Stories that conceal and stories that reveal: I wear too much makeup and if you look closely I come with an “as is” tag.
I don’t think I’ve ever been much of a makeup fan… I mean there’s something just so utterly beautiful about the genuineness of a face that has nothing to hide, although there’s a time for wearing makeup, and for some people that may be 24/7 –but now let’s pretend I never said that-. The point here is that as I was thinking about makeup, I realized that perhaps I too should adopt the “no makeup” policy more often.
In the words of John Ortberg, some times I find myself being “much more measured or calculating than I wish I were; situations where I work as hard and subtly as I can to try to manage what the other person is thinking of me; situations in which I emphasize opinions I think they might agree with, or tell stories that make me sound smarter or stronger or more successful than I really am.”
At times I may talk about the girl who liked to play relationship games, and how I respected myself too much to play along, but always neglect to mention how emotionally immature I was in my approach as well. Some other times I may talk about how I am in such a prestigious program: the M.D./Ph.D, the supposed pinnacle of education, but neglect to mention to people that it has been a struggle to get through half of the classes, or that I’ve had to repeat biostatistics, a relatively “easy” class.
I recently realized that perhaps I too use stories to conceal much about myself from my community. I realized that perhaps I wear too much makeup.
On the other hand, I can point to this story to the beginning of a narrative that is used to reveal something to my community: I’m rather flawed, pretty imperfect, and if I were for sale I’d have a big and bright “as is” tag. I recently had one of those “I have an “as is” tag” moments with my friend Justin. During a road trip he told me about his tag, and I told him about mine. I felt accepted. I’m not suggesting that we all run outside and start divulging our imperfections, but I do think that if we were more honest we might allow our community to get closer, and who knows perhaps we’ll find a couple other imperfect people to build a stronger community with.
Personal myths and parables: When I grow up I want to be a doctor
One of my greatest myths was conceived while on a mission trip to Mexico, shortly after arriving in the USA. For the first time in my life I was living for a greater purpose than myself, I was helping people with the little knowledge I had about health and translating health lectures into Spanish. It was an epiphany: “when I grow up I want to be a missionary doctor and help in the healing process of people”. Somehow neither the arduous and sometimes grueling path to medical school nor the financial burden it required registered in my brain. Somehow everything would be OK. However, I encountered many “parables” in such course, the biggest of which was revealed by my inability to pay for medical school once I got accepted. After months of trying to find a way to finance my education I found myself two days away from my registration deadline and $54,000 short. I talked to one of the associate deans of admissions and told her I would be deferring my acceptance to medical school for a year. It was one of the few times in my adult life I have cried out of sadness. I questioned God, wrestled with Him, and finally surrendered to His wisdom. Three and a half years later I’m still in Loma Linda, getting paid to study while taking the scenic route a PhD affords. I’m still encountering parables along the way, but at the same time I couldn’t be more elated to have a myth to behold while I’m on this journey.
Community secret keeping: Blissful ignorance?
I’ve never known much about my dad’s dad. He died when I was around three years old from pancreatic cancer, so there’s not much I remember, although every once in a while I’ll have brief flashbacks of how he moved really slowly and how gentle and quiet he was. My mom would always say that in his old age he was a sweet man, always lending a helpful hand whenever he came to visit us.
However, my view of my grandpa changed not too long ago when I asked my dad why it was that I knew very little about his dad. I was surprised to hear from my dad that it was probably because he didn’t really know him either. While my dad was growing up, his dad was a reckless alcoholic that would often have to be picked up from the streets by his older kids (my dad was one of the designated draggers). He was seldom home, and when he was actually home, all the kids wished he were not.
He had a conversion experience in his old age, but had already managed to wreck most of his relationships with his family. The road to redemption was cut short by cancer, and never really got to make amends with all of his kids. Maybe I’d prefer to have the memory of my grandpa intact, but I think most of the time I like knowing his story.
