My 84-year-old mother, Suzy, is getting a basketball hoop put in her driveway. Not for the grandkids, not for her neighbors, but for herself.
She came to this decision in therapy last week when she figured out why she’d been so blue this past year.
“I need to find my spirit,” she wrote in an email to me and my sibs.
If you’re a reader of this blog, you’ve heard me talk about Suzy, before. She’s a badass, a notorious Dodger fan who brings her mitt to the game in the hopes of catching a ball. She’s broken her nose three times, once when she was playing catcher at a temple picnic, another when she was climbing a tree to pick an apple which fell directly onto her nose. At the gym, she rents the batting cage, getting ball after ball thrown at her. “Come on, gal,” she yells when she misses.
We were able to talk her out of getting a motorcycle at 70, after she took that fall in the motorcycle training class, but the basketball hoop may work out.
Apparently, my younger brother, who is mostly full of good ideas, tried to talk her out of it, telling her to get in her car and drive to the park if she wants to shoot some hoops. But I disagree. I think she needs to keep the ball right by the front door so she can pick it up and walk outside when inspiration hits.
The feel of the ball in her hand, the sound of the bounce in the driveway, and then the crouch and the lift to get it into the net will make her happy. Not to mention the thrill of showing off to her young neighbors.
“I was the OLDEST woman on the AIDS Ride,” she loves reminding us.
My mom is a bit of a performer. She also has a sailor’s mouth. Once she jumped out of a cake dressed as a Beatles groupie on my father’s 35th birthday. When I look at those pictures, I always forget it was my dad’s day because all the light seems to be shining on mom.
It’s been a life like that – lots of activity, lots of light, lots of fun. She went to three colleges to find a husband, and loves telling the story of throwing J.W.’s engagement ring off the bridge at the University of Colorado in her Sophomore year, as if the world were made of engagement rings, as if there were more rings right around the corner – and there were.
She was married to my dad for 50-years, and after he died she took a lover at 73. There is nothing more stunning than the story she recounts of one of their first dates, slow dancing with him in his living room and how their clothes magically fell to the floor like leaves blowing off a tree in a warm wind.
Pre-pandemic, my mom was impossible to get on the phone. Busy lady. Meetings all over town, appointments and dinners with friends. Her voicemail box was often full, so unless you sent a pigeon to her house, she might not get your message for days.
But in the last 17 months it’s been a lot quieter. It’s like the wheels came off of her car, and she’s spent more time alone than she has her whole life. She has plenty of friends, but instead of tooling around town, stopping at temple to gather with her pals on the elder committee, then meeting a friend for lunch, then off to the market, or to the bank or to any number of things that we used to call our life – and which brought us out into the world and into the company of others – she sits most days in front of her computer talking to the world from her screen.
Her dining room table is always set for two – almost like she’s waiting for someone to drop by – complete with dinner plates, salad and dessert plates, water glasses, crystal wine goblets, four forks, two knives, and two spoons. And though friends do drop by, she eats most nights alone with her dog, Jack.
“I’ve been depressed,” she tells us.
I get it.
And while there’s plenty to be depressed about; the state of the world, a pandemic that has lasted 17 months, climate change – I wonder if my mom’s depression has something to do with slowing down, and how silence can give rise to all the feels – like what it’s like to be 84 and alone, and to have all this quiet time to reflect on your life, the way you loved, what you did and did not do, what you’ll never do again.
If you’ve lived your life in a swirl of activity, too busy to return phone calls because you’ve got a calendar loaded with dates. If you’ve been a woman who has popped out of cakes and slow danced in the nude at 73, if your busyness has kept you from feeling alone, if it’s kept you feeling worthy – as it has for my mom and certainly for me – then this year and a half of deep quiet and reclusiveness might have been a little uncomfortable for you, too.
Interestingly, mom’s been telling us that this has been a homecoming of sorts. And that as uncomfortable as it’s been to learn to be with herself without all the hustle and the noise of life, she respects it. Understands its power. Knows that maybe this quiet time is a prequel of sorts. A chance to practice a little inner peace.
On the other hand, basketball. My mom’s therapist told her: “You have a choice. You can move toward life, or you can move toward death.” So by the end of this week, she’ll be bouncing the ball, making her shots, aiming to get her spirit back. And there’s nothing wrong with that, either. Come on, gal. You got this.
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