Hard Lessons

To paraphrase a Bruce Springsteen song, life has been giving me some hard lessons lately, about pain, loss, disability and hope. Years of chronic pain, my mother's death, my hearing impairment and other serious medical problems have sorely tested me. When I finally found a doctor who took my pain seriously, he asked me why I had checked "suicidal thoughts" on my new patient questionnaire. I told him, "I have 30 years ahead of me if I live as long as my mother did. I refuse to live in pain for another 30 years."

In all that I've learned and written since then, the most surprising discovery has been my ability to remain optimistic about my life and my future. If you hear despair, anger, frustration and fear in what I post here, please don't turn away. All is not dark, and eventually a glimmer of hope will light the path ahead.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Civil Tongue

Mom's response to an argumentative child or a growling dog was, "Keep a civil tongue in your head."  Proper and civil language usage was of paramount importance to her. She would tolerate my career choice of, say, streetwalker, more easily than my desecration of the English language (that's not to say she'd be happy about the career choice, of course).

When I left home at 17 and moved to Great Britain, I sent long letters (written in the combination of English and French that I favored at the time) home describing my new life there.  Mom saved them all and gave them back to me 20 years later with the instruction to turn them into a book.  I dug into the box of letters eagerly, hoping for a glimpse of a younger, more idealistic Jean, and discovered that Mom had corrected my spelling and grammar with her English teacher's red pen.  I would have been offended by that at 17, but at 37, I had to laugh.

At other times, though, Mom's own civil but razor sharp tongue made me wince.  While she was teaching a good-natured friend of mine to sew, I cringed to hear her say, "Don't ask stupid questions.  I only want to hear intelligent ones."

Decades later, I too often open my mouth and hear my mother’s voice come out of it, shooting words like arrows straight to the heart of the target.