Extending the Family

“If you were Filipino, I’d call you Kuya sometimes. Lol.” February 5, 2008

And that was where it all started, really. Nate was, in my mind, so closely associated with the YFL that I was calling him Kuya in my head.

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That’s how it always begins with the non-Pinoy kuyas. My subconscious registers the kuya in a person before I’m able to articulate it to myself. Sometimes it takes me a while, as if I’m almost afraid of it.

Not entirely without reason, I think. I don’t think Nate would mind me sharing now that prior to our intense conversations that sometimes ended very grumpily – to put it mildly – on both sides, I had never been challenged to defend my faith as Nate was forcing me to do in those mid-teenage years.

Opposition can be such a blessing; it can force us to examine and reexamine our stance, to ask ourselves why and if we really do believe what we claim to believe, to consider our stance from standpoints that would never occur to us or to those who already agree completely with us, to constantly reevaluate and reinternalize and recommit to what we believe. Opposition was Nate’s gift to me. It prepared me for the opposition that would inevitably present itself because I would be attending a secular college. It prepared me to recognize and be grateful for the blessing that going to a secular college – as opposed to a Catholic one – has been for my faith growth. It nurtured my desire to know my faith better and forced me to ardently seek answers sooner than I might have otherwise.

I recognized Nate as a Kuya smack dab in the middle of all the opposition, and it’s not because I didn’t get hurt – I did sometimes – but I knew that no matter what transpired, it was never Nate’s intention to bring me down. We might have gotten a bit nasty with each other, but I firmly believed that he genuinely cared about me as a person, even if we didn’t particularly like each other in a given moment. Nate and I have been through a lot. It’s been… almost nine years. To date, he’s the only Kuya with whom I talk on the phone. Granted our phone conversations are few and far between, but it’s not for lack of trying; we’ve been playing phone tag since October. It will end eventually, and then start all over again, after a highly-overdue hour or two of catch-up. That’s how we roll.

In my second college term, Josh found me. We had some math class together, and I, being strange and breaking out of my shyness at the weirdest times, stopped him one day in the hallway to give my take on a question he’d asked in class. Shortly after that brief conversation, he came over before class and asked if I was in the Honors program. I guess ‘Aurora’ isn’t considered a very common name around here…

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Honors was what really kept us together after that math class. We had Honors classes together and were part of that generation of Honors students that really made a crazy huge effort to make our Honors… closet… a comfortable and enjoyable place to be. We were in Dr. Craig’s Honors Psych – was it II or III? – when I collapsed for the second time, and it was Josh that knew me best in that class and that went out of his way to try and get me through the pain. My medical records say that I lost consciousness at some point. At any rate, I don’t remember getting anywhere properly, but Josh has consequently been kept up-to-date these past three years regarding all that fun stuff.

When we transferred over to UC, Josh was my preferred go-to, my little piece of familiarity and comfort on the main campus. I’d keep notes on his break schedule and haunt the UC Honors room hoping to run into him and have some intelligent and unreserved conversation. Josh was the one who told me about the furniture-making classes and showed me the woodshop at VPC. The opportunity to take one of those classes was a dream come true for me =) Josh’s opposition was different from Nate’s, in that we’re so close faith-wise… and it’s on finer points that we differ. At one potluck, Josh stuck around ’til the wee hours of the morning debating with Michael… I think on the Biblical basis of the papacy. But that was a much smaller aspect of our friendship than it was for me and Nate; it was really Honors, the experience, the classmates, the commiseration over teachers and whatnot, just CState in general, that solidified our friendship.

There were people at CState that I’d met before Josh that I’ve been fortunate to keep as friends, but I think Josh was the first that I really recognized as one and expected to be able to keep beyond CState and beyond college. He has always been very protective, and took the whole Kuya thing super seriously. He had the funniest comments once I made it past 21; apparently it just wasn’t “right” that Aurora was old enough to be purchasing and consuming alcohol legally in the US. And here we are, with Josh now married and states away, and still the occasional text about throwing-star magnets on a friend’s refrigerator. Josh’s wedding was the first college-friend wedding that I’ve been to. I love Emily =) They just make me happy.

