Friday, November 23, 2012

The Fight Forward

I know I’m a self-proclaimed non-crier, if there’s such a word. I have a whole blog on why I do not cry. But lately, I think I’ve done everything in my power to prove to the world that I am all but that.  I’ve gone from being sniffly in front of uncomfortable parents, to pouring tears in front of a quiet staff, to an all out can’t-catch-my-breath sob on the phone with a panicked colleague.  All the while, I repeat a mantra in the back of my head, “Pull yourself together, Chic! You are sooo inappropriate!”

I am quite possibly evolving into a weepy elderly, like a brutish man who turns into a sappy mess of a grandfather and cries over little children kissing him in exchange for candy.  But I’m only 38. If I’m so discomposed in my middle-age years, I’m going to be a basket case by the time the grandkids come along.  I really do have to pull myself together!

In my defense, it’s been a rough couple of weeks and the pain I’ve seen all around me has proven too hard even for an icy person to handle.  So I have responded in the most unfamiliar way. Cry.

“Here, dear,” said a woman in her 80’s, handing me two carefully folded blankets.  “I was able to save these from the flood. I want to donate them.”

I looked at the woman and her distraught eyes.  She had come earlier to our church,  now a Hurricane Sandy Relief Center.  She related her story of total loss. The furniture, the belongings, the house. Sandy came and just like that, everything was gone. I remember asking her if there was anything I could give her. Anything. What was it that she needed?

“I don’t know,” she said, still shaken, looking around her.  Water bottles, can goods, toiletries.  Her husband was surveying the building, holding on to a cereal box. “I don’t know. Everything is gone.”

Multiple families with small children had come before, but this was the first time I was confronted with elderly victims. I remember thinking, how could they rebuild? How do they start over in their final years? Where were their children? Did they have any?

And here she was, a couple of hours later, handing me blankets.

“I washed them in the laundry mat for you.  See?  They’re clean.  They’re still good.  Someone might need them.”  I don’t think she saw that I was emotionally crumbling in front of her.  “You are doing a good thing here, such a good thing…”

Everyone around me felt the same way, I’m sure, looking at tossed cars, gaping holes in homes, shifted foundations, heaps of broken wood, glass and debris. You cannot help but catch your breath in the middle of this devastation, your heart pressed tightly and pounding against your chest, your stomach hollow and empty.  But all the while, the whole tragedy is surreal.  A part of you removes itself from what you are physically witnessing. “This really isn’t happening. This cannot be real.”

Although I was physically tired from volunteering and my spirit was weary from all the devastation around us, I managed to take deep breaths and remain dry-eyed.  Even when I stood across the NYPD, as they searched for the two boys who perished in the flood just blocks away from the church, I stayed composed. 

But naturally, when those same two boys were viewed in a funeral service at a church right next to my job, a whole borough away from where they lost their lives, the irony of it all, and the closeness of their presence---I broke down and cried.

Sandy came for one day and just like that, so much loss, so much devastation, so much pain.

I think I had been in a state of emotional vulnerability for a while now because of Sandy, that by the time one of our teachers, who was my assistant for a couple of years, called me in tears about an MRI result of her mom, a doting mother who was her closest and dearest friend, I was anything and everything but strong.

And because that teacher is younger than my youngest sibling and I had developed a genuine love for her, and she had already lost her father suddenly just a few years back, that brain MRI that revealed a metastasized cancer was too much for me to handle.

I cried, then sobbed, then wailed.  I was driving through the BQE and asked God, why? Why is there so much loss? Why is there so much devastation? Why is there so much pain?  Was He watching all of this and would He please, please, do something?

I remember pulling over and calling my husband.  I could barely speak between sobs and because for the last decade of our marriage my tear ducts had normally been empty, he did not know how to respond to my breakdown.  “Come home,” he said in total panic. “Babe, come home.”

A couple of days later, when my emotions had settled, my husband and I reflected on the tragedies that we’ve experienced, even within the walls of our own personal lives.  It’s not that things were becoming more tragic.  It’s that we’ve been around for almost 4 decades now and we are witnessing what life naturally brings: joys and sadness, celebrations and despairs, gains and losses…

Some of the losses are unbearable but inevitably, they are a part of life.

