Despojarse

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My mother had a hard time with our decision to adopt María. I’ve written about that elsewhere. The silence stretched long and painful between us after our big confrontation about my determination to adopt our girl. One day, more than a year later, I got a call out of the blue from a family friend who was passing through Miami. She had a package my mom had sent me. I worked in the Blue Lagoon area in those days and it was easy to swing by her hotel and pick up the package on my way home.

Inside were five of the most beautiful little girl dresses you could ever hope to see, several of them with a matching barrett, or head band. There was also a little nightgown—the one María wore the first night she slept in our home. I could tell how much care my mom had taken choosing them. When all else fails in my family of origin, we give each other gifts. Sometimes we sweat and toil and fret almost endlessly to come up with the right gift. This wasn’t just an olive branch, it was the most extravagant gesture of a love that couldn`t understand but wouldn’t quit.

All the dresses were exquisite. I took one with me to México for a weekend when there was a big party for FedEx employees and I got to take María with me to the party. I got up before daybreak to get María and brought her back to the nice hotel I was staying in. I bathed her and put the dress on her and stood her on the bed so she could see herself in a full length mirror. The way she stared, moved around a bit, stared again, and then puffed up makes me believe that she had probably never seen herself in a mirror like she did that day. How not to love the dress fiercely, like I loved her that day?

The stories go on and on, and María outgrew the dresses quickly, well-nourished and well-loved, beginning to thrive in her new home. One day, I got a big plastic storage bin and carefully folded and put the dresses away. I regretted that my mother had never seen her granddaughter in the dresses except in pictures. Because María was making a lot of progress, I told myself we would turn a developmental corner and what I was doing was putting the clothes away for the day that would surely come when I would tell my own granddaughter about her great-grandmother Ann.

Yesterday evening, after over 11 years of not seeing them, I took the dresses out. I am taking most of them to Isabel Ann, my niece, who is Ann’s other granddaughter, the one who was born 11 days before my mom died. Mom would have been delighted to see that little girl in those dresses. Though I have not met her, I have seen several videos of a blond, blue-eyed cherub who is a perpetual motion machine of curiosity. I bet she will look like a little doll in the clothes I am bringing. Giving Isabel these dresses is quite laden with meaning. Soon after my mom died, my brother and I had another one of those epic Lindahl fallouts and we have barely spoken since.

There is no way to know where the dresses will go after Isabel. After all, they are a gift. I will confess that I briefly thought to ask that the dresses be returned to me when Isabel Ann outgrows them. But that is clinging. The dresses will go where they will go.

There is a word in Spanish that describes what holy indifference is about: despojarse. The English equivalents for the root verb, despojar are divest, despoil, denude, bereave. Despojar comes from the Latin word for stripping bark off a tree. Despojarse makes the verb reflexive. Opening that box, looking at those little, little dresses, smelling and touching and holding them to me – was an act and decision to divest , denude , bereave myself. Jesus said, “what will it profit a person to gain the whole world and forfeit her life?” In order to gain our lives we must be willing to lose them. Without death we cannot know resurrection.

I know all this sounds raw and painful, and of course, it is. But I no longer know any other way to get to the next place except through the pain, not around it. Along with the sorrow that inevitably wells up as I pack the dresses and unrealized dreams, I also feel the little butterflies of excitement about my trip, about being with my dad and brothers, one brother’s lover and the other’s new wife and that little girl. Life runs on.

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