I told her, “I remember you every morning when I use the fragrant sandalwood soaps you gave me as a gift.”
She said, “I guess that is all you ever remember of me. It takes a soap to make you think of me!”
I felt defensive and replied, “I have a thousand reasons to think of you. I don’t need a soap for that. But why do you think of the soap as an insignificant reminder?”
The exchange made me think. Why do I think of somebody? What makes me remember someone?
Of course, I loved them. Still, isn’t it unusual that I still miss them? Every time I travel and arrive at a new place and see something pretty, I find myself helplessly mulling, “He would have loved to see this.” Father loved to travel and see new things. I can’t get over the fact that, as I travel to new places and live in new towns, I don’t get to share them with him. Mother didn’t like to travel. She just liked to sit with me and talk over a cup of tea. Every afternoon, as I make myself tea, I cannot resist the recurring thought, “I wish she were sitting next to me and I could talk to her.”
I ask myself why they are forever popping in my life and in my stray thoughts. Then I remember that famous line from Rabindranath’s most popular novel: I cannot but give myself to one who takes me with all my foibles, in the fullest acceptance and compassion. I knew that if I went to prison for the most heinous crime, they would unhesitatingly turn up there the next morning – though they would unhesitatingly let me know what they thought of my wrongdoing. I knew, with absolute certainty, that I would never fall off from their acceptance no matter how short I fell of their standards.
In fact, they were very different persons from me. On many things we held rather different views. No matter, I was their son, a person beloved, and there was nothing I could do to forfeit their love. The assurance of their affection was absolute, cast in concrete. It was wonderful to bask in their caring, knowing I never had to fear losing their attachment.
It is never possible to move away from the warm incandescence of such acceptance. Not even in years or decades.
Not just my parents, I find that my mind keeps crawling back, almost like a toddler, to those who are generous enough to overlook my countless failings and anoint me with their acceptance. They know full well I am far from perfect; they have found out or can guess my shortcomings. They still care for me.
That is too precious a coin to let go. In a cold or at least lukewarm world, I can’t live without the warmth of that benign assurance. However strong I am, I am too weak not to long for the support of unquestioning love.
I have been fortunate to have had friends who have cared for me for no reason of merit. Mark Twain said that admission to heaven was by favor; if it was by merit, your dog would go in and you would stay out. I realize that whatever caring I have been fortunate to receive has little to do with my merit. I have simply had the favor of others’ warmheartedness.
What do I need to remember somebody? Very little and very much. A smile is good enough. Or a kind word. A gentle gesture, of warmth or helpfulness, will remain with me for a long time. I can still recall vividly a teacher in my earliest school who made me feel wanted. Or a teammate who lent me a hand when I hurt myself in soccer.
The most precious surely is love. One who can overlook my impatience or irritation and accept my limitations with infinite grace will have surely paved my entry to the paradise of human connection. That is unquestionably unforgettable.
Yes, a bar of soap is a significant reminder.