Staten Island has a long way to go before it is totally rebuilt, but people have been gutting their basements, doing demolitions, putting up sheet rocks, plastering and painting.  Almost every home now has electricity, running water, and heat.  Facebook no longer mentions Sandy.  The topic of the hurricane has been replaced by mundane quotes, the death of Hostess Twinkie, and Black Friday. In other words, things seem to be shifting back to normal.

“I don’t mean to be cruel,” I said on a text to my assistant when she wrote that she could not fight for her mother, that she was wrong, she wasn’t as strong as she thought.  And really, she is one of the strongest people I know. I can’t…I don’t have the capacity… “You have to find the strength.  You have to stay lucid,” I said. 

Then, I repeated the words said to me when my daughter laid in what was meant to be her death bed and all I wanted to do was give up:  “You have no choice.”

And it really boils down to that.  A tragedy comes, a hurricane takes over.  We weep, we wail, we mourn. Then we brush ourselves up and we gather our resolve and we rebuild. We have no choice. We find strength in our sorrow, we push through our pain, and we fight forward.

And hopefully, hopefully, by the grace of God, we’ll win.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

An Identity Crisis

Until recently people who have met me can't seem to identify where I'm from.  In a couple of occasions, guessing my ethnicity became a "bet" and in both of those times, no one won.  I'll never forget the first time it happened.  My son was in intensive care, recently diagnosed with diabetes.  I walked by the nursing station.  There were probably four people there, including the doctor.  Eventually, one of the nurses, blonde and blue-eyed, came in the room, struck a conversation after checking my son over and ultimately asked about my background.  I told her I was from the Philippines and she winced and said she was sure, so sure, I was from South America but alas, she did not win the bet.  As she left, the doctor walked in.  She also checked on my son and then, strangely, the conversation led to my nationality.  I told her I was from the Philippines.  She walked away.  She too had lost the bet.  She was Russian and had insisted earlier that certainly, I was mixed with Eastern European blood.  The Filipino nurse had bet I was from China.  She was shocked to discover we came from the same place. Everyone lost the bet.

I've had numerous guesses come my way, from very close (You're Indonesian?) to somewhat close (You're Tibetan and White?) to extremely far fetched (I thought you were Mulatto! Half black and half white!)

The second bet that I know of took place in graduate school from a group of women who carpooled to college together.  One of them was a Filipino woman.  She wasn't a very good loser as she insisted to her group I lied about coming from the Philippines.  I wondered if they had bet money.

I've looked like Pocahantas, the Virgin Mary from the movie Jesus, and most recently, the martial artist and actress, Maggie Q.

It used to matter how I looked when I was younger.  True to how Filipinos are, I did not want to be mistaken as Chinese.  I, in fact, did not want anyone guessing that I was indeed from the Philippines.  I was, however, open to anything resembling Western features.  As I got older and eventually had exotic half-Haitian children, I embraced anything that came closest to my Oriental descent.  And whenever someone said Filipino, (hardly ever by a Filipino, by the way) I would be struck with a sense of excitement mixed with surprise and relief that someone had guessed my identity correctly.  I suppose I wanted only to be identified by my real origin since that's the part of me I've given to my children.  They know they are half Filipino and half Haitian.  And that half, that Filipino half, came from me.

Yes, yes, of course I have Spanish blood.  Four hundred years of Spanish rule, pillaging the land and subjecting women into cohabitation, will render a Filipino half bred.  But the most of me is Filipino and at almost 40, I am not only at peace with it, I am quite proud of it.

Those of you that know me know that in the last few years some changes have taken placed in my life that may bring on an identity crisis.  My Dad had somewhat turned Buddhist (he insist he's a Christian but spend 5 minutes with him and you make your own conclusion) and my mother had started claiming she's a Messianic Jew. I tried to tell her repeatedly that you first need to be a Jew, get converted and then become Messianic.  I was raised an Apostolic Pentecostal, in a church where trimming hair led to eternal damnation and being eternally damned was a favorite subject.  But after a minister Dad now Buddhist philosopher, and a Messianic mom and now a gay brother, I want to be nothing more than just a Filipino who believes in Jesus Christ and hopes somehow, someway everyone makes it in the pearly gates.

