Tonight, I will be speaking about heart connections. Last week, Mark and I returned from a week’s vacation in Valencia, Spain and Paris, France. Although we were impressed by the beautiful architecture and striking scenery in both cities, Mark and I were there principally to visit with dear friends whom we had not seen since the start of the pandemic.
Near Valencia, we stayed at the attractive new home of Enrique and Mari, who had relocated recently from their Mexican homeland. Back in 1995, Enrique presided over the Universidad de las Americas in Puebla, Mexico. On a trip to Yale University, where he had earned a doctoral degree in economics in the 1970s, he met with Mark and me to discuss the idea of launching in the UDLA a residential college system modeled on Yale’s.
Enrique explained that most Mexican college students are not used to leaving their parents’ home for university studies. At that time, when freshmen arrived on campus, they were homesick and missed having maids to do their laundry. With a college system, incoming students would be part of a friendly community overseen by a wise, caring dean. By the end of our conversation, Enrique had invited Mark and me to move to Cholula, Mexico to help him initiate such a system for the first time at a Mexican university.
During 15 years in Cholula, Mark and I both taught courses at the UDLA, and we renovated an 18th century adobe house, which we purchased as a ruin from Enrique and Mari. Once restored, Casa Tecama was the manifestation of a dream house that Mark had sketched on a napkin, which I saved from our first date in 1977. After Mark and I moved from Mexico to his hometown of Houston in 2011, we stayed in touch with Enrique and Mari.
Upon retiring as Rector of the UDLA, Enrique ran as an independent, anti-corruption candidate for governor of Puebla state. Amidst death threats towards his family, Enrique and Mari decided to move from their Mexican homeland to a safe refuge in Spain. Our trip was a token of our support for their courageous efforts to start over.
Mark and I were impressed by the beauty of our friends’ home and the nearby historical port of Valencia, which had been a principle commercial center with Venice during the Middle Ages. While we were catching up with Enrique and Mari, some of our close friends from Vienna, Austria flew to meet us in Valencia.
Mark and I met Christian while studying Spanish at the Universidad de Salamanca in the summer of 1982, when we were assigned to reside with the same family. We stayed connected ever since, with reunions in Vienna, Berlin, Munich, Venice, and Houston. Twenty-four years ago, when Cristian announced that his girlfriend Edith had given birth to a daughter named Stella, I appointed myself her godmother. Now that she is at medical school in Berlin, Stella and I are in regular contact. On our recent trip to Valencia, Mark and I rode bicycles with Christian, Edith and Stella through lovely parks and toured the spectacular Calatrava Opera House. Christian and I had a heart-to heart talk about our fathers, who are both suffering from dementia and nearing death. Mark and I were delighted to introduce Christian to Enrique and Mari and to witness how easily they connected with one another.
Bidding farewell to our friends in Spain, Mark and I flew from Valencia on Lufthansa airlines via Frankfurt to Paris. Because our first flight was delayed, we missed the second one and had to be rebooked. When we arrived in Paris, our luggage was nowhere to be found. At the Lufthansa customer service counter, an agent assured us that our suitcases would arrive on the next flight and promised that they would be delivered to our hotel as soon as possible. However, I was to hear the French phrase, “Je suis desolé,” numerous times over the next few days.
Due to Israeli anti-war protests, several stations of the Parisian Metro system were blockaded, so Mark and I had to take three different trains to reach our hotel near the Eiffel Tower. By the time we arrived there at 10:00 pm, we felt grateful that Lufthansa had lost our bags, so that we didn’t have to lug them up and down stairs all over the subway system.
Around the corner from our hotel was the 5th floor, walk-up apartment of our close Mexican friend Guillermo and his French husband Gilles. Mark and I had met Guillermo at Yale University in the 1980s, when he was earning masters and doctoral degrees at the Forestry School. As a residential fellow of Jonathan Edwards College, where Mark served as Dean, Guillermo became my Spanish language tutor. Our friendship deepened after he graduated and assumed the directorship of World Wildlife Fund in Mexico City just as Mark and I moved to nearby Puebla, Mexico.
