Thirty years ago, I met an influential lady. My Bana, I called her. I’ve often, affectionately, called her my surrogate mother. Her real name was Marilynn. I’d not ever met someone like her, and to date, haven’t since. Every day I see her face and smile. It’s because I keep a picture close by to say hello as I begin my day. And I miss her. I’m glad our worlds intersected so long ago. She made a healing dent in my psyche, which had been so damaged by the events of my past. I loved her for every moment of herself she brought into my life, and so grateful for the time she was there.
Growing up in a chaotic and, at times, an insecure household taught me many lessons. I would eventually need to undo many of them. It took quite a few years, and an unstable love affair to make it happen. The romance didn’t last, but the friendship with his mother, my Bana, was just the beginning of what became my life-altering connection.
The best way to describe what she embodied is the saying that we’ve all heard before – “Teach, Love, Inspire.” She spoke those words to me on many occasions, and also projected them into our space and connection. I’m sure the expression didn’t originate with her, but she lived that phrase eloquently. Bana’s influence helped guide me to a path of living a better life for myself. Her essence was to be a teacher; the subject was how to love and inspire. She would say she blessed me with excellent guidance. I would chuckle but agree and say it was the most significant advice anyone had ever given me.
Teaching took the shape of discussion, leading by example, sharing and laughing about past lessons about herself and others. It was sad at times but also funny. Her style was uncomplicated, and I was open to her influence. I liked to take a step back in those moments and observe her educate me. I realized how easy it was to learn from her, and how effortless it was that knowledge or feelings got conveyed. She was such an open book; Bana loved sharing. It didn’t matter what the subject was. And she delighted in being a presence in another’s life.
I think she was the one who made learning fascinating to me, even though it was my natural state to ask why all the time about everything. She had more questions than I did! Bana also went thoroughly into discussions on subjects and all its tangents and layers of thoughts that I’d ordinarily not encountered with most people. They tended to be so superficial; she wasn’t that at all.
The act of being loving came naturally to Bana. It was almost a permanent state of mind for her. And it was always genuine and focused. You couldn’t help but love her back as immensely as she showed her love for you. The lessons I learned in her presence were impactful to me in that I understood how desperately we all just needed to be loved or nurtured. I could see the outcome of her generosity play out in her family and with her other friends. These times were filled with substantive interactions. It was always such a buoyant feeling to be alive with her. I miss those moments when she would lock eyes with me, and all I could see was acceptance and joy in her expression. To feel that genuineness from her and be unreservedly embraced by her love was something that I had not ever experienced in my upbringing.
I don’t know when I started calling her my surrogate mother, but she played the part of a mother to me more than my biological mother had ever been. Bana knew my feelings towards her, and I think she felt grateful for that sentiment when I expressed it to her. At least I hope she felt as exceptional as I thought she was and how she made me see her. My birth mother also knew how I felt about Bana. Even she liked Bana, regardless that my allegiance to my friend was stronger than my bond with her. It’s a testament to Bana as to what kind of person she was.
Expressing myself was something I enjoyed from as long back as I can remember. I can’t say that I had the ability or even possessed the skill set then. It took years to master it to the degree I enjoy today, but it was something that Bana encouraged, always. She exemplified the words “Loud and Proud,” something I now call myself to do and be whenever I get the chance. She forced me, lovingly, of course, to be myself in the way I could most influence the world, but also helped me continue to strip away more layers within and expose the authenticity of my being to myself and others. I didn’t know that at the time. But what I learned from her creativity along with her persistence that I tell my story, is she had given me the keys to be inspired by the world around me, and most importantly, her attitude of positivity taught me how.
As I write this, I realize that she died around the age I am right now. It makes me feel somewhat melancholy, but ironically, energized to encourage just as she did. I understand that because of her, I teach, love, and inspire others by the way I live, precisely how her presence advised me. Bana is no longer here, but her words, her essence, and her love are still rooted firmly within me. How fortunate for me we met when we did. The value she brought to my life at that time is something I, to this day, try very hard to express in how I behave and connect to others. Our world could surely use a lot more people like Bana to spread this wisdom around. I’m glad she helped mold me to the benefit of others, but principally to myself.
She was a gift that kept on giving long after she left us.
I miss her.