“Would you rather be happy and well, or would you rather be right?” –from A Course in Miracles, as quoted by Louise Hay
When there is confusion regarding the Self,,, one mistakes misery as happiness.” –Yoga Sutra 2.5
It is a late Thursday night and I am driving to pick my mom up from the airport. She is returning from attending a huge midwestern family reunion and talking to me on the cell phone.
“I’m in terminal Two. I’ll wait for you on the North Side – the South Side is all dark, it looks like it’s closed.”
“Are you sure that there is a South Side at terminal two?”
“Yes Jeff, but it’s all dark right now, so I’ll see you on the North curb.”
“Ok. See you soon. Welcome back Mom.”
I don’t think there is a South Side at terminal two. Could I be wrong? My mind wonders as I drive. There is a surprising amount of traffic at the airport for such a late hour. The nights are starting to cool. Even though the days are still over 100 degrees the evenings are beginning to slowly turn less warm. Still, it will be hot for my mom after two weeks of 70 degree days. Actually now that I think of it, I am pretty positive that there is not a south-side pickup at terminal two. It will be nice to see my mom. She sounds happy, fulfilled, a little tired. I slow for the ever-present construction barriers past terminal four. Maybe she is at a different terminal, if there is a south side?
“Are you sure that you are at terminal two?”
“Almost there. I love you.”
“Ok. I love you too.”
My mom is over seventy and looks a decade or two younger. Her favorite phrases – “I’ll bet you a nickel-to-a-donut,” and “If it’s not one thing, it’s another” give away our family lineage grounded in the midwest and, further back, to Nordic-European roots. I drive past the South side of terminal three. It is dark, closed off to traffic. Just as my mom said that terminal two would be. She recently cut all the desert brush back on the side of her pool and planted new flowers in her driveway. Even though she lives in town I don’t get to see her all that much. I bet myself a nickel-to-a-donut that my mom is at terminal three. I debate calling her again but then decide to ride it out and check terminal two first. I can always double back.
I navigate through more construction and notice a part of me that’s a little annoyed. “There is no south-side-pickup at terminal two,” this part of me says. “She must be at terminal three. Or she is mistaken about terminal two.” I drive on, steering the tight left curve to passenger pickup at terminal two.
It is as I remembered. There is no south-side passenger pickup, just north side.
I begin to doubt that I will see her there. I keep driving, and as I approach the end of the terminal there she is, standing with her three pieces of luggage. I pull up to the curb.
Ram Dass once said a great thing. He said that if you ever feel like you have become enlightened, just go back home and spend a couple days with your parents. Our family has a thing where we don’t really greet each other with much emotion. I am aware of it and work to counter this habit. I jump out of the truck and promptly fall right back into the habit, not really looking at my mom, she not really looking at me. Terminal two has no south side. I grab her luggage and throw it in back of the truck. The bags are heavy. One bag I have to use two arms and a leg to get over the tailgate. I joke with her about bringing half of Green Bay back home. Still not really looking at her. And then I become aware of what I am doing. I stop loading luggage and I really look at her.
Her face is red from the heat. Even though she has lived here for over forty years, she never quite got used to the heat. She seems tired but calm and content. She is wearing slacks and a short-sleeved shirt. I can tell that she had a very good time.
There is no south-side pickup here.
Suddenly I am overcome with emotion for this woman who has meant so much to me in my life, who rocked me all night when I couldn’t breathe when I was a young boy with asthma. This woman who raised my sister and I pretty much on her own as my father worked hard to pay the bills. This small-town woman who will not be around forever. And neither will I.
“Hi mom.” I hug her and smell the airport on her clothes. She feels solid, strong, and still young inside her bones. She is a midwest girl at heart, born and raised. And I love her dearly as she gets into the truck.
I start the drive home and ask about her trip. She tells me first about her mother, over ninety years old. My grandma. And she practically glows as I get on the 51, her voice smiling into my ears about how she took her mom, my grandma, to her very first manicure and pedicure before the big reunion. “Imagine that,” she says, “Ninety and not having a pedicure yet.”
I smile too, enjoying the sound of her voice. She tells me about seeing her cousins and brothers, and so many people — over 300! She relates long talks with her brothers, games of cribbage where my grandma skunked the whole family.
My window is cracked open and so is hers. I have the AC on because I know she is warm. The traffic on the freeway is light beneath the sodium lights. I can hear the sound of my mother’s voice, the whisper of wind from the open windows. I can smell her perfumed lotion faded mellow from the long plane flight. And as she talks about my youngest uncle getting skunked again by his 92 year-old mother who can’t really see the cards that well, all I can think about is how good it is to hear the happiness in her voice during this drive-home conversation. A conversation that could have been quite different. And I almost begin to laugh out loud as I fully realize how trivial it is to be right about something. And experience what it REALLY means to be happy and well with someone you love.
And I am thankful beyond belief.
(Jeff’s mom does not have internet access and will not be reading this essay. 🙂
Jeff Martens is a teacher, writer and co-owner of Inner Vision Yoga.