Friday, September 30, 2011

TGIF… and other such…

The above acronym reflects a cultural implant by a pretty good team of marketers. Those of a younger generation, who only see it as an expression signifying the end of a work week… 

…don’t even remember that it was a “slogan” created to celebrate the virtues of a particular fast food chain restaurant as the perfect place to celebrate the end of a long week of work; when the acceptance of this little saying as the symbol of the beginning of a Hurrah!! for the start of the weekend became so encompassing, the food link was pretty much forgotten.

How many words and sayings we commonly use in our day to day oral meanderings, without realizing their origin or reason(s) for being. Back in the early 80’s, when Xerox Corporation was a fast emerging force due to its newly minted copying system, the company had a phalange like group of kamikaze attorneys (is that sentence a redundancy?) whose primary job was to listen in to all possible means of mass communication and, every time someone uttered the dreaded “Please … would you Xerox this for me?” these attorneys would jump on their ready white (well… OK, a little dappled) steeds and come thundering like a god of revenge to demand (this word they did understand!!) that the poor, unenlightened soul refrain from ever bringing forth such utterances…  “You don’t XEROX… you PHOTOCOPY”… was their war cry. It seems that when a brand name is incorporated into the popular language because of every day miss-utilization, the coveted brand name ownership is lost.

Each one name conjures up a carefully created image...
 After all, if a corporation spends zillions of USD’s in order to create a brand name and a logo, they do not want to lose it to those whose only collaboration has been to pay them for being able to use the bloody thing!!  Right?  (Huh??)  This particular legal generation of bloodhounds had the established precedent (how’s that for legalese??) of several brands which had been lost to public use over the years, having become simple, every day words. “Jeep”, which was originally an acronym for a light use army vehicle during WWII, was actually registered as a brand name by Willys, the then manufacturing company; however, the little guy proved to be so popular, that everything 4x4 became a “jeep” in the returning soldiers' mind and vocabulary, so… it no longer was legally accepted as a private brand.

The tough little guy that became an icon
The word “Frigidaire” was also a brand name foisted upon one of the early refrigerators sold in the market (Kelvin was the owner of the brand, if my foggy, but sometimes functioning memory serves me). It did not have a lot of competition then and soon thereafter, most people on their way to buy a refrigerator would simply say they were going to purchase a “Frigidaire”, regardless of the actual brand which was the object of their attention. So… not too long after, most any machine that cooled its contents, regardless of brand, was actually referred to as a … well, you know.  Even at my home in Cuba, we had a “Frigidaire” which wasn't ... well… a “Frigidaire”.  If we actually went back in time, there are many samples of these kind of public losses of identity so I guess Xerox had a proper worry which kept several well fed attorneys in their payroll.

1966 was a very good year... indeed!
GTO, one of the more famous brand items in recent US automobile history (Pontiac GTO’s… the one and only) actually was a brand born, in reverse, from a name given a specific type of car with an engine originally over 2,500 cc and then with more than 3,000 cc’s.  Actually the original term was considered to be the embodiment of the European racing image that GM wanted to give its then top-of-the-line-for-younger-people-car; a term which meant “Gran Turismo Omologato” which is Italian (well, you knew that!) for Grand Touring Homologated (in motorsports, homologation is a process a vehicle has to undergo in order to be approved to race in a given class --- you didn’t know I knew so much, huh?... well, OK, I didn’t… thanks Wikipedia…). The three letters became extremely recognizable and famous over here; but almost no one really knew or cared what they meant, except that they stood for a car that went like the proverbial bat out of hell. It became a brand so strong that, even when other brands used the moniker GTO in one of their models (including Ferrari, one of the original and shall we say, extremely well qualified cars for the use of this identification) no one even thought of them being so if they were not a Pontiac.

So, what’s in a name? Before you laugh off this age old question, think again. Our very own names, according to those whose specialty is gazing at the stars in order to see the future of us little people, can and will influence the life of any one person.  I would not be so quick to accept this, if it weren’t for some ridiculous names I have seen foisted on poor, unsuspecting babies. These can surely affect any one’s future, regardless of social standing or sitting; I think even my pet, if I were to give it one of these names, would become the laughing stock of all pets in the neighborhood. Then again, like in Johnny Cash’s famous song “A Boy Named Sue”, a ridiculous name could possibly be the source of a gigantic amount of self assurance and inner strength... But, please, don’t try this at home… leave it to professionals.

So what is this all about? Not much, just a way to spend a couple of hours of a Friday afternoon and, as usual, put on this heretofore blank space something which could be read and, possibly, enjoyed by you; not all entries can be a piece of history or an outpouring of one’s own ideas or opinions… sometimes a little “light” offering is, much like an aperitif, something which I hope will keep you coming back for more...
Have a grand and beautiful week end!!
Remember… someone out there is carrying on a daily fight against a potentially devastating illness… your thoughts and prayers are always welcome…
Be Well… Be Back!!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Keeping Straight...

OK, Ok… no more mind bending stuff … for a couple of days anyway. Have a couple of issues which are nagging at the back of my head (seems the front is otherwise occupied) but some research has to be done. Not much, mind you, but some…

When friends with whom you have shared part of a lifetime read some of the issues presented in these posts lately, the reaction is to call and ask… “Are you OK?”  “What is this about death and myths and all this stuff?” “Are you sure you are OK?”… Since the caller was someone who has been a part of my life for over 50 years (wow…!! times do fly when you’re having fun… and even if you aren’t), I was touched by her honest concern. Then, we have had long years during this period of time when there was very little, or no contact.

