Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Let's take a lifetime to say

For some reason, one line of "For all we know" by the Carpenters has been bubbling around in my head an awful lot lately:

"Let's take a lifetime to say 'I knew you well'..."

Out of the blue, I find myself humming this to myself. I have no idea why. In fact, I don't even know how I know this song. Regardless, it's had me thinking about how there is always something more to learn about someone you may have been positive you know completely.


Growing up, my mother always reminded me to leave the curtains drawn. I always thought it had to do with the intense Texas sun being in direct conflict with efficient air conditioning. It wasn't until a few years ago that I learned the real reason -- my mom dislikes natural light. What?! I don't remember how it came up, but when it did I couldn't understand how it had never come up before then. I have missed out on years and years of teasing her about being a vampire just because I assumed everyone else must naturally love the same things I do.


I've known my friend Anna for years now. Again, I don't know how it came up in conversation but I remember her asking "Did I tell you about the time I had to walk on people to get to work?" What?! How could this have not come up before? Could it be because a few others of the thousands and thousands of stories that accumulate during a lifetime were queued up in line ahead of this one detail?


Today I asked Ruth if her husband of many years (Brother Blue) ever still managed to surprise her. Her answer was an immediate yes. Recently, they were watching the Olympics together and Blue was commenting on the divers' style, form, and general performance. When she asked how he learned to critique diving, he explained that he used to be a diver himself. That was a surprise to her.

Someone listening in on the conversation asked Ruth how long she and Blue have been married. Ruth's answer was "long enough that I should have known that." :)


I am beginning to believe there is an asymptotic curve toward knowing someone thoroughly. Somewhere along that curve, around the place where you've learned enough to decide whether you want to continue on the curve or just hop off, is the space where you might be able to say "I know you well".

I hope you remember to add, "but I can know you better."

Monday, August 18, 2008

Something I love

I guess you'd say I have an ethnically ambiguous look. For as long as I can remember, people have made a point of guessing at, asking about, or telling me my ethnic origins. When I was three, these words made their way to my mother:

How kind of you to have adopted a Vietnamese refugee.

This is actually one of my favorite stories. However, it highlights the dilemma I had growing up. My mother is Hispanic. So is my father, both sets of grandparents, and a huge percentage of the population in my hometown. As a kid, all I wanted to do was fit in. As you can probably guess by the above sweet stranger's compliment to my mother, my look didn't allow for it. On a daily basis, every feature that distinguished me from those around me was pointed out and pointed at.


I find it interesting that something that used to bother me enough to bring me to tears as a kid is now something I cherish and enjoy as an adult.


Last weekend I was at the National Storytelling Conference in Tennessee. Sure as ever, folks approached me throughout the weekend to guess, ask, or tell.

Hawaiian, right?

Where are you really from?

What's your specific tribal affiliation?

People will linger after a workshop to walk with me on my way out. They wait for a lull in an on-going conversation to introduce themselves. They approach me out of the blue with a smile. Even people who look like they normally wouldn't approach a total stranger can't seem to help themselves.

I love this.


Yes, I stand out a little. And, as long as you do so kindly, you are welcome to come over and tell me all about it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Reading what I want into it

For quite some time now, I've been ready to try something different. (Back in June I wrote about feeling that I was holding myself back.) Yesterday, after months of prepping, I made my move.

The moment of transition and the subsequent flurry of activity brought on an adrenaline rush I was not exactly expecting. Running around with a grin on my face, I tied up loose ends. But, just as I was heading toward my car to make my way back home at the end of a long day, the tiredness of an adrenaline crash began to seep in.

I sat in my car for a few minutes, dreading the hour long drive.

Willing myself into action, I started the car and began my commute. The clouds must have shifted a bit as I made my way. I made it onto the highway via its curved on-ramp -- and noticed that directly ahead of me was a clear, vibrant rainbow. And, guess what? I was driving straight toward it.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Leaving Room for Magic

Anyone who knows me knows this -- I'm really bad when it comes to the kinds of gifts you're supposed to give. Birthdays, weddings, housewarmings, you name it... To me, the best kind of gift is an inspired one. Picking something that "will do" merely because it's time to pick something drives me nuts! On top of that, I prefer gifts that are personal in nature. A gesture is often more meaningful to me than something I could purchase in a store.

Which means that I often fall way behind on the gifts I am obligated to give. Take Christmas for example. I have been as much as three years behind on gifts to my immediate family.

One holiday season, I must have spent the entire plane flight home racking my brain for gift ideas for my mom. In the middle of this painful exercise, a thought occurred to me -- "How about going to church for a year?" Despite the fact that I knew my mom would really like that, I immediately -- and I mean immediately -- dismissed it.


My parents did their best to raise me Catholic -- they took me to church every weekend and sent me to Sunday school every Sunday. I have nothing bad to say about the behavior they modeled. But, I was an inquisitive kid growing up and it seemed to me that every question I asked during class was ignored or met with a curt "be quiet".

"If Adam and Eve could talk, how come cavemen couldn't?" I'm not saying the questions I asked would have spurred me toward Nobel Peace prize winning research. But being dismissed over and over really put me off.

Week after week I would ask for permission to not participate. Week after week my mother would say that I could do as I pleased once I was an adult. Until then, I had to continue going to church and Sunday school.

Guess what the first act of freedom I relished as an "adult" in college was?


Happy to be home and even happier to see my family waiting for me at the airport, I swept the gift idea dilemma -- the one that just moments before had been causing me such stress -- out of my mind.

Temporarily, at least.

At some point during my visit, two of my sisters pulled me aside. When they asked if I had thought of a gift for Mom, my heart sunk. I hadn't, and now I had even less time to come up with something. They looked at each other and seemed unsure about how to proceed.

I hadn't been the only one struggling for gift ideas. After thinking about this on their own for some time, they decided to put their heads together. To their surprise, it turned out that the same thought had independently occurred to each of them. "How about going to church for a year?"

It was a surprise to me, too.

They originally intended to convince me this would be a nice gift for Mom, but upon seeing the look on my face they realized they didn't have to. Understandably, given my background, they had expected more resistance from me. After I explained that I had had the same idea, they decided to get in touch with our oldest sister.

When it turned out that the thought had occurred to her as well, the decision was made.


When I see a magic show, there is a part of me that wants to understand the trick behind the illusion. But there is also a part of me that wants to be in awe of the illusion. If only I could both know and not know.

I am aware that if I dissect the story and think about it hard enough, I can come up with an explanation regarding how and why all four of us came up with the same idea within approximately the same time frame. But in this case, what would I gain by knowing?

And what is the harm in leaving a little room for magic?

As an aside -- this was probably one of the best gifts I have ever given my mom. I used the hour per week to reflect and come to terms with my mother's illness so it turned out to be a gift for myself as well. No, I didn't pick up religion by way of this exercise -- but I did pick up more tolerance for religion, which is something I hadn't managed to do when the act of going to church was involuntary.


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