During the course of her life, my extraordinary mother has received many compliments. They followed her then as they still do now – a pleasant enough shadow, certainly.
This is not a surprise. With her coloring; her clear and sculpted profile; her pretty, dainty mannerisms; her charming wit and subtle observations and her undisputed style…she is in all ways enviable to all people. They cannot help but burst with envy – couched of course within the framework of the most discreet and modest etiquette. In other words, they try not to stare.
As for myself, I am not very open with my compliments. In most cases I offer them up, silent as a waiter, and only if I am in a particularly good mood – if it’s the first day of autumn or if I’m entering a restaurant and there is something more than egg whites on the horizon.
But I am describing situations where I am interacting with strangers. I hardly ever compliment my loved ones: I always believe that such observations are assumed, and that they are all mind readers.
And I have never complimented my rare and beautiful mother.
How great a sin is this? How terrific an error? Compliments are often considered shallow things; shallow swipes of a needle – an artful tattoo: symbolic to the skin, useless to the heart or mind. But a compliment also gives pleasure; it indicates respect and recognition…all the things that my mother deserves.
And here is where I must tell you about the greatest compliment that I have ever received – and how swaddled it is with irony. Ironic in that it comes from my mother, with her history of admiration, and that it is given to her daughter who has chosen to express nothing.
I was told this twice, in two variants – twin charms that I will wear to the end of my days.
Once she told me once that I was her greatest achievement. Also, equally memorably, she told me that she believed she was put on this earth to have me.
Now, these things surely go further, deeper than comments on clothing and jewelry – as vital as those things are. These comments come from a place that is fundamental and parental – a nurturing place of love and pride: a fierce, mothering territory. And I have never received anything so moving, or so grand.
And so I said nothing.
What I did instead was bask – in the generosity, in the beauty, in the honesty – my ego purred in the light of her comments like the laziest of cats. I was too busy absorbing, to offer anything in return. Which is unfortunate, as I could have said many things – necessary ones; things that made my fundamentally shy and selfish nature squirm in discomfort.
It comes down to this. That for as long as I could remember my mother has been an indispensable, crucial, and inspiring part of my life. She shares a light with the stars that I watch every night and long to wear in my hair as a reminder of a beauty so exquisite yet so steadfast. From the time that I was young and nebulous to when I was adolescent and stupid to my current years when I am just as unformed and stupid I knew that there was no one like her. It is terrifying how much I do depend on her.
I know that my mother has her times of doubt and sadness – possibly my low self-esteem has been inherited – and I wish I could do more…say more. A child has few duties, but chief among them is to try to give back all that his or her parents have given them.
So I am trying to, but my hands and heart are so full. I am laden with a lifetime of gratitude unspoken and unshared.
So Mother, I will begin by wishing you Happy Mother’s Day. And also to say how much I truly love you.