Tag Archives: women

Life is what happens…

When I was very young I was smart;

the smartest one in the class.

Sometimes folks thought I was a little too smart,

a bit of a smart ass.

In my twenties I was restless; new jobs, new men new towns.

I wanted to experience everything, see the world,

and prove I was no longer a child.

I was young, I was fearless, and some thought a little wild.

In my thirties I got married and settled down with just one man.

He loved my quick wit, my ready smile and he’d explored a lot too.

We built a life, worked on our careers,

and shared a love I thought was true.

Then when I was forty the girls came along.

My whole identity was engulfed by being a nurturing Godmom.

First the girls needed my care, next my dying brother,

and then my aging Mom.

Now I’m in my fifties and everyone is gone.

My brother died, my husband left me,

the girls are grown, and Mom passed on.

It’s not the life I would have chosen,

when I sit to contemplate and take stock.

But it’s the one I’m living

and there’s no turning back the clock.

It’s true what they say:

“Life is what happens while you’re busy making plans”.

Each decision you make, big or small,

brings you closer to the end.

I hope there’s much more to be lived

but no one really knows.

We simply have to carry on

and continue to enjoy our part in the show.


Touchstone [tuhch-stohn] – Noun

  1.  A test or criterion for the qualities of a thing.
  2.   A black siliceous stone formerly used to test the purity of gold and silver by the color of the streak produced on it by rubbing it with either metal.

(Source: Dictionary.com Unabridged, Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2011.)


My mother died a year and a half ago and this weekend my sister and I thought it was time to go through the personal items that my sister had boxed up from her dresser when she died.  My sister brought the box in from the garage and gave it to me to open. The very first item I pulled out of the box was a simple, tiny, plastic stamp dispenser.  Like myself my mother was an avid writer but her writing took the form of letters.  Living over 2,000 miles away from her most of my adult life I’d gotten hundreds of letters from Mom.  Her letters were always engaging, entertaining and filled with humorous stories and vivid descriptions.

She probably wrote a letter to each person in her address book once a month.  So for years she had bought stamps in rolls of a hundred and used her stamp dispenser daily.  That stamp dispenser was such a tiny thing, yet such an enormous part of who my mother was that simply touching it brought tears to my eyes immediately.

I began crying, my sister began crying, and my sister’s little two year old granddaughter began slapping her grandmother on the leg because she thought Grandma had made Aunt McKenzie cry.  It was quite a scene which ended with us laughing at the baby girl and explaining to her that we were crying about our Mommy and that Grandma hadn’t hurt Aunt McKenzie.  We then put the box away to try again another time.

My mother was my touchstone.  She was my mirror to my place in the world. Being Lois’ youngest daughter — the attractive, successful happily married one who lived on the East Coast — was an enormous part of my identity.  She not only took pride in who I had become but reminded me always of where I came from.  With my mother’s passing I felt not only her loss, but without my tether to the past and my touchstone to reflect the purity of my beliefs, I lost a bit of my identity for a while as well.

Mom was a strong and independent woman who rarely asked anyone for help.  She survived a fractured skull in her twenties when she was hit by a car while on her bike.  Until the day she died she had slight hearing loss in one ear and dizziness when she turned her head to a certain angle from that accident.  She survived the loss of an infant child, WWII, the great depression, poverty, the loss of a spouse, raising six children alone, the death of her youngest child before his fortieth birthday, a dog attack, and at eighty was hit by a truck while out walking.  The doctors and physical therapists told us that no one else her age and in her condition would have walked again.  It was her sheer stubbornness that brought on her recovery and ability to walk again six months later.  She did all of these things, and others too numerous to mention, and carried on with a joy that brought tears to your eyes.

The one strong belief that my mother had that she passed on to me was that every day is a fresh start and a chance for renewed hope.  No matter how bad things get I realize that the very next morning I could wake up to a day that brings me infinite joy.  So it was with this belief that I put one foot in front of the other each day after my Mom’s death until the pain subsided and I was able to tether myself to my place in the world again.

