Years ago, I once saw a loudmouthed nonagenarian on a streetcar in Toronto who shamelessly (and very audibly) insulted every new female passenger under the age of 45 by calling her a “whore” (for no reason at all), and similarly greeted all the non-Caucasian commuters she saw with the N-word. I saw more than a few cranks and oddballs on Toronto Transit Commission vehicles during the number of years I lived in Hogtown (aspiring hip-hop artists are a dime a dozen on the subway), but that woman in particular sticks out in my memory more than most. Her overall appearance and demeanor were very reminiscent of the titular character from filmdom’s forgotten classic Throw Momma from the Train. Nobody threw her from the streetcar, though. Not even the driver, despite being well within his authority to eject her from the vehicle. In fact, most people just wrote her off as a loony old crone and ignored her. Canada is chill like that.
But I remember the way my heart sank that day, with the realization that a certain someone I knew would eventually turn into that loony old crone. My mother lived her life according to opinions (which she always had and always expressed) about how things should be, as opposed to what is. As if Nature was somehow obliged to give a damn about her opinions. There was only one right way to do things (her way, of course) and a countless number of other ways, all of which were wrong. Hence she was seldom happy and lived her life in a near-constant state of resentful disappointment.
Among her favourite things to whinge about was the manner in which contemporary Canada has deviated from the Canada of her youth. She once complained bitterly in a public place (within plain earshot of at least a few people) that there weren’t enough white faces on TV anymore. One of the most embarrassing moments of my life, bar none. But not at all the most shocking. She said shit like that in private all the time. That’s actually how she thought. Novel things unfamiliar to her fourteen-year-old self (such as an evening newscast featuring an ethnically diverse and gender-balanced team of anchors and correspondents) tended to greatly upset her.
Nonetheless, we can learn as much from the fools as we can from the sages, and my mother was a shining example of what not to do. Pretty much every waking nanosecond of her mortal existence was wasted either worrying about the future or pining for some la-la land of the past. She was never in the present. Ever. The whole concept of BE HERE NOW was completely alien to her, and it showed. She went to her (early) grave a frazzled wreck.
Not sure if that’s a bad thing or a not-as-bad-as-you-think-it-is thing, if I’m being honest. Given the timing of my mother’s passing, I can easily see how things could’ve been much worse. I just can’t picture her outlook becoming rosier at the onset of senile dementia. If anything, she’d become the extreme opposite of rosy. Am I supposed to feel bad about missing out on all that? And forgive me if this sounds crass, but I’m really struggling to find something to complain about this shiny new guilt-free and judgement-free life I’m living these days. It would be great if I could have a war-and-pestilence-free life to boot, but you can’t win ’em all.