you & me

Risk It All: A Love Letter.

 

We have all been advised to risk it all in matters of love, since life is short.

A few months ago, I sat across a table, with Mexican food between us, from the person I love. Her eyes filled with tears as she spoke of her mother living out the last days of her life. All I could think about was the letter I had written to her mother weeks before, never intending her to read it, but knowing the end was near and even if I never breathed the same air as her mother, that it was time to give her the letter.

It was time to give air and light to this magnificent space that she occupied inside of me. I risked it all and gave her my love letter, my heart song.

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Sweet Leonora,

You don’t know me and I don’t know you, at least not in person. I have never spoken to you or seen you, but I have imagined you often and have created a warm and radiant pocket for you in my heart. Because you see, I know your daughter, and knowing her has changed my life, which is why I am writing to you now.

You may never read these words or hear them spoken, but who I am does not allow me to keep these truths to myself. I have often sat across from your daughter and wondered if her stubbornness or her dark, deep-set eyes come from you. She has a tendency when she giggles to look sideways under the fringe of her lashes to see if you are laughing with her. Do you do the same?

I often think that when we truly get to know someone, we must go further than them, we must look to the women who raised them, to truly understand. She has shared, in quiet moments, of the woman that you are and that she believes, had you been contemporaries in this life, you would have many shared interests, and has told me on many occasions about your clever wit, despite your age.

Perhaps generational confinements kept you in a certain role, and that if possible, things for you might have been different had you been born in another time.

Your daughter blew into my life like a mighty, unexpected wind. One that was not planned nor anticipated, revealing something I never knew, I always wanted, all in a package that surprised and delighted me. You should know we come from two very different worlds, and to some people that matters.

While she grew up on the Texas-Mexico border, the daughter of a proud migrant family, I grew up on a small island in the Northwest dreaming as a young girl of getting out into the big, wide world and making my mark. But honestly, in my life thus far, I have learned where we come from pales in comparison to how we treat people along the way.

I am certain to the outside world there is no reason that we should find such comfort in one another, but we do, at least I do.

I don’t have to tell you that your daughter is a very unique person. She is private, guarded, careful and tentative, but beyond that, so many other things. Those other things are what I want to share with you now. First, you should know that she is an amazing leader for such a small person. I have seen her command a room with hundreds inside of it, and when she speaks, people listen to her.

She has high expectations of those around her, and she inspires people to be their best selves. She has a quiet confidence I admire, and she never has to diminish others to let her light shine. She has moments when she is so passionate about something, her dark eyes glisten with intensity. I swear I would risk my life for her convictions in those moments, because put simply, I just believe in her.

As a mom myself, having a daughter like this would make me proud.

When the world is not looking, I have also seen a soft, feeling, shy, funny and curious spirit. This side of her hides in the shadows, but when you have allowed enough time and space, she can be coaxed out, and when this happens, I have experienced complete bliss being in her light. She is also a loyal friend, but I have to tell you that her most fierce loyalty lies with her family.

She is constantly talking about, caring for and worrying about the well-being of you and the rest of your family. And I have learned that there is no other place she would rather be.

I have listened to her voice on the other side of the phone tell me with fear and sadness on days that you are not well or have been admitted back into the hospital, fighting for your independence or longing to remember the woman you are on the inside of your aging body.

And other days, when you are cracking jokes and watching novellas from the comfort of your living room, her voice in is full of gratitude and joy because she has a piece of the you that she knows so well.

She doesn’t like to ask for help, and often when she is suffering, she will not share this part of herself with others, and for someone like me, this can feel maddening. But I suspect she is much like you in this way, she doesn’t want to feel like a burden and believes she can carry the weight of the world on her capable shoulders. Perhaps this is the real reason I am writing to you, because I am a mom too.

Being a mom is the most important job I have ever had, it’s the most meaningful thing I have ever done, and because I know what it feels like to love children more than you love yourself, at the end of the day we want our children to be happy and to be loved and cared for, even when we can no longer to do it ourselves.

I know that you are living in the winter of your life, and I am sure as a mother, you will mother until you take your final breath, because there is no expiration on motherhood, and the love that we carry for our children lasts a lifetime and beyond.

It’s because of this I want you to know that she is loved deeply, clearly and wholly, and if her pride would actually allow it, she could be cared for in the most sincere way. She has a lot of fear in that heart of hers, and that fear has written a narrative that she may not be enough, but she is, oh, sweet Leonora, she is, in the most real and stunning of ways.

She has managed to keep people’s love at arm’s length in her life, but I suppose because I learned to let my ego and pride go a long time ago, she hasn’t scared me off, although she has tried many times. I am not going anywhere. I am prepared to wait her out, until she sees the woman that I see when I look at her.

I am sure you are curious now to know of me. Writing about her is an easy task, it flows out of me in waves of fluid color. But to convince a mother that I am worthy of her daughter, what words will be enough? I live right smack in the middle of my gut.

I have never chosen a conventional or easy path, I have always gravitated to places and circles where pain and poverty live. And in those circles I have experienced limitless joy and generosity. John Steinbeck said, “If you’re in trouble, or hurt or need — go to the poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help — the only ones.” I agree with him.

If there is fire, I typically run headlong into the flames knowing that it’s in the heat and the intensity of pain that we learn the hardest lessons and we emerge emboldened into better, wiser and more compassionate versions of who we are becoming.

I have a son and a daughter, both ready to be out in the world; this letter could never be long enough to describe the privilege I feel everyday to be their mom, or the pride I feel knowing that pure, incandescent kindness lives inside them and will spread to every human and animal that they touch in this lifetime.

This all might be feeling a little abstract, and I have been told that you are a practical woman. So you should know I can cook and bake and delight in doing so for those whom I love, your daughter will be fed and fed well. I can picture her rolling her eyes now. My heart is big and wide, and has enough room for almost every kind of person inside of it.

Stuff has never mattered to me much, but I do love books, hot coffee, newspapers, fresh-cut flowers, laughter — lots of it — and the ocean. The ocean has been a constant in my life, and if I ever feel like I am losing my way, it only takes a trip to the ocean to remind me of my place in this world.

I come from a big Catholic family too, but it wasn’t until meeting your daughter that I realized in my adult life how much I want to be a part of one again, with all the messiness, love and personalities. But mostly for the solidity, in knowing that a group of imperfect people together form the most perfect circle.

Please trust and know that I love your daughter in the most significant of ways. I ask nothing from her, just the privilege to be her biggest supporter and to walk beside her in this life. I want you to know you have my word, I won’t give up on her stubborn, lovely, bright spirit. My arms will be here when she is brave enough to leap into them.  You can rest in this, sweet Leonora.

Yours,

Berna

***

Bernadette Ebanks is an island girl. She grew up in the Puget Sound, and spent the last many years on an island in Central America. She is a midwife, a mother of two incredible teenagers, and loves the written word. She recently moved to Austin, Texas to champion for reproductive rights, and works with other passionate women to ensure that all women have autonomy over their bodies. She dances in the kitchen, likes to drive fast, and has been known to cackle. She can be found on Twitter.

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