Lily

It’s raining tonight. I hear it pounding on the tin roof of this old plantation house. I love Maui. Haiku is green and lush. The Hawaiians say rain is God’s blessing on the land. The smell is heavenly. Every breath feels clean and full of life.

As I sit here enjoying the tranquility of the evening, I start to feel uneasy and I’m not sure why.

I take a slow deliberate breath, trying to relax. I look around at the safety and beauty of my surroundings. A deep sense of gratitude washes over me. I have so much. I have made it. I’m where I dreamt, I would be. I’m not poor anymore.

So, why am I feeling anxious? Where is this sadness coming from? It’s like a tide rising slowing within me.

I turn off the music and sit quietly now. The only sounds are the rain, the wind, and the rustling of trees. I close my eyes and try to meditate. I find myself thinking how different my life would be without Lily. Her strength has brought me to this moment. This moment listening to the rain.

I open my eyes quickly, as if to realize for the first time, that my incredible blessings are because of one person. I’ve always known how important Lily was but did I tell her? If so, did I say it enough? She meant everything to me. God, I hope she knew. These thoughts are overpowering me tonight. I feel guilt for not voicing my gratefulness loud and clear. For not shouting from the top of Haleakala, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

What would I be doing at this moment if Lily hadn’t saved me? What would I look like?  Who would my friends be? Would I still have a Son? Where would I be living?  Would I even be alive?

I’m feeling panic just imagining what my life and siblings’ lives would look like if Lily had given up looking for us. Would I be sitting here, listening to the rain? No! Absolutely not! My God, how consequential her sacrifices were. She gave up everything so I could be right here, right now.

If she had quit back in 1959, I may not exist today. Finding us was a monumental task. A needle in a haystack. We were worlds apart. After almost four years of writing letters and sending pictures to newspapers, she still had no idea where we were.  Lily’s family and friends began telling her how impossible it was. She couldn’t search 50 states. Even her Father’s advice was prayer. Pray she did, so did I; every day for almost four years.

When Lily finally received news of a sighting, she left the Philippines and all the people she loved, to travel across the world.  She was coming to rescue us. How brave this young woman was, leaving her country with nothing but a letter in her hand, saying the children were spotted. She was so vulnerable but never wavered. Lily was a warrior. Her mission was us.

We were deliriously happy when Lily finally arrived. I never looked back after that day. She didn’t look back either. I realize now, she didn’t look back because of what she left behind.

I left behind pain.

She left behind the love of her life.

I never considered what she could have been doing if it wasn’t for us; not until tonight, as I listen to the rainfall on the roof of my paradise. I never thought she wanted anything more than having the four of us back in her arms.

Lily was engaged to a handsome, wealthy, Spaniard during the years we were lost. Mario was everything my father wasn’t. He was kind, honest, and so in love with Lily. He was much younger, but that didn’t matter to him. He treated Lily like the queen she was. He was her prince

When Lily landed in the United States on Dec. 15, 1963, it was the happiest day of my life and the answers to Lily’s never-ending prayers. It was also the beginning of an uphill struggle raising four young children. Lily was thirty-nine, well-educated, and determined. She’d find a way to create a life for us.

I sit here visibly shaking from fear, at the thought of what could have been without her.

I saw myself as an older version of that poor, ugly little girl in Mississippi, with no education and living in a broken-down trailer. My Father would still be the abusive alcoholic that didn’t care for us. I’d probably be sixteen, pregnant, and with no future. I don’t know if this would have happened but these are the thoughts rushing through my head. The most frightening thought of all was having to spend more years with Bob, my father.

Thank you, Lily. Thank you for your sacrifices in order to give the four of us everything we ever wanted. Your unconditional love was the greatest gift of all.

As I sit here listening to the rain, I know my life would be unimaginably different if it wasn’t for you. Your strength gave me the life I have now.

Mario wrote several times over the next few years. Lily knew she wasn’t going back.  She couldn’t. One night she wrote to Mario, telling him, if he loved her, to marry and have the children he always wanted. She signed the letter,

Forever yours,
love Lily.

I know this because I saw it on her dresser when I was about fifteen. I didn’t give it much thought, and was lost in my memory, till now.

Rumor had it, Mario bought his new wife her own house next to his. There was talk among Lily’s friends, about him still being in love with her. His health slowly declined over the next 20 years.

Mario never did have children. He died at 55 of a broken heart, according to his brother.

I know Lily thought of Mario often when I was growing up. I’d catch her smiling at seemingly nothing. I asked her what she was thinking. She’d go into a story about something her and Mario did; continuing to smile the whole time.

I don’t know what Lily’s life would have looked like if she hadn’t come to America in 1963 but I do know it would have been luxurious and she wouldn’t have wanted for anything. Because you, Lily, were a determined and courageous woman, my life couldn’t have turned out better.

I feel selfish at this moment. I’ve only thought about my happiness and what I’ve been able to accomplish. I didn’t give much thought to your happiness. I’ve always figured we children were enough. I was wrong. I know Mario was your greatest love and there was never anyone after him. You stayed single all these years. How lucky you were to have loved so deeply and sad you had only memories left. A choice you say you’d make a hundred times over.

So, as I sit here tonight, thinking of you, my heart swells with love and breaks at the same time for what you endured in your life. Lily, you did all this in order for me to be sitting here listening to the rain?  Your decision to persevere made me who I am today.

Lily passed away recently, at 95. She was weak and frail and losing her memory but whenever I mentioned Mario’s name, her eyes would light up and she’d begin a story of long ago. Lily and I hugged and kissed a lot the year before she passed, trying to make up for the long conversations we no longer were able to have. I tried hard to hold on to this miraculous woman. Painfully, I watched her slip through my fingers a little every day. Now, all I have are pictures in my mind of her angelic face. I remember her never-ending energy, her compassion, and most of all, her kindness.

Lily’s passing was just short of unbearable. I think of her several times a day and will continue to do so until we are together again. And when we are, I’ll thank her from the bottom of my heart.

Where would I be without you Lily?  I’m sorry you gave up so much in order for me to be sitting here listening to the rain.

You are my blessing, my mentor, my hero.  You are my mother.

I’m grateful to be your daughter. To have your blood in my veins.

I’m thankful for all you have done for me.

I hope I was worth it.

I love you Mom.

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