So many of us are suffering right now. This past year as a result of Covid-19 has not been friendly to us humans and despite the vaccines we are not out of the tick-infested weeds yet. Whether the suffering is acute or chronic, one thing I know: suffering is universal and there but for the grace of God go we.
My grandmother had a saying: “Don’t cry with a loaf of bread under each arm.” As you can guess, it means that we need to count our blessings, or as my mom used to say, “Don’t complain; things can always get worse.”
My grandmother came to the United States at 18, leaving her parents and siblings behind to start a new life in an arranged marriage to a man who was more than two decades her senior. She didn’t want to leave, but her father thought that the chances for her success — being married to a man who owned his own little corner store — were greater in American than in Italy where she lived on a farm, growing and raising what they ate each day, always subject to the vagaries of war, weather, and whatever political party was in power. And while I have greatly enjoyed the fruits of my grandmother’s emigration, I can’t say that her life was any better or easier here than it would have been had she stayed put in Italy with her family.
My grandparents did not enjoy a happy marriage. Age was a big factor, plus the depression sucked the life out of most people, but immigrants, as they always will, had it much harder being in the bottom rung of the socio-economic ladder. Making a living sometimes meant barely getting by. My mother tells the story of my grandfather who lost his store during the depression and, as a way to keep money coming in, sold Philadelphia pretzels, pushing his cart from one street to the next, starting early in the morning until late in the evening when he would go home, eat dinner, and fall asleep in his chair. There wasn’t much money coming in, but they didn’t go hungry either which was better than many people, and my mother, the youngest of three children remembers that while she didn’t see her father much, every morning there’d be three stacks of five pennies lined up on the sideboard, one for each child, and to my mother, that was an enduring sign of her father’s love.
My mother and her siblings were my grandmother’s heart and soul. When my grandmother lost her only son to MS she cried and cried, so much that she eventually suffered a brain aneurysm and died at the age of 60. I was 3 years old at the time and had no way of asking the millions of questions that I would have asked my grandmother over the years if I’d only had the chance, and so I make do with the stories I have, piecing my history together like a seamstress sews a quilt.
My husband’s extended family experienced a terrible tragedy this past week, one that has left us all shaken to our roots, one that will take years to recover from, if ever. It’s times like these we question the wisdom: of our beliefs, of our religion, or of God himself. The Buddha would say that the essence of life is suffering. I prefer to think that the essence of life is a journey whose ways and means and end are unknown to us, and like immigrants to a distant shore, all we can do is disembark, take a deep breath and a good look around, and dig in using all the tools God gave us, doing the very best we can every day because that is what we will be judged on: whether we were kind; whether we cared for one another in times of sickness and health; whether we listened with compassion and reached out with arms and hearts wide open to receive whatever might come back knowing that life is an ephemeral stream, just as quickly flooded as dry.
It’s Easter week, the holiest in the Christian calendar, a time of rebirth and renewal. It’s also Passover, and the first weeks of Spring. Everywhere we see the pattern of being reborn running throughout the natural world and ourselves. The daffodils do not decry the snows of winter, but wait patiently for the sun to warm their way back to the surface. Nature’s physical rebirth is our spiritual one because, even when we forget, we are inextricably linked with the mother of us all.
So today, no matter your denomination, take a moment to give thanks for all that life has given you, the good and the bad, and nibble at the bread in your arms and thank life and all its vicissitudes. We are here to learn and to grow. Sometimes our lives are tempered in tragedy and others times in good fortune, and while no one gets out alive, it’s up to us to choose what to do with the time we’ve been given.
May we all be safe;
may we all be happy;
may we all be healthy;
and may we live in peace and harmony with one another,
forever and ever.
pam lazos 4.3.21