This is my father. The man that I inherited my love for reading, writing + rainy days from. Whenever I see him, I ask for a blessing as is traditional in Dominican culture, “Bendicion Papi” and he always gives it. Sometimes he kisses my forehead and shines a crooked smile through thin lips. Other times he pulls me in for a bear hug and I breathe in the scent of Tresemme hair spray and Estee Lauder Pleasures. Every time he looks at me with adoration, reminiscent of someone appreciating fine art or poetry, “Que Dios te bendiga mi primogenita.” This is our holy, generational tradition and it always makes my heart smile. I am reflecting on the fact that we don’t just inherit dysfunction + trauma. We also inherit resistance, strength + love.
Papá Chucho, my paternal grandfather, suffered a series of transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) or mini-infarctos as our doctor cousin explained over the phone. When Papi realized his father was in the midst of a deep depression and at risk for a larger stroke, he notified work that he had to take an emergency leave of absence. One week. I knew Papi would never ask me to take that kind of time off from work, but I also knew that I couldn’t let him go alone. The emergency trip to D.R. was just the two of us.
We arrived in Bonao, D.R. around 2am on a Thursday morning. Papá was heavy-eyed and a bit of what Mami would call a sonambuló. I wrinkled my brow in concern but assured myself and my father in whispers that he was just tired from staying up so late waiting for us. The following morning I saw him make his way into the kitchen with a cane I had never seen before and though I don’t doubt he was happy to see us, there were deep, dark circles welled under his eyes. His words were labored, almost slurred. He sat at the head of the kitchen table with a heavy smile as I asked him how he felt.
“El problema no es con mi cuerpo, es con mi cabeza. Mi mente no sirve.” He lets out a small chuckle as though he has just shared a joke with me. I don’t laugh. I observe the wrinkles etched into his face and swallow hard. He has confirmed what I feared most. The problem, the true damage of attacks his health has launched on its own body, is in his brain.
After picking up the last of the medical results, it was confirmed. Papá has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 83. We spent the rest of our time in D.R. encouraging him. We explained the diagnosis and prognosis as best as we could. We reminded him of the importance of a positive mindset, that depression is a possible side effect of his medications that we would have to monitor + emphasized the power of words. I told him I didn’t want to hear him saying that his mind was no good.
We spoiled him with dulces + bizcocho ice cream from Bon. Papi played the guitar while I used a desk as a drum-set and grandpa transformed his pill organizer into maracas. We sang coritos late into the night.
I recorded all the stories the time and his strength allowed. I asked him to sing me the little songs he always hums and I recorded those too. I drew out a genogram of his side of the family and asked him questions about each of his sixteen siblings, including Francesca who died as a baby. I pushed him to write down his life story in his notebook and he happily obliged.
I watched my father hug and kiss and dote on his father. I noticed how he watched me as I did the same, snapping pictures of me rubbing rose ointment on grandpa’s feet and hands on the bad days. As difficult as this has been for me, I can only imagine what it must be like for my father. By the time we were preparing to leave he looked more alive than the first day we arrived and for that I am grateful. The distance between loved ones is always hard. Sickness makes that separation even more difficult.
Before this emergency trip, I had started posting daily prayers to my social media. These prayers were inspired by my morning devotionals and time with God. I saw what a difference this habit was making in my life and I wanted to share that light. During the trip, I decided to go ahead and start translating these prayers into Spanish. This was one of the prayers that my father helped me translate and the prayer that God used to speak into me an important message.
The internet in D.R. was tortoise levels of slow and I felt myself getting frustrated by my lack of access to e-mail and social media (one of the biggest drugs of this day and age.) Instead of letting my agitation get the best of me, I said OK God. I hear you. I asked you to slow me down and you’ve done it – so thank you. After sitting with this shift in perspective, I decided to adjust my spiritual strategy and spend an entire week praying the same prayer. I was asking God for wisdom and revelations but spending only a few short moments doing the work to get there. Breakthroughs, really life-changing, transformative breakthroughs, take time.
We live in a fast-paced, microwave society. When we are not multi-tasking, we are thinking about multi-tasking. How can we maximize our productivity? is a question millennials are constantly trying to problem-solve. We don’t realize that we are hemorrhaging our brains from the strain and separating ourselves from God in the process. Last year I read over 50 books. Instead of congratulating myself or even taking some time to think about what I learned, I went ahead and set a goal of 70 books for 2019.
The lie I told myself, the one a lot of us believe, is that more is better. More books read, more money in our account, more awards on our wall, more experience at different jobs, more, more more. But what about time? We don’t get more time. Our time and our energy is a limited resource and we need to start treating it as such. We need to slow down and be present.
I shared these reflections with my father and he nodded and smiled as he listened. For a long time, I tried to turn my back on my spirituality because of how religion has been misused to oppress and abuse. But sitting with my father and my grandfather, singing coritos, watching them counsel + give to + love every person that stopped by the house without asking, I was confronted with an indelible truth.
This is the love that runs in my blood. This is my religion. And I can shape it and challenge it and make it as radical as I need it to be. I can also slow down and allow God to shape me, challenge me and make me as radical and revolutionary as he needs me to be to help myself, my family and my community continue to heal.