Completely submerged, I pounded the ice with my fist while panicked boys above me screamed for help. Weighted down by boots, a winter coat, and fear, I could only think of Dana. I was certain that if I didn’t find a hole in the ice I would never see my dog again.
My Scouting Days Were Limited
To say that I was a reluctant boy scout is an understatement. The thought of camping and eating dehydrated packaged foods was repulsive. I went along with the idea to show my aloof step-father that I was not a sissy. Our scout leader’s thinly veiled plan was to have us boys slip flyers under tenement doors in order to earn enough cash to leave the city for greener pastures. I’ll explain the scam later. This charade meant giving up Saturdays, for how long, I don’t recall; all for two insufferable nights with miserable scout leaders intent on showing us how to be real men.
I didn’t mind summer camping so much. Well that’s a lie, I hated the mosquitoes and I despised my pumped up, so called, leaders. But in the summer, I didn’t freeze my ass off and I could at least go swimming. When the leaders announced a winter trip, I asked my mom if I could sit it out. My mother was always concerned about my desire to spend more time in my room than out and about. She insisted that I go and demanded that I have fun. It doesn’t really work that way, but back then, kids did what they were told.
We arrived at the campground in Alpine, New Jersey. It couldn’t have been more than an hour from the city; rural, desolate, and way too far from Brooklyn for my liking. I’m going to say, all in, there were around 15 of us. We got there on an old school bus; the same yellow jalopies still on the road today. The bus was damp and cold and you felt every bump to the point where it hurt your teeth. I’m not a delicate flower mind you, I just didn’t see the point in such nonsense.
It started snowing the night before we left for Alpine and I recall arriving at camp hoping that the cabins were buried so deep we’d have to turn back — no such luck. Upon arrival, we were told to put our things on top of our bunks and return to the dining hall (I use the term loosely), for further instructions. All the boys had boatloads of energy and were anxious to be outdoors; our leaders seemed just as anxious to coax us out. They told us we could play, but that we should stay close to the cabins and return before lunch. They were to remain in the dining hall so that they could map out the rest of the weekend.
My scout peers and I ran into the great beyond, not far from our home base. The snow was over eight inches deep and blanked the camp. Most of us were testing the snow to see whether or not could make snowballs with it. In fact, it was perfect for packing — we were all ready for war . . . boys will be boys. I started running toward the center of what I thought was a wide open field and I felt the ground beneath me crack open; in fact it was a lake, not a field. I was pulled into the frozen water, weighted down by my winter boots and a heavy wool coat. I must have started screaming, but this part is all a blur. I later learned that as soon as I took the plunge, a couple of the boys ran to alert our leaders.
Completely submerged, I frantically searched for an opening in the ice. It was dark under water due to the fallen snow. It felt as if I was moving in slow motion as I listened to frantic screams and tried to swim to the surface; my clothing was soaked through, weighing me down. After what I’m certain was a very long time, I heard splashing nearby. I moved toward the sound and found an opening in the ice. Each time I tried to hold on, the ice broke off. The other boy who had fallen in was thrashing two or three away. I heard panicked voices pleading for the two of us to stay calm, “Help is on the way.”
By the time our scout leaders arrived, we’d broken through quite a large patch of ice. I’d gone under numerous times. The men quickly laid across the ice, creating a human chain, and pulled the two of us out of the lake. We were carried back to the leader’s cabin and placed in front of the fire. My clothing was quickly peeled off of me and I was wrapped in a large blanket. I’m sure my lips had turned blue and I was shivering so badly I feared I would never stop. Looking back, I’m certain our leaders were more fearful of a lawsuit than hypothermia. I recall deafening silence as they attempted to warm us up. I was given a cup of hot chocolate, but I couldn’t stop shaking long enough to get it down.
