Is judgment the opposite of love?

This past Sunday, I was sitting on the tarmac in Palm Springs, furious and wishing like hell I had missed my flight. 

We were severely delayed because of “weather” in Phoenix. So much so that I was definitely going to miss my connection. The only connection there would be for 24 hours into Memphis. I didn’t want to spend the night in Phoenix. I didn’t want to take a red-eye through Detroit and add another 11 hours on to my already long travel time. 

I didn’t want to be going to Memphis, my second trip in the last month as my mother fights for her life. I didn’t want to pay another $1300 I didn’t have on this flight I didn’t want to take. A flight that was now setting me up for 24-ish hours of travel hell. 

 I was just furious. 

I wanted them to let me off the plane– which was just sitting there anyway– so that I could go back home, jump in my pool, sleep in my bed with my cats and my boyfriend and try again Monday. When the “weather” would just be weather. As is, best-case scenario, I would land in Memphis on Monday anyway. 

It is always like some medieval quest getting in and out of Memphis. Compound that with what’s happening in our country and my distaste for traveling through states that don’t believe my children or I should have rights, while going to visit some family members who feel the same way-- you can imagine my state of mind.

Paul was trying to help me rebook flights, and I was just being a total jerk. I was absolutely taking my anger out on him, which was totally unfair. 

I got off the phone in Phoenix, and breathed deep. I had to go back through security, because, you know, nothing would be easy today. I found the only place still open for dinner in the airport and got in line and then I did something that doesn’t always come naturally. 

I called Paul back and said, “I’m really sorry. I am being a gigantic a**hole, and I know I am. I can hear it coming out of my mouth but I can’t stop it. I am so sorry you are only trying to help and don’t deserve this. I’m just so ANGRY.” 

He was just loving me through it. 

Fast forward, I finally got here. I haven’t slept. 

 And again, I am sitting by my mother’s bedside listening to every “.... and another thing!” it occurs to her to express in what she believes might be her final days on earth. 

 It’s a lot of grievances. It’s a lot of judgment. It’s a lot of re-litigating the past. It’s an internal monologue that I don’t know if any of us should be hearing. Her past relationships, friendships, issues with her parents. Debates about whether or not she’ll see me in Heaven. All the reasons she’s proud of me in one breath, and I’m damned to hell in another one. 

It’s hard to listen to in two ways. It’s physically hard to make out what she’s saying. And it can also feel like the distillation of why I cut my parents out of my life last year. The final phase of having to live with this religious poison that has caused us all so much heartbreak and trauma; “us” meaning our family and “us” meaning America.  

I have to sit and listen. Because I can’t argue these things with someone in this state. (or this State…)

At one point the nurse asked if we needed anything else and I said no, and my mom said, “Why did you speak for me? You can’t answer for me!”

(Well, if that’s not something I would say. . .Anyone who knows me knows it’s an instant trigger if someone tries to speak for me or tell me what to do or what I need.)

“Oh, I’m so sorry, is there something you needed?” I said.

“That’s not the point. You can’t just answer for me. You don’t speak for me. Why are you taking my freedom away? Why are you pushing me so hard?” 

I said this as kindly as I could because I KNEW I would say something like this in her place: “Mommy, I left my kids, my job, my home, my pets, my boyfriend – I left everything to fly across the country and come be here with you because you are my mother and I love you. We are all trying to get you well, so you can have freedom again. And I’m not pushing you to do anything. I just want you to rest.” 

“Why did you come?”

“Because I love you.”

“WHY?”

“Because you are my mother.”

“No, why specifically? Why specifically other than being your mother? WHAT do you love about me?” 

At times it can feel like a cross-examination that going on two days of no sleep and a handful of time zones, I don’t have the strength for. I’ll be here in this room alone with her until noon tomorrow so my Dad can sleep. 

I know that fact. But how? I have 14 hours to go. When it goes on and on, it is hard to be charitable. It’s hard to continue to smile when someone tells you that you are a tool of Satan. 

But then I thought about that moment trying to get here, when I could hearhow mean I was being to Paul, who I love more than almost anyone or anything, and couldn’t help it, because I was so angry at my circumstance, felt so out of control, had such little agency and just wanted it to END. And how kind he kept being nice to me, as I was being such a jerk to him. 

 My mom is feeling that sense of helplessness and anger times about one million now. 

She’s going in and out of consciousness agonizing about everything that’s ever happened to her. Sometimes it’s playing out in front of her again. 

You know those things you ruminate on that get stuck in your head in a loop? The friendship that fell apart. That unresolved issue with your parents. The time you didn’t stand up for someone enough. Whatever it was. Imagine parsing through 84 years of all of the greatest hits of regret in succession, in vivid seeming reality in a loop in the hospital for weeks on end. 

It’s a lesson to me now to work harder to let go. How can I let go of the things I carry now so that I’m not reliving them in another forty years, while my kids sit there listening and loving me and flinching?

I’ve told Paul I don’t want my kids to see me like this. He says they won’t because it wouldn’t be me anymore and he wouldn’t let them. But this is her. It’s like the raw feed of her internal lifelong struggles.

Why is it so hard to be human? Why can’t we all just give ourselves and each other a break? 

My mom asked me in the middle of one of these spells if it had been right for her to stay friends with someone from college. I didn’t totally understand the context, but I said yes. 

“Why?” she said.

“Because it’s always the right answer to love someone, instead of judging them for their choices.” 

Clearly, it was a self-interested answer on my part, given our differences. And an overly facile one. 

But that is probably the crux of my mom and my difficulty: The core thing that sets us apart. There are so many beautiful (and vexing) ways we are alike. And a lot of interesting ways we are different. But our biggest difference is our very opposing views on where love ends and judgment begins, and how the two relate to one another. 

Is judgment an expression of love or the opposite?