In Case You’re Tired of Feeling Low About Mother’s Day

In Case You’re Tired of Feeling Low About Mother’s Day

Here we are. Again.

Eating our Mother’s Day brunches. Browsing last minute grocery store cards. Wondering how we got here, back again to this holiday that dredges up so much and leaves us too often more curious than satisfied about why the whole thing is just so hard.

Maybe it’s hard because you’re old enough now to understand you can’t really be okay without your mother.

Maybe it’s hard because letting go of mother also meant letting go of a certain kind of dream of a life, of a world, of a partner, of a child where you could actually feel like yourself. Where you could know, really know, that the way you are is actually completely fine, everyone else’s opinion be damned.

Maybe it’s hard because not having that love won’t do anymore and living like it doesn’t matter, this long line of mothers and grandmothers behind you, holding you, supporting you, guiding you, will not do, not for one more day.

Not one more second.

Because the truth is you need her.
Because the truth is you want her.
Because the truth is she’s the only one who knows you in some strange and sometimes horrible way. And when you’re disconnected, you can never feel at ease with just how amazing and powerful you really are.

Because this is what the mother does. Or what we all know somehow in our bones she is supposed to do. She is supposed to be here. To validate. To understand. To guide. To insist. To cover. To dream. To reveal. To see. To love. To be everything and nothing at all, without saying a word.

In times past, this desire carried with it so much pain, because human mothers, whether they are us or we are waiting for them, have been disconnected from the mother line from before we were even born. In times past, we didn’t stand a chance. And they didn’t either. We were all, each one of us, adrift and unattached, the cord free floating in some kind of endless space. And the world we have created reflected back to us that lostness.

But I am here to tell you today, dear soul, that that world, the one that kept you unattached from that primal essential memory of being held by something so constant and greater than yourself is passing.

It is passing and in its place a new very ancient possibility is being born.

A possibility that can only emerge out of so much collective anguish over losing the link to the only thing that ever gave us any hope of ever having a deeply connected, deeply loving, deeply true way of feeling like we belong.

A possibility that can only be born out of the mess of so much ego and hierarchy and power and money gone mad.

A possibility that can only be born out of a planet that is fading for the sorrow of being so neglected, so exploited, so used for anything and everything but a sustainable, gentle, kind stewardship of love.

This grief you feel? It is not yours only. It is in the eyes of so many women and men everyday who exchange energy, even at a glance. You are not the only one.

It is a sign, in fact, of a new day, a new dawn, a new era, where the only way to return you to the Mother is to create a world where she would feel at home. Where the way she shares, the way she cooperates, the way she insists on collaboration and working it out, the way she holds space for everyone to feel part of a family is the way the world actually has to work. Or it will not survive.

A world where our shared longing must be reflected in our infrastructure, in our economies, in our cultures, in our families, in our world.

This path to this world is written on the palms of our hands. It is written on the inside of our hearts. It is our oldest memory and in it is in our collective power now to turn our tears into a fierce and persistent cry for a different way.

Consider these words from our friend and ally Marques Anderson:

We have tried our own way to figure out how to survive, even though the answers were always with us. There quietly nestled in the beginning, lay the ancient wisdom of birth. As we are delivered into this new world, we will never forget; but rather remember our purpose and our mission to live and thrive, to create and manifest greatness into the world. Where freedom is not auto corrected by how much money or status you carry, but how deep your truth resonates with the source. Even though the world has gone through so much hurt and pain, we are still being nurtured to dream and live lives full of growth and hope. We have been given the opportunity to create a new world and a new way of being, moving into a life infused with shared values, common courtesies and collective expansion. All this can be found in the eyes and heart of the Mother, for she is the nurturer of spirits and dreams.

Think of this today, when you have no words. Think of this when you have no hope. Inside this hopelessness, a bright and beautiful hope is being born, the kind that can only be birthed out of sorrow. The kind that can only push forward because you gave up so long ago on being surprised.

Your Mother is coming. She is almost here. And she will arrive because you dreamed her. Because you finally decided these tears were enough and that there must be now, some other, some strange and beautiful, old familiar way to the beginning we all can share.

With so much hope and love,
Jen

P.S. We are excited to travel to San Francisco this next week to the SHARE Conference sponsored by Peers.org and SOCAP to discuss the sharing economy and a more hopeful world. We’re even more excited to be traveling with the award-winning creators of The Light of Human Kindness Project, Patience Salgado and Hamilton Glass as well as Marques Anderson of the WE Foundation and Kelly Bean of African Road.

