During the Holidays thoughts of my mother come to the forefront of my consciousness. I’ve had ten years to reflect on who she was as a mother, a Latina, a wife, a friend and a human being. It’s easy to look back and idealize our madre/hija relationship and to forget some of the issues we had. Like every mother/daughter dynamic ours was complex.
I never realized how much my identity was tied up with hers while she was alive. I was “Nora, la hija de Ana”. I never gave that much thought until I lost her, and along with her so much of who I understood myself to be. I had to learn who “Nora, La hija de Ana” was once there was no more Ana. It has taken a decade of reflection, soul searching, and a brief period with a therapist to dig out of the grief and ambivalence I felt after losing her. Yes, she was 69 years old and had lived a full and rich life. Yes, others have had their mothers taken from them at tragically young ages. Yes, we were lucky to have had time to deepen our relationship beyond madre/hija to one of friendship and mutual admiration. And yes, I was fortunate for the values I learned from her, for the laughter we shared and for the eclectic sense of humor she instilled in me. But when she died I lost myself and it was devastating.
So with the Holidays upon us and the extended familia get togethers it ushers in, I could easily choose to venerate my much loved mami with validation from family and friends about what a wonderful, selfless person she was and leave it at that. I could easily focus on her bravery in the face of a horrible disease and on her spirit and dignity in dealing with it and leave it at that. But it would be oversimplifying the dynamic of our relationship and the lifelong gift she bestowed.
So during this time year I choose to learn from, internalize and celebrate one quality among many – good and bad – that made my mother unique and which has been one of the greatest lessons of my life.
My mother possessed a gift. She was able to distinguish what made each person special and to celebrate it in a way that made everyone who came into contact with her feel important. She had a childlike wonder and curiosity about people and an ability to connect with them no matter where they came from. Don’t misunderstand. My mother was far from perfect, as we all are, but her delight in relating with everyone that passed through her life was contagious and a life lesson I am eternally grateful for.
So I choose to focus on and learn from my mother’s ability to recognize the beauty and positive qualities in each person and not the negatives. I choose to celebrate every individual in ways both big and small as she did.
It’s so easy to judge and to find fault, however minor, in those whose lives intersect ours, even when celebrating a positive virtue. “Yes, Fulano is smart, successful, funny etc. but he’s also (fill in a fault).” My mother always rejected the negative. If a person’s negative trait was brought up she dismissed it to acknowledge and focus on that individual’s gifts.
It was her way of being. Giving was the linchpin of her life, a kind word, a kind deed, a place to stay, a plate of food, gifts though small as they might be for those who came in contact with her, brought her as much, and likely more, happiness than those on the receiving end. When everyone is so special, when you so intensely focus on the good in each person, every interaction brings a significant amount of joy. It is one of the greatest gifts, a treasure of being, that I received from my mother and one that serves me well in my life. And it is so very simple.
Would I have recognized it if she were still here with me, laughing, gossiping, driving me absolutely LOCA sometimes? Maybe. I hope so. But I didn’t realize it until she passed and I had to find my own identity as a woman, a Latina, a wife, a daughter, a member of my familia, a friend, a neighbor, a professional and everything else I am that millions and millions of other women are.
It is one of the greatest legacies my mother has bestowed. One of the countless gifts that serves me so well personally, professionally, and as a human and spiritual being. It is a gift steeped in who my mother – Ana Dolores Flores Diaz – was, an eternal optimist who believed in people and humanity.
I value this one gift among the many because it defines who I am and what I want to be remembered for.
With Thanksgiving behind us and the Holiday Season ahead I wish you and your familia joy, prosperity, the promise of new beginnings and the gift of self-reflection.
¡Feliz Navidad y un Feliz y Prosperous Año Nuevo!