I’ve been thinking a lot about my mom lately. So many things about where I’m living now, Belgium, remind me of her. We were together in Germany for several years when I was a teenager, so my life and hers were inextricably wrapped up in European scenery, food, art, people. Those who followed this blog from its inception remember that I always wanted to bring her back here, to relive some of our memories and let her see some places she always wanted to see; I never got to do that, unfortunately.
Yesterday I went to Amsterdam to visit the Van Gogh Museum there. It is an interesting city, not one of my favorites by any means, but interesting nonetheless. It is both beautiful and ugly, in both literal and symbolic ways, with its gorgeous canals and dramatic architecture on the one hand, and its red light district and numerous druggies and street people on the other. Fascinating is a better term than interesting, I would have to say.
When you’re in Amsterdam, you can’t help but notice the many people on bicycles. Literally hundreds. They ride because the traffic is terrible and because it’s cheap, I suppose. They are of all ages, from youths to older people. They are evidently ridiculously fit. I saw one lady, probably at least 70, bent over and bundled up in a coat and scarf with sensible, old-lady shoes, riding her bike purposefully and carefully. I was amazed, thinking back to how young Mom was when she died, just 67, and how unfit she was, how feeble, at such a young age.
Later I saw another older woman, this one probably closer to 80 but even more fit looking than the one on the bicycle. She was very thin, with very short, spiky white hair. She was wearing skinny jeans and running shoes, and she was walking with great vigor. I thought, “Mom. How different might your life have been if you had lived here. Or maybe if you hadn’t let your world shrink so much.” From a vital, fun-loving woman who had traveled and lived abroad, my mom became a homebody whose world was confined at best to small regions of two southern US states and at worst, to two tiny counties in the smaller and lesser of those two states.
Both my mom and her mother became unfit at early ages. I suppose it was due to several factors. First, they smoked. That was probably a big part of the problem. Second, they both moved when they were in their early 60’s to places where there were kind of isolated, where they didn’t have a lot of reason to get out of the house much, didn’t have many friends. As a result, they stayed inside, didn’t have much of a social life, and didn’t get exercise. Finally, things happened with their health and personal lives that depressed them and sucked some of the life out of them, and health issues made it harder for them to leave their houses and the rest of their small worlds.
As happy as I am here in Belgium, I still think of Mom so often, and I have so many wishes that she might’ve done things differently, that she might’ve lived longer, better, and more healthily. Makes me think about my own choices, about keeping fit, about not overeating or drinking too much. But really, how much power do we have over that part of our destiny? The husband of one of my friends, a health-conscious, fit man, not yet old, died in his sleep a few years ago. The truth is, when it’s time to go, it’s time. Still, I wish Mom had been able to be like that woman with the spiky white hair, walking with strength in her step and a light in her eyes, in spite of her advanced age. We might’ve traveled to Europe again. I would’ve liked that. She would’ve, too.