Some phone calls come in and – even before picking it up – you just know something is wrong. One of those calls came the day after Christmas this year at 5am. Soon I found myself with my mother in an antiseptic waiting room under harsh fluorescent lights, so early that the sky was still dark and the one good coffee shop did not yet have the espresso machine working and ready.
The doctor came out, told us what we needed to know, and – thankfully – it was good news, so we grabbed our bags, water bottles, and began making our way down the corridor with various beads and talismans ringing with our movements like quiet little bells.
As we walked, we passed her by, a sister for sure, a bit older than my parents, sitting with a large plastic magnifying mirror perched precariously on the thin armrest of an uncomfortable waiting room chair.
She was, as some say here, “putting on her face.” Her foundation, blusher, and lipstick had already been completed, and she was working on her eyes. Hands trembling, mascara wand unsteady, eyes full of tears. A sister for sure and one in pain, so we stopped. And in the way that many people know, we simply looked and said, “Well…” Meaning, well, tell us your story so that we might listen for awhile and be together and share the burden.
And, of course, she did. In an early morning, none of us prepared for what was to come, beautifully accented with the flavor of her mother tongue of Spanish, she told us. Really she told us in one sentence: “Well, you know how men are…” And the tears started to roll, for us too.
They had been married for fifty years, with children and grandchildren and a whole big, wonderful, mess of extended family. He was a little man, short, and as she spoke I saw him, and I knew him because I have had relatives who are the same: hard workers you can always spot because their beautiful hands are scarred to hell and rough, decked out with silver rings and chunks of real turquoise, big belt buckles and shiny boots, a love of the smell of grease and oil, and the sound of acoustic guitar.
They had been married for fifty years, and mostly it had been good; but over the last few weeks he had lost his temper more than usual, had lost weight, and didn’t say anything but grimaced in pain and frowned more than usual…because you know how men are. These men, her men, my men too – they don’t say when they hurt, don’t even really want to allow themselves to hurt, until there is nothing but hurt. She knew. Knew as soon as he got mean; knew because she knew his family and knew what took all of them – cancer.
And so it was. This was an exploratory operation, one he would come out of, but also one that would tell her how bad it was, how long they had together. And so the tears ran as she shared with us that she hadn’t told la familia yet, hadn’t told her Padre and their congregation because it was just too much at the moment.
We prayed together to La Señora and promised that we would light devotional candles for her and her beloved. They have been burning steadily since then. We laughed too about how none of us were wearing bras and all of us had runny mascara because the morning started with tears as we waited to hear news about men we loved who had been stoic in their suffering and would do their best to comfort us and joke around even while laying down in a hospital bed with tubes attached every which way…because you know how men are.
In that statement, one that so many women I know have made, that morning I saw what I always see– a shake of the head in frustration and eyes soft with love; but I also saw the freedom that flows from our well-made commitments, the ones we choose to make and the ones we choose to keep.
This is not so much the freedom of running on the beach half-naked with the wind through your hair (although, blessed be the grace in this, too); no, it is the freedom of getting to the hospital before sunrise without wearing a bra and having a real conversation with a total stranger because this is what your commitment demands of you today.
It is the freedom of knowing that your mettle will be tested again and again in the name of love and knowing that you will rise and show up each and every time, even when your mascara is running and your face is wet with tears. And so I say, blessed be our well-made commitments and blessed be all commitments we have chosen freely.