Gratitude and Thanksgiving

I sat here in front of a blank page for a while wanting to write something but couldn’t get started. The season brings many memories, most with warm and loving feelings.  From our earliest days in Brooklyn to most recent holidays in Florida so much has changed around us. The family has grown and spread out around the country.  Last year we spoke about having one big family holiday like the old days at some midpoint probably on the East Coast.  It’s not as easy as it sounds. It’s still a work in progress. We gather in smaller groups, now. Some of us have become part of other families while others create new traditions with friends. 

As I reflect back through the years, I think of the faces at the table that have come and gone; friends who’ve moved away,  partners that didn’t work out, loved ones who have passed.   I am amused thinking how the contents of our table have changed through the years as well.  Often persons who join us being a part of their traditions.  Through the years we’ve added things like homemade stuffing, collard greens, sweet potato casserole with pecan toppings from the South; kremsnita, a phyllo cheese pie from Croatia, or yucca marinated with onions, olive oil, and vinegar, common in the Carribean.  

Thanksgiving was not a tradition in Puerto Rico for my parents growing up in the 1930s and 40s, but I remember in Brooklyn in the 1960s we celebrated it every year with my cousins, aunts, and uncles. Our parents blended their traditional foods and flavors with what was usual holiday food in the NorthEast. Growing up we would have a roasted turkey prepared with a rub of garlic, salt, and oregano; it was the same type of seasoning Puerto Ricans traditionally used for roast pork during the holidays and special occasions.  We had baked sweet potatoes or yams and guineitos en escabeche; pickled green bananas that were marinated days before. These were served alongside a dish called arroz con gandules; it’s like a paella, prepared in one pot with pigeon peas, peppers, onions, garlic, cilantro, and tomatoes or tomato sauce.   My mother loved to cook and often made pumpkin pie,  flan, and Pillsbury sugar cookies.  

All the years of memories tend to blend together, and in my recollection, I remember our faith practice of gratitude and singing; in old photographs, I see dancing. I distinctly remember lots of laughing and warm smiles.  My mother had started experiencing symptoms of her illness, and my dad took to drinking every day after work and yet,  I remember feeling safe and loved. With all their personal struggles, they made us, their children, a priority.  For that alone, I am eternally grateful.  I think that supportive foundation helped me tackle a lot of challenges throughout the years.

It was that feeling of love and security that I wanted to re-create for our kids.  My siblings and I did.  My daughters and their cousins remember the holidays with the same nostalgia.  They want to pass on the same love, laughter to their own children.  Thankfully, as the family grows, they have added new traditions along the way. 

Today as I contemplate the holiday season, I wonder why Thanksgiving is not a more important holiday in this country. Of all the holidays, I think Thanksgiving can serve to unite us as a nation.  Many cultures and religions practice gratitude. From earlier times people have celebrated a good harvest giving thanks to a higher power.  Even folks who are not “religious” recognize that living in gratitude and being appreciative is to be in a good state of mind. One would think that given the emphasis that our leaders place on God’slaws and God’s rules, that they could agree to celebrate gratitude with more enthusiasm.  Giving thanks seems to be a common denominator, even if you are a humanist you can be grateful for your particular abilities and achievements. 

Perhaps someone’s White House can one day hold a service and invite religious and secular leaders of diverse groups to a Thanksgiving dinner.  There is something about literally breaking bread together that unites people and overcomes barriers.  I know it’s not even remotely on the agenda for this administration but its something to consider for the future. I understand that similar activities have been attempted at different times without success, falling apart at party lines, but I am sitting here living in the moment during a season of hope and so I continue to believe in our democracy.

I am mindful that not everyone feels the same during this season, perhaps some can’t find anything to be grateful for, not past or present.  Itis actually very common to feel sad and alone especially during this holiday season.  I would encourage my readers to open your eyes, look around and reach out to a neighbor, a friend, a co-worker and perhaps invite someone to join you.  My family has never had excessive material wealth, but there has always been room at the table for one more.  To those who may get an invitation, don’t turn it down.  Its never too late to make a pleasant memory. 

I am thankful that you stopped by today.  Peace be with you. 