If you’d like to support our efforts, please join the Kindness Revolution here or write to me.

If Your Parents Don’t Get You: An Experiment

Some of you are going into a warzone today. Others a wasteland.
For many it will be more like an arcade where all the games are fixed and the outcomes already determined. A few of you will feel like you won the lottery. At least one of you will declare and then recant 364 days later: We are never coming here again.

No matter what your situation, I’d like to throw out the idea that this holiday can be different than any of your other holidays, and not because your family suddenly realized who you are and has decided to embrace you fully, but because you yourself are not the same person you were last Thanksgiving, and that simple fact has the power to change everything about today and then some.

Take a minute if you can to really register that fact.
You are not the same. Your heart is a little bit more worn. Your mind is a little bit more open. You know things about yourself you didn’t know before. You broke through some patterns that were difficult to see for so, so long. And in the places where you are spectacularly stuck, you know it now. You see blocks where there are actually blocks. And that’s huge.

Today when you sit down at that table, remind yourself. I’m not the same. I’m changing.

So many times when we’re growing and working through our stuff, we use this fact to alienate us from those we love. We see our parents as fixed points on a horizon, never moving, never changing. We see ourselves as ships moving farther and faster past them, while they wave (or turn their backs) from the shore.

But the truth is they’re changing, too. They’re getting older. They’re getting more sure about their stories. They’re making the decision on one level or another to embrace the life they made, crappy decisions and all. And as much as we hate that, because we’re still hoping for them to change and be the people who can love us the way that we think we need to be loved, the truth is, as we get older, we’ll do that same thing, too.

And that thing will steady us and stabilize us and help us get ready to let go and be part of history and not the center of the story anymore. For all their flaws and shortcomings and all of ours, we are part of them. We came from their line, their lineage. They have imprinted on us their dreams and their griefs and we bear them now, for better or for worse.

Today when you sit down at the table, consider this. These people will someday no longer sit here. They will reach a point where their time on this earth will end. They will not be here to be the walls we push up against, the people we seek to surpass or the ones whose choices define our own.

You owe no one anything for this fact. But we owe it to ourselves to feel whatever we feel on these difficult days and to find compassion for how complicated it is for us to be sons and daughters to mothers and fathers who are so far from perfect. We owe it to ourselves to remember how much we don’t know and how far we’ve come and how far yet we have to go, until we ourselves are old and sitting across the table looking at people we in our own hapless ways loved, and realize we won’t always sit here at this table, too.

Thank you for reading these messages. I have a candle lit on my windowsill this morning, as I write, for you. That you will be fully present today with the truth and wonder of this wicked and wild thing we call family, and that you will know you are beloved, without anyone else having to say it’s true.

With so much love,
Jen

P.S. Come dance with me and Melissa if you’re really feeling the holiday blues or just know you need to move. It won’t cost you a fortune and it’s going to be so good to let ourselves have something emancipating for the holiday season. Sign up is here.

P.P.S. I’m checking email at least once today, so feel free to hit reply and blurt out the whole story if you need an SOS or a witness. I’m happy to be here for you.

* * *

Remember that none of the material provided by Hopeful World is intended to take the place of firsthand support, evaluation, and advice from trained medical and mental health professionals.

What Happens When It Storms

What Happens When It Storms

Today is not just another day for someone living in the central islands of the Philippines. Instead, it’s another day that a mother waits in desperation for news of a missing a child or another watches helplessly on while her hungry baby gives up crying for nourishment.

On my Facebook stream, my schoolmates and family are volunteering for the relief operations, sharing details of where and how to send money or how to help distribute food. What combination of fate and series of random choices landed me in this place of comfort and ease, while others struggle through such a tragedy.

On the other side of the planet, I wake up in my cozy bed, walk around the block with my dog, and check FB for news from home. It would be easy for me to shut out the images of whole towns washed away, 2,000 feared dead, people looting just to survive.

Really, tragedies are happening all the time. There’s a war in Syria. Human trafficking is taking place right now in all corners of the world. And yeah, the black rhino is officially extinct. I wish such things didn’t affect me and that I could just whine mindlessly about the leak in my ceiling or about getting a speeding ticket or some such stupid snapshot of my life in the Midwest. But it does.