And aunt died 3 weeks ago.  Her death, though painful and mourned, sadly did not come as a surprise.  She had been battling cancer for some time and in her last week, she said her goodbyes.  She was tired, she missed her mother, and she wanted to be with the Lord.  

Her death was expected.  Her burial...shocking.

"We are Jewish!" my mother laughed with excitement when she saw me.  "The rabbi in the Jewish cemetery confirmed in our genealogy that your great-grandmother  from my mother's side was a full Jew from Spain who relocated to the Philippines in the 1800's.  Your aunt is buried in the Jewish cemetery.  We are Jewish!"

I looked at my mother.

"Do you hear what I'm saying? According to Jewish law if the mother's side is Jewish, even a thousand years back, their children are 100% Jews.  We are Jewish! I always knew I was.  I always said I was! And that means you too. You are Jewish!"

I kept looking at my mother.

Three weeks have passed and I don't think I've quite recovered from the shock.  How could that be?  That Law makes no sense.  How could you be so watered down and still be 100%? 

"Wait a minute, wait a minute.  If your great grandmother is Jewish, then your grandmother is Jewish which means your mother is Jewish.  And Anna Marie, you are Jewish."

I was on the phone with my Hasidic boss.

I stared at the computer screen in my office, mouth agape.

So, here I am, almost 4 decades old, trying to be the Virtuous Woman, a position I had concluded long ago to belong only to Jewish women.  And as of 3 weeks ago, it looks as though I may be in the running of really becoming one.

I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, well, that really will throw a monkey wrench in the works, wouldn't it?  The next time a group decides to bet, no one will come even close.  At this point in time, I also want to join that bet.  

And from the look of things lately, I too might walk away a loser.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Unpromised Tomorrow

I was driving in the pouring rain when one of my staff members called me on the phone very early one morning.  I pulled over and tried to understand her between her sobs.  I heard words like "still can't see" and "MRI" and  "brain" and "swelling."  She was talking about her only child, her 7-yr-old in the ICU and I felt my body tremble as my own tears drenched my face. She cried, "My heart hurts, please Miss Anna Marie, help heart hurts!"

Somewhere between closing my door and running across the street in the pouring rain, I lost my car keys.  I had never done that before but I felt half lucid and the early morning news had caught me off guard.  I had just been in that hospital room the day before, watching her daughter rest, wondering what it was that caused her to suddenly lose her vision.  I had prayed over her little body and every member of the family in that quiet room cried along with me.

I remember asking God, why. Why?  Why when that was her only daughter? Why when her whole life as a single mother revolved around her child, when she worked full time while finishing college, forgoing sleep and rest for the sake of the unpromised tomorrow for her and her little girl. Why?

"She woke up Saturday saying she had a headache.  I gave her medicine.  Then she went back to sleep.  When she woke up, she couldn't see."

Just like that.  One day life is routinely normal.  The next, tragic.

Because I can often only really relate when I'm able to associate an event in my own life, I kept thinking of my son, Aaron.  One day he was healthy. The next, a life sentence with diabetes.  I thought of my Alanna. One day running around singing Yo Gabba Gabba.  The next, fighting for her life.

The next day a friend called me and asked if I had heard about a girl we both knew.  She had taken her life just hours before.  She was young and married and had friends.

I must admit I drove in a stupor for several days, heavy hearted, clouded, and my soul somewhat empty.  I thought of the young lady I work with and her child.  I thought of the hardship of the test results and the diagnosis.  I pictured her tall, thin body trembling as we stood by radiology waiting for her daughter to awaken from anesthesia, tears streaming down her broken face.  But we were praying, we were hoping.


"The thing about suicide is on the one hand it's so selfish.  On the other bad could it be in your mind that you don't think things could ever, ever be better?" said a young friend.  We were both on our way to work, carpooling, and reflecting on the sudden loss that had taken placed just days before.  I thought about the grieving parents, the relatives, the husband.