A decision was made to cancel the weekend and take us all home to our parents. I don’t recall hearing the reaction of the other scouts. One of our leaders grabbed my backpack and took responsibility for getting me home. I didn’t know him very well, I didn’t like him, and I didn’t trust him. In the car, he questioned me about how I fell in the ice. I shared with him what I was certain everyone had told him, that I ran onto what I thought was an open field and fell into the lake. He just nodded and assured me that I’d be home soon.
When we got to my house my mother was anxiously waiting at the door. I didn’t realize they had called ahead and she was crying and obviously angry. She hugged me tighter than usual. I’m was pretty sure that it was all a show; drama was my mother’s specialty and this was a situation that called for plenty of it. The scout leader asked if he could come in. My brothers and sisters all stared at me as if I had some sort of rare disease. I was still bundled in blankets because my coat was soaked. My mother asked the scout leader to have a seat.
I recall her repeating, “How could you let this happen,” several times.
She made it clear that I would never be allowed to go away with the boy scouts again and threatened a lawsuit. This news made me very happy; almost making my submersion into the frozen lake, worth it. My scout leader told her about the snow covered lake and the human chain, but it fell on deaf ears. They spoke for a few more minutes, he apologized again and left. I wasn’t used to see him humble. Once he was gone, my mother reverted back to her old ways and sent me to bed; not before making it clear that falling into the frozen lake was all my fault and that I was lucky to be alive.
I never returned to the boy scouts after that incident and there was no lawsuit ever filed. It wasn’t because my mother didn’t think she had a case, it had more to do with the effort she’d have to make it happen. I have stayed away from fields covered in snow and never once, regretted leaving the scouts.
The flyers work our leaders had us do, was a scheme to line their pockets. Arrests made local news and there were indictments. I recall feeling vindicated. To this day when I see flyers being slipped under doors, I have a visceral resentment for those boy scout “leaders,” and their intention to teach us how to lead.
São Miguel is less than two weeks away and if all goes well, I’ll be back in the States for a visit, by mid-May.
Question of the Week:
Have you ever had your life flash before your eyes? What did you see?
It’s been a year since the start of this pandemic. Hard to believe that much time has passed because to many of us, not much has changed. I say many of us because the majority of people in the world were not personally touched by tragedy. Many died, many got sick, we almost all experienced some sort of lockdown, but many among us were not personally touched by the pandemic . . . and yet.
We want to believe that it’s almost over; there is only so much disruption the average person can tolerate. In truth, COVID-19 will be with us for a long time, perhaps permanently. Over the last few months I have heard many intelligent, resourceful, optimistic people, talk about the upside of this pandemic. For many, the upside has been a discovery of who we are, what we can endure, and what we ultimately want out of our lives. A lot of this is me convincing myself that everything will be okay.
My education, training, and Ph.D. are in higher education, therefore, I am ill equipped to speculate on how this virus will impact our psychological well-being. As usual, I will write from my own experience and observations. What I propose is not science or gospel, it is one individual’s point of view. A point of view I am certain is shared by many and can be seen as a way of understanding why some of us do what we do or say what we say.
The Lessons I have Learned
One of the big life lessons for me is how much joy that I get from going to the gym five or six days a week. Aside from the use of machines to stay in somewhat decent shape, I do a great deal of socializing at the gym. I get there early, very early, and spend about an hour and 15 minutes catching up with gym friends and doing a semi-rigorous workout; convincing myself that because I do this, I can eat anything I want. This has been a steady practice for the last 40 years and until now, I have never missed more than a week at the gym in any given year; I even book hotels with gyms so that I can workout when on vacation. The lesson is, I need to be motivated by others in order to work harder, and two, the routine keeps me on track for the remainder of the day. No doubt I am much more productive after a workout.
I now know that going to bed at the same time everyday and waking up at the same time every morning, helps me to be and feel completely rested throughout the day. When I’m not in lockdown and I go to bed later, I still wake-up early, making me feel sluggish the entire day.
