By James C. Glica-Hernandez
December 8, 2012
On the occasion of my granddaughter’s wedding
The heartbeat in my ear begins
Nearly imperceptibly in its inception.
My breathing more puffing and halting.
The miniature lake that develops
In the inner corner of my eye surprises me.
My years pass suddenly, shocking me.
I gaze upon a resplendent young woman,
A graduate from high school. A bride.
My heart recalls her grandmother described this way.
I recognize in her face her mother and father.
Perhaps her grandfather’s skin color appears.
My inability to tell time or date throws me.
Who are this woman’s ancestors?
Twelve congregated elders claim her as theirs.
My mind rumbles, “How is it possible that I am one of these?”
Our granddaughter is married today and
I joined her to her husband as their minister.
My spirit reels with joy and temporal confusion.
Time lies when I look in the mirror.
I am too young to be a grandfather of a married woman.
My realization is that I am the one lying today.
I was the first man to hold my delicate Littlebits.
I danced with her at her wedding today.
My truth is that she is old enough and I am old enough.
Author’s Note: I wrote this article in 2009, and given experiences several of my friends and family have had in the past year, I felt as though I wanted to republish this article as a reminder.
My friend, Rindy’s parents just got her death certificate in the mail. As I read the details, I realized that on this piece of paper, her data and vital statistics were just numbers and letters. The description of what happened to her, a record of events not related to the actual emotional experience of that particularly horrific day.
One of my other students, one I have known since she was in seventh grade, just wrote about her friend who has cystic tumors on multiple organs in her body. At a spiritual level, I am praying for her, but I can’t help but go to that place where I am assessing the medical viability of this poor child. It helps me to distance myself from the tragedy her parents are experiencing right now.
On a larger scale, I can’t help but think that our debate about health care reform is just like these situations. We are standing on ideologies, philosophies, and mental judgement about people’s lives to maintain our intellectual distance. Of course, we can’t simply respond to our emotional selves, placating our strong desire to save everyone from the pits of hellish disease and agony. I must wonder, however, when it was that we lost our permission to be compassionate human beings with regard to this question? When did we decide, and a decision it was, to release ourselves from seeing each and every person in our country as a whole person?
Every dollar that goes to health care does not only go to a hospital, or physician, or technician. Every penny represents a human life that is in crisis. Every dime eases the pain of a child or maintains the dignity of an elderly person who is watching her life slip away. Each nickel is a banner waving in our war against chronic pain, epidemiological outbreaks, and insidious cancer.
I am nearly debilitated by our forgetfulness of these truths in this debate. We continue to talk about dollars as though these pieces of paper and shards of metal are what this discussion is about. It’s not. It never has been.
Be reasonable. Be accountable. Destroy fraud; but we must do these things with someone’s face always at the forefront of our minds. Remember your father who died of Alzheimers Disease. Remember your mother who died of pancreatic cancer. Remember your daughter who died of leukemia. Remember your son who died of poor prenatal care. Remember the pale woman on the street, whose wisps of hair flutter in the breeze beneath her silken kerchief wrapped loosely on her head.
Every time we forget these people, our brothers and sisters, we have bastardized the purpose of the health care system. Every time we are angry at the legislators for not focusing on costs and income, we become the monsters that walk hand-in-hand with the cells that destroy our bodies. Every time we arrogantlly chant that people should pay for their own insurance, even when they don’t have a job or health enough to maintain work, we become that against which we fight so hard… a tumor that ravages the body of society.
Remember a face… any face… and only then begin the debate about health care reform.
An old man sat on a park bench. His face had crevices like an old melon. His eyes, as blue as a child’s marble, turned toward the ground in contemplation. Every so often, the man would sigh with the weight of his thoughts. As he sat quietly, an old woman dressed in a cloth coat, sensible shoes, and a black purse, casually sat on the bench next to him. In her hand, she held a bag from a deli with what appeared to be a sandwich in it.
