My mother’s eyes beam the most astonishingly brilliant blue light. I am looking into her eyes, at her mouth, her familiar face, surveying her scarred and boyish chest. We stand side by side, her hand securely in mine. Under this big sky, my most prominent awareness while Erica photographs us is not of my nakedness but awe of my mother’s full bloom radiance. Her beauty is arresting. She is unselfconsciously joyous and laughing, her eyes are lit up; “I trust you”, they say. My mother – still alive after a decade of cancers, euphorically happy, unashamed of her body, is holding my hand, posing naked with me! What do I feel? Ecstatic love! A vibrational current of love between my mother and myself, both of us so alive in our perfect bodies. Right now, I am my favorite me, living my ridiculously magical life.
But the magic and miracle of this moment is borne out of the shadow of contrast. 30 years ago, Sandra and I were different people; we were not holding hands nor did we know trust or joy. The love I felt for my mother was deep but I often couldn’t reach her. We come from a long lineage of suffering and we both internalized that poisonous family inheritance; generations of ancestors barely surviving in loveless landscapes. I left home at 14, carrying my story of the alien sensitive son born into an unhappy family. I learned to present my otherness and struggle like medals of survival and strength, but also flaunted them as my big excuse. The experience of living in my body was painful and I ached to check out. High, laying in bed alone, running my hands over my skinny boyish ribcage and protruding pelvis reminded me of the photos I had seen of naked men in concentration camps, the life starved out of them. I was attracted to the masculine, confident matinée men but the boy in the mirror had none of their qualities. I saw no beauty and felt betrayed. In a recurring dream, I was on my knees in front of a high ancient wall made of yellow stone and sand. I heard celebratory gypsy music, smelled aromas of cooking meat and the fragrances of fruit and flowers. There were sometimes cracks in the wall through which I saw men and women dancing, and heard clapping, song, and laughter. Joy existed as a concept because I witnessed it there, but in the dream I was always alone outside the wall, drawing in the sand and desperately unable to find a way through or over it.
Fast forward. Study, work, keen sensory observation, friendship, inter-relationship, sex, tribe, yoga, mind-expanding drugs, and a golden godson born to teach me how to love something undamaged. All these teachers, breathing surrender into my suffering. Fueled by will, fierce curiosity and that dream, I left America over and over, traveling among the descendants of slaves and conquerors, Nazis and victims, survivors of war, everywhere reflections of wealth and starvation. Spiritual warriors and wise medicine people of ancient tribes taught me new languages of being human. Exhale grief, inhale wonder, exhale resentment, inhale gratitude… Gratitude teaches me the vibration of internal freedom regardless of circumstance, joy through contrast of pain, and that abundance and generosity can bloom out of scarcity. Life is what you pay attention to. My painful stories lost their purpose and peeled away like layers of dead skin, to reveal a man vibrantly alive. All this time, Sandra has also been doing her work, finding her way, bravely trusting and surrendering to her many teachers. Forgiveness is the ultimate high.
I am 46 and Sandra is 73. United and completely naked, we are liberated even from our old stories. We are mother and son, eternal friends and companions in the great mystery, conspiring to heal our lineage. I dance joyous gratitude for my ancestors, who gave life to this miraculous body and set me on a rich path of discovery and transformation. I also offer this reflection of us to our culture, so alive with evolution yet still poisoned by institutional shame and fear. I’m whispering to you that I found my way to the other side of that wall and I am dancing and laughing, saturated in nourishment, abundance and love.
I’m overflowing with gratitude to Erica and my youngest son, Luz, for helping me on my journey to let the light within me shine through and aid in my transformation as I approach my 74th birthday. It was with a long lost feeling of childish joy and abandon, that I romped unfettered by clothing, through the green grass I seldom see in the Southern Arizona desert where I live, and felt the sunshine and cool breeze on my naked skin. Sharing the experience with my son made it so much more special, almost sacred.
The seed of Luz was planted and grew in my womb after three previous children, as the marriage to their father was ending, and was by far my easiest pregnancy. I fell instantly in love with him as he struggled to take his first breath and survive his first difficult year of life nourished by my love and breast milk. I saw his determination to grow up and show all who met him just how loving, magnificent, unique and gifted he was, even as a small child. Curiosity, compassion, understanding and loving for all creatures and cultures has made him truly a man of the world.
The doctors with all their cutting have not been able to eradicate the inner beauty I have finally learned to feel from my creator about myself and my deep connection to those around me. Walking back to the car after the photo shoot, I felt a profound sadness for my Grandmother, who was so ashamed of her mutilated body after losing her second breast to cancer, whom I helped bathe while still in my early teens. I give thanks for the love and nurturing I received from my late husband Edwin over nearly 20 years, who taught me to be true to myself. I gradually learned to forgive those I had allowed to intimidate and hurt me in the past, and am now able to bathe them in love and understanding. I’m more at peace with myself and with those around me than ever before, and live much more in the present, not regretting the past or worrying about the future. I’m working on compiling the stories of my family, reweaving the negative into a rich and beautiful tapestry I can pass on to my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, and those yet to be born. I’m free of the tight restraints of being born into a repressive wealthy society of the 1940’s. I see the progress we have made as a society in the eyes and behavior of my lovely daughter and two beautiful adult granddaughters. I want to dance naked in a body who has survived too many assaults to count. I’m a thriver, not a survivor, living with cancer.