When Guillermo was promoted to director of WWF in Geneva, Switzerland, we visited him there and met his romantic partner Gilles. Guillermo surprised us by arranging for us to have our first experience of hang gliding. I will never forget sitting in the lap of an experienced hang glider and leaping off a cliff to fly beside birds overlooking stunning vineyards.
Mark and I stayed in touch as Guillermo and Gilles moved to San Francisco. There, Guillermo headed the Moore Foundation and awarded funding for pioneering environmental projects, while Gilles started a business, leading “Summer of Love” expeditions for French tourists. Mark and I celebrated their marriage and then mourned the news that Guillermo had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. After numerous visits to their lovely apartment overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, Mark and I were sad to hear that they had decided to move to France for better health insurance prospects.
Our recent Parisian trip was to reaffirm our support for Guillermo as his disease progresses. Although it broke my heart to see him struggling to control his movements, I was moved by his resilience and independence. Gilles is a devoted husband and graciously shoulders the burden of grocery shopping and walking their pampered dog Onyx. Guillermo assured us that regularly walking up and down five flights of stairs is good for his health.
They bought us tickets to a wonderful exhibit of Van Gogh’s final 70 paintings at the Musée D’Orsay. Guillermo and Gilles generously included in our party another of our longtime friends, Mariella, who traveled by train from her home near Munich, Germany for a joyous Parisian reunion. She and Mark had met in the 1980s at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, while she was a student and Mark was on the board of directors. Over the years we have had reunions with her in various European countries. Again, it was a delight to observe how easily our German, Mexican, and French friends communicated and enjoyed being together.
When our missing luggage did not arrive for two days, Guillermo wrote a diplomatic letter in French to Lufthansa’s customer service, explaining that until our bags were delivered, I would be purchasing necessary items that would be charged to the airlines. The customer service representative wrote back: “Je suis desolé,” claiming that the baggage had been delivered two days prior on October 9. In turn, Guillermo responded, “Je suis desolé,” informing the representative that Humberto, the night watchman of my hotel, had witnessed the bags being delivered at 5:20am on October 11. A reliable witness, Humberto had kindly helped me load the suitcases onto the hotel elevator to take up to my room. Finally, the Lufthansa agent conceded, “Vous avez razon” and agreed to reimburse me for my expenses.
After farewell hugs to our dear friends in Paris, Mark and I flew home, feeling content to have nourished such intimate relationships. The first night home in our own bed, I had the following dream:
I am transported to the planet Venus, shining brilliantly in a clear starry sky. There I recognize my beloved mother and our ancestors. Before the Day of the Dead each year, there is a parting of the veils to enable earthlings to have reunions with deceased loved ones. My mother and I embrace and communicate telepathically about our mutual preparations for easing my father’s way across the threshold to join her in celestial realms. I see Mark and Christian connecting with their own deceased mothers. A field of love surrounds us all.
Mom and I discuss how she might travel to Earth to guide Dad towards the bardo between this life and the next. Although he and I have spoken about his wish to die, and he knows that I am available to accompany his final journey of this incarnation, Dad is still scared to relinquish control. He may need a clearer sense of Mom’s presence to help him cross over. Wordlessly, my mother and I sense our loving bond and renew our souls’ contract to facilitate Dad’s dying process after his long life of service.
Meanwhile, I hope that Mark is benefiting from telepathic communication with his father, who backs him up spiritually in all of Mark’s teaching, writing and leadership endeavors. My prayer for Christian is that his mother’s spirit is helping him shed the burden of hatred and resentment, freeing him to forgive his father for human imperfections, so that Christian can enjoy being with friends and family during his Dad’s final stage of life.
I sense that on Venus, the planet of love, any healing is possible. I want to fully use this opportunity to learn lessons about deepening connections with all I meet, preparing my heart to love ever more openly and freely. I feel grateful for this blessed opportunity to learn from my ancestors.
May this talk and my dream inspire you to value precious human connections in the short time that we have on Earth.