Matt’s letters from that time period are beautiful and among my most prized possessions. One in particular stands out. Among other things, I had sent him a copy of a professional paper I had written, describing how important it was to be able to use “mothering” skills in the relationship between therapist and patient. For example, the ability to respond to body language and nonverbal cues makes the therapist aware of much more than just the words being said. Not only did Matt read the paper carefully, but he also responded with a heartfelt and totally unexpected letter describing his reaction to it. It is so seldom that children express in words their gratitude toward us as parents. It is perhaps even rarer that they are able to communicate to us an understanding of what it is like to be a parent, especially before they have had children themselves. Matt’s letter did all of this for me:
All I can say is that it is a unique experience having the chance to read a paper about mothering written by your own mother. In a sense the paper became about me and the other boys too. For while you were writing and transferring your mother experience into an analyst/patient relationship, I was busy decoding and re-transferring that back into our mother-child relationship. This…brought many magical images to my mind and swept me away into a world of emotions that perhaps until then had been lost because of their non-verbal nature…The result has been a welling up of powerful images…that I believe are from my preverbal childhood. Whether that is true or not, it has certainly opened up a new reserve of emotional resources that I never before had access to.
In the letter Matt went on to mention some of the characteristics involved with being a mother that he had never understood before. He talked about the bravery in taking on the responsibility of raising a child. Wait! I was brave? I had never thought of it that way, but it was great hearing it from my own son. He talked about how I had never thought of myself as artistic, at least in comparison to my children, and yet I hadn’t realized that mothering itself is an artistic process, perhaps the greatest one of all. It is an interaction between the creator and her work of art, her child.
He said that he had never understood before, the compassion and great love involved in mothering. In the paper I had written about a mother’s “unreasonable preoccupation” with her child. By this I meant that every child needs someone who loves him beyond all reason. Just as an artist loves a painting or a musician loves a piece of music, a mother must love a child passionately in order to convey to that child that she will protect him and be there for him always. As Matt put it:
Mothers as the creators are somehow endowed with the power of the healing touch, for I recall many instances where you have healed my pain and soothed my aches by the mere touch of your hands and the power of your voice. It was a hug from you that told my heart “all is well.”
In the letter Matt talked about how, since our first human relationships are with our mothers, it is that relationship that becomes the prototype for our relationship with God:
Take yourself back and recall this image: you are lying on your back in a strange new world and you need help. You have a desire to be filled, a hunger. It is life or death. Yet you are helpless, without ability, without language. You cry out for relief to a nameless, incomprehensible giant who can never fully comprehend but has always been there. You cry, believing that she will come for she always has before…You cry and cry in the agony of helplessness. And she comes…Her beautiful face appears over your crib. She smiles and speaks, and the “special language” somehow cools your pangs already. She gazes at you and you gaze at her. She is marvelous and omnipotent. She lifts you into the warmth of her arms and you are safe. Her love supports you and warmth from within consumes you. And you are thankful…It is the face of Mother. It is your first earthly inkling of the face of God.
Matt wrote this profound and beautiful letter when he was only twenty-one. Yet in my mind, it was totally in character with the curious, philosophical, and loving nature that I had observed early on. When he was only a few weeks old, I noticed him staring intently at the vividly colored animals on the wall covering of the nursery. “A bright and observant child,” I thought to myself. When he was five he gave me a kiss and said, “That kiss will stay in your heart forever.” Indeed it has.
Dr. Ellen Toronto is a licensed clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst in the state of Michigan.Like this author?