Who is Silvia? what is she,
That all our swains commend her?
Holy, fair, and wise is she;
The heaven such grace did lend her,
That she might admirèd be.
Is she kind as she is fair?
For beauty lives with kindness.
Love doth to her eyes repair,
To help him of his blindness,
And, being helped, inhabits there.
Then to Silvia let us sing,
That Silvia is excelling;
She excels each mortal thing
Upon the dull earth dwelling:
To her let us garlands bring.
–William Shakespeare, Two Gentlemen of Verona
Today my mother, Sylvia, turns 91. She was born to immigrant Russian-Jewish parents after the War to End All Wars–which didn’t–grew up during the Great Depression, and married during World War II. She and my father married and divorced twice; they had four children together. When he died, she was at his bedside to say goodbye. She adores her grandchildren and great grandchildren, and they can do no wrong in her eyes, which is how it should be.
These are some facts about her life, but they do not describe her. They do not get to the essential Sylvianess of her–the laugh lines around her eyes and the way she talks and laughs at the same time when she tells a story; her sneezes at the end of family dinners followed by her statement, “I ate too much.” The basic facts about her life do not describe her impatience when she has to wait anywhere; nor her ability to laugh at herself when someone calls her out about it. The everyday statistics of her life do not explain her passion for art. They do not describe how she continues to paint, although her eyes have become traitorous. They do not describe the mother I love.
I did not know my mother when she was a child, of course, or even a young woman. There are few people now alive who did. I only know she has been a constant in my life, and I cannot imagine a day when she will not here.
Today in the Philadelphia/ South Jersey area it’s a gloriously beautiful day, the type of day we don’t often have here in August. The humidity has lifted, and the sun is shining. So today “to Silvia let us sing,That Silvia is excelling.” And I will hope that my mom continues to excel and we continue to celebrate her birth for many more years. I love you, Mom.