A Means To An End

It’s the beginning of December, about a month after the presidential election. I am heading to UCLA’s campus in Westwood to meet my friend Candace who I have been meeting with the last few weeks talking about ways to ignite the LA feminism scene and connect with like-minded individuals. We have just started working as part of the team of organizers for Women’s March LA. We are heading to the campus tonight to listen to our idol Gloria Steinem in conversation with activist/writer/director Jill Soloway. I arrive a few minutes early and decide to explore a bit, I head across the quad to the grandiose multi-floor library that’s bustling with students even at night. I picture myself going to school here, it seems so promising and full of opportunity, like what I imagine setting foot on an ivy league campus for young hopeful scholars must feel like. Little do I know, just months later what this campus will soon mean to me with my mom’s declining health. It will still have its sheen but will appear a more dull brushed silver than a once vibrant warm inviting gold.

I walk back to the hall where the talk is happening and find Candace. We walk into a foyer filled with young and old feminists alike- the room is buzzing. It reminds me of the energy before a concert everyone is excited to see, but slightly different. We take our seats and I glance around at the rest of the audience, mostly affluent white, middle aged women, sprinkled with progressive multi-race millennials eager to soak up knowledge like a sponge from one of their most worshipped demi-gods (although Gloria would completely contest that description). We eagerly wait for them to begin. Gloria and Jill come on stage and almost instantaneously enter into discussions about the election and what it means for our country and various marginalized groups. They both make a lot of insightful points and guide a directionless cathartic release seeking crowd like a goat does with a bell around its neck with a flock of sheep. After Gloria describes what the original Women’s Movement and Civil Rights Movements were like in the 60s and 70s, our problems now seem similar but slightly less real. A small part of me is thinking, “this just seems like something board white people found to complain about” but, as they start really getting into it, Jill talks about herself being a member of the LGBTQ community and how this new administration will basically devalue her entire existence as a human being. This strikes a chord deep within the ethos of my soul. The audience begins asking questions about spirituality, faith and how to not get burned out while being a full-time activist. Among many of the profound things Gloria has said over the course of this evening, she gives the advice that, “We are all looking for an end. We are promoting love and unity and solidarity, but it won’t be easy and it’s going to take a long time to reach that end.” She then describes the importance of “a means to an end,” that the journey is going to be long and hard to get to your goal, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make the best of it along the way. She said it exactly like this, “If your end is singing and dancing and love, there has to be singing and dancing and laughter along the way. That’s the only way to keep going.”

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Yesterday was Easter. I’ve never had much of an aversion to this holiday other than as a teen, I decided I would no longer go to church to celebrate the day’s true meaning as a celebration of the resurrection of Christ. I usually just associated the day with seeing my family and eating a lot of food and consuming copious amounts of chocolate and candy- pretty typical of most holidays for me.

This year, I counted down the days until the usually positive holiday like a ticking time bomb, knowing that in just a few days, we would pass the marker of my mom having been in the hospital for two straight months without a successful lung transplant surgery. I had spent the last few days in Indio for Coachella. I went to work and “escape” my realities in the desert. I was really stressed the days before leaving, and getting there was a nightmare, but that mostly melted away when I arrived. The only thing that didn’t leave me, was the tension in my neck and shoulders and a knot in my stomach that I have been suppressing nearly every day for the past two months. On Friday I worked an event all day and the stomach pains were replaced with the slight buzz I was feeling from the mix of free tequila from the open bar and slight dehydration from the dry desert sun. We left the estate where the party was just before golden hour. Driving down the stretch of open dusty road back to where we were staying, the sun hit the groves of 100s of date palms like a warm soft embrace. The outlines of spikey palm fronds illuminated brilliantly with Mother Nature’s gift of sun. We pulled over to try to capture the setting sun that was quickly approaching the horizon line, but it was impossible to capture what we were seeing through an iPhone lens. I stood and took it in for a minute or two and that was enough to give me a feeling I hadn’t felt for weeks. In that moment, I forgot about the tightness in my muscles and the aching of my sad heart and drew a breath in- just living in the moment and feeling free.

Fast forward to Saturday night, the anxious feelings that cause the tightening and stomach pain engulfed me. I wanted to get home in time to see my mom in the hospital on Sunday and spend time with my family. Something way too precious to waste at this time. We are such a tightly knit 4 piece unit that we knew how un-normal this day was undoubtably going to feel, we all were reluctant. My mom kept expressing how unimportant it was that I came and saw her on Easter, insisting I stay and “have fun” all the while I knew that holidays are some of the biggest joys for her in life. I made it back to LA late Saturday night and woke up the next morning to call my dad and make plans. My dad and sister came and scooped me up and we headed to UCLA. We arrived at the hospital to check in and there were way more visitors than usual. Entire families coming to visit their ill incarcerated loved ones. These are the type of “fair weathered” family members who only show up to visit on select days like national holidays because they are forced or feel guilty. We sat and talked as a family for a while, my mom so out of it at first we couldn’t even have a conversation. But we’ve been dealing with this long enough to be conditioned on how to act while there. Talk to her and give her positive tidbits of the outside world, and just act as if everything’s okay. After talking for a while and receiving several different medications, mom was ready to go on a walk. Something that is quite a production seeing as she needs both a respiratory therapist and at least one nurse to help push and pull the machines that are connected to her to keep her going. We walked as a family through the lobby past overly curious visitors that aren’t so conditioned as to how to behave when in the ICU unit. Sarah mumbled to me how angry it made her that people were staring at my mom like she was some kind of circus oddity. It bothered me too. After the walk, we talked to the nurse and stressed the importance of washing my mom’s hair- something they don’t usually do in the ICU. After some convincing, the nurse and I figured out how to position my mom over the sink, covering all her lines with towels as it is vital not to get anything wet. We filled up containers of water, I put on blue latex gloves as my dad reached over to help role up the sleeves of my 60s-inspired bell sleeved dress. I had the nurse step aside as I massaged mom’s scalp with shampoo and showed him how to rinse the ends delicately. I joked and said we should get our cosmetology license to have on the side. We finished, I wrapped her hair carefully in a turban just as she had taught me so many years ago when she used to have to practically pry me from the bath tub, and we walked her over to the chair where Sarah was waiting to blow dry her hair. She and I both carefully combed through mom’s hair and continued to ask if it was too hot. She said it was fine and I noticed her beaming and caressing her ends saying how great it felt to have clean hair. Imagine that, a luxury to be washing your hair. While we were doing that, dad was sitting watching and telling her about how they had just taken the dog to the groomers as well. We all chuckled. Finally we went to leave and everything didn’t feel as bad as when we had arrived. It felt like a positive means to an end.

After leaving the hospital, we went to dinner at a tiny Thai restaurant with my dad and sister (we never spend time together us three) and I saw both of them smile and really enjoy each other’s company which was enough to make the day worthy of the description of the word “holiday” in itself. I was reminded of how well-read and interesting my dad is when he described how his latest interest is in visiting Mayan ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Sarah and I watched him become animated and excited, which is a side I don’t often get to see of him now a days. We all bonded over the delicious food and fondly remembered shared memories. But never once did we dwell on the fact that we weren’t having the “traditional” homemade family dinner we usually do on holidays. Last night represented the beginning of a new chapter for our family and the way we operate. It symbolized our closeness and resilience and our ability to confide in one another- something all of us I know are thankful for. I know the weeks and months ahead will be difficult and I have absolutely no idea what’s in store. I think the biggest difficulty for me is the absence of being able to feel in control. But for now I am grateful for an imperfect day and what it means to have a family that will be there no matter what.

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