I have rediscovered the joy of cooking. I’m more creative in the kitchen than I have have ever been and I now have a large selection of recipes filed away in my head. The knowledge that things I might have been passionate about in the past can be revived, is the lesson for me. I have been doing a mental sweep of past activities or habits that have fallen to the wayside; several of the positive habits of my youth are worth revisiting (e.g., spending a good deal of time in nature, exploring music).
What I Have Heard From Others
Being home with my partner 24/7 forced me to communicate with him or her and truly get to know them. Well, you know which way that one might go.
I started out on my sofa in the morning, and ended up there at night.
I never realized how disconnected I was with my children. Time with them has been a rediscovery and gift.
I need structure in my life, otherwise I do nothing.
I never thought I had it in me to do ____________________.
I never realized how much I enjoy my own company.
I have finally learned to balance work and leisure time.
I didn’t have to do as much laundry while in lockdown.
We didn’t have much to say to one another after a while.
He got on my nerves.
I fell back in love with him.
I kept worrying that one of us were going to get the virus.
We never ran out of toilet paper.
Human beings are super resilient. Faced with adversity we find ways to make change, improvements, and get on with life. This pandemic has forced people to consider new careers and work in ways they never imagined they would or could. Sitting down and taking inventory of what lessons have presented themselves to us is important. Don’t just assume you will realize what you’ve been taught or what you have taken for granted. Pat yourself on the back for what you have accomplished and make that a habit, in time, you’ll rely on others less for motivation. Internal encouragement and cheerleading is healthy and will lead to success. It will also lead to your encouragement of others — something we do not do nearly enough. I think this is one of the reasons so many seek “likes” on social media.
The Lessons We Refuse to Learn
What has amazed me throughout this pandemic, is the number of people who refuse to a wear mask or who continue to gather in close spaces with large numbers of people. I’ve seen some of this in my own family and I find it baffling. When you consider the number of people who have lost their lives, the enormous amount of people who became seriously ill, and the impact closing the economy on the world has had on billions of people, many, refuse to believe the pandemic should be taken seriously. Refusing to comply with mandates is madness and a selfish act of defiance. Again, I rely on karma in place of revenge. Yes, I’m slightly pissed off.
Some of us have used this past year as an excuse to overindulge and become complacent; rationalizing the pandemic as a pass for sluggish behavior (who’s watching anyway). It’s not too late to get out of bed and start something new; something that might someday have you saying:
The pandemic was the start of me realizing my potential and fulfilling my dreams.
Cancelled Cuba which was scheduled for April 22. The government wanted to hole me up in my hotel room for a few days and bring me food. I’d be watching god knows what on TV waiting for COVID test results. Not going to happen. Rescheduled to February 2022. The good news (I think) is that I’m headed to São Miguel in the Azores instead. I’ve already book tours to the volcanos, falls and gin tasting. I’ll be writing about it for sure.
United Airlines wanted to re-book me from Lisbon to Newark on my seven hour flight, headed home in May. Their proposal: go through two countries in the wrong direction and get me to the States 29 hours later. I should note that this is without apology. Not going to happen. Booked Delta on a direct flight and crossing my fingers.
Toulouse, France in June: flight cancelled for the fourth time. This time I put it off until April 2022 (just around the corner).
I have tickets on EasyJet for Lyon, France in June; I’m waiting for that cancellation. They have already changed one of the legs of my journey. See a pattern here?
Bristol, UK in July. I’m thinking this will happen, it’s been postponed three times.
No sign of a vaccine for me here in Portugal, they’re very slow in getting this done. I’ll be getting lots of COVID-19 tests done for travel. It does feel a bit like things are changing for the good. There’s that optimist.
I’ve Been a Bad Boy
This week I started a big fight on Facebook around the issue of dog poop in Portugal. I have to say it was fun to watch it play out. People get really passionate around any attack on culture. I had to unfriend a couple of crazies. Root canal this week as well; a tooth infection could take you down a dark path. My dentist insisted it was a receding gum issue — doctors could do a better job listening to their patients.