When two (or more) people were an important part of each other’s lives as young teens (as is the case here) and then shared different moments in life during the passing of the years, the very human tendency is to think about this other individual in an almost wistful way; how is it we remember him or, in this case, her? The usual manner is to do so as we knew them then, not really allowing for the changes which do occur during time’s never ending advances. This is part of our mind and how it works; we remember occasions, people, places and circumstances as they may have been at one time, those moments during which they touched our lives. We do not allow for changes because, simply, we may not be aware of these and in the event we were, and these changes have not been –from our viewpoint- for the better, then our subliminal self tends to steer us to the older picture we have in mind.

That childhood cabin doesn't
look quite the same anymore
 Not too long ago there was a posting that was brought on by an unexpected picture I happened to catch in Google Earth. This is a very example of those changes that are brought on by the passing of the years and the almost shocking reaction they can produce on us. The family business, a rum factory, was a very important part of my childhood. Time was spent there; first, play time and fun time as a child and, later, work time as a young teen. To me, this place was bigger than life; there were patios, warehouses and what seemed to be an infinite number of places in which to hide and from which to play tricks. Then, we lost the factory to the government and it, eventually,     
                                                was abandoned.

As the years of neglect passed, the building began to crumble in places and the once proud façade, which at one time announced to the world that the very best rum was produced inside (actually, it beat out that other bat faced rum –no names please- in several expos in Europe) became but a forlorn, chipped and sad visage of times past. The picture was a shock to me… I always remembered the place as bigger and with a very clean and bright front, the big double doors opening to allow the discharge of trucks bringing the stuff needed to make the different beverages. Now it looked small and it seemed to have accepted (if a building can do so) a foregone end… But never in my mind and heart, where it will always be what it was in the 1950’s.

As the seasons change, so do we
 So, do we as people change as drastically as time passes? Some will, some will not. Yes, the physical aspect will of course show the passing of the years, but I think we are looking more at the internal aspects of the person, that which makes him or her what he or she is. Do these change as well? I think so; perhaps not as drastically, unless there have been extreme influences along the way. I do not refer here to changes brought on by these extremes, but to those influences and experiences which may be called “normal living”. My take on life –and I can only truly speak for my own and then with reservations- is that we evolve with the passing of time and the experiencing of many issues along the way.

It becomes a cumulative effect over the years; sometimes these experiences are on a first person basis, other times they come to us as second or even third person experiences. Some of them through people we barely knew; we look at these as “interesting circumstances” because they happened to others with whom we are really not well acquainted… perhaps the ones most influencing outside of our own, are felt through the living experiences of our loved ones; especially if these have brought pain and suffering with them.

We can just sit and wait
Mentally and emotionally, we grow or shrink with the passing of life and time; this is an inevitable choice we must make almost on a daily basis. We either accept the changes that living creates in us and remain in a young mental state so we can best tackle every day living, or negate these realities and sort of wander into an existential oblivion. So, when my dearest friend calls me and asks… Are you OK?... she is really asking that from the person she knew very well sometime ago, not really thinking about those intervening years and the many, many experiences which shaped or, better, reshaped that person into what he (me) is today. By the way, she is also now a very different person as well… and just as dear as she was then.

Am I a better or a worse person? Not sure if either; just an older, perhaps not a lot wiser but definitely a more mature person who, at the core of his being remains a very similar entity, for these values really do not change much (again, barring extreme circumstances along the way); my perceptions and reasoning have evolved over the years and she is right, that person she knew years ago probably would not have been able to write some of theses posts but this person, aided by those experiences lived over the years can and will, and then some…

Or we can leap into the future...
 So, worry not my dear lady… As you have grown and evolved into a beautiful person, so  am I well and growing; hopefully will continue to do so until that moment in which my time is called to be elsewhere which, due to the fact there are gazillions (??) of things I need to do here yet, I do hope won’t happen for quite a while…

Please remember to say a prayer for those who are fighting an illness just to stay on and share their lives with their loved ones…

Be Well… Be Back!!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Dragons and Snakes and Myths… Oh My!!...

All it sometimes takes to trigger the somewhat nonsensical content to be put on these posts, is a book read or a program watched. Granted, most comments which come from these sources are speculations, but interesting nonetheless…

 There is an intriguing aspect of our past, at least to me. From everything we seem to know about it, there are definite knowledge voids regarding specific advancements, such as the still famous “missing link” from “apeness” (well, you know what I mean by this) to “humanness”, as well as some explanations regarding advances made by some civilizations along the way, with no real explanation of these, on a traditional step by step way, that we can attest to.

Ancient Chinese hero shooting down "red stars"
 Then, there are the stories we were all told and read as children about the Persian flying carpets, the mythical heroes of ancient Roman, Greek, Norse, Indian as well as Mesopotamian cultures and those of the native civilizations which populated the western world… aptly known as their “mythology”… all the major and minor Gods throughout all these cultures, with supernatural powers… including the ability to “fly” and to “miraculously” appear elsewhere… coupled with their recorded ability to create the “fear of the lord” upon their human subjects through their being able to send “rays of fire” down to strike them… we could say they were probably the precursors of our own Superman and friends. You know, every age needs a hero or two.  But… were they then just imagined possibilities of what would not be available to man for several thousands of years yet?

If human like gods are not your thing, you can take the time to look at all the creatures these demigods fought for a living. Three headed dogs, snake haired ladies (some lady!!), huge flying dragons and lion headed, snake tailed, fire breathing goat backed little friend called “chimera”. So strange a creature was this last one, that its name is now in our vocabulary as meaning “figment of the imagination”… after all, could such an abomination have been true?  Who were these demigods, and what were these beasts, also blessed with their own version of supernatural powers, and definitely shaped as no other creature of this world as we know it today?

Many Ancient Creatures
populate mythical history
 What about the ancient cave cities in Turkey and some of the deeper caves in the southwest U.S.?  Did you know that the earlier legends of our own Southwest Native Americans, transmitted through generations upon generations have them, rather than crossing Alaska into the vast plains after the ice age, coming up from underground dwellings where they had survived a cataclysmic something or other, guided by the “ant people” and the “snake people”, whose liking can be seen in hieroglyphs found in some of these caves.