I hope that one day very soon my sister and I can attempt to sort through Mom’s personal belongings once again.  Next time we’ll better prepare ourselves for the bittersweet memories we’re sure to experience and perhaps, without a toddler there, we’ll allow ourselves as many tears as we need to get through it and finish the job.

Reprinted below is the speech that I wrote for my mother’s 80th birthday celebration and gave again at her funeral.

My Mom was born on November 10th and shared her birthday with the United States Marine Corps.  These two events may seem to be unrelated to some, but not to those of us who know both the Marine Corps and Mom well.  Let me enumerate just a few of the characteristics they have in common.

 Courage – Whether attacked by the poverty of her early youth, distance between loved ones, government red tape, or the common hardships of everyday life, Mom always faced her enemies with courage and taught her children to do the same.

 Loyalty – Lord knows, each of us children tested the limits of our Mother’s loyalty and love and found it remained limitless and unwavering.

Honor – Mom’s honesty and integrity were beyond questions.  In fact, I’m sure there are those of us who wished at times that she had been a little less “honest’ since she tended to  “call ‘em as she saw ‘em”.  Her straight forward approach and homegrown advice usually hit the mark.

 Endurance – No matter how many times circumstances conspired to knock her down, she pulled herself up and never lost hope that things would get better.  In fact, it was because of her singular determination that many things in our lives WERE changed for the better.  Even getting hit by a truck couldn’t keep that woman down.  After her recovery, she continued to volunteer at St. Alice Parish and McKenzie Willamette Nursing Home.

 Strength – You can’t tell me that raising the flag at Iwo Jima was more difficult than raising six children to maturity (especially these particular children!).  As far as we’re concerned Mom deserves a monument in her honor as well.

 Through her 88 years she maintained a nobility of character that made us proud to call her Mom.  We’re proud today to celebrate her life.  She was a great mother, a great grandmother (in both senses of the term) and a friend to many.

Everyone Loves Me!

I have been told I have a charming personality.  I suspect it’s partly just the personality I was born with and partly from being a middle child in a large family.  I’m basically a happy person. I get a kick out of life and find my fellow inmates on this planet fascinating.  I have made friends easily through my adult life.  I also tend to be very loyal so a lot of my closest friends I’ve known for over twenty years, some since childhood.

I remember sharing my angst over moving to New York City for a job a few years ago with my sister.  “What am I doing? I don’t know a soul in New York?  How will I meet people?”  My sister laughed and said, “You’ll make friends everywhere you go the way you always have.”

And, of course, she was right.  If I go to a new hairdresser, within a few visits we’re best of friends and meeting for drinks and dinner.  When I change jobs my new staff is usually happy I’m there and I make friends among my colleagues without difficulty.  In fact, at a recent job, my boss actually told me one of my fellow directors was jealous because staff liked me so well so quickly.  I just seem to be able to sense the type of support that each person needs to flourish and am somehow able to bring out their best.  I can prompt people to try and succeed at things they didn’t think they could do previously.

I put others at ease.  I laugh at all the everyday occurrences that make some people angry and frustrated and I get others to laugh along with me.  I’m the one that gets the party going.  I coax those who wouldn’t normally dance out on to the dance floor.  I laugh at myself. I use humor as an ice breaker and I’m often the one who helps others to relax and begin to enjoy each other’s company.

I’ve been told I’m adorable, fun, funny, charming, even enchanting.  (Okay, that last one may have been my Mom!)   Everybody loves me: my neighbors love me, the plumber loves me, babies love me, the cable guy loves me, my friends’ husbands and boyfriends love me, my friends’ kids love me, my nieces and nephews love me.

So what I don’t understand is this:  How is it that if everyone I meet loves me I can’t find just one, single man who loves me too?  I only need one man to find me enchanting — not an entire world.  Just one, single, stable, honest man who thinks I’m as special as everyone else does.  I only need one man to share my everyday life, my joys and sorrows, my laughter and tears.

