Courage at Twilight: Spicy Dumplings

I made Mom cry twice in one day. And I feel terrible.  For dinner I served Korean dumplings with fresh steamed asparagus and zucchini.  After serving Mom and Dad, while fetching my own plate, I heard Mom erupt into gagging coughs and turned to see her surprised and red-faced.  “These dumplings are HOT!”  Oh no, I thought, running for the bag, which revealed the dumplings to be Spicy Pork & Vegetable Dumplings, the word “Spicy” in conspicuous red letters which I had missed at the store for my focus on the photo of the yummy-looking dumplings.  Indeed, the dumplings were very spicy and burned my tongue and my lips unpleasantly for an hour.  After dinner I stood to clear the TV tables and clean the kitchen when Mom asked me to tell her one thing about my work day.  I sighed and rolled my eyes.  I literally rolled my eyes!  I wanted to move on with my day and rush to the next task to be checked off the to-do list.  And I am not good at shifting mental gears once moving in a mental direction.  And I spent six years utterly alone with no one to talk to after work about my work day.  And I spent three decades not talking about my work at home because my work was overwhelming to me and uninteresting to others and I wanted less to do with work, not more.  And I have never been much of a talker.  And I run all day from task to task to task and after dozens of tasks I struggle to remember what I even did that day.  And those are my excuses, anyway.  Weak ones.  And as I rolled my eyes Mom coughed strangely and I looked to see her moving to cover her reddened face and tearing eyes with her soft blue fleece, her cough in reality a choking cry.  My heart sank.  I had hurt my sweet octogenarian mother.  And I could not unhurt her.  “Let me think,” I said, looking at the ceiling and not at her, to avoid her feeling self-conscious, “if I can remember what happened today.”  I told her about finishing the book Just Mercy about a young Harvard lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative in the deep South and fought for the freedom of Black men who had been wrongfully arrested and maliciously prosecuted and who spent years in solitary confinement on death row before their executions, or, for the lucky ones, their exonerations.  I told her about working with my friend Paul the engineer to resolve difficult problems with real estate developers.  I told her about the high-pressure 14-inch natural gas pipeline embedded in the bank of a flood channel and how the bank is eroding and how the gas company and the property owner want the City to fix the problem at taxpayer expense.  And I told her about my commute home and the high winds that tried to blow me off I-80 and the clouds of dust and fog and snow and how heavy the traffic was.  And I feel terrible, but I cannot un-ring the bell, or reverse time, or breath back in my words, or undo any of the other things I wish I could undo after I have done them.  I am thinking tonight about how blessed I am that my mother loves me and is devoted to me and is interested in my day.  I am thinking tonight about Mom announcing to me, “You will be so proud of me: I rode the bike today!” and about how she needs me to be proud of her, and about how I am proud of her, and need to tell her.  I am thinking tonight about the responsibility I have to buttress her self-esteem, to affirm her, and to return love and devotion and interest.  I am thinking tonight about how tomorrow night she will not need to ask me to tell her one thing about my day because I will have two or three already lined up.

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