My color is Ecru Cream

Alternative title – A Roze by any other name is still a Roze

I Have Been Weary

The other day, Jill Dennison of Filosofa’s Word posted “A SHARED OPINION …” in which she shared an article by Charles M. Blow of the NY Times, titled “You Have a Right to Weariness.” As usual, Jill’s comments to this article echoed my own thoughts.  It is a great opinion piece for our time of unsettling barrage of news stories. I have been weary.”   It’s not in my nature to ignore world events around me.  My eighth grade Social Studies teacher taught me, “Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.” Winston Churchill.  Unfortunately, watching current events unfold makes me feel like I’m watching a train wreck about to happen, but I’ve no superpowers to stop it.

I thought I was Over It

As I attempt a smooth transition to my “Third Act of Life,” I am dealing with feelings and frustrations that I thought I had overcome or mastered years ago.  You see, I am a woman of color, I like to say it’s “Ecru Cream.” I describe Ecru Cream as a very light beige, like raw linen- almost white, but not quite. I lived most of my life that way-almost white.

I  am No One’s Anchor

I was conceived in Puerto Rico, and when my grandparents found out that their 22-year-old, unmarried daughter was pregnant; they sent her to Pennsylvania to stay with her married older sister, Evangeline.  Evangeline had migrated to the States a few of years before when her husband returned from his tour of duty for the US Army.  They bought a house and started a family.  My grandparents decided that Evangeline would be a good role model to help her sister in this situation, and so my journey of life began just outside “the City of Brotherly Love.”

No, I was not an “anchor baby.” My parents were born American citizens in Puerto Rico, and my grandparents were granted citizenship as young adults in 1917.  My grandfather was drafted to the US Military shortly after, just in time for WWI. Brooklyn

Nuyoricans “Passing” for an Opportunity

After I was born, my father came to see us at Aunt Evangeline’s house, and since my mother was “the love of his life;” we moved with him to New York City.  We joined his older sisters and brother who migrated and settled in Brooklyn. My parents seemed to quickly become accustomed to the new culture and way of life while maintaining and blending the traditional customs of the major holidays. We used to tease my mother that she learned how to be “American” by watching “I Love Lucy” and Days of Our Lives.”

My parents socialized very little with friends outside of work so that we spent our weekends and holidays with family.  For the most part, my family is very light skinned; my cousins and I grew up without accents, and our last names did not end in “Z.”  These characteristics gave people an opportunity to get to know us before realizing that we were just an illusion of whiteness.  Yes, we were “passing” as a means to have a chance.

In school, at the church and in the neighborhood, our friends were not Puerto Rican. Our friends were the first or second generation of immigrants.  They were Italians, Irish, French, English, Polish, Canadian, Brazilian or Middle Eastern. Most spoke a second language at home.  Together we navigated the Melting Pot culture of NYC and were absorbed into the American Dream.

Celebrity Magic Shows and Miracle Excelsiors

It wasn’t all easy peasy as my granddaughter likes to say and when I hear the rhetoric, I can’t help but feel a bit of fear and frustration.  I continue to say that DJT is not the problem. He is who he is and who he has been. He didn’t get more obnoxious on the campaign trail. He did gain more visibility. I was not a fan of his before, not as a businessman or as a celebrity. I never watched his reality TV show and rolled my eyes whenever he did a cameo in a movie that took place in NYC.  I was one of those that would have bet my last dollar that he would not get into the White House.  The American people would never vote a con-man into the highest, most powerful office in the country.  By Election Day, I had changed my mind.  I watched how Americans adored his bravado and his magic displays with smoke and mirrors.  I was not surprised by his win at all.  Mostly though, I was hurt.  I continue to feel betrayed by friends and family.

A Christian Education 

I knew race tensions existed, and I was aware the KKK was still alive and well, but the events of the past couple of years reach me at a very personal level. I am reminded of my years as a young adult, my first year away from home in a Christian Bible college.  It was a small Bible College in the North East, about an hour outside of The City.  In was presented as “interdenominational” in promotional events and material.  The leader of my city wide “interdenominational” Christian high school club recommended it highly.  Interdenominational meant that all Christians around the world were welcome. Even though Baptists founded it, the school welcomed students from Presbyterians to Pentecostals in all shapes, sizes, and color.  We had to include a photo with our application.

