Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Time to Fly.


I’ll get back to the retelling of the last few years’ doings at some point in the not too distant future. For now… there is no ordained rhyme or reason to an order in which to write, so I will follow none…

There are moments when living in a somewhat disorderly state of mind helps get on with the day and the little surprises it brings on. Unannounced… as it is often wont to do. To what do I refer? Well… I said it was a disorderly state of mind, no? Who knows what will come out at times like these? It feels more like a purging of whatever leftovers there may be, ensconced in little dark corners and hoping that no thought process will wean them out.

A mind is a precious thing to waste, or so goes one of the preferred sayings of all teachers… at least those who guided me along the long and narrow path of learning, academic style. This academic process (long and often tedious as it was, but an important ingredient of that needed development) is only a part of our learning… the other part(s) (perhaps the larger part and the one I am completely sure rounds up a mind) is only offered at the hallowed and wide open halls of the University of Life. There is no curve grading, just pass or fail. The ups and downs we have to manage in order to just make it to the next step are life’s little tests.

This is all a muse in disguise; it is not that one sits at a digital typewriter and “stuff” comes out which, in a big or –more often- smallish way, makes some or any sense at all. Yet, as an almost daily exercise, this writing forces me to follow an identified routine and for a somewhat disorderly mind, a routine is an important way in which to put some definition and “body” into every day processes.

Every morning the sun rises, brings a new opportunity to go forward and brand the day. We can either put a mediocre brand into it, or make it grandiose. Even if only to ourselves.

One of my current occupations is to teach English as a second language to folk who come to these shores searching for a better life than the one that was available to them in their country of origin. We work, of course, from books where repetitions are the stuff of life and also boring death. And if it becomes boring to the teacher, then it becomes death to the student. So, to compensate, we have instituted in all my classes a travel day. Yep… we all leave the class and travel to a spot in the world, often obscure and chosen by yours truly,  investigate it and come back to make a report. All in English, if you please.
Yes, I know… the travel is done through internet by way of one of the search machines… whichever one is your fave. Often the spot given to a student is an obscure spot within their own country of origin. At other times it may be a city, a local, a geographic area, a name. The one common thread is that each topic of presentation must have a history to tell, whether cultural, social, mystical or other… it makes no difference. The other requirement is that the student must use different tenses (present, past, etc.) and must show a degree of enthusiasm for his or her topic.

Use Your Imagination!!! Is the war cry…let your mind fly and flow over what you want to describe to the rest of the class; live it and share it.

The concept has become a success. Each student is now eager to fly away once a week and come back fully informed and ready to talk about people, events and places like Monet, Lautrec, Nefertiti, The Left Bank in Paris, the Moorish occupation of Spain, The Valley of the Kings, The Taj Mahal, Ogunquit ME, Lake Atitlan (a favorite of mine in Guatemala) the Golden Bay Bridge… you get the idea…

As Billy Crystal might say… “It’s MAHVELOUS!!!”

Language is a fascinating instrument; it helps you fly and discover worlds you never knew existed… is a means of communication and it can also be a weapon which can, when wielded by a knowledgeable user, inflict much pain and harm… on the other hand, it can help lift a tired heart and mind, bringing a measure of peace, joy and comfort.  Explore it… caress it… your imagination is the only barrier to what your words can express.

Fly… fly far and wide through the written word, through the incredible vision of others who have put their thoughts on paper… who are willing to share their dreams, theirs fears, their experiences… And no, this is not vicarious living… it is pure and unadulterated learning… Who knows… you may decide to put your own words out for the world to see…

Be Well … Be Back!!!

Final Notes:
  • Pray for those who are fighting an illness which may take them away from their loved ones… Every request is heard, and counts!!
  • Follow us on Twitter … @RJAsPandora
  • Any comments please send to otherboxp@yahoo.com
  • “La Otra Caja de Pandora”… The Spanish language Blog… “otracaja.blogspot.com”Bienvenidos!!!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Halting Steps…


It could be said the above heading refers to the fact my hip would not allow me to take regular steps but no… it is not those physical steps I allude to…

The tale of a road to recovery has been taken up... I am not sure if it is to the interest of any, just that I felt it had to be told and, perhaps, even reviewed by yours truly for the first time... as a whole, not in convenient little pieces which often leave the darker spots out.... 

so it continues...

