How do you connect your answers?
Yesterday, Robin’s question was both simple and deep: what is the conundrum or question of your life. For me, at this time (and maybe for always) it has been about both honoring and transcending the story written on my behalf by my family history. Today, the connection between my answers to the three previous parts of this work is clear as well. What’s the connection? life. The colors I chose are mostly the colors that weave through my life, my mother’s life and my grandmother’s life. There’s one exception: Lavender. Both my grandmother and my mother always dismissed any shade of purple. Especially my grandmother, a Swedish interior designer trained in France with an amazing color esthetic, created spaces of such beauty that I never questioned her critique. But a dream I had in early adulthood made me fall in love with purple and one of my favorite blouses is lavender linen. The life I have lived on my own since I was 18, here in the USA, cut off from the rest of my family, has made my world broader and fuller. I love the colors I come from. I love what I keep discovering about the colors that were never in the palate of my life.
The cities: I grew up in one–Cali. Stockholm was the city where I discovered churches. I remember beginning to understand sacred space as I stood in Storkyrkan, in Gamla Stan, the old part of Stockholm. Even more, I was stunned the first Sunday I ever remember in Sweden, hearing church bells ringing all across the city. I desperately wanted to go to church. The child of two agnostic parents, I didn’t even know how to ask. Look at me now, a priest. Miami was the gateway to America for me. I stood in front of an Immigration officer at Miami International Airport, my heart pounding waiting to know if I would get to go on to college. You see, as a Colombian citizen, I was completely at the mercy of that officer when it came to actually entering this country. I had a student visa approval–but I did not actually get the visa until that guy decided to give it to me. It was terrifying. It was exhilarating when he said yes. Many times as a child and then young person, I would lie awake at night in my room in Cali, dreaming of the life I would build for myself in the United States. A refrain of my childhood had been “ya casi es mañana” which means, “it’s almost tomorrow”. Going on from the immigration area to baggage claim at MIA, I realized that tomorrow was here and so was my life. Austin and San Francisco represent an eschatological hope. When my life was still uncomplicated enough that I could realistically consider any city to live in, these were two I seriously considered. I don’t dream like that any more.
Robin’s answer to yesterday’s part of this work was a revelation to me. She discussed how grief is characterized by “failure to notice”–grieving for my mother, I think I understand. The landscapes I chose are all places of great beauty and they demand that we notice. I was struck by the fact that one of the first places I thought of in response to this question was a beautiful area of the countryside of Holland that I saw riding on a train from Tilburg to Amsterdam. I started noticing these structures dotting the landscape and asked my brother, who lives in Holland about them. Turns out they were bunkers built by the Nazi’s during World War II. Maybe more than ever in the bizarre days we are living through, I am aware that noticing means noticing the darkness as much as the light, if I am to choose life.
What I said about the interiors in Part II is strongly connected to the theme of life. I have known abundance–of beauty, of comfort, of safety, of consolation. I have also survived periods of great desolation. When I was a hospitalized for months at a time at Children’s Hospital in Boston, no one was allowed to stay with me overnight. The first couple of times I was hospitalized I did not know how to speak in English and I was filled with absolute and abject terror. Even later, when I was hospitalized again and old enough to understand that my mom would be back each morning, my isolation and loneliness thundered against the blank and colorless walls of the ward I was in. I survived. I am still here to tell the story. I am alive.
Finally, the clothes. The hardest part of of the exercise for me. I was just diagnosed with a very preventable chronic illness. I have been filled with sorrow, anger at myself, fear and determination since I found out about 3 weeks ago. The hardest part of saying yes to life over the years has been saying yes to my body. With very few exceptions most of the time, I have wanted to forget more than tend to myself. And that included how I chose clothes. I am making some progress understanding and managing the new truths about myself that come with this diagnosis. As much as I have always thought I loved life, I am discovering that choosing life takes more, is harder and calls me further into faith than I allowed myself to see before. The honesty it requires is fearsome. For the first time ever, maybe I am up to it now. Thank you Robin for helping me notice…