I’m missing the village of my family right now. Some of you might remember that I grew up in the Philippines and that most of my family still lives there. That’s me in the picture with my grandfather.

When I was a girl, during the annual monsoon season, the rains would come. Inevitably, the electricity would go out. My grandmother would have checked the reserves to make sure we had enough rice and canned goods, batteries and candles because there was sure to be flooding, stranded cars and people, and shortages of food.

But the storms also meant we would emerge from our separate rooms and gather together in the dining room and tell stories by candlelight. We would share and laugh and laugh, even as the storm raged around us. In times of tragedy, in the path of destruction, sometimes togetherness is all we have.

Where I am right now, there is no storm forcing us together and we are all living in our separate lives in our separate homes. The way we can feel so disconnected from each other can cause me to despair. I just know that there are hundreds of other people just like me sitting in their own little (or big) houses feeling isolated and alone in our little (or big) tragedies. What if we were to imagine ourselves together for just one moment, all gathered around a big table, with only our stories to sustain us? What kind of strength and hope can we glean from such togetherness?

Grateful for your presence,
Ria

p.s. It’s so hard to know what to do in these situations. It’s so easy to feel helpless over here, listening to all the stories of bureaucracy and corruption in Typhoon Yolanda aid distribution. But when I listen to my heart, it tells me that I have to help anyway, and allow things to unfold the way they will. If you feel the same and want to join me, I’m using the Philippine Red Cross.

Mutual Weirdness and Other Love Stories

Mutual Weirdness and Other Love Stories

I can’t stop watching this video.
If I didn’t know these two personally, I would not believe they could possibly be this honest, this sweet or this devoted, but they are. So much, so ridiculously much.

I met Scott (the World Guinness Book record holder for wearing a nametag the most days in a row — 11 years and counting) in St. Louis through Ria and then later Brittany when together they moved to New York City to make their dreams come true. I spent time with them in New York every so often, listening to their stories, hearing their hopes and watching, oh-so-carefully as they made the gentle (but dramatic transition) from caring more about the beauty of the “we” than any other success they might have imagined as separate entities.

In September, they married. (Our first Hopeful Wedding!) And I was lucky enough to be their witness first at the New York City courthouse and then a week later as their officiant at a small ceremony in St. Louis. I was excited and honored but also a little nervous. When you do your entire life in your pajamas and have basically one uniform with two not-so-slight variations (jeans/dress, bangles/beads, cowboy boots) to wear everywhere else, I always panic going into more traditional social settings. Combine that with the fact that I make a living out of having profound and deep, meaningful conversations with people (and am consequently a horrible chit-chatter — the fodder of weddings, office parties and baby showers everywhere), I was a little worried.

But Scott and Brittany were so clear. Please just come as yourself. Wear your cowboy boots, your bangles and your beads. You being you is an expression of who we are, too. And we are more than happy for everyone to see you, exactly as you always are.

It was one of the most genuine gestures of acceptance I’ve ever received.

Mostly, I think, because the pain of falling outside the lines is so great. It’s not easy to let your rough edges show, and harder still when you struggle with the social skills to hide them like everyone else. Having that exposure, the kind you can’t manage for the public, is humbling and sometimes embarrassing, but it’s also a strange gift. You have to be yourself. You don’t really have a choice. Pulling off all the other options doesn’t come without extreme contortions or massive effort.

This is who you are, come hell or highwater. This is it.

I’m oh-so-slowly making peace with that weirdness in myself, and am deeply thankful for the people I know who are gently making their rough edges known, one creative, brave act at a time. It’s one thing if being yourself makes you a natural fit for traditional or conventional frameworks. It’s another thing entirely if it makes you unusual, strange or a little bit off the beaten path. You have to be okay with not always fitting in, and you have to hold out hope for the kind of radical acceptance or “mutual weirdness” Brittany so wisely calls love.

This space that Brittany and Scott are holding… this space that says you don’t have to be ashamed to be your own wild, weird, alien amazing self, and that you can be completely accepted and even adored, in your most true natural state, is here for you today.

It really is.

And I’m standing in that space, and I hope if you need to, you will stand here with me, too.