That's just it, I told him. You never know what tomorrow will bring.  You can be on the top of the mountain today and find yourself at the bottom of the well in the morning.  You can be at the bottom of the well today, and tomorrow you can find yourself on the top of that mountain.  I told him I'd been studying the book of Ecclesiastes.  Everything is temporary.  The joy, the pain, the ease, the suffering.  We will experience them all because there's a time for everything.

"You can't say it's hopeless because you don't know what tomorrow will bring.  You can't say you got it all together either...because you don't know what tomorrow will bring."

Three days after that rainy morning and that phone call, I got a text.  That precious little girl got her vision back.  The swelling had decreased and her brain, slowly but surely, was healing.

This afternoon, although her daughter is still in the hospital, my co-worker graduated from college and celebrated a great victory of perseverance and sacrifice.

And so I'm thinking of right now. Today is here. And as I write this, tomorrow is fast approaching. I'm learning a lesson on things that have no permanence.  Happiness is not guaranteed but pain and suffering will also pass, sooner or later.

The Jewish scholars say that the Virtuous Woman was Bathsheba.  Her life was full of gains and losses.  She lost a husband and a newborn son.  She gained the heart of a king and inherited a kingdom.  But because she was a woman full of virtue and wisdom, I like to think that when things were good she didn't take them for granted.  And when things became tragic she knew they weren't final.  She was, after all, the mother of the wisest king that ever lived who claimed that there is a time for everything and to everything, there is a season--that life is but a vapor and that suffering is temporary.  Nomatter how long it may take, it will pass.

It is no wonder Ecclesiastes echoes repeatedly with this admonition: eat, drink, and enjoy the fruit of your labor.  The son of the Virtuous Woman knew that there are so many unpromised tomorrows. There are no guarantees.  There are no certainties.

What we do have is right now.  And for that, I am grateful and I must, to the best that I can, live every second of it to the fullest.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Pass the passion, please

For the first time in a long time, I have only one job and I'm not in school.  At first the possibility of such freedom in schedule appeared promising but after many hours on Facebook, Groupon, and Netflix, I found myself lying half hanging on my bed, wondering about the meaning of life and if at any moment, foam would spill from my mouth from complete and utter boredom.  Because I'm employed as a "self-proclaimed" thinker, analyzing behavior and developing behavior plans, I refuse to do anything cerebral once I'm home.  Hence, the social network and foreign films.  Recently, I've been engrossed in political documentaries that have left me feeling feeble and helpless and may I add, a believer in federal conspiracy theories.

You would think that this ample time of nothingness would finally relax my stiff nerves but oddly, I found myself awakened many nights by chest pains, palpitations, and tachycardia as soon as my schedule opened up.  My husband argues that I just do not know how to relax.  That the very idea of relaxing stresses me out. He may be right since my last doctor appointment revealed my highest ever blood pressure reading now that in essence, I'm nearly stress free.  So in a week I am scheduled for a complete cardiac work-up.  Apparently, being at home doing virtually nothing has me on the verge of a heart attack.

But all these alarming ailments do not compare to my state of emotional coma.  Life with its predictable rhythm has become all too...well, predictable...and I have accomplished less work and gained more lazy hormones now that I'm no longer busy.  I survey the program I run at work with a sense of discontentment and although accolades pour in and clearly the program creates amazing results, I feel inept and subpar and I go home and sit in a corner and stare into space.  I find myself wondering what is wrong with me. And of course, I come up with the same answer: it's probably that time of the month...again...and so soon!

Then I visited a company and sat down with the Executive Director whose educational credential is less than mine.  In other words, he has less initials after his name.  But he was so thorough and so well-versed and so...passionate.  He was categorically so much better than I in our field and while I was not intimidated I had to concede that I was inferior next to his abilities and I wanted to stay by his side and glean from his knowledge and I said, "Perhaps I should quit my job and have you mentor me." We both went ha ha ha, but I think we both knew full well that I was serious about the mentoring part.

I walked away from that meeting realizing that doing just enough or doing "halfheartedly" is not an option.  That free time can breed laziness and laziness is habit forming and once you are habitually doing less than you should, life is then lived in the absence of passion and for me the cliche is true--a life without passion is a life with no meaning.