You know by now, if you have been reading a few of these short stories and histories that my own perception of everyday life is based on two questions: Why?  Closely followed by… Why not? This stems from the core belief that just because we cannot explain something based on our own “scientific” understanding of what should be, does not make it impossible. I strongly believe that being open minded is essential to enjoying life as a continuing source of wonderment; past, present and future.

One of my passions is learning about the earlier Mesoamerican cultures; I say learning, because to imply “the study of” would demand a much more committed effort and time than I can give, unfortunately. It has been so for many years and this curiosity in turn has grown and, due to my travels, expanded to other civilizations and cultures around the world. There has always been a question in my mind (yes, there is that question!) and it seems echoed in several of the articles read over time about the incredible similarity in social and physical structures, traditions and historical cultural legends handed down over generations of peoples and cultures which were, at the time of their primary existence, separated by vast distances in a world and times where intercontinental transport and mass communication, simply, did not exist. Here was no way to exchange ideas…

A Mystical Hammer with Ray like
 “Hey Tut… Quetzalcoatl here…” …”Yeah, I know, these connections are horrible… we can put a moving serpent on a pyramid but can’t seem to get these right!!”… “Hey, speaking of pyramids… I just wanted to have you fax me a basic schematic for those doorways you guys designed… seem to be better than ours… you know… pointy and all… thanks! We’ll send you a certified copy of our basic cenote plans … oh, that’s right… you don’t really have a lot of water, do you?... well, how ‘bout "FedExing" a shipment of maize, that’ll be good for your people”

In reality no one believes these conversations actually did take place (you don’t, do you?), in any possible form. So, how is it that archaeological studies, findings and pictures taken of structure remains around the world show a remarkable consistency in their design? This is something which has always been a source of wonder for me. Pyramids in Egypt and Today’s Mexico and Guatemala, heart of the Mayan empire (an empire it was) as well as ancient religious temples in parts of the Asian world. The renderings of these concepts are not very different; in reality, those differences are not so much structural as they could be considered cultural.

Home... sweet Godly home?
There are many questions to be asked and each, in turn, would conceivably lead to other questions. The fact remains that not all can be explained by science, as we have it today. If you remember a recent posting, a favorite saying of one of our most distinguished scientists, was “imagination is more important than knowledge” and this imagination unleashed is what will lead us to ask the questions that will challenge what has become sort of a ‘status-quo” for beliefs, science, and our own history. Just remember that at one time, not that long ago, the most dedicated scientists of the times declared the world to be “square or flat” with abysmal falls at the edges… Also that the earth was the center of the universe and all else spun around it… it took a creative mind to say “it isn't so” and a strong will to then survive the barrage of attacks which were not only intellectual, but physical as well.

What is real and what is not? We know what our physical end will be, but what is (was) our beginning? Religion(s) aside, this is fascinating stuff … worthy of our looking at with a true open minded approach.

Be Well… Be Back!!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Looking into the Afterlife…

On more than a few occasions during the almost two years these postings have been coming your way, the concepts of Spiritual life as well as that of possible communication between, in one way or another, different planes of existence have been alluded to.

There is one fact of life which we cannot escape, no matter how much we try to: The moment we are born, the eventual end of this stay will come by way of dying. There is no other solution. Often, there have been discussions amongst some friends, including a minister, about this subject. Those of us, who are practicing believers in one or another religion, will describe this step as “going into the arms of Our Father”, passing on to a spiritual life and/or world, becoming one with the Father; etc… There is really no basic difference, no matter which religion is followed.  And if there is no religion then it becomes simply, the end. 

Over the years, many experienced people have come forth to talk about this step and its close relative, the near death experience; we have heard of the experiences some have lived through, where the predominant feature seems to be some sort of a tunnel where there is a shining light at the end… some cynics may say that this may be a freight train coming the other way but, I choose not to think so… It would be highly unfortunate to be run over by a ghostly train after having left our bodies behind… perhaps an ultimate black humor issue to consider…

The Always Present Light...
 So, what is near death and what may be actually happening as our spirit leaves this old shell behind? Again, everyone’s religious beliefs will have a say in any possible answer to this question, since religions will teach us that there is a heaven or a hell and a possible “limbo”, this last predominantly in the catholic religion. Religion is not an issue here, therefore and perhaps this may better be read lightly and solely as the opinion of one fool, aided by the findings of a professional who dedicated herself to study these phenomena for more than two decades. Her name was Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a Swiss born and trained Psychologist. Her books, the results of her studies, are recognized as a very important treatise on these concepts.

What she says throughout, will take us to task in trying to mold our conventional prejudices in order to consider accepting it. A lot of it goes not against, but definitely as a deviational tangent from what we have learned over the years. Life is temporary; yes, we do know and accept this. That our spirit is a separate entity from our body, we can say is fairly common acceptance as well.  But according to her, “Death is simply a shedding of the physical body, much like the butterfly shedding its cocoon. It is a transition to a higher state of consciousness where you continue to perceive, to understand, to laugh, and to be able to grow” Here is where perhaps traditional views may begin to look a little bit askance to the concepts presented by her.

Some Near deaths cold be hard to take
Based on this idea, we shed our bodies like a snake sheds its skin. Once we leave our earthly suit, we then become a part of a much larger consciousness, where all departed are. Like a butterfly, our physical bodies are nothing but cocoons which serve each one of us during our stay here; when there is a near death experience the cocoon is not totally shed, but it retains a connection which allows that spirit to come back into the body, and continue on. Why some of us are allowed to go on and why some are not, was not totally clear to me. Perhaps, as we have heard at times, there is a sentient spirit whose job is to determine who has more time left and who does not, sending these last back to their worldly digs. But she was clear in the fact that, once the connection was broken between the leaving spirit and its cocoon, or earthly shell, there was no coming back.  On reflecting about these issues, she also adds “whereas birth is cause for celebration, death has become a dreaded and unspeakable issue to be avoided…” continuing “…dying is nothing to fear. It can be the most wonderful experience of your life. It all depends on how you have lived”.

