Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Family: Reframing the Roof (A Tribute to my parents)

Although it was not always convenient, my own children learned to expand the walls early in their lives. Their blind grandpa lived with us for almost seven years--blessing us all in boundless ways. Unlike myself at their age, they were a few notches higher on the "love ladder" than me. They seemed to inherently understand that families can reconstruct homes to allow others in who may need some shelter. And when they needed some sheltering themselves, others were there to buoy them up too. We are all so much better when we provide refuge for one anther.
The great Spanish cellist, Pablo Casals wisely said, "The love of one's country is a splendid thing. But why should we stop at the border?" I would add that the love for one's child (or children) is supremely marvelous, but why not widen and expand the roof for others whose shelter is different, lost or faraway?

When I was in my mid-20's, my parents received an assignment in our church to work with young people for three years in a distant city. I will never forget the conversation I had with my father as they prepared to leave. In a reflective moment he quietly commented to me, "I want to treat them as my own children. (I thought to myself, I am the oldest of nine children, wasn't that enough to pass the love around?) And I want to love them as my own." I remember flinching, feeling a twinge of jealousy that others would receive my father's love as I had known it. My own life experience, until that point, was obviously not enough to understand my father's generous disclosure. I had not climbed the "love ladder" high enough yet.

A picture of my parents,Keith and Paula Myres, and a wooden frame they were given, a star from each child. Thanks Mom and Dad for teaching us to reach out and up a little further. I am trying....
As a young child, my father's home was often in tempestuous disarray so he always had a boundlessly compassionate heart for those who were emotionally and physically homeless. For this reason, he had empathy to those who knew his pain--living in homes of upheaval. My dad owned a small moving company in San Diego, California, many times employing those who needed a second chance on life. They were people of many cultures, and even men in their 70's who still wanted/needed to work. Sometimes he would hire people who were physically or mentally disabled--if he thought they could reasonably do the job. As his kids, we got the best life education of working elbow to elbow with people from many countries and persuasions. Some of them spoke broken English, and we practiced our elementary Spanish with them (if that was their language). One summer at lunch breaks, I taught a middle aged black man how to read.

Our home was no different. Dad would bring home Greek or Italian fisherman who were briefly in San Diego, away from their homes. Families from Tonga and Samoa would often come with huge plates of food, and then serenade us with song. Since we lived so close to Mexico, we would visit his friends there. Often our home was full of people who spoke Spanish. We were encouraged to learn languages, and Dad would correct our Spanish pronunciation. Mom would always somehow have enough food for anyone that came through the door. Whether they knew it or not, my parents were developing not only a curiosity or acceptance of other people, but a genuine love for those who were different than ourselves. Everyone was welcome. Somehow the walls could always expand to include a few more people who needed a meal and a listening ear.

Fast forward a few decades. I have lived in six countries besides my own, and traveled to many unknown and remote places all over the world. As I look back on my own growing up, I feel an immeasurable gratitude for parents who taught me to look beyond the horizon, the border, and have an inviting open door policy. My husband was raised in an equally welcoming home, with a father who was blinded six weeks after he landed on D-Day. The blind, the deaf, Native Americans from nearby reservations, and many others were dinner guests at their table.

With our own children, we have tried to give them the same rich experience of inviting many people of various cultures, faiths, and socio-economic levels. Now that we are expats in Qatar and my children are older, I see how their own lives have been gifted by the legacy that was started long ago. To reach out to others who are different is really only a gift we give ourselves. Preconceptions flee, and the world becomes a place of not only intrigue, but of uncommon beauty and discovery. As my dear Muslim neighbor told me two years ago when I first met her, "Please do not make any boundaries with me." On that day when I looked into her beautiful eyes with her burqa on her face, I knew she was offering her friendship to me, her willingness to teach me to drive in Doha, to cook some Middle East dishes, and learn some Arabic. I would be foolish if I did not receive her kindness. Since that day, my life has been blessed beyond measure by her friendship, prayers, and love to me and my family.

All of my children are now grown, except for my 14-year-old son with autism who is still at home. This school year was the one I had dreaded for years: everyone else was in college or working. Last fall I summoned some courage, hoping that our new home without his siblings would be sufficient for him. Sure, we had a rough patch or two, but we have had a remarkable year because other people have almost magically stepped in to bridge the gaps. I have learned to expand the roof even more. Two wonderful teenage girls came to live with us for a few months who cushioned our transition, and were like sisters to our son. Other young expats from various countries have become our adopted children--blessing our lives and our son. Sometimes it means that my heart is broken when they leave, but the space I made for them has only enriched my life.

The ripples of love continue to give me pause to marvel in this land far away from my former familiarities. "As Neill F. Marriott says, "Love is making space in your life for someone else." I believe there is always another way to reconfigure new designs--to move walls for others to come in your home and heart. Roofs can be stretched and enlarged; borders can be erased. We can be architects to give new blueprints to our homes--reframing, remodeling them to fit some strangers that can become like family. And those people whom we invite into our "more spacious homes" will bring beauty and strength that we could hardly imagine.

Today as I watch my own children, I know their lives have not been diminished because we widened the roof. People from all over the world have come to intersect with our lives, giving us boundless blessings. Here are just a few:


Ines Duquesne, age 21, from Normandy, France came to visit us a few months ago. I met her last June during the D-Day celebrations in Normandy. My husband's father at almost the same age as she is now helped to liberate her village of Le Tronquay in 1944, after he landed on Omaha Beach. There is a plaque in her village dedicated to him and his men, as they marched to Paris. A few times I looked at her when she was here, with a tear in my eye, knowing that our lives intersected almost 72 years ago, and then again now. I have come to realize those connections that are made generations ago can be sweet reunions. We love and belong to each other.
Our ever growing family this year at an art exhibit in Doha, Qatar. The girls who came to visit us, some for a few months, deposited their love to us. We made a temporary make-shift family, but they will always be in our heart even though we just adopted them for awhile. 
Ashok from Adasarlapadu, India. Blogpost about him: A Chance Encounter can change your life He invited me to his sister's wedding, and I will forever be changed by visiting his village. To watch "my Indian son" take care of my own son a few days ago gave me such pleasure. They had just met one another, and there was already an endless stream of conversation between them.
My own son at the wedding in India in February. I am glad he got some more Indian brothers this year, Dileep and Ashok. His brothers were away at school, and they stepped in to fill the gap.

Megan and Mackenzie, two girls who asked to come and live with us this year. Although I am not their mother, I pine for them now that they have left to be home with their own families. They will forever be in my hearts. I am so grateful that they came into our lives--bringing much creativity, laughter, and learning.
Herman, from Ukraine, who is "my Ukrainian son" here in Doha. He teaches the guitar, piano, and voice during the school year. Since my son is recuperating from a foot surgery, Herman is teaching him some guitar.