After spending a few years of curating community events, I’ve decided to declare 2016 as the Year Of Community and building what I’m calling the Shiny Healthy Family. I’ve learned that we have our family of origin and the family we create. During 2015, I spent half of the year in my family of origins home. My dad was sick and fading and I wanted to be there for him, my family and myself. I left my job and moved back home, following my heart and trusting that the universe would take care of me in this particular calling. This was the best decision for me and my growth and most of all, my relationship with my father. I was able to cook and prepare food that was healthy and therapeutic for his condition. We dance, hiked and played music from his childhood. We tried to meditate and continue doing yoga and breathing exercises. But most of all, we just sat in each others presence, sometimes in silence, sometimes in conversation and really made peace with our situation.
Prior to the diagnosis of leukemia in 2014, he had been living for 17 years with Alzheimer’s. This is when I realized that if someone gets diagnosed with a physical disease- cancer, a broken bone, severe burns, a stomach virus- the world comes to your aid and community abounds. But when you are diagnosed or struggling with a mental illness, an emotional challenge, the crowd scatters and you’re left to care for yourself or your loved one on your own. This is what happened to my momma. She ended up having to leave her profession to care for my dad and had very little support. She had to chase after him when he ran away, give up her freedom to be his touchstone, move their bedroom to the ground floor to prevent further accidents, take him to and from clinical trials hundreds of miles away. Her entire life was turned upside-down and only one or two of her friends kept up with her on a daily basis, otherwise she was alone.
Then I intervened and my big mouth began to cry and ask for help. I started writing a blog about our experiences. I began to post on FB. People started moving and making things happen for us from around the world and I realized that we’re not alone. I realized that we have to ask. We need each other. You find strength in others. We’re not meant to be alone, to struggle alone, to suffer alone. Yes, I cherish my solitude, in fact, I love it, as it gives me time to replenish and recharge for more human connection and a deeper experience. But when it comes to the challenges of life, it is ok to ask for a hand, some guidance, help, a shoulder or a prayer.
And the magical part of it all is that help came, in so many ways. The struggles seemed softer, the people kinder, the world a more understanding place. Then I realized, you get what you give. And all those years my mom was giving herself to my dad and to us, came back in an endless bounty. We asked for assistance and the universe, you guys, strangers, friends, and loved ones came to our rescue. And in the end, the miracle of community is what saved us from insanity. So for that, I thank you, gratitude from a million suns. Truly and honestly, thank you.
Those times of silence with my dad allowed for loads of reflection and imagination. I imagined my dad as a child growing up in Brooklyn and all the friends and family who surrounded him on Hopkins street. I saw him playing wall ball, kick ball, stick ball, baseball to all hours of the night. Having neighborhood parties every weekend, people of all colors, shapes and sizes. I thought of how all the frats wanted him, the little brown Puerto Rican Filipino man in middle America and how he built community throughout campus. I envisioned his dedication to his battalion in Vietnam and the trauma he held for all those brothers he lost. I thought of him at St. Joseph’s in Chicago coordinating the best care for his patients through his social work, gathering the doctors, nurses, dieticians and therapists. I remembered how everyone loved him, always. And I realized, he got what he gave for all those years too. Everyone wanted to take care of Benny, the man who bounced through life, heart wide open and always ready to serve, play and salsa.
Then I thought about the Camino de Santiago and how I was supposed to go with my parents and ended up going by myself. Arriving in France, cursing them for not being there for me, leaving me alone to walk a pilgrimage I knew nothing about. But quickly, I met my first angel, a man who spoke all languages and found us the last two beds in the village on my first night. Then trek up the Pyrenees, I realized that people are the same everywhere and I met my first Camino family, three Irish ladies who taught me to put vaseline on my feet to prevent blisters and to always stop around 10:30 to have a second breakfast. Then I met Donna, my pilgrim sister to this day, who told me stories of badassery as one of the only females on navy ships and her experience on 9/11. Everyone went from walking buddy to family within ten minutes of exchange and to me that was my biggest miracle of the Camino.
All these experiences brought me to here, to a place where I want to give back in ways that I have been slowly growing into. I want to heal the healthcare system by starting with the people involved on the front lines. I want to connect people to new friends and potential lovers through supper clubs and picnics. I want to cook delicious, nutritious food and bring folks together over the dining table, because I believe in the power of food to break down those barriers and break open hearts.
I’m planning Shiny Healthy Family retreats and talks, projects and events to make this happen. I’m building community and bringing folks in to teach about mind-body techniques, holistic living, and the power of vulnerability. I hope to bring people together who are suffering in similar ways- physical or mental- and encourage them to learn from each other. I want to start a dialogue about what healthy truly means and how to get there in this overwhelmingly stimulating and plugged-in world.
Professionally, I think I’m finally bowing out of the traditional clinic setting and going outside to teach about the benefits of nature and sunshine. I’m partnering up with a brilliant dietician to bring group visits and centering to underserved communities. We’re also building a food business to make it easy to integrate healthy choices in your everyday routine. I’m in talks with a leader in Austin to develop a food/yoga program for healthcare professionals that will extend to the rest of the U.S. And in the fall, we’re doing something unprecedented in Austin that will bring these worlds together as well.
Community as medicine and therapy, that’s my spiel, my soapbox, my brand, my heart. All these years, I thought it was food, but like I’ve said before, that was my gateway drug. And if you need a little science behind my philosophy, check out social genomics. That will convince you that community is key and you really are ‘the average of the five people you spend the most time with’.
Hop along, follow us on FB and here to find out when events are happening. Know that all are welcome, everyone. Even those of you who like to hide away. We’ve all been there and understand your pain, but its time to peek out and realize that we’re all in this together. Come join us and become part of the beautiful Shiny Healthy Family.