Paul McCartney and My Mother

A few days ago, I watched the Paul McCartney Carpool Karaoke, expecting the usual light, fiercely upbeat singing. Underneath the chummy late-night surface, though, I perceived a strong emotion, namely the depths of love that people, especially British people, feel for Paul McCartney. In scene after scene, whenever Sir Paul entered a house or a pub, people burst into radiant smiles and reached out to hug him as if he were their own brother. The looks they gave him, I can honestly say, I have only experienced from my own mother.

I was thinking of my mother and father when I watched Paul McCartney gamely skip around Liverpool, making light of history and shrugging off fame. Born in 1942, just a few weeks before my mother's own entrance into the world, he is 76 years old. Some at 76 can run marathons and play a full music set on stage. Others, like my mother, are coming to the end of their long race. As I watched Sir Paul's slender frame and pale skin, I saw a hint of frailty. Age has touched him, as it has touched my own mother.

In the karaoke video, near the end, Paul surprises the crowd at a local pub with an impromptu concert. As the camera pans across the audience, one by one, the pub goers light up with recognition, expressing profound delight. When people outside the pub perceived what is happening, they run inside, squealing with rapture. Watching this ecstatic reaction, I was left with the sense that they all recognized something fleeting and precious in their presence.   

Only weeks ago, I too experienced this look of enchantment and adoration, from my own dear mother. She had a major stroke on June 12. My sister and I sat with her in the hospital during the days that followed. In the deep confusion that follows damage in the brain's language center, my mother struggled to understand where she was, and even, on a base level, who she was. I sat in the corner of her room and watched various doctors ask her to say her first name and last name. She would try to answer, and fail. Then she would look around the room, helpless and unmoored and see my face. Like the fans of Paul McCartney, she lit up with joy, understanding that I was someone in her family. 

"It's Sherrod," I said loudly, pointing at myself.

"Ah," she said, pleased to be given the right word. Each time this happened, she exhaled loudly with relief, beaming at me as though I were a wonderous being. Her eyes said I was someone on the level of Jesus, or Ghandi, or even, Paul McCartney. Stripped of language, she still managed to express her profound maternal love.

When I said goodnight to my mother on the last night I was in Tennessee, I had the apprehension, for the first time, that I might never see her alive again. In the last week she had changed. Like a young child, she responded gratefully to help with eating, walking, brushing teeth and putting on pajamas. My sister led her to her room, read her a bedtime story and tucked her into bed. 

After I said goodbye to my mom, I got on a plane. Soon I was in another place, free from hospitals and memory care, watching carpool karaoke for diversion. In Paul McCartney, though, I saw my mother again. Like the wispy, aging legend, she reminds her fans of their sparkling youth, before words like adulthood and dementia ever crossed their minds. An artist can have no greater success than to provoke deep feeling in their audience. So thanks, Carpool Karaoke.