My mother called me to her room late at night. The house was eerily quiet as it was every night, my father already fast asleep downstairs and the rest of the house void of sound except for the dripping of a leaky faucet. I sighed as I climbed down from my bed and shuffled towards her room, predicting that the subsequent conversation would be of little significance. I knew she noticed I was upset earlier today and would ask if anything happened, and I would of course deflect and tell her everything was okay. It was difficult for me to express my concerns with either of my parents, as it often resulted in me explaining my worries with little applicable, almost surface level feedback. Perhaps it was the language barrier. While we both speak our mother tongue, Bangla, my thoughts and ideas were always expressed better in English. This was how it had always been. 

Yet, tonight seemed a little different. I sat down on her bed, and my mother didn’t say a word. Time seemed to stand still for a moment. Mother and son just waiting for one another to speak. 

Impatiently I asked, “What?”

My mother just shook her head and said, “Nothing,” in Bangla.

For a few more seconds, I sat down and then slowly, as if there was a gravitational force pulling me towards her, I rested my head next to her. I felt a weight off my shoulders retract and my muscles began to relax as I let my body go. I felt my mother’s hand on my head, small but strong. My ever present headache gradually receded as she massaged my head, and I felt a small bit of relief after a long day. No more words were spoken that night.

And so, this slowly became a part of my interaction with my mother. Rather than speaking about what happened throughout the day, good or bad, we would sit in silence together, her often watching a movie on Netflix, and I scrolling on my phone. Some days I would watch a movie by her side and other days we would both read next to each other. This became our time together.

It’s commonly known that there are five main “love languages,” five ways to express and experience love: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch, as described by Gary Chapman in his book The Five Love Languages. Quality time refers to time set aside for paying full and undivided attention to a person or matter at hand. While I can make a case that my interactions with my mother are quality time or physical touch, I believe that there is an unspoken love language that many parents utilize. One where our worlds are different but unwavering faith and support are never absent.

Often at the dinner tables of my Caucasian friends, I would see their parents light up about the stories they told from their college days. They spoke endlessly about “how it was back in the day,” and my friends would spoon it up with the rest of their meal with the utter satisfaction of truly getting to know their parents even more. It all came full circle for them as they now find themselves in the same position their parents were in 25 years ago. In my case, it’s different. My parents don’t go into the details of their teenage years. It’s sometimes frustrating since I feel my relationship with my parents will never be as strong because the lives they led back home are too foreign for me to ever connect with. As I grew older, I realized my parents showed their love and enthusiasm in other ways. 

Although not so evident, the feeling of faith endowed upon another can be one of the most heartfelt yet subtle in nature. In my mother’s silence, I gain reassurance, a feeling that she believes I am making the best decisions independently of her questioning. She need not ask me about every detail of my life at college or my career decisions — she has trust I can figure things out. It’s her trust in her parenting which gives me the encouragement to test my boundaries and find my own sources of love on campus and in other realms. My mother’s love is her faith.

It’s when she drops me off on campus and doesn’t call for a few days, trusting my judgement is rational and unfaltered. It’s when she supports me through career changes, believing her son’s capabilities will manifest in whatever path he seeks. And it’s when she spends time with her son without speaking a word, finding strength although the uncertainty of the future. It is these moments when the role of guardian shifts to the role of observer when I find unconditional love from my parents and feel empowered to live my life as a true adult.

Love can be multifaceted — it can be loud, it can be physical, it can be over-the-top. But, there’s another side. It’s not handed to you. It’s not in your face. It’s unspoken.

Aakash Ray can be reached at aaray@umich.edu

 

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