This is a difficult topic for me. I am strong and for the most part able to resist many of my impulses, but I have been fighting urges to act on the negative ones all of my life. Some impulses are positive and should not be ignored. For example when you see hunger and pain outside of your own community and you have an impulse to help, you should act on it. Warning: I may be a bit preachy in this blog.
Impulse defined: a sudden strong and unreflective urge or desire to act (Google)
The Impact of Impulse Decisions on our Lives
The world is made up of a vast array of different personality types; some strong with good intentions and others, out-of-control and divisive. We have various tools at our disposal that help us to control aspects of our personalities that might cause harm or pain. For the purpose of this blog, I’d like to discuss impulses that have an impact on our own future, not necessarily the future of others. Obviously, our decisions affect and impact those around us as well; however, it is the more personal variety I am exploring today.
Decisions About Where to Live
Acting on impulses regarding where you live can have long lasting effects. How many times have you heard a friend say, “I could live here,” better still, how many times have you thought it or said it yourself?
Where you end up residing is by far one of the most important decisions of your life. Granted, wherever you decide to live, it is possible to leave; however, the amount of details that one has to attend to in order to relocate, are cumbersome to say the least. So much of your happiness depends on your external environment. This is one impulse that should definitely be checked and kept in control. Do your homework, visit and spend some time there, ask people who live there, write a pros and cons list, work-up a budget, and have a plan.
Don’t overthink it.
Our impulses often take us to dark places that are difficult or impossible to resist. For example, no one likes pain: psychological pain, physical pain, and or emotional pain. Our instinct tells us that we should do everything we can to make it go away. Unfortunately, many of today’s remedies are harmful to us and may have long lasting effects. So when you turn to the bottle for relief and escape, your mind tells you that it’s a temporary escape; you only need one cocktail and you won’t need it again tomorrow. I know too many alcoholics who went down that slippery slope with little or no awareness that it was happening, while it was happening. So many people die due to alcohol abuse and the casualties of abuse, every day, yet it’s hardly ever a part of the public conversation. You know why that is and it’s time to face the horrible truth. We mandate the wearing of masks, ban smoking indoors, and we keep transgender people out of certain bathrooms, but we allow excess drinking almost everywhere. No one has the right to put others in danger.
Regrets are usually a waste of time, but I have one regret which will haunt me my entire life: my marriage. My ex-wife was perfect in every way: beautiful, smart, trustworthy, loving, and devoted. We were never compatible because she was straight and I was closeted. How could she have known when I hid it so well? But my impulse was to snatch her up because she could provide the life I “thought” I wanted and should have. I could be a husband, a father, and we could live happily ever after. In what universe? When will people stop judging one another and start opening up to the many faces of love.
If you’re one of those people saying, “But isn’t it much better than it used to be?” shame on you.
I take full responsibility for the farce of my marriage, but I also blame the world around me that taught me to discard any other possibility. I have apologized to the woman I married many times; still, the pain I caused her will never be fully forgotten. I appreciate her love and forgiveness, because that and my integrity, are all I have.
Giving Birth to Children
I know that human beings, like all animals, are naturally meant to procreate and I’m certainly not advocating that we stop bringing children into the world.
However . . . I firmly believe that some make the decision to have children without thinking it through. Most of what I feel comes from my own experience of having a mother who had seven children in a very short period of time. She had little or no concern about how she would care for and feed her babies. My father probably had even less concern, sadly, I never got to ask.
I have a couple of female friends who consciously decided not to mother children. They gave it a great deal of thought and came to this very sound conclusion. Both have told me that they have been getting grief for their decision for years; some people think there is something wrong with them for not wanting children. I think our grief is misplaced, we should be focusing on those who decide to give birth and then either abuse their children and/or put the burden on others to care for them. Obviously there are exceptions, I don’t feel the need to explain what those are.