Even at my ripe old age I’m still hopeful that this man exists somewhere and one day we’ll meet.  We’ll connect and he’ll see in me all the good that others do and eventually he’ll look across the room at me the way my girlfriend’s husband still looks at her after 35 years of marriage and say, “I’m a damn lucky man.”  And I’ll be across the room smiling back knowing I’m the one who’s truly lucky.

For Sale…

One heart.

Great interior.

Still runs well.

Should provide someone with many more years of service.

Exterior in horrible condition.

Broken repeatedly.

Going for a smile.

All offers considered.

Does He Know?

by McKenzie James


Didn’t he know I’d always love him?

That I’d always put him first?

I would have always stood beside him;

stuck by him through better or worse.


I would have helped him reach his goals.

I would have kept him from the cold.

I would have picked him up when he fell.

I would have loved that man through heaven and hell.


We could have shared passion, laughter and life.

We could have held each other close every night.

We could have built something that others would envy.

We could have, we should have, but it simply ended.


Does he know what he is missing?

Does he know what we might have had?

How many people wander forever searching

and are never offered such a chance?

Friends for Life by McKenzie James Part II

(Letter to Eleanor continued)

Well, you’ll know by now that Laura got the part.  Was there ever any question?  How that enormous voice comes out of that tiny girl I’ll never know.  No one hearing her on stage would ever believe there once was a question about whether or not the child would have a normal lung capacity.  That’s one of the things I did right with my life is help out Dottie when she needed help with those babies.  She always thought I was doing her a favor, but you and I know it was the other way around.  I loved mothering those kids.  But they’re all older now and they’ll b e fine on their own.  My work there is done and I rarely see or hear from them now that they’ve been launched into lives of their own.

I know you can’t imagine what it’s even like to be alone every day.  You have Jim and the kids and your house is always bursting at the seams with visitors from all over the world taking advantage of your wonderful hospitality. 

You’ve been a good friend, Eleanor; a lasting friend who has always been there for me.  I thank you for that. I feel badly leaving you this last difficult task to handle for me.

Meredith heard someone knocking on her apartment door.  It must be Carlos, her doorman, because no one else could have gotten by him and up to her floor without being announced.  He knew she was in her apartment so she’d better answer.  She didn’t want him worrying what was wrong and using his key.

Carlos knocked on Ms. Meredith’s door.  He wouldn’t do this for the other tenants, he thought to himself, but Ms. Meredith wasn’t just any tenant.  She treated all of the staff like real people, always asking him about his wife and family, remembering him on holidays and special occasions, not acting as if he was less because of his job.   He had just signed for an international special delivery for her.  The protocol would be to phone and let her know it was there and then leave it on the desk for her to sign for it when she had time to pick it up.  That’s exactly how he’d handle it for anyone else in the building but he thought international special delivery might be really important and Ms. Meredith looked like she needed something to cheer her up when she came in tonight.

“Hello Carlos.  What are you doing up here?”

“Hi Ms. Meredith.  This came in for you just moments ago.  I thought it might be important and I wanted to get it to you.”

“Thanks Carlos.  You know you didn’t have to do that.  I would have gotten it next time I was down.”

“I wanted to.  You’re always good to all of us and I thought you deserved special treatment for a special delivery.”

“Thanks Carlos.  You have a good evening.  Tell Maria I left her some bulbs for the roof garden in the back office.

“Okay, Ms. Meredith.  I’ll let her know.  You have a blessed evening.”

Meredith opened the Express envelope and immediately knew who it was from simply by the beautiful handwriting on the interior envelope.  It was obviously an invitation from Martina and Joaquin.  Martina’s hand writing was exquisite, always had been, even though she’d had no formal education.

Please join us to celebrate the publication

 of Joaquin Aguirre’s first novel:

Evenings in the Vineyard

Saturday, November 13, 2010, 7pm

Aguirre Vineyard

San Rafael, Mendoza, Argentina

Inside the invitation was a hand written letter.

Dear Meredith,

You know how upset I was when Joaquin decided to turn over management of the vineyard to Benjamin to spend his time entirely on his creative pursuits.  I was angry at you for a long time for advising him to follow his heart.  I was worried that Benjamin would fail, that Joaquin would fail, and that we’d end up with nothing. Now here it is two years later and both have been successful in their pursuits and none of us have ever been happier.

