02 October 2018

Life Right Now... in Puerto Rico

folios and traveler's notebooks by Sojourner USA
There is always a reason for why things happen.

Life is a completely different experience right now. With an incredible opportunity that my husband had, we made the decision to move for the next four years to Puerto Rico, a Caribbean island that is a United States territory and found a beautiful 100-year-old home on the southwest part of the island on a mountain. In the past two months of our new life, we've had several moments of pure glee at our new experience, and then moments where we dearly miss the comforts of the States.

Here's a quick overview of life: I was born in Manila, and lived in Venezuela and Greece. I grew up in Maryland, married once, divorced once, moved from Maryland, to Virginia, to North Carolina, to Minnesota, and then to Virginia Beach where I met the love of my life, married again, got pregnant through IVF treatments, and promptly had a gorgeous fat little boy who saved my life because he never wanted breast milk. Because if he had taken to my breast, it would have been an even longer time before I got that somewhat large lump rechecked. That means the evil breast cancer that had started in my right breast would have spread much more and much further than to 39 out of 53 lymph nodes in my right armpit. My story would have been very different. The Stage 3 breast cancer which required a double mastectomy, chemo and radiation, could have been even worse. So I will always say that my son saved my life. Because he absolutely did.

I've anointed our house as the "Hemingway Hideaway" since it reminds me of Hemingway's Key West home. The gothic beauty of vegetation and island life and palm trees and fruits dropping into our backyard is beautiful and extravagant at times, but there is another reality of living on a mountain without air conditioning on the main floor, without a dishwasher or garbage disposal, with a kitchen door that swings open easily to a gorgeous outdoor patio but also means those bugs and mosquitos and spiders I'm so scared of can also easily come right into where I live, too.

So, yes, that's challenging and different, but so hard to complain about because really - how can you complain when the view is beyond imaginable and God's artistry is so apparent? How can I complain when we have a pool that I can jump into anytime I want? Life here reminds me of all the many things I have always taken for granted living in the States. So this is my reminder. What my soul and spirit needed to become even stronger and thoughtful and aware. These are the things for which I wanted to come here, to raise my son here, for him to build his memory bank with moments of difference and language and beauty. I wanted to harshly remember that life is a luxury no matter where you live, that each breath is precious and that each place in the world can be different, unusual, quirky, delicious, frightening, fun, and always to be respected, even in the midst of homesickness and culture variances that make you doubt every decision made. The reminders that there is more outside of where you live and that one step outside the door each morning should bring you that awareness in some way.

Life in Puerto Rico in this mountain home is fun and crazy and frustrating. I don't know of anyone who really enjoys walking up the stairs and looking out onto the same balcony with the same incredible view that is only just a few feet from your bedroom and noticing that just past that open door, there is a five-foot boa constrictor very comfortably curled up on the corner of the balcony in the sun. That's not really a moment anyone seeks to accomplish, not a task on anyone's list to check off in a day, to try and figure out how to make a snake that big and that scary looking, go far, far away from your home and pets. But even in that, there was value, precious value in that crazy moment. For that moment is now a memory my son has tucked away into his memory bank, that he can draw on in the future to share with his friends and his family about his childhood. Even now, I laugh loudly about how my husband, son and I banded together like The Walking Dead, and with two hockey sticks and a trash can, we snagged and released that big boy back into the jungle in 22 minutes. Later, when the dust of the moment settled, it was an interesting feeling. We just encountered a boa constrictor. On our balcony. Our home. And we worked together. And laughed and high-fived that we accomplished this together and didn't run in fear. This is life now. It seemed familiar, it was our new world now and didn't seem like a big deal anymore.

Life is so sweet and precious. I know I took things for granted before and I will try harder in this life. So I'll take every single snake, mosquito and separation from the things I'm used to because God let me live one more day. Somehow I escaped a ride of cancer and chemo and much, much scarier things from the past four years, which are in my rear view mirror, and I can look at the snake on my balcony and not be all the way scared. I still experience doubt, anxiety, depression and fear in my vulnerable moments, and especially when I have my annual check-ups, but it feels further away from the quaking, dark hole of fear and despair, and closer to God. Closer to faith. It's happening, as I type these very words, that peaceful transformation of contentment flowing over me and I don't want that to end. I know I'll have my moments, the imperfections that make me human. But I believe I can do this. I believe I can choose faith over fear. I will try to practice yoga every morning on that same balcony. I hope for more good days than bad. I pray for those thriving with cancer each day and I will mediate and talk to God. I will be faithful to Him, my life, to my very dreams of creativity that I once tucked away, and I will devote everything to my incredibly strong husband and my life-saving son. I will give them my very all. Because everything was almost all taken away from me much too soon.