On September 5th, I was scheduled to speak in an event in Puerto Rico.  A few days before the event, I was notified that it was postponed and rescheduled due to Hurricane Irma. When I received the new date, I immediately felt a pang in my heart, realizing that my middle son, Justin, was scheduled to perform in a play that very day.  I told the event coordinator I would have to get back to her regarding my availability.  The mommy guilt set in. I thought to myself: This is just the beginning. I’ve chosen a career that is going to separate me from my kids. Is this how it’s going to be, me traveling and missing my kid’s important events? This is not something I have to do, this is something I’m choosing to do. Am I making a mistake? 

I felt so conflicted that I even thought maybe speaking was something I was going to have to put on hold for now. Suddenly I heard the horn honking. I had forgotten that my husband and kids were waiting for me in the car. I jumped in and told my family about my enormous conflict. “Guys, I just got the call about my event in Puerto Rico. It was rescheduled to September 30th which means I would miss Justin’s play.” Seeming unfazed, my husband replied “well Justin has three performances, so technically you’re only going to miss one out of the three.” I was insulted.

 “I am his mother. I should be at all his performances! I’m going to tell them I’m not available. I can’t go.”

My husband challenged me “Shouldn’t you ask Justin how he feels about you missing the play?” Convinced my son would never let me go, I turned around to face the back seat. “Justy, how would you feel if I was out of town on the day of your performance?”

 “Mommy, you not going to your speech makes no sense, you wanna know why?

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I have three plays! If you go to two of my plays you get to see me do what I love AND you get to do what you love. But if you go to all three of my plays, then you miss out on doing what you love. That wouldn’t make any sense. You should do your speech.” I felt so proud of that little six year old for his wisdom and his sense.

My other two boys and husband chimed in in agreement. My poor supportive husband added “yes, and on that day, all of his family is coming to see him perform so I will be there and so will his grandparents, godparents, and cousins.” Of course, that comment made me angry…because I am crazy (edited by my husband). Its not that I didn’t want Justin to be surrounded by family on his big day. It’s just that I felt I should be there too. I guess I was feeling a little jealous.

What is most embarrassing about this post is that I speak about being there even when you can’t be. This is precisely my topic! But when it came to my own parenting, I couldn’t handle it. I understood my son would be fine even if I missed the play. I mean, I KNOW the things I could do to be present for my son while I was gone. What I had not accounted for was how I would feel to be away from my family while they were having fun and celebrating. Seeing myself outside that picture was very painful.

It became crystal clear that there was no choice in the matter. I had to go to my speech. That’s the thing about having a calling: it’s not always convenient and it certainly isn’t always ideal. Sometimes you have to make tough choices. On the day I’d be missing out on a nice family outing, I would carry my father’s legacy.  I would lead by example. I would share a message with parents that may not have a choice in the matter the way that I did. I would show my kids that you can’t always take the easy way out, and, more importantly, that the world doesn’t revolve around them. Although they are my priority and they are loved, there will be times I have to miss something that is important to them because I have to do something that is bigger than us. Ironically, this time it was Justin teaching me that lesson, not the other way around.

I’ve always heard and reiterated the phrase, “80% of the things we worry about never happen,” yet I consumed myself with a scenario that unbeknownst to me was never going to come to fruition. Sadly, I was worrying about something that was so important to me, not realizing that we were going to confront a crisis that was so much bigger than all of us. The recent catastrophes in Mexico, the Florida Keys, Puerto Rico and Houston make all the petty things we worry about seem so insignificant. Seems like before I can teach lessons to my kids, I should learn them myself.

Today, I find myself looking for ways to be there for Puerto Rico, even though I’m not physically there. Isn’t life ironic?

It was Wednesday morning and I had been running around since 4:30 a.m. Wake up, pack lunches, exercise, come home & shower, help kids get dressed, eat breakfast, drive kids to school, head to a meeting, put gas, and make it to Chucho’s funeral mass by 10 a.m. It had been a busy morning of a busy week, completely programmed with time blocks for meetings, work, kids, and exercise when I got the call that my extended family member, Chucho, passed away. I was saddened to hear of his death, and even more so for his wife, children and grandchildren. The news took me back to a couple of years prior when Chucho’s daughter, Michele, passed away suddenly. Painful. 

I sat in front of my calendar shifting things around to make sure I attended Chucho’s funeral. There I was on Wednesday morning running into the church as the funeral mass began. I’d been so busy that I hadn’t had enough time to really process this. I moved robotically, shifting gears from one commitment to the other checking the to-do’s off my list.

The church doors opened and suddenly a gust of silence and stillness hit me like a truck. I sat down alone in a back pew and took a deep breath. The alarm clocks, deadlines, traffic, red lights, cell phones – all the chaos – disappeared.  There was so much peace in this space. Looking around, family members’ heads were bowed down, praying, weeping, and loving each other. There was also pain in this space.

Sometimes it feels as if time does not stop for anyone. The world keeps churning regardless of the circumstances. I had been on that time wheel right up to the moment when I entered the church. But sitting there in reflection I realized that time does stop for those who need it. Time had stopped for Chucho’s wife, his daughters, his son and his grandchildren. There were no other to-do’s on their calendar. There were no time blocks, commitments or tasks to complete. They were just there, fully immersed in the pain of the loss they had endured.  It was in that space that I could truly be present for my family.

At the burial, Chucho’s daughter, Terry, spoke about her father. I didn’t know much about her dad other than he was married to my mom’s cousin and was always kind and friendly to me since I was a little girl. I listened as Terry retold her father’s life.