“Good afternoon. I hope I’m not interrupting you by sitting here,” the lady said quite amiably.
“Not at all,” said the man. “I was just thinking about everything I gave up for my children, and now, they don’t call very often, or visit me as regularly as I’d like.”
The lady smiled because she knew the man was not looking at her, and she would not have wanted to hurt his feelings by laughing.
“Are you unhappy that you had children?” she asked.
“No,” said the man, surprised by the odd and forward question. “I just thought that they would have appreciated what I had done for them. I had no idea they would allow me to be so lonely, knowing my dreams had been cast aside to make sure they had everything they needed to succeed.”
“Have they succeeded?” queried the lady, genuinely interested in the man’s answer.
“They have.” The man brightened a bit. He went on to tell the lady of his children’s successes, and how they overcame their challenges with wisdom and strength.
“And, what did you sacrifice to make sure they could have a good life?” asked the lady.
“I wanted to be a professional baseball player. I wanted to win a pennant and know that I had helped my team win the big one.” The man was both excited and wistful in his memory.
“Do you suppose that although you didn’t play baseball, you still got your dream? You children are your team, you are their coach, and they keeping winning in their endeavors, even after you stepped back as an active, daily coach.” The lady started to open her chicken and tomato half-sandwich wrapped in white butcher paper. The silence between them that followed, underscored by the crinkly paper, was strangely comforting to both of the elderly visitors to the bench as they mulled over their conversation.
As she silently offered half her sandwich to the old man, the lady nearly whispered, “The only dreams you forfeited were the ones you invented. The ones that you were meant to live seem to have come true, even though you didn’t realize it at the time.”
The man looked at her as he declined the sandwich, angry that this stranger would be arrogant enough to talk about his life when she didn’t even know him.
“And,” the old lady dared to continue, “you multiplied the dreams lived by your children by doing so.”
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the man’s craggy face softened. His brows unfurrowed, and his frown was neutralized by his realization that he had, indeed, lived his dreams.
The lady stood up, threw away the wrapper for the sandwich. When she was done organizing her coat and purse, she purposefully turned toward the old man. She drew in a deep breath and spoke confidently, “Dear sir, you have lived the dream that many don’t get to experience. You’ve seen your children grow into adulthood and be happy. Even though your children don’t call or visit as often as you prefer, it is because they are living the lives they were meant to live. Perhaps now is the time to coach little league, or write about the sports you’ve followed for so many years.”
The man smiled, embarrassed that he had spent part of his precious life feeling sorry for himself.
“Thank you, ma’am.” The man hesitated as if he were about to say something else. “Just… thank you.”
As the lady walked away, the cell phone that the old man’s son had given him rang. “Hello, Dad,” he heard his son say.
When my daughter, Rita, was quite young, she walked up to my mother and said, “Nana, you have old hands.” Mom laughed, but I knew there was more to Rita’s statement for my mother than my children realized. My mother’s beauty was unique, but she never valued her own gracious and precious countenance. This was validated by her own mother who once said, “Well, Teresa, at least you have beautiful hands.” Now, even those had grown old.
As I was typing today, I realized that I, too, no longer had the smooth fingers of youth. I smiled because I was joining my late mother’s ranks with wrinkling knuckles, newly pignmented spots, and thickening veins. The work I still have to do in my life must be done by these stubby fingers, swelling slightly from arthritis, still slightly numb from two strokes. The increasing crepe is layering my drying skin. Certainly lotion would help, but does it matter at this point? I’ve played thousand of hours of piano in my lifetime. I’ve bathed my children and grandchildren, as well as other family members as they’ve lain dying. I’ve written letters of celebration and sympathy. I’ve caressed those I’ve loved and buried the ashes of six people I love with these hands.
These hands are so different than those of my youth. That is as it should be. Had I simply existed without vibrancy or dynamic, my fingers might look very much the same as they did 30 years ago, but I have lived. On the day I join my family in the next leg of my adventure, my hands, I hope, will be drastically weathered. They will be my testament to a life experienced at the highest level of intimacy, tenacity, and completeness.