You must join us for the celebration.  Joaquin listened to you when you told him to do what would feed his soul and the rest would take care of itself.  It’s because of you that he gave himself the time to write the most beautiful and provocative work I have ever read.  (Okay, I admit to being a bit prejudiced.)  It’s a wonderful book.  I know you will love it.  I will let you in on a little secret.  It’s dedicated to you!

So come visit us, my friend.  We love you and can’t wait to celebrate with you.

          Love always,


Meredith had met Martina and Joaquin over ten years ago on a trip to Argentina and they had hit it off immediately.  Two years ago during a visit Joaquin had admitted to her how unhappy he had become.  He told her that the Vineyard, although a part of his family for generations, was not really what made him happy.  They had sat up long after Martina had gone to bed and talked about art and writing and the things that made their hearts swell.  She had told him to feed his soul and the rest would work out.  Thinking about it now, where did she get off telling anyone that?  Had her life worked itself out?

To be continued…

Paula’s Irreplaceable Beauty

She is beautiful and vibrant and strong and unlike many it goes far deeper than simply the beauty of her youthful body.  No, her beauty comes from being wise beyond her years.  It stems from having already experienced much pain in her short life and having fought through it and risen above it.  Her vibrancy comes from experiencing the world more intensely than most around her and then, not simply allowing it to wash over her, but being driven with curiosity to understand and make sense of it.

She contemplates the world and human relationships with the same intensity and driving quest to understand that makes scientists capable of achieving the next life-saving medical breakthrough.  She loves people while being completely aware of their glaring imperfections and yet she refuses to accept her own human blemishes.

She strives to understand life and the human existence but doesn’t see how important she is to the daily lives of those around her.  She fails to see how many of us are drawn to her vibrancy and light.  She fails to see how many of us would be lost and left with a gaping hole in our souls if she were not a part of our lives.

She is beautiful in her intensity.

She is beautiful in her strength.

She is beautiful in her creativity.

She is beautiful in her intelligence.

She is beautiful in her vibrancy.

She is beautiful in her caring.

She is beautiful in her passion.

She is beautiful in her loyalty.

She is beautiful in her accomplishments.

She is beautiful in her spirit.

She is beautiful in her curiosity.

She is beautiful in her wit.

She is beautiful!

McKenzie James

October 6, 2011


Thank God for the Oregon Rain!

The wet days have arrived and they’ll hide my pain.

I can let my tears flow and no one need know.

How many times can the same heart break?

How many heart aches can one woman take?

I tried to hold back and not get hurt again

but I opened myself up to more of the pain.

I asked all the right questions and I did everything

I could to make it work out

yet I still find myself alone on the couch.

Is this all there is?  Is this all there will ever be?

Just me and Bob alone watching TV?

Never a man who wants more than sex?

No one ever again who I trust has my back?

Men must not need love the same way women do.

They must prefer being alone to being with you.

I feel like joke, a middle-aged cliché;

the woman searching for love while the man walks away.

I’ve been determined to live; to not run and hide.

I’ve tried my best to keep an optimistic heart.

But now I want to get off this ride

and stay under the covers the rest of my life.

I’m tired of soaring to heights

only to crash once again on the rocks down below.

There are only so many hits a woman can take

before the pain begins to show.

I loved you a bit.

You couldn’t stay and let it grow.

You loved me not at all.

I should have known.

McKenzie James

September 26, 2011

It Began in the Summer of ‘72

It was the summer of 1972 and no one wanted to admit the ‘60s had come to an end — and in Weird Town, USA, they’ve yet to admit it!  I was fifteen, soon to turn sixteen, and I was looking forward to the long, carefree days of summer.

My twenty-three year old sister was my idol back then.  She treated me like I was an adult.  She was the one who got me on birth control when I admitted to having sex with my best friend’s brother.  She invited me to grown up parties, and introduced me to her campus friends.  When I needed to get out of the crazy house we grew up in and away from my siblings there was always a bed to crash on at the group house where she and her fiancé lived.