“My dad walked each of his daughters down the aisle at their weddings with the same shoes he wore on his wedding day. He also wore those same shoes to his son’s wedding. Throughout the years, his feet grew…but he still squeezed them into those shoes the day each of his children married.”

I had never heard of anyone do that before. In that one simple story, I learned so much about Chucho. I learned that he was a sentimental person. He loved tradition. He was thoughtful. He was family oriented. He loved his wife and children. He had a good sense of humor and he’d be willing to wear uncomfortable shoes in exchange for a symbolic gesture.

At the end of your life, isn’t that what matters? Not how much money you made, or how many awards you received. Its not about what car you drove or what profession you chose. Life is about the impact you make in the lives of the people you leave behind.

The image of Chucho in that pair of shoes will stay with me forever; that story will always be with me even though he’s not. In fact, I was thinking of giving away the shoes I wore to my wedding but now they have a new purpose in my closet: to wait for my sons to get married.

Chucho’s feet will no longer squeeze into those old pair of shoes but the footprints he left will last forever.  

In Memory of Juan Angel Diaz 

Piling on Perspective

For the past week, Floridians have braced themselves for what could be the worst natural disaster we have faced thus far…Hurricane Irma. Between the recent destruction hurricane Harvey brought to Texas, and watching hurricane Irma attack island after island almost in slow motion, families have been faced with days of fear, anxious preparation, and really tough decisions.  The burning question in my house has been “Do we stay or do we skip town?”  A question that has been analyzed with every possible scenario being explored. Although we are yet to face the storm, (it is now looking like we will be hit by the outer bands of the hurricane sometime this evening), the waiting process in it of itself has been torturous.

For me, this time has been one of deep reflection and realizations.

On Wednesday morning, around 12:30a.m., my husband, who’d been watching the news in the living room, opened the door of our bedroom and gently shoved me to wake up. “Caro, I’m going to fill up the gas tank and we are going to Georgia. Get up and start getting ready.”

Panic set in. Oh my God, this is serious.  Swiftly I got out of bed and went into preparation mode. What do I need to protect? What should I take? My first move was to pack a few outfits, a jacket for all of us, and our toiletries. Immediately after I gathered my hard drives that contain pictures and videos of my children, my wedding album, and my box full of postcards my father sent me. I kept looking around. I tried to focus. What am I forgetting?  I couldn’t think of anything else. Pacing around, looking at my beautiful home, I kept thinking how will I feel if I lose this painting, or this piece of furniture, or this TV.

My answer was consistent.

It doesn’t matter what happens to those things. 

 In fact, the only thing I cared about, at all, was my family’s safety. What a liberating moment. For two years since my father’s death, I have agonized over what to keep of his and what to toss. Rummaging through every one of his papers and files, I feared losing a treasure. Suddenly I found myself thinking I could lose it all in one sweep, and it didn’t bother me at all. On the contrary, now it made sense. Everything I need to hold on to I carry with me, in my heart and my mind. No hurricane can take that from me unless it takes my life.

After all that turmoil and packing, fear of the heavy traffic and gas shortage changed our course of action. We were back to staying home. With the hurricane still days away, but closed schools and offices keeping us home, I grabbed the bikes to take my kids out to ride. For two days, we spent hours riding outside with friends and our neighbors’ kids. This was the first time since we moved into our house three years ago, that our kids played with the neighbors kids. Looking at my street filled with children having fun and not worried about getting their homework done or getting to soccer practice was delightful. I found myself secretly thanking the universe for giving me a few days before the storm to enjoy my children and the outdoors.

Once we were anchored, our home became the hub for the family. Little by little, our evacuated members have arrived with air mattresses, food, water and flashlights. My kids are thrilled to have a slumber party with all their favorite people at once. We’ve spent the days preparing for the storm, and the evenings laughing, eating and joking with our family. Despite the worry and the anxiety, we are finding peace in being together.

As of now, the news is offering some relief that the storm has shifted and is no longer as big a threat to our lives.

We may have dodged a huge bullet this time around, even though we are all currently playing the waiting game. But already the threat of this natural disaster has given me a gift.

The gift of perspective.

 I’ve learned that in life we often have no control over how things are going to turn out. More often than not, we are faced with choices and each option can lead us down a different path. There is no way to know which answer is the correct one but the uncertainty causes more pain than the path. Trust in yourself. Weigh your options, make a calculated decision, take action, and have faith that things will work out.

I’ve learned that community matters. Surround yourself with the people you love. Help each other. Stick together. Laugh and love each other. Nothing matters more than that.

I’ve learned that the only real fear in life is the loss of it. Other fears are often fabricated or exaggerated in our minds. But when one is in a life-threatening situation, things that seemed overwhelming in the past become trivial. If we could somehow bottle that wisdom up and open it in times of stress, we would eliminate most of the unnecessary fear we place on ourselves.

I’ve learned that material things don’t matter, time does. Time well spent with family and time to enjoy life. The time we have is our most prized possession and sometimes it takes the universe to force us to STOP the grind and just be present in the moment. Even if that moment is a bad one, it pulls us together and brings out the best in us. This creates memories that will last forever.

I am not sure why there are so many natural disasters occurring around the world, nor why there is so much destruction and devastation. It is all happening so fast and all at once. But my hope is that we can focus on the gifts instead of the grief. We humans are resilient beings, we can lose it all and still come out strong. As we band together to repair and rebuild what has been lost in the face of these disasters, I hope we can all remember to look around and reconstruct this Earth with the most powerful weapons we have…love, hope, and the power of working together.

Our thoughts and prayers are with all the families all over the world suffering from earthquakes, forest fires, and hurricanes. Wishing everyone peace and strength during these times.