The Perfect Daughter

For many years, I felt I hadn’t done enough for my mother before she passed away. Now I realize, I did the best I could with what I knew at the time. That was 39 years ago.

Thanksgiving 1979 was the last time I shared a meal with my mother. After driving 40 miles to pick up my foster brother, I picked up my mother and took the three of us to a very nice restaurant in Santa Monica, California that was way outside my budget. I was trying so hard to be The Perfect Daughter. On December 10, she went into the hospital. A few days after that, she slipped into a coma. I remember driving to the hospital every night after work for the next couple of weeks, sitting in rush hour traffic. The street decorations were up for the holidays.

She passed away on December 29 at the age of 79. I was just shy of 29.

Unbeknown to me until she passed away, we were not related by blood. Of the many children she had taken into foster care since long before I was born, I was the only one she legally adopted. I was raised thinking I was her only child. In reality, she and her husband had adopted me at birth when she was 50 years old.

My mother had been in poor health for the 10 years preceding her death. My father had passed away when I was 14, so it was just me and her in the house. There had been numerous trips to the hospital, crises, close calls, and false alarms. Through it all, I never felt I was doing “enough.” As the years rolled by, I began to feel that I myself was not enough.

After she passed, I spent decades feeling guilty for what I should have done, for what I could have done, for what I could have done better, for what I didn’t do, and for what I did. I wasn’t The Perfect Daughter. In fact, I fell short by miles. It took a very long time before I was able to find any sense of redemption within myself.

Every year around this time when the street decorations start to go up, I think about those long drives to the hospital. I feel grateful for Mama and I think about that young woman who was trying so hard to be perfect. Sometimes I smile. Sometimes I cry. All of it is okay. Life goes on. Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.

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Homegoing

I watch my icons march against Time, heads held high, backs straight. Undaunted. Chaka, the Reverend, Shirley, Gladys, Maxine, Al, Stevie. Cicely.

Sometimes unsteady. Yet brave.

I realize I am marching, too. And I feel in my bones what it means when people say it’s a privilege to live long enough for my hair to turn gray.

Everything must change… The young become the old and mysteries do unfold. • Benard Ighner

Walking the path with faith, hope, courage, and love. Leaving a legacy of hope. Step by step. Note by note.

Until the end.

See the USA

In 1976 for the U.S. Bicentennial, I took a road trip from Pasadena to the East Coast with two of my friends. We were in our 20s. One of them had gotten a sleek and brand new forest green Chevrolet Impala for the trip. Except for food and potty breaks, we drove straight through, taking turns driving. It took us about three days to get there. I’m not sure why we were in such a hurry.  Once we arrived we saw the Statue of Liberty, the Liberty Bell, the Jefferson Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the falls at Niagra, the places where they make Hershey chocolate and Goodyear tires, and we even went to Atlantic City looking for the streets in the Monopoly game. I guess we still believed in America back then.

One night I was asleep alone in the back seat when I awoke and saw a strange-shaped sliver of light towering way up high in the sky. Blinking, I rubbed my eyes in disbelief. It didn’t seem real. What IS that? Half-awake it took a bit to process what was happening. Oh! When I put the pieces together I realized I was looking at the reflection of moonlight off of a segment of the St. Louis arch above the Mississippi River. Only the little moonstruck piece of it was visible; the rest of the arch blended into the night sky. It was surreal, an almost magical experience. I stared in silent wonder as the car moved along its way.

The sight lasted only seconds, but I’ve never forgotten those moments. Sky, steel, water, light. Simple, yet so powerful.

I drifted back to sleep. That was the first and last time I saw Gateway Arch. If my car mates saw it too, we never spoke of it.

The next stop we made was a McDonald’s in Indianapolis several hours later. Yes, from the silver arch to the golden. I never saw a link until now. Ha!

I guess if you live long enough, everything seems to somehow connect. It takes a while to put all of those tiny pieces together. Some of them fade into the night sky. Some of stay with you forever.