During the first few weeks of my stay with my brother and family, most of the time was taken up by getting to know the different members of the group and the country they represented. My country. The Cuba I remember is a country long gone. It had a defined culture, handed down –as it is most everywhere- through family, school and neighborhood lines. We were, for the most part, recipients of a long and simmering mix of Spain’s inadequacies and joy of life and African tribal mythology, mixed with a heavy dose of Catholic hard line teachings. Yet, we managed to meld and to move forward, creating an island nation which managed to find a recognizable spot among the world’s nations.

We could then find the latest international fashions in most any store as well as the foods needed and wanted to give families their daily requirements; we had access to regular entertainment and to a very high and uncensored level of education.

This is not a commercial… after all… the product described is long gone and will –most likely- not be available again. This is more of a background set to try and explain the very definitive and divergent lines of thought, expectations and even culture I have found to exist within Cubans then and Cubans now; even within my own family, from one generation to the next; from my having grown in a relatively free atmosphere to their growing under very controlling state defined parameters.

My brother’s generation perhaps went through the harshest of times. He is 13 years younger than I and he lived his young adulthood at the time of the Soviet collapse, which resulted in finding almost nothing to eat; any "extras" (if you can call basic food an extra) needed could only be obtained through black market barter and constant searching. At great personal risk.

This builds a very different mind set than the one I built in my earlier, definitely quieter years, followed by my life here in the States. Day to day survival was the absolute priority for my brother and his family. Bar none. Yet, despite all this, there is one area where he and his wife are no different than the folks I remember from my childhood… family union. There is a strong bond within my brother’s family… I have to say a far stronger one than I have been able to muster within my own… and I am not admitting this proudly.

The more I came to know them, the more I loved them. Despite his outside bravado, often harsh behavior and unabashed opportunism, my brother is a good and gentle human being who loves his family no end… And his, as well as his family’s love directed at me, were an incredibly strong force that helped me begin to find my way back into my reality world, the world from which I had somehow managed to hide for some time.

Those were uneasy, halting steps. Little by little, one by one, these steps began to renew, within me, that old “don’t-give-up” way of life that had almost gone away, buried under a mountain of issues, frustrations and general emotional malaise.

My wife and I began the treacherous process of approaching each other by having long distance phone conversations; this, after a prolonged hiatus. There were no fingers pointed, no “your vs. my fault” accusations; we were both tired and trying each, within our individual selves, to find a way back from a long and dark dead end. Eventually, we agreed on our terms and she decided to join me in North Carolina… However, she was coming not because of an overwhelming need or desire to be with me, but from a need to get away from her own issues… I understood and accepted this.

We clung to each other and, together, began to walk down a long and difficult path…   

Be Well … Be Back!!!

Final Notes:
  • Pray for those who are fighting an illness which may take them away from their loved ones… Every request is heard, and counts!!
  • Follow us on Twitter … @RJAsPandora
  • Any comments please send to otherboxp@yahoo.com
  • “La Otra Caja de Pandora”… The Spanish language Blog… “otracaja.blogspot.com”Bienvenidos!!!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Readjustments.


“To become capable of dealing with a new situation or environment or feeling comfortable in it”

A lifetime ago a then friend (he was one of many personal “assets” lost to a messy divorce…) told me that he thought I had a “rubber ass”. When questioned on this somewhat abnormal perception, he simply said… -“It seems every time you fall on it… you just bounce back up”.

Thinking back over many years, there have indeed been many situations when  after having fallen right on my “arrears” yes… I had managed to come back up and rejoin the fight. The only thing is… as one gets older this becomes a more difficult accomplishment and it seems that each time it takes just a little longer to gather the energy for that bounce back, and that the aches also last a little longer. And not just the physical aches.