With so much love,
Jen

P.S. So honored and happy today to share with you our very first Hopeful Mix made by request by our friend Shannon, a dear ally of Hopeful World and a frequent flyer in our classes. We hope you’ll enjoy her unique expression of hope and that it brings you so much joy and light!

P.P.S. If you missed our pay-what-you-can offer, it’s not too late to join us for The Story of You. There’s magic that happens when you make room for a new story of you. Will you join us? Class starts Monday.

In Case You’re Really Hoping Things Can Change

In Case You’re Really Hoping Things Can Change

Go ahead fill in the blank.

Oh, in my family, everyone thinks I’m _______________________ , but I don’t really see myself that way.
Yeah, I never got to do _______________________ . I guess it just wasn’t in the cards for me.
Things could be different for me, but this relationship with my (mom/dad/husband/wife/boss/friend) means I really can’t __________________________.
Here’s the thing, life doesn’t just work like that. Not everyone can _____________________.
If only my (mom/dad/husband/kid/wife/friend/co-worker) would stop treating me like __________________________, things would get so much better around here.

Sentences like these make up the story of our lives, and these stories shape up, direct us and convince us of what’s possible for us. They also teach us what can never be ours.

When Ria first started developing The Story of You, I was very much on this page. I was recovering from a divorce and a very intense period in my life where I had decided to put my own responsibilities on hold in order to help someone else who I thought really needed a miracle. The problem was, once I did my part to help the miracle happen, my life was in shambles. Everyone around me could see the disaster coming from miles away, I’m sure, but to me, I felt embarrassed by my mistakes and extremely limited because of the decisions I had made.

Everything felt fixed, and I was sure my work now was to accept things as they were instead of leaning into any kind of hope or change.

Ria uncovered tons of research for The Story of You, which involved talking to people who had spent years examining how the brain holds stories and how the soul interprets them. Her data seriously challenged my doom and gloom assumptions. I was convinced that I had to embrace the pain, go deeper, try harder, but from everything she was learning, that was not the case.

What I did need was a chance to loosen my white knuckle grip on my story, which I was holding like some precious ancient infallible religious text. I needed some way to let in a more hopeful point of view, and one that wasn’t just positive mumbo-jumbo, pie-in-the-sky. I needed balance in my story and the willingness to entertain the possibility that the story of me could be a blessing and not necessarily a curse, because of all my crappy choices.

And the research said I could actually have that. I could have balance. I could have hope. I could have a framework that opened up the future and gave me new options for a hopeful future.

Getting this through my head was NOT easy, which is probably one of the reasons why The Story of You is so good today. Ria had to keep coming up with more and more playful, fun, creative options to shake up my psyche. And the kind that wouldn’t shut me down or scare me, so the change in perspective could come naturally, with the kind of ease that made me more malleable, and less invested in my suffocating narrative.

This is truly a foundational, life-changing class for Hopeful World. And as time goes on, we can really see that the approach presented here, really does help you soften into the kind of shifts that change you forever.

For the next 24 hours, we’re doing an experiment. We are waiving the fixed pricing (the class usually goes for $197) and inviting anyone who feels drawn to this course to pay whatever they would like. If that feels too fuzzy, you can think of it in increments of 25 between $25 and $250, with permission to pay just $2 if that’s what you know is an honest contribution right now. (Yes, we’ve been there, too!)

Our hope is that by doing this experiment we will throw open the floodgates…to our community, to our classes and to our hearts. We are delighted by the story we’re holding for ourselves in all of this which is that we are cared for, we are seen and we are blessed. And so are you.

Will you join us? For The Story of YOU? Pay-what-you-can registration is here.

With so much joy and love,
Jen and Ria

P.S. Want to learn more about what we do? Visit us at hopefulworld.org/join.

Light the Darkness

Light the Darkness

I was nursing my baby, standing in the kitchen, watching the little television a neighbor had lent me to get through the early days of life with a newborn and an undiagnosed case of postpartum depression. I don’t remember much other than feeling completely flattened listening to hour after hour of coverage, including the distressed voice of a soon-to-be mother of twins ask a newscaster if he could find her husband who worked in the Twin Towers, because she really needed him home. She really couldn’t be without him.
I stood at the kitchen counter and wept.

Today my baby is a middle schooler and my then husband is gone, off to a new chapter, doing the best he can with his new life as I try my hardest with mine.

