Just about anyone with aging parents knows intimately how the cliché of life’s cycle rings so clearly true. The parents who changed our diaper, fed us, supported us while we walked, soothed our aches and pains, tried to understand our babbled speech, are now at the other end of life’s journey needing the same from us.
Take today, for example. Remember my song a few postings ago about spending 3rd grade as a bad boy out in the hall? Occasionally, it was severe enough that my parents had to be called and brought in. Today, I got such a call from the Jewish Home from an employee at his wit’s end with my mother’s angry behavior—shouting and screaming and kicking. (My mother, that is.) So I was called in and found her—guess where?—sitting out in the hall. Ah, familiar territory. She was pouting much as I used to and now it was my turn to find out what happened and remind her to be nice.
“Let’s get out of here!” she strongly suggested after a brief talk and off we went to the café. I got her some hot tea and a spoon and she settled down, warmed on this cold winter’s day by the tea and soothed by the simple act of sipping. Then she turned to me and commented, “It pays to have children. They really come in handy.”
That was her unique style of appreciating that I was there to bring her tea, ready, able and willing to pay her back for the peanut butter sandwiches she used to leave for me in the milk-box when I came home and she was out. I thought of the marvelous poem by Billy Collins, where he is convinced as a boy that making a lanyard for his Mom at summer camp was more than sufficient repayment for her having birthed, nurtured and raised him. (Look it up—The Lanyard.) Really, how can one possibly repay our parents for their hard work, sacrifice, dedication and long-term commitment? And don’t get me wrong—I’m well aware that there are far too many tragic stories of the parents who failed to measure up to their responsibility and left their children devastated. I imagine those folks are not thinking of how to lavish their parents with tender loving care—though given enough inner work and the capacity for forgiveness and compassion, perhaps they might.
But from the injunction to “Honor thy father and mother” to the simplest precepts of Gratitude 101, it is a rare opportunity, a privilege and often a pleasure to feed, massage, offer a hand while sitting and an arm while walking to our aging parents. After our cup of tea, I wheeled my mother over to the piano, sat down to play and asked “What would you like to hear?”
Without skipping a beat, she answered, “That you love me.”
Easier words were never spoken.