Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Blessings over Fear

A visit to Lourdes - Sep 2015
I took my parents on a trip to Spain (and France, Portugal, and Andorra) last month. It's the third time I've taken them to Europe. Each time has been one where I gave a gift out of love and gratitude. They paid for my study abroad back when I was an undergraduate. We didn't have much and certainly this just added to their debts at the time.

My time at Oxford was transformative. It was as though my eyes were opened to beauty and possibilities I hadn't expected. True the food was terrible beyond the pale. I exaggerate not. I didn't know vegetables could be boiled so thoroughly that they could look whiter than beyond pale. But the museums, art, people, and opportunity to experience a different culture affected me deeply and I cherish what I learned and continue to learn on every trip I take to this day.

So I thank them with these trips. This one was their first trip to Spain, a particularly meaningful one because our ancestors came to the Philippines from Spain.

I blog this because as with any time you put parents and with their post-adolescent children together, you have an opportunity for conflict. Much as I try to be a caring child, it's human nature to have disagreements with someone who raised you with firm advice. Much as I cherished the time and valued the blessings and opportunity to spend three weeks with my parents, there were moments when I felt as though I were 14 years old again. I'm sure I was a pill then and I definitely could be tough to swallow when I'm petulant or angry now.

The feelings are worsened when mortality is brought into the mix. None of us live forever. Much as I want my parents to be around, I know at some point I must say goodbye to them. Or, far worse, they have to say goodbye to me. Statistically and from family health history, there's much to make me feel that I need to gird myself for the inevitable. Hence, the trip was a great way to learn more about ourselves and to share in our time.

But I said that's how feelings are made worse. I for one may intellectually accept what will some day come, but emotionally it's not easy. And whenever I saw evidence that my parents were slowing down, or not are more forgetful than in the past, or are ignoring dietary proscriptions by their physicians, I experience the role reversal that often accompanies caring for aging parents. I heard myself scolding for bad eating and getting frustrated by forgetfulness. I've learned to accept the physical slowing down, but then get overly cautious when we aren't slowing down enough.

My mom is the most formidable woman I know. Whenever we moved, she started with entry level jobs yet always rose to be a leader. She finally retired as the Executive Director of the non-education parts of Stanford and Cal State LA. Dad started his professional career as an attorney and became a banker. Even after he retired, and returned to work as a part time teller to keep stave off boredom, he sometimes sold more new accounts than full time staff, winning trips for his successes. And yet he's still strong in his 80s, wanting to carry luggage when I could be doing so for him. Both of them worked all their lives, 2-3 jobs each, just to get us our education here in the USA.

So it bothers me to watch them slow down from the peaks of their careers. And I didn't understand why I was frustrated and angry during the first week of the trip. It took that week to realize that I was getting angry because I was masking my real feelings.

I was frightened.

Fearful of the signs of aging they were showing.

Afraid of someday saying goodbye to them.

And like most men, I resist fear and transform it into other emotions. The fear became anger and frustration.

Once I realized what I was doing, it became easier to accept my feelings. I was, after all, on this trip to enjoy my time with them and share with them the land of our ancestors. What I feared can not be avoided. So stories were told, memories shared, and we were able to experience a trip with the power of healing and transformation that we all wanted to have.

I watched Mom and Dad at Lourdes. They watched others in wheelchairs, on crutches, in arms of others as they processed into several masses for blessings. They did not want to be among those who seemed more needy, as if their needs were any less than the next person. But I understood. They've always deferred to those more needy and this was no different.

I waded into the stream of Lourdes and let my fears flow out of me into the waters. Some view blessing as the transmittal of a prayer or God's grace to someone. But on that day, on this trip, I realized that to be filled with grace and love, I needed to make room in my soul for that love.

The fear had to be released.

An opening needed to be created.

My mind and heart had to wade into the thin space.

And in the darkened void I created but feared, from that willful purgation into the stream at Lourdes, I made room for grace. I stepped out of myself and found fresh air. And with my parents on this trip, I felt the blessing come into me.

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