Pause and Play

When I close my eyes, the sounds of the city awakening are the first memories. I woke up early nearly every morning, listening to the sounds of Santiago coming to life, readying for work, steadying the culture. The cool mist of morning haze swayed around the high-rise apartments across the tiny valley and our own building, teasing us to enjoy the cool sunrise that would soon give way to the heat of late summer.

img_2173Walking in Santiago has a soundtrack, a background stream of staccato notes that if I ever heard them again, I would be transported. The road outside the apartment is filled, traveling every which way depending on the time of day, with cars, trucks, and scooters. There are people bustling to the financial center of the city, of the country, near the U.S. Embassy. Well dressed even in the rising heat, they have quiet conversations as they scurry away. It’s not New York or San Francisco loud. It’s a more subdued dialogue inside the city confines.

As we take to the streets for a morning exploration, the sidewalks are filled with bicycles and scooters, zipping around the pedestrians. They are an irritant that could be a dangerous one. The people don’t seem to mind. As we travel through the city, there is no undercurrent of music that you sometimes hear in large cities. There is no undercurrent of public transportation. The sound is weirdly muffled, steamy, and strange to my ears. It is conversation. It is discussion, laughter, and serious direction. The voices of Santiago and clear and lyrical, regardless of the tongue speaking.

My companions are of this city, and have had a long love affair with this town. As with all love affairs, their vision notes the changes over time that irritate as well as inspire. The bicycles make people nervous on sidewalks and the tongues that speak are clearly not native to Chile. The incoming population from other countries is jarring. We travel through my friend’s lifelong journey, as we navigate days and lunches and dinners, parks and walks, ice cream and antiques. I learn more about my friends by listening to them guide us in this life. I learn about the Chilean people and the love they have of culture and the future. It’s more than learning why there is always vinegar and oil on the dining table (rather than salad dressing) or why palmitos are a favorite. It’s the way my friends spoke about everything Chilean, be it family homes or the food people eat. 

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There is this honest, underlying pride that permeates the culture. It’s at odds with itself right now, fighting to breathe in a culture that is struggling against new and old. We traveled through parts of the city that were devastated by youth and protests; lower walls covered with myriad graffiti and damage. Those not covered with spray paint are covered with steel sheets and wood, saving windows and precious architecture. Armed military stand ready in parks to disperse the crowds and hoodlums. Unemployment is high and immigration is high, causing the standard stresses. Who is stealing jobs? What about the cost of goods? What’s next? Fear flows through all cultures.

But underneath, there is a pride of culture, history, language. Chilean food speaks to the integration of European and Indigenous tastes, priding itself on fresh and pure. There is a crossroads of culture in language. My companion told me that they can tell when someone is not Chilean, by their language accent and words they use. In an antique shop, the owner complimented my friend on her way with language, noting that most people don’t “talk that way, any longer.” Slow, clear, lyrical, the language tells one volumes about a culture. This gave me the distinct impression that Chile is at a cultural precipice. Can they maintain this proud depth of identity?

img_2135In the middle of this trip, we spent a few days in Brazil, and there couldn’t be a more different culture than Chile. Chile has a well-spring of Europe under the covers. The memories of Spain, Germany, and parts of Northern Africa all influence Chile’s identity. Brazil has this crazy chaos, in every aspect of life. Maybe it is their leaders, maybe it is the closeness to Europe and Africa, maybe it is a deep tie to nature – I am not sure. There are vast chasms between what they say and do, what is important and what is actionable. There is an underlying tension in speech, driving, goods, living conditions – all of which are in your face when it comes to the canyons between them. The soundtrack of this country is the scooter beep. Incessant and irritating, they are gnats in your ears. Sleep is a relief.

img_2102Back in Chile, there was a comfort to me in that underlying European maturity. The days were filled with wine and food, laughter, and exploration. I would love to visit in Spring, when the city is alive with flowers and scents of new life, when the breeze is cooler, the beaches open and laughter walks the roads. I am grateful to see this beautiful country through the eyes of friends and loved ones; it was a rare insight that I am truly thankful to have received.

~TDD

Welcome Back, Spring

It was about this time last year that the first news of my father’s illness came to me. I was in a workshop, semi-secluded, when the call came from my sister that Dad was in ER. We were days away from a certificate of occupancy on The Vicarage, coordinating a move from a storage unit and a house, three cats, two cars, and a mountain of little things to finish before we could hang a hanger. I raced frantically toward the hospital, 90 minutes from the workshop to find out that our lives would be completely altered henceforward.

From then onward, until he passed 11 weeks later, it was a steady stream of days on the road, staying at his house, taking care of cats, Dad, bills, finances, and a whirlwind of legal and ethical and financial questions that I wasn’t at all sure of. I don’t think that I’ve seen anyone, short of Doyle’s mother Anna Marie, go to that long home with affairs in any sort of order. I don’t think my father’s affairs were a mess – but still… finding his first divorce certificate (he was married to a woman ten years before mom?) buried in his enlistment and discharge military papers was a bit of a shock. I knew he was in the Navy but also the Air Force? And why he never signed up for Veteran’s Benefits, I may never know. Not really. I digress. The physical stuff is, for the most part, finished. A few loose ends.