I remember walking down the subway perseverating on a phrase: I have to do more, I have to do more, I have to do more.

And then, I have to do it with all my heart.

And by pure habit, I began thinking about the Virtuous Woman whose days seemed filled with labor.  I realize that it's not in the labor itself that made her so mythical. It's that her life, everyday, seemed to resonate with purpose and intention.  A woman does not have to be involved in business, or  be a stay-at-home mom, or have a career, or a demanding profession.  But I think she does have to get up in the morning and live a wholehearted life of purpose and intention, whatever that may be.

For me, packing up my schedule has never been about becoming something greater.  It has always been about doing, about leaving no pockets in my day that inevitably grow into a gaping hole that leaves me uninspired and feeling useless.  It is in heartfelt doing, in the journey of becoming, that I'm most comfortable.  I feel worthwhile there.  I suppose when I move nonstop I feel a sense of purpose.  And for me, that purpose is the foundation for passion.  And if I am passionate, I am not just alive.  I am living.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Peeking into the Past

My daughter sees a psychologist. Or, rather, a psychologist sees her--every Thursdays, at 6:30, in our home.  Dr. Brown has her own practice but because Alanna's challenge is her social anxiety the good doctor has been kind enough to do therapy in a place that is most comfortable...In the comfort of our living room.

Last night they sat together and watched Alanna's video for the first time.  The video chronicles Alanna's miraculous recovery from the swine flu.  They watched the video in silence, Alanna looking away every now and then, Dr. Brown glancing at Nana every so often.

They talked about the video when it was over.  What was Alanna's favorite part?  What did she think about being in the hospital?  Did she remember anything?

Alanna has seen the video countless times with me in the past.  She, in fact, asks to see it sometimes.  Clearly oblivious to what it all means, she would often giggle at pictures of herself once she was well, saying things like, "I was running, I was playing with a butterfly, etc.,"  We never talked in detail about the video. She just knew three things: she was in the hospital, she was very sick, Jesus healed her.

After the doctor left, my four year old was the most gregarious we've seen her.  She chatted up a storm with her Dad in the supermarket, she asked questions in a bulleted fashion, her energy up, her anxiety totally absent.  But when 3AM came, while asleep, Alanna began to yell and moan.  My husband and I rushed to her room and stood over her bed.  

Alanna was tossing, turning, kicking, her eyes closed.  She was crying, clearly in distressed, and she could not be comforted.

She was doing the same things that she did for several nights, every night, when she first came home from the hospital.  It wasn't in the same equal amount of intensity but she was clearly reliving the nightmares of the ICU, fighting doctors and nurses, pushing away needles, while in a restless and anxiety-filled sleep.

I scooped her up in my arms, my heart heavy, and rocked her back and forth.  And eventually, after drinking a glass of water, she fell into a deep and quite sleep.

It was 5:30 in the morning.

This morning, while getting ready for work, I told my sister and my husband that I didn't want Alanna talking about her hospital experience after all.  That I prefer it to be tucked safely in her subconscious. They disagreed, of course.  My husband said that suppressing all that trauma cannot be healthy for anyone.

It's better she deals with this now while she's young than when she gets older and it shows up in different ways.  

I wondered if that was what happened to me.  At Alanna's age I had been in critical care, expected to die, but a miracle took place.  There had been an epidemic and children around me in the hospital were dying.  Some doctor that no one seemed to know or remember ever seeing told a nurse to remove a certain IV from my arm.  Once it was removed I recovered almost instantly.  No one ever saw that doctor there again.

But I did not receive therapy.  No Dr. Brown came to my living room.  There were no discussions about a video.  There was no peeking into the past.  And just like Alanna, I too did not socialize.  I would not play with other children.  I would not speak in social settings.  I preferred to stay in my room by myself.  I had no desire to be with other children and engage in play.

But at home I would never take a breath from talking.  And although my tolerance to playing was low, I interacted with my sister and played with her appropriately.

I am, in essence, Alanna with no therapy. And I wonder...would talking to someone have made a difference and if so, what kind of a difference?  Would peeking into a traumatic past in such a tender age have changed the type of woman I am today?