My sister was getting married in a few weeks — according to my mother to the man she’d been living in SIN with.  I was to be a bridesmaid in a small ceremony in the campus chapel with guitar music, long haired men, and women in long flowing skirts.  But first a modern shower:  both men and women were invited and asked to shower the couple with bottles of liquor to fill their liquor cabinet.

I don’t really remember that much about the evening anymore except who gave me a ride home.  He was a Nigerian graduate student.  He was six foot two, attractive, funny, and well dressed.  He told me he was twenty-one.  I wouldn’t’ normally have accepted an offer of a ride home from a man I’d just met, but I assumed he was a friend of my sister’s, so I hopped right in his new Camaro with no worries.  But, instead of driving me home, he drove me to a closed park, and he didn’t take me home until after he forced himself on me.

I definitely wanted nothing to do with this man who was way too old for me and had an accent that was difficult to understand.  I told him no and fought him off as best I could but, being six foot two to my five foot three and in great shape, he easily over powered me.   Afterwards I blamed myself.

Did he somehow sense that I wasn’t a virgin?  I had sex one other time with my friend’s brother, a boy my own age.  Did that mean I no longer had a right to say “no”?  All that I had ever heard from anyone was that sex before marriage was wrong.   No one ever offered information about what the parameters were if you decided you were going to have sex before marriage.  You were either good…or bad…there was no grey area.

At fifteen, there was no one I could talk to about this experience.  I took to my bed in shame and turned the anger inward on myself feeling depressed and empty inside.   My sister was someone I felt comfortable with but we’d never talked about sex in any honest way, other than trying to avoid the outcome of pregnancy.  My mother had never said a word to me about sex other than NOT to do it before marriage and I got the sense she didn’t think it would be much fun afterward.  We didn’t communicate in my family about anything of import and none one of us would have known how to talk about something like this.

My alcoholic Dad had died a few months prior to my sister’s wedding putting our family out of one form of its dysfunctional misery and throwing us into another.  Now my mother, who had always been a housewife and had never completed High School, was forced to do housekeeping for other women and take care of other people’s children in order to make ends meet.  (No matter how hard she worked, the bills never could quite get paid and by the end of each month the lack of funds was obvious at the dinner table.)  She had way too much on her mind already and since it was summer, and I didn’t have to be in school, I imagine she wrote off the long hours spent in my room to my being a moody teenager.

The day following the rape flowers began to arrive on our doorstep from my rapist:  beautiful yellow roses daily for a week.  The roses were followed by more gifts and many phone calls.  I suppose since I blamed myself for the abuse, as many women (and much of society) do, his attention afterward was a way for me to deny what had really happened and pretend that the man actually cared for me.  I also found myself unable to resist the gifts.  It may seem very strange to those who grew up in loving households where no one ever went hungry but to me this crazy relationship didn’t seem that different from what went on in the homes around me.   Screaming and fighting seemed to go hand in hand with kissing and hugging from what I could see.  Listening to my mother and her friends talk, sex was something all men wanted and women simply put up with in order to have someone to take care of them.

So without really understanding how it happened I began a relationship with my rapist that would last almost two years.  Those years destroyed my innocence.  He stood me up, abused me, cheated on me, and always after these violations came the apologies and lavish gifts. For a girl who grew up below the poverty line, these gifts had no small effect.  They weren’t little gems from the dollar store but expensive hand-made purses, a complete new stereo system, a 10-speed bike, and the use of his hot, new Camaro to drive around the local college campus when he was out of town.   I actually got this man to take me to my senior prom.  That was something I wish I had pictures of:  a grown man, the ONLY African-American male attending the senior prom at a conservative, white, catholic High School with a blonde haired, hazel-eyed, seventeen-year old girl.

He also bought me clothes, took me to campus parties where we danced all night, took me to my first sit-down restaurant where we were served by an attentive waiter (before this the only restaurants I’d ever been to were the Bob’s Hamburgers drive-through—I don’t think the town even had a McDonald’s yet–and Sizzler Steak House with my Mom to celebrate my birthday), and on trips to the beach and shopping in the big city.

