Rollo Del Tomebamba II

One of the activities I engage in everyday when possible is a walk along the Tomebamba River near my home in Cuenca, Ecuador. During this walking meditation my mind wonders along with that of the river. I love the sound of water. When the river is high, it blocks out the sounds of the city and my mind transcends to other worlds while my feet remain firmly in contact with the cobblestoned path. This path for a little while becomes a Yellow Brick Road into my own thoughts and life.

d6ad4d51-30a4-4ae6-a93a-f2c61125a3f6Cuenca Parks

Today during my walk I am thinking about all the wonderful parks there are in this city. Except for the bus and car fumes in El Centro, Cuenca is a wonderful city to walk around. There are many city parks scattered about offering a shady spot to rest and relax. Most of the squares or parks are anchored by a church. The larger parks have fountains and all have trees and gardens. Many offer wifi until 10pm, and most important, the parks are safe.

Almost all of the parks have a statue of some war hero or politician. Parque de las Mujeres has a bronze statue of a woman carrying and towing her children along. She seems filled with resolve and fearlessness. If I were to have a statue made of me, I would want it to be similar to the statue of that woman who has no name. She is representative of the human spirit.

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But I do not wish to have a statue made of me. The statues of these heroes and politicians whose names we learned in school become no more than a resting place for pigeons and their poop. A different thinking government might come into power and have the statues of former heroes and politicians destroyed. You can not find a statue or bust of Stalin in Russia, or a statue of Saddām Hussein in Iraq today although they were once the saviors of their respective countries. A different populous might judge the heroes as war criminals or judge their character based upon today’s standards and not the standard of their own time. The statue of a Confederate war hero or general might be defaced and removed, for by today’s standards he is judged to be a racist because he owned slaves, a practice accepted in his own day. Perhaps some day “Mission Accomplished” George Bush will be deemed a war criminal for lies which led a nation to an unnecessary war and all busts and statues of him will be removed. Those weapons of Mass Destruction were never found. I wonder if there is a place where fallen statues go, a statue graveyard. Who knows?

Random thoughts while I walk to The Roll of the Tomebamba.

2343eea8-815d-4ccb-bde0-760d86b09376My favorite resting spot.

 

CrossRoads

vcxa8286I am here and once again find myself at this cross of roads. They appear in my life, I think randomly, but I am not sure. I do not know how many times I have come to this place. This place, where the road I am traveling intersects another road and becomes a crossroads. This place is very real, although you will not locate it on any map. There are no signs, or nearby towns. There are no landmarks to aid you in the identification of where you are or where you are going. Still, I seem to come here often, to this same place. This is where I decide my life and you yours. This is the point in poker where you fold, hold or play.

A crossroads is an invitation. Life is providing you with the opportunity to do whatever it is you dream of doing or becoming. When coming to a crossroads you are confronted with five possible options. If where you are is a place you thrive, grow, live and love your life, you might choose to hang out there for a breather or forever, you do not know, but hopefully, the choice is yours. It is after all, your life. A crossroads may entice you to dream or to question the state of your own contentment. It begs you to get out of a rut, if you are in one, and to challenge yourself to live the adventure of being alive. You don’t have to accept this invitation. You first option is to remain where you are, but you must make that a conscious decision. Remember, crossroads appear for a reason.

“You either shit or get off the pot,” my mother used to say. You can’t stick around this junction for very long without making a decision or your indecision will decide your fate without any advance warning. Indecision will suck you down like quicksand and you will join the others whose indecision became their decision to remain stuck in the purgatory of the crossroads. You will learn to conform and to do as your are told. All choice will eventually be taken away. You will not have to make another decision because none will be offered. You will not see another crossroads for a long time, if ever. It is not a bad life, I suppose. It’s just not the life I have chosen for myself.

Each time I am presented with the same five options. I can go forward, left or right, stay where I am, or not make a conscious decision and remain in the cross road’s purgatory. Turning around and going back in the direction from which I came is an option too, but do not think things will be the same as when you left. You only get to travel each road once and only in one direction, although that direction is not the same for everyone. A simple coin toss cannot resolve the dilemma. Rock, paper, scissors gets too complicated with five possibilities. The roads are empty for as far as the eye can see. Each will only start creating itself with your first step, with your conscious decision to remain in place, or with your indecision. Indecision is what swallows up the masses. The majority freeze when they come to a crossroads.

