Any of you who may have actually seen the the 1966 British film, Alfie, may not have taken away the single defining moment which wipes the slate clean (INCLUDING Alfie who stares into the camera and asks the question in the first place) for literally everyone and turns the whole concept of the film upside down, asking the question of the life, universe, and world at large (I just saw a bunch of elderly mice in lab coats scurrying about in a... never mind).
I think what he might have asked was, 'what's it all about, really', or something like that, but I'm not sure it's all that relevant. I have an image in my head of two men sitting on a hillside looking up at the stars, one of them being Alfie, and the other asks the question and the nature of the film pivots. At least for me. Someone else may have put that image in my head for very good reason. In any event, the construct stuck and it's been useful.
This is not the segue it's going to feel like, just a not so graceful segue because I'm sitting on a balcony in Key West overlooking something beautiful and I should be taking Elizabeth down to breakfast and then out into the town.
Mothers once upon a time sat their daughters down the day of or the night before their weddings and told them the things that were necessary, things left out, small details. In the Victorian era, we know about those things. It was perfectly awful but worse if the girls weren't told anything at all. Later there were more words relating to wifely duties and the management of the household, maybe things left unsaid or things Mother thought perhaps she might have forgotten. Words of encouragement, or at least I'd like to think.
Why did the conversations happen? Why at the last minute?
They say this: Your daughter's your daughter until the day that she's wed but your son is your son until the day that he's dead.
(see what I did there?)
Well that's morbid, isn't it? Also, there is some truth to that depending on the culture. You would not BELIEVE what happened two days after Lucia and my lovely son-in-law returned from their honeymoon. He - HE - promptly had her cell phone transferred to his account and her vehicle to his policy. I am NOT shitting you. All of that, the last of that is gone. I am quite certain there was some pain in it for her because she is fiercely independent but somehow there has been a loophole in allowing Mom to carry the burden. His words were: We want to take as much of the burden from you as possible now that we're married. I know perfectly well she would not have instigated that simply because of how she feels about taking from him but I really did think I was going to have to sit her down and at least make her accept the bills, pay them, and then be reimbursed until she was weaned.
There isn't a damn thing wrong with this but it was startling all the same.
It is also true that my daughter was pulling away differently than her usual manner of pushing off from the mothership. I felt the need to tell her things before she got too far. When I sat down to write I discovered that my irritation was in the way and gave it up for a bit. There wasn't space to talk to her the day before or the day of of any of the nights because she didn't have any sort of opening for me. Probably I wouldn't have been able to give her what I finally wrote so there's that.
On July 22 I sat down and started typing. It only took three edits to get it right. I asked for Marriott letter head for what I thought were obvious reasons if you think about her childhood but they wouldn't go through the printer so I took that reference out. Just as well. I had Elizabeth read and reread until I was sure it was squeaky clean. There is a paragraph which is questionable because of how I personally feel but we eventually agreed that if I removed myself from the equation, at least in terms of what she had done relating to me, I would still have written exactly those things in exactly that way, not just because of my life experience but because I feel so strongly about these things in the world.
So here is the letter and these things, as it turns out, are the final words I have to say to my daughter as she passes over the line and these sort of words should never be spoken again in this way. These are the things, as a mother, that I find necessary and necessary is subjective. I shocked the shit out of myself.
July 22, 2018
My Sweet Girl,
I have some things to tell you. They are not necessarily about marriage; whatever you take away from this can be applied, broad stroke to your life (even the parts about marriage). Traditionally mothers tell their daughters things that are necessary the day or evening before they are married because marriage, believe it or not, is still a threshold from one life to another.
The definition of necessary is subjective but with 54 years under my belt, way too many things come up flagged. Since I’ve yet to meet anyone wanting to read 6,000 words from their mother, no matter how well written, I had to bullet this out very carefully. I have written two parts; bottom-line, from the gut philosophy followed by straight up, from the mouth of your mother, unsolicited advice. Bon Courage. I worked hard on this.
Bottom-line, from the gut philosophy
Collectively we believe in the river of time. We believe that it carries us forth from that holy place of the double heartbeat into the wide open space where ultimately we experience ourselves as separate and apart from the human race and the world at large regardless of relationships, good, bad, or indifferent. We believe these two things: We believe at the bottom of it all we are ultimately alone and we believe that time passes, taking us one minute, one hour, one day, one year further from the last; each moment singular and finite.
None of this is true. If any of this were true we would move forward baggage free, without pain, guilt, fear, mistrust, attachment, or memory of any kind. We would just be. When you were very small I came across a quote that shocked the hell out of me for two reasons. The first was simply because the chalice of the mid-nineties overflowed with unbearable platitudes and by the end of the 1995 I could barely bring myself to look at them. The second is the author.
It was nothing I expected from the man who is still arguably the mostimportant theoretical physicist in the history of science. I don’t expect people who work at the level he did and produce the number of scientific breakthroughs which led to what we now know as one of the two pillars of modern physics to think in any way other than pure, logical reason. In retrospect that doesn’t make sense. How is it possible to have contributed what he did in such a brief time (there were disruptions) without being well outside the scientific box?
Here is what he wrote to a friend in a letter regarding a death:
"A human being is a part of the whole called by us “Universe”, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."
