Just over a year ago, my 82-year-old mother was rushed to a hospital where they discovered that she had metastatic cancer. I flew from Moscow to Los Angeles and stayed with her until the end of her life, driving around the San Fernando Valley in my rental car, a midnight blue Hyundai Elantra.
It is ironic that as an L.A. native, I am an uneasy driver. My parents were afraid of my growing up and never allowed me to get my license. I finally took a class in my late 30s in New York City during a particularly humid summer when I had my own encounter with cancer.
While stuck in traffic, I remembered an exhibit of Hakuin’s Zen paintings I had seen in New York a year before. One of the scrolls stayed with me: The Blind Man and the Goblin. The blind man has no fear because he can’t see the goblin’s face. The blind man and the goblin became guiding images as I drove.
My mother was craving candy from her childhood. “Your Uncle Shea loved jelly beans; I could go for some right now. I love the black ones best.”
“I’ll drive to the store right now, Mom.”
“Forget the jelly beans. I can wait.”
“Wait for what, Mom?”
“For someone else to go.”
“Mom, I am almost fifty years old. I can drive a car.”
“Yes, but not very well.”
I nearly started arguing, but caught myself. Let her be afraid of my driving. This way she can forget momentarily how afraid she is of death. I bought the jelly beans, and we ate them while watching Wheel of Fortune. “I love Vanna White,” my mother said; “don’t you?”
One afternoon my mother had a doctor’s appointment and I was planning on driving her. “I can cancel it,” she said, “or maybe one of your friends can take us.”
“Mom, I can drive us.”
Her caregiver and I helped her into the blue Elantra, but she didn’t look calm and sat in the back with the caregiver. I sat in the driver’s seat with everybody’s purses beside me.
“Resa, watch out. Stay in the slow lane, the one on the right.”
We made it to the doctor, and then out for lunch.
On the way home, something shifted. My mother sat in the front seat. As we drove down Victory Boulevard, she listened to the radio. “Resa, they don’t make music like they used to. Sinatra, now that was music you could sing to. Did I ever tell you I once met Sinatra?” She began to tell me her story of meeting Sinatra as I drove without fear, knowing I would get my mother home safely.