So, why are we here to begin with? Are we here only to impress upon others how well we live and how much we have accomplished? Is there a goal that has been set for our stay in this world?  “It is not the end of the physical body that should worry us. Rather, our concern must be to live while we're alive; to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a facade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are” What we are taught since we are children is, then, contrary to this. In our societies, façade is important; what others may see and believe us to be, often becomes a central force behind our actions and search for personal achievements. This is especially true in the everyday business world.

If the connection is cut, there
is no coming back
Who are we? How do we determine who is “good” and who is “not so good” ... Doesn’t each person have a role in the whole? What about those who have suffered much and those who have undergone drastic reverses and emotional and/or physical pain? To this end, she tells us that “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” How true this is; we have all known individuals who have fought through these types of problems and, somehow, have managed to build upon a reserve of plain guts which allows them to move forward and continue on with a beautiful life.

According to Dr. Kubler-Ross, we are here for a very specific reason and, this is to learn about unconditional love, to cherish life as a passing gift, to enjoy it fully, to be able to look at others and assist them whenever we can, not just to sit and let the world go by. “You will not grow if you sit in a beautiful flower garden, but you will grow if you are sick, if you are in pain, if you experience losses and if you do not put your head in the sand, but take the pain as a gift to you with a very, very specific purpose”…   …”Instead, the goal of life becomes not to elude death but, because one's fears do not center so much on it, rather to live in concert with it”.

Is the "end" just a beginning to a better life?
It certainly gives food for thought; we always have asked, as self centered beings we are, “What is our role here?”… “Why are we here?” Dr. Kubler-Ross seems to have some possible answers which, when taken in the context they were acquired, make some defined sense. Our mind’s power is well beyond what even we think it may be. Someone who uses 20%-30% will be considered a genius. What is the purpose of the other 70-80% ? Perhaps that purpose is to allow us to join that ephemeral universe where there are no physical restraints… At the end, the real difficult step will be that moment when we look and see every second of our lives, only then understanding the true and full reach of each and every one of our decisions...  even though she says it is not a judgement, but only as a measure of our own understanding of our lives as part of that process of passing... This particular step, I think could be somewhat frightening...

Be Well… Be Back!!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Saturday Into Sunday Morning... and Monday too...

It can be somewhat frustrating to get up on a Saturday morning after having had little enough sleep the night before. The mind is a bit muddled and the streams of consciousness, confused as they may be, seem to be flowing in their own, separate directions…

No, I wasn’t drinking; it was just one of those nights where the mind goes into a self induced overdrive and refuses to allow Morpheus to get his arms about me; these do happen every once in a while. It was well past 4 in the am before finally I was allowed to drift off. So, when the alarm clock went into its rendition of “Cajun Fiddle Music” (yeah, this Cuban loves his Cajun music well served, with a little spice on the side) this morning, (being a Saturday, it thankfully goes off about 2 hours later than during the week) sleep time had been relatively short. After grudgingly making it to the shower, I managed to come out somewhat more human than when I felt my way in (sort off). Then, while checking my email and getting ready to get on with the day’s activities, my mind began to go through the different cycles it had moved into and around last night, while waiting for sleep to take me… (this last is a little like watching water boil; the more you do it, the less it happens).

There were the continuing, it seems, news about more bodies being found somewhere along the roads of Veracruz in Mexico; all these deaths related to the illegal traffic of humans and drugs. Having several dear friends in this beautiful country, where much time was spent in the 80’s and into the early 90’s, sadness was felt on a personal level. Even more than this, frustration and anger really came through. How could it be possible that corruption is so deeply seated that the higher echelons of public service are so totally ineffective –intentionally, it seems at times to be- in carrying out what amounts to a first line defense of the future of their homeland against a, by now, declared internal war?  Is it lack of care?  Or perhaps is it an issue of much money exchanging hands?  Other than this last, there would seem to be no logical explanation. What is apparently clear it that the value of a human life keeps getting lower and lower amongst these circles.

The Republican presidential hopefuls went into another debate, as part of their continuing show ‘n tell cycle, and the press is declaring winners and losers. To me, it is just another round of backpedaling and denials regarding prior postures, which seem to have been “somewhat” different… according to time and place. This applies to all candidates; there has not been one who has not done it. And more than once… whether Republican or Democrat, this is an area where all can claim equality and shared goals. Going back about 8 or 9 presidents within my own memory banks, this “deniability” road has been extremely well traveled. In fact, this all encompassing little word probably has been informally written into the permanent dictionary of all higher public office dwellers. We could call it sort of a “Funk & Wagnall’s” of useful meaningless rhetoric for all public servants and, specially, presidential candidates. I’m sure it exists within the goodies all political speech writers must have ensconced somewhere.

Going on with the different issues gallivanting through my gray cells, there was this one about people. People who peopled (yeah, I know…) my life at some specific times and who, for one reason or another, left a mark. Not always a good one but, even in these instances, the good derived were the lessons learned, if not the process to attain this knowledge. Going through these somewhat circumstantial memories often takes more time than we are willing to accept or able to give, but they are a part of what we are today and an intrinsic component of the road that has brought us here. And 3 in the morning seems to be a good time to do it… and perhaps not.