So, to my hands I say, “Thank you!” I am grateful for the songs I have accompanied, the hands of others I have held when both of us needed it most, and for the words I have written and typed that have ensured my clarity of purpose and intensity of love. Thank you for bearing my wedding ring. For these gifts and many others, I am deeply thankful.
Whenever we see a sporting event or theatrical production, the last few minutes of the experience are so powerful. The teams are battling for supremecy, the last push is thrashed for the big win, or the 11:oo o’clock song is sung. It’s the finale, so everyone expects things to be big, dramatic, and utterly memorable.
Life is like that, too. When we are closing in on the final days or minutes of our lives, our life experiences become phenomenally intense.
In the month preceeding my father’s suicide, he began scurrying all over California, trying to find a place to call home where he felt safe. His mental illness and paranoia was taking over and we, as his family, had to make decisions that would protect him and those around him, including my mother. There were battles and accusations, pleas and vitriol spewed everywhere as we tried to resolve these issues.
Ultimately, Dad decided how things were going to go and killed himself in the back of his truck using carbon monoxide from the exhaust pipe.
When Mama was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer six years later, she seemed fairly resigned to her fate. She was, after all, 83 years old and ready to be with my father.
The strange thing is that the night before she died, she grew very impatient and angry. She wasn’t able to communicate because her lungs had filled up with fluid from the cancer and she was incredibly weak because she hadn’t be able to eat for four weeks. I gave her some medication to calm her down and she went to sleep. I will never know what it was she was trying to communicate because she died during the night.
When my son and grandbaby were lost to miscarriages, the intensity was overwhelming for everyone. With my son, my then-girlfriend and I were 15 years old, far too young to be parents. With my grandchild, my daughter’s grandmother had died only days before. In both instances, the turmoil surrounding the pregnancies carried dynamics that these precious children couldn’t bear.
Even my former mother-in-law asked a fascinating question as she lie dying in her hospital bed. She and I were unusually close, considering that my ex-wife and I had been divorced for 22 years. She asked, “Jim, what do you think it’s like after we die?”
This amazingly strong woman was 71 years old and was asking me this question. It was a profoundly powerful moment of intimacy between us.
“I think that there is an afterlife and it is whatever we believe it will be. I believe it will be loving and joyful if that’s where our hearts are. It will be cold and lonely if that’s how we view our lives.”
“How do we know when we’re going to die?” she queried.
“When we are free from fear and ready.” I responded.
As she pondered what I had said, I saw her looking around her hospital room into the faces of her loving daughters and granddaughters.
“I’m ready. Let’s pray.” she said. So, we all joined hands and began praying out loud. Then, the room grew silent. After nearly ten minutes, Mother-in-law-dearest, which is what I always called her, opened her eyes.
“I’m still here?” We all broke out into ribald laughter.
The next morning, quietly and peacefully, she joined those who had gone before her.
One of my former students, who lost her life at 21 years old in an automobile accident, knew at her inner most level, if not consciously, that she was not long for this lifestream. Her poetry, music, and prayers all were clear pictures of that truth. We all missed the messages because we either weren’t ready to hear them or we weren’t supposed to hear them. The preparation experience apparently was for her alone.
There are times when we do see it coming.
When my brother, my family, and I were sitting around the table eating the day my mother died, after a discussion about his alcoholism and desire to be alone, my family and I knew that David would be gone within the year. Sadly, it only took him four months to transition into his new existence. The signs were there. His awareness was there. He was clearly ready. We were simply able to see it. Even with that clarity, there was nothing we could do to prevent him dying from his alcoholism.
Life is intense and full of meaning. Death is no different.
Our fears and our joys are amplified as we approach our final time. It’s remarkable how many times one has heard, “He said he loved me in a way that was so much more intimate the night before he died.” There had been no warning or omen. There had been no disease or chronic illness. He was just aware at his spiritual core that he had to say good-bye and mean it.