I am a board certified behavior analyst and as such, I am leery of psychologists but I was the one who insisted that my daughter be seen by one...I wonder why?

I wonder if my near death journey at 2 years old affected the way I view the world?  I wonder if it plays a part in my insistence to remain stoic and unaffected at things that could tug at my emotions and render me weak?  

I wonder if it's the reason why sometimes I feel utterly alone?

I didn't have a Dr. Brown and sadly, I didn't have a mom and dad who would scoop me up in the middle of the night and rock me back and forth.  That was just not how things were done.

But I did have the Lord, the same one who gave me that miracle to live.  And Nana has Him too.  But thankfully, she also has her Dad who jumps in the middle of the night at every cough, at every whimper, and especially, at every cry.

And she has me who is determined to tell her only things that will build her up and let her know that she is loved more than she could ever fathom.  And then she has aunts and uncles and cousins who remember her in that hospital bed and who shower her with open affection.

And on Thursdays, she has Dr. Brown.

This peeking into the past is proving to be a bit more trying than I realized but I suppose my sister and my husband are right.  It is better she deal with this trauma now when she is young, so she can leave it behind with her youth and she can grow older, emotionally healthier, and stronger.

If not, she just might find herself in front of a computer someday.  Typing, blogging, reliving stories of the past and wondering...what if?

I suppose they can peek into the past gently all they want.  And should her nights prove to be restless, I and her Dad are here.  We will scoop her up, rock her back and forth, give her a drink of water, and put her back to sleep.

And in her sleep, the Lord will be there.  The same one who gave her that miracle to live...

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Greener Grass

Very recently I came across a father of a child with autism who enquired about the program I lead in Brooklyn.  That enquiry led to the discovery of his heartfelt blog, his personal journey as a father with an autistic child.  I went through several entries and admired his courage to be so open.

I knew one day I would have to write about this and so, after reading this father's blog, I have decided to talk about my only son, the love of my life.  My Aaron, my prince.

People often ask how we do it with Aaron.  The numerous drops of blood taken multiple times a day to check his sugar, the interrupted sleeps to make sure he's stable, night after night, every night for the last seven and a half years, in fact.  Some well wishers muse in the middle of manual injections and sigh, "I could never do what you guys do."  Then the shaking of the head.  "I don't know how you do guys do it.  I would never be able to do it."

As though in life, we're always handed a choice.  As though we had a chance to say, "No thanks, God.  I would never be able to do it.  Hand the child to someone else who can."

The truth is, life threw a curve ball and we've been swinging ever since.  If swinging is what it takes to keep the child we've been handed, then swing away is what we'll do.

When Aaron was diagnosed with Juvenile Type I Diabetes at barely two years old the nurse in the ER scolded  me when my chin trembled and I began to cry.  The needles and the beeping noises and the hustle and bustle of the emergency room were enough to make a grown up anxious, let alone a toddler.  She advised me to compose myself and smile at my boy and so, I did.  My often stoic husband collapsed on Aaron's bedside and he started to weep after I told him Aaron had diabetes. I told him gently to collect himself.

I never really cried over this unwanted life sentence.  I had been teary, a little sniffly at times in the beginning but I never really gave it the good cry it deserved.  Two years ago, however, I watched the Biggest Loser alone, in the dark, with no one else in the house.  A twelve year old boy with Type II Diabetes had lost weight and the Diabetes shed away with the pounds.  I looked at that boy with utter disdain.  The putrid taste of resentment settled in my mouth.  "You ate and ate," I said at the television.  "That's why you became a diabetic!"

And then, just like that, the angry tears flowed and then the anger, eventually, turned to agony.  And finally, after many years, I sobbed.  Aaron's pancreas had been destroyed by an autoimmune disease, not because he overate the sickness into his body.  He can't shed the diabetes simply by self-control and dieting.  He had nothing to do with bringing the disease into his life.  Life just dealt his little tiny body a bad blow and neither he nor us, his parents, had a choice or a say in the matter. I suppose I had been angry for a long time but I didn't know who to direct that anger to.  For the moment, the 12-year-old triumphant boy seemed a fair target.

