Thursday, January 30, 2014

My Guardian Angel

Side note:  I am extremely close to my mom's side of the family.  My grandmother and aunt's are strong, amazing women that I admire so greatly.  There are no words to express the love, gratitude and appreciation I have for them.  When I was younger, my family and I lived not too close to my relatives.  So when it came time to decide what we wanted to do for the summer the answer was pretty clear.  My dad would tell us that we could go to Disneyland or some other exciting place we had never been, and my brother and sisters and I would all want to go visit our extended family in the Rio Grande Valley.  It was the best time of my life.  Spending time with my cousins, playing tag or making up some new club that we could only be a part of.  I still look fondly on those memories.  One of the people that I was always so anxious to see was my cousin Maribel.  This is about her.  I love her and miss her still.     

Growing up, I was always sure about three things.  First, I knew I was loved.  Second, God had always been an integral part of my life, even at 14.  Last, if she didn’t wake up, a part of me would die with her.   The place where laughter and innocence play, and the worries of the world are not allowed.
Now, I stared at her pale, puffed up complexion.  She was unrecognizable to the carefree girl I knew before.  After all the treatments, and chemotherapy, the only thing that remained the same about her was her eyes, and her spirit.  Now both of those were quiet.  They had fallen asleep along with her, struggling to wake up.  I sat beside her, feeling guilty for being healthy.  I couldn’t bear to keep looking, as the lump in my throat was making it more difficult to swallow.
My cousin, Maribel, was my best friend, my other half.  We didn’t live in the same town or even the same State, so we would write letters back and forth to each other.  She would write about some boy she loved.  A different one every letter it seemed like.  I, a late bloomer, would write about the pesterings of my younger sister and brother.   Dreaming of the day I would be able to write about the boy I would one day marry. During the summers when my family and I would make the 20-hour road trip to see the rest of the Hernandez clan in South Texas, we were inseparable.  We would pull up to the quaint yellow house, and I could always count on her to be waiting on the porch with a smile and a hug.  The moment she saw our maroon colored van, she flew off the porch, I ripped open the door, and we embraced.  She’d grab my hand, interlocking fingers, and we talked, and laughed, picking up right where the letters left off.  The couple of weeks we visited were never long enough, but we made the most of it.  We shared our hopes, dreams, and wishes. The carefree laughter of those days had since departed.   Leaving in its place a cold anticipation, hoping for a happy ending, for her happy ending.
The moment we found out the news, my world fell apart.  How could it be true?  Maribel just left my house.  We just rode our bikes passed my secret crush’s house, that just so happened to be near the 7-11 where we got Flamin’ Hot Cheetohs, Peanut M&M’s, and a Pepsi to wash it all down.  But the call changed everything.  I still couldn’t believe it.  How could it be so? How could my 12 year-old cousin have leukemia. 
“She fainted, “ my mom tried to explain, although not much was getting through to me right about then.  “Your tía had to take her to the hospital, and they found that her blood was not quite right.  Until we find out more, we need to pray and trust in God.” 
God?  I was so confused with God. That confusion would later turn into anger.  Two years after receiving the news, her happy ending seemed to be more of a fairy tale than a reality.  Watching her lay silently in the hospital bed broke my heart.  Not just for the present, but for her future as well.  It made my heart ache to think of how my beautiful cousin would probably not be able to pull all nighters, or go on her first date, or go to prom.  I used to believe that things would be back to normal. I was a bit naïve I suppose.  Not really understanding her illness or more possibly not wanting to understand.
That gray February day, everyone was gathered, scrunched in the small hospital room.  My grandfather’s dancing eyes held tears that he wasn’t ready to let loose quite yet.  My grandmother’s lips moving, as the hushed prayers she often recited came out and filled the air.  I watched my uncle, Maribel’s father, hunching over her, whispering into her ear.  What I will never know.  I love you, I’m sure.  I’ll miss you, definitely.  But the rest was theirs.  A private conversation between a father and his princess, whom he would never be allowed the honor to walk down the aisle.  My aunt kissed my Maribel’s hand and then turned to hold on to her other two children who were sobbing so loudly near her.  Then I saw it.  My spot.  On Maribel’s left-hand side.  My aunt smiled at me through a stream of tears, and nodded her head.  Saying it’s okay.  Go ahead.  So I took my place, I held my cousin’s hand, and the nurse walked in.  With such precision and grace she removed the life support machine my cousin had been on since slipping into a comma a little over a week ago.  Even then I wanted to yell at everyone.  At the nurse for doing what I knew was her job, and at my aunt and uncle for letting her do it.  I held on to my cousin’s hand.  Fingers intertwined like we always did.  I whispered to her how much I loved her, how sorry I was that she was going through this.  And with her last struggling breath, I kissed her cheek, and said, “I miss you.”    
I am still sure about three things.  First, I am and always will be loved very much by the people I hold closest to my still healing heart.  Second, God will remain the rock I lean on.  He will carry me in His faithful arms through any hardship or tragedy, with hope lighting the way.  And last, she looks down on me, and smiles, sometimes even laughs. My guardian angel. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Peace Keeper or Peace Maker? by Carolyn

One of the several sticky notes currently on my computer at work says, "peace keeper or peace keeper?" It is there to remind me to think about that: Am I a peace keeper or a peace maker?