As I watched my cousin deal with his own demise this week, I realized that his battle has only begun, although it is likely to last only a few more weeks. Like my mother, his aunt, he is dying of pancreatic cancer. He is only 50 years old.
His children and girlfriend are also trying to make sense of what makes no sense at all.
I hope they all find peace in this process and can say good-bye in a loving, healthy way, as a unified family. It will make a difference to all of them, my cousin included.
I’ve experienced 46 deaths of people close to me in my lifetime. Each of their lives have changed who I am. They have made a difference. My cousin has made a difference in my life. The weight of their absence is great. The silence of their voices nearly painful. Yet, the love they’ve given and the love they’ve let me share is what I hold onto now. It’s all I have left.
Now, as your shot clock winds down, as the last few pages of your score are sung, I wish you “Good journey!” Joe. Bravo, Cousin, for a life fully lived. I love you. I will miss you. Thank you for changing my life with your love.
For great websites presented directly to you, go to: http://alphainventions.com/
Oddly, I’ve been thinking recently that having someone else’s name is a strange thing to do. I write, “Oddly,” because I’ve had no fewer than six monikers in my life time. From earliest to most recent:
Teódolo Conrado Arroyo Herrera (The name my mother would have bestowed upon me had she not given me up for adoption. Both names were after my paternal and maternal grandfathers.)
Herrera (The name on my very first birth certificate. This was Mom’s surname.)
Hal (The name given to me by Children’s Home Society before I got adopted. Look at my face to the right. Do I honestly look like a Hal to you?)
James Stanley Glica (My adoptive name, after my uncle who introduced my parents and my paternal grandfather.)
James Stanley Chávez-Glica (The name I chose to honor my mother and father.)
James Stanley Chávez Glica-Hernandez (My married name.)
Sometimes, I like to string them all together with my title and degree, just for effect:
Reverend James Stanley Teódolo Conrado Arroyo Herrera Chávez Glica-Hernandez, D.Div.
Come on, say that five times fast. I dare you.
Anyhoo, after all these name changes, I’m starting to think that my name, which at its core has remained James Stanley Glica since 1959, was enough all along. I love my mother and the name Chávez for a million reasons, but Glica was the name she chose to use, as well. My children are all Glica. I didn’t take my ex-wife’s name when we got married. I have to admit that it’s because I might have become James Daw-Glica. Uh, no, thank you. Go ahead. Re-syllablize it yourself.
Did you have fun?
We could talk all about the sociological reasons why wives originally took their husband’s names. Yes, class, ownership is one reason. We could talk about the standardization of second class citizenship afforded women until relatively recently, even on a letter:
“Mrs. Herbert Smith”
Either this woman’s parents need a solid chastising, or this poor woman has lost her name. Thankfully, I, of course, would not be Mr. David Hernandez. That would be silly because my husband is Mr. David Hernandez. I’m Mr. James Glica-Hernandez. Yet, I digress.
Am I any less married if I were to use only Glica? No. Plenty of people are overwhelmed by their wedded bliss while still maintaining their names of birth or adoption. Look at my husband. It’s my guess that he thinks Glica is a strange name and not one he wants to carry around the rest of his life. Hernandez is simple. Sure it has three syllables, but everyone can spell it, knows where it’s from, and almost always knows someone else by that same name. I only know this because on some of my identifying information, I use, James C. Hernandez.
“Ooooooooohhh!,” the young, ebullient fellow behind the counter squeals, “I actually know two different James Hernandezes…ez…ezzzzzzzzzzz… [Author’s note: you must visualize here a young fellow with a face that I once heard comedian, Dov Davidov, describe as having smelled freshly-baked cookies]. Do you know either of them?”
For goodness sake. And, this coming from a boy named, Myke Johnson? (Do you see how that’s different? Kewl, huh?) Ugh!