I think the story of my grandpa reveals much more than the fact that alcoholism might run in my genetic makeup, I think that his story shows the power of God to change a wrecked life, and his loving patience that leads us to repentance, even in our old age. And who knows, maybe a desire to accept forgiveness is part of my genome as well.
Absent rituals: There’s no cake, there’s no ice-cream. Happy going away party…
It is 2002 and the year is drawing to a close. It is December and I’m going to the American embassy thinking that maybe I’ll be able to continue my studies in the US after all. That same day I receive my visa, and come back home excited to announce that against all odds I’ve been granted a student visa. Time seems to fly by and before I know it I’m only two days away from leaving home. Things get really busy and the day I leave I quickly hug my 3 sisters, kiss my grandma on her forehead, and on my way to the bus station I quickly text a couple of friends to say bye. That’s it. No “proper” goodbyes, not even a cake or some ice-cream.
It’s been eight years now since that day, and we have managed to institute a ritual for saying good bye. No, it doesn’t include cake or ice-cream, but it does include the entire family getting closer together (quite literally) in a ritual we all call the “good-bye group hug”.
Forgiveness and reconciliation: Lessons from my childhood
I’ve been familiar with the notion that forgiveness requires more than simply forgetting for quite some time now. If that were truly the case, people with a bad memory (like me) would be some of the most forgiving people in the world (and believe me, I’m not!). I think having siblings affords anyone a great opportunity to learn about forgiveness. I remember for example when my older sister hit me “accidentally” with a broomstick and made my hand look like a baseball glove. I haven’t forgotten about it, but I now laugh every time I remember it.
I also remember when we would try to bargain with each other when we were kids. It worked then, but doubt it would work now. I doubt that adults would go for, “hey, I’ll give you my allowance to buy ice-cream if you don’t tell mom…”.
However most of the time I would try to be biblical in my approach to forgiveness towards my siblings: “An eye for an eye”. I never really got mad then, I simply got even. My sister would pinch me, but I would make sure I left a nice print of my teeth on at least one of her arms… I don’t think that would fly today. An eye for an eye might just make the whole world blind.
One of my favorite personal stories of forgiveness and reconciliation occurred when I was 7 years old. It was Sunday morning in Villahermosa, Mexico, the most tropical part of the country. Back then I used to get up early and make myself “breakfast” to accompany me while watching Sunday morning cartoons. On one of those particularly hot Sundays I opened the refrigerator to grab my favorite topping for toast, edible happiness, otherwise known as condensed milk. The condensed milk was normally in a really cute and expensive little jar my mom had gotten as a wedding present, her favorite jar. I remember looking at that jar and thinking how beautiful it looked, just simply radiating yumminess. So as I was grabbing it, the glass handle reacted to the laws of physics and thermal dynamics, and collapsed in my hands. And then in slow motion, I saw the jar fall to the floor (while saying “Noooo” in extra slow motion), and shatter into a thousand pieces. My short life passed before me, and I knew that there were no laws in Mexico to protect me from what was coming. I started to cry. No, forget crying, I started to sob. As I was hyperventilating myself I went into my parents’ room, and asked my mom if I could tell her “something”, but that I couldn’t tell her until she promised to forgive me. She immediately woke up and asked me if I was OK, to which I responded “yes, but your little jar is not”, and I resumed my hyperventilation, feeling utterly devastated for having broken my mom’s favorite jar. My mom’s reaction was priceless and taught me a profound lesson. She hugged me and kissed me, and said it was OK, she was just happy that I wasn’t hurt.
That forgiveness, that grace, was so meaningful, that it made me want to avoid breaking anything my mom valued. Perhaps the best way to bring about forgiveness and reconciliation is first of all to embrace the fact that as humans we are bound to mess up, and secondly, to be willing to extend the grace that has been so prodigally extended to us.
That Sunday morning I learned a bunch of valuable lessons that would remain with me to this day: I learned about grace, forgiveness, God’s love towards us (as exemplified by my mom), but most of all I learned about thermodynamics.