“life’s flavor,” ethnicity

Father Edmunds, I’m almost certain that’s the name of the priest who regularly assists our pastor at saying a few Sunday Masses. Charismatic in a more soft-spoken manner, Father gave an interesting homily last weekend.

The Gospel’s message was that we, God‘s disciples, are the “salt of the earth,” and the “light of the world.” Father began his sermon telling of a book fest he’d attended where an acquaintance, a Muslim, was speaking to a predominantly Muslim audience. The man had authored many books based upon his life experiences.

Born in Egypt, the speaker was raised in Switzerland. Now living in the U.S., he’s very familiar with living in a society unlike his own. Initially he tried to fit in, setting aside his cultural idiosyncrasies. In time, with the advice of friends, he realized he should celebrate his Muslim heritage, sharing, rather than hiding it.

Father likened one’s ethnicity, to the salt used by Middle Easterners to heat their earth ovens. There, children set to work mixing together salt and the dung of camels and donkeys. The result is spread over the stones covering the bottom of the earth ovens. The salt acts as a catalyst in igniting the fire. As the flames burn, the catalytic quality in the salt is expended. The salt, its flavor intact, is then scattered on the ground outside the oven.

Just as salt flavors the food we eat, so too our individual differences bring a vibrancy to the world in which we live, explained Father Edmunds. He went on to say that God gifts us with our distinctive traits, as part of His greater plan to bring “light” to the world.

Moving to New York from Honolulu, where I’d graduated from the University of Hawaii, and gotten married, was like moving to a foreign country. Most New Yorkers I encountered didn’t look like me, nor did they share my mannerisms. Being of Chinese-Hawaiian descent qualifies me as a Pacific Islander with the census bureau, but my habits and attitudes are generally like those of the Asian population, and very unlike those of Caucasians. Living in the Big Apple compounded my dilemma, for its residents are unlike those in any of the other 50 states, or so I’m told.

It took me a while to develop a stiff upper lip, not to mention a spine. Orientals in Hawaii in the 50s and 60s, were “invisible.” We had no problem adhering to the golden rule, “children should be seen and not heard.” So finding myself among New Yorkers who were aggressive, ambitious, and often ill-mannered, left me feeling like a doormat. I tried to fit in, by setting aside my ill-equipped Asian mentality. I was like a scared chicken let out of its coop, left to flounder among long-time, cage-free residents.

Slowly, inevitably, I began owning my culture once again. I wore it like a badge of honor, telling everyone within earshot, “I’m from Hawaii, born and raised on the island of Maui.” As whites and blacks warmed up to me, I wore my pride and humility equally. I came to love The Big Apple. Visiting relatives commented that I was becoming a New Yorker, exhibiting more confidence and “hutzpah.” Working in New York City for 10 years, my personality underwent changes in order to survive. I even joked that the stork must have made an error, delivering me to Pacific Islanders. It seemed I should’ve been “dropped” on the island of Manhattan, alongside the Hudson River.

Of course I’d never relinquish my unique heritage. It embellished my experiences in the Big Apple, and being Hawaiian continues to flavor life’s journey wherever I go.

savor one’s heritage…life’s salt, life’s “flavor”…hugmamma.

“charism,” a call to serve

The other evening my family and I attended a lecture by a visiting priest. We’d heard him preach during Sunday Mass, and liked what we heard. Wanting a little more spirituality in our lives, we were open to hearing more of what Father had to share.

At 7 p.m. we’re usually settling in for the night. After chores, errands and work, we’re not inclined to venture out again on a week night. But after a hurriedly prepared dinner of scrambled eggs with sliced turkey kielbasa thrown in for added protein, we made our way to church. God must’ve been smiling down upon me, because sitting quietly on a hard pew, one day a week, is more than enough for me. Remember an earlier post when I mentioned that my mom would pinch my butt, as it slid back to lean against the edge of the pew? Happily, I can now repeat the same offense without repercussion. It’s one of the benefits of old age. I can also catch “40 winks” behind closed eyelids, while the Mass drones on. I don’t do it often, but as I’ve said before, my mind does tend to wander.

About 35 parishioners were assembled in the pews at the front of church. Father stood before the group. As he spoke, he would refer to what we were seeing projected onto the screen situated near him. While I can’t remember all he said, I do recall that Father spoke of “charisms.” The word isn’t in my paperback copy of Webster’s Dictionary, but perhaps it’s the root for “charisma – a personal magnetism that enables an individual to attract or influence people.”

According to Father, God has bestowed us with “charisms.” These are unique “gifts” that make us feel good, when they are shared with others. Ultimately they bring us the fulfillment we seek. This is our vocation as Catholics, disciples of Christ. Each of us, according to our own “charism,” is called to serve others in our daily lives, out in the secular world. Priests are not the only ones who are “called” to serve. As an illustration, we listened to Jan Vallone tell her story, up on the screen.

Having grown up Catholic, Jan always did what her parents wanted. It was her dream to teach, but she became a lawyer because that was her father’s desire. During the 18 years she worked in law, Jan felt neither happy, nor fulfilled. When the firm she was with downsized, she took the opportunity to apply for a teaching job. To her astonishment, her application was accepted. As a high school English teacher, Jan’s spirits soared. It meant a great deal to her that she was making a difference in the lives of her students.

In addition to teaching, Jan began writing. Her memoirs caught the attention of a publisher. But because marketing her manuscript consumed so much of her time, she felt distracted from her true calling, teaching and writing. So she plans to return to both, leaving the selling to someonelse while she teaches the high schoolers she loves, and begins writing her second book. Jan feels fulfilled, knowing her “charism” is helping others, something which neither practicing law nor marketing a book could do for her.

I think I’ve found my “charism” in Hugmamma’s Attention to Detail. In my blog, I’ve been able to combine my passion for writing with my desire to be a voice for compassion and positivism. In sharing my experiences, thoughts, and feelings with others, I hope I’m able to provide a ray of light in a darkened corner of someone’s life.

My husband’s “charism” has always been as a role model of integrity and compassion in the business world. He “climbed” the corporate ladder without chicanery, or “brown-nosing.” Solidly committed to his principles throughout a 40 year career, he has garnered the loyalty and admiration of peers and employees, as well as business associates. I’ve even suggested that I’d be a great hire, to which my husband has always replied “I already have a CEO and President at work. Thank you very much.” I guess he’s right. Better that he leaves work behind, when he leaves the office.

Dance has always been our daughter’s “charism.” Beginning with her first performance as an 8 year-old tap dancer, she drew the attention of the audience. Afterwards a father approached me to say, he thought our daughter had tremendous “stage presence.” We’ve always been told that, and often by complete strangers. People have also said they can’t take their eyes off her; that they track her throughout the performance; that she’s their favorite dancer. Our daughter has always said that she feels blest with a gift that she wants to share, in the hopes that it will touch someone.

As Father put it, God would never set us up for failure. Our “charism” is what He has called us to do, as his disciples in the world. 

your “charism” calls,… will you answer?…hugmamma.