Tomorrow would have been my mother’s 90th birthday, if she could have survived another 18 years living with the effects of some of the worst mental health treatments of the 20th Century. So shattered was her persona at the time of her death that I wandered, wondering, inside my life for days after her funeral. Had she ever really lived outside of my fantasy-recollections of a mother who, unbeknownst to me, was declared “beyond the aid,” of medical science long before I was ever born?
Many families and individuals survived some of these experimental, “Hail Mary,” pharmaceuticals and therapies derived during the Nazi Occupations of Europe and Palestine. That these treatments began as a means of torturing the autonomous wills out of individual, “enemies of the state,” has long since been buried in the footnotes, and obfuscated completely out, of the history of the First and Second World Wars; especially this Second, “war to end all wars.” In 2017, the victors of WWII are still quite obviously in charge of publishing the histories of what transpired during that time, maintaining a considerable advantage even over keen minds equipped with the instantaneous ability to publish tales of any reality they so choose. Now it is no longer enough to have a wealth of information at one’s fingertips; now one must also acquire an audience of influence capable of validating and sharing one’s view of reality. Even the reality of one’s own life, as my mother’s death has made so abundantly clear to me today.
He was a man of humble, yet earnest, beginnings. As humble and earnest as a child could be coming from a position of established wealth and privilege. His lantern jaw cut the wind before him as he marched back and forth across the dais, never satisfied to stand behind a single pulpit or even a single theological position. He preached and prayed before his laiety with all the sincerity of a man caught ablaze with the teachings of one holy spirit, one true god and one lone carpenter about whose fate he seemed to be intimately familiar.
For Finch, suffering was purification, regardless how dubious or unnecessary. His goal as an appendage of the Assembly of God Almighty was to simultaneously exalt and bring scorn upon those under his charge. It was an odd gift he had, this man Finch. As much as my Catholic upbringing was lauded as the source of all of my bodily guilt and shame in a century of whispers, Finch was giving my past liturgical beatings a run for their money with the immediacy of his thunderous exhortations, slamming the Bible upon the pulpit and this furious pacing, back and forth, across the dais.
I had known one other man who possessed this dynamic, hypnotically dervish contempt for the ordinary mortal. His name had been “Wachyowski” before the Big War, but the Germans had forced him to change his name to the more pedestrian-sounding surname of “Washer,” as it would be unseemly to have a Jew in charge of policing and enforcing German policies on his fellow Jews in a Slavic ghetto. Not that it mattered much at all since every man, woman and child in that ghetto knew he was a Jew and took great comfort from that fact. Washer played both sides of the fence during the war, earning himself a ticket to the promised land of Palestine. But he had sent many thousands of his fellows into forced labor where their fates were often shrouded in mystery and uncertainty once he had secured all of their personal effects as payment for their “journeys” to the “promised land.” The deciding factor for Washer, he told us, was whether or not these Jews believed in the Torah, or the Talmud, as the document closest to revealing how Jews should proceed in light of this most recent pogrom. Those Jews who clung to their separation from all hope of Christian unity were sent to the camps and their assets stolen; those Jews who took a more modest approach that included having a “promised land” without the need for a messiah, were sent to Palestine where they would be safe from further defilement at the hands of their German oppressors. “It was my solemn duty,” Washer claimed, “that I sent only modern-thinking, progressive Jews to the Holy Land.” His tales of service to the Christian prophet were many and filled with the tears of a man torn apart by the daily mitzvah of separating wheat from chaff in all too human terms.
With Finch, his remonstrations were nowhere near this historically grounded; his histrionics were reserved for the screechings and howlings of the Christian Rock music of his children. Music which landed him on five acres of relatively prosperous land in an 8,000 square foot house. A house which included a recording studio for his teenaged songbirds whose gifts he claimed were more burdensome than his humble need to tend to his garden and walk a trench into the dais every Sunday.
But this was Saturday, I was clenching my jaw with equal parts disgust and distrust as this hypomanic hillbilly in a suit and tie was marching back and forth, proclaiming to have saved my mother, in her last moments of life on this Earth, from the fires of eternal damnation. “Fuck you,” I thought. Repeatedly.
