March 6, 2013

When things fall apart...

Patsy and Paul Ramirez

Let's just say I come by it honestly. Patrocinio "Patsy" Ayala-Ramírez, my grandmother on my dad's side, was a feisty Mexican lady who endured economic hardships as an immigrant, domestic hardships as a wife and mother of four, social hardships as a divorcée at a time when most women didn't do that, and she always came out on top. At least in my eyes. I looked up to her. I miss her.

The stories in our family are many that involve one of us standing up for what is right or defending ourselves against people who are taking advantage or otherwise wronging us only to lose out on a job, a promotion, an opportunity, a friendship, but with our principles and pride intact.

My dad ended up in Las Vegas with his young family in tow in 1973 partly because of the great opportunities in a growing town, but also because he couldn't get another job in his hometown of Pueblo, Colo. He had been working for the city government on a program to help minorities land jobs, but when the jobs all seemed to be going to "other" candidates, he blew the whistle and was fired. He responded by promptly suing the city--and won. Thus, he was deemed a "trouble-maker" and unemployable. I could not be more proud of this story.

I don't know when I'll learn that people are fallible and don't always live up to my high expectations of them and that it's okay. Not only is it okay, but it's irrelevant. I don't have to fight every battle, right every wrong, vindicate myself on every issue or prove anything to anyone. Not even to myself.

I have had a tough set of challenges lately, seemingly coming at me from all angles--work, friends, frenemies. Whatever it is the universe is trying to teach me, I am either too dense to get the lesson or too stubborn to try.

But in order to wake up, I have to feel the short term pain of seeing myself doing this yucky thing in order to be free of it.

The above is a quote from one of my favorite Buddhist teachers, Pema Chodron. I re-read her slight but heavy little book "When Things Fall Apart" about every two or three years. Why do things seem to always be falling apart in one way or another? Perhaps I am drawn to Buddhist teachers and thinkers because of its foundational tenet that life is full of suffering (samsara) and it's only our reaction to it that matters. This is so central to my experience. It never fails. I am always being faced with ways to keep learning this lesson.

Again, from Pema:

Really the question you have to ask yourself is: Do you want to spend your life making your habits and patterns stronger? Or do you want some kind of transformation to happen? — so that your strength and your confidence and your capacity to love and to care for people can begin to surface— you're not always blocking it. 

I want the latter. I really do. I want the transformation to happen. I want to take what I can from every negative experience or interaction with people to make myself better able to deal with those interactions in the future. I am not perfect. Far from it. I have too much of my granny and my dad's pride and principled, opinionated blood. But I wouldn't have it any other way. I know that my little girl is learning from me to be her own person, to know right from wrong, to stand up for herself (when she will inevitably be faced with adversity) and to be proud of herself and where she came from. She'll be a fiery one too, no doubt about it. She already is. But hopefully with a good dose of her daddy's equanimity and patience.

But sometimes I just wish things would be a little easier. I want to remember these early childhood years of hers which are so precious --free of any crap that may be going on in my life. I want to recommit to being with her and really interacting with her on her level, everyday, when time allows, and not just being distracted with whatever challenges may be going on in my life. This time flies by so fast. I want to cherish it more than I do when life just gets in the way.

On that note, here are some priceless words that have come out of my little fiery angel's mouth lately:

"You're a good mommy to me."

"You smell simply great."

(getting ready to go out in the cold) "Let's get all bungled up."

Me: "Can I come to the park with you?"  J: "No." Me: "Why?"  J: "Because I don't like you."

"I love you my best heart."

 And there it is. Right there. That is what my life is about right now and that is what I live for. Jobs and even friends will come and go. But my family will always be there for me. I am lucky to have so many people around me (including a strong network of friends) to support me when things get tough. And, taking the best and the worst from those who came before me, I can only do my best and do everything with honesty and integrity and not look back.