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To the foreigner’s eye it was war, but to any Lozano family member it was a Socratic discussion. As I sat with cousins, aunts, uncles, great aunts and great uncles, answers to the questions of the afterlife, the importance of living, the health of the soul, and the evils and sanctity of worldly pleasures were flinging across the table. Although I mostly remained silent, my mind was busy interrogating the others. The whirl of ideas was speckled with laughter and exclamations, but never anger. Finally, someone’s remark would lead the discussion to an impasse, a moment when we would nod our heads or slap a neighbor’s back until a subtle interjection began a new thread of queries. Only at the table’s edge, with her arms crossed, my Tia Martha, ghostly white and clad in inky black down to her shoes, looked on in reproach. To her, the world could only be dressed in her shades.
Labels are not uncommon in my family: Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, atheists, Buddhist-Hindu-mystics, agnostics, and one Sathya Sai Babba devotee. Our coming-of-age initiation has always been a flame-proof test of one’s beliefs. One could pass by not abandoning individuality, but learning to simultaneously leave room to build and change. The process is one that I continuously experience, as each of my skeptical, cynical, and optimistic filters test every claim that tries to gain admission into my beliefs. Sometimes, I wish I could simply believe what I am told; that, a least, would allow me to have more time to sleep at night. Yet, I find myself incapable of taking my daily lessons at face value, lest I ever start to look like my poor Tia Martha.
Returning to that family festival, I remember my favorite great aunt: Tia Alicia, her frail body revealing the metastasis of cancer, dancing with my cousin between the tables in her sequined scarlet heels. Soon the rest of us will join her, because even though we know that her death is near, she gives us no reason to be sad. Having already solidified her answers, she is confident about her soul’s destination and has seen her purposes achieved. It is a phenomenon I had witnessed at my own grandmother’s death. When Abuelita Susana had known that her cancer would soon end her life, she quit her job as a chemist and began to host as many family parties as possible. After all, her days of questioning were over. Now, her favorite answers told her how to best reap the fruits of her efforts.
When I stop to check my progress at living, I find that I still have too many curious questions and find too many answers to commit to any yet. If I am going to choose a path for myself, I will not tread it in standard black. I have a lot of evidence left to gather, for only then will I be able to fully partake in the hearty discourse at my family’s table.
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