Birthday Ruminations on Family, Love, Life, and Death



By Armando Vazquez

I have two very different, eclectic friends I love dearly. One is a medical doctor and the other a world-renowned Ph.D. professor of education. The three of us are going on 70 and lately we seem to be talking about death. The former not long ago had a life-threatening heart condition that almost killed him. He underwent successful reparative surgery, and now points to his massive scar that runs vertically the length of his torso, as a constant reminder, that “…life is short. I am going to continue to travel. I plan to go to the Middle East next year…” he proudly proclaims to me. All the while I’m thinking this guy is crazy; he will end up dead in the Middle East. He continues saying, “At Ieast I will die doing exactly what I love and want to do.”

In the meantime, before he becomes the only Mexican desaparecido in the Middle East, he is one of the great humanitarian doctors that I know, working in a non-profit medical clinic in Central Califas; treating and serving the addictive, indigent, low-income and the most acutely disenfranchised populations in this country. “I have finally found my niche” he tell me. I agree a wonderful way to go!

My other friend points to the fact her mother died at the age of 67, “that is two years younger than I am now. All the women in my family have died before the age of 70”. Next year she will celebrate her 70th birthday. She is petrified because she has suffered a number of mild heart attacks in the past decade; her mother died of a heart attack. While she is on earth, folks that know her will tell you she is a cross between Mary Poppins and Joan of Arc. She has genuine love and time for everyone she meets; but never mistake her for a light weight, she will never run from a fight that is unjust. Her loving social-justice heart is so acutely calibrated that not one living soul in Chiques has a negative thing to say about her. In the three decades I have worked with her she literally has given her home (make that three homes), her money, and her health in service to the community she loves. She also happens to be the best college professor in the entire world having helped thousands of students succeed in college, their communities, and their careers. With a full heart and, not quite sure of her next move, our angel recently decided to retire and pursue her heart’s desires, “until my heart gives out” she laughs and all the angels in heaven smile down. 

And then there is that 40-something year old Adelita companera, who has fought death all hundred lifetimes of hers, mostly in insufferable, unimaginable pain and torture at the hands of a barbaric and sadistic world that could not kill her as much it has tried. With no sense for the dramatic she states, “I was I dead for more than 30 years. Now I know how to love and live and I want to dance until I am 100 years old”.  So, this remarkable woman now dances, exercises, and organizes ethnically liberating and culturally congruent healthy living convivios comunitarios with farm and factory immigrant Latina women throughout Oxnard. “They are like me, searching, wanting and needing love, and affirmation to find their personal liberation. They get that love here with us. And they give it back to me in spades.” I am constantly reminded by this wondrous woman that every human soul is redeemable!

I have been a bad and good father for close to 45 years. My loving kids have been super patient with me. My precious daughter, the oldest of her siblings, was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. There had been some early signs we ignored wishing them to disappear. Then the MS struck; the tingling and stinging of the feet and hands. The unpredictable, painful and insidious MS attacks any part of the central nervous system and can leave a person bed-ridden, in acute pain, and completely demoralized. But my incredible daughter is blessed by her God and is as loving and tough a guerillera as they come. MS will not alter her heart, much less defeat her! She goes out every day as an inner-city school veteran teacher and gives the greatest love, education and support many of her student will ever know. All the while she grits here teeth and works beyond the uncertainty and pain of MS becoming the best wife/mother/sister/daughter I know. She shows me how to live in grace, to love and to fully live a life of service, no matter what.

My second to oldest son was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when he was 16 years old. He is now 32. I have never known a more courageous and compassionate human, ever. This son has taught me the Godly meaning of mindful living and loving acceptance. For years I lashed out at the world, my God. Literally everyone who came into my orbit felt my wrath.  I thought my rage would provide the strength to get through the pain, the callous indifference of the disease, and the bleak unknown we faced for 17 years almost always in complete darkness. The rage did not help. It made me angrier.  It was my son’s love, and the spirit that illuminated the darkness and that lead us out of the wilderness. Slowly, after many years through my son’s pain, suffering, and example, I learned to accept that love is the greatest healing power of all. Now, each day we give thanks to the spirit for giving us the love, strength, and unity to fight MS another day. The other day my son told he would live to be 100 years old and would take care of me in my old age!

My youngest son is a married, a wonderful husband and father. He is brilliant, a professional computer junior executive, and a millennial go-getter. What he has shown me is what a great young husband/father he is because he learned almost immediately, where I failed miserably, how to lovingly prioritize his adult life; family first, work and career second. He is very serious, yet at the same time incredibly tender and vulnerable. His modern, immediate nuclear family has expanded rapidly because of his loving and giving ways and his “never-say-no-to-anyone” heart. I pray he has a chance to chill and relax sometime soon, yet I am filled with pride that my “baby boy” in now a good, loving and happy man.

Another birthday and another extraordinary year of living. I am the luckiest man in the world. All around me there is love and mindful peace. Death will come sooner or later for all of us, as it has come to so many of my friends and comrades in the past few years. I have come to terms with la Vida y La Muerte and I am at peace with my loved ones and the life that I have lived.

Armando Vazquez, M.Ed.  is a Founding member and current Executive Director of  Acuna Art Gallery/Café on A, Executive Director for The KEYS Leadership Academy and Chairman of the Oxnard Multicultural Mental Health/coalition.

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