By the end of my first semester, I learned that indeed all that glitters is not gold and whitewashing walls is a quick, effective way to cover up dirt and imperfections.  We learned that the school accepted minorities and international students of color in pairs, one man and one woman.  It was preferable if they were already married.  One of our friends was “spoken to” because people saw her around campus accompanied by a Brown student.  To be truthful, I don’t remember what country he was from, but in my memory, I recall him as perhaps from India or Pakistan.  The girl was so upset by this situation that she did not return next semester.

The Founder and President of the school taught a class on Dispensations. It was in his class that I decided not to come back after my second semester. I did not go back to my local church either.  His beliefs did not resemble the Christianity I learned at home.  His lessons were peppered with digs and condescending, derogatory remarks about other denominations that were not entirely in accord with Baptist dogma. I questioned my beliefs, my faith.  It was years before I returned to an organized religious community.

Who Are My Friends?

There were many other things about the school that made me uncomfortable,but the most hurtful thing occurred after I left the school.  I had become close friends with my roommate and a few of the girls in my dorm.  Gwen, Margaret and I were inseparable.  Margaret and I made plans to visit our boyfriends at a Christian College in New England next semester. I continued to correspond with the girls by snail mail.  One day I received a letter from Margaret.  One line in the message hit me like a gut punch.  “Gwen and I miss you so much; we had to adopt another inner-city girl.”  Wow! I thought we were friends, real friends.  I thought she was my friend because we had a lot in common because I was smart, witty and fun to be around.  She saw me as an inner-city-girl who went to her school on a partial scholarship and lived in her dorm.

Disguised, They Came For the Immigrants…

Years later, I was working at a psychiatric day services program is a New England city nicknamed “The City of Immigrants.”  One day, after the clients left, and we were meeting to review the day’s events and planning.  There was construction going on around us, and the noise prompted a co-worker, Doug, to make some awful comments, similar to DJT’s views, about the men who were working on the project. 

The workers were mostly brown men if I had to guess they were probably from countries in South America and the Caribbean.  “I can’t believe you just said that,” I told him. His response to justify his words was worse. I explained that these men could very well be my cousin, brother, or father.  While he had never been disrespectful to me or made racist comments of our clients in front of me, it hurt me that he thought this way of these people he didn’t even know – just because of the color of their skin and their accents.

Doug was a man that I worked with for several years; we co-facilitated successful groups, we walked together at lunch, had our coffee together, I considered him a close friend.  He finally said, “I’m sorry, I  just wasn’t thinking.”  It didn’t make it any better if anything, it made it worse that he wasn’t thinking about the impact of his words.  Things were never the same between us.

Then They Came for Me…

People forget I am not “white,” I am a woman “of color,” Ecru Cream is my color.  If our country were to continue to erase all the progress made regarding equality for all people; if as a nation we lose respect for basic human rights what is left for us?  What becomes of me, of my family?  If someone comes knocking on my door and drags me away because of a flippant comment I made on Twitter, will my friends stand up for me?  Will they say, “Well, you shouldn’t have said that after all, he is our President.”  I remember the words of Martin Niemoller, “… Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

All this rhetoric brings all these emotions to the surface. DJT did not get to the White House on his own merits.  Witnessing day after day that our lawmakers condone and defend his actions is very draining.  I am reminded again: “…and when an experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  — George Santayana

Hope for Rational Government

The recent elections bring some hope that people realize that the current events are not just politics and business as usual, nor are they healthy for our Democracy.  On the flip side, the recent election shows that there is still lots of work to be done. The numbers were too close for comfort, and there were too many mistakes and too much irregularity at the polls. Yes, I am weary, but I am hoping that tempered and rational thought comes with the new legislators to Congress before we resort to “Hunger Games” for the dignity and survival of the 98%.  

Left Behind after a Death

A social media post reminded me the other night that it was a year to the day since my cousin, Joe died.  I’m sad I didn’t remember, I spoke to his mom earlier that day. We talked for an hour about all sorts of trivial things, but she didn’t mention him till we were wrapping up.  Even then, she told me it was his wife that missed him.  She said: “Lizzy called this morning and told me she had been dreaming of Joe.”  I’m usually more on the ball and can pick up things with my “third ear.” She called because she was sad, but I missed it. 

