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Aurora

Aurora beat the odds and spends her time helping others cope. Photo by Mayo Clinic staff.


Twenty years ago, a doctor lowered his head and gently told Aurora she had about one year to live.

At 73, and after a few rounds of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, Aurora is the face and voice of hope on the oncology floor at Mayo Clinic. Quick-paced and full of energy, she dons a green jacket and volunteers to work alongside the same doctor and the same nurses who administered her treatments. (She’s good friends with the doctor and his family now.)

She can brighten any room, uplift many a discouraged soul, and tease any clinician who dutifully looks at the overwhelming facts and — with a heavy heart — forecasts a gloomy prognosis.

Her name means dawn, sunrise, new day. Like the aurora borealis, she shines in the dark, long night. She uses herself as an example when she talks to patients. (“You were in my shoes? Twenty years ago? Look at you now!”) She nudges them out of self-pity with a little humor and a dash of tough love that goes back to her roots.

“My mother always said, ‘Al mal tiempo, buena cara,‘To bad weather, you show your good face.” She was born and raised in Spain, and emigrated as a young adult.

I meet many people who can call themselves walking miracles; they always inspire me beyond the medical facts. Seldom do I meet one who shines as bright as Aurora. Thank you, Aurora of the many sunrises, for sharing your light with me and everyone who crosses your path.

The full story of Aurora and her battle with multiple myeloma will be featured in an article for my client, Mayo Clinic. These are my personal impressions.

Mother's Day hammock

Somehow, even Cheeva ended up jumping in the hammock. Have fun relaxing, mom!

At the end of the day, the child formerly known as Little Girl, and who now goes by Mini Teenager, declared: “This was the best Mother’s Day ever.”

Never mind that I, her mother, never got to sneak out at 6:30 a.m. to watch the sunrise in peace and quiet. She was up at the crack of dawn, wishing me a Happy Mother’s Day and chatting away about…something.

Never mind that she insisted on walking the dog with me at 7 a.m. when I told her to go back to bed. She got tired halfway through the walk and we turned back home, not before she spied a beautiful pileated woodpecker on a pine tree (I’ve been teaching her well).

Never mind that I never got to curl up with a good book in the new hammock (my Mother’s Day present). Instead a had a giggle box climbing all over me and telling me to move my butt so she could have some space to read HER book. Then she made me get up and take her to an impromptu party (it was fun, thank you neighbor).

Never mind, because were it not for all those wonderful disruptions, I wouldn’t be celebrating Mother’s Day.

Thank you, my dear, sweet, Mini Teenager for all the wonderful ways in which you change my plans.

Great Blue Heron nest by RGR

Great Blue Heron nest, March 2011, by Raquel with Cheeva in tow.

I started a “Saturday a.m. Inventory” of backyard wildlife on facebook a few weeks ago. I’ve been too busy counting birds and critters to try to post all of it, but here are some pictures. It has become more of a test for Cheeva, my new dog, to “stay” when she wants to chase all the birds and squirrels that cross our path. She will go after the gators, too, so I keep her leashed.

The sweetest find so far has been a Great Blue Heron nest with two chicks that are quiet in the morning, when the ospreys are out fishing, and cackle all evening when their mama brings them food. Sometimes I hear them cough out a big piece of fish (I think it’s fish). Hungry babies!

See other critters that crossed our path recently:

Ibis

Ibis birds crossing my street. RGR

3/5/11

Why did the ibis cross the road?   

 

2/12/11

Two Ospreys, one Red-shouldered Hawk, a flock of Ibis, assorted Great Egrets (Have fun trying to take that picture!). A Cardinal couple.

2/5/11
I thought I’d have to cancel the Saturday nature inventory due to fog-so-thick-you-can-cut-with-knife. Then, a flock of wood storks showed up!

Wood storks. RGR

Wood storks in my backyard. RGR

Others for which I only have a blur for a photo:

1/29/11

Saturday a.m. backyard inventory: 1 alligator, 2 pelicans, 3 mourning doves, 5 chickadees…one happy dog owner and one wagging tail…

1/22/11

Saturday a.m. inventory: one red-bellied woodpecker, two ospreys carrying fresh catch, three flocks of blackbirds, four stray seagulls, five different lavender hues on a beautiful sunrise…

A yellow rose is a yellow rose.

Sharon brought roses to a workshop and asked us to use them to write in different voices. I chose to write as "I".