But here we are, a year from the onset, and I struggle a lot more inwardly now, with my own mortality. You are flooded with offers of grief assistance and counseling when a loved one passes, especially if there was hospice care. Quite honestly, I don’t think you need it then. I think the day to day shouldering of dealing with the messy materialism consumes you. It’s easy to push everything aside until you’ve dotted the last I and crossed the last T. Push. Push. Push. Until, really, you slow down and start thinking about your own mortality. You start to think about how your body is failing you, not doing what it used to do, or that it’s maybe something wrong with you, you’d better check it out. You think about the pain and suffering you saw and start applying it to your own short remaining years on earth. It’s not that I dread death. It’s the dying part that is messy. I think the grief counseling is something you should do six months after a loved one dies, not right then. I don’t need to be pulled off a cliff and I’m not sure that most people do. I need to be saved from the quicksand of my own mind later on.

I recently attended that same workshop again, with people that I love and cherish. There’s a lot of talk about mortal existence and how we live our life. How we live our life. How we think about our day to day, the choices that we make, the equality that we all have, the toleration for others and dealing with the oppressors of freedom and truth. We talk about things far greater than ourselves and how we, as small specks of humanity can help further the progress of humanity. Working on perfecting humanity. These are a lot of words to think about, when you think about death and dying, and how short our lives here really are.

It’s also hard to think about those things when your ankle hurts or you sprained your wrist doing the dishes, or maybe when you wake up from a bad dream, something you can never remember from your youth. It’s easy to get caught up in the physical and emotional pain of living. I think this is how most of the world works, living day to day, thought to thought with the ideas never really rising above the surface for a bit of fresh air. These workshops remind me that there is more, and there are better goals we can all achieve. If I can get out of my own way. The physical pain is generally temporary. The angst of living an unlived life, I think, is probably far greater. I don’t want to be that person. I used to say I don’t want to regret anything when I die. I’ve learned that we will all regret something. It’s about minimizing those regrets that seems most important. Have I done all in my power to make the world a better place? Even if I have to take Advil to do it?

Spring seems like the perfect time to pull yourself out of the mire of a year’s worth of mourning. A year’s worth of inward focus on pain and suffering. It seems like it’s time to take a little joy from the flowing Bleeding Hearts or the small bit of green that shows on my hydrangea. I saw a hummingbird for the first time today, whizzing past my window to land on our feeders we just put out. The house is settling, the mourning is settling. Perhaps it’s time I did, too, and just enjoy the warmer days, the beautiful green trees, and the fact that I have the opportunity to wake up and work on the world, aches, pains, and all. Take the days while they are here, because the Night comes when not one of us can continue to work.

The Wider View

hopeI was reminded this morning, by one of my dearest friends, that the popular artists of the world die and the world mourns; the neglected and war-impoverished hundreds of thousands die, and the world barely sighs. If we believe the data in Wikipedia (yes, I know…), we can say that somewhere between 315,326,595 and 754,762,571 have died in ALL wars in recorded history. Syria, by contrast with 470,000, is a blip on the map. Hardly a scratch. The difference is, we see all our wars now with faces – on the TV, in the papers, in our Social Media feeds. War is not something far away. Humans may have found ways to kill lesser numbers of people, but they are still killing people regardless. Is this our nature?  Continue reading

Used to do..

Dried_LeavesFilled with “used to do.” This seems to be the thought that is number one on the memory ticker tape – “I used to write more.”  “I used to have energy to do more.” “I used to laugh more.” In the series of questions of “what happened?” I wind my way down to the simple fact that I am just…slower. I move a little slower, I contemplate what I want to do, I analyze, maybe too much. It comes up with such a wide variety of topics, I wonder if it will ever cease? I used to do cartwheels, get by with less sleep, have more energy, write often, be excited about travel. Perhaps an over abundance of those things has caused this slowless. Perhaps it is just laziness. Perhaps it is maturity. Can I pray for more of the latter, and a little less of the lazy part?

One of the things I have not done less of is write. However, that writing has been contained to a single topic and the exploration of side subjects in that single topic. The effort break that trend is why you’ve seen more blogs here. This is my place and my soapbox. It is a place for me to play and not really care who checks in or not.

About 15 to 20 years ago, I used to write more fiction. In fact, I wrote serial stories via email. A few select friends would get serials at very random and infrequent intervals, linking together the chapters into some sort of oddly meandering story. It was a way to practice chapter writing and see if I could actually create a convergent story over time. They’ve seemed willing guinea pigs….

A friend’s recent comment about two of the characters in one of the stories made me think about that again. I decided to do something with it, and with the current state of affairs in our lives. So, Tom Narcisso, thank you for the jolt of lightning. Willis and Varna are, alas, gone. Emails vanished into the digital ether. However, I think you, and maybe a few others, will enjoy this next endeavor. Look to this space for more in the coming weeks…years. No title yet… maybe you can help? Let’s see how far we go… *Wink*

-TDD