What Are We Waiting For?

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2002

She had a smile that entered the room long before she did and a heart that knew no limits. My husband’s aunt, who, by the time I became a member of the family, lived hundreds of miles away, was always someone I knew of. Declining health prevented her from meeting our youngest son, her one visit with our older two a mere few hours.

I had only spent a short time in her physical company, but the idea of Irene has always been profound; and her passing last week has left a palpable void and reminded me of something I thought I already knew.

If I had to guess, I don’t think Irene understood the impact she had on me. And that wouldn’t be her fault. It would be mine. Because I never told her. I never picked up the phone and called her, never wrote her a letter. I sent photos of the children, always made sure I sent a Christmas card; but beyond that I was remiss.

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2007

I never told her how beautiful I thought she was, how incredibly brave, how the story of her life is the stuff of fiction. She lived many lifetimes in the one she was given, weathered losses that would have easily felled others. I never made an effort to be sure she knew her great-nephews despite geographical hurdles.

And just as resplendent flowers tend to arrive more prolifically after a person has died, the ardent words that would better have been spoken and written in life, suddenly appear with a vengeance: Obituaries overflow with positivity, letters of condolence seep with evocative praise. And the person who has left departed none the wiser.

So I’m left today wondering why: Why I did not stop the wheels of progress regularly to tell Irene what I thought–that she was kind and beautiful and brave? Why I let days turn to weeks and months, years and decades without a word, now having to join the legions who are compelled to relegate praise to sentences written in the past tense?

Why did I wait until today to tell the world about Irene? Why did I not do better when I clearly knew better?

Why do any of us?

 

 

 

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Preparing for Battle

Mexican PhotoWell, August, it’s Thursday, 5 February 2015, and yesterday this little nugget of highbrow humor was meandering about the internet—on social media and the like. It might be an old picture. I can’t be sure. But yesterday was the first day I saw it.

You’re all of five years old. You don’t yet know how to read, and certainly you have no reason to see this photo. You’re too busy mastering your sight words, building with LEGO, and trying to negotiate a later bedtime. This is honestly the last thing you need.

But you are curious, incredibly astute, and all too soon you will see these sorts of things. And as a person of Mexican ancestry, how you will respond will be a decision you will need to make.

I am not of Mexican ancestry, but I can tell you that as your mother I am tired. I’m tired of seeing this sort of thing. I’m tired of the fact that people still produce this, that people still share it and laugh at it. I’m tired of being told it’s just a joke, that I need to learn how to take a joke. I’m tired of being told that humor and offense are inextricably linked. IMG_2330

And I’m angry, too. About all of the above, yes, but also because of the compulsion I feel to call this sort of thing out every single time I see it. I’m angry that I feel defensive and continually bound to state the obvious—that disparaging another human being’s ethnicity is ignorant, laughing at it is short-sighted if not cruel. At the very least it’s completely unnecessary.

But despite my exhaustion, my discontent, and my anger, I won’t stop. It’s not in me, and the motivation I have is the most powerful of all—the love I feel for you, the respect I have for you, what I hope to impart to you.

My words, my vitriol, my discontent—none of these have changed the world or stopped the flow of the tasteless, insensitive, or unkind. My efforts have not been successful in shielding you.

It is my hope, though, that they will fortify you so that when it’s your turn to fight, you will be ready.