The masks we wear

It’s not every day your minister Edward Viljoen walks on stage in an Oscar the Grouch costume – except of course around Halloween time, and then anything is fair game! Even though the costume was goofy, the message was serious– it was all about the disguises and masks we wear because…. Well, basically, we don’t want the world to see the real us.  We hide behind our masks because we worry we aren’t good enough just as we are. We put on a disguise because we want to impress, be liked, be accepted, be loved. All the while forgetting that the real us, the real me, the real you, is something beautiful and sacred and that when we share that, and are willing to simply be ourselves… why then magic happens – real connections are made, we can be touched and touch each other’s hearts and humanity.  In Edward’s words, “We have an assignment to figure out how to live our lives from the inside out
To bring what is under the disguise out into the open
To live from the awareness that there is something powerful in every one of us”.

So let’s have fun this Halloween, but when we take off our silly costumes, our scary masks, our ghoulishly delightful disguises, let’s remember to take off all those other masks we think we need too, and just be… ourselves. Who knows what treats might lie in store for us?

Opening up a young woman's world, one sign at a time

I had a fascinating experience last week as a relay Spanish interpreter for a young Nicaraguan deaf woman and her Spanish speaking grandmother. Francisca (not her real name), who was born deaf, is a recent immigrant who grew up without benefit of schooling or instruction in sign language, and communicates only through gestures, a few basic signs, and some vocalizations. Her grandmother, who does not speak sign language and is only able to communicate with her at the most basic level, is trying to help her access much needed services and build a life here. Hence this meeting – facilitated by our local English speaking American sign language interpreter in the room along with her assistant interpreter, a skilled white board artist, a deaf sign language interpreter appearing remotely via video screen, and a deaf Deaf services advocate also appearing in a corner of the same video screen. 

Together we embarked on a complex and nuanced dance of spoken, signed, sketched, and vocalized language to attempt to bridge the multiple communication barriers, with the aim of trying to understand how to communicate with Francisca, and what her needs and desires are. I was humbled by the skill and versatility of my sign language interpreting colleagues, as we pieced together clues as to how to communicate with Francisca and attempt to give this young woman a “voice”, perhaps for the first time in her life.

Slowly, we were able to learn of her loneliness and desire to be among people, of the challenge she is having adapting to a cooler climate, of her desire to stay in this country, and most touchingly, to see that spark of light in her eyes when she realized she was being understood and making herself understood, at least in some measure. Priceless- her huge smile when she and her grandmother learned the signs for ‘granddaughter’ and ‘grandmother’.

Soon, thanks to the generosity of the language agency that hosted and facilitated this meeting and to agencies providing free services to the deaf, Francisca will have a video phone, a mentor to help her navigate her new country and make new friends, sign language classes for herself and her grandmother – and most importantly of all – the opportunity of understanding and being understood – that most basic of human needs.  What a blessing to be given the opportunity to play a small part in this young woman’s journey to her brighter future.

Fortunate beyond measure…the joys of being a grandmother

There is a four-letter word that is one of the sweetest sounds ever to my ear  - “Tutu” which is what my two grand daughters call me (Hawaiian for grand mother, the name stuck when Lana was a toddler after I brought her a book about a Tutu who taught her grand daughter Lanilai how to do the Hula). Or if they are feeling sassy, it’s “Tut” or “Tutukamen.”

Don’t get me wrong, being a mom is the most amazing experience ever and my children have been my greatest source of love, joy, and heart opening – and grief and every emotion imaginable when they are going through a hard time, whatever their ages – imaginable.  Having children is literally like having pieces of your heart running around outside of you. 

But being a grandmother… well, its’ all the joys of motherhood, but without quite the same angst and responsibility.  And having seen it all, been through it all, weathered it all with my own kids, and having grown a little older and hopefully a lot wiser, being a grand parent is… what can I say?  Pretty much pure joy.  Not that, as one of my fellow grandmother friends puts it,  “worry wart grandma” doesn’t sneak in now and then.

Of course it does. Having grandchildren is also like having pieces of your heart running around outside of you.  Especially the tender, vulnerable, wide open to all that life has to offer, pieces. Just as with your children, you want to protect them from life’s challenges, but you know you can’t. And so you just love them, and trust their journeys, and allow your heart to break open, again and again, with both happiness and sadness.

Being a grand mother is indeed a joy beyond measure…. and being blessed to experience both an aging parent and growing young ones together is a double joy, one that I am infinitely grateful for. There is something indescribably precious about witnessing the beginning years of life, and the ending years of life, hand in hand. Learning from both, feeling tenderly protective of both, marveling at the mystery of Life itself as it flows through our bodies, young and old.

Blessed be.

A summer update: steps along the journey of caring for an elderly parent

We’ve noticed a shift in my almost 89-year-old mum in the last couple of weeks. Suddenly, she seems older, frailer. She’s feeling it too.  She talks more frequently about feeling like she’s on the way out. She expresses how she just can’t seem to find her energy, and doesn’t know who she is anymore. Her level of forgetfulness is definitely worsening. We have honest conversations about death, and choices. I give her lots of hugs.

Our visits to the doctor are getting more frequent. We’re investigating how her heart is functioning. A new round of tests and specialists. And in the midst of this, a move to a new care home this week. Her current place is just a bit too far from us, and it’s on a busy street, the sound of traffic bothers her. Her new home is only a few minutes away from us, with a lovely quiet back yard that looks out onto a field of beautiful trees. She finds so much solace and peace in nature. A lovely living room with the type of furniture that reminds her of home back in England, with a piano she can play.

It’s a big decision, the upheaval of a move when she is already frail, and has experienced so much change in the last six months since her husband died. And yet, in spite of how she is feeling, she is up for it, which gives me hope.

I spend time with my granddaughters, and watch them grow and change, delighting in the new persons they are becoming, and mourning just a tad the little girls they used to be. With my mum, it’s the opposite… she becomes more childlike, more dependent, and there is more mourning than delight in watching her change.  And yet, I remind myself, this is just the natural rhythm of life… and all I can do is be lovingly present for it, in whatever stage, and adapt to what is needed of me to support what is happening.

It’s a bit scary sometimes, to be so needed by her. I go away for a few days and she misses me terribly.  Tells me she feels like she can’t function without me, that I’m her other half. We have some short week-long trips away planned this summer, a dear friend’s daughter’s wedding in Boston, our yearly pilgrimage to the Yuba river. I worry a bit. Am I doing the right thing by going away? Can I, should I, do I want to, put my own life on hold? It’s hard to know… and so I take it one day at a time, being grateful for this bitter sweet time with her, loving her, being gentle with myself, and trusting that I will know what to do at each turn of the corner on this journey we are walking together.