July is here. I just returned from an “Arts Weekend” at a beautiful retreat center in the Catskills, where a group of us sat remembering in specific sensory detail key moments and stories of our lives. The July warmth and humidity and smell of rain in the pine woods reminded of my childhood, and of my mother.
My mother died in July, as I sat in O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, trying to fly to Florida, hoping to see her one last time. “Mom just died,” said my sister, calling from the hospital. The television monitors around me announced that the actor who played “Scotty,” on “Star Trek,” had also just died, also 85. “Beam me up Scotty.”
I never pictured this particular juxtaposition of events, of course, sitting in an airport in Chicago, surrounded by an extended family, sitting on each others’ laps, pacing, shooting glances at me. I was sitting in the midst of them and would have happily given up my seat except there were no more seats and I needed to sit just then: “Beam me up Scotty.” Moments after my sister gave me the news I felt my mother’s presence around me. It wasn’t surprising she found her way here because she once lived in Chicago, and loved the place, and loved me. When we die, we aren’t bound by the same physical laws of time and place, I thought. As people in Disney t-shirts glared at me, I thought the kind of thoughts we all think when we hear such shocking news. “Beam me up Scotty.”
The television told me the actor James Doohan made his name in Hollywood beaming his colleagues back to the safety of the Star Ship Enterprise on “Star Trek.” His family was hoping to beam him up to the “final frontier” that Doohan’s character “Scotty” loved so dearly. He wanted his ashes blasted into outer space. My mother did not want her ashes blasted into space.
I sat on the runway all night, landing in Florida mid morning. My sister picked me up in Orlando. “I thought when I saw you, I would cry but I’m not,” she said. It can take awhile to really feel such things. “Scotty, beam me up.” A master of dialects, the Canadian-born actor Doohan experimented with seven different accents for the hard-pressed engineer. “I believed the Scot voice was the most commanding,” he said in an interview. Sitting in the airport hearing this just after hearing my mother died, I realized none of us is ever really in command. “Beam me up, Mom.”
On the morning of her funeral four days later, the Space Shuttle Discovery launched. It was the first mission following the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, and it felt important for that reason, carrying on after a great loss. Many people stepped outside during the funeral, just after my eulogy for my mother, to watch the shuttle ascend—it was so brilliant an event you could see it from many miles away. They told me the ascent was glorious, surrounded by clouds of pink and orange and scarlet, although you couldn’t feel the ground shaking the way you could when you were closer. But I thought I felt the ground shaking.