A fortnight ago, I stumbled upon This Is Water: David Foster Wallace on Life on Brain Pickings. David Foster Wallace, three years prior to his suicide, delivering one of the most timeless graduation speeches of all time at Kenyon College. It is easily one of the best things I’ve read on the Interwebs lately.
While it’s got many quote-worthy lines and is almost a mantra which we could adopt for life, the following line stayed with me for a long time after I shut the tab and got back to work:
“The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.”
That for me defines maternal love. Where a woman puts her entire life on hold just so she can devote all her time to that one individual who will eventually live her to go lead a separate life, with someone else. And she does it tirelessly. Day after day, chore after chore, Dream after dream.
Being my mommy is a tough job. And a thankless one. It means nagging and being immensely boring, dull and, at times, repetitive, just to drive a point home. It means being disciplined and disciplining, at the risk of being despised. It means having to break all the bad news, risk getting shot for it and then soothing the ruffled feathers.
She drives me insane with her fetish for cleanliness, punctuality and discipline. But over time I’ve have also learnt that she is my big ticket to sanity. No one and nothing else will do. Hers is the first face I seek each day when I return home from work and usually the last I see on my way out. But I also lash out at her verbally, for all the not-so nice things that happen to me. She winces at my words, flinches at my tone and waits for me to stop. And then she turns away. And all the while, there’ll be a voice at the back of my head telling me that what I’m doing is wrong.
Forgiveness arrives in subtle ways. A bowl of my favorite subzi slid toward me, dessert in the fridge, a new outfit on a subsequent visit to the mall, etc. When I ask why, she always downplays it.
I will avoid her eyes when I’m in denial or lying to myself. I will stay away when I know I’ve made a mistake. I will disobey to convey my unhappiness. It rankles when I fail to get her approval. (It hurts when somebody else receives it from her.) Every “no” from her feels like betrayal. Every smile is a validation.
I antagonize her often. Sometimes, just to peeve her; but mostly, because we never see eye-to-eye. I treat the world with disdain. She insists that I show some respect. I am cruel to a mistake. She never tires of telling me to move on. I want to run away, leaving the world behind. She is adamant that I stay and confront my fears.
She speaks to me of time and distance. Of forgiving, healing and letting go. Of loving and falling in love and staying in love. Time is ephemeral, she says. Distance is a state of mind according to her. It can always be countered, she opines. She cannot fathom the outrage I express over long distance relationships. Rues to me to be fickle-minded and spoilt for immense choice. We know the price of too many things but value few, she says.
“Think with the heart and not the head. How else will you be able to love that one person for the rest of your life otherwise,” she opines. “Allow some scope for intuition, some leeway for chance,” she advises. “You cannot possibly clinically plot your whole existence like it is some academic project!”
I disregard her words, her choices, her thoughts. But I can never shake off the feeling that she is usually always right about things. Call it intuition, maternal instincts, parental love, whatever. So with time, I’ve learnt the futility of arguing with her. I’ve learnt that I’m simply being mean and unfair.
Being my mommy is terribly unsexy and ugly. It means being vanilla when everything around is tantalizingly, glitteringly, glamorously golden. Worrying over reheating mundane meals on a bad day at work. Clutching the mobile phone and sleeping with one eye open when I need to be woken up early. Halting my flights of fantasy.
Being my mommy is rising above the petty. Maintaining objectivity, when all others are losing their heads around you. Simply being there to maintain sanity and restore perspective.
Thank you, Ma. For being the rock, the anchor, the home.