Lilly on my mind

I woke up today to unsettling news. Lilly Marie, a young participant in the 4th instalment of the Homeward Bound adventure, passed away. I don’t know what age she was, or how she died. All I know is that she was Maori, from New Zealand, that she was beautiful, and that she had a fierce passion for science, conservation and art. I have not asked what happened, because I don’t think it really matters. What matters to me is that she was younger than me, about to embark with us on our journey to Antarctica, and that she was driven by passion. The realization of how easily life can end for all of us, is impossibly cutting.

My Mom made it her mission that even if we did not live in Mexico, we were very close to our Mexican heritage, something that we are all very proud of. The Day of the Dead was certainly part of our experience; many people found it morbid that she once gave me a little skull with my name written on its forehead. This is a very traditional gift, which is meant to remind you that even if you forget about death, she (feminine in Spanish) never forgets about you. Western culture tries very hard to ignore the fact that we are all going to die, but I embrace it. It fuels my life and my decisions. Now, when I think of these things, I will always remember Lilly as well.

Three generations of Mexicans. My Mom, my Great-Aunt and me.

This is it

Having been raised by a Mexican Mother, catholicism was bound to be a major part of my upbringing. Two of my Uncles entered the seminary and my wonderful aunt Coco joined a convent when she was barely 14 years old. For traditional Mexican families of that time, having family members join the church was a huge point of pride. Even today, my family’s constant posts on social media against abortion are stark evidence of how religion permeates absolutely everything in their lives. I am certainly grateful that I was raised removed from such culture, only experiencing the best parts of it (the food, the color, the hard-work and the importance of family, for instance). Long story short, I don’t believe in God or an afterlife. If I’m mistaken, that’ll be a fantastic discovery, but for now I believe that once we’re gone, we’re gone.

Perhaps I’ve written about my next point before, so I’ll keep it short. I will soon be 40 years old, which in my mind will mark the halfway point of my life’s journey. These first 40 years have been tough and wonderful, and they have gone by in a blur. Which means my final birthday will also come rushing. I remember this every time I obsess about something that will have no consequence in the bigger picture, or I’m too scared to make a decision. The clock is ticking. What do you want to do? Where do you want to be? Who do you want to become?

Me, fighting for my life, 38 years ago. It has all been so fast!

Jump

I might have been spared the Mexican catholic indoctrination, but I am still the daughter of a Mexican woman, and a Latin American woman myself. There are certain cultural traits that I can’t deny I possess, even if I wished that wasn’t the case. Many of them have to do with the role women are supposed to play. I was never raised to be a housewife, that’s true, but on the other hand it was tacitly taught that you should grow up to have a partner and a family. Just a couple of days ago, I told my Mom how clear it is to me that I’ll never want children, that motherhood just isn’t for me. Her answer was: “well, you always had that selfishness about you”. She didn’t mean any harm by it, but to her, the ultimate fulfilment that any woman (I guess men don’t parent?) should pursue, is being a mother.

Another Latin American bug in me was the notion that the worst thing that could happen to a woman was being a spinster. To grow old by yourself was terrifying, as if there was something so wrong with you that no man would take you, a shameful mark tattooed on your forehead for everyone to see. It’s mind-blowing to me that this fear, which I wasn’t even aware I carried, took me all the way to the aisle as I married a wonderful man that should’ve be my friend, never my husband. This suffocating programming was the core of a lot of suffering, and the most difficult period of my life.

My big Mexican family. My Grandma had 17 children, here I am with the surviving 12.

Still, I am proud to have had the courage to leave, even if my ex-husband was one of the best people I’ll ever meet. After that, in the dark, I followed a series of decisions that would appear destructive to others, but I never felt more alive. I fell in love with a man 8 years my junior, got rid of half of my belongings, left the other half in boxes and moved to his country with nothing but a suitcase. I was following my heart and I did not share my journey with anyone, because they would have had a strong case against my recklessness. For almost a year I had nightmares about the horrible consequences that my actions would bring; about crushing loneliness, about public ridicule. But I hung in there, and he endured the storm with me. In a week, Paul and I will be married and I’ve never been happier.

With you, Lilly

I woke up today to some unsettling news. A bright, positive, beautiful young woman passed away and I never had the chance to meet her. Mexico has taught me not to view death as a terrible occurrence, but there is something undeniably sad about her early departure. I never met Lilly but she has left me with a priceless gift: an even deeper awareness of how precious and fortunate my life is. I will live it to its fullest and try to leave the world better than I found it, just like she did.

Some things I don’t like, but the Mexican colors and relationship with Death, I treasure.

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