Time As A Point Of Reference

C3482B64-09B3-4437-ADE0-89DDA7D214FAToday I took a walk on the beach outside my home. The tide was just beginning to come in so I walked in the wet part of the sands and made footprints going in different directions. I was a child creating a map of confusion as some of my prints pointed that way and others pointed this way. Some toward the sea, others toward the land, and some even toward the sky. When I reached the end of my morning sojourn, I turned around and headed back, retracing my steps.

I was thinking about the early explorers and how they were able to navigate uncharted seas when the stars in the sky no longer matched the stars with which they were familiar. When the big dipper and the North star were no longer points of reference, what did they use as a guide? Was it courage which fueled their quest? Did they not fear falling off the end of the world? They could always turn around and retrace their steps the way I was doing, I reckoned.

I no sooner had this thought when an unannounced wave came upon me. I was caught off guard. I was surprised. I froze, not from the temperature of the water for it was warm, but from its suddenness. In that moment, a second maybe three, maybe more, I do not know. Time stopped. All movement stopped. The constant roar of the sea stopped. There was silence. I stood there in the footprints of my unmoving feet and saw the trail they had made only minutes before covered by the sea. I did not have to look behind me. I knew those footprints were covered also. Without past or future where was I. Without the familiar, without the known, and unable to retrace my steps, where was I? I was in the present moment, locked in place for however long that moment lasted. Then the sea moved again. I could feel the sand slipping from beneath my feet and took a step forward.

Maybe in times such as this all one can do is take that first step again and again. Whenever it is needed. We make each moment the present moment without holding on to any points of reference. No breadcrumb trails, no familiar stars or footprints in the sand to guide us back home. No past, no future, no time, just now.

I don’t know how things happen or why but I have come to trust that things happen for a reason, although often it takes a while for that reason to be known. When I returned to my cabin and changed into some dry clothing, I picked up my battery operated cassette radio to see what time it was. I am not a big fan of clocks so this is the only clock I have other than the time on my computer. It has managed to keep perfect time for over twenty years. Today the liquid crystal display had some of its display missing so that an eight looked like a six in the last digit of the minutes. No problem. I can live with that. A few hours later the entire display was gone. I replaced the batteries but there was no change. Time had stopped again. At least as recorded by this clock.

In truth it did not matter. I have no place to be and no particular time to be there of I did. Checking the time was more a habit than a necessity. I do wonder if the two experiences of time are related and if the sea and the dead clock were trying to remind me that this moment, right now, is all I have?

On Being A Witness

vcxa8286It was November 30, 2014 and I was making a final survey of my luggage and cottage to see if there was one more thing I had to pack before leaving Savusavu, Fiji. I was leaving so much behind. Being here for almost four years and having to leave every four months for immigration requirements enabled me to add to the fifty pounds of stuff I had brought with me on my initial trip. The fact that I was leaving this paradise was also do to the cost of having to leave every four months. Paradise had become too expensive to keep leaving due to my not having the $150 thousand USD to invest in property. The cost of living in Fiji was low but you had to have money to acquire residency there.

Everything was ready. I still had internet service until midnight and a few hours before I had to leave for the first leg of my journey so I switched on my iPad to check the news and download a book or two to read on the flight. It was somewhere during that internet stream that I read one of my favorite poets, Mark Strand, had died earlier that morning. He actually passed on the 29th of November, a Saturday, but Fiji is a day ahead of the rest of the world, so it was Sunday here.

I quickly went to my bookshelf to search for my copy of his first book of poems, Sleeping With One Eye Open, but remembered I had given it to a friend who was starting a bed and breakfast and asked me if I had any poetry books she could have for her guests to read. Because I was leaving for Fiji at the time, I donated most all of my poetry books to her new endeavor. I knew she would give them a good home and books are too heavy to travel with, especially by air. How many times have I repeated this ritual of giving my books away? I remembered Strand had recently published a new Collected Poems volume and found it in the iTunes bookstore.

