She hesitates for a moment, looking down at the table, then looks back up at me. “You’re Len.”
I nod and smile. “Yes, I’m Len.”
I feel good that we’re making progress, but it’s hard for me to read her face. The expression is blank. I can tell her exhausted mind is searching, reaching, wanting to know more.
Finally, for the first time since I got there, I sense a glimpse of recognition, a sign in her facial expression that the dots are connecting, if only for a moment.
“I raised you!” She finally blurts out while looking me squarely in the eyes. “You’re my boy!”
“That’s right mom! You remember!” I reach out and pat the top of her bony hand again as it rests on the table in front of her.
“I’m your boy.” Leaning back, I breathe a sigh of relief.
How did it come down to this? How did we get here? What forces propelled us to land with a giant thud on this remote island of angst and retrospection?
The years have stretched almost imperceptibly from the ocean in our living room to this table between us; from dark hair to white hair, from smooth skin to wrinkled face, from clear mind to ravaged intellect. It’s been a journey that neither of us chose for ourselves. But in the final analysis, neither of us had a choice.
A few minutes ago I entered a door that opened up into a living room full of other people just like my mother. People who have lived full lives, raised families, established careers, carried their children off to bathtubs. Like my mother, they are now just shells of their former selves and yet still a presence in somebody’s life, still important to someone, still in need of love.
I look at my mother. She is sitting a few feet away oblivious to my presence. Her right elbow is on the table. She is resting her forehead in the palm of her hand and blankly staring down at the table in front of her. I reach over again and quietly pat her on the shoulder. She looks up at me and smiles weakly. I’m reluctant to say anything for fear that we’ll start the process of introduction all over again.
In a little while, I’ll be standing at the door once more and punching in numbers on a keypad that will take me out into the sunshine and away from all this. I bear a certain amount of guilt for feeling this way, but I’d be lying if I said that I wouldn’t be relieved to be going.
But I’ll be back. We all will, those of us who come to visit and comfort as best we can.
We’ll be back because of the memories. We’ll be back because of the oceans. We’ll be back because of the bathtubs. We look at the person sitting across the table from us and see the life in totality. We focus not on what’s in front of our eyes, but on what is in our heart.