Dreamer….one man’s legacy…one family’s purpose…

IMG_2860Today my father would have been 98 years old.

At his bedside in 1998, twenty years ago, he quietly revealed to my older sister his story of approaching the Golden Gate Bridge on the deck of a ship, she barely old enough to stand at his side as they passed under the monument that signified his entry into America.

“We will have a good life here,” he whispered into her ear.

He was a silent man, of very few words. We three sisters had never heard this story, his last spoken before his last breath 24 hours later in the US Army hospital where I was born.

His entry into the port of San Francisco was gained through his service as a Philippine Scout in World War II, and his survival after escaping from the Bataan Death March. After his escape, he journeyed 60 miles by foot, emaciated with malaria back to his home in the province. Slowly he recovered in a nipa hut, his home, until the liberation in 1945, when he jumped onto the US Army trucks rolling past on the road back to Manila to join the US forces and Mac Arthur in Leyte.

From America he would send stipends to his mother in the province. She proudly had a gate made to the entrance of her home that said, “Sgt. Jesus C. Bermudez, US Army.”

My father was the gatekeeper for others to come to this country, the one who would open the doors decades later as a sponsor for his brother and his family, my mother’s sisters and their families, to pursue the good life that my father dreamed of as he passed under the Golden Gate Bridge: A house. A car. An education.

Over years, decades of waiting for papers, affidavits, job opportunities, these dreams materialized not only for my father but for generations to follow.

Our children set foot on the the shores of our Philippine homeland, the land of my father, for the first time last Christmas. The children and grandchildren and nephews and nieces of my father, their Lolo (grandfather), gathered on the on the island of Boracay to serve on a medical and dental mission to the Ati people, an indigenous tribe in the Philippines.

These first and second generation Filipino Americans of my father are living the American dream he longed for: homes in Malibu, Newport Beach, Seattle, Orlando. Cars he dreamed of: Porsches, Ferraris, Mercedes Benz. Educations to be proud of: USC, Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, Baylor, Ohio State. Careers to make him proud: doctors, dentists, accountants, software engineers, NFL producers.

On the dirt roads of my parents homeland, fifty of us—brothers, sisters, cousins, second cousins, nephews, nieces — gathered under a makeshift shelter and thatched grass huts of a remote village to bring medical and dental care to a people who had been outcast and isolated for the darkness of their skin.

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We called it the Kamay Project: Kamay means hand in Tagalog, the Filipino language. Our families were joining hands and resources to help the Ati people. We saw 230 patients that day, giving basic medical and dental care, distributing medicines we had collected, sharing bible stories and balloons with the children, and the biggest draw, playing basketball with the kids.

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Shoulder to shoulder,
Hand to hand
Hands extending to extract a tooth, to take a blood pressure reading, to lift a child up on a shoulder, to pass a basketball up for a shot.
Hands extending over generations, language, economics.
Hands reaching out to give out reading glasses, medicines, toys, balloons.

 

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The recipients were not the only ones receiving a gift.

The ones handing out received smiles and hugs
reciprocally greater in exchange.

Kamay is also the word that describes the Filipino tradition of eating by hand. Food is spread out on the table on banana leaves. The great granddaughter of my father’s mother, a rising Filipino chef just honored at the James Beard house in NYC, prepared a traditional meal of fresh dried fish, shrimp, pancit, and rice.

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As our family worked together side by side, elbow to elbow to present the food, arranging it artfully atop banana leaves on rickety wooden tables, my cousin, one of the dentists, grabbed my hand. Earlier that day he had extracted and examined teeth for over one hundred patients.
He grinned at me from ear to ear, the way I first remember his smile when he was eight years old and just had arrived from the Philippines. He had the same bright, hopeful look in his eyes as the children gathering all around us. At their age, his mom and his three siblings lived with us for nine months preparing for a new life in America.

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“You know we all would not be here it was not for your mom and dad,” he said, nodding towards the tables where our siblings, my cousins, our children, and spouses stood shoulder to shoulder side by side presenting the New Years Eve dinner for the villagers.

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We hugged.
We cried.

Drops of rain pattered on the tin roof of the shelter. Wind blew water through glassless windows. A storm was brewing just off the island. But nothing would dampen that evening of smiles and laughter and feasting and dancing and music as generations and lifestyles and bloodlines merged, a night of celebration.