During the download, I saw the book was originally published in 1964, but it was the mid-nineties before I came across it. During the sixties just about all of my poetry reading was restricted to Black poets: Toni Cade Bambara (March 25, 1939-December 9, 1995) Nikki Giovanni (June 7, 1943-), Amiri Baraka (October 7, 1934–January 9, 2014), my Debutant Ball date, Ntozake Shange (October 18, 1948-October 27, 2018)), et al. For me they were the poet witnesses of the Black struggle and experience in America during this time. Their poetry was akin to the gospels I heard in church as a young boy. It both pulled my heart strings and identified the deep anger inside my soul. I travelled to Newark on many occasions to hear Amiri sing his words. While a senior at Rutgers University, I took classes with Nikki and Toni who were both instructors at Livingston College where I was a dorm advisor.

I had many long conversations with Niki about what it meant to be a Black poet. Can I write poetry without it being Black? I had tried my hand at writing but had not found my own voice. She encouraged me to be patient. “Your voice will come,” she said, “and when it does, it will not necessarily have a color. It will just be yours to use as a witness for your experience.”

Thirty years later, the poets who lead me on the path to finding my own voice as a witness to the everyday were Mark Strand, Mary Oliver, Rumi, Rilke, et al. The times had changed. I was beginning to find my own voice as a poet, not necessarily of the Black experience, but of my life experience.

On the flight from Nadi to Los Angeles, I set back, opened my iPad and started to read. Perhaps it was just the order of events but after reading the preface and introduction, the first poem was also the first poem I had ever read by Mark. It was When The Vacation Is Over For Good. A fitting memorial to the life of a witness poet.

I read and reread Mark’s poetic accounts of witnessing life for the next ten hours until the lights came on and the cabin crew was preparing to serve breakfast. I cried, I laugh out loud, I reminisced, and made a promise to myself to be the best witness to life I can be, and to share that experience with the world in prose, poetry, and conversations. That is after all, why I Am Here!

My Dinner With Kamal

C3482B64-09B3-4437-ADE0-89DDA7D214FAMost of the people in Fiji live below what we call the poverty level in the States but they are the happiest people I know. Life just flows here without political or social distractions. My friend Kamal is a big hearted Indian/Fijian who drives a taxi to support himself, his wife and two children. He befriended me shortly after my arrival and invited me to dinner at his home.

Their home is made from the metal sheets used on the roof of my cabin, pieced together room by room. Kamal built most of it himself as money allowed. One of his brothers lives next door, his wife’s cousin next to him…you get the idea. Family is very important to the Fijians. (Everyone is astonished by my being here alone without a wife or family.) His home is very simply constructed on the hillside above Savusavu with a million dollar view of the bay. Here people think he has money but he does not. He works hard and does what he can to make ends meet. Their furniture reminded me of the furniture we had in our home during my youth. It was as if I had walked back into my childhood. Doilies on the arms and backs of the chairs just like we had on our furniture, vintage 1950. This evening we all sat on the floor as is the custom.

Kamal sat on the kitchen floor and I watched as he cut up the veggies and a chicken. He apologized for not having a live chicken and asked if the store brought chicken was okay. You can only get whole chickens in Fiji, not packaged parts as in the states. (It has been a while since I’ve cut up a whole chicken, so I will research the internet for instructions when I travel into town next week.) He asked if I mind the skin with the chicken as he knew some Americans did mind. I told him it was not a problem. His wife Nirleshni ground the spices and curry in a container and checked with me to see if the spices were too hot.

They shared the cooking on an open fire inside the kitchen. Most of the smoke goes outside thru the slatted wall behind the fire but not all as the ceiling was black from smoke. “Sometimes the wind blows the wrong way,” Kamal said somewhat apologetically pointing toward the ceiling. They used a long wooden tube to blow air into the fire to make it hot. I was reminded of the old bellows used by blacksmiths to fan their flames. They have a propane stovetop like the one in my cabin but the gas is expensive so they only use it occasionally. “Besides,” Kamal says, “the foods taste better when cooked on an open fire.” He was a chef at one point of his life. He speaks Hindi, Fijian, English and some Chinese which he learned while working ten years for a Chinese family.