The new president who won an election on the premise of hope, is arguing for the authority to start something that looks remarkably like a war, and mothers all around the world nurse their newborn babies, listen to the news and hope against hope for their husbands to come home, even when bad goes to worse.

Everything changes, I said foolishly once. Nothing stays the same.

Only when it doesn’t. Only when we get caught up in a loop that looks and feels exactly like a pattern, a pattern that must be broken before we run the grooves too deep in our minds and start to think things can never ever change.

I want to tell you today, that things do change.

Even the most difficult, most painful, most heart-wrenching things.

The kind of things that leave you in a state of terror in your bed at night.

The kind of things that make you feel tiny and small and incapable of taking care of anyone else, let alone yourself.

I know this because I have seen it with my own eyes.

I know it because when faced with a choice to make things different for one another, so often there are moments of magic where we set aside our restraints, our limitations, our preferences and choose, even out of our own lack, to make things different for someone else.

This is the heart of kindness. And when we stay open and tender to that possibility, we embody the essence of hope.

Today, in honor of September 11, I’d like to invite you to visit The Light of Human Kindness Project, an online experience and interactive mural in Richmond, Virginia. Hopeful World is a proud sponsor of the mural and played an integral part of the hopeful story the wall tells. The wall is a work of art, but more importantly it is an invitation to the Kindness Revolution as each light on the wall will only be illuminated in real time when someone like you shares hope in a dark place. You can read more about the wall (which goes live tonight!) here.

And if you’re reading today, thinking, I cannot possibly do anything for anyone else, then I invite you to sink into some serious self-renewal with me. It’s okay, to be the baby that needs to be carried for a while. It’s really okay to need the care of a divine and indefatigable mother.

All my love,
Jen

P.S. If you’re feeling blue today, send a message to help(@)hopefulworld.org. I’d love to hear how you’re feeling on this day in particular, where you were on September 11, and what it was that helped you then (and now) hold on to hope.

photo credit: Aimee T. McNamee Photography

The Hope Jar

The Hope Jar

I’m overwhelmed.

It’s a feeling I know well, many times it comes because of too many tasks or too much emotion. In this case, I am overwhelmed by all the hope and kindness — by Jen’s sweet declaration of appreciation, by a mailbox overflowing with your notes for the Hope Jar.

Just fyi, since our official P.O. Box is down the street from me, it makes sense that Crowdsourcing Hope was my project to manage. I wish I could share with you the physical sensation of opening an overflowing mailbox and having your letters tumble out. It feels like Christmas morning!

I am buoyed that you would write to a stranger, your simple words of encouragement to a nameless soul who suffers — the kindness of picking out a hopeful thought that holds meaning for you, finding an envelope, rummaging in a drawer for a stamp, sometimes even including extras. You wrote to us from Montana and Florida and Maryland and Texas and New Mexico and Canada and too many more places to name. After collecting and pasting them all, we filled 19 pages!

If you’ve been receiving these weekly reflections for awhile, you might have noticed this for yourself — that a particular struggle or pain that Jen gives voice to is your own, and perhaps you find comfort too, knowing that you’re not alone in it. It’s been a turbulent summer for me. I lost a grandmother. I lost my adopted dad. Your letters and the Hope Jar have become an anchor for me as I swim in the deep end of grief and loss. As I read each note you sent in, I felt my head nodding and discovered that truly, they were for me! Sometimes silently and sometimes out loud I found myself saying, Yes! I get that. Or, Yes, that’s true. It’s really something, people — this physical experience of being together in our darkness and the lightness that comes with each expression of hope.

Our shared darkness makes it possible for me to be here, to go where I’ve never allowed myself to go, to feel safe in excavating old hurts and a lifetime of unacknowledged losses, understanding now that even though I myself have not been in it like this before, many of you have… and have come out on the other side, somehow burnished by your sorrow into a stronger version of yourself.

This, to me, brings hope. This is a beacon that I cling to in my all too real experiences of loss, that I too will discover a depth for feeling that I didn’t have before, and a new understanding of myself and my place in this world that wasn’t available to me just a few short months ago.

So today I offer yourselves back to you, along with all the love and kindness with which you sent your tributes of hope, multiplied a hundredfold. As you make your own Hope Jars with the full collection of hope notes you can download here, remember that across 50 states and several countries, you are joined by me and Jen and Henry and so many others who are with you in this small way of making a more hopeful world for ourselves and each other.

