My mom would write me handwritten notes. For years: notes in my lunchbox, on the rug in the entryway to our house, on my bed when I’d come home for a visit. The notes on the floor or the bed were practical: So-and-so called; I made an appointment with the eye doctor on Thursday; I thought you’d be interested in this story (newspaper article attached). I have very little recollection of what the lunch notes said, but they’d reference something immediate: a history test, a basketball game, opening night of the play I’d been rehearsing for months.
Each morning, she’d slip the note in with the salami sandwich, the carrots, the bottle of apple juice, the cloth napkin my friends made fun of me for. Even by high school, the notes were still there. I was a little embarrassed by them at that point, but not enough to tell her not to leave them and not enough to not read them. They were as reliable as the sandwich.
I knew, always, how much she loved me.
When my last relationship was collapsing in a messy heap at the beginning of my thirties, I remember saying to my ex: Love is a verb. I continue to be sure about that. Love doesn’t sit there, inanimate, holding the whole endeavor up without effort; it is shown, day in and day out. Here’s some coffee. Let me rub your shoulders. You know, I’m so proud of you.
Recently, when I was taking a meditation course, the Buddhist teacher told a story about a grandchild who asked her grandpa, with whom she spent a lot of time, whether he loved her. “Of course I love you!” he said, shocked. “Why do you ask?” “Well,” the child said, “it’s just that when you aren’t paying attention to me, I don’t feel it.” Pure attention: this was the specific way in which this child felt her grandpa’s love. I felt it in my mother’s notes. Others feel it when a friend sends an affectionate text or a partner walks the dog at the end of the day. There are endless, wonderful ways to turn love into a verb.
I’ve started slipping notes into my daughter Noa’s lunchbox, just as it feels like my own mother is slipping away from me. Earlier on in the pandemic, we’d FaceTime her every day, but these daily moments are no longer part of our lives. She lives across the continent, in a different time zone, and the days here are suddenly full and hectic again, and I’m sure she doesn’t want to bother me with phone calls and emails, and she can’t leave me notes on the bed anymore. I haven’t been home for over two years, and the home I knew is now sold off anyway. But also because she doesn’t know absolutely every detail anymore; she couldn’t possibly, all the most minute happenings of a life lived together. Nothing can be said on the size of a lunch note anymore.
So, I write to Noa, thinking of my own mom: Have fun on the MONKEY BARS! Enjoy your PICKLES! Good luck on the SPELLING TEST! Each sentence meant to show her, as I was shown day in and day out: I see you, I hear you, I love you.
Abigail Rasminsky is a writer, editor and teacher based in Los Angeles. She teaches creative writing at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and writes the weekly newsletter, People + Bodies. She also written about marriage, motherhood and neighbors.
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