The Herald Bulletin
---- — I sat down to write something light-hearted about gobblers, cranberry sauce, and family gatherings in the holiday season. After all, it's that time of year, and already people are beginning to celebrate.
But I got stuck right there. Something — a sadness — came over me. I think I know why. My mother died last summer and, for the first time in my 68 years, the holidays will come and go without her.
I honestly thought I had come to grips with her passing, even though there are still times when I reach for the phone to call her. Silly me. She's not there.
I know that. I have told myself that, at 89, she had lived a good, long, mostly happy life. She had accomplished many great things, hadn't she? Raised five children. Traveled the world. Wrote a book.
Helped hundreds of people — maybe thousands — through church ministry and volunteer work.
Besides, no one lives forever, right? Right. But these paltry rationalizations are worth exactly squat. I still long to hear her voice. I long to see her smile. I miss her funny or thoughtful reminiscences about her youth, different family members I barely knew, and the antics of her beloved grandchildren.
I got stuck on these memories. My thoughts wander. Human memory is a strange thing. Last week, for example, was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It's one of three events where those of us who are old enough are able to remember precisely where we were and what we were doing at the time.
The other two events also involve death: the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the event known simply by the month and day it happened — 9/11. Though relatively distant in time, we remember.
When President Kennedy was slain, I was a freshman at Northern Illinois University. I remember taking the short walk from one of my classes and stopping by the Student Union to meet some friends.
When I got there, I saw a crowd of students gathered in the television room, hugging each other and crying. Other students were gathered in small clusters, also hugging, praying, crying. When I found out what had happened, I joined them.
When Dr. King was slain, I heard the news in my car. I was driving to work as a counselor at an inner-city Chicago youth serving agency. As I entered the neighborhood, the sky was red with flame. Riots. In hundreds of cities throughout the country, the same seemingly senseless violence was happening. We remember.
On the morning of 9/11, my day was just starting. I was teaching English at Anderson High School then. My second period class had just got underway when the news came over the school's PA system. Nobody knew for sure what was happening, but it sounded as though the entire country was under a terrorist attack. For the rest of that day, I, along with each of my classes, watched the events and heard possible explanations unfold. America remembers that day.
The personal common denominator for me was that, with each of these unforgettable events, one of the first people I talked to was my mother. She had a kind of special, comforting wisdom about such things. Even though I was a fully grown man, like a child, I constantly sought her wisdom and her take on life's fortunes and misfortunes.
Oh yes. This thought: isn't it odd how we are able to so precisely remember times of great tragedy, but are challenged to remember (except perhaps on a very personal level) times of great joy? In general, sometimes I think we forget far more than we remember. It's the way human memory works, I guess.
Anyway, as I grow older, more and more I am able to find some peace and joy in my life, whatever life brings. As my mother often said, "weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." I remember.
And so, on Thanksgiving Day, I trust you, too, will remember. Find some peace. Find joy. As I share these thoughts with you, know that the greatest gift is sharing with and serving others.
Finally, be grateful for everything you've gained, and everything you've lost. That may sound like a bit of a riddle, but that's what life is. At least, that's what my mother would say.
Have a wonderful holiday.
Anderson resident Primus Mootry is a retired school teacher. His column appears Wednesdays in The Herald Bulletin.