The Impulses I Fight Daily and How I Control them
I’m happy to share the impulses I have that I believe could be problematic in my own life. I view these urges as a weakness; controlling my destructive behavior has always been challenging. I know that I am harder on myself than I need to be, but the alternative is not an option. My intention is to let you know you’re not alone; fighting one’s demons is an uphill battle. Yes, the things I share are extremely personal; however, I hid my true self for over 20 years and that didn’t do anyone any good. Counseling has helped me over the years; however, I suspect my story includes a fight to the end. Giving you a glimpse of my journey helps me to try harder and heal from past mistakes.
Alcohol Abuse: I often mention alcohol in my blogs, therefore, I thought I should address it. I have been fortunate when it comes to alcohol. As I have said before, I occasionally enjoy a late afternoon cocktail and a glass or two of wine with my evening meal. If it’s a special occasion, I might have a second cocktail, but this is very rare. I have never had a problem with alcohol abuse, however, there are several reasons I limit my alcohol intake:
I like being in total control — my somewhat compulsive personality dictates my behavior
I prefer not to pay the high price of alcohol in a bar or restaurant.
There are times when I am out and driving (certainly not of late); alcohol and driving cannot happen
I drink slowly and enjoy my cocktail or wine.
I do not drink to become inebriated and can honestly say I never have (except at that one Bar Mitzvah when I was 12 years old).
I mention alcoholism now and again because I have several individuals in my life who are alcoholics. I do would not and do not judge those who have a difficult time controlling their alcohol intake; I am aware that addiction is a disease . It is painful to watch someone you care about spin out of control due to substance abuse. I have seen a tremendous amount of success with Alcoholics Anonymous and/or Narcotics/Marijuana Anonymous. To be honest, quick rehabilitation programs seem to be less effective. It is my understanding that alcoholism is linked to genetics. I’m not a professional abuse counselor and my opinion is just that. Please challenge me if you believe I have a problem with alcohol abuse.
Gambling: this vice is an entirely different story. There is no doubt in my mind that if I did not control my impulse to gamble, it would become a problem. Both of my parents loved and abused gambling. My mother incurred a massive amount of debt due to her habit; I believe my father was able to keep his impulse under control, but I have no doubt that he lost a great deal of money in his life; horse racing was his vice.
The most I have ever lost at one time, was about $1800 on a cruise ship. It was my birthday and stupid me was thinking: you have to win, it’s your birthday. Any smart person will tell you that you cannot gamble expecting to win. In this case I visited the ATM machine on the ship three times in one night. I told myself that I could go to the machine once and that would be my limit. Ha, that never works. Because I was so angry for losing that much money, I convinced myself that it could not and would not happen again. This is how I control my gambling:
I limit myself to three casino visits per year (I usually come closer to five or six visits).
My bank has a daily withdrawal limit on my ATM card.
I put a certain amount of cash in my pocket and I leave my credit cards and ATM card at home (harder to do on a ship, but even leaving the cards in my cabin, is a deterrent.
I do not live near a casino and that was always a conscious choice.
If the impulse is strong, I will often treat myself to a nice dinner instead.
Gamblers are judged harshly in our society, therefore, it is seldom discussed with friends or family. Instead, it is divisive and draped in shame. Even writing about my own battle with it is shame filled and upsetting.
Overeating or Impulse Eating: this too has been a lifelong battle for me. I love food; not just sweets, I enjoy savory food with as much fervor. I’ve written several blogs about my struggles with eating; to be frank, I have for the most part conquered this addiction. Portion control, meditation, and vanity, have prevented obesity. At this point in my life comfort is essential. If I eat too much, I am uncomfortable and in the end, it’s not worth the limited pleasure I might have gotten from two more ribs or that second piece of cake.
All of these impulses, although personal, affect the wellbeing of others in your life. Acknowledging you might have a problem, monitoring your behavior and seeking help, are all essential for success in overcoming these difficulties. As I write about my own struggles, there are a few realities that come to mind: the impulses I speak of effect many of us; more than society cares to admit, we cope with most of these difficulties on our own because of the stigma attached to them, and lastly, to be flawed and challenged is to be human. Never give up the fight; giving in or giving up, is the worst thing you can do. If you need help, ask for it.