There has been numerous hospital trips since that first ER visit and the occurrence of hyper and hypo glycemia has become a normal part of our lives.  And really, the finger sticks, the insulin shots, and the scampering for some sweets to keep Aaron from bottoming out and possibly seizing, are so engraved in our daily schedule that people's pity often confuse us.  Aaron's diabetes has become nothing more than a hiccup at this point.  He is, to both me and my husband and I'm sure his baby sister, anything and everything that is healthy and normal.

I think for years I did not give myself permission to be sad because when Aaron became sick I was a Peds nurse to a bedridden little boy who breathed through a trach and whose chance of any normalcy was nonexistent.  I thought, I have the greener grass.  I have no right to be heavy hearted.

And because our steps are always ordered by God, I eventually became a teacher to children with special needs, many with varying disabilities, from minor to severe, and I found multiple reasons to be grateful.

I continue to pray diligently for a cure but I think after that good cry a certain level of acceptance brought a sense of wholeness that had been absent in my heart for a long time. Our grass may never be greener to someone else but if good health means not having Aaron, then I'll take the diabetes any day.  Really, it's made Aaron who he is: uniquely compassionate, always saying prayers for the poor, and befriending the friendless.

I'll never forget what the mother of that little boy I treated said after Aaron was diagnosed.  "Ana, I have to give it to you.  I can't do what you do for your son.  I don't have the stomach for needles."  I remember looking at my patient, his bedridden little body, and being very dumbfounded.  For that mom, incredibly, her grass was greener.

I've met numerous parents since whose lives seemed marred by the presence of extreme disabilities and you could tell just by looking at them that while they hoped for better, they never wished to live on the other side of the fence.  Just like that father who blogs about his little boy, I know the challenges of fighting through a disease and waiting for either a miracle or a cure but just like him, I also know what it's like not to want a child different from my own.

You see, the grass on my lawn may not be the greenest but it is home and to me, no other place would do.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Thing About Being Beautiful

In less than 8 weeks, I will be 38 years old.  I tell everyone I'm turning 40 because that announcement seem to elicit a gush of compliments, No way, you're gonna be 40? Omg, you don't look it at all! But when I become truthful and admit that on the first day of March I will be 38, the response is a bit different. Are you doing anything special?

I remember meeting a 32 year old when I was 17.  I thought she looked 50 and now when I see her pictures at that time, I realize that indeed, she looked 32.  I was young and anyone with crow's feet was old and old could never accompany beauty; they were antonyms of each other.  I look at teenagers with disdain now.  I think to myself, I know what some of you brats are thinking but one day you too will wake up and wonder why your chin is sagging as you gather loose strands of hair from the sink in pure panic!

If you've been following my blog you know by now that Sarah, the wife of Abraham, is supposedly the ultimate Virtuous Woman.  That is comforting considering that even at 60 she had kings and princes after her.  I often wonder if she just aged beautifully and really, really slowly or if she took some measures to staying beautiful.  The woman in Proverbs 31 sure sounds like she was aware of beauty---she arrayed herself in linen and lavender colors.  I mean, she was amazing in every area imaginable but she also knew the importance of being beautiful.

But really, who has time for facials, manis and pedis, and the salon?

Being a Virtuous Woman has this added pressure of self-care, of maintaining one's outward display of beauty.   Left up to me, I would simply pride myself with the beauty of "wisdom" that age provides.  I would walk around unbathed, go to the supermarket in oversized sweats, and never wash my hair.  Honestly, I can forgo the Halle Berry look but between the high blood pressure and the arthritis and the really crappy mornings, beauty has had to redefine itself. And really, I don't want to use getting older as an excuse to neglect myself all together.   Why should I constantly resent all these young celebrities on television that remind me that 40 is really not the new 20?

And so, tired of waking up every morning groaning as my joints crack and squeak and complain, mocking the absence of teenage youth, I have bought Billy Blanks Tae Bo on ebay.  How To Get Celebrity Fit.

It is a one hour exercise video that I started last night, committed to looking young and sensational, even if it kills me.  This is the modern day version of the Virtuous Woman's"linen and lavender." Trimmed abs and a youthful silhouette.  I was pumped.  I did the punches, the kicks, the jumping jacks.  I could see Billy Blanks.  I could hear Billy Blanks.  I was one with Billy Blanks.