I have to admit that in the 62 years prior to my coming to stay with my brother I had never felt so far out of the race… so far out of the possibilities. Let’s face it… untreated cancer on the one hand…. an almost fused hip that was totally unwilling to rotate more than 2 inches in any direction and which shot a painful stab through my right side every time I dared put any weight on it… no work, no funds to speak of, the efforts of some ten years, including my marriage, seemingly gone down the drain… and without the ability to get any immediate medical help for my aches and pains.

However, there was one inner asset which was always with me and which, at a time like this, became a lifesaving asset… nothing physical, nothing monetary… just a memory. The mind and heart filling memory of the man who had formed my early years and while doing so, taught me never to give up. Not by preaching, but by leading a life that was a constant sample of the meaning of this. My grandfather, the man who had been my de-facto father and childhood -actually- lifelong role model.

Once living with my brother I had many occasions to talk with him and to reminisce about our family in Cuba, and to learn more about the last 15 years of the life of my grandfather, since it was Pepe who became the “keeper” of sorts of a man who, in getting older and physically feebler, continued to be a man to emulate. Even after losing all he had worked to accomplish, when the government came in to take away his businesses, he continued on… never gave up and never gave in to despair.

The only time in his life he seemed to give up was when his wife of 50+ years died, after having been lost for some years to that mental fog which allows a person to forget all the unjust and unexplained pain lived, all the losses, all those dear people who had gone away not to come back. It was only after my grandmother died that my grandfather seemed to finally accept that, perhaps, it was time to go as well… He died only a couple of months afterwards. I think her death was a final blow which took away all he had left, after surviving through all the accumulated pain and suffering.

Could I be any less than this man whose memory and teachings had helped me through many difficult moments? No, I could not.

This definitive decision, however, is a lot easier said than accomplished…

I had a leg up on that new start however. I was with my brother, someone whom I had regained a mere ten years before when my wife and I brought him out of Cuba, through Colombia. Just being with blood family, a feeling I had lost too many years before, was enough to help me start the process of what needed to be done, what had to be accomplished.

My life, simply, had to be put back on track. I had to “inject” some of the lost resilience into my rubber butt-end once again in order to bounce back and move forward.

So it would be. A somewhat longer road “to recovery” would be walked again.

Be Well … Be Back!!!

Final Notes:
  • Pray for those who are fighting an illness which may take them away from their loved ones… Every request is heard, and counts!!
  • Follow us on Twitter … @RJAsPandora
  • Any comments please send to otherboxp@yahoo.com
  • “La Otra Caja de Pandora”… The Spanish language Blog… “otracaja.blogspot.com”Bienvenidos!!!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Homecoming… of a sort…


I can’t say that coming to Charlotte was really a homecoming, for I had never been in this city. But, after a short while and for the first time in a long time, I felt "at home”.

One evening, after another long day and feeling truly tired of all my surroundings  while fighting a surging sensation of depression I called my brother Pepe who, despite living in a relatively small apartment with his wife, 4 children and an added young man who is the son of a childhood friend, showed an absolute lack of hesitation in his voice when I told him of my situation…

-“What are you waiting for brother… Get over here”…

So, leaving my newly acquired friend Campeón behind, I pooled my modest earnings at the time and headed north on the Greyhound Bus Line.

This overland trip was an experience for this weary “world traveler” who had lived in 4 or 5 different corners, worked at one time or another in more than 50 countries, flown well over a million miles over a few years, ridden the bullet train in Japan and Europe but for whom a bus trip through the back country right here in the States was a new and different happening.

Today I get in my car and can be in Miami in about 11 hours, but that long and tiring bus ride took slightly over 25 hours. We stopped in every possible city, town, hamlet and back road stop where a soul could get on board and, it seemed, go to try and find a new life to face and conquer a “brave new world” (thanks for the phrase Mr. AH). Most of the folk who did get on in these out of the way stops brought with them what were all their worldly belongings and future memories in a small suitcase or sometimes in cardboard containers… Then again, all I had at the time was stuffed into my backpack… and these did not include much in the way of “future memories” because frankly… what I was at that time leaving behind did not merit much notice under the heading of fond remembrances..

I guess we were all fellow travelers on the bumpy road to a better future… or so we hoped.

