This spring I took a trip to see my best friend. The whole time I was gone, I missed you, but not too much, because you kept emailing me every couple hours to remind me of your existence. You email, therefore you am.
But what really surprised me, dear, was how much I missed my own mother during that trip. I shouldn’t be surprised that visiting my childhood friend, seeing sites from my growing up years, and even reuniting with Mom’s dear friend should bring back strong emotions. What did I expect?
I have so many questions about my mother, so many mysteries still remain. I suppose that’s life; no one really knows — truly understands — another person. Pastor Houston, actually, just said that very thing in Sunday School, and it startled me into wide-awake attention in spite of my empty coffee cup. He was reminding us that even though we try so hard to overcome our differences, strive to love and forgive one another, we cannot truly be one in unity on this side of heaven because our understanding is so imperfect.
My understanding of my mother is so, so imperfect. I don’t understand why about so many thing she did. And there are entire sections of her life I don’t know. Sometimes I feel like my own mother is as foreign to me as Madame Cezanne on the wall beside me. My perception is just as abstract, fuzzy, impressionistic as your Grandma Bess’s interpretive portrait. Like that painting, your Grandma Indiana was bold, stylish, dark, and emotive. She drew strong feelings and remained an enigma, even to those who knew her. And like any great painting, she revealed more startling detail over time. You don’t know the half of it until you stand far back.
I wonder if all mothers are such a puzzle to their daughters? In twenty years, will you have much different questions and issues with me than you do now? Likely. I hope, though, that I’m here to answer those questions for you. So far, you and I have been successful in breaking the mother/daughter curse. I pray our luck holds out a few more decades. And my health, too, as long as we’re on the subject.
You and I have done a lot of things differently than my mother and I did. A lot of right things, I think. I can’t take all the credit, because I see you making different life choices, already, than I did at your age, and I’m so happy for you. For one thing, you smile a lot. I don’t think I smiled much as a teen. Smiling is a good thing.
One of the most important things you and I have is strong communication. It isn’t always easy to talk to me, I know. But when you take a deep breath and tell me the hard things, I feel like we win big. My mother and I didn’t start really, truly talking until I was twenty five years old. Think about that for a minute. We went a quarter of a decade before we could be honest with each other. That was painful. I said each other because it goes both ways. We both had to be willing to say the painful truth and to ask the embarrassing questions. It hurt. There were a lot of tears and hang ups and misunderstandings and yelling and fierce, soul-wrenching cries.
I remember one of the most important conversations of my entire life. I was already your mother, but I was visiting in my mother’s apartment. I stood in her bedroom, looking in the mirror, putting on my mascara for church, while she was just across the hall doing the same in her bathroom. She said something, I replied, she misunderstood, words were said, voices were raised, and it looked like a ruined day.
But we didn’t give up. She came in the room, yelling in pain, and I recognized the anguish in her eyes. She was stuck in the misunderstanding, not listening, not knowing my heart toward her for the pain in her own. I grabbed my mother by the arms in desperation and yelled back in fear and agony, “STOP! Listen to me and if you ever believed me, believe me now!” I poured out my own fears and my own pain, then said over and over and over and over again how much I loved her, how much I wanted only the best for her. I kept talking, holding tightly to her, until she could finally meet my gaze. I still kept talking, until she quieted down and appeared to listen. Then I said it all again. “I will always love you, Mom, and I’ll spend the rest of my life proving it to you until you believe me.”
We didn’t know how short a time we had left. A couple brief years, and she was gone.
I used to think that love shouldn’t be that hard. I wonder if Mom struggled with that reality, too. Why should it be difficult for a mother and daughter to love each other? Is it worth the effort to keep fighting for a relationship that is painful?
Some people say no. You and I have seen that in the past year, husbands and wives who give up on the difficult marriage, friends who abandon the one they find challenging. Why do people think commitment is for the easy times? I don’t think that’s real. That’s laziness. Love has to cost. Love demands crucifixion, bleeding, agonizing. If it doesn’t cost, it doesn’t mean anything. That applies to all the love — love for God, love for a spouse, love for a friend, love for the sibling who is driving you up the wall.
So that’s why I’m writing you this love letter. Most of the time we find it easy to love each other, to answer each other’s questions, to sneak in a shopping trip and Sonic happy hour. Those are the easy times, the easy smiles. Sometimes, though, we step on each other’s toes and give each other headaches and fits of frustration. That’s when it’s harder. But we keep trying, you with your rosy smile and me with the waving hands.