So, which am I? Which should I be? I suspect that the correct answer to the second question is that being a peace maker is superior to being a peace keeper. Which worries me, because I suspect I am more of the latter than the former.

The implication (in my mind at least) seems to be that a peace keeper is willing to compromise on anything to bring about a cessation of hostilities; to placate others by giving up her principles. In short, by selling out just for the sake of avoiding conflict. Have I ever done that? I suspect I have. Maybe more than once.

I imagine that it is more heroic, more morally advanced, a higher calling, to be a peace maker. So, what does that mean? To me, a peace maker would be someone who can bring people with disparate views or beliefs together to reach a consensus which satisfies everyone. Maybe even more than that - a peace maker creates an environment in which people who would normally disagree about the color of the sky will collaborate to craft a solution, a process, a new reality in which they work together to achieve a higher purpose.

So, how would you go about that? What happens when two viewpoints are diametrically opposed? How do you make peace then? Can you force people to see other perspectives? (If so, that would solve a lot of problems in the world, I think.) How do you find the common ground when there seems to be no common ground? How does the "win/win" solution come about when parties are more concerned with "I win/you lose"?

The sad truth is, I have no idea how to go about persuading people to change their minds if they aren't inclined to do so. I am no silver-tongued orator, nor am I blessed with the gift of charismatic appeal. Perhaps I am fated to always be a peace keeper instead of a peace maker.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

31 Flavors and the Rules of Hospitality

 Rosebud was my first American friend.  She offered to give me rides to school when I first arrived at the Incarnate Word Academy in Houston, Texas back in 1978.  She kept giving me rides in her little green car; even after others lost interest in the only Iranian that had ever attended the Catholic, all-girl school.  When Rosebud won class treasurer, she invited a few of us to celebrate by having ice cream.  That was my first experience with Baskin Robbins and its 31 flavors.  You have to understand that growing up in Iran, ice cream was sold from late spring until the end of summer.  You could not just go to the store and buy ice cream in the middle of the winter.  Who would want ice cream when it is cold outside?  No one.  No one should.  It is forbidden.  Also, ice cream came in three flavors:  Vanilla, chocolate and strawberry.  What other flavors could there be?  So you can imagine my surprise at the assortment of flavors at Baskin Robbins.  Maybe not 31 exactly, but definitely more than three!  I don’t know why but I chose mint chocolate chip.  The chocolate part I am sure was my attempt to stick to the familiar and the mint and the green color, my leap into a new adventure.  Mint chocolate chip remained my favorite flavor for a long time.

When it came time to pay for the ice cream, I discovered another American novelty.  Even though we were celebrating Rosebud’s success, we each had to pay for our own ice cream.  I was not prepared.  In the Persian culture, when something good comes your way, a new job, a promotion, a new house, a new baby, (getting elected class treasurer, if such a thing existed), you invite your friends to celebrate and treat them with “sweets”, figuratively and literary.  At the least, you bring a box of pastries to share with everyone.  At the most, you kill a sheep and throw a party to share the meat.  I was shocked to find out that was not the custom here!  When it came time to pay, I had to scrounge around in my wallet and I think I even had to borrow a few quarters from Rosebud to pay for my mint chocolate chip ice cream.

Thirty five years in America and I have learned to exercise my right to eat ice cream any time I want.  I rarely choose vanilla, chocolate or strawberry.  After mint-chocolate chip, my favorite flavor is jamoca almond fudge.  But, if I am celebrating something, even if it is just your friendship, I exercise my right to treat. ~Susan.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Writing for Life by Andrea

an act of devoting time, effort, or energy to a particular undertaking with the expectation of a worthwhile result

In the book of Matthew, Jesus tells a story of three men given various talents (sums of money) based on each one’s management ability and with an implied expectation of a profitable return on their master’s investment.  Two of the three men, immediately invested their talents and doubled what they had been given by the time the master returned.  The third steward, however, was afraid of failure so he buried his talent. The first two were commended.  The last gentleman was condemned as a wicked, lazy servant. His one talent was taken from him and given to the one who earned the most.

Perhaps largely because of this parable, a talent of money morphed into our standard idea of talent: one’s natural ability or skill. The parable illustrates the need for investing one’s talent(s) to yield high dividends and rewards rather than selfishly or fearfully keeping it to oneself.