His cousin and her uncle joined us. The food was placed on communal plates and we all shared the meal. I had purchased some beer and a bottle of gin for Kamal. His uncle poured all the men beer and they drank while I slowly sipped mine. Then I realized they would not pour themselves any more beer until I had finished. I was an honored guess. So I quickly finished my beer and the ritual began. As a guest I could not pour my own beer. Someone always poured it for me soon as my glass emptied. When I brought the beer, I asked for a twelve pack. I did not know a pack here is twelve quart bottles. The four of us finished them drinking from six ounce glasses. I was peeing all night. Because Kamal is a taxi driver and could lose his permit if he drinks and drives, he had arranged for another taxi driver to pick me up at his house and take me to my home. Good thing he told the driver where to drop me off because this was the first time I had returned to my home at night and there are no street lights here in the outskirts of Savusavu. The night was pitch black.

Kamal and his family are Hindu by culture and religion but he allows himself and his family to eat chicken and fish on special occasions. He wants his family to be “modern, with the times.”

So tonight we had fried fish, chicken curry w/veggies, roti bread (similar to tortillas), taro root (tastes like a mild sweet potato but has more vitamins) and another curry dish along with other assorted items whose names I don’t remember. The food was excellent and the company was grand.

Generally Indian women are not permitted to sit with the men but Kamal allowed his wife to sit with us because of my visit. She sat outside the circle of men. Fiji still has a very male centered culture. Whenever Nirleshni addressed me, she spoke first to Kamal in Hindi and he would interpret her query to me, but she understood my reply without translation. English is spoken or understood by almost everyone here because it was a British territory until the 70’s but the Hindu culture does not permit a married woman to speak directly to another man who is not a relative or family member.

Kamal has a brother in the States who told him you can walk for miles and never get your feet dirty because the walking paths are concrete. “Is that true?” he asks. They see America as the land of rich white people and think all Americans are wealthy. I told them, “I am not rich,” but by the economic standards here, perhaps  I am. They can’t believe the government supports me. (I am retired).  Kamal is depending upon his family members to support him when he can no longer drive a taxi and support them. He had a broken arm which has mended but was never placed in a cast and it causes him great pain. That is why he drives a taxi now instead of a bus which apparently paid more.

Kamal has a goat tied up in the yard eating the weeds and getting fat. They want to slaughter it in my honor at a special Hindu celebration in October, called Diwali or Festival Of Lights. That a family I have only known for a few days wants to honor me in such a manner is priceless and beyond any words I have.

This is Fiji, natural, untamed, and unpretentious in every way.

Hope — A Parable

vcxa8286The pumpkin vine slowly crept upwards into the papaya tree. It was unsure if the papaya would accept her but she went anyway. Slowly climbing higher and higher above the safety of the familiar earth the vine put out a flower, a bright yellow one as an offering to the papaya. Then as its courage increased, the pumpkin flower gave birth to a small fruit.

At first the papaya laughed at the small pumpkin. She was green just like them but as she grew larger and rounder, they could tell she was different. She grew alone, not like the papaya who always grew together in bunches. They were neighborly to the pumpkin but she knew the papaya talked about her behind her back. She didn’t care. Her hope had been fulfilled. She had borne fruit and was free, hanging like a cloud high above the ground.

Hope is a state of consciousness. I think of hope as the perpetual energy inborn in every life form so that it might achieve its entelechy, its end result. Hope is about fulfillment. This is why hope is always in the future. It is not a present consciousness state.

In ancient Greek mythology, Hope remained at the bottom of Pandora’s box after evils flew out into the world. She was humankind’s final salvation from himself.

289b0-img_2536 Pumpkin In Papaya Tree, Fiji 2013

In most of the world’s religions, hope is an essential concept in the promise of an eternal life or afterlife. The exchange of good karma today for a better future tomorrow, but tomorrow is not a defined time frame. It could be this lifetime or another lifetime. Hope is always about a future desire.

On a purely biological stand our hope is simply the perpetuation of our species. The vine gives way to the flower, the flower grows the pumpkin, and the pumpkin produces the seeds to start the process all over again. Which came first? The pumpkin or the seed is a discussion for another day.

