OFF THE BEAT: Bookshelves and puzzle pieces

Someone once remarked there is absolutely nothing that compares with the influence of a mother. For me, it is a testament to a fine truth, one whose foundations transcend simple love, kindness and understanding. It holds a greater truth in my heart than I would like to admit at times. On quiet nights when I’m in a particularly pensive mood, I like to recline in my chair and reflect on the people and places that made me who I am today, and that saying often hits me with greater force than it usually does. Such is the extent of this truth for me, nothing more and nothing less.

A mother can influence her child in so many aspects that it is impossible to name them all. Off the top of my head, perhaps, I can list at least a few: courage, responsibility and sacrifice. On a mother’s part, all of these traits have the potential to affect her child in profound ways, creating a living, breathing human being under her care and guidance. In giving birth, a mother exemplifies the kind of courage to which all men can only hope to aspire; in giving up her own pursuits for the arduous process of child-rearing, she demonstrates tremendous responsibility and sacrifice. I speak, of course, from my own personal experience, and such are the ways in which my mother has created her everlasting effect on me.

I was very young when my mother began buying me books. In a no-nonsense attitude, she did what most responsible parents would have done and promptly got me started on reading them. They were books of literally all shapes and sizes: picture books and comic books, round books and square books, color books and storybooks, and everything else in between. We were a meager, unstable family back then, having just settled down as immigrants in this country, my father frequently spending months abroad on business, and yet the fact that we were not well-off surprisingly never seemed to stop my mother from constantly filling my bookshelf with new friends. On Christmas mornings, the gift-wrapped set of Legos that greeted my first waking breath would always be accompanied by a set of brand-new, unopened books.

At first, probably unfamiliar with the idea of reading so much on such a frequent basis, I gradually developed the ability to read quicker and better and slowly gained a stronger grasp of it than others my age. Page by page, I opened my heart to the books that I acquainted myself with. For countless elementary school lunches and recesses, I found myself whisked away on frivolous adventures with Curious George and Dr. Seuss, mired in perilous scenarios with The Boxcar Children and the Hardy Boys, sharing in the accomplishments of great men and women through biographies of Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Books, new and used, glossy and tattered, filled my bookshelf like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, with the indisputable insignia of my mother’s love printed invisibly on each of them. Each piece held a part of my heart made only for its own mold, always compelling me to find more like it to fit the others — bigger, bolder, more intricate ones.

My bookshelf changed itself as years did to me; by and by, it was filled with newcomers. They were Brian Jacques, Jack London, Jules Verne, Mark Twain and Charles Dickens, their names engraved on glossy hardcover spines, their words indelibly etched into my heart. My mother’s initial worries that I would not be well-read gradually disappeared. I developed a love for reading that exceeded the greatest reaches of her imagination. I often now imagine that she often hid a smile whenever I finished a book in exuberant triumph and proudly accepted the fact that this love for books was a result of her immeasurable influence.

I can say with confidence that the saying mentioned earlier holds a fine truth in itself. My mother’s influence on me has been enormous, solid and too great for words.

The years passed, and I have grown in age and stature; the books I read have grown in sophistication and scope; and inevitably, my mother has grown older. There is a trace of a wrinkle forming at the corner of her eyes whenever she smiles at me now, perhaps just one more than the year before. Yet I feel more grateful than sad. I know now, as my mother must have known all along, that the puzzle contained deep within my heart will never see completion until I myself fill in the final pieces: courage, responsibility and sacrifice.

The bookshelf still stands in my room back home. Forever it will grow.