Thursday, January 24, 2008

Love Lives On

Today, my mother died. She was 99 years old.

Last week, she went hiking along the California coastline, with the aid of hoverboots and my twenty-year-old grandson's strong arm. The week before, she was in Amsterdam giving a talk to the Literary Fellows of the university there. Two days ago, she made my wife and I a stunning pot of spaghetti. I love my wife, but no one in this world could make spaghetti sauce like my Mama.

She often told me that when she was pregnant with me, it's all she craved.

G Love, my mother, was born in Southern California, and though she and my father ended up living all over the world, she always had an aura of sun and sand and health about her. She came from a large family, and "to my great relief," as she said with a smile in her last hour, each of her four siblings outlived her, as did all three of her children, and all eight of her grandchildren, and, yes, all twelve of her great grandchildren. Her only dear loss in this life (besides her parents) was her husband of over seventy years, who predeceased her by only a few short months. We all knew when we lost him that she wouldn't be far behind. It gives me comfort to know they're together now.

I'm her oldest child, born to her at the age of 29, before she and my father had begun their life's work, before they had found their calling. A couple of years later my brother was born, and two years after that they brought home my sister from a South American orphanage when she was only four months old. It was the adoption of my baby sister that gave my parents a real sense of direction and purpose, and this is when the beginnings of the G Love Foundation were formed.

In addition to their well known efforts on behalf of the poverty stricken and destitute of the world, my parents also made time for many other things in their lives. Dad wrote a stirring work of nonfiction that won him accolades the world 'round. Mom was shortlisted for the Booker prize for her third novel, and of course wrote the world famous biography of MSO Rin, with whom she was close from her college years on (incidentally, the biography included a forward by Super Jane and several dozen photographs by Wicked M - it is hard to imagine all four of these famously talented women attending the same small college at the same time, but it happened, and led to some stirring collaborations in later life.) Dad was a public servant for a large part of his career, and Mom was actually a backup singer in a band that had a few hits in the early teens, though not many people remember her for that. Dad and Mom also traveled extensively, and though at the end of their lives they had settled homes in Rome; Taos, New Mexico; and Beaufort, South Carolina; they were also able to spend extended periods of time in the Middle East, South America (especially Brazil), and Africa - always doing work for the Foundation.

Mom always said that some of her favorite memories dated from the time when my siblings and I were small, and she was managing and artistic director of a theatre in a tiny North Carolina town. Using what she learned from this experience, she was able to integrate what she called "theatre therapy" into much of the work she and Dad performed for the downtrodden, following in the footsteps of one of Mom's heroes, the Brazilian theatrical experimentalist Augusto Boal. Mom and Dad complemented one another in this work perfectly - Dad had political savvy, connections, and a cool head, and Mom had compassion, instinct, and drive. Together they personally brought comfort in the form of food, clean water, medical supplies, and also an artistic outlet to thousands, or perhaps hundreds of thousands. Workers and partners with their foundation have helped over ten million to date.

If you asked her, though, my Mom would always say she was most proud of her family. She'd nod acknowledgement of how corny that sounds, but would never waver from this answer - read transcripts of every one of her numerous interviews all through her life, and the answer would never change. In 2038, when Mom was sixty years old, she gave a taped interview on some long-cancelled talk show. I watched it again today, already missing her. I'll close this remembrance with my mother's own words from 39 years ago.

"I've been so fortunate in this life to do all the things I wanted to do, and also some things I didn't. I'm sixty years old and I still forget that sometimes, when you don't get your own way, you are getting a much better deal than if you had. I get so angry when I'm trying to get assistance for a struggling, starving family, and the country's government seems to be dead set against their success. Even worse is when the family itself is working against me, working against their own interests. I've sunk to my knees in despair, oh more times than I can count. I've lost hope. But here's the thing - whenever this happens, whenever stuff isn't going my way and I'm not having an easy time doing what I want and it seems like forces are conspiring to ruin my plans, I remember how, with my family, I got my own way. I got exactly what I wanted in the person I married and the three people I was lucky enough to call my children. I'm proud of them all. I LIKE them all. And none of them ever went hungry, or lacked for decent medical care, or slept on the street. And then I remember to be thankful for that, and I quit my complaining, roll up my sleeves, and try to see my childrens' faces in the faces of the poor I'm helping. It motivates me. It always has. The four of them, my kids and my husband, are my success story, regardless of how many people we can say our Foundation has served. No matter what, I know I gave them the best life I could offer. Everything else I get to do is just a bonus."

- G Love will be buried in Rome next to her husband, Darlin'. This remembrance is excerpted from a forward that appears in front of her final book, completed three months before her death. It was written by Jack-Jack, her oldest son and the winner of the 2052 Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the G Love Foundation.


Wicked M said...

Love the perspective! So creative you are, glove!

"it is hard to imagine all four of these famously talented women attending the same small college at the same time, but it happened, and led to some stirring collaborations in later life.) " HA. HA. HA. LOVE!

super jane said...

"I still forget that sometimes, when you don't get your own way, you are getting a much better deal than if you had."

beautiful. i have never thought of life that way...thank you for sharing your thoughts of wisdom.

MSO Rin said...

What gets me is that Jack-Jack decided to leave out the personal accolades G Love won as an actor and artistic director at that theatre in NC. He really captured her belief that it wasn't all about HER, even when it really was. Rome is a lucky, lucky place and soon to be overrun with pilgrimages!