Regardless of the premise, the struggle to accept this on a molecular level is epic. The best we can hope for is to be mindful and attempt to make conscious choices now and then. The double heartbeat you heard from the moment your little body could process was never just a double heartbeat and maybe your little body knew that. I don’t really expect you to do much with that but it falls into the category of very necessary information. You are not alone. Way deep down under the surface layers where the little girl lives, just like we all live, you are not alone. Possibly you are reading this and thinking; I have no idea what the hell you’re going on about, Mom, I’m not even remotely alone. I just got married and I am SO not alone. Good. Save this letter for when you’re scared. Life is scary. It’s supposed to be scary. If it’s not scary, you aren’t trying hard enough. Try harder.
Having told you that time is a construct, now I’m going to tell you that the world moves on.
Straight up, from the mouth of your mother, unsolicited advice
Look left, look right. What would you say to that person (just pick one, it doesn’t matter who) if you had fifteen seconds or fifteen minutes and that was all? What if those words were the last words you were ever going to say to them? The premise that we don’t matter is absolutely, without question, false. We matter. Every action, every word, every breath matters. It is true that the butterfly effect has been debunked but since we don’t live in a bubble the things we say or don’t say have an immediate and lasting effect on the people around us. Good, bad, or indifferent, we have impact. While we cannot possibly hope to be perfect (why do we think we need to be perfect?), we can consider being conscious because he world moves on and we cannot ever recover what is lost.
I did not see you at your wedding until I was leaving. I am in deep regret over that. I did not ask to stand with you in front of the mirror when you had dressed or help you dress at the B&B; I was not brave enough. I will cry about that for quite a while. However, I danced with my father for the very last time and we held each other on the dance floor and we cried because we both knew it was the very last time. It is a thing I am most grateful for and will carry forever. There may not be photographic evidence but I will never forget the tears on that man’s face. It threw me all the way back to January 12, 1985 when the world was new and everything was possible. Now, at 54, having a firm experience of the world moving on, I open my eyes wide as often as I can bear.
Open your eyes wide, as often as you can bear. Can I really write that to a 27-year-old and hope to not piss her off? My wise friend, Florkow said, stop worrying about pissing people off, especially your children. That’s terribly difficult. I’ve been ducking and rolling most of my life. I may look like some badass, broke down gunslinger, but that ain’t the half of it. Taking that one on is my next mission. Take stuff on earlier rather than later. As it turns out, that shit is cumulative.
Be kind. Kindness counts more than you can possibly imagine at 27. I promise. Be kind when it costs you nothing, but more importantly be kind when it costs you a great deal. Be kind when it makes you cry. I didn’t write be a doormat. I wrote be kind. In case you’re wondering what’s in it for you, this being kind business, here it is. When we are kind we recognize that it isn’t all about us. When we recognize that it isn’t all about us life suddenly gets a bit easier. Not necessarily WAY easier, but a bit easier and sometimes that can make all the difference in the world. Not sure if it’s all about you? We do that more than any of us would like to admit. We’re wired that way.
Tell the truth, if not to the world, to yourself. Do not lie. And I don’t mean walk around beating the crap out of people with your words; I mean tell the truth. Lies will bury you. Do not play games. Do not play people off each other. Do not embellish for personal gain. Do not throw people under busses. Be as transparent in your life as you can possibly bring yourself to be without causing people pain or breaking trust or confidence. Do not break a confidence. If someone tells you something privately, do not pass that information to another. If someone fails to tell you something is private, do not assume that it is not. If it even smells like sensitive information, assume it is, or ask. Confidences are broken as easily, often, and thoughtlessly as opening a can of Diet Coke and the foundations rock and crumble behind us as we obliviously speak what we tell ourselves is harmless. Consider the age old custom of sharing everything you hear with your spouse. That tradition is dying hard and assumptions are made incorrectly on both sides. Foundations crumble. There is nothing quite so painful to look at then the broken body of someone’s trust under the wheels of a tank.
Be accountable. Speak up when you have made a mistake, done something hurtful, broken something, forgotten something, anything. Blame no one for your own results. The other day on a conference call one of our very young developers (I think he’s still 25) at the end of the call spoke up and said, ‘Mike, I’m sorry about the attributes, I really should have been paying more attention and I’ll take care of that this evening’. We were speechless. To start with, it was two of them that screwed it up and we didn’t expect anything other than to have it fixed the next day and now we were behind. Mike looked at me, put his phone on mute and said, ‘that kid has got something going on’. And he does.
So, you know, just this: Marriage IS a threshold. My mother told me this three times and three times I did not believe her and three times I was dead wrong. As soon as that ring goes on, every expectation people have, men and women, about what a marriage is or is not comes rising to the surface, unbidden and sometimes unwanted and if it is unwanted it must be addressed. If it is not addressed and not heard, it can kill a relationship dead faster than a semi-automatic. No one is bad or wrong. It is important to remember this. We are who we come from and if we want something other than the intersection of those two places, then we have to reinvent ourselves and create the place in which we want to live with patience, great care, and focus.
Speak the words as if you will never have another chance. Make the biggest difference you can possibly make. Open your eyes as wide as you can, be vulnerable as often as you can bear. Don’t be afraid of pain, it covers all the things you probably want and have forgotten. I’m writing globally, as it will affect the locality of your marriage. Be kind, tell the truth, be accountable, and if you forget every last word I’ve written…
Be gentle with yourself, because forevermore, you will always be that unbearably heartbreaking, beautiful human being breathing air for the very first time.