Frida Saal as a Mother
It is strange... when I was first asked to write these lines my first reaction was one of mistrust... mistrust because I felt as if I were walking into a minefield. Describing a relationship as complex as the one I have with my mother in a couple of pages is difficult to say the least (and I must emphasize that my use of the present tense in this case is deliberate, because her passing does not signal the end of that relationship, simply because it will affect the rest of my life), and even if I were to succeed in such a description, I could easily be lured by the decoys of triviality, sentimentality or commonplace, or, while trying to avoid those obvious pitfalls, I could go to the other end of the spectrum and end up being accused of being insensitive and indifferent. On the one hand this text is an emotional note in what should be an intellectual tribute which, in my highly biased opinion, is more than capable of sustaining itself. On the other hand my relationship with my mother is something extremely personal and impossible to comprehend from the outside.
The first thing I must say about my mother is that she always taught me through her example. She taught me how to live, and why not say it, how to die. She was always there to support me, but she was never blinded by her love. She trusted me, and, because of that, she never allowed me to give less than one hundred percent. She also taught me that it is better to trust too much than too little.
When it came to intellectual matters she was particularly strict, but she was always respectful. Even when my opinions differed from her own, she was never condescending. She never disqualified me because of my age or my lack of experience. Our likes and dislikes might have been different, but she understood that she had no right to belittle my opinions. She never assumed that her perspective was "the right one" a priori, and that enabled her to listen. She was my mother, but in her dealings with me, where she knew she had a greater experience, she never considered herself to be infallible, and that was almost certainly the key that enabled her to keep on learning and growing through out her life, the fact that she never belittled her interlocutor, regardless of his age. She always preferred looking for agreement rather than disagreement.
Her dealings with people were always kind and respectful, because that word may be the key to any attempt to describe her, the respect she always felt for everything and everyone. I believe few people can remember seeing her truly angry, even if I am to be counted among those few. She knew how to bring out the best in those around her through her love and her faith. To me, she was an excellent teacher and a wonderful friend.
Another thing I'm grateful for, is the fact that she allowed the relationship between us to grow as I did. I'm grateful for the fact that she never attempted to hold me back, quite the contrary she always encouraged me to go a bit further. I am grateful because she knew how to be my friend. She never used her authority as my mother to impose herself on me, but rather she respected me enough to allow me to develop my own personality, even though, as mother and daughter, we had many arguments through the years. She was well aware of the fact that Clea was not an extension of Frida, that her role was one of support in my quest for my own identity and she always supported me enough so that I could follow my path with the certainty that no matter what I did, I would never be alone, and with the knowledge that there was nothing worth giving up on being myself.
As I reread these lines I am confronted with an image that is totally alien to my mother, not because of any falsehood but rather because it presents a stern and demanding image of someone whose greatest achievement was her ability to hide those traits without giving them up.
One of the things I remember most clearly is her sense of humor, quick and more than a little mischievous, it kept me on my toes, always ready to reply at the same level, confident that in spite of the aggression that was apparent we both knew the rules of the game. We could be aggressive precisely because we knew none of us would get hurt, because we were certain that the other one would recognize the slightest signal and stop immediately.
She always encouraged me to learn and pursue my own interests. She didn't only ask that I give my best, she demanded that I demand only the best from myself. She enabled me and encouraged me to follow my own path, but she never tried to interfere as to which path should that be. She guided me with her love and I always feared her disappointment far more than I feared her anger.
As she fought her illness in her final years, she never surrendered. She kept on living a full life, enjoying what she had rather than regretting what she would miss or the things she would not have a chance to do. In a way her illness brought us closer together. We both knew our time together would be short and we took advantage of it, something that allowed us to say goodbye without regretting the chances we had wasted. I would have loved the illusion that I would have her with me forever, but oddly enough it was precisely the knowledge that that was not meant to be that enabled us to take our relationship to a different level. My mother knew that she not only had to guide me through the present, but also set the basis for the future. She knew she had to give me now the advise and the strength that maybe should have waited until I was thirty, forty or fifty years old.
Her support, her love and her faith are, together with her teachings and her memory, the legacy she left me with; now it is up to me to prove that her faith was not a mistake.