What I’ve realized, though, is that these various incarnations of my name are like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs back into my gingerbread house of memory. As someone whose had two small strokes already and probably will have another one eventually, any tools that amplify my memory are good tools, indeed.
“Was that pre-Chavez or post-Chavez? When did we meet them, before- or after-Hernandez?” It’s worked a few times, quite honestly. The only thing is I’ve been a Chavez longer than I haven’t and I’ve wanted to be a Hernandez since nearly the time I first met my husband a dozen years ago. So, the muddiness continues.
After it’s all said and done, I guess I’m still Little Jimmy Glica from McCloud and Dunsmuir, California, no matter whose grandfather I’ve become in the last 50 years. I like it that way. I’m proud of my entire name of birth, adoption, and marriage, and the paths I’ve taken to receive these beautiful names; however, like at the core of my name, the core of my spirit remains the same: a happy, loving little boy who loves to see people smile, sing, and dance.
Some things, as it’s said, never change after all.
My father’s favorite flowers were tulips. Every year he would dig up the three tiers of soil in our hillside front yard and plants hundreds of bulbs. His heart would never seem quite so full than when he was working toward that day when his tulip garden was resplendent in yellow and orange and red and white.
He did this into his sixties. He said he loved the colors and that each one reminded him of the warming season. I loved to see my father amonst his tulips. One of the hardest parts of his death was the untended yard the Spring after he was gone, overflowing with ivy and inattention.
I heard from a friend of my late brother’s recently. David and his friend, Zack, were really close growing up. Along with Brian and Nicky, and several others, David had a cadre of buddies with whom he hung out, got into trouble, and, I know, laughed constantly.
These young fellows would find their way around our mountain village in far-northern California on dirt bikes, skis, on foot, and by car, leaving their mark on every corner of this town of 2,400 people.
When David died in 2006, I thought these young people would be lost forever to me. I was saddened by that because it felt as though David’s memory would be diminished by the scattering to the wind of his friends.
Within the last year, I’ve heard from Brian, Nicky, and now Zack. They have sent photos and memories via electronic mail of their time together. They have each expressed a loving memory of my brother that has brought comfort and a sense of envelopment to me as the last remaining member of our four-person core family.
Today, I got a message from Zack informing me that he has a newborn baby. In the same way I felt upon the birth of my first grandchild in 1993, I felt a newness wash over me. It was intimate and poignant. With all the loss I’ve experienced in the last ten years, this moment brought me a sense of joyful future.
I sent my warmest wishes to Zack on his growing family. Part of those wishes, I think, were because he brought me some emotional tulips, like the ones my father grew. He showed me, once again, that Spring was here and new life was repeating its pattern.
It also reminded me of my recent visit to see my cousin, Joe, who was in the hospital with cancer. I had this amazing sense of healing and until today, I wasn’t sure why that was. Above his bed, on the top of his cabinet, was a vase full of white tulips… and hope.
Spring is all around me right now and I am, for the first time in many years, fully aware of its beauty and power. This has to be a good sign; a sign not unlike the first hint of excited green stalk poking through the recently cold soil over a tulip bulb.
Today, I was diagnosed with an early cataract in my left eye. A cataract, according to the WebMD Cataract Health Center, is a, “painless, cloudy area in the lens of the eye that blocks the passage of light to the retina. The retina is the nerve layer at the back of the eye. The nerve cells in the retina detect light entering the eye and send nerve signals to the brain about what the eye sees. Because cataracts block this light, they can cause vision problems.”
Apparently, they afflict mainly older people, those with sun damage or an eye injury. I’ve had neither sun damage nor eye injury. I refuse to believe that I’m one of the “older people,” at fifty-years-old. My mother, at 75-years-old, had cataract surgery.
Louise L. Hay, in her book, You Can Heal Your Life, writes that cataracts are a physical expression of one’s “inability to see ahead with joy. Dark future.”
Can you imagine? Me not being able to see ahead with joy? Anyone who knows me would laugh out loud at this thought.
