My Aunt, Elena.

Anyone who knows her has learned something from her — that love is the most endearing gift ever given to man (and woman).

When I was a teenager, I got into trouble. I was sent to live with Elena and my uncle Willy, who is also another loving soul. They are both so blessed, and filled with love. Not to take anything away from my Tio, but when I considered who the happiest person I know might be, it was Elena whose face appeared. Sorry, Unc!

When I arrived in Miami, angry, and rejected, there was no judgement, only love. It was not a punishment, although initially, it certainly felt like it would be.

No, this was God’s divine intervention.

When I think about the life she has lived, it’s surely not going to be fair to try and assume that this post can dare to tell her story. I know there was anguish, fear, pain, anger, frustration, worry, doubt, wavering faith. Elena isn’t perfect — but she’s humble, and strong, and so very devout in her faith. And this, I think qualifies as a very close possible second.

The pain that I felt at that time, was embraced, and accepted. Here was this 17-year old child of her husband’s oldest sister, struggling to find herself, in the hateful, spiteful world of adolescence, and yet, she willingly invited me into her home. I am not sure what the conversation was like, when my mom called and shared the painful sadness she felt at my willful rebellion. But I would be willing to bet that inviting me into her home was Elena’s idea. She had two young children at that time, and so many perfect reasons that this would not be a good idea. Most people, wouldn’t be able to do it. Of that, I am convinced.

But she did.

Why? Because it was love that she felt for me, for my family — and that love was the only hope we had at that time. It was her love that provided me a home during the most difficult year of my life.

Through it all, through her leadership, through her love, she showed me what happiness looked like. Her kind eyes, her stubborn prayers, her laugh, and her generous desire to help me, all were part of her happiness. She had enough to give, and she knew it was her calling, for whatever reason, to give that love to me. It was a risk. It made her vulnerable. It might have even seemed crazy to her family. “Elena, what if she steals from you? What if she hurts your kids?” “Are you sure this is safe?” And, her answer could only have been “No.” I didn’t want to hurt anyone — I wasn’t dangerous to anyone but myself, but then again, how would anyone have been able to guarantee that?

We can’t guarantee anything but the fact that love requires risk. And, I choose to believe that it is in this decision — to love anyway — that real happiness exists.

Now, over 20 years later, I look back and realize that her example can teach us all to find happiness in in the action of loving. We’re all seeking it. And we’re all striving to be the best versions of ourselves. We think that happiness exists in success, or in money, or things. We think we can find it in a bottle, or food. We seek it in others. And, then when we fail to “find happiness,” we blame — our jobs, our spouses, our children, our friends, God.

And, God is Love

So, today, as I felt a feeling of uncertainty and doubt come to me as sometimes happens, a vision of Elena, and the example of her love and her happiness appeared in my heart. And, I knew I needed to tell this story.

If I am able to give, just a fraction of the love that I have experienced from Elena, and all of my family, then it is my quest to find a way to give that love back. I could never repay Elena for the gift of her love at that time in my life. Nor would she ever allow me to try.

Happiness, my friends, lives in love.

Thank you Elena, for this incredible gift and your generous outpouring of love, when I needed it the most.

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