I’ve written for a living for years, but never truly had a chance to explore playful writing – the kind of  creative and unbounded writing that comes from the soul. I certainly did not have the confidence to attempt to write poetry, much less read it aloud to anyone. 

All that began to change when I joined a group of women who are showing me how it’s done. I’m learning in small lessons. Sometimes our meetings are like brief cooking lessons with my mother or with my sister. Nothing pretentious, nothing too complex — just subtle, impromptu moments that make magic.  

I cannot begin to explain the subtle, yet powerful difference this group of people has made in my life. Where I saw loss and reduction, I now see gain and expansion. Where I found myself running into a brick wall, I now find myself walking through an open path. I carry Carol’s praise (an ad we wrote for each other as an in-class writing exercise) in my poetic journal and re-read it to myself any time a cloud of doubt appears. My doubts dissipate in the space created by this group.  

I feel I’m in good company – going through a cavernous passage with their light in front of me. My mountains are only small sand dunes when I consider the collective power concentrated in our midst.

The group is led by Sharon Elliott, a talented life-coach, former Waldorf teacher and master’s level social worker and counselor. You can read about her and her workshops here: http://sharonelliott.wordpress.com/about/

And about that special magic in the group, here’s a little unedited word-scratching at the yellow rose Sharon brought to a recent writing workshop…actually, these are the words the rose spoke to me…any similarities to real persons are purely coincidental.

To the small, yellow rose (by RGR)

I have scars.

My mingling with the other roses made my petals fray. I’m proud of that fraying and those scars. My thorns are strong and unbending, always ready to protect the inner core of who I am.

I am bright, intense and passionate. Not afraid to interact with anyone. My arms (leaves) are open to give and receive more. My yellow retains the red that rubbed off others, and that is now part of me.

I can do no less than stand proud.

Welcome to International Women’s Day, when thousands of women across the globe will mark 100 years of women’s movement by crossing bridges.  But first, a disclaimer. I’m a reluctant feminist. I was socialized in an environment of machismo and taught not to speak louder than the boys. That would have been “unladylike.”  Instead, I was supposed to find more “refined” ways to “assert” myself, without asserting myself because outsmarting the boys – God forbid (sign of the cross) – might hurt their egos.

At the same time, my parents invested a small fortune making sure I had all the advantages they could provide, so I could eventually have my cake and eat it too. Years later, I laugh at these contradictions. Sometimes I find myself wondering what’s so great about working outside the home if no one picks up the slack at home when I’m at work.  (With time, I stopped caring whether it gets picked up at all.) When I worked full time, I still had to come home (tired) to cook. I still did all the baby laundry. I still got up at 3 a.m. to feed the baby. Then, at 8 a.m. I was somehow ready for another glorious day of meetings at the office.

These days, I work an extremely flexible schedule of freelance work and mothering work. By extremely flexible I mean I get up at 5 a.m. to do yoga (or else I can’t do all that follows), feed the animals, walk the dog, get myself ready, get the child ready, feed the child, take the child to school, get myself to either a place of work to conduct an interview, or my computer to write an article. In between, I come back home to walk the dog, do laundry, buy groceries, check my e-mail for new assignments, negotiate revisions to an article with a medical professional, race to school to pick up child, take child to extracurricular activities, help child do Sunshine Math homework, cook dinner, do dishes if husband is working late, feed animals, walk the dog, steal a few minutes to write a blog, figure out tomorrow’s schedule, put child to bed, put animals to bed (this includes husband), maybe read a book, go to sleep.  Because, you see, working non-stop from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. is what female equality is all about, right? What’s that? Ah, sí ya sé, gender equality doesn’t always translate into gender cooperation, or even self-empowerment (I empower myself to work like a mule?). Seems many women are realizing that while we’ve elevated our standard of living in the last 100 years (mostly by doing more), we haven’t achieved the quality of life our mothers hoped, and worked, for.

The more I read about feminism, the more I think we women have taken only baby steps. At this point in time, this might be partly our own fault. Like I said, I had not been interested in feminism in the past – I thought it always went without saying. I actually know some men who are more feminist than I am, at least in theory. And I’m only partially aware of how subtle social conditioning (and overt machismo, in my case) can keep a woman down. Many feminists think that women have merely achieved a masculine version of power that is ill-suited to the possibilities of the feminine. I’m still trying to figure out these possibilities. Or what, in the divine feminine universe, are they talking about…?