My sister in law and I met only once before, when she and my nephews and niece arrived in Miami and I went with my brother to receive them at the very terminal from where I would be boarding a similar bus a few years later. That earlier occasion was a lighter and happier one. It was a family reunion after some very stress filled days while waiting for them to cross the border, pass through immigration in Texas and head to Miami. My brother took them north to the Carolinas a few days later and here I was, following in their footsteps (well… tire tracks) and with a lot less fanfare…

I am sure I was a sore sight when the bus finally came into my destination. There were some contributing factors; I was not physically well at the time, had not slept in the last 25 hours for the seats were not very comfortable and the ambiance was not sleep inducing… and my clothes probably smelled of whatever had been nearby during this time… so probably did my skin…

It was an early fall morning, the sky clear and the air crisp… a very change from the fairly oppressive South Florida heat and humidity. Just this made me feel better and lighter as I went outside to wait for Pepe and Luisa, who would be coming to pick me up. They arrived and bounding out of the car, both embraced me in a familial hug (that’s a special kind, you know?) put my things into their van and took me to their apartment.

We arrived while the children were at school, so we had a few quiet moments (not many of those in that home!!) to talk, catch up and for them to show me my little corner… My brother had gone out and bought a small single bed which was put into as private a corner of the living room extension as could be found yet, a room to be shared with one of the boys… as was everything in that apartment…

-“This is your piece of land and where you’ll sleep…" 

-"Welcome Home Brother”

Be Well … Be Back!!!

Final Notes:
  • Pray for those who are fighting an illness which may take them away from their loved ones… Every request is heard, and counts!!
  • Follow us on Twitter … @RJAsPandora
  • Any comments please send to otherboxp@yahoo.com
  • “La Otra Caja de Pandora”… The Spanish language Blog… “otracaja.blogspot.com”Bienvenidos!!!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Friend in Need …

Often, in moments of trial… a friend shows up where least expected. And not always of the two legged kind… A semi lost soul can then get enough fuel to ready his (or her) wits and go on...

Whenever I go mentally back to the period of time when my worldly possessions and space were ensconced into a Miami used car dealership, the image is not a totally pleasant one. Yet I remember that after everyone left and I closed the gates and retreated into the main office, my home for the night, there seemed to be peace and tranquility. My eventual companion in this place was a somewhat overrated guard dog named “Campeón”… Spanish for “Champion”. No doubt an attempt by the owner to give this poor animal a grander self image to compensate for an otherwise dreary existence.

Campeon looked a bit like this fellow.
Champ was a black and white mixed Collie breed, taller than average, gangly and with a loud growling bark. Different spots dotted his (Yes, I know it was not a “he” but an “it”… yet, he was a good companion at a time one was sorely needed) body and he was quite distrustful of most any one around. The Good Lord knows he had his reasons... But he and I came to get along well, especially after all others would leave. That was his time to roam free of his daytime cage (an open store room); the time when he became the king of the territory, all the therein contained cars and my person his charges to defend and protect.

After making his initial “rounds” (that means running all over, barking at anyone or “thing” that came close to the fence and leaving his boundaries marked for all to know of his rights) he would then come to me and lean his head on my lap, looking up into my eyes as if saying…
-“Ok… that’s done… now what?”

If you think this was an idle question… don’t.  If at that point I tried to move, he would lean heavily against me and insist on being treated as an equal, demanding an answer. All the time wagging his tail, but firmly in control.

We did become friends of a sort… I would visit his day home to bring him food and he would acknowledge me without committing to any previous understandings. He knew his time to roam was not yet come. However, when closing time came and I went to him, he would then wait for me by the door… he knew there would be freedom from his confinement as soon as I opened it. Sure enough… the door would swing open and Champ would jump out, bounding and barking for all who would care to listen, letting them know that he now came into his time, when he ruled.

We shared some two months worth of nights… There were times during those days when he would manage to escape his “hotel room” if someone would open the door to get a spare part or such and then, all hell would break lose. Not because he was really a menace to anyone, but mainly to himself. The dealership was next to a very busy main avenue and we had to get him before he got there… if we didn't  he might not survive…

One time he got away and became lost… to us, anyway… we didn't see him for three days and thought he was gone for good. Then, one morning, we heard a familiar loud bark… it was coming from a few doors down the street. It turns out there was a lovely young lady (of the dog variety) and Champ decided it would be a neighborly thing to visit and pay his respects… until the young lady’s owner decided he had enough and sent him out… without much ceremony. He then came back to us… I have to say he had been missed, especially at night, after all humans were gone.

