How many times have I spoken to friends who speak of a massive hurt that does not go away because of words left unspoken, because of never having reconciled with ones' parents, because of never having had that conversation? How many times have I heard friends speak highly of their parents and how many funerals have we all attended where the most beautiful of words flow freely but always spoken with a deep regret of never having told them so while they were alive?
Ten years ago, my family celebrated my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. At that time, many of my uncles and aunts on my mom's side of the family still lived. Now, she is the last of the Garcia, though there are many cousins. On my dad's side, he has a brother, and
also many cousins. My Dad is 85 and my mom is soon to be 80. Last week, they completed 60 years of marriage. Due to health reasons, never did I ever believe that there would be a 50th anniversary, much less a 60th.
Last week, my wife and I were fortunate not simply to honor them, but also, to finally have that conversation with them. For me, it came in the form of presenting them my published dissertation which came in the mail last week.
It's difficult to capture in words their reaction. Perhaps at one time they saw me as a bright star at UCLA; then life changed. I think they had wanted me to become an attorney. A generation later and years of being nationally syndicated probably meant less to them than seeing my dissertation dedicated to them. But it wasn't simply dedicated to them; I had that conversation with them about how it was precisely their knowledge ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ shared with me when I was growing up ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ that formed the basis of my dissertation.
At five years old, it is they who taught me never to view myself as an alien; they also tricked me into never losing my language (they told me that if I didn't eat chile, I would be remanded to the world of monolingualism.)
The morning after I presented my dissertation to them, I found that they had placed it on their altar. With tears in their eyes, they told me that they were but two burros that had produced a doctor of philosophy in the family.
Two doctors, I told them, reminding them that Patrisia had also received her doctorate. And yet, of course, I told them that they were anything but burros. For me, they are Creator couple and they are wisdom keepers. It is through them that I received not simply the stories and the Huhuetlahtolli (the ancient word), but also, from whom I received the concept of a ceremonial discourse (Centeotzintli: Sacred maiz of learning from ones' elders).
This conversation is what I have lived for, virtually my entire adult life. The past few years in cold Wisconsin, my greatest fear was that they would pass into spirit world before they could see me finish my doctorate before I could have that conversation with them.
This is what motivates me to write this today.
Patrisia and I once wrote that what are missing in our society are elder honoring ceremonies. I now understand this more than ever: To see their eyes, to feel their hands and to receive their blessings is beyond any words that I could possibly muster.
Perhaps that's why I write; to encourage that we all honor the elders in our midst ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ parents, grandparents, family, neighbors to honor their life's journey to honor their stories and to do so while they can still know and understand that their lives have meant something.
One of Patrisia's friends told me once that universities teach you everything except how to be a good human being. And she is right; I learned that from my parents, who have but an elementary school education from Mexico. It was their example and their intellectual
contributions that also provided me with my inspiration for relying on elder epistemology or elder knowledge (theirs) for my research. It was their contributions that also inspired me to develop my own diplomas ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ granted to them and several other elders ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ for contributing to my doctoral research on maiz.
Just as I had seen the eyes of the other elders in my life ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ when I presented them the diploma ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ I now have also seen my own parents' eyes. No more regrets. And no more thank yous are necessary.
(c) Column of the Americas 2008
Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez:
Rodriguez can be reached at: XColumn@gmail.com or 520-743-0376
Column of the Americas - PO BOX 85476 - Tucson, AZ 85754
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