I cracked open the door when I discovered Henriette Faber, the 19th century crossdressing female doctor.  Then I started to find other women in history who went through similar crossdressing charades just to step into male-dominated spaces. I observed that they took control as opposed to waiting for anyone to give it to them. They claimed their territory for themselves, even as they were called squatters. There’s Loretta Janetta, the confederate soldier. There’s Jeanne Baret, the 18th century botanist/herb woman who circumnavigated the globe. There are pirates Mary
and Bonnie, 18th century Thelma and Louise of the high seas. And those are only a few of the ones who have been documented so far. There are countless women, especially women of color whose stories are lost from records, but who helped shape our postmodern world. Real women, not fictional characters.  In the coming weeks, I’ll share what I have learned from each of them. I’ll do this as I finish writing a paper that I will present at a conference in Boca Raton, Fla., in April. It’s for an organization called MELUS (Multi Ethnic Literature of the United States). Not surprisingly, many women who broke through gender stereotypes simultaneously broke through ethnic and class stereotypes. Will this make me a feminist by the time I finish writing? Are such labels important? Will we ever finish writing ourselves into (his)story?  When will it be (her)story?  If we make the rules, why can’t we change them? Why can’t we change the whole landscape? Just some questions I ask as I cross the bridge.

For another point of view, read about today’s feminine power movement, and how some think empowering women (or women who empower themselves) is about more than feminism — it’s part of evolution.

Read about Henriette Faber, the French/Cuban woman doctor who served in Napoleon’s army.  En español.

Read about women farmers in Puerto Rico.

Today is Groundhog Day in the U.S.  Punxsutawney Phil reportedly indicated we’ll have Spring weather in six weeks. (Please don’t see your shadow, please don’t see your shadow, Little Girl pleaded with the televised groundhog as she crossed her fingers. Then she was off to school.)

February 2 is the halfway point between Winter Solstice and Vernal Equinox, and it’s a special day in many cultures. In some parts of Mexico, there are bullfights on Candlemas day. In northern Brazil, “o 2 de Fevereiro” is a day to celebrate Iemanjá  or Yemajá, goddess of the sea (see Marcela Pimenta’s photo). In West Africa and the African diaspora, some celebrate Oyá, goddess of the wind , the storm, the hurricane, and of letting go. In Puerto Rico, that condensed hodgepodge of colliding cultures, I used to celebrate El Día de la Candelaria. The Virgin of Candelaria, who appeared in Tenerife, Canary Islands, blended with Oyá perhaps because she was represented in the Catholic tradition as a black madonna. Or perhaps my Canarian ancestors and my African ancestors just drank too much café puya (the moonshine of black coffee).

When I was growing up, February 2 was the day you made a bonfire and burned all the old stuff leftover from last year. Most of the neighbors dragged out their dried-up Christmas trees, which they had saved in a corner of the yard, and made a pile at the park or the nearest empty lot. The pile would be set on fire on the night of February 2. It was another chance to break with the past and move on, in case you didn’t get the message on New Year’s Eve.

Wikipedia en español has quite the chronicle of La Candelaria  (http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgen_de_la_Candelaria). Of special note is the mention of Africans in the Canary Islands since before Columbus, and the importance of Canarian migration to the Americas in spreading the name and fame of La Candelaria.

Today, I just observed a little quite time to meditate, play some Goddess music and think about my ancestors. Then I moved on.

photo by RaquelMy most important resolution for 2011 is to watch 365 sunrises. I’m hoping that’ll mean I got an early start each day, and I took time to reflect on what each day holds. It also means I haven’t forgotten to walk my new dog! (She wouldn’t let me forget her.) Actually, one reason I got Cheeva is to have her get up early with me to watch the sunrise.

Sunday morning sunrises never disappoint. The sun rises slower – it’s more relaxed and less hurried.

365 amaneceres
Mi resolución más importante para el 2011 es ver el amanecer los 365 días del año. Espero que esto signifique que me levanté temprano cada día, y que tomé tiempo para reflexionar en la promesa de cada día nuevo. También querrá decir que no me olvidé de sacar a mi perrita! (Ella no me deja olvidarla.) En realidad, un motivo para adoptar a Cheeva fue precisamente el tener a alguien que se levante temprano conmigo a ver el amanecer.

El amanecer de los domingos nunca decepciona. El sol sale más despacio – como si estuviera más relajado y menos de prisa.