In moments of stillness, we all have an inner voice that whispers. Sometimes it shouts.
Mine used to be reminiscent of my parents’ voices. They loved their six daughters dearly. But soft and fuzzy were not tops in their repertoire.
Love felt a bit like an earned commodity. We were fed, clothed, sheltered and encouraged to do our best. But if our best did not measure up to the preconceived notion of our capabilities, it could get a little dicey.
On the mild end, it might be a stern look and a sigh, accompanied by, “There is no reason you should have forgotten the capital of South Dakota. You knew that. You could have had a perfect score on this test.”
On the more painful end, there was the heartfelt thank-you note I wrote my mother after I had moved to Chicago. She sent it back, edited in red pen. Ouch.
Don’t judge. It was where she was at the time, unfortunately.
But the message I got was that love was like a merit badge. You didn’t give it for just anything.
When I did excel—making it to the regional spelling bee, winning the city-wide science fair, earning accolades in college, getting promoted—the message was, “Love you.”
Winning a scholarship? “Love you again, dear.”
Publishing my first feature in a major metropolitan daily? “Love you more.”
And so on. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out I was Pavlov’s dog on steroids.
For most of my life, this critical voice was my inner tape. “There’s a reason you’re one of the last ones picked in gym class.” “Class vice-president? Really? All fine and good but why not president?” “He dumped you because you weren’t exciting/pretty/athletic enough for him.”
I came across as a very optimistic person—and in most ways, I was. But when it came to accepting myself, loving myself—I was at a loss. What’s not modeled is hard to learn.
I did, though, as many of us do. But I never expected that I’d be one of the lucky souls who didn’t angst over what I could have done, should have done, was supposed to do.
And then, along came my mother’s death. My father’s death. My sister’s cancer diagnosis. My divorce.
Surprisingly, when on my knees and in survival mode, a new voice came through.
I don’t know if this voice was the combined chorus of years of therapists or love pouring into my soul from the God in whom I so firmly believe, but it was like a gentle rain on a hot summer’s day. Welcome and refreshing.
When I screwed up, it told me this was an errant mistake, not who I was. When I needed to hibernate away from the madding crowds, it told me this was fine and healthy. When I caught the nosy and quizzical looks of those who wondered what had caused the seemingly sudden demise of my marriage, this voice pointed out that I no longer cared what these people thought.
It told me I was strong and brave and broken and whole and beautiful and put together and messy all in one great big glorious package.
I liked this voice. And better yet, I believed it.
I still am not sure why it chose to show up in midlife. But damn am I glad it did.
My youngest and I have a game we’ve played since he was old enough to speak. “Love you, Mom,” he’ll say.
“I love you more, sweets,” I reply.
“I love YOU more,” he says. “I love you a thousand miles and back.”
“I love you a hundred billion miles and back.”
“I love you to infinity.”
And so it goes.
This love, he knows, has nothing to do with his academic prowess, his athletic ability or lack thereof, his behavior on any given day, his making me a proud mama.
This love is just because he exists and began when, as my father used to like to say, he was just a twinkle in my eye.
Funny that I am able to offer my son a love I was not offered. Funny that I am only now able to offer myself the same type of love. I have a feeling both of these examples are things my soul set out to accomplish in this lifetime.
Bravo for me, eh? I’m tempted to say to myself, “Love you.” But not because I’ve accomplished what I set out to do. Just because.
I’m worth that love. My son is worth that love.
You are worth that love.
And if you haven’t found the voice that tells you that, in a quiet, simple way, don’t look for it to come from a human mouth. I tried that bit. It doesn’t always work.
It seems to only come when you’re ready. My advice? Get the hell ready.
Whatever that means to you.