I’ve probably blogged before about how Stevo was plain intimidating, and how I just hated Brad when we met. Ok, hate is a strong word, but it took a huge change in work circumstances to get me to buckle down and make a point of getting along with Brad. Definitely one of my best life decisions. But let’s back up a bit…

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Stevo’s always been interesting. He’s protective of me… to a point. Other people aren’t allowed to hurt or corrupt me; he’s made that brotherly offer to take out some people that bother[ed] me. And if I were to cave and do something incredibly immoral, sure, aside from forfeiting my self-respect, I’d also lose his respect and I do believe he’d be properly disgusted and horrified. But… if I were to one day suddenly accept the cigarette that he still offers me every time we step out for a sidebar, he’d have a good laugh about it and light it for me. And because of that interesting double standard, I think that Steve’s ‘gift’ to me has been the many ‘smaller’ opportunities to practice integrity in the face of someone whose respect and acknowledgment matter to me, precisely because I would lose neither. I’m not perfect of course – sure, I’ve lost control and lashed out and spoken uncharitably of people, and Stevo has consequently been very amused, especially when I’ve actually gone as far as bashing… either because I was a pretty immature 19-year-old or they actually … well – but I still haven’t taken that cigarette. Never have, never will. Still, he’ll try.

And then Bradley. If I remember correctly, I asked Steve and Brad if I could call them both Kuya at the same time, when we were – hey! – out for a sidebar one day.

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I’ve kept a text that reads, “… continue to be true to yourself I love you and everyone should because you are without compromise to what you believe.” I had to point out that this was in no small part due to his positive influence while we were schooling and working together, to which he replied, “Well you did need a bit of refining. You were a good person to start you just needed guidance in this horrible world we exist in…” Bradley has been, for me, the most protective of my Kuyas, even more so that Josh, which is saying much. I find my vocabulary lacking in my attempt to justice to Brad’s efforts to protect and appropriately shelter me; ‘censor’ seems far from adequate. Perhaps it is because of this – that it is one thing to defend a friend against a common enemy, and it is another to protect someone from one’s own self. Hmm… Like Frodo asking Aragorn, “Can you protect me from yourself?” Haha, no, not quite that… grave… But, seriously.

Brad went out of his way to make his influence on me a positive one. He was successful.

If it hadn’t been for Bradley – for his patience, tolerance, kindness, kitchen tips, humor, but especially for his attitude with which he pushed me to do better even though I didn’t appreciate it at all at first – Daveed’s would have been considerably more of a trial, and I highly doubt that Jared and I would be anywhere near as friendly – and sometimes even, I would daresay, familiar – with each other as we are now. And then of course it follows that if I hadn’t learned what I’d learned from Jared at Daveed’s, I wouldn’t have had the capability to put on a kitchen performance that would please Scott so well, and I wouldn’t have been on Jason’s ask-to-come-work-with-him-again list, and I might not have been invited to come back to Pond Hill, and then I would definitely not have this job to look forward to after graduating…. !!!!!!!!

In short, I owe Bradley much and continue to do so. He has often been much kinder to me than I have been to myself.

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Culinary school blessed me with a lot of Kuyas… the next four were Nick, Bobby [G.], Miguel, and the other Bobby [W.]. By all four of these gentlemen, I have simply been spoiled. Mind you, they didn’t sugar-coat things; they also challenge me as Nate does, are as honest and down-to-earth with me as Josh is, find me as amusing as Stevo does, and push me in the same manner as Bradley. But mostly, while we were all in culinary school together, they took me for their little sister and spoiled me silly with hugs and smiles and sweets and a ton of nicknames. They still do, via text and sometimes when we’re able to get together forrealz. The best kinds of hugs are the ones you can lose yourself in – literally, especially if you’re tiny, like me – and feel so incredibly safe and respected and cherished. Maybe another way to put it would be, hugs that make me feel like I’m five and on top of the world in my joyful and innocent five-ness. It wouldn’t be fair to try and rank Kuya hugs because they’re all crazy awesome, but I have to say that Bobby [W]. and Brad’s hugs respectively tie for first place. There’s nothing like a hug to make a sister feel cherished. More recently, Paco and Migi have started being OK with me randomly hugging them in the middle of the sala or kitchen, and of course Nino’s hugs, when he’s not too busy to give them, are the best. I know that Nick, Miguel, and both Bobbys probably have my posts blocked on facebook… but to me they’ve just been excellent examples of how much you can disagree with a body and still successfully make that person feel loved to death.

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St. Max brought Marv next. Paco knew him better first, and I think I was more inclined to get to know him when I found out that he and Bradley had known each other in high school.

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I was thrilled to have a Young Adult group. I’d been attending Theology on Tap since starting college, and then I started sitting in on Paco’s Why Catholic? sessions. It was perfectly wonderful finally having a group with people my own age, and older, which was what I was used to being in my field anyway. Honestly, much as I loved the homeschoolers, it felt a little too much like babysitting when I happened to be the only college kid in attendance. We – the St. Max group – did everything with the Young Adult group at St. John’s even then; that was before we officially melded into YACHT. Now I had friends to invite to Theology on Tap, and for a while, it was me and Alan and Lizzie that did those sorts of things together.