Personally, I don’t spend a lot of time in hope. Hope may enable a person to endure the longings of whatever it is they hope to change but it has no influence on the outcome. That would be faith which is different from hope. Hope details a desired outcome. A wish based upon a desire. It removes our focus from what is in front of us, from the present moment, into what might be a future possible outcome.

Returning to the parable of the pumpkin, our hope is fulfilled once the life cycle is completed. As I age, I have very little use for hope. I have faith and experience. At some point in time I will cease to exist but I have a great deal of hope for life and this planet and a much better 2019 for everyone.

Happy New Year!

Resurrection – Life UnMasked

C3482B64-09B3-4437-ADE0-89DDA7D214FAThe moment I let go of whatever it was I held onto, the life flow took over and is preparing me for the journey ahead. I feel a shedding of skins, of all the masks I have worn in my life. Some friends have already noticed the change.

In the market a few days ago, a young man called out, “Hey, does the library have a copy of … yet?” and he was looking straight at me. I recognized him as a patron from the library but did not know him personally.

“You have to check on line. I retired six months ago,” I responded.

“Okay, thanks.”

In my mind the mask of the librarian with instantaneous answers died six months ago, but to this young man I was still the same person. That is one of the conundrums with masks. It is not only the mask you create for yourself but also the mask  others see you wearing. No matter how old I get, my mother still sees me as her baby. It is a mask I no longer wear but one she still sees on me.

So now I am off to a new adventure, a place where my former masks are not known. They have no value to me nor to anyone else. No one there cares who I once was, what positions I held, what certificates and degrees hang on my wall. I have the opportunity to be the true me I am. I am excited to see whom that person will be. I don’t know that I will be any different from who I am now but to everyone else I will be seen with new eyes for the first time. This is a powerful experience — First Contact. In this new world of palm trees, ocean, heat and mosquitoes, a metamorphosis is underway. Who I was will no longer matter. The transformation has begun and I’m not even there yet.  It is all happening right Now!

In my new life if someone asks, “Are you…? From…?” My reply will be, “I’m sorry you must have me confused with some else, I am no longer that person you seek.”

But, I will always be my mother’s baby.

When Paradise Is No Longer Affordable

C3482B64-09B3-4437-ADE0-89DDA7D214FAWhat does one do when the home you love is no longer affordable or when you realize your time in paradise is running out?

* Get a job so you can afford to live in “Paradise?”

* Max out your credit cards to extend “Paradise” a bit longer?

* Search for a new “Paradise?”

On my return home from one of the required every four months exit of the island, the Immigration Officer said, “You know, you can’t do this forever.”

I knew exactly what he was talking about but I pretended to be uninformed. “What is that, sir?” I answered in a non apologetic voice. My passport pages were filled with entry and exit stamps from Fiji. I had lived on the island now for over three years using only my Tourist Visa.

“You can’t stay here forever on a Tourist Visa. You need to find another way to be here if you plan on staying any longer.” He stamped my passport and handed it back to me.

“Thank you sir.” I took my passport and continued to the luggage trolly. I thought it was somewhat ironic that whenever I reenter the Unites States, the Immigration Officer almost always says, “Welcome home!” In Fiji, a place I consider home, I am told the day will come when I will no longer be permitted entry into the country on a Tourist Visa. I did’t tell him that my application for residency had been rejected because I had not invested at least two hundred thousand Fijian dollars into the economy through the purchase of land, housing, or as a business investment, nor did I have fifty thousand dollars in a US bank to qualify for residency. My income from my pension and Social Security otherwise qualified me under their guidelines.

It was not an official warning. Those, I understand, are sent by post to inform the recipient that he/she has thirty days to leave the country and must remain out for at least one year. I glanced back to the Immigration Officer as he typed something into the computer before calling for the next traveler.

Everything is a sign for something I suppose. Maybe this was my sign to start creating another home or to figure out how to stay in this one. I had managed to pay for my required exists in advance up until now, but my meager savings have run out. It is expensive having to leave the country three times a year. A two month extension is available but it can only be utilized for emergency reasons and not merely to extend my Tourist Visa. No matter where you go from an island, it costs money, and having to leave three times per year amounted to one third of my income.

