Some years ago, when I was lost and alone in Spain, my mother found me in Barcelona. We escaped our tawdry hotel room by walking around that mysterious city for hours, just being together. I was too thin but probably beautiful, and on busy streets she sometimes lagged behind me, observing the way people reacted to her once baby daughter.
One hot day that August, while eating tapas by the Mediterranean Sea, she finally asked about this man I had been doting on, whose love I was trying to contain and escape at the same time. My mother probably had many things to say about him, and him and I together, and the direction my life seemed to be going in. Instead, she listened. Only after I had finished explaining all that I thought I knew did she say a few words of her own.
“Just be yourself,” she said. “No matter what you do, don’t change for anyone.”
I had heard that before, but not from someone like my mother, who has always been herself, in the face of crushing pressure and against all odds, in circumstances that surely would have moulded me into another.
Being myself has been the greatest challenge in my world, which has always been too full of contradictory expectations and unattainable goals — all set by me. My mother realized this long before I did.
I’m sure she has also felt alone, but I can’t imagine my mother being lost. In my mind she is like a Himalayan mountain — rooted, enduring, absolute and unfathomably beautiful. I thought I’d never uncover the source of her seemingly natural strength, until I realized she only gained it from striving to be that way for her children, so that one day they could be mountains for their own.
I don’t need Mother’s Day to be grateful. I think of my mother every day, especially when being myself is the hardest — the only — thing I need to do.