Elizabeth Mason: Thanksgivikuh

Our Hebrew calendar found us segueing from Thanksgiving to Hanukkah within a matter of days this year. As such, the gestalt of Thanksgiving evoked a background for gratitude, light and dedication of the soul.

Within the microcosm of the Mason family, there emerged a small-scale miracle around this period of time, its presence not dissimilar in substance to that of the Maccabees all those many years ago. On the Saturday before the 24th of November, the ignition device in my oven gave up the ghost. In the machinations of my musings, a plaintive query arose: “what am I going to do?!” I had committed to making several dozen muffins for CBB’s monthly contribution to nourishing our local homeless population. As such, I needed my oven and appliance repair services in the Santa Barbara area are scant. It has been my customary experience in the past, that all of these services tend to book their appointments well in advance of the desired date and the window of opportunity for me, was narrow.

Early on Monday the 26th, I contacted a store and left a voice message on their machine. Certain that personnel would be receptive to calls upon opening, I was dismayed at the impending delay. To my relief, I received a return call a half an hour later and just prior to noon, my oven was fixed! Another nerve-wracking concern however, thrust me into mild paralysis. I had never made muffins in bulk and was now faced with the dilemma of how to navigate the appropriate measurements. It was too late to consult with Doug Weinstein for a tutorial, so I simply crossed my fingers and forged ahead. The recipe called for eleven eggs, but I had to approximate the rest of the ingredients. Wednesday morning found me tenuously removing the first batch from the oven. I paused, took a bite and sighed with relief. The muffins were moist and flavorful, another small “miracle”.

With this task behind me, I found myself reminiscing upon 66 years, a lifetime of memories. Two “miracles” during these years, impacted my life enormously. The first involved my marriage to Joe and the second was comprised of  uncanny circumstances which had  culminated in the advent of our baby. All my previous dreams, aspirations and fulfilled goals, though significant, paled in comparison to these two manifestations of my soul’s deepest desires.

By my mid-thirties no prospects of a soul mate had crossed my path, and I imagined myself as one approaching her “expiration date.” Six years before, I had left Santa Barbara to pursue graduate studies in what I considered to be a questionable area of California. The locale was situated several hours North West of Santa Barbara, a city I would have never normally have considered for the next leg of my life’s journey. But peculiar circumstances in the past three years had directed me to this large and unattractive city and its university. A seer from my religious community had also egged me on in this endeavor.

Time elapsed and I had completed my academic goals. One Sunday in May of 1987, I found myself perusing some books in the foyer of the religious community to which I belonged. In a dissociative state of mind, I inadvertently filed in the recesses of my brain the presence of a young man. Retrospectively, this person reminded me that he had been standing about three feet to my right. Four months later while attempting a call to a close friend, she briefly relayed to me that she had been speaking with someone on the other line and that she would return my call shortly. Before returning to the initial caller, she paused briefly and hinted in a curious manner that I would be surprised about who she was speaking with, but would fill me in when she had the chance to explain.

The call turned out to be with a gentleman who had been inquiring about me. He lived several miles North of where I was currently residing and was affiliated with a religious group similar to mine. He had noticed me while visiting our group the previous May. Within a day, we were talking on the phone. Five months later, we were married. Our “miracle” commenced when we both left Southern California to take up residence far away from our cities of origin, but had nonetheless “found” each other during a three hour window of time. We were the same age, had never been married and had waited patiently for the “right one.” That was thirty-four years ago.

As I approached forty another situation haunted me; infertility and scant resources with which to pursue the options necessary to become parents. Many sources considered us an “older” couple, and as such, from the vantage point of social services, we were not perceived as ideal prospects for adoption. In the circumstances leading up to my “second miracle,” once again intuition set the stage.

A few years prior and in anticipation of our move back to Santa Barbara, I began to envision working with clients who were severely marginalized. Although I had previously counseled populations who were compromised financially and often with culturally-divergent worldviews, I had never imagined myself working with the homeless or severely drug-addicted populations. Quite frankly, the thought of doing this felt intimidating to me and clearly out of my comfort zone. Nonetheless, once back in Santa Barbara, that is precisely what I did!

I ended up as a case manager at a local shelter working with women who were either chemically addicted or what is referred to as “dually-diagnosed”. During the previous year, the men’s counterpart of the shelter had accepted a young African-American man who had recently completed the program and returned home. Not really so unusual in and of itself. Several local men of ethnic diversity had attended this program. What differed however, is that this young man had resided in Chicago and had been directed  to our program from a church there. From a ghetto environment, he somehow managed to travel the 3,000 miles to our facility in Santa Barbara.

Meanwhile, his cousin Inez was herself struggling with addiction and was pregnant as well. Impressed with the success of their young man, her extended family were eager to give Inez the same opportunity that he himself had been blessed with. They pooled their resources and sent her West to recover. Her intention, as well, was to find a home for her baby. She was already the single mother of two, and felt incapable of caring for a third. As case manager, I thought I had the ethical obligation to assist her in finding an African-American family who would be willing to adopt her baby. Inez had not been raised among caucasian people, so it was assumed that she would choose a black family to provide a home for her child. Instead, she expressed to me that she was open to giving  up her baby to any loving family who would be amenable to raising her. She had met me, and eventually Joe, and knew that we were unable to have biological children. It was in this way that Inez determined that Joe and I should have her baby.

On August 18, 1993, Janina Marybeth Mason was born. Upon her birth, she not only inherited caucasian parents, but cousins of mixed ethnicity as well. She fit right in. I was the first to hold my long-awaited, longed for little girl. Joe, Inez and myself agreed to an open adoption: three people hoping and praying for a meaningful life for this baby. Another miracle? A compassionate adoption attorney, charging us but a fraction of the cost that most people pay during the adoption process.

Elizabeth Araluce Mason is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, a social advocate for the marginalized populations who reside in Santa Barbara and an author of several published poems and articles pertaining to social issues, both local and nation-wide. She is the wife of Joe and mother of Janina, who reside in Goleta and Santa Barbara, respectively.