Baba was a woman who was born half a world away in a time without TV’s or cars under the auspices of a controlling communist government. She was no stranger to hardship. At the age of 24, with her parents and a 2 year old daughter, my aunt, she fled her childhood home to escape the oppression that World War 2 would come to embody. She was a refugee, a single mom whose first husband (according to her) was blown up on a train. She settled in Austria and lived there for about 6 years before leaving again in search of a better life, this time, as an immigrant. She traveled with her family to Chile where she settled in Santiago, set up a business as a seamstress and embroiderer, met my grandfather, and gave birth to my mom. Life went on, settling into a rhythm that no one hoped would be disrupted. But that was not to be. In 1964, a socialist government was on the verge of taking over and having witnessed first hand the hardships that were imposed upon them under a similar government, she once again packed up and left with her now larger family. However, she left her parents behind. She settled with her family in Bridgeport, Connecticut hoping this would be her last drastic move. Yet tragedy, for whatever reason, continued to follow her and my grandfather died suddenly less than a decade later. She persisted, never giving in or giving up. Did she struggle? Absolutely. Who wouldn’t struggle having been through what she did. Yet her trials were not over. In the late 1980’s, she met another wonderful man, married, and moved to North Carolina. A few years later, he came down with cancer and also died. She survived three husbands and that was enough for her. She then moved to Florida where she bounced around a bit. She hoped that tragedy had moved on from her. Once again, this was not to be. Ten years ago, her first daughter Dina, my aunt, passed away.
This was Baba’s life of hardships. I see no reason why she should have made it through so much without one thing driving her on, her faith in God. How she cultivated that faith in a country that prohibited religion, I can not fathom. I can only surmise that it started when she was a young girl in her family’s garden. Throughout all the hardships she endured, there were certain things she persistently retreated to when life played hardball, her love of family and dancing, her flowers, and her opera. She saw God’s perfection in the flowers of her family’s garden that bloomed year after year and her love of opera managed to sustain her. Both the flowers and the opera allowed her to be in the present, to live in the moment, and not worry about the past or the future. In essence, it allowed to her to be still and to be loved. It gave her respite in the storm of her life, respite from worry for her family, and it gave her the strength she needed to get up every time life knocked her down and carry on. This doesn’t mean she was perfect by any means, her heart had been hurt many times over, probably many more times than most of us will ever have to endure, but she carried on. Because of the many pains and hardships she endured, she developed thorns around her heart, thorns that she viewed as a protective shield to try and prevent her from being hurt even more. Because of these thorns around her heart, she frequently became a thorn in the side of many people, needling and pricking many whom she encountered, including the young police officer in Florida whom she chastised for pulling her over one time. (By the end of that encounter, he ended up letting her go with a warning.) Yet, for all the thorns she grew, it wasn’t due to a lack of love, rather, it was only an effort on her part to protect against more pain and suffering; an effort to protect her own heart. She loved her family through her brokenness to the fullest extent that she could. One has to merely look at the many pictures of her to see the joy and love emanating from her gentle face.
But Baba, like life itself, was a study in opposites. For every jab of a thorn she made, whether family member, friend, or stranger; there was a rose petal held delicately behind it, yearning to be noticed, to be loved, to be caressed by a gentle hand. She was that last flower on the rose bush when all the others had faded and fallen, nestled in the middle, surrounded by a protective shield of thorns that very few people could reach; but almost all, if they spent the time sitting and watching, could tease out the beautiful contours of every petal undulating out from a perfect center. Many of those she knew yearned to reach that inner sanctum, to hold that flower, learn its intricacies, and be able to love it more. But for most of us, we could only watch the flower and receive its love, unable to love fully in return. The love that she gave comforted many a family member and friend. Her laughter at the joys of life and the smile that grew from the depths of her soul spread to those around her. I firmly believe that without her faith in God, a faith sustained through God’s touch in nature, and the music which created a harmony on the strings of her soul, we would not have been able to witness such a beautiful woman persist in life, get up continuously, and carry on. She taught many through her actions how to find peace in life and to live in the present. To see the smile that erupted on her face when a child was in her presence was to see the love of God shining through her. To watch her tend her garden was to see a woman at peace. Those are the lessons she shared with those around her, to those who sat and watched the beautiful rose that she was. And while we shed tears now over losing a loved one, I think we can all find comfort in the fact that the thorns she grew around her are now being removed by God, one by one, allowing her undying love to continue its presence within us.
If Baba could teach us one last thing, I think it would be this; to take time every day to stop and smell the flowers. Let us not mourn too long for Baba for her hardships are now over and God is tending the garden of her soul. Instead, let us carry with us her spirit and love of life. She wanted those around her to be perfect and while none of us ever will be, if we allow God’s love to work through us, we may just be able to inch our way a little closer, allowing ourselves to love those around us more deeply, to fill in those gaps that Baba never could. Let us learn from Baba and not put thorns around our own hearts, but instead allow God to start removing them now. Let us dance to the music of life as Baba danced and reveled in the music she loved. Let us tend to our gardens, and let the flowers of life fill our every vacancy. Let us not take one moment for granted and live every moment in the present. I think Baba would want this for all of us, or as she was more apt to say, “This is what you should do, now go and do it.”