I hope you have had a good week. Now that I’m making another attempt to write you once again, I must get my thoughts organized as best I can, and overcome writer’s block like every other author. When Tolstoy got stuck, he drew tiny pictures of faces upon his manuscripts. Whenever my mind goes blank, I just listen to ambient music and stare at the screen. I never know when my ideas will ultimately find connection, and this is reflected in my writings. As a reader, you will probably never know what you are walking into. Just like the tourists and worshippers in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday didn’t know what they were walking into — eight synchronized blasts carried out by suicide bombers, ripping through four churches simultaneously, being packed with believers — leaving behind mayhem and anarchy — pews torn asunder, roofs blown open, and a blood spattered statue of Jesus Christ overseeing the dreadful carnage. Some of the explosions were at popular hotel restaurants — killing the innocents — as they were at their morning meal. And a video surfaced, showing the bombers with grey turbans hiding their faces, joining hands to pledge allegiance — making a promise, in the name of religion, to sacrifice their own lives to the cause of mass murder — thinking that this vile atrocity would send them straight to heaven. Over two hundred people died that day, the death toll being recalibrated as a result of mismatched body parts. Islamist extremists were to blame for this, and it came out that the perpetrators were affluent and well-educated, most of them members of the same wealthy family. This incident — highly organized, showing a high degree of sophistication and expertise — was an attack on the West in general, and the country of Sri Lanka, an island nation right off the coast of India, a peace-loving society after the close of an excruciating civil war, after allowing its security apparatus to grow lax, with the terrorists taking advantage, now has armed guards with machine guns standing in front of its mosques, temples, and churches.
When I called my mother the next morning, we began talking about this act of barbarism. “Christians are being persecuted all around the world!” she exclaimed, “Even in this country! They have taken prayer out of schools, Christians are being forced to cater to homosexuals, and they are even trying to boycott businesses based in Israel.” After she started saying these things, I began to grow frustrated. My mother is considered an evangelical, and she listens to opulent, fat, politically connected, and bigoted preachers, who constantly tell these things to their followers. As ever-present and overbearing as the churches are here in Robersonville, I knew for a fact that what she was saying was just not true. When she declared that there was a holy war between Christians and Muslims, that Islam started this war, in order to conquer the world and “kill the infidels,” my patience with her began to falter. “Where did you hear this from?” I demanded, “Or did you come up with this on your own?” She said saw it on Fox News. I reminded her that it wasn’t just Muslims who were attacking places of worship, citing the New Zealand mosque attacks, which happened only a month ago, and the attack on the synagogue in Pittsburg — both were perpetrated by white supremacists.
“How about that Muslim woman in Congress?” mom asked me. I replied that I had heard some of the things Fox News was saying about Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar, that she was un-American because she wore a hijab. I told my mother that if you have American citizenship, that makes you an American, regardless of your religion; that criticizing Zionism does not make you anti-Semitic; and that Ms. Omar merely misspoke when she referred to the 9/11 terrorist attacks as “Some people did something.” My mom was shocked. “Are you defending her?” I replied that not only did we need pluralism in society, we need diversity in our government. “Our culture is about to be destroyed,” she said emphatically. I replied that our culture was going to change no matter what anyone tried to do — no matter how many walls we built — because the elderly people were going to die out, and the kids were going to take over.
I was already a bit roiled when we steered the conversation to other things. Mom said that my sister and her family had left for a week, and she was at home alone. She was having problems with her lawn mower, and had to get her neighbors to help her. Now that she had finished cutting the grass, would I like to come over, spend the night, and come back tomorrow? I agreed to it. I was worried about mom staying in that big house all by herself with no one to assist her. She had lived alone for a year after my stepfather died, and feeling depressed and lonely, she didn’t do very well until my sister left her husband and moved in with her, along with my sister’s boyfriend and her son.
After we hung up the phone, I began packing my clothes in my suitcase, along with my chargers for my iPhone and my ear-buds, and a set of books containing the ancient Greek tragedies. When mom picked me up and we arrived at her house, my nephew’s cat ran away from me and started hiding under the furniture in the den. After awhile, my mom cooked a steak with baked potato for supper. We spend most of our time together reading our books.
The next morning, I had to leave the kitchen because mom was drinking coffee in front of me, so I procured one of her lounge chairs out of the shed, and sat in the back yard, lounging in the sun, with book in hand. It was quiet and peaceful, with the birds singing and the breeze blowing, as I read poetic tales of murder and revenge, of peace and war, of birth and death. When I found a good stopping place, coming back inside the house to get out of the sun, I found my mom sitting at the kitchen table in front of her paperback with tears in her eyes. “This is such a sad story, ” she said, laughing at her own folly. I didn’t realize she got so emotionally involved in her stories. In a similar manner, I get emotionally involved when I watch the news and hear politicians make speeches.
When we were packing up to return to Robersonville, my mom wanted to go to a fancy seafood restaurant in Greenville, then return her books at the public library. I told her that I would pay for my own meal this time, and I wanted to treat myself to a lobster, (I had never eaten one before), and when we arrived at the restaurant, I saw an aquarium in the lobby, with these creatures inside, very much alive, their pincers restrained with rubber bands. I was destined to eat one of these — I heard that they squealed in agony when the cook dropped them into the boiling water — and I tried not to dwell on the idea that these creatures were feeling pain.
As my mom and I were having some good conversation, sitting at our booth, listening to soothing jazz, talking about family and friends, the waitress brought out our meal, and I saw the lobster that I ordered to be killed, along with a pair of shell crackers and a tiny fork to dig out the meat. I found out that eating lobster is hard work; it was tough getting inside the hard shell. On one occasion, I tried to tear open one of the lobster’s joints, and a large piece abruptly split off and sailed half way across the lobby. I was thankful there were not many people in the restaurant and nobody saw this, as Mom and I began laughing uproariously at this sudden crustacean turmoil. After much digging and excavating, I learned that lobster wasn’t really exceptional or outstanding; I was left with a plate stacked full of empty shells and I was still hungry.
When we left the restaurant, going straight to the Sheppard Memorial Library, my mom having a large satchel of library books, I carried these inside for her. I placed them upon the check-out desk, so mom could get credit for returning them, then I went outside on the front porch to call Laura, to respond to a voicemail she sent me. When Laura answered the phone, she said, “I thought we had plans for today! What’s taking you so long? I thought you’d be home by now.” I made no direct response to these demands. We spoke briefly about what we had been doing that day, then I ended the conversation. I went back inside and found my mom going through the fiction aisles, loading up her satchel once again. She could hardly carry it when she filled it up, so I hauled it for her once again to the check-out, and one of the librarians said they were due in three weeks. I was surprised at how many books my mom reads at a time. “Sometimes,” she said, “I read a whole book in one day.”
I lugged the satchel of books back to the car, placing them in the floor in front of the back seat on the driver side. “I should take you to the library with me every time I go,” mom declared, “Those books sure are heavy.”
Next, we proceeded to travel to Robersonville Manor. When we arrived there, we saw a construction crew that had just finished putting new roofs on all the apartment buildings, cleaning up and getting ready to leave. They had worked so rapidly, finishing the job in less than twenty-four hours. The neighborhood looked much better. When I retrieved my suitcase, along with the bag of canned peaches and preserves my mom gave me, I sat them down and gave her a big hug. I asked her to call me when she returned home, so I would know she got there safely. My phone rang an hour later.
“I made it home,” mom said, “I enjoyed our time together. I love you.”