I thought about physics this evening, while I rocked my daughter to sleep in her nursery. The air conditioner hummed and her fist tightened in my shirt as I sang into her hair. I don’t have an amazing voice, but I can sing in key, and as softly or loudy as the situation dictates. The best part of being a mom is that I, for better or worse, set the standard. There are some things that my daughter will remember, even if the remembering goes so deep it becomes an unconscious recollection, the way the leaves remember the breeze; a bed of dirt remembers a warm paw. Down deep, like blood, like atoms. She may remember my singing.
I remember my mother’s singing.
“Physicists and philosophers have come to the conclusion that the idea of a present that is common to the whole universe is an illusion and that the universal flow of time is a generalization that doesn’t work. When his great Italian friend Michele Besso died, Einstein wrote a moving letter to Michele’s sister: ‘Michele has left this strange world a little before me. This means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction made between past, present and future is nothing more than a persistent, stubborn illusion.’”
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Carlo Rovelli
I cannot conjure the smell of her skin, but I can remember the comfort, the peace, the warmth that suffused me whenever I caught its scent. Like safety, like home. Her face: yes, it has aged through the years, but only if I squint, if I am really seeking the evidence of years gone by. To me, my mother’s face is just her face: what it has always been, what it still is. She used to hum, and then sing, and her voice enveloped me like cool water, made me want to sleep only deep enough where I could lie still beside her, eyes unseeing, but never deep enough to stop hearing her sing, feeling her touch. I cannot recall my primal yearning to curl into her presence like a flower unfurls toward the sun, but I remember it. I never feel closer to those memories than when I’m holding my daughter.
When I was just a little girl
I asked my mother
What will I be?
Will I be pretty?
Will I be rich?
Here’s what she said to me:
Minutes, hours, days, months, years: it’s exhausting to feel as though I’m slogging forward endlessly, the drag of gravity trying to hold me back. Creating treadmarks in my veins, the soft skin beneath my eyes, the creaking pulleys and levers of my connective tissue. A relentless pressure blowing dust into my hair and digging lines into the edges of my laughter. Forward. A straight line, stretching, pulling, tightening. How much more comforting to imagine a sphere, instead, a rounded surface, the curved blueprint to a cosmic waltz. Gentle steps, around and around, soothing, steady. Backward is forward. I hold her tightly in my arms, encircling her back, feet circling on her cool wooden floor. Air conditioner humming, my fists tightening on my mother’s shirt. She hums to me, and I’m humming back. Eve’s hair is so soft, her skin so warm. My touch is cool.
Que sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera, sera
Maybe, one day, she will sing the same song.