Friday, November 6, 2009

My Mother's Hands, and the Art of Suffering

Today would have been my mother's 75th birthday.
BELOW: My mother, Lyttona V. Davis (1934–2002), circa 1950 

The photographer arranged my mother's hands thusly to show them off, because she played the piano with the pretty things. She went on to study music at college. 
But later she gave it up.
Slowly, in her long decline, my mother turned away from, or could no longer reach out for life-giving things. At some point, she sold her piano. At the end, she died by her own hand, as they say.

Last night I visited a friend's daughter who's in the hospital, for the nth time, pulled under by severe depression. Her suffering is, of course, atrocious. It has hollowed her out. 

Biking home after, I though about how much this young woman's family suffers with her. I was always tuned in to my mother's suffering. I didn't pay much attention to mine. I don't think that helped either of us. I can see that in this family--my friend is in pain too, but that doesn't get much attention. So the wheel wobbles, out of true. 

Now, seven years after my mother's death, I wonder if the time has come to talk to others who've lost people to suicide. There's an art to this stuff--to living with physical and mental suffering. This year I've faced real physical problems--gallbladder surgery and now vertigo-- for the first time in my adult life. Luckily my suffering has been low-level beginner's stuff, not like my mother's or the girl I visisted last night, who got hit with PhD level suffering at a young age.
Especially vertigo, which doesn't just go away, shows me that suffering is something to pay attention to, to practice--even in some way, to love. 

I don't mean I love suffering! Hardly.
I mean, it seems to me that it helps to give love to suffering, to love it like one's child or mother.
Maybe suffering is like a piano that's not going to go away. If we are among the ones whose hands can play it, we are lucky. May as well practice the damn thing.


For more info on suicide prevention or help if you are struggling:

"The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals."


poodletail said...

How does suffering fit into the whole picture? (I'm asking myself, not demanding the Answer to The Question from you.) It challenges my faith every day, sometimes every hour of every day.
Giving love to suffering ... sounds good to me.
Thanks for showing this photo of your beautiful mother.

ArtSparker said...

What a thoughtful post. In Hebrew, there is the expression "Gamzeh le Tovah", this too is for the good, which has to do with embracing experience. It certainly is...challenging.

Nancy said...

Your mother was so very beautiful! How old is she in this picture?

momo said...

we should go see the Heart of the Beast play about Thich Naht Hanh! your post reminds me of how much his simple words helped me in a really dark time.

Yes, your mother is beautiful. I see the resemblance to her in you.

Fresca said...

POODLE: I too go round and round with that question: how does suffering fit in the picture? One's own and other people's. And how to respond to it with grace?

As ART SPARKER says, it certainly is... challenging!
To put it mildly. : )
What a great phrase: this too is for the good.

Thanks, NANCY. My mother was about fifteen in the photo.

MOMO: You got it: The idea of loving the hard stuff as if it were my child definitely comes from Thich Nhat Hanh. I remember when I first read that years ago it was a breakthrough---I had never thought of it or ever heard it put quite like that.

I rarely think of myself as looking like my mother--you saying you see a resemblance touches me. Thank you.