With so much gratitude and always hope,
Ria

p.s. If you are inspired, we invite you to post a picture of your Hope Jar on the Facebook Page.

p.p.s. A thousand blessings to you who sent in notes. Your SASE are on their way! xo

Crowdsourcing Hope

Crowdsourcing Hope

I’ve been in a little cave over here, without many words.
Do you know that place?
The only things that make sense are simple. Like making oatmeal in the morning. Or taking your time to really scrub the kitchen sink.

Still, the sun disappears every night and reappears like magic the next morning.
Darkness. Light. Hopelessness. Hope.
It’s what it means to be human, I’m finding more and more. Try to avoid that hopelessness and you automatically incur more. Try to stay in the light and your shadows grow monster-like and long, waiting for a chance to overtake you.

I’m uncomfortable with my level of discomfort, a friend said to me recently, eyes shining in the park with a smile on his face that can only mean you feel like crying.

And yet, this is life.
We shine.
Even when everything is more than enough to bear.

Today as I write to you, I’m aware that while there’s a way we have to face these dark nights of the soul on our own, there’s another way we do not.

We’re allowed in the dark to ask for light.
We’re allowed in the light to remember what it feels like in the dark.
We can turn on the light for one another when we’re too weak to reach the switch.

We can slide down to the bottom of the hole and just be together until one of us has the strength to show the other where there’s a handhold to get back out and up.

I have a dear one in a hole right now. And I’m wondering if this isn’t the moment to crowdsource a little hope for her, since the very idea of light is too much at the moment, the darkness feels so thick.

Here’s what I think we can do. Let’s send in a handwritten sentence along with a self-addressed envelope to Hopeful World Headquarters (address below). Just one thought, one simple line of wisdom or truth that you yourself try to hold onto when you’re losing your hold on hope. We’ll take each one and put them in a giant jar for this dear one, and whenever she’s feeling low, for however long as she’s in that dark space, she’ll be able to take a note from that jar and remember that she’s not the only one who ever wondered if she should keep going on, if her life even matters. Your light will be right there. And it will help her make it through.

And then, because you need that jar, just as much as she does, we’ll send you back in your SASE (self-addressed envelope) a page full of all the simple sentences we’ve received, and you’ll be able to cut them out and make your own jar, and you’ll know, too, that in so many ways you can never be on your own either. And that, on your cloudy days, will help YOU through.

What do you say?

I know it’s a little bit more effort to mail these in, but that’s the kind of hopelessness we’re dealing with here, people. The kind that requires just a little push, so that we can remember all the ways light comes and goes, along with the necessary darkness, no matter what’s happening on this or that particular day in your hopeFULL or hopeLESS world.

With so much love and light,
Jen

P.S. One of the things that is absolutely transforming my silence and my summer is listening to the audio meditations that are part of the Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal Online Experience we are doing with our dear friend and ally Renée Trudeau this fall. Early bird registration is open here and I’m happy to help you decide if it’s a fit for you, if you want to send me a message at help(@)hopefulworld.org

P.P.S. Send SASE to Hopeful World, P.O. Box 9191, St. Louis, MO 63117

The End of An Era

The End of An Era

To read my blog, you’d think that’s all I ever do is say goodbye. My last grandmother left this world last Friday. It’s hitting me profoundly. My. last. grandparent. When you don’t have grandparents, that must mean you’re a grown up or something. Or at least, not a kid anymore.

I’m a little weary, too weary for words. So I made the piece above instead, an attempt at processing what she means to me. But can just that capture a life?

Just two weeks ago, she wrote a letter to my daughter, her very last one as it turns out. My girl had a project for school called Living History where she had to pick someone at least one generation away from her to interview. She had a series of questions to ask them. She picked my grandmother. At the time, I remember thinking, “Oh no. It will be a challenge to get this back in time.” And sure enough, it came in just under the wire, during the last week of school!

What a blessing this project turned out to be! My mom spent hours listening to my grandmother and collecting the stories to transcribe. And the letter itself has become part of her legacy for the whole family, for us who are now celebrating dear Mamalola’s life and missing her deeply. My mom is now committed to writing down all the stories she can remember.

For my family, the children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and future generations yet to be born, this is a just a glimpse into the life of a great woman whose blood runs in your veins, Carmen Narciso Araneta.