I realize that I did not cover every impulse we struggle with in our lives. Admittedly, the stress most of us are under during this pandemic, only make resisting negative impulses more challenging.
After a great deal of resistance and skepticism, I have fallen in love with podcasts. It happened shortly after our second lockdown in Portugal. It was hard and fast and I’m better for having embraced it. Although I love music and have been listening to music while working out for years, I found my long, rigorous walks with music, tedious. I noticed a podcast option on Spotify one day and thought I’d give it a try. It’s been a truly transformative experience. I now look forward to my long walks, choosing which podcast I will listen to before I leave my apartment. Stay with me, I’m getting to the point.
One of my favorites is Modern Love, a New York Times podcast. Modern Love is a column that started in the NY Times in 2004; I didn’t know till now that it was also a podcast. They’re usually about 15 minutes long and nearly always engaging. Essays about love, loss and redemption, are read by mostly famous people. These readers choose an essay because it resonates with them in some way or another. I’m listening to one of these podcasts, and it’s a reaction to a study done where you can meet a potential romantic partner, ask them a set of 36 questions, and then by the end, know whether or not you are compatible.
I can’t see myself participating in such an experiment; however, the concept of truly getting to know a person based on their answers, peaked my interest. Lockdown can be a massive downer if you allow it to get to you. Day after day of the same routine, not knowing the day of the week, wondering when it will come to an end. It has forced some of us to be creative with our time and perhaps even use the time to improve our lives.
As a single man, living alone, I find that if I’m not careful, days can go by without human interaction. If you’re an introvert like me, that could be considered nirvana; but I’m not sure how healthy it is. A friend of mine in Brooklyn, and dare I say, my soulmate, has a similar attitude about solitude. Gina and I have talked about why we enjoy living alone and how we are seldom lonely, many times. But this Modern Love podcast on “36 Questions” had me thinking about how well I know Gina. We’ve been friends for over twenty years; good friends for over 15 years. She is beautiful, funny, independent, probably the best mother I know, resilient, an amazing cook, and she loves me, but how well do I really know her?
We speak via Facetime almost everyday and when I visit New York City, I almost always stay with her. As friends often do, we share problems with one another, hoping for sympathy, empathy, and sometimes just an ear. But there is this 35 year period before we became friends that I know little about. There are also the things we may not share for fear of embarrassment or just consideration; not wanting to bore the other person or drag them into our neuroses. As I considered my friendship with Gina and what I knew or didn’t know, it occured to me that this might be a good time to take our friendship to a deeper level.
The idea of asking Gina questions about herself seemed like a great way to start. A few weeks ago I sat on my terrace with a pen and paper and a smart cocktail (a term another friend uses for cocktails that are complex and have deeper meaning). I deliberately did not look at the 36 questions from the study; wanting to customize my questions to suit my intention. Armed with three poignant questions I was excited to pose to Gina, I gave her a call.
There are two things I have to tell you about Gina: First, unlike me, she always cares about how she looks, lockdown or not. She has a knack for casual fashion and she knows how to flawlessly accessorize. Second, she is almost always thrilled to see my face on her screen. So she answers the phone wearing a beautiful Channel scarf in her kitchen. She sits in a stool next to her kitchen island, straightens her back, and usually says, “Hello Babe, whatcha doin?” Who wouldn’t want to be greeted that way? Her long, dirty blond hair is usually tucked behind her ears and recently washed. We sometimes have an agenda, having texted one another with reminders to mention some documentary or another. However, still, this is mostly small talk; making conversation.
Gina, I wrote down three questions that would help me get to know you better, are you game?
“Sure babe, fire away.”
There have been a couple of occasions over the years when Gina said, “I don’t want to talk about it.”
Trust me, when this happens I am smart enough to keep my mouth shut. Gina is from Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, you don’t mess with Gina. It’s one of the many things I love about her.