Several years ago, as we started pursuing what would in short order become an all encompassing endeavor, one of the first people I came across was Alfredo. He was (hopefully still is, have not had news from him in more than 11 years) at the time of our first contact living in Argentina, having come from Uruguay originally. Eventually I came to understand he was a low level “facilitator”, which is a fancier way to say intermediary; his name was given to us through one of several contacts made after the original semi-structured transaction became a bust. On that one, the individual who was supposed to travel with me to Europe was detained and jailed while trying to leave his country, due to unpaid child support. Looking back from our today wiser, sadder and somewhat tested perch, there were many indications that should have told us most of those with whom we were dealing at that time were nothing but hopeful liars but, to our then unknowing-of-the-way-of-these-businesses selves, these signs went largely unnoticed.

Alfredo started to throw my way, over the phone, a number of what to me were then terms which meant nothing at the moment; he was, like many others along these roads, trying hard to impress as to how much he knew about “the business”, working his way into a trust status with us (me, especially, since I would be the one going to Europe, or not).  Many conversations ensued, backed up with conversations with other quarters, and it was eventually decided we would meet in Zurich, some 30 days later. He would go ahead with his “partner” (actually an older Argentinean businessman bankrolling his trip) in order to initiate and open several doors for me. We could say he was an instrumental part in our getting into this international financial structure, one which has claimed the lives of many (some of those whom I have known personally have been noted on these posts) and has destroyed the lives of many others. In reality, we could have said “no” and gone on with our own lives, in a more mundane sort of way. So, even though Alfredo was an influence, we were the ones who actually made the fateful decision to go forward on a road which is still ongoing, although heavily modified in context and structure.

Many thoughts go through the mind’s silver screen at these “wee” hours of the morning; while I do realize this is not conducive to being able to actually get to sleep, there is little I can do about the process. So many times and so many opportunities wasted along this road to just stop and get off but, the underlying commitment in my heart and mind to the eventual use of the funds which would be received, stops me from going that route; and the price paid along the way has been high and is not getting any lower…

Well, we are now into Monday morning and it is time to get this on the post, even if there is much more that could be written and, perhaps, will be as the days roll on…

Remember… a prayer for those who are fighting to conquer an illness…

Be Well… Be Back!!

Friday, September 23, 2011

In Memoriam…

Often we meet people along life's winding roads who, for one reason or another, stick in our minds and hearts. Circumstances, moments, time spent… who knows, perhaps all these rolled into one.

Sometime around the summer of 2001, already 4 years into what would become a very long stretch of time dedicated to the pursuit of a very slippery and costly goal, I received a call from our NYC associate. –“You need to go to Portugal” he said. In what was being done at the time Charlie (we’ll call him) a basic Brooklin-ite, accent included, was a primary associate or partner. Also, he was deathly afraid of getting on a plane. I was then, due to a “temporary” lack of funds (more like a dearth), a secondary associate. Sort of a glorified “gofer” except the “go-ferings” (whatever that is!!) were not to the next corner, but to another country. Well, at least they were interesting doings…

“What do you mean Portugal?” I had just come back from someplace else, and had been in NYC for about 3 weeks. When at “The City”, we worked out of an office on 34th street in Manhattan, just east of 6th Avenue. An older building which, inside, looked more like a beehive than an office building. The space belonged to Charlie’s friend, who was into ladies lingerie… No, not as a pastime; he sold the stuff. So, as we often discussed the ins and outs of the world of high finances, someone would answer by popping up from behind a rack of size 36 triple “E” brassieres… Enough cloth here to cover half the island.

“Well, actually, you will be in Portugal while waiting for some issues to be completed” he said, then added in what seemed to be an afterthought “so you can go on to Germany and take care of tying up some lose ends there” and while looking with a befuddled expression at something that, I think, would someday be covering a lady’s lower end. Fuchsia, I believe it was… and rather large…

Lisbon, The City of Red Roofs
 “How are we bankrolling this and when is this going to happen?” asked I…
“You will go with a round trip ticket to Lisbon, and you will meet a friend there who will handle all expenses; then, after you finish in Germany, he will see to it that you get back to Lisbon” Now, in my mind (Huh?) the idea would be to come back to the States, not to Lisbon.  So, I so expressed my thoughts…  “Well, I really need you to stay in Lisbon for a short while after you come back”… I let the silence hang… “There is something else that may come up over there” then he added “You have to get ready because the plane ticket is for next Monday” (this was Wednesday)

So it was that some 5 days later I found myself on a TAP flight from NYC to Lisbon, arriving at this beautiful, still “medieval-ish” city early on a Tuesday Morning. Having never been in Portugal, I wasn’t sure where to go. Never fear; standing at the receiving line was a man whom I had actually met some 3 years before in NYC, for a very short period of time. Actually, hours. But, in a very typical Latin fashion, he came at me with a huge smile, wide open arms and proceeded to embrace me like if he had just found his very own long lost brother.

“Bienvenido, Hombre… Bienvenido a Portugal” “Welcome Guy… Welcome to Portugal

And so it was I re-met Nuno. A very Latin type, into his early 50’s and always with a smile. Since it was morning when I arrived, he took me to an eatery close by and treated me to coffee and “sticky” buns, while we talked about my being here and what was expected. “You know” he said, “When Charlie told me someone was coming, and then he said it was you, I was very happy” I really don’t know why, since we had met for barely a couple of hours some three years before…

Trolleys in the city
 “What exactly am I doing here?” I asked, since I wasn't totally sure as to what I was supposed to accomplish. “Well, there is this guy in Germany who is not too happy with the lack of developments on the financial front” he said, then adding “Our German associate, whom you will meet, is dealing with him now” So, I asked… “If he is dealing with him, why do I have to go?” Reasonable question, I thought… “You are the guy coming in from the US just to see him”… “This carries an extra weight”… “And Charlie has a lot of trust in you to handle these guys”. Thanks Charlie, I thought to myself…

“So, what do I do while I wait for this visit to come to pass?” “Don’t worry… you will be at a hotel near here and we’ll see each other on an almost daily basis” “there are many places you can visit while we are waiting” and he continued “I understand you have never been here, right?”

