Gracias a la Vida
We peel hundreds of apples. The trees were generous to us even though it's only their second year in the ground.
It's a strange feeling to have my mother cook in my kitchen when she was never one to cook in her own. She's humming a song as the apple slices fill the bowl, I recognize the tune and set up a playlist.
"Every time I kiss you doesn't taste like enough,
every time I have you, I go mad,
and every time I see you
I find a reason to continue living,
and every time I see you
it's like discovering the universe.
I love you, you are the center of my heart.
I love you, like earth loves the sun."
"How do I even know the words to this?" I ask. She says we listened to them. I grew up with Jose Luis Perales, Alberto Cortez, Luis Eduardo Aute, Silvio Rodriguez, Inti-Illimani, and Mercedes Sosa as the soundtrack of my childhood on records and cassette players, back when there was only a side A and B to every story. The apple peel stains our fingers and I wonder what songs Benjamin will remember by osmosis, the same way these lyrics embedded themselves in a part of my brain I did not know I had.
We talk about children, work, and friendship, drawing parallels between our lives. We are so different yet so much alike, driven and dedicated to our craft. With the benefit of experience behind her she realizes what many others before her have come to know, time is inexorable.
We grew up in different eras, political climates, and different countries shaped our adulthood, but our plight is every bit the same: learning the art of juggling a career, motherhood, womanhood. Our same search for balance.
I remember that my dad used to strum this song in his guitar:
"I like wine as much as flowers,
and I like lovers but not misters,
I like befriending thieves,
and I like songs in French.
I'm not from here, I'm not from there,
I have no age or future,
and being happy
is the color of my identity."
I fumble with the butter and flour, she asks me when I learned to make pie crusts. I tell her of the time I went to a writing retreat on an island a few hours away by car and then by boat. I explain that part of the creative process involves giving the writer a break while stimulating her with another equally creative activity, like pie making.
She seems skeptical
A song comes on and I turn up the volume. "This one you learned from your aunt" she says.
"The people say "what a shame that he has dark skin"
as if it were garbage to be tossed on the pavement,
they don't realize that among my race
discontent is ripening.
what do you have
that I don't also have?"
The pie goes in the oven and as she rinses the bowls she tells me that our family has the gift of the written word. "Your uncle has it, your aunt does too, I do, and so do you. But if you feel that making pie will make your writing better, then let's make another one. We have apples galore!"
Over the years we have seen so little eye to eye, but time has softened her and awakened me enough to consider her wisdom that is not her own but a cumulative pool of knowledge, of her experience, her mother's, our family's, and a slew of troubadours that with and without permission live within us, waiting for us to call upon them on command.
"Thank you to a life that has given me so much.
It gave me a heart that makes my frame shudder
when I see the fruit of the human brain,
when I see the good so far away from the bad,
when I see the depth of your light eyes.
Thank you to a life that has given me so much,It's given me laughter and tears
so I can distinguish happiness and brokenness,
the two materials that form my song,
and your song as well, which is the same song,
and everyone's song, that is my very own.
Gracias a la vida."