Gina was delighted to answer my three questions. After about 20 minutes of revealing conversation, I felt closer to her that day. What I found even more gratifying, was Gina’s delight in my interest in her thoughts. She thanked me several times and she said she’d like to ask me several questions as well, but that she’d like some time to prepare, another thing I love about her.
I’m certain you’re asking yourself why I don’t just marry her? Life is complicated isn’t it? The point I’m making is that getting to know someone on a deeper level is worth the effort for many reasons:
We all want to be appreciated
Being truly listened to and heard is a rare gift
Knowing someone better helps us to understand where they are coming from and where they are going
At times we spare one another the pain we are going through; this is a great way to give voice to the things that may be troubling us
A beautiful way to pass the time
It can be wonderfully disarming
There is a chance the effort will be reciprocated, as it was with Gina
Every yin has a yang, and my relationship with Gina is no different. There are days when I don’t want to talk to anyone and being that we are both introverts, she’s okay with that. There are days when Gina goes right into, “One quick thing before ‘we’ hang-up,” a hint she might be done, and then of course there is the occasional more than one call in a day, but I know that’s all normal stuff, we’re only human after all.
This blog is more for me than for you. I recently learned that the Portuguese government will extend lockdown until early April. On top of that, my vaccine is months away and the two jabs could get in the way of travel. It’s been a difficult year, however, I have come to realize that there are several things that I now do and can do, to make lockdown more tolerable. I made a list which I believe is best left in my journal.
When you put it all down on paper, it’s a full life. Last year I read interviews that were done with elderly people close to the end of their lives: when asked, “Is there anything you would have done differently?”, they overwhelmingly responded that they would have worked less and spent more time doing the things they enjoyed. For the most part, I’m doing the things I enjoy, in and out of lockdown. Excellent life lesson, especially for someone who believes that we get one shot at making it count.
I should add that I am acutely aware of those all over the world who are far less fortunate; gratitude helps keep things in perspective. I must admit this all seems a bit trite considering the current condition of humanity.
Spring has arrived here in the Algarve; it’s warmer, greener, and hope is in the air. That makes me smile.
“ALWAYS WEAR A SMILE BECAUSE YOU NEVER KNOW WHO IS WATCHING.”
I want to smile more. I do. One would think that this would be an easy goal, but trust me, if you’re not inclined to smile, deciding to do so, just like that, is a difficult objective. I was born cynical, but coming up in my world, how could I not be. I also believe this is one of those nature/nurture arguments. Was I cynical because of my genetic makeup or did growing up in a tortured household make me cynical. For the purpose of this piece, let’s call it a draw and say that both factors are the cause. The point is, I have to work at smiling and how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.
“Love yourself for who you are, and trust me, if you are happy from within, you are the most beautiful person, and your smile is your best asset.”
Some Ways/Places to Practice Smiling
Tell yourself to smile every morning. You can do it when you’re brushing your teeth. It won’t take any more time out of your busy day. Soon it will be as routine as brushing; you won’t even think about it.
Add a little caveat to practicing your smile: make it so that you cannot smile unless you add something you’re grateful for. For example: this morning, before I brushed my teeth, I thought about how grateful I was that I slept well and then I smiled.
Practice while you’re doing something mundane — like when you’re on the treadmill at the gym or while you’re riding in a bus or on the subway.
Look straight into a mirror and keep smiling.
Practice with a friend or family member. Let them tell you what they think of your smile and accept the feedback. Is it genuine? Too broad? Too big?