I can’t remember now when I adopted Marv as a kuya, but I know that our most insightful conversations about courtship and dating and relationships in general happened the season that the young adults were taking a weekly walk through all the parks we could find, and the kuya must have come out in that time period. Between sloshing through mud puddles and deer following us and deliberately ignoring construction signs and square dancing on paths, we had some pretty crazy awesome adventures, and some of the best laughs ever.

We’ve had our disagreements since, and they’ve been that much more frustrating, because we ought to be on the same page about a good many things – but we’re not. Here was opposition of the same vein as Josh’s, but so much closer to home, and that much more difficult to contend with. We’ll never agree on a number of things and we’ll go on living our flavors of Catholicism as best we know how, but in spite of all that, I can say that Marv’s gift to me has been the laughs. I remember the day he said to me, “Thanks for the laughs,” and I stopped and was amazed and so grateful that there was someone else in the world that said those exact words, for which I have been looked funnily at by one person too many, as if laughs weren’t anything to be grateful for. When we get into debates and I start to go a little crazy, I recall that Marv’s been able to make me smile and laugh at times when it seemed that nothing could.

Okay, a little timeline re-cap is necessary here. I’ve said a lot in this post and maybe haven’t done too great of a job of highlighting the really connecting stuffs, so. Atheist kuya –> Christian-but-definitely-not-Catholic kuya –> raised-Catholic-but-not-practicing + raised-Catholic-and-identifies-standards-for-good-as-Catholic-but-not-practicing kuyas –> four equally just-cool-with-Aurora-the-way-she-is-in-spite-of-fundamental-differences kuyas –> practicing-Catholic-but-still-not-quite-eye-to-eye kuya –> Marty.

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Marty. For weeks, Mother was saying we were going to adopt him, but would forget to tell him at Mass. Then, I was over at the house on his birthday, and he told Erin that he thought of my ‘rents as his adopted parents. “What did you say?!?!” I cried. “Do you know what Mother’s been saying for the past month?!?!”

I don’t know that I can do it justice, but Marty fits. He’s my only Kuya who calls me Ate – which, technically I am that to him age-wise – but it also marks a different sort of reciprocation from those of my other kuyas. It’s not a negative reflection on my other kuyas; I’m perfectly content to be almost strictly the little sister, and my maternal/big sister instinct doesn’t come out on a very regular basis except for with Stevo, who will never acknowledge it. With Marty, I feel both the little sis and big sis, grateful to be led and helped and molded, eager to share and encourage and maybe sometimes spoil.

Sure, we have our differences, too, but of all my kuyas, he’s closest to where I want to be walking. I’m always conscious of how much everything we do together is centered on our joy in Christ – whether it’s praying the Liturgy of the Hours, rosary vigils, daily Mass, Adoration, sharing a meal, watching The Office, dancing, drinking, reading, talking – everything. In everything, I know we’re united in Christ. … I should probably mention that he’s practically become my daily Mass accountability partner. “Ate. It’s your immortal soul.” He’s right, of course.

I think that it must be like this for Paco and Migi and Yena to be so close, because of their ages. Since Marty’s closer to me in age than my blood brothers, we talk about things relative to more-or-less quarter-life. It’s so interesting and so humbling to hear insights and reflections on what he’s going through, where he is with discernment, what he struggles with, what bothers him, what gives him joy, what he hopes and prays for, and all in language steeped in the Faith. It’s difficult to discuss Theology of the Body with someone who doesn’t know what is meant by “the conjugal act”! and I am perpetually grateful that we can speak in those terms, with Catholic terminology and vocabulary.

But the absolute best part is how he has adopted our family. He always greets us after Mass, and I’m told he asked Mother for a hug this past Sunday. He told Erin that Dad and Mom are an example to him of how to raise a Catholic family, and he said that when Dad shook his hand, he just knew. =) When he was over for the potluck, it was absolutely hilarious watching him roughhousing with Nino. Nino looks for Marty at Mass every week. There was a concert on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, and near the end, Nino was getting a little restless and wanted to go say hi to Marty, who was sitting several rows up. When Nino got to him, Marty lifted him up into the air and didn’t mind that Nino consequently wanted to stay with him and hug and play with him until the end of the concert.

I’ve always wanted to share my kuyas with my family, but this is the first time that one of my kuyas has wanted to share my family. It’s presently one of the most beautiful things in my world.

When brother helps brother, theirs is the strength of a fortress; their cause is like a city gate barred, unassailable. Prov 18:19

God is good.

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