Today, we honor and celebrate you dad, for it was your hand that opened the gateway for us to give.

In six weeks you will receive your gift, the highest honor paid by this country you love:  the Congressional Gold Medal.

You and your comrades will receive a bronze copy of the Congressional Gold Medal recently awarded to Filipino and American soldiers of the Bataan Death March.  You will be recognized for your sacrifice for the atrocities you endured to defend this country and the American Flag.

The flag that was draped around your casket and handed to your widow during a 21 gun salute.

The flag that you cheered for with your cancer ridden lungs, shouting “USA! USA!” during your last Winter Olympics in 1998.  We watched them as a family from the shores of Hawaii, the closest we could get your homeland.  You were too weak to go to the Philippines one more time.

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Decades later, we have returned.

 

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For more information on the Kamay Project, an ongoing outreach to the children and families of the Ati village in Boracay, Philippines, please go to kamayproject.org

 

 

unveiled

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The sun was setting, and in the distance

a curtain of rain

veiled a rainbow.

A pocket of clouds lay just beyond.

A whisper of hope veiled in the clouds.

A promise that everything would be ok.

We had just come from a service where a husband and three kids the ages of my children had said goodbye to their mother.

Their mother, now with unveiled face, healed from her cancer and resting in the arms of Jesus.

Their mother, whose greatest wish conveyed throughout the service is that her children would remain steadfast in Him.

I walked along the shore with my only daughter only hours after that service, my reflections mirrored in this veil

these words from Corinthians coming to mind as I imagined what is must be like to say goodbye to my children

But we, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image, from glory to glory just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 2:13

My friend is healed, beholding the Glory of the Lord.

And those of us left here somehow, after a glimpse of His glory behind the veil are left to be transformed into the same image, from glory to glory….

In the Greek, glory, doxa, one definition translates to this:

splendor, brightness

  • of sun, moon and stars.
  • magnificence, excellence, preeminence, dignity, grace
  • majesty…a thing belonging to God.

In the dusk of that evening,

I reflect that my friend belongs to God
I reflect on the dignity and grace of her last days

the sun reflects in the sky and the moon rises

and my daughter
reaches beneath the moon, reaches forward, reaches for new possibilities… hope

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I wonder why some of us are left behind, and some of us are taken
and see how there is too much transforming left to do
so I too
will reach beyond myself
reach forward, stretching to places uncomfortable and unknown

and someday, when all is unveiled
I will behold His glory
and understand

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seconds measured

47.4 seconds.
That is my son’s best time in the 100 yard freestyle, the time he just swam at the 4A Florida State High School meet last Saturday.

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47.4 seconds.
a time when each breath was intentional
each stroke intentional
each kick intentional

The Warriors host two teams

47.4 seconds
not just halfway, but all out. Each stroke and breath all out, pushing to the limit, pushing past weariness and pain, driving body past barriers until he touched the wall to finish.

There was a flurry of movement all around as surrounding athletes pushed limits through resistance, water,  to record best times, driving at All- American speeds: 44 seconds, 45 seconds 46 seconds.

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Behind those seconds are hours and hours of work. Miles and miles of yardage logged to get the speed, endurance to be able to charge through those few seconds all out.

Hours put in early when the moon and stars still fill the sky.
Hours put in in pouring rain and cold temperatures.

Swimming ….a truly inspirational sport, one of true discipline
as the one standing on the blocks, poised to move forward, every muscle tensed, anticipating the start
is the only one who knows the preparation, the hours and yards and conditions endured to ready himself for that brief race.

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I have fought the good fight, I have stayed the course, I have finished the race….2 Timothy 4:7

It is the last push that determines the winner.
The last reach, the last stroke head down
lungs bursting
arms burning
legs burning
in the final reach for the wall.
The final time.

The glance at the clock that records time is only a measure of the discipline and perseverance endured to reach that mark of 47.4 seconds.

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In our own moments,  we endure those seconds of push in life where we are beyond ourselves
grinding through resistance, the churning waters that surround, laboring past the pain and weariness

that place beyond ourselves that is glorious and exhausting

that place where we can help another
or bring a smile to a face by a simple act of kindness
or see a terminal situation in a new light, though the situation has not changed

those are moments of glory.

Psalm 89:17 says, “For you are the glory of their strength.”