I grew up close to my cousin and his sister.  Our families would get together every weekend when we were kids in Brooklyn.  He was the best man at my brother’s wedding.  He went to prep school in New England on a scholarship, and after that, as the years past, we saw each other very little.  I know he was a family man; crazy about his kids and a good husband.  His son posted a sweet memorial that day and wished his dad would have been around to meet his first granddaughter.

When hurricane Maria caused chaos in Puerto Rico, Joe went to get his recently widowed mom and brought her back to stay with his family until he was sure things were better in her town.   It was November when he dropped his mom off at the airport. That day, Joe told his mom that he wasn’t planning to retire anytime soon.  He liked his job and was in good health.  “I’m in it for the long haul,” he told her. They said goodbye, and he went to work.   A few hours later, a co-worker found him slumped over his desk. It was his heart. He was 60 years old.  My aunt didn’t go to the funeral; she didn’t want to see her little boy buried.

trees in park

This incident got me thinking about how after death, life goes on around us here on earth. I remember feeling disconnected from everything and everyone whenever I’ve lost someone very close to me.  I sat at my desk one day holding back tears because I was in pain and the world keep spinning on its tilted axis.  The sun and the moon each came up as scheduled, people worked, laughed and played all around me as they had the day before and the day before that. I wanted to scream “STOP!  It still hurts, Can’t you see?  I’ve lost a part of me.” Intellectually, I know we all take turns with grieving one thing or another; and we all grieve differently, but at that moment, it hit me how personal grieving really is, but as they say, “the beat goes on.” 

Growing up, as an Evangelical in Brooklyn, I knew nothing of the “Day of the Dead” traditions.  In that fundamentalist religious culture, anything otherworldly is anathema, considered evil and would lead straight to perdition.  It is that way for Halloween and the “pagan” Gaelic origins in Samhain.  I find it interesting that both the Aztecs and ancient people of Scottish-Irish islands had similar celebrations before Christianity got to there. I was curious and learned that other ancient cultures in addition to China and Japan also set aside one day to celebrate or honor the dead ancestors.

 I found out later in life that my grandparents traditionally celebrated the Day of the Dead, but with a somber tone.  Even though they were not Catholic, they liked to be respectful of the family members who passed on before them. It was a day of quiet reflection for them. When I converted to Catholicism several years ago, I found the celebrations of All Souls Day and All Saints very comforting.  I’m glad that the Church did not erase the sentiment behind these “pagan” traditions.

In my family, we have lost many loved ones prematurely by today’s standards, but really who is to say how many days are in the itinerary for this journey.   Because we don’t know, we are encouraged to live each day to the fullest, to take every opportunity or to “make it a great day.”  What happens when things don’t work out the way we plan? 

A long time ago, I decided to embrace the idea that life or success is not a straight shot.  At least it hasn’t worked that way for me or others I have met along the way.  As I mentioned to someone the other day, getting to our goal is perhaps more like using the subway system or public transit to get our errands done at the different stops along the way.  Let’s say we have a “to do” list, and sometimes we forget or miss an item and have to go back, or we find something interesting but unexpected, and we are detained for longer than we planned.

Of course, sometimes the train malfunctions and we need to rethink our strategy.  The problem is out of our control, but we need to get things done.  What do we do?  We get out and walk, take the next train, find other means of transportation or look at how we can rearrange priorities to maximize our time.  

I’ve been fortunate to have great role models.  Grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles who taught me that is possible to overcome obstacles.  I have heard stories of any one of them who was helpful to someone in need, even though they may have been confronting their own struggles.  People remember them with love and admiration. 

None of them were famous or of great wealth, but they left a mark that they were here.  During these days of celebrating life and death, I didn’t light candles or put out food for their visit, but I remember them and honor their lives every day.  And if there is a bridge or door or whatever for the spirits of our loved ones to visit, I hope they are pleased with how their seeds have grown and flourished. 

I loved the movie “Coco” #Disney magic.