We had our ups and downs in those days; but in the midst of these he helped me forget about my issues for hours at a time and I cannot thank him enough for this. It was an undemanding friendship born of need on both parts; he needed a human to pet him and reassure him he was OK… this human needed a companion to let him know that there was love still to be had and companionship to be shared. It worked.

Eventually, my time to go came… I left Miami and headed north to Charlotte, to my brother’s home where a refuge was found and a start on the road to physical as well as emotional recovery was initiated. I never saw Campeón again; I know now he is no longer of this earth… I’m sure he has gone to whatever dogie heaven there might be, for he earned the right. However, his memory stays in my heart, for those nights would have been much longer and very lonely and those times much more difficult to confront had it not been for his company.

Godspeed friend…

Be Well … Be Back!!!

Final Notes:
  • Pray for those who are fighting an illness which may take them away from their loved ones… Every request is heard, and counts!!
  • Follow us on Twitter … @RJAsPandora
  • Any comments please send to otherboxp@yahoo.com
  • “La Otra Caja de Pandora”… The Spanish language Blog… “otracaja.blogspot.com”Bienvenidos!!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Hiatus…


According to my friendly Thesaurus: “Pause… Break… Interruption… Gap… Space… Lull… Interval… Time Away… and finally, my favorite… A Separation Between Vowels”

In other words… this entry is not about the continuance of my discovery and subsequent argument with the cancer which came uninvited into my life… Frankly, I am not sure about what this entry will be; it is one of those times when I am sitting down to write just for the sake of writing and to find anew the discipline of doing so. Like everything else in life, it is an easy step into disrupting an established routine… and a very hard journey to regain it.

This logo means assistance to the Veterans
Yesterday I went to the doctor at the VA Clinic here in town. This has been a life saver for me since, without them, I could have accomplished much less during these past years. This reflection, however, is not about me or my issues. It is more about those people whom I get to see every time I go there and whose life has become in many cases a shadow of a possibility because they, at one time or another, chose to answer the call of duty as defined by their government. Sometimes in disagreement with the reasons for this duty but they went on nonetheless.

Several of those men and women are in wheelchairs, unable to move well or at all. Many of these folk would be still in a productive stage of their lives since they are below the age of 60 or even 50 years of age.  Others walk taking tentative step by tentative step as they lean heavily on a cane in order to support their faltering ways; yet others help themselves of any number of physical aids in order to function. Many come accompanied by members of their family, spouse or other, to help them along.

A very depressing environment, you are no doubt thinking by now. Yet, far from being so, these former servicemen all share a common sense of having served, of having done what each one of them thinks is, or was, the minimal responsibility of all who live in this great country. For this reason there is pride in their eyes, and there is pride in those small, aided steps and in knowing that the supposed cost of whatever health services are being provided for them, has been prepaid in full… with room to spare.

Many years ago I wore a uniform. Folk who have come to this country after the draft (obligatory service) was written off, are sometimes surprised to find out that an immigrant actually chose to wear this uniform. Perhaps they were different times, perhaps we thought differently. I know that of those with whom I shared my Richland years, at least 5 of 8 went into the service. Some by draft, others voluntarily. At least 2 repeated their commitment and stayed for longer periods than originally intended.

For me, it was a relatively simple issue: This was not my country of birth yet, it had opened its doors and the hearts of its people to give me what my own country could not, or would not provide for me. There were no doubts in my mind as to whether I should serve or not.  Today, I see far too many immigrants who also came here to find what they could not find at home but who are not willing to serve this country in simple ways, much less  put on a uniform. Instead, I hear complaints of all they do not have, while enjoying many more of those very things which would simply not be available for them back home.