These are the moments,  lasting a bit longer or shorter than 47 seconds, that inspire us through the hard places,

These moments of inspiration push us to look beyond the pain to reach for something greater to better ourselves, or even greater, to better someone else.

There is great gain in launching into deep waters. In going beyond limits to do something impossible or unattainable. And whether or not that thing is attained or just beyond grasp there is victory in the trying, in the drive to get to wall to the place beyond your limit. To bring you beyond yourself into the unknown. To places beyond borders.

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever you would find me

“Oceans” by Hillsong

We become tired and weary of the places we are called to go, determined by choice or by circumstance…to care for the widow, the orphan, to be the single mom, to juggle the finances, to walk with cancer.

We think we can’t propel past the pain and weariness to move forward, one motion at a time, one stroke at a time, one kick at a time.

Somewhere deep in our soul, we find the guts to move on.  Faith gives us the push to move forward.

Triumph comes not in the time or the medal or the accolade because most of the time there is none. Triumph comes in the strength attained that often times unknowingly inspires another to find the same.

The Warriors visit Boone HS

vulnerable

yesterday I watched those young actors on Glee act out and experience raw at the same time the grief of their friend, I think what is so moving about their pain, so touching about their vulnerability onscreen and in real life, that their gift of song that expresses their pain is so touching

pain and beauty side by side
seen in the most vulnerable moments

but on this side of the screen, we mask our hurt and pain, afraid to be exposed, to be vulnerable.

we do not hold the pain out in front of us, instead cover it up and move on
when we are dying inside

one of my favorite verses tells us

he gives us beauty for ashes
the oil of joy for mourning
the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness

as I have cared for my mom over the past few years
I see the most painful moments, the ones that cut me most deeply,
are the ones where I am most vulnerable,
the ones that expose my emotions most raw
the ugly ones, the hurtful ones, the scared ones, the grieving ones

the following is one of those…….

……kathy, you who have been caring for your mom for 14 years, I give this to you…..to the others I met at the caregivers conference I give this to you….we may be exposed, raw, naked, but we are not alone….

lola

naked

naked
even the word is unsettling
naked i come from my mothers womb, naked i will depart

but now before me, is my mother
naked, helpless,
as i was when i came from her body

the hands and limbs that once bathed me, dressed me, held me
are now the ones that i must help bathe and dress

but its too hard to hold
this reversal is too painful
too vulnerable

to see her naked before me
too unsettling,

for now i am the one exposed

she is the one depending on me

when i was a little girl
i was completely attached to my mother

i always needed to know where she was
i needed to sense her presence
i cried if she did not come home
when she said she would be home

now her eyes scan the room for me,
watch my moves

she is the one to question,
“where are you going?”
she asks, “where am I?
is this my home?”
i tell her no, this is my home
she says,
“i want to go home.”

this helplessness, her utter dependence on me
physically and emotionally
leave me feeling helpless

because without my mother here,
who is there for me?

who is there to comfort me when i am down
or run to when i have exciting news
or sit with a cup of coffee to share my day

even grown daughters need their mothers

she is here

trapped in this jar of clay
with a fading mind
but still a treasured spirit

some days she cries and asks for her mother

she says she wants to go to her

i tell she’s not here anymore, she’s been gone a very long time
she looks at me with crestfallen face
trying to remember
then recollecting
“oh…”

she looks at me and tells me
“i’m ready to go.”
ready to go where mom?
“up there.”
she smiles and points to heaven

this treasured spirit
in a jar of clay
yearns for her heavenly home

her fragile mind has broken free
from the restrictions of this world

this world that knows time
hurts, anger, pain,
overcommitments, stress, sorrow
guilt

all have been shattered
by this disease called Alzheimer’s
a blessing in disguise

for we are called to live in the moment
to love in the moment
to enjoy only the thing set in front of us
to hold on to the smiles
to pray
to hold
to touch

sometimes the grief is too much to bear
so a hold and touch is too much to give

the nakedness is too much
the rawness is too much
from grieving the person
she once was

she once was
just like me
vibrant
full of laughter and life
the center of her family
caring for their needs
and keeping them together

who says she is not keeping us together now
in prayer

at night she says to me
“thank you for taking care of me.
may God bless you for all you do
i always pray for that.”

so i continue to care for her
this treasure in this jar of clay
and when this jar is finally broken
i will be able to pick up the shattered pieces
and hand them back to the Father she loves

the spirit that yearns for Him
will go home