It’s a pretty common saying that you don’t know how much you wanted or needed, loved or hated something until it’s gone.
Most people don’t really pay it any mind. Things phase in and out of our lives all the time. You don’t miss the guy who served you at Starbucks yesterday, or the leftover pizza in your fridge once you eat that last slice after a long shift at work.
As Americans, we are accustomed to constant, non-stop change, all day every day, never stopping, never slowing, never thinking, always going, on, and on, and on. Monday through Sunday on repeat through till we die. Trends are shifting constantly to new norms, people’s tastes taking unseen forms. Politicians campaign with new promises of success, students always find new things over which to stress.
I think that’s in part what makes us great. We lead progress in ourselves and others because of our total lack of respite. We go and go, do until the doing’s done and then find the next thing. We make the future with work.
But when have we ever stopped to think? When do we ever get a chance to?
I remember the feeling that night. A constant buzz in my chest. Heart pounding just enough to keep me constantly aware of it, like mosquitoes on a humid night. Tunnel vision, indecision, a suffocating shawl of deep perdition. Intimately familiar but strangely foreign. I had suffered from anxiety attacks before as a younger man, but this had been present all night, like a specter that refused to part with me.
The green Monster drink the hospice nurse had given me didn’t help of course, honestly I don't know why I drank it in the first place. I just took it. Impulse is a natural reaction to fear.
Now I didn’t have her as a distraction or anchor of time either. Her checking my mother’s breathing twice every hour had given me some regularity at least. Now that she’d left, I didn’t really know how fast or slow time was. I was lost.
I counted in seconds between her raspy, labored breaths. In, out. In, out. SIlence. 2. 3. 4. 5. Is she gone? 6. 7. In.
Thank god. God dammit. What am I supposed to think?
Those 13 hours, from 8 at night to 9 in the morning, waiting with close family and friends for my mother’s passing, had been and would be the worst of my life, but also one I have come to treasure.
In today's world, I had found myself increasingly fed up and angry about the state of things. I hated the hypocrites, I hated the idiots, I hated the ideologues, I hated the poor, I hated the rich, I hated the kids, I hated the adults. I hated the liberals, I hated the conservatives. I hated the workers, the politicians, the big-wig CEO’s, the single moms. I was so blinded by the stupidity that I couldn’t see any way out of it.
So I hated.
After my mom passed, I came to truly know why I was just as much the problem as them.
My mother, I came to see, was the embodiment of what it means to be a good American, a good human being. She had been through the same as I had, but worse. The self-hate and sorrow that her alcoholism had caused her in her early life had been crippling, but through her path to recovery, one that all Americans, all people, take in one way or another; be it through coming to our shores to seek a new life, raising a child alone, moving off to school… she became a beacon to those around her. She saw through the hate and into pity. She was a natural caregiver, a mother and a sister to more than just her family, and she used her life to help others. Through Alcoholics Anonymous, her job, and her family life, she saved people's lives and made them all the brighter.
She was a friend.
It was her passing that made me see this. I spoke to dozens upon dozens of men and women, young and old, who she had helped survive and thrive through what she had once been through and more. It didn’t matter to her who they were, where they had been, where they had come from, what they had done. They were people, and they needed her, so she was there.
It was from her that I learned to see what truly mattered.
I have come to love the difference that defines us as americans. We are a diverse people of many different backgrounds, ethnicities, and pasts, but we are all united under liberty and the freedom to be who we are. I have come to look past the violence and the hatred that we have come to display to each other. I have seen what just one voice of kindness and understanding can do for people, how many it can help and how much. I now strive to be that voice. To bring people back together from years of tearing each other apart.
As Americans, we’ve lost sight of what makes us great, and as Americans, to make our country great, as it was and has been since its founding, we must strive to regain the unity that we once had.
All we need to be is a friend.
Because friends help each other. They listen to each other. They support each other. They love each other. They band together by common values and share the world with each other. This is what a friend is, and this is what America has strived to be for its entire existence. This is what we need now more than ever, in this age of doubt and anger.
Be a friend. Be an American. Change the world.