The short wait turned into some two and a half months; during this time Nuno became a friend in many ways and proved to be a trustworthy one. True to his word, all issues and expenses were taken care of and, even, he managed to send funds to my family back in the states. This was something he didn’t have to do but, as he put it “if your family is OK, you are OK”. We spent a lot of time together; somewhere else in these posts I have written about Lisbon, my time there and some of the side trips I took; most by myself, others in the company of Nuno. This period was somewhat of a waiting, forced “vacation” of sorts and Nuno was always present; he would take me to several of his meetings, and also took me to meet and share time with his family; in general, making me feel at home while far from home.

The old city
 Eventually I went to Germany, and took care of our discontented German friend. He was OK after our conversations and I returned to Lisbon, to wait for the “second” part of this trip to develop. Once again, Nuno became my guide and friend while there. That second part of the business plan never came to pass… The date I arrived in Hamburg, Germany, would be one which would mark the end of an era and the beginning of another, much different one. It was 09/11/2001.

As we said our goodbyes when my time in Lisbon was up, we made several promises to meet again; promises which at the time were heartfelt, but which were dependent on many issues coming to pass. The changing controls on the international financial horizons after that fateful day in September, made it extremely difficult for many folk to continue on this road. Charlie and I parted ways, and I lost track of Nuno. I went on to different ways and also had to deal with some demons of my own as time went on.

About 4 weeks ago, having been able to reach someone I knew and who also knew him, I asked for information, hoping to get a phone number where I could reach my friend. What he told me was quite different… “Nuno died about three years ago” he said, adding “his heart could not take anymore frustrations and failures”. I quietly hung up after saying our goodbyes, and thought about the guy who had received me with a huge smile and a bear hug years ago and, in doing what was basically a business task, had actually become a friend.

Be at peace amigo; wherever your kind spirit may be.

Be Well… Be Back!!!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

On and On...

The computer calls and it is time to sit and try to put some coherent ideas on this virtual paper. I remember years ago when all we had were the flickering little, non adjustable green or white letters on a gray screen… Now we can create wonders in different colors, shapes and formats… To the younger generation, this is common every day stuff… to me it is a fantastic little toy, with never ending possibilities.

Several reading friends as well as others with whom the only communion has been these postings, have commented on yesterday’s entry. In a couple of instances, what they read may be responsible for a better understanding of a loved one's circumstances, and professional help will be looked for. If this is the case, what was truly difficult, but lovingly put on display, will serve to perhaps bring someone else a needed respite and a possible new life. I pray it is so.

In the process of living such a checkered life as mine has been (and I do not say this in a negative way, just accepting the reality that it has been so because of circumstances), many good people have crossed my path. Two in particular, my grandfather and my stepfather, led an alcohol free life. The first due to choice, and to a history of being a lifetime diabetic. The second because by being a doctor in a country town, he knew he could be called to perform one of many procedures at any given time. Were they role models for me? I guess so, for this would not be written otherwise; my memories of them are this clear.

There is also the memory of my uncle, a bright, educated man with a very good position both in Cuba and later in exile. He took up social drinking at an early age and at some point this was elevated to a much higher level. His system was eventually so metamorphosed by alcohol that later in life, all he would need to become totally drunk were a couple of sips of liquor. Somewhere else in these rambling postings, there was an entry about “Pata” the stevedore who was totally addicted to the hardest liquor our factory produced. He was not an educated, wealthy or overly bright individual, just one of the guys who did a lot of physical work down at the pier to earn their wages.

Were any of the above people any better or any worse than the others? Or than any one else for that matter? I don’t think so; the point being that there is no one who is totally free of the possibility of becoming an alcohol or drug addict. There are some studies which now tell us that genetics may be a possible influence but, by itself, it is not enough to trigger a lifetime of addiction. The sad and unrelenting truth is that nor money, education or upbringing, or lack thereof, will totally shield someone from this reality.

It wasn‘t my intent to go into this topic with this post; yet, as you know by now, once the words start coming on it is difficult to stop them. But today we shall switch gears and go in another direction… if the muses allow it…

A couple of days ago I had the chance to go into YouTube and watch some old bits from the Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. Actually, I posted an entry on Facebook; one of Carson’s better skits about politicians and their concept of truth. It applies today as it did when it first aired in 1980 or so; and it is just as funny. If you are over the age of 50, I am sure that you more than once went to, as he used to put it, sleep watching Carson between your toes. I know I did. At the end of a long work day this became a one hour respite that, by making me laugh, gave me renewed spirits with which to fall asleep.

There are many who call themselves comedians today; if they were to lose the use of swear words and insults, nothing much would then come out of their mouths. I  wonder what it is that makes them so popular... perhaps people who assiduously watch and laugh at these routines, do so in order to vent their frustrations at a world which, in their estimation, will not allow them to rise above their present situations. I can personally think of a few forgotten ways to rise above… work, perseverance, study, dedication, planning… even marrying the bosses’ daughter… But these seem to have now become vices instead of virtues. Go figure!!

The following is an abbreviated and liberal translation of the lyrics of a tango called “Cambalache” which … well, read on:

“The 20th century is a mess
It’s the same in 510 or 2000
There are thieves and losers,
Happy folks and bitter ones;
We all live in this mess and
In the same mud we are molded;
Today is the same if you work like a mule
Or live to steal from others…
It’s the same if you are true
Or if you are a traitor,
Everything is the same,
Nothing is better;
Whether you heal or kill,
Live within or without the law…
If you don’t cry you get nothing
And if you don’t steal you are a fool…
Anyone can be a gentleman;
Anyone can be a fraud…

Yes, I know… it is a bit overboard in dramatics… after all, it is a Tango… but?? Do the lyrics apply or not? And the funny or, perhaps sad, thing is that this classic piece was written just about 100 years ago… As it tells us… people and issues do not seem to change much over the years.