So how do I stay here? Or is it time to leave? I didn’t actually come here with a plan or time frame, but there is so much I love about Fiji. The sounds of the ocean, the millions of stars in the unpolluted skies, plucking a ripe papaya from a tree in the front yard, and quenching my thirst after working in the garden with the sweet juice from a coconut. It is a simple life I live here, but the required exits have made it unaffordable.

I could marry a local and gain residence, but that option is not one I would consider. I am still an old romantic, so being in love would have to be a huge part of any decision to marry. I could extend my time using my credit cards, but that option would always keep me in debt. I thought I had the issue resolved a few months ago when Jeanette offered me a work permit, but it fell through. “Too much government paperwork,” she said. Besides, I didn’t come to Fiji to work. I came here to live my life the way I dream of my life.

Or, I can take Thoreau’s position, “that I have several more lives to live, and cannot spare any more time to this one.” I thought, for whatever reason, my major life changes and moves were over, but it seems I still have more castles to build in the sky somewhere if not here.

Letting Go

C3482B64-09B3-4437-ADE0-89DDA7D214FAI am taking the words of my meditation on my sixty-third birthday to the letter.

“Be sure not to leave anything behind which will cause you to have to come back.”

I am not leaving anything in storage this time. I am leaving the friends who have become my family, the family of my blood and offspring, and the material things whose only value is what price someone is willing to pay. I am leaving a city that some call “The Happiest Place on Earth,” but that too is relative to where you are standing. A city I have left trice before and returned to as often. I am leaving a life which is no longer mine. This time, I believe I won’t be coming back here to live.

My soul is floating over the Fiji Islands exploring our new home and sometimes gently swaying in the hammock that this physical body is left to purchase along with all the other requirements of a new adventure. The packing of a lifetime into 50 pounds. What is sold, what is given away, and what is tossed aside is determined by need or importance. A shedding of skins, a chrysalis! Although my body is paying the physical price of moving with aching muscles and weary bones, the weight and burden of stuff is being relieved.

It is funny, how my choices are made. The rock of a man’s face, I found on the beach after a storm will go to the friend who was with me that day but also because of its weight. Yet my favorite cast iron skillet will be safely packed. I find my decisions are based on the usefulness of an item more than an emotional attachment. That, however, is not always a reliable indicator. An afghan my mother knitted me as a fortieth birthday present will have no practical use in Fiji but will make the journey wrapped around the skillet, insuring the safe arrival of each. My books, my books. They always suffer the most when I travel because of their weight and this time is no exception. Fifteen books. I made a numerical limitation as an emotional one would have had me over the weight limit for air baggage. They will be shipped along with a few other favorite useful items from this world.

I have the collected memories, photographs, postcards, etc., of travels, people, and experiences of my life. Yearbooks, diplomas, certificates. These have no real value and are yet priceless in many ways. These keepsakes are stored in what I call my Rainy Day box. In the past if I needed a little boost, an emotional pick me up, I would get down my Rainy Day box and randomly pick a letter to tell me I am loved, a photograph to remember a person, place or time, some words to inspire. There were times during this life when I took my Rainy Day box down often. Now, I no longer need the physical evidence of my past to travel with me and I have arranged for these keepsakes to remain here to be available for family and friends to reflect upon if they desire. I am making new memories now. They will only be retained until they are forgotten and no longer keepsakes in storage for a rainy day. My boost is waking up each morning, my inspiration is life, and my memories will no longer take me to where it is I want to be.

Although the selection of what will go and what will not is sometimes taxing, I am very aware I don’t want to take too much of this world along. I don’t want my friends to send care packages of American goods because the parts of life I want will make the journey with me. I am already a part of the islands. I will make do with and eat the fruits of availability rather than of habit and of consciousness rather than accumulation.

I am counting down the days to the landing in my new world when this body will join its soul for another great adventure in being alive. I so love this life I live.