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The bravest thing I have ever heard my mother say was, "And if I did {lose my foot}, on me, it would be cute."

Pure showmanship, of course. I think I may have said something similar about my own colostomy bag. Or else I talked about the efficiency and comfort of staying in one's comfy chair whilst pooping freely. But the fact that my mother, who hates surgery, and needles, and stitches, and everything else associated with Medicine in all its overweening barbarity, could declare that she'd make a prosthetic foot look cute, well, she's mustered the kind of bravery anyone should envy.

Mom left a message on my machine Thursday night, telling me she was going to have to cancel our trip to Costa Rica. Her foot was infected, she told me, and her doctor wanted her to have the surgery sooner than later, and she was almost as depressed as she could be. Well somewhere in there I heard "they are going to cut my foot off," despite its never having been said, and I cried for most of the night and for part of the morning. I went to school anyway, crying as I navigated the GSP and Routes 78 and 24, and even losing control of myself quite thoroughly during eighth grade graduation practice.

Imagine trying to comfort yourself with images of pirates and whaling ship captains who lost limbs and came out the other side able to pursue personal missions with passion. Then imagine further that you've added Civil War veterans and Iraq War veterans to those images, and shows where amputees have woken up from surgery without limbs and still lived life. They were able to eat breakfast and read books and laugh with family members, and all of it without one or more limbs.

None of those people are my own mother. That's a big but. I could not imagine my own mother sitting in the hospital the night before an amputation surgery, contemplating the loss of her own foot. Well, no, not true; I could imagine it, but not without crying. I saw her, awake the whole night, staring into the dim light of the not-night of a hospital, crying as copiously as I was.

So when I called mom yesterday to make myself listen to the worst, I was prepared to cry a great deal more. But she said, "Well, I have to have a bunion-ectomy. I don't know how that's supposed to heal better when the sore I had before wasn't healing..."

"Mom, when I got your message, I assumed your whole foot was infected and you were going to lose the whole thing!"

"Oh no! No! My poor daughter! I will never leave you a message like that on your answering machine again!"

"Or else if you do, you might elucidate the situation a little more clearly," yes, my mom and I do use words like "elucidate" in ordinary conversation.

"But we can't go to Costa Rica. I'm sorry about that."

"Mom, I don't care about that. We'll all go at another time. A better time. If you come at the holidays, you can go to the beach. We couldn't go right now. I'm kind of just glad you're not going to lose your foot."

"And if I did, on me, it would be cute."

Then mom pointed out that my tears were not wasted. If she ever does lose her foot (which for a diabetic is not unheard of, but I don't want to let that happen) then I have half the mourning for it already done. I can just save the tears in a bottle and let them keep for when they are needed. I don't think I will need the tears then, however; I will just need the memory of mom saying, "on me, this is cute."

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