During my mother’s hospitalization, I had a lot of time on my hands while sitting by her bedside and I started reading the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead. The storyline and style of prose captured my imagination in a way I hadn’t encountered in a great while. I can see why it won the Pulitzer. I find myself re-reading quotes like,
“She had never learned history proper, but sometimes one’s eyes are teacher enough.”
several times to let them sink into my brain. It is such a simple statement and yet so profoundly true, especially in this day and age. Right now we don’t need to be taught about American History, we are living it and witnessing it with our own eyes every day.
Ever since my mom passed away though, I haven’t cracked the book open once. I still have about 1/3 left to read. The main character’s life is in grave peril and yet I haven’t had any interest at all in finding out what happens next. In the past when books have interested me like this one, I haven’t been able to stop reading until I finished them. There have been so many times, over the past two months, when I have gone to open it and have just stared at the cover before putting it down again and walking away. Yesterday I did it again and sat there contemplating why I had stalled out on such an excellent book. I realized that it could be that I associate the book with my mom’s hospitalization and don’t want to revisit that experience. But I think about it every day anyway, so rationally that makes no sense. So what is it that has made me stop reading this book? Why do I keep putting it down and walking away from it? Then it hit me when I looked at the problem from a different direction. It’s not that I was reading the book while my mom was dying, I was reading it while she was still living. Maybe I’ve developed a mental block on this book because it was the last book I read when she was still alive. And if I finish it, I lose another connection to those last weeks of her life. It’s just another instance of my wanting to remain in that moment. That line of thinking makes more sense to me but now how to overcome it? How do I get past this seemingly monumental hurdle that finishing this book has become? It’s all mental and psychological, I realize that, but it seems so tangible. Like I can reach out and run my fingers over its glass shard-like surface. I find myself wanting to keep one foot in the past, during those days with her, and move forward at the same time. When I do that though, I feel like I have one foot on a dock and one foot on a boat that is drifting away from the world I’ve always known. I need to choose one or the other before I fall in and drown. I know which one I should pick. Hop on that metaphorical boat and sail further and further away from the world I’ve always known. The idea of that, moving on without her by my side is going to be the toughest part of the grief process for me. Dealing with this sense that I’m betraying her all the while knowing that she would want me to jump, leap, and dive onto that boat and never look back. My mom would want me to live the fullest life I can. It is only myself who is standing in my way now. Perhaps, finishing that book is a first step towards doing that.