In writer and director Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans, Michelle Williams plays Mitzi Fabelman. She tells her son Sammy, played by Gabriel LaBelle, who is a version of Steven Spielberg, “You do what your heart says you have to. Because you don’t owe anyone your life. Not even me.” Mitzi and her husband Burt, played by Paul Dano, are getting divorced from their loveless marriage.
In Spielberg’s narrative, emerging movie director Sammy discovers truth through his camera lens: Mom was in love, but not with his Dad. No, there was no illicit affair. Although Mitzi and Burt may have loved each other and raised a family together, they were not in love. They were good decent people, who should have never married.
Sitting in the dark movie theater, I got it. I teared up silently. Although my parents didn’t divorce, they were Mitzi and Burt up there on the screen. Mom and Dad were not in love, although they may have loved each other. My Mom didn’t do what her heart told her to do. She suffered for that.
A few years before Mom passed away, I visited her at her senior’s home. I was back in Honolulu for Christmas. I sat with Mom, who was wearing her favorite gray and red sweater, and we talked. Mom smiled. She said, “Jon, I got married.” I stared. WTF? Mom had severe dementia.
Mom told me that she went back to her hometown in Hilo, Hawaii and got married to her friend, who was a court judge. I don’t recall his name. Not that it mattered, because this didn’t happen. This was the wistful imaginings of a kind old woman, who was my mother.
I told Mom, “That didn’t happen…” I went on to explain that she was in a senior’s home, that she never went back to Hilo. Saying that was one of the greatest regrets of my life. That was Mom’s love story. I had no right to take that away from her. I was selfish. Period.
When I went back to my sister Carol’s home, I said, “Mom thinks she got married…” Carol said, “Oh no…” Mom had begun some new medication for her dementia. That may have sourced her delusions. Maybe. I said, “That was Mom’s true love.” Carol got that, too.
Mom told me about her first true love, the man she was in love with before she married Dad. In the bigger picture, Mom didn’t do what her heart said to do. She suffered for that. To this day, I love Mom with all my heart. She always lives inside me. When I fear inside, I hear her voice, “Jonny, slow down.” She calmed my soul when Dad scared the hell out of me as a little boy.
Mom got her life from raising Carol and me, yet she suffered abuse and anger from Dad. There was no excuse for that behavior. Yet as much I suffered from Dad’s cruelty and unkindness, he suffered far worse from his dad. I don’t forgive Dad for his unkindness. I forgave him for not knowing how to be a father or a husband. I forgave him for being imperfectly human. I forgave myself for not being strong enough to protect Mom. I forgave myself for being imperfectly human, too.
Still, had Mom done what her heart told her to do, I would not be here. Just saying. I would have never been born. At least, I think so. That’s the existential quandary.
Mom loved me unconditionally. I loved her unconditionally, too. If could go back in time in some wormhole, back to Hilo when Mom was a young woman, I would tell her, “You do what your heart says you have to.” And let the chips fall where they may.
I’m proud of my life. I am grateful I’ve been able to make a difference for those in my life in some way. Still, I would I have forsaken my life for my life that never was so that Mom could be happy in a heartbeat. The world would have gone on just fine without me. After all, the world isn’t all about me.
The amazing people in my life like the late Mizukami Sensei, Ishibashi Sensei, John Inamine, John King, Cheryl Hunter, and Lance Miller would have continued contributing and making a difference in the world. In the bigger picture, I wouldn’t be missed. Although, I would have missed sharing my life with them.
I told my therapist Lance of my existential choice. He said that if Mom had done what her heart said, I might still be here. I would just be a different me. I would still be Mom’s son. I would still be her boy.
In the late Stephen Hawking’s theory of the multiverse, not the Marvel superhero movies’ interpretation, there are an infinite number of parallel universes in the multiverse. In each of those universes, there’s a version of me, a version of Mom.
Perhaps, in one of those multiverses, Mom is married to the love of her life and I’m still her son. That makes me happy. I’m still happy with who I am, the man I’ve become in this multiverse, as well. I am grateful for my life that is. I appreciate my life that never was. Just saying.
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