Sunday, May 11, 2014

If Wishes Were Fishes

"If wishes were fishes, we'd all cast nets."

Frank Herbert (1920–1986)

I've been thinking lately of decisions I wish I could be allowed to make again — because I know I would make different choices.

It's that old "if I knew then what I know now" thing. I remember hearing that when I was a teenager and giggling at it the way teenagers do, in their way of making you aware that they are merely humoring you — but, in fact, they don't appreciate the irony and probably can't until they've put on more mileage. I realize now, as I reflect on it, that I knew a lot less then than I thought I did. (I like to think I know more now.)

Another way of putting it was "You can't go home again" — and that is something else at which most teenagers would probably smirk because they know it is rubbish. They think that because most teenagers have experienced time, but few have experienced space, and it is only after experiencing both that you can grasp that concept.

It is only after you have experienced an extended distance from the only home you may have had that you can appreciate the truth of that cliche. In one's absence, the memory of home becomes romanticized. You forget the bad things — and there were bad things because there are always bad things — and you idealize the good.

I think that often plays a role in the difficulties that some soldiers experience when they come home from a war. It isn't the only factor, of course, but I do believe it is one of them. Expectations are raised to a level that is simply unrealistic.

Still, I suppose most people have the inclination to look back wistfully on their youths. I know I do.

If I knew then what I know now, I'd treasure the time I had with friends who are no longer with us even more than I did. There were some friends whose deaths were anticipated, so I had time to reflect on how much they meant to me before they died. Others died unexpectedly; those are the ones who haunt me. I miss both sets of friends equally, but there is a sense of unfinished business with one group.

I feel that with my mother. She died in a flash flood 19 years ago this month — on Cinco de Mayo, as a matter of fact. Since the anniversary is always so close to Mother's Day, that holiday is always a reminder.

As if I needed one.

I've lived with many regrets. I regret the times I didn't tell her I loved her. I made a fatal mistake — I took her for granted.

Well, I made that mistake repeatedly when I was a teenager, not so much later. We had a good relationship, and I'm sure she knew I loved her — mothers usually do. I did tell her that often, as a matter of fact — but not the last time I saw her.

Next year, Mother's Day will fall on the 20th anniversary of her funeral. That's a date I will always remember as well. I lived in another state in those days and couldn't be in Dallas until the evening of the 9th. Arrangements were made for the funeral to be on the 10th.

For the first few days after the flood, it was easy to fool myself into believing that things weren't really as I had been told. Oh, I knew that wasn't the case, but outwardly my life had not changed. Everything was exactly the same ...

Until I arrived in Dallas. I got here late on the night of the 9th. My father had already gone to bed, so no one greeted me. I went into the dining room, fully expecting to see Mom come through the door at any minute. Instead I saw all the tell–tale signs of a death — flowers and cards on the dining table, flowing into the living room, and lots of covered dishes in the refrigerator.

I remember getting something to drink and just sitting in the dining room, looking around at a room that was so familiar and yet seemed so alien to me. I wish I could have a do–over for those moments. I would do a better job of preparing myself for what was to come in just a few hours.

The next day, at the funeral, everything hit me at once. I felt like Indiana Jones getting crushed by the big ball.

Yes, sir, if I had to go through that experience again (and I might have to; my father is still living), there are a lot of things I would wish for. I would wish to be better prepared this time. I guess the end result is no better, but it beats being blindsided.

Most of all, I guess, I would wish to not have to go through it again.

But that isn't how life works, is it?

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