The key to my personal freedom is the direct alignment of my heart with whatever is directly in front of me. I believe this is the meaning of a heart connection and the phrase “Follow your heart.” When that connection is there, I trust, and take that important first step. The choice of direction is not important because the creation of possibilities starts only with that first step. Until it is taken, only the place you are standing exists. If there is not a heartfelt connection with the taking of that next step, your conscious decision might be to remain in place for a while. Maybe another cross road will appear at some other time, and maybe it won’t. This knowledge must be factored into any decision you make. But make one! Shit! Or get off the pot.

Rollo Del Tomebamba I

One of the activities I engage in everyday when possible is a walk along the Tomebamba River near my home in Cuenca, Ecuador. During this walking meditation my mind wonders along with that of the river. I love the sound of water. When the river is high, it blocks out the sounds of the city and my mind transcends to other worlds while my feet remain firmly in contact with the cobblestoned path. This path for a little while becomes a Yellow Brick Road into my own thoughts and life.

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Tell me what it is you plan to do with (what remains of) your one wild and precious life.”

These words of Mary Oliver’s are echoing in my thoughts this morning. Since retirement, I have not had a plan for my life. I still don’t. I did most of my traveling while I was young enough to do so under my own power either backpacking or bicycling. Traveling now is no longer the joy for me it once was. I have said my goodbyes to those who matter and most of all  I am very content with my life as it unfolds. Each day I do the things I love. I read, I write, I think, I dream and I take walks along the Rio Tomebamba. This is the life I create for myself. There are no decisions to be made other than do I go right or left at the crossroads.

Random thoughts while I walk to The Roll of the Tomebamba.

b596b97a-2d8b-432a-aa58-3c1b599459edCross Roads

 

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.

Happy New Year From Ecuador

B4C0A454-579E-47EC-B306-E76CD25BDF24In Ecuador they celebrate the new year by burning effigies and dressing up with costumes and masks. The most popular costume is young men dressing as old women akin to Mardi Gras and Halloween in the US. The effigies are made from cardboard and paper mâché. They are then dressed in old clothes and placed in doorways and in front of businesses throughout the city.

The effigy dolls or “munecos” all wait patiently to be burned at midnight. Some are as tall as fifteen feet. The celebration is a smaller version of the Burning Man celebration in the United States. I would wager this is where the concept of the burning man came from. The muneocs are sometimes made of political figures or people you do not like but most buy dolls of cartoon characters to burn if they have no enemies. The dolls are filled with sawdust and fire crackers and are burned in the streets at midnight or before once the partying gets started. The term “años viejos” is used to represent the old year. The burning of the munecos is representative of burning the bad and misfortune of the previous year.

Another tradition, I learned rather embarrassingly at the market today. You are to wear yellow underwear if you want prosperity and money to come into your life and red if you want to bring sex and love into your life. So when the young lady at the market asked me “qué color vas vestida?” following a conversation she had with the lady in front of me at which I laughed. I responded in my best broken Spanish, “No uso ropa interior de color.” She started laughing out loud and told the other checkout people what I said. Then they and the customers within earshot all started laughing and pointing to that crazy gringo in the checkout lane. Well, at least I will be remembered now whenever I go to the SuperMaxi market.

It is early in the afternoon and the celebrations have already started.The fireworks are going off. The dogs are going crazy and the music can be heard all across town. I can’t wait for the burning of the munecos to start. I hope I can stay up till  midnight.

“Feliz Años Viejo”

 

 

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!

I Am Not Me Anymore, At Least I’m Not The Same Me I Was

vcxa8286To be full of strength and vigor one moment and virtually helpless the next, in the pink and pride of health one moment and a cripple the next, with all one’s powers and faculties one moment and without them the next – such a change, such suddenness, is difficult to comprehend, and the mind casts about for explanations. —  Oliver Sacks

 

One of the readers of these pages commented recently that I write a good deal about death. Strangely, a few weeks earlier a reader commented that she thought I wrote a lot about love. Everything is a matter of perspective based upon our experiences of the moment. To these readers I responded “I write about what I know about life and two of the strongest elements of my life are love and death.”

It has taken me two years to write about this experience. I do not know why as a day does not pass without my conscious remembrance, but until now, I have not written a single word about an event which completely changed my existence. The three things having the most influence upon my life have been my experiences, travel, and the people I meet along the way. On December 28, 2016, two years ago today, I had a heart attack, and everything in my life was suddenly and forever changed.

