Sometimes a word, like the melody of an old song, can trigger vivid memories. One innocent word has the power to recall images of a time past or of a forgotten friend.
I found such a word in Lindsay Moran's Blowing My Cover - My Life as a CIA Spy. One second I'm reading about this woman's experience at "The Farm" and all things covert, the next I'm tripping over the word assuage.
I first encountered this verb in an email message back in 1998. My mom, diagnosed with breast cancer, had scheduled a masectomy during a trip I had planned to Amsterdam and Paris. Although I rode the bus to Massachusetts immediately upon my return, I felt like a selfish brat.
I hadn't taken a proper vacation in a couple years and longed to go to Europe. My bestfriend and I had scrimped and saved for months to purchase that roundtrip flight. I would run from my crap 9-5 job to my crap part-time job - waitressing at an Italian restaurant.
The only light at the end of my tunnel was that trip.
And I did my research.... knew the odds of my mother dying during the routine operation were very slim. But the whole time I felt like God had presented me with a test. What kind of person was I?
Would I think of myself and run off to sightsee in Europe? Or would I run to Massachusetts to hold my mom's hand in her time of need?
I got wasted on the flight from DC to Schiphol in Amsterdam. I traipsed from the Netherlands to France in eight days, the entire time preoccupied with thoughts of my mother, or pangs of guilt the few times I forgot and found myself having a fantastic time.
I felt horrible - like a complete failure as a daughter, unwilling to be beside my mom during what was a terrifying time for her. Unable to perform that one task required of me as her flesh.
A couple weeks later, after writing a candid letter to my friend in the Peace Corps, he replied that he wish he could "assuage my guilt."
Assuage. I had no idea what it meant, but I fell in love with that word.
And reading Moran's memoire, I found myself reliving those feelings.
Do I regret traveling to Europe? In all honesty, it was a great trip. I learned a lot in that week. Do I regret not going home? The operation went well and I was with her the following week while she recuperated. My mom has been in remission for more than seven years and is fine.
Though sometimes I still feel like I failed some cosmic test.
And on that cheerful note - a Happy New Year to you all.