Friday, June 6, 2008

Life, Mom and A Lucky Son

My mom, Alice O’Neill, turns 73 today.

It’s a wonderful milestone to celebrate, but it’s made all the more special by her incredible strength, unwavering perseverance and the best love-of-life attitude I’ve ever encountered.

No one has to tell our family that ‘life ain’t fair’ or ‘life is cruel’. Not only do we have the senses to soak up the world’s ills going on around us, we’ve had enough ills of our own as proof. Having said that, my mom refuses to succumb to the negative. I truly believe that her positive outlook is one of the reasons she beat breast cancer and is beating down lung cancer.

Her three year fight is well documented – there’s a paper trail of reports, findings, medication lists, CAT scans and x-rays. The files may be thick with medical facts and figures but it is not, nor will I ever let it be, her legacy.

I’ve passed people in the street and thought each has a story to tell. Average, everyday people can dazzle you with facts about their lives, facts they feel are of little importance when held up against the heroics splashed across global headlines. Heroism isn’t just committing an act of remarkable bravery, heroes are also people who show great courage and strength of character. To me, there is no better hero than my mom.

Comedians have joked about the huge football player, blood gushing from a cut on his nose, dirt and mud all over his face, looking into the television camera and saying to a national audience, “Hi mom.” I’m a hundred pounds, a foot and a truckload of talent short of being a pro football player, but I know why these seemingly tougher-than-hell men seize the opportunity to acknowledge their mothers.

Here’s a few examples to illustrate. I got hit in a hockey game in high school and suffered a mild concussion. No, I didn’t go to the hospital. Trust me, one just knows (the slurring is usually a good sign). So, a teammate took me home and told my parents what happened. I was a lifeguard through high school and knew that a deep sleep was not a good idea in the case of a head injury. So, I stayed awake for as long as I could then mom took the first shift, waking me up at about two in the morning.

“Son,” she said after gently rubbing my shoulder. “Can you tell me your name, love?”

She’s Scottish, so, everyone is ‘love’. I don’t remember anything. Other than her gentle massage on my shoulder and her laying her hand lightly on my forehead.

At five a.m., it was dad’s turn. He grabbed my shoulder and shook me roughly awake. “Hey, what’s your name?”

I swore at him.

“You’re fine,” he said.

And I went back to sleep.

Does this mean that mom coddled me, not a chance. She just always knew the right thing to say and she added that special mother’s touch to everything. I was the only soloist in my school’s grade six concert. I’d practiced hard and was in regular fights for the first few weeks leading up to the concert. Apparently, in the estimation of some six graders, singing is not the most manly thing one can do.

The big night arrived and I took my cue, carrying my chair out to centre stage, where a guitar (I’d pretend to play) was handed to me by a girl who then sat at my feet to enjoy my song, Red River Valley. As the song progressed, more girls in their cute cowgirl outfits, would run on stage and plop down at my feet. I got to the last verse but started to sing the third verse over again. I caught my error and switched, rather abruptly to the last verse. The audience laughed. It was like I could pick up each person’s distinctive reaction. I just kept going and finished my song.

I carried my chair off stage where the stage hand, a grade eight student who thought my error was so funny that he just had to laugh at me, got hit in the head with the chair. It was an accident, I swear.

After the show was over my dad punched me in the arm and smiled. He was telling me to get over it, not to worry about it, to move on. Mom hugged me and said, “You were amazing. And, the way you kept going like a professional singer was very impressive.”

She took, what was the worst mistake I’d ever made, and turned it into a positive. I can’t tell you how that made me feel. It was, well, wonderful.

There came a point in my life where a distinct fork appeared. I’m not talking about what university to attend or what job to take. I guess it was tracks that appeared; I could follow the right side or the wrong side. My parents sat me down one day, out the blue, and together, they let me know that if something were to happen to me they would be there for me, but if I were to be arrested, I was on my own. Their exact words, “Get caught, and you’re on your own.”

I’ve never asked mom why they chose that strategy and probably never will. All I know is that there was a time, when things began to escalate, that I heard this voice in my head saying, “You’re on your own.” It was the deciding factor on what side of the tracks I took. Basically, I think they called my bluff. Either that or I knew I’d never make bail on my own.

Regardless, I think I’ve turned out okay. It was not by accident, I assure you. I carry lessons learned from mom’s teachings. There were subtle examples of how one should act and what one should do. Those required no words, she showed me. Anyone in trouble, in need, mom would help. She gave even when giving hurt. Sometimes it was a kind word, a hug, a shoulder to lean on. And sometimes she gave money when there was too little to give. It didn’t matter, it always worked out. “Whatever you give,” she says, “you’ll get that back and more.”

Alice & Andy O'Neill
January 17, 1959

My father once said to my mom, “Alice, I love you so much that I would die for you.”

Mom’s response didn’t exactly thrill my dad. “That’s nice of you.”

“What? You wouldn’t do the same for me?”

“No,” my mom replied. “Life is too precious. It’s all we have. I won’t give it up, not even for you.”

Though some may disagree with that sentiment, it has stuck with me, because truly, when you think about it, your life is all you own. It is not something to take lightly, and thanks to mom, I’ve tried my best to treat it well.

When I’ve needed her, she’s been there, to help, console, celebrate or just kick me in the ass. My life has been better because I was blessed with a great mom. Happy birthday, mom. I love you to bits.

Now, dear readers, go hug your moms.


Morgan Ashbury said...

Ian, you are indeed blessed to not only have had a wonderful mom, but to have had her for more than 40 years.

And I think, were you to ask her, she might say that she feels blessed to have you, too.

My mom is with the Lord and has been since I was 21. So go give yours a hug from me.


Endo...Out November '08 said...

Thanks Morgan and I'm sorry for not realizing that some mothers may not be here. I hope you'll take it in the spirit it was meant - to honour our moms.

Again, thanks for the lovely comment.


Raina James said...

Your mom sounds like a wonderful, witty lady with a lot of wisdom to share. Fortunately, you know it. Happy birthday to your mom, Ian.


AnAgain said...

Nice, Ian! Wish your mom a happy belated for me!