I lasted 11.53 minutes.  I was gasping, sweating, and looking for my asthma pump.

That's it? My husband asked.  I sneered at Mr. P90X with his buffed arms and pecs and told him that I was pacing myself.  11 minutes the first night, 15 minutes the next, then 20, so on and so forth.

The reason why I couldn't do it tonight is because every joint in my body is aching, even that of my right pinky.  But there's always tomorrow night.  I will be sure to wear lighter clothing and to keep my asthma pump nearby.

The thing about being beautiful for me is that it does not want to come along easily on this uphill climb to age and so, I resent it.  I never knew that growing old gracefully meant panting like a dog in front of a video and hoping you didn't pull too many muscles, or that beauty and misery were very good friends.  I have a feeling that Sarah did not need Tae Bo but she also did not have to stress over super sized fast foods, air pollution, and Brooklyn drivers.

But alas I am aiming for the Virtuous Woman so I must be beautiful and achieve the "linen and lavender." And for me that means showering daily, cutting back on sodium, brownie deprivation, and a long lasting relationship with Billy Blanks.

Monday, January 2, 2012

What Resolution?

When I was a little girl, on New Year's Eve, I would take out a piece of paper and a pencil and write my resolutions.  I don't know what needed critical changing at 8 years old and really, no one required it of me, but I was an odd child and already very hard on myself.  Over the years when life piled on it's disappointments and cynicism replaced hopeful wonders, my resolutions found their way less and less on a paper and more and more in my head.

Quite frankly, I became disenchanted with years of failed and unfulfilled resolutions.  Nevertheless, I would come up with them anyway.  A new year, a new beginning.  I had faith in myself.

I don't know what happened this year.  I think Thanksgiving came too fast and Christmas came even faster.  When the New Year rang in, there were no fireworks or ecstatic reverie or your usual 3...2...1...Happy New Year!  The pastor was still talking about not being hung up on the past and midnight came without its due anticipated celebration.  By the time I got through 5 people to finally wish my husband Happy New Year, 2012 seemed to have come and gone.  Don't get me wrong.  It's not like I've ever celebrated the New Year outside of a church pew.  Every year was met in solemn or vibrant worship but in times past, there was always some level of excitement.  My cousins and I would glance over our shoulders to look at the giant clock at the back of the church and you could feel anticipation vibrating through the seats and whatever the preacher was doing, the rest of the congregation in silence chanted, 3...2...1...and hands would be squeezed and smiles would be exchanged and when the pastor released us from worship, people seemed to jump out of their seats to greet everyone with childish glee.

I don't know what happened this time.  Perhaps it was just me.  People said Happy New Year! and I smiled, yeah, yeah, same to you.  Happy New Year.

Maybe it's because 40 is around the corner.  Maybe because I'm carrying an extra 7 pounds into the new year.  Maybe it was because I was just exhausted.  Whatever it may be, I was unimpressed with 2012.  I went to the church bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror.  My God, I'm the New Year Grinch!

Today, while getting ready for a big family party, a day after the New Year, I drove to Costco and sat in the parking lot for a long time.  I watched people rushing to the warehouse--droves of them.  You would think the whole Staten Island was stocking up for a snowstorm.  I reflected on life, on 2011, on what it all means and everything seemed hazy and blurry.  And then I thought, I have got to join that drove or there will be no paper plates for this party!

"Be grateful," I heard myself say suddenly in a whisper.  "Be grateful for what you have."

I thought of the single mother who lost her 22 year old son two days after Christmas.  She has entered 2012 without her only son.  My husband had found me sobbing in front of the computer while I watched his video on Facebook and I kept repeating, "My God, why?  That poor mother.  That poor, poor mother!"

And so, that is my one and only resolution. This year, I want to be more grateful. I don't know if the rush of the season had stolen my holiday cheer but whatever the reason for my daze maybe, it is ultimately trivial and unimportant.

I want to be more grateful for everything that I have.  If I keep just that resolution penciled into my heart and mind, then 2012 is guaranteed to be a good year.