Sometimes, you past life comes back to haunt you.
My middle brother was born with a birth defect. My mother was 22, functionally single (my father was in Iran) and a stranger in this country. Overnight, she went from frustrated young mother, to a ferocious nurse. She learned the language of medicine before she learned English. She fought for my brother's life daily and had little room for tenderness or sentiment left in her.
As a result of his illness my brother was prone to pneumonia. Since prevention was almost impossible, treatment became my mother's area of expertise. After one harrowing episode, she came home with my bundled up brother tucked under one arm and a suction machine under the other. From that day forward, there was a ritual every morning and evening. She would lay my brother on his stomach, cup her hands and pat on his back. Firm, loud pats making sure nothing stayed lodged in his lungs. For half an hour at a time, she would cover the surface of his back with her pat-pat-pats, turn him over and suction out whatever she could. At first, I hated the sound of her hands beating on his bony back and the racket of the suction machine. Gradually, the sound became relaxing--the most enduring ritual of our family. She could cover his back with strong pats in her sleep, and occasionally did. I would doze off to what had become our lullaby, knowing my mother's hands were beating illness away.
Tonight, M's cough got pretty bad. After dinner, I tried everything I could think of to make his coughing stop. Suddenly, I remembered the pat-pat-pat of my mother's healing hands. It worked.