother who only lives 90 miles away from you." He has acted so reprehensibly for the past few months; I really do want to kick his ass. [An aside: I've since realized that I don't need to kick his ass; the universe/karma is already doing that. Although I'm sure he doesn't see the connection at all...] If he continues this selfish routine he better hope he never needs a kidney transplant, because if he asks me I'll have to quote Michael Scott and say "GO GET YOURSELF ONE OF THOSE MONKEY KIDNEYS!"
I'm supposed to be the spoiled, selfish child, so this new responsible caretaker role is kind of freaking me out. But I've gotten used to it. (Not like I had a choice or anything.) And the fact is, I'm just too responsible to say "Fuck it," (who knew?) and become invisible and ignore the situation like my brother. There is an upside too. The more frequently I come here to see my mother I no longer immediately turn 15 again as soon as I walk through her front door.
I helped her go to buy a new car when I was here at Thanksgiving, and it's pretty cool and has OnStar so I don't have to worry about her being stranded anywhere with a flat tire or something. I've been able to help her with a lot of chores and make sure she actually eats decent-sized (as opposed to Lilliputian) portions of food when I'm here. And I've actually had real conversations with her. (Safe topics like the past and animals, but still.) Last but not least, I found the best oral surgeon in the world here and have started having major work done. (Of course, the downside is that it's like living with Mr. and Mrs. Seinfeld in Del Boca Vista, and I find myself twisting my meditation ring a LOT more than I do when I'm home in NYC...but I'll live.)
I think we all go through a lot in life and the things we go through, whatever they are, can make us stronger and better people in the long run. But that will only happen if we take what we should have learned from our mistakes and teach ourselves what NOT to do in the future. (Make a note of what not to do again, then pick yourself up and start over.) Like I said, I learned that you just can't keep putting certain tasks and people on the back burner.
Don't get me wrong — I'm very much a believer in new beginnings and finally waking up and changing your ways no matter how old you are. Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" is one of my favorite books for that very reason. How old was Scrooge when he finally saw the light: 72? (It's not like he was going to be buying giant turkeys for everyone in the town for more than a few years before he croaked.)
What I'm saying is, when that finally waking up involves anyone other than yourself, the longer you wait, the more of a chance there is that you may have waited too long. Who wants to go through life filled with a lot of excuses and regrets? Seriously, do you really want to go through life being afraid to be happy? (Running away from and/or screwing up the very things that will make you happy?) To quote one of my favorite philosophers, Trent Reznor, "Are you brave enough to see? Do you want to change it?" Then suck it up and finally just freakin' do it. (Whatever that is.)
Speaking for myself—the only one I can speak for—I'm grateful every day that I won't have to live with regret in regard to my mother, and I did change it. And for the rest of my life, I plan (or at least, I hope) to be able to say that about everyone who matters to me.
So Happy New Year. Man, 2009 - how bloody old AM I?