Friday, January 8, 2010

On this day 65 years ago

Ever seen the movie 'Amistad'? There's a scene in that movie where a man headed into a trial before the supreme court explains to another character why he isn't nervous, despite all odds being well stacked against him. He reassures his own attorney, in fact, telling him not to worry because he, the defendant, is 'invoking [his] ancestors'. It's a powerful scene, wherein one man's cultural and spiritual beliefs come face to face with the intellect of the other to teach both men a lesson about what is really valuable in a life.

I'm telling you all that because today is my mother's 65th birthday. And while those two bits of information don't seem connected, they are, inexorably. My mom, you see, is the one person I know who has her culture, her spirit and her intellect very well measured and in tact. I admire that very much and aspire to her long-achieved place in this enlightened stance.

It hasn't always been easy, the travel to this place. But you'll never know another person with a greater patience than my mother. I try, terribly hard to be a compassionate person and hope that my overage in that department makes up for my near complete lack of patience. I often mistake my mother's patience with slowness; I think many people do. Instead, it's more likely true that my mother knows in a bone-deep place that a well-traveled path must be savored and sensed rather than simply traversed briskly with cell phone in one hand and spilling coffee in the other. I still need to learn that.

Where I follow her example as closely I can is in the living of a life where the spirit guides. My mother's spirit is present in all things she does and all she touches. Her spirit is intensely, deeply warm, connected to God on an intuitive level that neither religion nor lack thereof can sour. Her hands are always soft and when they touch you you can feel her humanity and tenderness, but also her strength and self-possession. You can only get that sense from someone whose spirit is sound and hers is and always has been.

With that patient sensibility and solid spiritual center my mother has weathered storms of immeasurable proportion with trips and falls that might have landed another person down for the count. Not she, Victoria the brave. She has climbed mountains of every kind, scaled ignorances, overcome prejudices, triumphed over mediocrity and low expectations. She has learned a foreign language as an adult, often being mistaken for a native speaker. She has received two university degrees - the first in her generation to receive even one. She raised a child on her own and employed two 'villages' to help - among them those who wished to compete rather than cooperate. By her sheer will, they were linked, joined forces and I am the result (a fine one wouldn't you say?). She is a staunch believer in the 'pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again' method of survival. It has served her well, not just for survival but for success in all things she has endeavored to do. She makes me proud and more proud every day.

I'm a terrible, terrible daughter more often than I'd like to admit. I won't give details here lest you think even less of me by the particulars than you might already by the admission. But I hope I compensate for my tantrums and tirades with an abiding, profound and unimpeachable love and devotion to this amazing person who I define in less than adequate terms this way:

- learner and lover of learning for self and for others, so that sins may be forgiven, because truly it is through knowledge that we learn we are all sinners and must all lend in order to receive forgiveness

- keeper of the Italian tradition for all those who came before (the invocation of ancestors not limited in scope), stayer of the Cuban tradition for those who did not remain, and explorer of the traditions that bring joy and excitement to every life around the world

- adventurer insofar as reality is always an adventure for a dreamer, an idealist, a romantic

- traveler, in every sense, a lifelong exerciser away from the ill-exposed beginnings from whence she came

- teacher, whose most valuable lesson to me and to others is that acceptance is possible for everyone and the world is indeed a very big place; all of us have gifts to share

- woman, who some may never understand and others have resolved never to try again (some things are simply better left mysterious)

- mother, who in the simplest of matters is expert (or so she says) and in the most complex, wise; a nurturer born of good nurture herself, whether she knows it or not, and whose completion occurs when the cycle repeats, a mantle I carry most seriously upon my shoulders.

In simplest terms I love my mother because she is the latest in a line of those whose purpose and mission in life was to bring me forward. That, until I brought forward my own children, who now live only because those before her lived and because she gave me life. With no other evidence of her magic and beauty I could say quite honestly there's never been and will never be anyone more important to me than her. I hope she knows. And that on this day and all that follow she is loved not just by me but by all who know her, openly, generously and with great conviction, as she loves.

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