My Mother’s Cacti

My mother’s Thanksgiving (left) and Christmas (right) Cacti

My mother had a mystical nature and was quite intuitive. To help you understand this story a bit of background needs inclusion to further insight into what unfolds. The Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti in the pictures above were my mother’s. She lived well beyond 103 years old and spent her last six-and-a-half years living with us. The cacti have been here for more than 10 years. They bloom either around Thanksgiving or at Christmas. They never bloom any other time. Never! Ever!

I know there are many varieties of these plants, and many bloom at other times throughout the year. Recently we visited a local art gallery where I saw a couple of large cacti in full bloom. My point with these two cacti is that they bloom only at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

My mother was deeply religious. Her faith was forged in tragedy and pain. Raped by a neighbor at 13, she held that secret inside for 90 years before blurting it out to me a few months before she left us. In that instant, I knew my mother for the first time. Her behaviors and attitudes my older brother and I had pondered throughout our lives were answered at that moment. Later she endured the extended illness and loss of her first son to polio. It became the defining event of her life. It was the anchor she used to affix her faith and her purpose. It was also the moor for her pain and grief.

My parents divorced just after my sixth birthday. We moved to live with grandparents where my mother, with no education, marketable skills, or good advice, had to figure out the best path for raising two sons and making a living in an environment hostile to women and particularly a young divorcee in 1951 in Indiana. As I noted earlier, she was intuitive and possessed a mystical quality. She employed both to set a course to achieve her goal of raising two boys to be the best men they could be. Mother approached her task with courage, determination, perseverance, and grit. She was determined to set a high bar for her sons to emulate. She was my first hero. I recall watching her in the bathroom staring into the medicine cabinet mirror, almost green with flu and flush with a fever. She looked into the mirror, set her jaw, and proclaimed for anyone near enough to hear with a determination that stuck with me, “I don’t have time for this.” She then turned, went out the door to work. It was an act of pure will.

I am sharing this bit of backstory so that what follows will resonate with you at a deeper level of understanding. It is not the bad news or the tragic things that determine the course of our lives it is our response to these things that matter.

At this moment, as you see, my mother’s two cacti are starting to bloom. The brain tumor that was between my right ear and temple was removed on February 22, 2021. The blooms above appeared on March 5, 2021, the day I learned the tumors in my lungs are small, haven’t spread anywhere else in my body, and are very treatable. The news was as good as I could have hoped to receive. The treatment program will evolve as we know all the chemical and genetic information about this cancer and I complete a series of 10 radiation treatments on the spot in my head where the lump was removed.

What happened on Valentine’s Day brought back memories about an incident in 1966 and a story about David Whyte, a renowned Anglo-Irish poet. I read his Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity, where he related a harrowing adventure while working as a guide in the Galapagos Islands. He and an assistant had guided a group of tourists to a blowhole where the ocean serf shot up through a hole in the rocks to create a spectacular show. At some point, he and the assistant, thinking the show was over got too close and were surprised and nearly swept into the hole and death by a rogue wave. They struggled for some time before they seemed to have been magically released from the ocean’s grasp.

Whyte returned to England and went to see his mother and was silenced when she interrupted his reporting this incident to her. In the course of the conversation, he described what had taken place, but she stopped him mid-sentence and shared she had seen the whole thing in a dream in which she had reached out and pulled him from the sea’s grasp to save his life. He was speechless.

On May 4, 1966, I was with two fraternity brothers riding in a car north of Muncie, Indiana, while we talked and shared a sixpack of beer. We three often did this as a way of marking the end of another school week. On this occasion, a drunk being chased by a local town marshal came out of a crossroad and made a wide arcing turn going off the opposite side of the highway before hitting our car head-on. The accident happened at exactly 2:30 a.m. I was in the backseat and suffered a laceration to my right temple and was briefly unconscious. John, the driver, was unconscious for a time and suffered some cracked or broken ribs. Phil, in the passenger front seat, suffered a broken leg, hip, and other injuries. An interesting irony, in the wake of the accident on May 4, 1966, it was also the date I started smoking cigarettes.

Phil was admitted to the hospital but by 6 a.m. John and I had been examined, treated, stitched, and released. I took a moment to call my mother to tell her what had happened and assure her I was all right. When she answered the phone, I told her I had been in an auto wreck but was okay, and she responded, “I know.” She told me she had awakened at 2:30 a.m. to see me standing in her bedroom dresser mirror. She knew I had been in an auto accident, but that I was fine. I was speechless.

I share this story with you because seeing the blooms on these cacti, I was transported back to that event and reminded of Whyte and others who have experienced similar moments. Learning that my tumors are small, contained, and have not spread, I felt a sense of relief. not only for myself but especially for my wife and sons.

The energy I experienced on the evening of Valentine’s Day I described as being hit by a jolt of electricity is to help you gain insight. The person I was disappeared in that instant. I was transformed into who I am becoming. I wrote earlier that I knew I was free and that saying the word could not begin to convey the depth of its meaning. But more importantly, the gift I received in that instant that gave me clarity, insight, intention, purpose, and awareness is not because of something I actually saw. To see would make me a mere observer. I did not see anything. I “knew truth.” That is the difference. Each day I have been in awe of my evolving consciousness and expanding awareness as the person I was fades away. I see the layers of that other me peel off, crumble, and disappear. We live in a wondrous universe. This is what I “know.” Love and serve.



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