Along with being in graduate school he  also claimed to be a tennis professional.  He gave lessons in town and was out of town on tour often.  His favorite outfit was his little white tennis shorts and crisp white top showing off his long muscular legs and deep, dark color.

At one point he was arrested and my mother saw it in the paper.  He told me he was arrested for marijuana and I believed him, never bothering to look at the paper.  (Other than the comics, reading the paper was just not something high school kids in my crowd did.)  My mother read the paper, however, and went crazy.  How could I be seeing this man? What was wrong with me? I remember telling her it was no big deal; that all my friends did it.  It was months later when a friend told me that I actually found out he was arrested for attempted rape.  Can you imagine what my mother must have thought when I told her all my friends did this?  Still, she couldn’t bring herself to say to me out loud what she’d read in the paper.  She never said the word “rape”, just as she never said the word “sex” in front of me.   I look back on this and it seems completely unfathomable but I swear to you it’s exactly what happened.  By the time I found out that he’d been arrested for attempted rape I had already rewritten our own history in order to live with myself.  I told myself he would never do such a thing.  I wondered to myself how my mother could have ever let me out of the house again reading such a thing but we never discussed it again.

After two years of this twisted dynamic, I was older and a tiny bit wiser and about ready to end things with him when a phone call came.  He was in Canada.  He had to leave quickly without telling me because there was a warrant out for his arrest.  Again, he told me it was about marijuana, and again I believed him.  Would I go to his apartment and bring him some items he wanted?  In my mind I decided that all the damage he’d done to me was complete.  I could never get back my innocence and trust so why not do as he asked one last time?  I’d never been to Canada and I couldn’t afford to get there on my own.

I went to his apartment and ducked under the crime scene tape that made a huge X across the front door.  Inside, I got the items he wanted, silly things like his favorite shoes, and then decided to have a look around while I was there.  In the bottom drawer of his dresser I found more information than I wanted to know about whom I’d been spending my time with.

My emotional survival had required that the reality of him being my rapist was rewritten in my mind over the last two years.  History got whitewashed because I couldn’t deal with acknowledging I was continuing to be abused by a man who raped me. Here in his bottom dresser drawer, however, was evidence of the reality of his life that I couldn’t ignore:  letters from his wife and mother in Nigeria, asking when he was coming home to his four children; naked pictures of my girlfriends he’d obviously had sex with; letters from his three fiancés, one in Denver, one in San Francisco, and one in Seattle; and confirmation that he was actually a thirty-two year old married man, not the single twenty-one year old he led everyone to believe he was.

I left the apartment and being pragmatic since birth, having never been to Canada, and knowing there wasn’t anything further he could take from me I headed to the Greyhound bus depot and off I went.  I stayed just one night and day.  He showed me the sites and we acted as if we were just a couple of tourists on vacation.  We said good-bye, me knowing it was the last time I would ever see him, and he was arrested the moment the bus pulled out of the station.

Upon my return, now a freshman in college, I began scouring the papers daily for news of his arrest.  Sure enough, a few days after my return, I read about his arrest and extradition back to US custody where he would be held pending trial.  He was not arrested for drugs, as he told me, but for a grand larceny mail fraud campaign he’d been perpetrating through ads in tennis magazines.  This is how I learned that all of my gifts had been bought with stolen dollars.

He was quickly convicted and sentenced to serve 10 years in a US Federal prison to be deported back to Nigeria upon his release.

Apparently the FBI had been watching him for some time and his phones had been tapped.  Just before they were about to arrest him he got wind of it somehow and fled to Canada.  The paper described how he was arrested at the bus depot in Canada after seeing off a friend.  To this day one of my biggest embarrassments in life is realizing that the FBI listened to my phone conversations with this creep.  Somewhere, in a closed case file in the basement of some FBI building, preserved for posterity, remain tapes of me flirting, cajoling, and often crying on the phone with a complete sociopath.

