Forgive Me Mama, For I Was Weak


Which is worse?

At age 40 someone I loved ripped my heart out, used it as toilet tissue and flushed it. I was reduced to a wretched imitation of a man. I was swallowed by pain, lost 40 pounds and ended up with nearly without bread or bed. I was broken, pathetic and lost. I wept during the night and cried during the day. Eventually, however, unlike Humpty Dumpty I was put back together – better, stronger but with scars to never let me forget.

Or, at age 26, someone else I loved was stabbed her 19 times by a man who wanted to rob and rape her. Each night for more than a year, I begged “God” to let me die. I did not want to wake up and live through another day of throbbing pain. Her murder altered me but eventually I accepted the reality that life is death on its own terms and that we live at its discretion.

Or, at age 12 standing next to my mother, the first person who ever loved me, when her husband pulled out a gun and shot her nearly a dozen times. I panicked, jumped off the porch and ran. Once I stepped onto the sidewalk, I merely calmly walked away as if nothing had just happened. I did not cry. I did not feel. I simply walked to a store, purchased two items and then finally after I don’t know how long, returned. I could see the pool of my mother’s blood from a distance; but the police refused to let me see my mama, the first person I ever loved.

As was later explained, my mind shut down and refused to let the horror of what I had just experienced rush in and drown me. But that did not account for never crying, never weeping, never being in pain over her murder:

Indeed, I never cried. I never wept. I never begged to die. I did not break. In one sense, I defied the statistics that said I was to become abusive, dysfunctional, damaged and probably criminal; by most measures, however, I excelled and thrived academically and otherwise. Nothing about my behavior would indicate the story of what happened to my mother and me.

For thirty years, I would think of my mother and feel something, but never grief or pain. Until I was 42.

Thirty years later, on my mother’s death day, I decided to face the questions I had avoided since the murder of my friend or the loss loyalty of a lover: Why did I not even shed a tear after seeing my mother shot down mercilessly? Why did I not grieve? How could I be devastated after the death of a friend or after the ripping apart of my heart and not be at least likewise regarding the loss of my mother? I loved my mother; but did I love her less? Were the other two events more tragic or was I some sort of foul anomaly?

The answer came to me on that day in 1993.

For ten years, from age two to twelve, my mother’s husband ruled the household with tyranny and brutality. I witnessed on many occasions my mother being savagely beaten and crumpled; and I, too, bore physical and emotional scars of his madness. He terrorized us. I was a scared little boy who could not protect his mother. I would literally shake and tremble when he went on his rampages.

So, somehow, without conscious thought, after my mama’s death, I was overcome with relief. I no longer lived in quaking fear of a man whose cruelty was egregious. The realization that I was free drowned out any grief or pain I should have felt for my mama. I was selfish and thought only that finally I was free. Instead of weeping over my mother, I was joyful to be free of his brutality. It was as if I was too selfish to feel both pain and relief; I was guilty of choosing the easier of the two.

Once I realized this truth, I felt profound shame. My heart dropped to a jagged bottom. How could a son be like that? What kind of son was I that I missed my mother but did not weep at losing her? I loved her – always did – I missed her – always did. But I never felt any pain at losing her because the joy of not being terrorized left no room for the pain of her loss.

It was then that I broke down and howled and screamed in pain and agony. I sobbed for days begging for forgiveness. I hurt and there was no relief. It was if mama had just died instead of thirty years before. That realization smashed open the door to all the pain, the sorrow and grief that I should have let in on that day in 1963. The agony was raw and unfiltered.

After rising, I needed to manage my shame and my guilt [because there was no way to rid myself of them]. I decided to honor my mama’s memory by celebrating and mourning [celemourning] her birthday and death day, each year, by engaging in her “vices” [Pepsi, vanilla creme-filled cookies and strawberry ice cream]. And each morning, without fail, she comes to the front of my mind – and I feel a sadness. I take time and think of her each night – and tears fall from my heart. Lastly, I legally changed my name; my middles names are her first and middle name. I sign as such each and every time as a matter of endless pride, undying love and deep guilt.

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Published in: on May 17, 2016 at 4:47 PM  Leave a Comment  
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How Sweet The Bitter Taste


A man lies in bed dying from an affliction for which there seemed to be no cure. He mumbled to himself that he would give anything to be cured. Suddenly, an old woman appeared and offered a solution to his predicament. She handed him an elixir that he had to take every day for the rest of his life. The potion would cure the ailment, and he would live an otherwise long and healthy life. There was one caveat, however.

Each time he took the potion, it would cause pain, and there was no way to avoid it. Sometimes the pain would be very brief or barely perceptible; at other times, it would be much longer or excruciating. The duration and severity would vary depending on the circumstances. But, he would be alive and otherwise healthy. If he stopped taking it, he would definitely suffer, wither and die an arduous death.

The man agreed to swallow the potion but just before he did, he asked the old woman what was the potion. She replied, “Love.”

So goes it. Life is best lived if we love, whether we love a child, a sibling, a parent, a spouse or friend. We are genetically structured so that loving someone is what we need to do to be fully human – to express the meritorious side of our humanity. Loving someone, however, comes with a price. We expose ourselves to pain; in fact, we invite it. Pain caused by the one we love scraping her knee as a child or failing to be put in the high school homecoming game. Pain caused by the one we love being mistreated or being disappointed. Pain caused by a loved one’s broken heart or unrequited love. Not to speak of the pain caused by the one we love being sick or dying.

We love; therefore, we feel for – we empathize with – the people we love. It is almost as if we feel what they feel – sometimes even more painfully. But to stop loving is to stop living (though not necessarily to stop existing). So, we drink the potion completely knowing we will suffer pain, later or sooner. So, we drink the potion and choose the pain of loving over the pain of not loving.

Published in: on December 1, 2015 at 7:44 PM  Leave a Comment  
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