Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Gone But Not Forgotten

Sometimes I wonder what my mother would say.

My mother played many roles in her life.

Of course, she was a wife and a mother. When my brother and I were small, she was a stay-at-home mom who found fulfillment in other ways as well. She was a community activist in our small town in Arkansas, participating in the fight to get voting machines in our county and break the grip of the local "political machine."

She and my father had been Methodist missionaries in southeast Africa when they were barely newlyweds, and when they returned to the United States, she became involved in local civil rights efforts and the human relations council.

My mother was instrumental in the establishment of a day-care center for low-income families in our community. She was also involved in the local movement to liberate women.

I was very proud of her and the things she sought to achieve.

As my brother and I got older, she decided to go back to school and get her master's in education. She got her degree and returned to her hometown -- Dallas, Texas -- to teach first-graders.

She had been teaching in Dallas for more than a decade when she and my father were trapped in a violent storm 13 years ago yesterday. My mother drowned in the flash flood that was spawned by the storm. My father was seriously injured but survived.

I must confess that there have often been times in the last few months when I've wondered what my mother would say about the campaign between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Although she never spoke about such things to me, I'm sure there were times when my mother pondered the future, and I have no doubt that she fantasized, at times, about what it would be like when the first woman would be nominated for president and when the first black would be nominated for president.

I doubt that she ever imagined that it would come to this -- a black and a woman battling to achieve that historic first for their respective demographic groups.

And I've wondered which side she would support.

My father remembers her work as a missionary in Africa, and he believes she would support Obama.

That may be true. I don't know.

I remember her activism on behalf of working mothers. I think it's just as possible that she could have supported Clinton, with her strong history of supporting women and children and education and health care -- all subjects that were close to Mom's heart.

One thing is certain, I think.

I believe she would have seen the Democrats' campaign as a win-win situation -- regrettable only because there are two highly qualified candidates, and only one can be nominated.

I wonder what she would have thought of the side issues that dominate discussion.

I think she would be disappointed that the debate hasn't been about matters of real substance -- that, at a time when so many people are hurting because of high energy prices and high food prices and high prescription drug prices, and thousands of young Americans continue to fight in a pointless war (in which relatively few, compared to past conflicts, have died, but far too many have come home permanently disabled and disfigured), we continue to be divided over issues of race and gender.

My mother had a truly special ability to make me see things I hadn't seen before. In this election year, I miss her insight, because I haven't been bowled over by either Clinton or Obama. When I look at them, I see re-runs of John Kerry and Michael Dukakis and Walter Mondale -- and George McGovern. I see a disaster waiting for the Democrats.

Maybe, with my mother's insights, I could have seen Franklin Roosevelt or John F. Kennedy.

Or Martin Luther King, a leader she admired and whose death she mourned.

Of course, she also admired people who didn't always succeed. And she didn't hesitate to tell me why she admired the George McGoverns and Walter Mondales in the world -- even if their objectives were not in style.

She believed that certain things were right and certain things were wrong. And she believed that being true to yourself was more important than winning an election.

During the weekend, I was looking at the websites for the newspapers in North Carolina and Indiana.

In one of the newspapers (I forget which one), I saw a letter to the editor from a woman who wanted to explain why she was supporting Obama. Her letter was brief, but it contained an extraordinarily long sentence that reeled off the issues that would be resolved if Obama became president.

It was like a laundry list of all the problems afflicting the United States today.

This reader appeared to be under the impression that, in a single four-year term, Obama would resolve the health care crisis, cure Social Security's financial woes, bring down high gas prices, bring down high food prices, heal a centuries-old racial conflict, end the war, eliminate poverty, reduce unemployment, strengthen border security, repair the nation's infrastructure, rebuild New Orleans, provide tax relief for the middle class while taxing the rich corporations, restore the budget surplus that George W. Bush squandered with the rebate checks that were sent out before the September 11 terrorist attacks, and generally reverse the Bush administration's policies of the last eight years.

In short, this reader said, Obama would create a utopia on earth.

I wanted to ask, "Can he walk on water, too?"

I know that's not a fair question to ask. But it's my honest response these days whenever I hear anyone suggesting that a presidential candidate is capable of making the kinds of changes the voters seem to believe he/she is capable of. Practically overnight.

I have become cynical in my advancing age.

And I think, at times, I wouldn't be quite so cynical if my mother were still with us.

I always miss her. But I miss her more at this time of the year than I do at just about any other.

And I miss her more this year than I did in the previous 12.

She was a wise woman, my mother.

And I miss her insights almost as much as I miss her love.

1 comment:

Doug said...

She always projected a sense of optimism when I knew her, so it makes sense that she would take the win-win point of view.

My dad would have been highly amused by the all of the chaos and turmoil of the last several months.