“Are you ever afraid that no one will care about what you have to say?”
The question gave me pause, but only in my mind. I answered far too quickly– in such a way that I’m sure seemed arrogant. Honestly? It’s never really occurred to me. I instantly regretted saying it out loud. I’ve never been accused of being particularly humble, but I am at least aware, even if never soon enough, how my words must sound.
In discussing the pursuit of creativity, the subject of vulnerability had come up. Somehow my intense Brené Brown obsession was not effective in supplying me with the right words at the right time. I knew I had to explain, to offer some kind of encouragement. I couldn’t just sit there on my high horse and wave as we trotted by. Fear of vulnerability? Never heard of it. See ya later! I had to offer a hand, or perhaps hop off and direct traffic toward the stables where the high horses live.
My mind went blank right before I started my own internal shame spiral. Why would I say that? How can that be true? And then it hit me: This is the best gift my mother ever gave me. This thing right here that feels so foreign and scary to so many people: courage. To be vulnerable, to express myself, to be true to myself without much concern for the consequences.
I spoke briefly of my Mom and this gift before heading home, but the idea wouldn’t leave me long after the conversation had ended. It’s been months, actually, and I’ve struggled to wrap my mind around the extent of the effects of this gift that I’ve been given every day for my whole life.
You see, my mom created a world in which I never, ever once had to question my worth, my ideas, or my possibilities. My mother gave me nearly everything but doubt.
I never really wondered if I was beautiful. It hardly ever occurred to me that someone else might not find me attractive. This wasn’t because of some inflated, superficial idea that I was a perfect 10, but rather a constant reminder that my beauty was simply fact, unalterable and simultaneously unimportant. I have zero recollection of my mother ever commenting on the materialistic importance of my appearance or anyone else’s for that matter. She wasn’t very concerned with the clothes or accessories that I wore. She didn’t teach me much in the way of makeup, and almost never divulged any essential beauty secrets, except perhaps the occasional reminder to moisturize. She didn’t comment on my weight or hers, mostly. She would have been perfectly content to leave my unibrow unwaxed or my shirt on inside out, for I was still, according to her, a glorious sight to behold. I didn’t think to ask anyone else.
I never really wondered if I was smart enough or good enough. My mother never asked for my report card, urged me to study, or pressured me to practice. I did as well as I wanted to at whatever I was interested in, and thankfully, I wanted to do well in all things. Excellence was not a price that I had to pay for affirmation and encouragement or leisure and freedom. My attempts were not measured– I was immeasurably loved.
I never really wondered if my ideas were worth spreading or my desires worth pursuing. It didn’t occur to me that others wouldn’t be interested in what I had to say. Literally nothing seemed impossible or unachievable. I was never discouraged from speaking up or held back from trying. My mother didn’t try to lay my path or even pick out the bricks that would line it. Instead, she tore down every obstacle and impediment within her reach, 360 degrees around the foundation of her love, where I started my journey.
My mother is not perfect, and I am not totally immune to self-consciousness and fear. It’s worth noting that there’s even a bit of a catch to this unending uplifting and affirming: the rest of the world isn’t always on board. And while rejection or dismissal or even perceived failure is initially confounding and frustrating, I am forever grateful for the resilience that comes from knowing that these disappointing experiences are no reflection of me or any indication of my value. My mother gave me that– that firm foundation, that place to come back to, that idea to rest in, that default state of courage.
And perhaps the most astounding part of it all is that my mother, a bit like a little southern lady who stocks up on QVC throughout the year, always, always has this gift to share at the perfect moment. It is her legacy, and it’s got me thinking about how I can carry it on.
Courage comes from believing you’re worthy– of love, of happiness, of a voice. I don’t quite know how people figure this out– this thing that’s really true of all of us— if they’re not constantly reminded in everything that they do for all of their formative years. Life has revealed to me that most people weren’t, so I don’t take this gift for granted. But I would like to think about how I can give it away more often. After all, I’m not very concerned that I’ll run out of it any time soon.
I love you, Mom. I know you’re reading this. Thank you.