* * *

Yes I am staying with your grandmother, Meema, but I have a separate unit on the ground floor. It has a “sala”(sitting room), a dining room for 4, and a small kitchenette. My small bedroom leads to an indoor garden where I sometimes have my coffee. I have breakfast by myself but for the other meals I go upstairs with your Tita Carmen (she was named after me) and your Meema. So it’s a nice arrangement: I have my privacy and yet I am not alone. I can still be with family and Carmen’s new dog, Butler.

I used to teach; I took up Education for my college degree. That’s what I did before I got married to your Papalolo. But then soon after, he asked me, “How much are you earning as a teacher? I will double your salary; so you are free to take care of the family.” That was a great offer don’t you agree? An offer I could not refuse.

As for historical events, let me narrate what happened soon after we got married in December,1941. The Empire of Japan invaded the Commonwealth of the Philippines shortly after the declaration of war against your country, the United States of America. The Japanese attacked Pearl Habor in December 7, and in ten hours, December 8, also attacked my country. We were staying in Davao, a south-eastern city in Mindanao, one of the three main islands in the Philippines. With bombs exploding all around us, we had to flee the city; that started our 1-month trek from Davao to Zamboanga City. I had just come from work, so I still had my high heels and stockings. We just left everything immediately!

But amazingly, all throughout the experience, no one got sick, in spite of being exposed to the elements: rain, mud and heat. I didn’t see any snakes or any wild animals in the virgin forest of Mindanao. God must have kept them away from us. We walked all together, resting at night, and trekking up the mountain and then down, all the way through 2 provinces. Don’t ask me how we got to our destination: we were just going with the rest of the hundreds of evacuees. No one got hungry either. The Lord provided fruits for us to eat all the way. At first I was hesitant because I was afraid that the fruits were poisonous; but Papalolo said, “Look, the birds are eating it so it must be OK to eat”. That trek was my “honeymoon”; what an adventure! I didn’t plan for that kind of honeymoon; it was an experience I will never forget!

I remember my childhood always with a smile; my dad, Lolo Vicente to your grandmother, was a gregarious man, who loved music. He played the violin. So he encouraged all of us to play an instrument: would you believe I played the drums?! So every afternoon, when he comes home from work and we come home from school, we would have our family band. It was so much fun!

My mother, Lola Juliana, was the perfect homemaker. She would prepare perfect meals for us but we would take so long in finishing our meals because between my dad and my older brother, the stories/jokes they would tell would keep us laughing, to the point that my mom would ask, “Don’t you like my cooking? Nobody is eating!” My dad required that the home is always happy with music. If he happens to come home and everybody is quiet he would complain, “Did someone die? Why is it so quiet here?”

I was the 4th of 7 children. I was the “morena” one, the dark-skinned “mestiza”; all my siblings were fair-skinned. So that gave me a slight inferiority complex but my parents always affirmed me so it didn’t become a problem, but it made me “delicada” (choosy) in my food preferences; I didn’t eat anything that didn’t appeal to my eyes. Knowing that, the rest of my siblings would always play this trick on me: especially when the food was good, and they wanted to increase their “share”, they would tell me that my portion got dirty, or that someone had already tasted my portion. So I will refuse my food—that leaves them with more!

Drama and sports—that’s an unusual combination of talents! I am so proud of you! Just like you, I also love to read. Yes, it’s amazing how words can make the story come alive. I hope to see you as the “Mad Hatter”. My advice to you my dear great granddaughter: pursue your dreams, you might be surprised to find out that you set your sights too low.

My talent is to set up a party spread that everyone will enjoy. Papalolo would describe me as the “hostess with the mostess”, to plan the table settings and the menu. Papalolo always invited friends over, often without prior notice. Our advantage here in the Philippines is that we have house-maids to help us. So it was no trouble to ask my cook to come up with really great tasting food within a few minutes. Even as a widow, I was hired because of this talent. My travels all over the world helped me improve in this skill. One of the top hotels in Zamboanga City asked me to be a consultant, training the employees how to set the table properly and serve food the right way. I enjoyed working there from age 70 until just a few years ago, until I was 85.

Sports was not my high interest. I tried my hand at golf, simply because Papalolo played. So I tried it too. I loved dancing; unfortunately Papalolo didn’t but he tried to humor me by learning a few simple dances like the “pasadouble, cha-cha, and the boogie-woogie”. Just like you I loved to sing. I took singing lessons; my favourite song was “Estrellita” (My little Star).