Well, ‘nuff for now… Tomorrow will probably bring on a postcard from years past… these seem to be a "safe" topic...  

Pray for your friends and for those who need a little help in their fight against illness…  I promise you the lines are always open and every bit counts!!

Be Well… Be back!!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

When a Life Goes Astray…

We usually, although this is not always the case, come into the world as a result of an act of love. As we enter this often unforgiving life cycle, our fate usually rests with the hands of those who brought us here to begin with.

Imagine; you are chosen without any real preparation or any type of support to start a journey where the road is totally uncertain, and where the means to travel are not identified; a trip during which, those who are appointed to accompany you until the time you can go on alone, assuming you get to that juncture, may be beset by adversity and issues which will prevent them from meeting their end of the business. Or, it may be that they may not even be able to be there for part or for the entire journey. Where the circumstances of travel will change constantly and your preparation to successfully meet these changes might not be up to requirements. Add to this the fact that the trip has no defined timeframe; also, know that it could be suddenly ended by any number of events, many of which will be totally out of your control. And, in the end, if you do make it to your destiny, there is no promise of even a reward.  

Would you agree to the undertaking of such a journey?

As adults, if presented with such a choice, our most probable answer would be a resounding NO!!  And, most likely, you would have the right of it… Yet, that is exactly the journey we all undertook at the moment of our conception and into our lives. So it should not come as a surprise that so many of our brothers and sisters take a wrong turn now and then. The surprising fact should be that so many make it into adulthood and into an older age. Mind you, not totally unscathed; most of us go through periods varying in difficulty from 1 to 9 (10 being death) and yet manage to survive and to go on to the next encounter. And on finally arriving at an older stage of life, we have learned at that point to look back and in many instances, laugh about these difficulties. This adaptation, this incredible gift, is also part of the package of being human.
Sometimes we go in circles

We have all witnessed fellow men and women suffering and failing to make the grade; we have also had the opportunity to witness others who, like the proverbial Phoenix, become ash and then are reborn and fly again. Can we really do this? Can we learn from our mistakes and go on into this unknown journey, not really understanding whether we will make it much further?

I am a witness to both, failure stories and success stories. Perhaps along the way, I have had a primary role as well in a couple of these instances.  From orphanages in Argentina to Guatemala, Extreme poverty in India and without going too far from home, in our own backyard, right here in the US. People from all walks of life can and do fall, some are able to get up and continue; others either choose, for reasons only understood –or perhaps not- by them, to remain on the lower road… or perhaps they find it just too difficult to get up one more time.

Sometimes we choose to go alone
 We, as human beings, have certain abilities which are denied other animal groupings. The ability not just to intuit, but to think and reason with this information. The ability to see beyond “our noses” and visualize what may be beyond the bend on the road. The ability to be able to choose a course of action (there we go again with choices…) based on what we know and what we think we know and, very important, what we are aware we don’t know.

These posts are very far from being a pulpit or a sandbox stand; no one has the right to judge another human being, for the simple reason that no one really knows what is inside that other mind, or what roads and perils that other individual has faced and survived. Or have brought that person down. Also, as The Good Lord gave us to understand sometime ago… no one is free of failures and sins. Why does an otherwise intelligent 15 year old choose to use drugs and/or alcohol?  Why does he allow these to become masters of his life? Why does someone choose to literally throw away possibilities, freedom and physical wellbeing?  I do not have the answers; I wish I did for it pains me every time I see something like this happening. It pains me to see a young man or woman go through the misery of an addiction; a misery so deep that sometimes it brings the wish of final release, for living this kind of life is just not wanted anymore when there seems to be no relief in sight.

Confusion is easily attained
Sometimes, a message may come through; a message which tells him that there is a chance, there is a possible solution which will take much pained commitment and a ferrous determination to fight on for as long as he is then alive. But the decision is only his to make; no one has the right or the understanding needed to do so on his behalf. Only he can say “I’m ready to try”. Often, misguided parents whose children are under this killing influence force them to go into medical retreats and into clinics; then, when nothing seems to work they do not understand why. The answer is very simple indeed: nothing outside of one’s own understanding and desire produces that determination to fight and to wrest oneself away from this misery.

Sometime ago I had the opportunity to have lunch with a young man I know well, who had gone through this process. As I, who enjoy a glass of wine, hesitated to ask for one, he said with a smile… “Go ahead and have your wine… I will have the tea" he added "I am the one with the problem, not you”. This simple statement helped me understand that he had actually gone to the very gates of hell, and had managed to come back.

But you have to know you are
not alone...
In his fight, he had come to understand that it is the daily routine and the small and big choices each one of us makes that can make or break the recovery process which, for better or worse, is a never ending road. He clearly understood this and, even though he may not be able to pinpoint the reasons for his downfall, he well understands the demands and conditions for his continued success after having cleaned his system. It is entirely up to him to be able to continue on the clean road, for no one can travel this for him. Those of us who know and love him can and will travel alongside for support, but we cannot assume his responsibilities.

Does this make him better or worse than others? I don’t know. Perhaps it makes him into someone who finally chose to address his own problems, face them and fight them in order to be able to reclaim his life as his own. He has chosen to work, study and to try to recover some of the, as he puts it “lost gray matter and time”, with the full understanding that this is not an easy task or an easy road to travel.  He was often called many unflattering names; especially by those who dared become judges of character while being devoid of their own. Yet, he is a good man; much wiser now having survived these difficult travails; in fact, we are all much wiser. 

While others may have called him names, I call him son; I love him dearly and am extremely proud of his very difficult personal achievement… 

Being his father is an honor for me.

