Ashes in a Baggie

mom

Death is a strange thing. Today would have been my mother’s 89th birthday. Instead, it’s her first birthday since her death last August. Almost a year ago. In about five weeks, I will have experienced all the “firsts” — the first holidays, the first Mother’s Day, the first birthday.

My sister, two brothers and I took some of her ashes to the gravesite tonight. It’s the first time I’ve been there. And that’s when I realized how strange death is.

This woman lived 88 years. She had four children, numerous grandchildren and even more great grandchildren. She lived through the death of both parents and two husbands. She married, divorced, gave birth, attended school plays, had sex, danced, drank more than she should have, said that giving up smoking was the hardest thing she had ever done, rode a motorcycle with a lover. Her favorite picture of her mother was at her and my father’s wedding and her favorite memory of her was in a smart red suit.

She told me, on the last night of her life, some of her feelings about her life. A lot of them had to do with her mother. Maybe we are defined by our mothers in ways we can’t explain, ways we sometimes hate. But it’s who we are, and who they are.

And tonight I held the container that held her ashes. All of her 88 years, all of her memories, all of her life, loves, hates, fears, joys, laughter and tears contained in a baggie surrounded by a nice leather container.

Yes, really. That’s all that life boils down to. Ashes in a baggie.

Please tell me, I want to cry out, that there is something beyond. Lord, I believe, help me in my unbelief.

At the grave, my brother dug a small hole (yes, illegal). Each of us there — my brothers, my sister, my sister-in-law, my brother-in-law, my husband, my son and me — took turns putting a handful of ashes into the ground. As I left, I felt the residue of ash on my hands, making my skin strangely soft.

I haven’t washed my hands, haven’t brushed them off. Like a teenage girl who won’t wash her cheek after a kiss from a celebrity, I want to keep my mom close. Don’t leave! I feel the ashes coating my palms, feel them sinking into my creases, perhaps becoming a part of me.

And even as the evening goes on, as I type these words, longing to memorialize her in some way that I can’t hope to accomplish, the ashes fade. And life goes on.

Motivation

Your Only Limit Is YouI admit it. I like reading motivational quotes. “Be so good they can’t ignore you” — Steve Martin. “To be a champ, you have to believe in yourself when nobody else will” — Sugar Ray Robinson. “If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.” Not only do I like reading them, I believe them. “Nothing worth having comes easy.” “The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.” “Your only limit is you.” Yeah, especially that one.

Before I talk about that limit, though, let me say what I am NOT talking about. I am NOT talking about my bike riding. Although, certainly, all these quotes apply to that as well. “Stay positive, work hard, and make it happen.” Yeah, that one. I can apply that to bike riding, to my big goals for this year.

But I’m talking about bike riding only peripherally. This post is about writing. What, you didn’t know I was a writer? Probably because I don’t talk about it nearly as much as I talk about my bike. I don’t post on Facebook about my daily word count, but I do post my daily miles.

The truth is, it’s not hard for me to get the motivation to ride my bike. I just do it. I don’t drag my butt out of bed and think, “I hate this, but I need to do it, so just get on the bike and then it will be over.” No. The alarm goes off, and in 10 to 15 glorious minutes, I am on the road, breathing in the fresh air, my eyes filling with the beauty of the morning sunlight filtering through the leaves and creating fantastic patterns on the road in front of me. And the thing I hate on those mornings? The knowledge that I can’t ride to my heart’s content, that my ride is limited by my need for a paycheck.

So why is writing not the same?

I want to say that it’s because writing is hard work. But so is riding a bike. Especially uphill. And yet, I insist on conquering those hills.

I want to say that it’s because I don’t enjoy it. And yet, I do. I enjoy the stories and characters I create. I enjoy playing with words and deciding which word or phrase fits best. I enjoy creating a sticky situation and then writing my way out. I enjoy the resolution.

So why is writing not the same?

Honestly? I don’t know.

A friend of mine said my two problems are distraction and frustration. Distraction leads to frustration, and the frustration with myself for not writing, not creating, not getting off my butt, leads to depression. I can get sucked down that black hole pretty quickly.

My distractions are sometimes trivial. “I’ll play a game first, then I’ll write.” Sometimes they’re more important. A friend who texts, “I need to talk.” But the point is, whether trivial or important, they don’t stop me from bike riding. I make time for bike riding. I plan it. I schedule when I can go. I look at the weather and pick the optimal time. It’s just not a question of whether I’ll go or not. (Yes, I do take rest days.)

The answer is the same for writing. Make time for it. Schedule it. Pick the optimal time. Make it where it’s not a question of whether I’ll write or not. Because I deserve that. The great thing is that bike riding creates a wonderful time to think about my writing, to plan the next section, to work through that sticky situation I put my main character in. (Oh, and depression? It can’t stand up against a good bike ride.)

So just do it. You always have time for the things you put first. Do something today that your future self will thank you for. Don’t stop until you’re proud.