My Star is Papalolo, your great grandfather. He was a successful businessman but his passion was politics. He was the man behind mayors, congressmen, senators. He loved to strategize the campaign; he knew exactly where to focus the campaign so that his candidates always won. They called him the “King-maker” Don Doring Araneta. He never ran for public office, except for the Constitutional Convention in June 1, 1971, under Ferdinand Marcos regime. He ran as a delegate, to review and rewrite the 1935 Constitution. He was one of the 320 delegates elected. I helped him during his campaign. Although he had a speech writer, I edited and simplified his speeches to make it understandable to the simple folk of our province. I was also his speech coach, teaching him to just be himself when he made a speech; to pick out one person in the audience and talk to him casually. Most of all I advised him not to follow what the other candidates were doing, shouting when they spoke. We went all over our province and met all kinds of people: rich, poor, young and old, shaking their hands and asking them to vote to “Senor Doring”. And they did.

I love this project, Living History. It brings back pleasant memories! When one is as old as I am, 90 years old (I will be 91 in September) the pleasant memories strengthen the bones. Please congratulate your teacher, and school for such a creative way to connect generations together.

I hope to see you soon. I am taking care of my health, eating healthy food that your grandma “Meema” prepares and exercising (going up and down the stairs is my daily exercise). I am doing all these so that I will be able to visit you soon! I love you my dear great granddaughter!!!

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I don’t blog publicly very much but if you want the inside scoop, I invite you to join me here. I’d be delighted to send you my regular messages on the art of embracing your truest self.
Love,
Ria

On Saying Goodbye and Other New Beginnings

On Saying Goodbye and Other New Beginnings

Two kids. Two promotional ceremonies in two days. By the end of last week, I was the proud mother of a middle schooler and a high school student.

Kids are growing up over here, people.

It’s heartbreaking.

I wish I had a dollar for every minute I laid in bed promising myself I’d do just a little better by both of them when I woke the next morning. If that were the case, I’d be a millionaire by now.

Maybe you can relate.

Instead there’s this deep longing twinged with traces of regret as I look at their sleeping faces and question if there’s any possible way they could know how much I think of them, how much I love them and how challenged I am by all the very human things about myself that are right this instant shaping their own wounds and wonder.

It’s an ego trip, this parenting thing. We want to do it perfectly so at the end things can be easier and we can know we did it right and so, of course, no one will have to suffer. Such fiction.

But suffer we do and wish we might. And the wishing is so strong it ends up playing out like an addiction that keeps us coming back for more. Show me anything, we silently beg them, that says I didn’t completely screw this thing up.

Thank God, underneath all our good intentions is something even better than regret, longing, perfection or ego. It is Love. And it is the thing that makes our very bodies a homing device so they can always find us, no matter what happens. Yes, there might be years in therapy. Agreed, they will not always be happy with how we raised them. There might also be great denials about failings, and in the worst case scenarios, inquisitions and god forbid, great separations.

But even in all this: the chaos, the misunderstanding, the floundering, the hurt, the moments of redemption, there will be Love.

Today as you’re waving your sixth grader goodbye, as you’re looking your young graduate in the eye, as you’re feeling that last baby on your hip, as you’re packing for camp, as you’re trying to talk sense into your ten year old or hoping the best for steely silence with your teen, know this: it’s not too late to put in words the things that don’t always get said.

I am always always always here for you.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, can make me stop loving you.

I’m so glad you’re mine.

I have loved being your mom so much.

You’ve brought me more joy than you can really know.

Believe it or not, I did my very best.

I know you can do this. I believe in you.

It’s my fear that makes me like this. It’s not you, I promise.

We’re together the whole way, no matter what.

It’s normal to be terrified.

Go. Go. Go.

And if those words feel too hard or big, try these:

You don’t have to be perfect.

Being true to you is more than enough.

I’ll be right here waiting to hear everything.

Promise.

Write to me today if what you want to say to your kid just doesn’t feel right for public consumption. I’m happy to hear your worries and your unspeakables. Know that this ache we feel, this deep longing, is just a reflection of the way we ourselves need to be held. It is a distant reminder of the parts of us that still need reassurance and our own special declarations of belonging… from our own days of leaving and saying goodbye.

With love and light,
Jen

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