A heart attack is a scary, life threatening experience. I did not know if I would survive it. I believe remembering my EMT training and somehow getting a few aspirin into my body before I passed out on the bed saved my life, although I fumbled with the childproof cap for a few moments as my left arm was completely numb with pain. I was surprised when I regained consciousness as I saw death positioning himself to take my soul. The most frightening part was being alone and not having the mental or bodily control to call for help when it happened. I know exactly how my brother felt during his last moments of life when he recently died alone in his home of a heart attack. The police think he was trying to make it to the front door for help as he had his keys in his hand. I was doing everything I could to remain conscious that afternoon trying to get assistance. I had walked a bit farther than normal that day, nothing unusual. I thought I was just dehydrated until I stepped into my room and experienced that tightening in my chest. 

The attack itself was the most pain I had ever experienced. It was as if someone had put a 200 pound belt around my chest and tried to squeeze it into the last hole ten sizes smaller than my body. The pain through my left arm and my jaw was unbearable. I remembered thinking, “I know the symptoms, if it is my time, thank you for this life.” As I fell onto the bed, with my head almost drowning in sweat and waited to die, no position was comfortable and I could not speak to call for help. It was not possible to stand up. My entire body was overheating, bathed in perspiration, and in excruciating pain. I tried to focus my mind on the front door, perhaps I could make it, but I could no longer even move. The moment before I went unconscious from the pain I remember thinking, “I will go, but I am not ready yet.”

This all started around two o’clock in the afternoon. I regained consciousness around eight that evening. It was dark and I was not sure where I was until I was able to discern from the darkness my desk, my bed, my room, little by little coming back to me, or I was coming back to them. I do not know which. The pain was mostly gone. I could move my jaw and speak. The key indicator in knowing I was still alive was I had to pee. “I am still alive.” I said to no one or to anyone who might be listening. I did not expect to experience this life again.

I cannot change myself any more than I can pull myself up by my own bootstraps. Changes to ones self usually happen from outside the self primarily through experiences which the individual hopefully is prepared to handle. How can I change myself when I am asking that which I deem inadequate or in need of change, myself, to do the changing? To correct its own self? It is akin to asking Congress to police itself of its own corruption when corruption is its nature. An individual can only change himself through a lobotomy, death, a life altering, or other worldly experience. I am reminded of the Parable of the Scorpion and the Frog.

A  scorpion asks a frog to carry it across a river. The frog hesitates, afraid of being stung, but the scorpion argues that if it did so, they would both drown. Considering this, the frog agrees, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. When the frog asks the scorpion why, the scorpion replies that it was in its nature to do so.*

Our nature is who we are at the core of our being. I have had a number of life altering experiences. This life has taken me on many journeys, and I have come back, knock on wood, from each a changed person from the one who started the adventure. Each time I return with a larger spirit, with a greater capacity for love, for life, for the understanding and appreciation of my fellow man and woman, with an abundantly greater acceptance and love for myself. 

Although I do not wish a repeat of my experience and I do not wish a heart attack on anyone, I think everyone should have a metaphorical heart attack. An experience that takes your everyday life to the edge. An experience that shakes the body and soul from the roots of your everyday existence to the stratosphere of what it means to be alive. Unfortunately most humans will reach death without ever having such an experience in life. I hope you are not one of them.

Following my heart attack, I was uncertain if I would make it to my seventieth birthday. I am now approaching my seventieth-first. Life is complicated. I had no say in my arrival to this life and will have little input if any over my departure. In between I dance with the joy of being alive with greater appreciation for this gift I have been given. This is my nature.

Everything means something until one is dying. In that moment books, movies, lovers, paintings, collections of anything; suddenly, they no longer matter. Their prior importance and place in my life instantly disappeared. Their roles did not diminish, understand, they completely disappeared as if they never existed or had any importance what so ever. I was that close to death.

Everything means absolutely nothing when the heart is a beat away from its last beat. Life becomes a pin pointed focus. I was ready for death then but now the only thing that matters for the rest of my life is that I am alive. Death will come. I know that. I was given an extension, not to change my life necessarily, but to embrace it with a greater capacity. 

I am not the same me anymore, at least I’m not the same me I was.

————————

*The Scorpion and the Frog*

The title “I Am Not Me Anymore, At Least I’m Not The Same Me I Was” is taken from the book Motorcycle Diaries. The words were spoken by Alberto Granado at the end of his journey around parts of South America with Ernesto “Che” Guevara.