Be Well… Be Back!!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Day After...

Today was supposed to be a “free” day… You know, being my birthday and all, but no such thing. I sit here and the itch to put something on this blank screen becomes too strong. Since no plans were made, no idea as to what to write about… But then, nothing new there…

Several reader friends have either called or written, just to share with me (or at me, in some occasions) their own views regarding the topic of “free choice” on which we touched a couple of times in these past few days. After listening to their comments as to why we “do” always have a free choice, my response is very simple: I do not disagree on the fact that we, as individuals, have the ability to make choices; in fact, we do exercise this privilege on a regular basis every day. Where I do firmly believe we must agree to disagree is that these choices are not so totally “free”. Every time we exercise a choice, while living within a nuclear structure (society or family), we have to ascertain whether or not this choice will impact others, and how far will it do so. That is all… Is it free? Yes; is it totally free? Not while living within that nuclear structure, unless you are willing to become an outcast.

Note from Editor (yeah, yeah… that’s me… I also clean windows!!) Did start this post last night, but as soon as “not much to do” was expressed, a call came in from friends inviting us over for coffee and cake… so, out we went. It was fun…

Started to read once again the book called “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne; every time I read it a new phrase or concept jumps at me. It is actually a compilation of ideas, thoughts and writings from a number of people, past and present. There really is no specific direction as such, no step structured method by which the reader can achieve a defined success. Rather, there are indications and indicators as to what should be done and how the mind should be directed, because it is this last the one which will determine what will happen. This is a concept which is very difficult to grasp and perhaps, more difficult still to put into practice; we are taught from a very early time to look only through the eyes and to hear only through our ears, “what you see is what you get” probably sums up our general training. And here, we are being told that we should learn to see and listen with our heart and mind, rather than through our senses; that we should learn to direct our lives and circumstances through our thought pattern.
The Brain Rules...

Once I began to read this the first time and made some comments around, there were several friends who told me they had also read the book. My question was: “Did you read with your heart and mind or with your eyes and brain?” If the answer was a startled “Huh??”, then I knew the book had not really made a dent in their psyche.

I cannot say, in all honesty, that everything that is expounded in the book is totally clear to me. Then, I am not a philosopher but a simple, aspiring thinker. I love to think and to look at most issues, even those that do not make much sense, from different perspectives. Why? I’m not sure, but in general, this is the way I was taught from an early beginning. There were times when a simple question put to my grandfather or to one of his friends, would elicit a long retort, often more than what I could actually chew at the time. The offshoot was that I would have to come back and ask some more. The answers always came with much patience; this was a commitment that when I began to understand it and what it meant, my heart and eyes (or the eyes of the heart?) were opened to just how much love was involved in the process. Of course, this realization came several years later, when I had children of my own and the real message in the teaching was finally understood: be patient with those who need to learn, for they will be the ones to teach others in turn.

Go beyond your immediate senses
This has also helped me in opening my heart and mind to what is felt, though it may be unseen with the eyes. Yes, we live in a world where the senses are often overwhelmed and where many day to day decisions are made in the simplest way, so as not to bother too much with the thinking process. This is wrong; and yes, before you say it, not every decision merits a long process; if we were to hold true to this for every little issue, we would turn into insufferable bores. However, when we become accustomed to functioning in this “off-the-cuff” way, then every decision eventually taken, whether big or small, will be done in the same manner. The potential repercussions may be at one time or another very negative, taking us by surprise and having us question… “What did we do wrong?” I am sure we have all been there at one time or another. I know I have.

The one message which seems to come to me from almost every individual quoted in this book I am again reading, is that it is our mind which will determine our future and our wellbeing. From very early teachings, we are constantly bombarded with the idea that we should be “selfless” and not expect too much or not want too much. We are driven into a somewhat mediocre mind state, where every day we basically subsist, where we have a job which pays for the basic needs (sometimes we have a surplus, more often we do not) and this is OK. We spend and work to pay what we have spent. Little by little we fall into the cycle of having to live mainly to work.

You can fly...
 There are several quotes from the book which I have highlighted along the several readings. Please understand that I do not profess to “master’ this concept; there is a lifetime of learning which goes against it, and this cannot be undone in a few readings. In fact, I am not sure that it will not take the rest of my life to work on this, but… By Golly!!!  Work on it I shall!! My primary aids in this quest are the teachings and actions of my late grandfather, whom I thank every day.

In several posts you will find me arguing on behalf of the mind… and its regular use. Every day there is evidence showing that our society is shunning this, becoming a society where the use of our inner senses is more and more ignored. Actually, in most cases, this concept is not even understood. Too bad; I see in the future a world where mechanics and electronics rule, where the human mind, within the vast majority of people, will fall more and more in disuse and be dependent on computers to think for us, and in our behalf.
Not just the posed problem,
but the solution as well.

Create your own universe. Our mind has the power to do so and to determine who will share this world with you. We have the power to change anything, for we are the ones who choose our thoughts and feel our feelings. This is the immediate universe in which we function; the universe where we can determine what is good and what is not good for us; the universe where those choices we have discussed so much, come to be made.  Winston Churchill said “You create your own universe as you go along”

Imagine your life as you want it and then make it happen. Dr. Fred A. Wolf, an award winning author, tells us that our minds are actually shaping the world around us; we cannot have a universe without our minds entering into it, and our minds are actually shaping that which we perceive at any given time. Think about this and you will see it as such.
Would you argue with success?

The following quote will help me close this entry: “Imagination is everything; it is the preview of life’s coming attractions”. Who said this? Someone who imagined many things which had not existed before, and then set about to prove them… Dr. Albert Einstein.

                                Be Well… Be Back!!!

Doña América and other memories.

I know she has already been mentioned somewhen along this line of sometimes unhinged memories as they relate to moments of my life , but y...