Sunday, January 3, 2010

Ma Jong

After many dates made and cancelled, my mother finally committed (half-heartedly) to January 3 as a day to commemorate my father's Death Anniversary and a good excuse to have her friends over to play Mah Jong.

I half-heartedly followed her lead, as well. Afraid to commit to a date, to a party for many reasons including snow, fear the house would not be unpacked enough to show people, unpacked enough to find what we needed to throw a party and some reasons I am embarrassed to say here.

As some guests RSVP'd regrets, some came the day before and after the loose invites went out. As an email went unanswered, I quickly made a phone call full of apologies for not responding to a question about final date and time of event. As snow fell again for the fourth day in a row, I wondered if anyone would really come.

As we set up the tables and tried to determine which rooms would be used for buffet service, which for dining, drinks, and the mass that goes along with the commemoration, I realized that my mom and her friends often play Mah Jong until the next morning - shrieking and hooting and hollering all night long. "Why did you make it Sunday instead of Saturday?" I asked, more than a little annoyed. "The Priest couldn't make it Saturday." she answered timidly. "Oh." I responded unpleasantly.

So, as the Priest, a fellow Filipino, was the first to arrive, arranging his makeshift alter in our living room, I groaned to myself. When she said there would be a mass, I went along with it. When I realized it would be "Religious" I regretted my approval.

I raised my children to believe in a higher force, explained to them about my semi-Buddhist beliefs, shared with them my idea that each person is blessed and we should all be grateful for what the Universe gave to us. There was a time in Botswana when religion was an issue at Markham's nursery school. He pointed out to us that the sunshine streaming down in rays through the clouds was the light of God. Ugh! I didn't even have my son Baptised Catholic since I didn't agree with many of the policies of the Catholic Church. But here we were, with a Priest in our house and I could only imagine he'd bring "Jesus" into our home! Ugh!

But he is a nice man and he was kind enough to come to deliver mass to my mom and her friends, and so I was as respectful and friendly and welcoming as I could be. And as he started mass, I realized...

I knew the prayers he recited. I knew when to stand up and when to make the sign of the cross. I had to correct my son's attempts at it, telling him to use his right hand because he didn't even know that. And as the mass went on and he continued to speak, I listened.

Today turned out to be the perfect day for the celebration of my father's death, according to the Priest. Today, was the day the wise men finally found Jesus. They brought gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh, finding him in Bethlehem days after his birth. They came late because they were deterred by their expectations, arriving in Jerusalem and approaching the King's palace, not following the Star. They only found Jesus after retracing their steps and once again looking to the light of the star to guide them.

On the Alter my mom created on our old chipped stained coffee table we bought for a few Pula at an auction in Botswana, there was a baby Jesus in a cradle. Just before Christmas, a husband and wife entered my store. "Are you Corazon Dinio Durkin? " the gentleman asked. "Well, no." and I hesitated wondering where this was going. "Why do you ask?" I responded, trying to not sound too much like a jerk. "Let's see...I have a baby Jesus..." My mom had asked him to repair this baby Jesus, all cracked, leg nearly broken off, fingers missing. I remembered it in the manger my mom would put out each year during Christmas. He had fixed it and wondered if I would bring it to Cora. Sure, we were now living together so it was easy. But he had brought it into my store and I kept forgetting to carry the heavy bulky parcel home. And when I finally did get it to my car, that's where it stayed for a few days as I kept forgetting about it in the back seat. When my mom finally got it, she was tickled to see how beautiful the Baby now was.

We had barely unpacked from our move in November when Peter and I would flee to Boston for Cultural Survival Bazaars. There was no Christmas Tree until days before Christmas and there weren't many decorations. Certainly, no place for a large nearly life-size Baby Jesus.

As the mass continued, everything seemed to fall into place. The date was fitting because not only did the Baby Jesus come to rest in a home that was welcoming (room at the "inn), this Priest, with his wise words found us, giving us gifts and telling us to follow the light - the light that is found in the children, the true light that guides us to the true gifts, and a better understanding of faith. My father, the Priest said, had a way of always uniting family and friends and he did it again today. Brought my mother's Mah Jong friends together again, welcoming them to our new home, and reminding me, in particular, of the wonderful community my father had created in Poughkeepsie, in his house, in our home.

As the familiar sounds of the Tagalog exclamations rang down the hallway, the clacking of the Mah Jong tiles being slapped down, stacked, and shuffled, I feel my dad finally followed the Light of God and it shone down on our home and it was found in the warmth of family and friends congregating together, giving our children the protection, adoration, and love that extended family gives willingly, unconditionally and with great gusto.

For 2010, I see a future filled with promise based on acknowledgment and knowledge of the past.
Happy New Year, everyone!

1 comment:

becky n said...

This is a beautiful tribute to your dad, great story about how traditions have power in our lives, even when we try to turn away.