Neil Simon, Hero

Don’t listen to those who say, you are taking too big a chance. Michelangelo would have painted the Sistine floor, and it would surely be rubbed out by today. Most important, don’t listen when the little voice of fear inside you rears its ugly head and says ‘They are all smarter than you out there. They’re more talented, they’re taller, blonder, prettier, luckier, and they have connections.’  I firmly believe that if you follow a path that interests you, not to the exclusion of love, sensitivity, and cooperation with others, but with the strength of conviction that you can move others by your own efforts, and do not make success or failure the criteria by which you live, the chances are you’ll be a person worthy of your own respects. • Neil Simon (1927 – 2018)

We choose our heroes because they possess strengths and skills we wish we ourselves embodied. They transcend the battles with which we struggle.

You only have one life to live. Make sure it’s yours.

Precious Memories

“Don’t worry about it.” Aretha Franklin

One of the most precious gifts of the passage of time is that it gives you an ever-deepening perspective on the past; allowing your understanding, compassion, and appreciation to grow.

South L.A., Westwood, Paris, Culver City, Melbourne, Fresno, Hollywood. Angels. Everywhere.

Unpacking

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Last night I moved back to Lucerne Avenue in Culver City, the town in Southern California where I had spent most of my adult life.

I let go of several trash bags of pain as I was packing to move out of Van Nuys over the past week, things I was still holding onto from as far back as the 1980s through numerous moves. A lot of it was hurtful bits and pieces of paper. The usual composition of clutter: shreds of unfulfilled dreams and broken promises, memories, relationships, jobs, fears, experiences, objects, glimmers of happiness, perceived slights and wrongs. I have lugged that stuff with me over decades from place to place and spent thousands of dollars on storage, even when I didn’t have a roof over my own head because I was afraid to let go of it, hoping there might be a random puzzle piece to make sense of my life. Afraid I wouldn’t remember things that had happened to me. Why? I think part of it is that I’ve used clutter to define myself in a certain way. I’ve used it as a form of beating myself up for past mistakes — trusting too much, not trusting enough. In short, beating myself up for being human.

“What is the past but what we choose to remember?” • Amy Tan

We choose our memories. Slowly, bit by bit, I am letting go of the past. It’s taken time. I’m not getting any younger. But this is my pace. This is my journey. God is doing it in a gentle way so that I don’t re-traumatize myself in the process. We are not ready to let go until we are ready to let go. I accept that this is the way life is unfolding for me.

“Let go of the things that do not reflect who you are now.” • Eleanor Brownn

I’m very happy to be back in Culver City. It feels like home. One pleasantly startled neighbor greeted me with “Jackie’s back!” Another, whose first language is not English, left a sweet note for me to find. The movers hung some of my pictures without my knowledge. I had them tucked away, waiting until I had a “real” home again so they wouldn’t possibly get damaged. Funny, they were tucked away even when I owned a home just a few blocks from here. My excuse then was that I would display them when I had my place organized and looking perfect. Maybe it’s time to let go of perfection and live.

I had hoped my next move after Van Nuys would be into my own space. That wasn’t meant to be at this time. I have my own room and bath in a shared apartment. This is the same room where a lot of healing took place for me. It is the room I stayed in for 3 years after the car accident. I was lucky, blessed, to find it at the time. I was reeling from the after-effects of the head injury I received in the accident. A friend who was looking for a roommate told me about it. He had taken a look at it and decided it was “too girly” for him. It was perfect for me. A pretty, gentle, healing place. After 3 years, I was ready to move on. But I never stopped missing Culver City. It was where I had owned my home for 13 years and planted some roots. I was homesick.

“My home is in the omnipresence of God” • Aisha Mason via Rev. Michael Bernard Beckwith

Last night, back in the old neighborhood, I listened to the music of the traffic. Lucerne is a busy street. Not overly so, but there is a constant hum of cars passing by. Near the beginning of my Spiritual Sabbatical in 2011 when I lost my Culver City home and landed in Melbourne after more than a week at sea, I awoke the first morning to the sound of rush hour traffic. It reminded me of home. It was music to my ears! So it was again last night.

I feel a little like Dorothy in the film the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy hit her head, traveled far, only to realize that she had what she needed all along. Fittingly, the Wizard of Oz was made in Culver City at MGM.

I still have some clutter to get rid of, in more ways than one. But I’m on the path. The mass has shrunk over time to a tiny fraction of what it once was. I’m taking action, letting go of shame and regrets. As I shed the clutter I feel as though I am becoming more and more of who I was meant to be. I’m letting go of frills and adornment. Letting go of lingering resentments and fears. Letting go of the things that do not reflect who I am now.

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