Lately, I’ve been missing my mom, who died in 2007.
If you ask most people what they miss about their moms, they might say “feeling close to her” or “her cooking” or “the way she braided my hair.” Well, my mother and I were never close in a typical mother/daughter way. She was not a great cook and I don’t think she ever braided anyone’s hair.
I miss my mother the physicist.
Only recently have I come to understand that my mother’s path and mine may not have been so different after all, that physics wrestles with the same questions as art and philosophy. Who are we? Why are we here? Are we alone? What is the nature of reality? What does it all mean? What exists beyond that which we can observe?
During my young adulthood, I thought art was the only approach to answering such questions. Draw about them. Paint about them. Write about them.
My youthful hubris put blinders on me. So I never got a chance to discuss with my mother how she chose to deal with these questions. By the time it occurred to me to wonder what she thought of string theory, multiple universes, and the controversies in physics, it was too late to ask her.
Reading Max Tegmark’s book, “Our Mathematical Universe,” gave me a glimpse into some of what must have drawn my mother to her chosen field. As I struggled through the book’s more mind-bending concepts, I wished I could pick up the phone and chat with her about it.
I find myself a little jealous of my mother’s former students at Simon’s Rock College, who probably did get to discuss some of these ideas—or their predecessors—with her during her long tenure as a professor of math and physics. Although I attended the college myself, I was much too busy being a callow college student and indulging my love of literature to take my mother’s physics class. Now I regret that decision, though I’m not sure my taking the class would have been a particularly pleasant experience for either of us at the time.
My mother the Buddhist?
Another topic I wish I could discuss now with my mother is religion. She was quite a-religious, even a-spiritual, and I spent a good bit of my adolescence working in opposition to her views. I realize with the benefit of hindsight that we may not have been as far apart as I thought on this topic either. Perhaps, given time, she may have come to appreciate and even embrace a spiritual practice like Buddhism—as long as it didn’t involve any dogmatism.
My mother may never have braided my hair, but she bequeathed to me a legacy of questions that have consumed me and fueled the passions I’ve pursued for most of my life. While I don’t believe that she waits for me in any conventional heaven, I feel privileged to take up a conversation with her through my own thinking and writing about things that obviously mattered to us both.
Thanks to Kay Huber for her recent post that inspired my thoughts on this.
What conversations do you carry on with people who are no longer with us?