What if it’s true, though? Has my outlook changed so dramatically over the years that all I can see ahead is dread and sadness? It is possible that I’m afraid there is no light ahead for me?
My hope is that, according to Ms. Hay, cataracts can be alleviated by developing a new thought pattern, utilizing the phrase, “Life is eternal and filled with joy. I look forward to every moment.”
And, there it is. There may be some truth to what she wrote, because after I wrote that phrase, my first thought was, “How?”
There is a part of me that frets about the future and what it will bring. Both at home and with my work, these phrases evoke images of struggle, drudgery, and dissatisfaction. What I don’t understand is why that is?
I love my husband, even though marriage can sometimes ask more of me than I think I can give. I am thrilled to be doing the work I am, even though the financial situation it creates is challenging, at best.
I suppose, somehow, I’m going to have to change my perception. It will be interesting to see how I eventually do that.
Wish me luck!
Hay, Louise L., You Can Heal Yourself, Carlsbad, CA., Hay House, Inc., 1999
Photo of cataract: http://www.webmd.com/eye-health/cataracts/cataracts-topic-overview
A man, standing at his mirror, visits his past and looks toward his future as 2010 approaches. His laundry list of landmarks include so many more entries than he could have ever imagined in his youth.
He has seen success as a singer, music director, stage director, and administrator. He has written volumes of poems, short stories, and other works. He has composed music that has been performed by seventy people at a time, to several hundred people in the audience. This man has danced. He has helped care for people in public health, assist in others’ healing through his spiritual work, and guided his beloved mother as she passed from this life. He’s helped people plan trips around the world, select the colors for their quilts, and learn how to breastfeed their babies, as well as eat well themselves. He has assisted both his father in the family pharmacy, as well as the Director of Public Health in the seventh largerst economy in the world.
He has been honored to teach hundreds of children and adults how to sing. He’s been on film, television, radio, and stage.
He has reared five children in the best way he could.
He has recognized that there is a God and that his faith in our Creator is justified.
As he looks into his mirror, he sees a man who, in his lifetime, has lost one great-great grandparent, one great-grandparent, six grandparents, three parents, one step-parent and three parents-in-law, a brother, a son, a grandson, several students, and his first true love. This reflected man has been married twice, once to a woman and once to a man. He’s only been divorced once and that was from his ex-wife.
He has seen all five of his living children taken to jail for various lengths of time, including thirty-two years to life.
Next year, he will have nearly doubled his weight from 128 pounds to 240 pound in the last twenty years. His hair will have gone from an elegant blue-black to a thinner dark brown with many grey strands dancing through his mane. The black rings under his eyes share the arc of the jowels under his jaw line. Stretch marks, varicose veins, and surgical scars all mark his body’s travel through time.
His list of medical challenges rival the list of major accomplishments in his life. He spends much of his time chatting with friends about the “good ol’ days.” His husband and he don’t say much to one another now, since they’ve spent about a quarter of their lives together.
Many of his favorite old time movie stars and singers are dead. Some of his family photographs are now over one hundred-years old.
This man, whose truth is shining in the glass on the wall, is now the eldest in his direct lineage. Patriarchy has overtaken his life.
Next year, the nintieth anniversary of his father’s birth will transpire. Next year, his youngest child will be thirty-years-old. Next year, his eldest grandchild will be eighteen-years-old. Next year, he will be fifty-one-years-old.
This scene would be fairly poignant if it weren’t about me.
The surprising part is that even with the abundance that I’ve seen in my life, I know I still have work to do. Even more shocking is that I still have energy to do it. I suppose I’m no different than anyone else on the planet, but the depth of life never ceases to amaze and sometimes confound me. Life’s intimacy envelopes me some days in a way that makes me feel profoundly cradled.
The little mirror into which I peer holds my entire countenance, but the breadth of my experience and hope for my future spills onto the walls, ceiling and floor, out the windows and doors, and into every corner in which I dwell. It is also reflected in the many mirrors I see in my family and friends.
And, thank God for that.