Coming Out Later in Life - Letting Go of Fear - Mom, Me, and the Library

My partner, Tonda McKay, is a professional photographer and I went with her to a shoot as her assistant.  I had the opportunity to roam around the new Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library in Charlotte, North Carolina.   This is a truly visually pleasing gem of a building.  As I explored the library stacks an unexpected wonderful thing happened, happy childhood memories came flooding back into my consciousness.  This doesn’t happen much to me and it took me by surprise. 

Yale Divinity School Library was the last library I was in as a student at the school.  I returned to school in my forties for a Master of Divinity.  This library was tucked inconspicuously into the school, Harry Potteresque in its design.  It was my place to go to as a commuter student as I attempted to get as much work done as possible before returning an hour home to my family that included a husband and four children ages 4-16.   The latter was a much more chaotic space then the former studious location.   This library was my safe harbor during a very busy time.     

When my children were young I would often take them to the story time or to check out a video at our local libraries, Brookfield and Gunn Memorial.  My eldest worked at the Gunn throughout high school.   Fond of all these, none of them stirred my memories like my wanderings around the Charlotte-Mecklenburg.  I really had no purpose there except to hold a camera bag and move things.  It gave me an opportunity to think about my Mom. 

My mom and I had a difficult conflicted relationship.   I have always marveled at people who love their mom and speak about her in glowing, soft, tender terms.  In my work in hospice I have heard many children talk this way.  I truly wonder about how must this feel?  To love your mom so deeply.   I have also heard many children speak about challenging emotions they had for their mom or dad or both.  These are my people, children of the distracted floundering parents, who might have done the best they could, it was just that we needed something different or more then they could give.  I have learned this as both as a daughter and as a parent.  My mom passed away almost a decade ago and my feelings have softened into understanding and compassion.  I fully recognize that this is because she cannot hurt me anymore with her words and I no longer look for anything from her emotionally that I now realize she just did not have the capacity to give.  She truly did the best she could. 

In the sacred space of this library my emotions suddenly became heightened with very sweet memories of my mom.  I am not used to sharp focused pleasant memories; the lens is usually colored by so many other thoughts.   She was one smart cookie and probably would have flourished in an academic life, not raising five children.  I was her youngest by nine years and during most of my childhood and into my young adulthood she worked as a secretary for the music and art department of Western Connecticut State University.  A place where her mother worked before her and four of her five children graduated.   This job provided her with much needed self-esteem and financial independence.   She ran those departments like a tight ship because musicians and artists aren’t actually the best administrators.   They loved that she did the part of their job that they loathed.  She was a working mom with a small corner office in an end building on the campus.   I spent many days after schools and throughout my summers helping and hanging out with her there.  Need an envelope stuffed or a multipage document collated and stapled?  I'm your girl!

My mom loved to read books and I have never met anyone who read as much as she did.  She digested several books a week well into her eighties.  She instilled in me the love of learning, curiosity and the library.  As a child I went every week.  It was something we did together, often putting requests in for new popular books so that we could be the first to have them.  When I search my memory, I can remember every nook and cranny of my local library of Danbury, Connecticut circa 1975. This was where my mom was the happiest amid learning, knowledge, discovery and possibilities.  She so often was not very happy and distracted because of my Dad’s struggles with alcohol.  I can only imagine how hard this was for her and perhaps she used books as her escape.  I know I did during my childhood because it shut out the storm that was going on around me.  I have such fond memories of our library visits because this was where she was most relaxed and happy.  

I felt so peaceful and happy that day in the North Carolina library.  Ever self-exploring, I questioned why?  I feel that it is important to notice the unexpected positive or negative feelings that we have sometimes in the pit of our stomach or in our hearts.  An unforeseen moment came the when I realized it was my Mom.   It truly took me by surprise because I felt deep love, appreciation, and fondness.   She made me smarter, she gave me a love of reading and learning, she taught me how to use the Dewey Decimal System and she nurtured me in a way that I never gave her credit until now.  It has colored my life experiences in so many different ways and I have passed this intellectual legacy on to my children.  This was what she had the capacity to give me and I am so grateful that she did.