I've heard that no one can retain memories from infancy, but I have a clear one:. I had to be a baby since I am looking through what must be the bars of a crib into a semi-dark room. Nothing in the room is clear except the doorway to the hall beyond, where there is nearly full light. A shape is standing in the doorway, a darkened form outlined in light. The figure says and does nothing. It merely stands there in the doorway.
That is the entirety of the memory.
The visuals may be sort of blurry, but the emotional component is completely vivid and so distinct that what I was remembering has always been self-evident: I was a baby and it was my mother standing in the doorway. I know this because remember what I was feeling: soothed, calm, secure.
Perhaps she came because I woke up, or perhaps I woke up because she came... it doesn't matter. Her mere presence a yard or two away reassured me.
I've gone years without thinking about the memory and then it suddenly bubbles up, seemingly without reason. But it is always with me, always somehow asking a question as well as answering one.
There is nothing like the special relationship between a mother and her child. Yet mothers are eternally mortifying -- wearing or saying the wrong thing in front of your 15-year-old friends, committing the heinous sin of not understanding your innermost thoughts when you've not articulated them, magically causing you to feel like you're 12 years old again even though you've been an adult for many years.
Yet whether a child too young to process a thought or an adult who spends far too much time in her head, no one can give us that indescribable feeling of security and love.
Mothers give so much, beginning with that most elemental of gifts: life. And that begins the long list of things mothers give us that we take for granted. Throughout our lives we become accustomed to their generosity: She does not sit down to eat because she's too busy keeping our plates filled and warming the next course. She never picks out the movie because she wants to let us have a treat. Her life is structured around ours, juggling her schedule so that we have a ride home from gymnastics. She goes to mall to shop for herself and comes home with a sweater and a skirt for us. It seems that everywhere she goes, we are intertwined. And, as a child, we take it utterly for granted.
I couldn't comprehend how my mother thought it morally justifiable to not go swimming with me every day. It didn't matter that she didn't like swimming. I did.
I remember simply not being able to comprehend how my mother thought it morally justifiable to not go swimming with me every day. It didn't matter that she didn't like swimming. I did. Adulthood begins, perhaps, when we stop taking for granted this utter devotion and realize it is one of life's most precious gifts.
The root of "ima," mother in Hebrew, shares the same root as the Hebrew word "emuna" - trust, faithfulness. It's the word used to describe one's connection to God. Our feelings toward our mothers, in some way, echo the reliability, faithfulness, and security we find in our relationship to God. They also probably echo the reliance as well, whether or not we like to acknowledge it. It is that rock solid faith and sense of well-being: A mother's presence in the doorway is soothing; her presence is the belief that whatever has just gone bump in the night is nothing to fear. My mother is more powerful than it is, and I am safe.
It is the same impulse that caused the psalmist to write "God is with me. What can man do to me?" My mother is here. Now I don't have to worry.
I always took so much for granted, not only as a child when it was to be expected, but even as an adult. Today, she still takes my breath away when I contemplate all she has done for me, all she continues to do for me. Her love is a constant presence, and her fierce and utter devotion are truly mind-boggling.
A child can never give back to her mother all she gave me. Her love is selfless. I was a part of her. Caring for me, she made me feel, was caring for herself.
My love for her - my gratitude, my attachment, my devotion - can never be the same. There can be no recompense for all she gave me.
I now live far from my mother yet her presence - her love - is with me, almost oppressive at times, like sweet perfume, overpowering yet strangely beautiful.
My mother's presence makes me believe I can do what I need, be more than I am, accomplish more than seems possible.
And her presence is still reassuring, as it was standing in my doorway, pausing to see that I was okay. It makes me believe I can do what I need, be more than I am, accomplish more than seems possible.
That image of my mother in the doorway returned to me the other night. I had been trying to lull my friend's five-year-old to sleep. I read three books and he still refused. Looking at this little boy, despite the fact that I'd been doing this for nearly a half hour and was starting to get annoyed, I smiled and started to sing lullabies that my mother used to sing to me. I sang them over and over, the same words she would sing to the little me tucked into pink and white sheets. I lost track of how many times I sang my mother's soothing songs as I watched in triumph as he slowly lost his battle and drifted into sleep. I kept singing even after he closed his eyes to make sure that he really was asleep. And then, the image of my mother in the doorway popped into my head.
It surprised me, seemingly coming out of nowhere. But I realized, of course it didn't. With everything else they give, mothers teach us to love. And one of the few ways we can pay them back the immeasurable debt we owe them is lavishing love on their grandchildren with the same ferocity and devotion. I can't wait until I have the privilege.