Mother by Grace Paley, 1985
The magic trick:
Using only a few quick memories to make a point about appreciating the present
Happy New Year! It’s the year we’ve all been waiting for, 2020, when we will all see all things with perfect vision. Every decision will be made with total clarity. No mistakes and no regrets!
Today’s feature story is a sad one, but it’s appropriate because its message is very clearly to take full advantage of the precious present. Paley presents a few quick memories of her mother, including a poignant one from New Year’s Day. The most affecting is a scene in which the husband is too tired to sit down and enjoy an evening conversation with his wife. Twice, the anecdotes are punctuated with “Then she died.” If that isn’t a stirring call to maximize your time while you have it, well, I don’t know what is. And that’s quite a trick on Paley’s part.
She stood one day, just so, at the front door, the darkness of the hallway behind her. It was New Year’s Day. She said sadly, If you come home at 4 a.m. when you’re seventeen, what time will you come home when you’re twenty? She asked this question without humor or meanness. She had begun her worried preparations for death. She would not be present, she thought, when I was twenty. So she wondered.
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