[Below is the present I gave my mother for this Mother's Day. She gave me her permission to republish it.]
My mother made me who I am.
She knows that, of course. But in everyone's heart there lie things which we think and know about those we love—think and know and never utter. And all too often, those things are the qualities we think best. The things we hold closest and tightest, and therefore most secret.
We know that we should tell the ones we love. And we will—someday.
But we remain silent until someday is past, and we are left with a pale cold recounting to those who will never be able to experience the things we treasure.
It is not given to any of us to know whether or not we will be here tomorrow, or the next day, or the next—or whether our loved ones will be. And so on this Mother's Day I wish to tell my mother what I really and truly think of her. How I would describe her to someone who lived on the moon, or one of the planets which circle the star Gliese—someone who could never meet her.
I would tell the strangers that she is flawed, and human. That her failings aggravate and frustrate and occasionally anger me.
And that even in that she is exceptional. Exceptional, unique, singular—for the fact that she can have such flaws and failings and yet manifest virtues that eclipse them as surely and vividly as the sun would the moon. In terms of luminosity, in absolute magnitude, she shines so very brightly.
And that her virtues—those of selflessness and humor and compassion and fierce protectiveness—are acted out on a plane that removes them from the ordinary human sphere. Enacted in ways large and small during every minute of every day.
I would tell them that it is easy to be dazzled by large, florid gestures; by conspicuously manifested intellect; by words prettily and loudly spoken. That it is easy to overlook the stunning, overwhelming sum of luminance shed by a person whose every simple gesture, whose enormous intellect, whose softly spoken words, are directed almost totally towards the betterment of those overlooked or shunned or scorned or forgotten.
That such lights shine in dark and light; but their absolute magnitude is misjudged by those blinded by brief flamboyant things.
That she taught me that we are responsible for each other by being responsible for those around her to a depth and extent that still confound me. That when others, even others whose beliefs I share, speak disparagingly of goodwill, of the power of small individual actions to shift the levers of the earth, she is at the forefront of my empirical evidence to the contrary.
I would tell the strangers that she is astonishing not only for the incredible consistency of her compassion, but for the fact that she has maintained it through enormous personal cost. That her kindness and empathy and idealism have survived intact through pain and despair and the kind of vicious, staggering blows that fate seems to strike against only the most shining of talents and spirits.
That when I think of her, and of her life, I am awed.
And humbled. And moved almost beyond bearing.
And proud—so very proud—to be her daughter.
And so afraid that I will never—can never—live up to all she has given me and all that she is.
And convinced that it is worth everything in me—every good thing she saw and named and nurtured through the long, long years in which she raised me—to try.
Thank you, Mom.
Happy Mother's Day.