Mom’s 78th birthday today. I am crying.

I would be crying if I was with her. But I won’t be with her.

Her home — that skilled nursing facility — is on lockdown. 

I hope this virus goes away so I can go hug mom. That stroke.

I haven’t seen her in a month. I usually sit with her twice a week. But I had a two-week work trip. Then I was stranded in DC thinking I had the damned Coronavirus. I’m still not sure whether I didn’t. I finally came home on Tuesday. 

Mom’s bed is right next to a large French window with shutters. I could show-up and get one of the nurses to put her in her wheelchair. We could sit a few feet apart, separated by glass. I’m afraid it would confuse her more. (I decided after I wrote this to drive and look into her window but not let her see me. At least I’d get to see her on her birthday and feel closer to her.)

Every single time — every single time — I visit her she reaches out and touches and caresses my face and laughs and cries, kind of at the same time. It’s a joyous kind of cry with a hint of sadness if that makes sense. I’m told she responds to me unlike anyone else. I’m not boasting or anything. I’m really not. I just think it’s the only son of an Italian immigrant mother kind of thing. 

I didn’t know this for most of my life, but I really was the apple of her eye. This photo was from two years ago. You see what I mean?

I remember those throbbing growing pains around my knees when I was 11 or 12. I’d be moaning late at night because it hurt so badly. She’d come into my room and rub Ben Gay on my legs and bring a hot water bottle and then the pain would subside and I would fall back asleep.

One of the hard parts of being a parent is when your child needs you in the middle of the night and you have to get out of bed – even though you’re super tired. 

Every single sports game I played — she’d be there. It wasn’t Dad’s thing to come to my games much. He did come to one flag football game when I was in 6th grade. Then one tackle football game when I was a sophomore and we played against the high school he went to (and dropped out of). He had other strengths.

How she’d care for the destitute. It came naturally to her. She didn’t flout it. It wasn’t some “cause.” She didn’t go to any swanky galas or anything like that. Her unconditional love — not only for me but for countless orphans and poor people — propelled me to my new role as an advocate for children of neglect, abuse, and abandonment.

Without her genuine compassion for those in need — like her mother, my Nonna, who also truly felt the pain of others — I’d be in the business of moneymaking today. 

My heart hurts today. 

But hurt isn’t damage. 

We all need to know this in this time of Coronavirus. 

Inconvenience. Pain. Damage. They are not the same. 

Inconvenience. Too many are whining because they have to stay home and watch Netflix. But nobody here is starving. No bombs are traumatizing our children in the way Nazi bombs traumatized Mom and her family in Umbria in the early 1940s. Trauma as a child, damages the human brain, forever. 

This Coronavirus is entirely inconvenient. But for the overwhelming 99.9% of our population, it’s a mere inconvenience. Yes, people are scared. And fear has the capacity to bring pain. That’s legit, but it’s still nothing like living in London during WWII. 

Pain. Today this virus causes me pain. Emotional pain. Sadness. I can’t hug and caress and listen to Pavarotti and eat Trader Joe’s fig bars with mom — the one who brought me into this world and loved me, without condition — and it causes me pain. 

We don’t like inconvenience. We don’t like pain.

And I’m fairly sure that we are all pretty spoiled here in the richest country in the history of the world — that we can’t even cope with either of them very well. 

Some believe pain makes us stronger, which is why we push our bodies and push our minds and meditate and go to 12 step groups. 

The Marines say that pain is weakness leaving your body. I’m not sure I disagree. All the good biographies are about people who experienced great pain and adversity and overcame odds, not about those wimpy kinds of folks. 

Damage. I work with children who are victims — young children — of patent neglect, abuse, abandonment. Children who are locked in closets and thrown against the wall and whipped with bicycle chains. That causes damage. Trauma causes damage. 

Damage sticks with you, forever in most cases. It etches literal lines into the carbon of your brain. Damage is due to a physical state of affairs. Literally you have to think of a car after a collision. Damaged.

Aristotle said that the youth are steered by the rudders of pain and pleasure. We crave pleasure; pain, we resist. We can’t help it.

But we can acknowledge the fact that social isolation (when you are well fed and warm and with your loved ones in the comfort of your home) is not going to kill anyone. It’s not even going to hurt anyone. 

Mom understood pain. Those who grow up poor understand pain. Those who immigrate from war-torn countries understand pain. The over five million Syrian refugees freezing in the desert would trade places with you and me in a second, even with our Coronavirus situation. They wouldn’t give a rip about the stock market. 

Life expectancy in Afghanistan is just over 50 years of age today. 

Approximately 15,000 Americans die each year from gun violence. That doesn’t include suicides, just homicides. 

Pol Pot oversaw the deaths of an estimated one to two million people from starvation, overwork or execution. 

Just over 100 people in the U.S. have died from COVID_19.

I hope this virus goes away so I can go hug mom. 

And I hope that all those stupid college students partying in Florida realize that they could kill people like my mom.