Sunday, May 9, 2010


Mother's Day 2010: A long annoying beep wakes me, an alarm system's battery back-up out of whack. The power outage that began last night shows no sign of letting up anytime soon. Before going to bed I saw the sky light up. It's the kind of thing that happens when intense winds send tree limbs falling onto power lines. Is there a message here?

My cell phone tells me I have a voicemail, Happy Mother's Day from my daughter, far away (Los Angeles). A voicemail is not quite the same as a live voice, but at the precise time she calls I'm in some cell phone dead zone, and besides, the card already arrived, a Golden Retriever puppy nestled against her mother's snout, image and words compressed into the thought, all that really counts. I think about my own mother, gone longer than I like to remember, who would probably cringe at the thought of cell phones and e-mail. Some years I miss her more than ever. Sometimes I think she died in April to remind me that renewal is not a figment of my imagination. My first Mother's Day without her was a milestone for my daughter: she rode a two wheeler for the first time. I ran alongside her, my hand on the bicycle seat. Then I let her fly.

A headline from my Google Reader catches my eye, Huffington Post, 7 Simple Ways to Be Happier. I follow the link to the full feed, intrigued as ever by reductive approaches to a better way of being, even if I'm not buying. Maybe even more intrigued in light of the book sitting on my desk, Generosity: An Enhancement, the latest novel by Richard Powers in which he casts his brilliant eye on the question of genetic enhancement in general and the happiness gene in particular, at the same time exploring the blurring of fact and fiction in a technology-driven world. The 'happiness' article tells me that women are more wired to worry than men (duh!). If the article is essentially a rehash of what many years of yoga and my own growing consciousness of mindful living continue to teach me, it's also a reminder that sometimes we need to look out before we can look in. At the same time, I resist this commodification of what strikes me as simple common sense. When my mother was dying, she wondered why it took a lifetime to just smell the roses. No meditation teacher suggesting that “simply being aware of what is happening right now, without wishing it were different” or finding yourself a "joy buddy" as ways of increasing happiness could have made the insight more profound. Do physical exercise? Sing or dance? Be still? Any prescriptive that strikes one's fancy is bound to bring some happiness, so long as it doesn't become just that, a prescriptive. Old patterns die hard; new ones take a long time, for some a lifetime, before there can be a true shift in perspective.

A day before Mother's Day I was walking my dog and I stopped to chat with a neighbor. We talked about Mother's Day, the busy restaurants booked solid, all those fathers knowing best, all those daughters and sons doing what they believe they do so well in the interest of honoring mom. How about letting them all go out, we joked, and we stay home, two mothers sharing a quiet afternoon and a glass of wine?