After sharing a day of doctor visits and somewhat idle chit chat with some of these very courageous servicemen, my tolerance for easy and free complaints is very low.  Nonexistent you might say. Especially when directed at those who put their lives and limbs on the line to, in many cases, facilitate others’ opportunities in this country of ours. While forfeiting their own.

As a veteran, I salute these people. And yes, why not… I also walk with a look of pride and accomplishment in my eyes and an equal feeling in my heart every time I get to share some moments with some of these wonderful, funny and full of memories servicemen and servicewomen.

Be Well … Be Back!!!

Final Notes:
  • Pray for those who are fighting an illness which may take them away from their loved ones… Every request is heard, and counts!!
  • Follow us on Twitter … @RJAsPandora
  • Any comments please send to otherboxp@yahoo.com
  • “La Otra Caja de Pandora”… The Spanish language Blog… “otracaja.blogspot.com”Bienvenidos!!!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Life Goes On…

After the initial shock of finding about the presence of cancer, life somehow went on. Even if the way became a bit rough at times…

I have to admit that when it was finally confirmed that I had cancer, the following events became a slow motion blur. I remember trying to find an anchor where to latch my, it seemed, rapidly sinking rowboat. Up until that moment there was the hope that indeed, the original projections had been a mistake… that all would be OK and that my day to day life would return to its somewhat “humdrum-ic” self. But this was not to be.

There had been difficult moments in my life before those days; others which proved to be much more difficult to handle since then and, I am sure, there will be many more periods of stress in the years to come. But those days immediately following the confirmation of this disease are not easy to pinpoint and dissect. All I remember is that moments blended into one another and not much more than trying to deal with this issue was real to me… The term “surreal” doesn't quite come up to describing the feelings…

I am not someone to fall into “disrepair” easily, or to let depression and despair take hold of my mind and dictate how my life should be. I have to admit those days truly tried this resolve and would almost have driven yours truly into that state of mind, had it not been clear to me that I was not alone; that there was a much larger force which somehow -when I accepted it- took me by the hand and helped me tip toe not through the tulips, but through the very real mental pitfalls of this period.

I was a believer before; I definitely became a very convinced one through this period of illness, treatment and adjustment. There is no way that as a mere human being I could have gone through the process of understanding and acceptance which was so needed in order to be able to go on.

These entries are meant to take me through a time which –up until now- I have not really analyzed. It is not that I have been ignoring it; impossible to do so since there are little daily reminders of the reality of this issue…  for example…tomorrow –as this is written- I have a follow up visit with the Doctor... My 3.5 year visit...

I have spoken with many folk who have battled cancer and other such diseases. For most folk who have undergone an invasive, often terminal illness, and have had the luck to pull through, life’s perspectives change. But this is a change which takes time to set in… In the meantime we (at least I) look back at this period and, while understanding it actually did happen, seem to recall only salient points and moments. Those which helped us deal with the reality that became our lives. For ever…

However, before acceptance and treatment began, there was a long time of rough denial I went through. This was helped along by the fact that there was no insurance and the available funds were … well... non existent. It would be easy to say that from the very moment I was told all was handled well and with a smile. I am not going to be such a cynical person, for this would be far from the truth. I stopped work and went into a long period of feeling down –although for some reason, never out... perhaps this was that Divine force at work already. Without my knowing about it.

My wife and I separated (later we would take up the good fight again…); there had been other very strong negative issues already at work in our marriage. Eventually I found work at a friend’s used car dealership where I worked during the day and stayed at night. Sort of a reluctant watchman. More a running away reaction… This place became my “home” for the better part of three months. A period of deep, honest reflection and of coming “of age” with myself and my feelings.

More later… if you want it…. Thanks for your notes and for coming along with me on this ride…

Be Well … Be Back!!!

Final Notes:
  • Pray for those who are fighting an illness which may take them away from their loved ones… Every request is heard, and counts!!
  • Follow us on Twitter … @RJAsPandora
  • Any comments please send to otherboxp@yahoo.com
  • “La Otra Caja de Pandora”… The Spanish language Blog… “otracaja.blogspot.com”Bienvenidos!!!

From Wally’s Pond… Again…

This will become entry #400 for this blog. It started late 2009; a means to pass convalescencing time from my cancer treatment and the firs...