The next I heard from him was a letter from the State Penitentiary asking me to write him.  I did not reply.  Letters continued to come for a few weeks but I ripped them up unread.  I have often wondered if any of his many fiancés were foolish enough to stay in communication with him, but as for me, I never saw or heard of him again.

Every once in a while, even years later, I would get on an elevator and some man would have on the same cologne he used to wear and I would have a brief panic attack until I realized it could not possibly be him.  Other than that I put the memory of those years in a box, I put it on a shelf, and I rarely ever pulled it out to look at it.  Until today, when for some reason I decided to let it out into the open, possibly hoping to free the memory and let go of it forever.

McKenzie James

August 7, 2011

An Ode to my Mother

An Ode to my Mother

When I was 8 years old, my mother, older sister, and I, rode bicycles to my soccer game. When we were about to cross the huge highway separating us from the soccer fields, a semi truck blew through the red light and came within inches of hitting me on my pink and white bike. The force of the air as the driver drove by knocked me off my bicycle and scraped up my knees and elbows, right in front of my mother’s eyes. I don’t remember that game, but I remember my mothers lap as she cradled me close to her. She didn’t say a word, but that day I learned the meaning of the word ‘treasured’, I remember her arms around me, the way her thin skin barely wrapped her collarbone where my face was pressed.

When I was 11, my father was gone again on one of his endless business trips, and my mom showed my sister and I the movie “Los Desaparecidos”, and explained to us how she had lost her older brother to forces beyond her control, how a part of her soul had been ripped out in his brutal disappearance and murder. I learned the reason of her almost endless sadness, and her eternal pride in her family and her country. She instilled in me the same pride, the same defensiveness. I am, without a doubt, my mothers’ daughter.

When I was 15, my sister left me to save herself, and us. I watched helplessly as my parents hearts were ripped out of their chests and floated away. It was my mother who stood back up, demanded reparation, made me realize that forgiveness follows heartache, that life is messy, that you must always accept people for exactly who they are. My mother demonstrated to me the power of love, and her incredible capacity for it, and forgiveness.  For what seemed like an eternity, what had always been my source of safety, security, and identity seemed to have crashed and burned. It was my mother who took me by the hand and told me “We are what we think, with our thoughts we create the world”.  Love is only love when you are willing to take someone with all the darkness, with all the eternal flaws, and adore them anyway.

When I was in college, my mother sent me care packages and letters, and would buy me groceries and take me to dinner. She listened to me sob when I missed home, and did not berate me when I forgot to call because I finally didn’t. In her Valentines card to me she wrote to me that she loved me, her sweet butterfly, for being able to see the beauty of life down to the last teardrop. It remains to this day my favorite line anyone has ever written me.

Today, my mother holds my family together still. It is my mother who plans vacations, Christmas, Three Kings, and Thanksgiving. My mother remembers birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries. It is my mother who puts dinner on the table, who listens when I am crying, who knows me well enough to know when I need to be left alone, who reminds me that I am good. My mother is strong enough to take the blame from me and my sister whenever anything goes wrong, she has taken the burden of our anger, weathered the storms of my father, understands my sisters needs, my loneliness. It is my mom who transplanted from her homeland years ago and has flourished and thrived in her new home as well. I wish I could explain to her the beauty of her every movement, of how I wish every day that I could be a little more like her. I watch as she pours herself into her work and her family.

When things go wrong, when I am sick, when jobs seem scarce and relationships too frightening to endure, it is my mother who brings me soup, tells me money is fleeting anyway and will always come back, and who iterates time and again that grace and compassion are the backbone of my life. Her strength, resilience, laughter, joy, and small reminders to never drink and drive, and always call home, give us the foundation from which we are able to build our lives. From the day I was born onward, it is my mother who has never stopped believing in me, loving me, and who through her own example of existence has shown me the true meaning of being a lady.

Someday I will have a daughter, a small baby girl who will run too fast and too far, who will climb up the wrong side of the slide, who will break her arm and smash her teeth, who will come home with bruises and sawdust in her hair. She will have her heart broken, will leave me for her life to begin, and if I am lucky, I will be able to give her the same home and the same heart that my mother has bestowed upon me.

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