Thursday, December 27, 2012

Don't Postpone Joy (Christmas Letter 2012)

I originally sent this as an email to my close friends, but wanted to share it with more people. Fittingly also, my Aunt Jerene gave us all these bumper stickers that said "Don't Postpone Joy," which ties right in to the end of this letter. 

Happy Holidays, all! This is my version of a Christmas letter... It's Christmas Eve and I'm with my family as I have been fortunate to have been with every year. Same as always, yet irrevocably different.

What a year 2012 has been. The year is split to me: LA/Austin, JVC/AmeriCorps, Urban Compass/Austin Learning Academy, and of course, before cancer/after.

I went through another depressive episode in January and seriously considered leaving JVC/LA before even half a year had passed. But through the support of my community, we made it through and some things changed. A big thing that changed is that I started dating again (or really for the first time) and spent a good six months in my first real relationship as an adult. He was a wonderful friend and companion, especially for what was to come with my family, and we parted amicably in August when we both left Los Angeles. My relationship with him taught me much about myself, love and relating to other people.

January to August, I was still living in LA completing my year as a Jesuit Volunteer and I loveloveloved those kids in Urban Compass. It's so hard to be away from them even now. I have even wondered if I may go in the direction of becoming an elementary school teacher--but a lot of things are up in the air right now, so we'll see. And I have a wonderful extended family in my Casa DK community--Sonia, Mike P, Mike H, Erica, Jackie and Kevin are incredible people that will always be in my life.

Travel was a big theme this year up until I moved back to Texas and thankfully I've been in the same place for a while now. With Casa DK, we traveled to Yosemite and Sequoia tacked on to retreats we went to. I traveled up to the Bay Area to see two of my dear friends from college and a lifelong friend from childhood over my "spring break." I went back to TX twice when Mama was first diagnosed. And the there was of course, the road trip from LA to Austin with my college roommate, Abigail. In short, we went from LA up the PCH to San Francisco/Marin, Yosemite, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park, Arches and Canyonlands, small town Colorado, down to Santa Fe then back to Austin. It was an amazing opportunity and an incredibly beautiful trip. And Ab and I are still friends after ;) I have lots of photos on Facebook if you want to see!

It was right after I returned from San Francisco in April that Mama was diagnosed with cancer. It broke my heart. The whole family gathered in Salado the weekend before she started chemo and it just felt so wrong to not be with them. And then of course, when she started chemo the next week, it all fell apart. Her reaction to the chemo drugs is what the doctors realized after was as if she had overdosed. Though we can laugh at some of the stories of her month long stay in the hospital now since the pain meds made her say funny things, and it was truly the worst experience of my life. We were not sure she would survive. She almost didn't.

But she did. And in the months since she's been through so many rounds of chemo that I've lost count, and though the diagnosis is still that it is terminal, most of the tumors are gone. Not all of them, and it seems there is still a long road, but it's still good news. She's under the care of MD Anderson, one of the top cancer hospitals in the world and we are all grateful for her doctors. (And I kind of have a crush on her oncologist)

It was hard to leave LA behind--Casa DK and my students in Urban Compass the most--but it has been such a joy to be near family again. I always seem to move away thinking I will manage without them and though I have always found my way, it is incredibly difficult to be away. I see Mama usually about once a week and she says having her children near is part of her medicine. :)

When I moved back to Austin, it took a bit to get a job, but I ended up with AmeriCorps teaching ESL. Not what I would've imagined but it has been truly wonderful. The organization I work for Austin Learning Academy has three classes at the site I work with. Two adult classes: beginning and advanced ESL, and an early childhood class. I am a co-teacher/teaching assistant in all three and I'm really enjoying it.

Meanwhile, I've become involved in ballet folklorico at St Ed's again which has brought me so much joy. A big part of what was missing in my life in LA was dancing this much. My first performance back was beginning of November and I think it's been 6 since then...

Last week, in the aftermath of the shooting in Connecticut, I felt such a loss of words. I didn't know what to do. I wanted to take action but felt paralyzed.

So I focused on my joy. If there is one thing this year has taught me, it is to embrace joy. This world is screwed up, to be blunt, and though we must still work to change it, we cannot do it without hope. And by finding our joy--through family, community, dance, love--we have hope. I wish for you this holiday season that you will find your joy. It keeps us going in the end.

Merry Christmas! I send my love and hope you are joyful in the light.

Love, Naomi.