We all have things at which we are naturally gifted, as well as other things about which we are passionate without regard to ability or skill.  I am not sure if writing is one of my God- given talents, but it is definitely something I desire to do well. For 2014, I set a goal of investing in a talent.  And writing is it! I will no longer bury my desire to write well under a pile of fear.

I have been afraid to put myself out there.  I have been afraid to invest time and energy in growing at this craft. I have allowed myself to think that talking about writing, reading about writing and thinking about writing are enough.  Don’t get me wrong.  I write.  I have written more in the past three years since joining the ladies here at Writing Four Lives than I would have on my own.  I joined the group for accountability, so that I could maintain my integrity as a teacher who pushes students outside of their comfort zone when it comes to writing. I need to be able to experience what the kids often do in order to help them through the challenges.  However, I have not grown as much as I could or should because I have been afraid.  I have not been invested. I have not taken many risks. 

I often tell my students ‘all people are “writers”, but not all people write.’  What I mean in this:  we all have stories to tell, lessons learned that need to be shared, ideas that could shift people’s paradigms, but the majority of us rarely ever write the words down. We think we will not do it as well as someone else.  We wonder if anyone will care about what we have to say.  We worry that the masters of the written word will rain down condemnation.  I have been one of those people.  I have hidden behind intention and writing “only for myself”. 

Instead, I am joining the ranks of the courageous, those who put pen to paper, fingers to keys and live. Investment brings risk. Writing requires vulnerability and trust. Writing is thinking, feeling, being on paper for others to see.  Writing is risky, but it's worth it.  And as they say 'anything worth doing is worth doing well'.

So I have committed to my writing group to post here at least once every four weeks. I must have something to share at our monthly writing workshops.  I will be taking a creative writing course at the University of Texas in the spring.  Before the start of the new year, I made a promise to myself to write for at least 20 minutes every day and I have stuck with my commitment. 

I am investing.  Talent or passion, I am writing for life.   

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Embracing the Bumps

The beginning of the New Year is a time of reflection for most people.   Goals are on everyone’s mind.  So the paper and pencil come out, and we make New Year’s resolutions.  I am part of this majority.  I even use a fancy pen and pretty paper and begin my extensive list.  Most of the time it is a list of at least 20 things I would like to do or accomplish before the next year. 

1.     I resolve to workout every day.
2.     To lose the last bit of baby weight I can’t seem to take off
3.     To save money and pay off all my debt
4.     To make a home cooked meal every night for my family
5.     To write every day and finally write the next Great American Novel

The list goes on and on until thru my resolutions, I begin to see the person I want to be.  This person will be happy and have nothing more than small bumps in the road, not the huge roadblocks this other 2013 person has been having.  Never, not once, has that worked out for me.  I have never kept all of my resolutions, let alone one.  Last year I got smart, or so I thought, and narrowed all my resolutions into three categories:  Health, family, and writing.  I then proceeded to place the millions of resolutions under the right column thinking it might help me keep them.  I begin strong.  I have all the intentions in the world to do all of these things, every day, and failure is not an option.  It is not written into my plan.  So why do I not make it past a month?

So I begin to think, I am a mom of two pretty amazing, but busy children.  I spend most of my evenings as a taxi, and my weekends as a cheerleader for my soccer player and competitive dancer.  But I know many moms who have more than two children, who seem to have it together and work out and make dinner for their family most nights of the week, so it can’t be because I am a mom that I can’t keep my resolutions.   I kept thinking.  I work full-time as a teacher.  Anyone who is in education knows our job doesn’t stop when kids go home.  I spend most of my time after my biological kids go to bed, preparing for my classroom kids.  Again, there are a lot of pretty great teachers I am blessed to learn from that seem to have it all together.  What is my problem then? 

I kept thinking, and here is what I have learned to be true in my life:
Failure is inevitable.  Disappointments are bound to happen.  It’s part of being alive and being human.  BUT that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.  I can’t control every situation or stop negative things from happening.  I can, however, control myself.  I have decided to be okay with the setbacks, but to not let them hold me back.  On my list of resolutions, working out and losing weight has always been on the top.  With one missed day, with one french fry too many, my resolve crumbled. My hope for a better me shatters and with everything else I have going on, the pieces are too many to pick back up.  Instead, I have allowed my own thoughts to keep me down, and I give up.  This year, I did not make a list.  It is January 2 and I don’t feel this insane pressure to do everything on my crazy list.  I freed myself from the let down of failure.  I may not have made an elaborate plan, but I do have things in mind I would like to accomplish and would like to do.  However, instead of focusing on the “list,” I will instead focus on the journey of this new year.  Embracing my bumps in the road.  If I miss a day of working out, so be it.  If I have to pick up Subway on my way home from a late night soccer practice, then fine.  If I enjoy a mint chocolate chip ice cream on a warm summer evening with my kids, not all hope is lost in my pursuit of a healthier me. I will probably still get down when these things happen, but I’m not going to stay down.  Every moment is a new chance.  I am going to smile and take that chance.