So on a lazy Sunday afternoon not long ago I watched (thanks to Amazon Prime) a really good movie called Last Flag Flying, brilliantly acted by Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne with direction by the ever-great Richard Linklater (who the Academy still owes an apology to over not giving him Best Director for Boyhood. But I digress.)
The premise of the story is that 3 Vietnam Vets reunite to help one of them bury his son who has been killed in war. Life has treated each of the men differently: some dreams realized, some not; existing but not truly living; love squandered, love lost, love never realized. What they had in common many years ago is not there any longer, at least not in the beginning. But as they begin to get to know each other again and realize that their experiences have shaded and filtered and colored their beliefs and perceptions of not only themselves and each other but the world around them, they form perhaps not the same type of friendship they had before but a new, more mature one that reflects how they see themselves, how they see each other and how the world sees them.
At one crucial juncture in the movie when they’re wondering how they haven’t become who they thought they would be, one of the characters says “We were all something once. Now we’re just something else.”
And that is where I find myself today. There is a very clear demarcation line between what was and what is. The day my mother fell, her life changed in so many ways and now, 6 months later, every day for her is a struggle that is painful to watch because no one you love should have to live what ideally would be her golden years in pain and with anxiety and stress. She is strong, so strong and she puts on a brave face for the world but here, when she’s home here with me or talking to my sister, she lets down her guard and we see what is behind the face she presents to the world.
The day my mother fell I became something else. I became her caregiver, her chauffeur, her appointment scheduler, the person who sets out her medicines morning, noon and night and makes sure she takes them, the person who puts ice on her shoulder when it aches, or rubs her back when she is tired. The person who pays her bills, argues with insurance companies, pours over Medicare statements, screens her calls when she’s too tired to talk to people. The person she needs me to be. I don’t know how good I am at being that person but I try hard every day and, when I stumble or fall, I try harder the next day. Because I owe my very life to her.
I know I am very fortunate to have my mother at 86. And I also know that this is not how her life should be and that I have it within my power to help – if not improve her quality of life – to certainly make sure it’s the best it can possibly be. I know that she would do the same for me if I found myself in similar circumstances, without hesitation. And I suspect that many of you would do the same, or are already doing the same, for your parent, your spouse, your sibling, your child, your friend. That is what you do. That is love.
So I used to be something once and now I’m something else. But I’m determined to be the best something else I can possibly be for my mother. She needs that, she deserves that, she’ll have that for however long it takes for her to heal and become stronger. Caring for someone you love – putting someone else’s needs before your own – helps us evolve, change, morph into what we have to be when we have to be another person.
Life changes and we adapt because if we don’t, we don’t really survive, let alone flourish. So for now I’ll be this something. And one day in the future, I’ll become something else. Because there is a time to every purpose under heaven.