What Will I Choose to See for a Happy Life?
My mother’s vision was getting increasingly blurry over the last few years, to a point where she couldn’t sew or drive at night anymore. A few days after her cataract surgery last spring, she began to see details around her again… which came with choices about what to look at.
“I didn’t realize I had so many wrinkles!” she mentioned on the phone with a nervous laugh.
Maybe she thought I wouldn’t notice the candid insecurity she attempted to bury among the newfound visuals she listed, like the numbers on her alarm clock actually being yellow, not white.
“Stop it right there, Mom,” I said. “Choose what you want to see with those new eyes.”
My mother is in good shape at 78 years old, enjoying a retirement of neighborhood strolls with her partner of nearly 25 years, refreshing dips in their above-ground pool and casual weekly golf with her sisters. Resilience carried her through years of challenges and, possibly, more belittlement than praise. I don’t mind seeing peace and simplicity slipping into the fourth quarter of her life.
“Turn this around right now, Mom,” I continued. “What do you want to see?”
I wish I could have been around for my mother’s recent operation. It’s not like I’m far from my hometown: from Vermont, it’s a two-hour ride to go see my Canadian family and childhood friends in Quebec. Along its peaceful winding road among the green mountains, the roundtrip is so easy and beautiful that I’ve often done it in one day.
However, with the closed border during the pandemic, quarantine requirements and other complexities, heading up there has been practically impossible. So while her grandchildren kept growing on this side of the Derby Line, I didn’t see my mother, longtime friends and relatives in over 20 months.
“How about telling yourself,” I suggested, “I choose to see the beautiful woman that I am.”
Surely her pretty blue eyes could focus on the qualities that formed those wrinkles in the first place, like the fortitude my hazel eyes have had the privilege to witness more than once.
Because, what do I choose to see of my mother? Strength, loyalty and dignity come to mind.
“Don’t be a tease,” she once warned in my teens, “unless you intend to deliver.”
In one unassuming sentence, while empowering me with the choice of my actions, she equipped me with a lifelong compass to navigate conduct, appearance and integrity with femininity, pride and grace.
It could have looked like I wasn’t paying attention to her advice over the years. But, maybe I was.
“Listen closely,” she said on the phone a few years ago when I teared about my marriage coming to an end. “You need to be strong, now. You hear? Strong.”
Every now and then this torch of endurance, carried by a long line of persevering women before her, lights my way. It is this well of tenacity that I mostly see behind her few crinkles.
My mom’s eyes haven’t been the only ones adjusting to a new reality lately. The pandemic and other gloomy newscasts have challenged many of our outlooks on life.
Personally the past couple of weeks have been particularly loaded on my end, with some undertakings delivering quite an emotional punch: crossing over to my native land under strict pandemic regulations, visiting with my mother and longtime friends for the first time in nearly two years and, possibly the most impactful, seeing my firstborn off to college a day’s travel away across the same border.
Just as I asked my mother what she would like to see with her upgraded vision, I must follow my own advice and decide how I look at these events.
I imagine I’m not the first mom to return home after saying goodbye to her grown child and head over to his room, sit on his bed, flash back on the last 18 years, and break down over the end of a cherished chapter.
Yet I must choose my outlook. One wrong turn could spiral me down into a very sad and lonely hole. Is it the end of a cherished chapter or the beginning of a new wonderful one? A little of both, I suppose; and while I hold the former close to my heart, I’ll choose to embrace the latter.
And I must do the same with every challenge brought forth: are they obstacles that’ll bring me down, or opportunities to help me grow?
Could the secret of a happy life be about how we view it? Perhaps.