Normally I preferred to keep my sister’s religious addiction at bey with good humor and an occasional jab regarding liturgical decorum in a sedate Roman Catholic setting versus the more enthusiastic climate of a fire and brimstone extortion. She could raise her palm high and proclaim to believe, but all I could do was shake my head and wonder what she wasn’t getting sitting next to me on those hard, German oak pews we both sat in for a full eighteen years of our young lives.
But with Finch I saw a real need to take issue with his characterization of my mother’s “sinful” life of misery, loss, illness and let’s not forget the “suffering,” that only Finch could claim he knew anything about — and was privy to the only safe escape from such offal.
“What I need to take exception to, right here and right now,” I began, “is this arrogant proclamation of insider knowledge of people or persons who were nowhere near the scene of any of my mother’s alleged crimes, nor who knew anything about who the real perpetrators of all of these sufferings actually were.”
I looked Finch dead in the eyes as I held the microphone he had mistakenly given me as the child of the decedent. “My mother’s numerous hospitalizations and miseries were not accidental, but premeditated. Planned by a host of psychiatrists and medical professionals who, from the 1940’s to the 1960’s, believed that the complete erasure of a human personality from the plains of Oklahoma to the fruit orchards of California was preferable to any ability to recall the unspeakable acts committed against children during the Great Depression. My mother was one of those children and because of her many sacrifices, many of you will never know what it means to have your temples attached to a car battery while you bite down in hard seizures onto medical rubber.” I gathered more breath and looked into the eyes of everyone in that small memorial service, most of whom I had grown up with and was familiar enough with them to know I was fast-approaching terminal butt-clench such that they might not arise easily or quickly from their commercial-grade seating arrangements. “Just who is at fault when half of a country comes down, hard, on the other half and in their pompous, arrogant victory never allows their fellows the benefit of a whimper from the lips of the children whose parents had been so severely beaten? Have any of you attended a funeral where your husband, your wife, your brother, your sister, your best friend or your child has been unceremoniously dumped into an abandoned water well? How about a used privy hole? In front of your former employees or nursemaids? There are scars none of us in this room will ever know anything about because women like my mother were there to cut these grandiose male gorillas off at the knees at just the right time in history, at just the right time in my life. Were it not for my mother and her suffering, I would be quite dead. That is something only I can ever fully appreciate. Thank you.” I handed the microphone to my sister to allow her the opportunity to rebut, schmooze or somehow recover the floor in the interest of god-fearing Protestantism. Finch, instead, grabbed the microphone, and accounted for my outburst as a man in grief over the loss of his mother, but the truth was I had no real idea what I had just said, nor any idea who my mother really was. She was here for a while, she alienated all of her children and then she died, preceding her mother in death by some five years. Those were the clinical matters of fact, but I wasn’t about to allow a man like Finch tell me anything about my history or what it meant to me. I had suffered enough of other people spoon-feeding me a reality that was always too much or too little, and always, always too late.
I wandered for days after the funeral wondering where my mother was. With my grandmother some five years before, there was no question she was in that Ukrainian Catholic church during the ceremony. She was there with the two Roman Catholic monsignors she knew and loved on the dais; she was there for the Ukie priest who slathered the room with incense. She was there in me and in my questioning of what happens when we die. And she was there the instant I asked that question with an answer in the form of an entire firehouse of firemen, poised with axes in hand in 10 degree weather, to slay whatever dragon was responsible for producing so much smoke in so short a span of time.
But I didn’t know where my own mother was. I didn’t know who she was. I mouthed a bunch of words at her memorial service, but there was nothing in my heart but the hurt of unrequited love. The same love I had come to know, not coincidently, in every relationship with a woman I’d ever known up to that point in time.
And then I read a story in a photography magazine of the man who took a wildlife picture so incredible, so profound, so sublime and so moving that the meaning behind it and in it sent him into a depression of many months time.
I’ve attached the award-winning picture to this story that you might know what it took for all the memories, all the words and all the mental torment to drop down into my heart like a long-lost gift from a friend whom I thought was long gone to the sands of time and place. The photograph is of a mother deer, right before death, who sacrificed herself to three hungry cheetahs she could have easily outrun that her offspring might escape and run free to live another day in her stead.
No man like Finch could have ever known the love of such a mother.