Be Your Own Motivator
I have a friend whom I met at a gym in Portland, Maine. He was struggling on an abdominal machine near where I was working out. He saw me watching him and asked me if I knew how to use the machine. I hopped on and did a few reps (gym lingo for repetitions just to show you how cool I can be). Chomba is from Zambia, he studied in Europe, he’s in his 20s and he’s quite a specimen; naturally I was pleased to show him how to use the machine correctly. Like any normal man, I preened and walked away triumphant. A few days later I saw him using the same machine and he was smiling ear-to-ear. Honestly, Chomba has the most genuine and beautiful smile I have ever seen. I noticed him using the very same machine on a regular basis. I finally approached him and asked him if he used any other equipment at the gym. He shared a big laugh and thanked me for showing him how to use the machine. I said, “Chomba, because I always see you on this ab machine, I am naming it the Chomba Machine.” From then on I when I would see him I would ask if he had done his ab reps on the Chomba machine that day.
Weeks went by of just saying hello in the gym and I thought it was time to become friends outside of Planet Fitness. I approached him and invited him over to my place for dinner. I was having a dinner party and I thought he’d be a great addition to my guest list. Chomba was delighted and came to my place with a nice bottle of wine. Everyone at party fell in love with him. He’s the kind of person who lights up the room and makes everyone feel special. That night I learned that he was a motivator working out of Boston. His firm was hired by companies to motivate their staff (Chomba if I’m getting this all wrong I apologize). What I loved more than anything is that he did not boast about his work or his life. We had to poke and pry before he came clean. Chomba is a modest fella. By the way, Chomba models now (lives in Portland, OR — fairly new) and always stays in touch. I’m grateful for his candor, his loyalty and his beautiful smile.
What Chomba has taught me is invaluable. Essentially, you can be your own motivator. You can do what he does, but in your own head. You can get yourself charged-up and energized whenever you feel yourself needing a little boost.
Having been a sociology student in college, I often love to go back to my roots and do human interaction (behavior) experiments. I occasionally spend the day smiling all day just to see how people respond to it. I also enjoy seeing if it affects my mood.
I have to say that I get pretty amazing results:
People almost always smile back.
It sometimes feels like you’re waking someone up and suddenly they seem to come alive.
It makes me feel lighter.
The results make me want to do it more often.
Sometimes it makes strangers laugh; especially when I smile really big. I’m thinking, they must think I’m crazy, but who cares.
There is a reason for the saying “A smile goes a long way.”
I am in the middle of a very frustrating experience with an upgrade to my apartment. The person responsible for getting the work done has been slacking off and it’s sort of driving me crazy. The project began 14 months ago. I decided to give him an ultimatum knowing that he might walk away from the job. Instead, when I saw him I smiled. It appears that is not what he expected and I believe he may be close to finishing the job. Yesterday, I received a call from a man who will hopefully complete the job this week.
One of the interesting things about blogging is how your mood and thoughts change as you work through a particular thread of thoughts. I woke today in a non-smiling mood. You may relate to what I’m feeling, except that I don’t quite know what I am feeling. What I do know, is that I don’t feel like smiling. I had an interaction yesterday that was troubling and it’s still on my mind. I’m pissed to put it bluntly.
I am going to work through these feelings and thoughts by forcing a smile and see where it takes me.
The next day: the left home for a bed & breakfast about 90 minutes away. Sometimes it helps to be away from your familiar environment. I found myself smiling just as soon as I boarded the train.
Smiling is one of those things you can do to brighten your day and/or someone else’s day, and it cost nothing! Nada! Zip! Zero cents! In fact, studies have shown that it’s good for you too.
http://www.waynedentalarts.com The act of smiling activates neural messaging that benefits your health and happiness. … The feel-good neurotransmitters — dopamine, endorphins and serotonin — are all released when a smile flashes across your face as well (4). This not only relaxes your body, but it can also lower your heart rate and blood pressure.Jun 25, 2012
I’m not proud of it, but it had to be done. I held my mother’s icy cold hand and I whispered, “You can go now mom.”
“Why don’t you feel good about this? Wasn’t it the kindest thing to do?” If my intention was to have my mother pass in order to end her suffering, that would have been kind; however, that was not my intention. In truth, I thought it was wrong to keep her hooked up to a respirator and I knew she’d try to hang on for as long as she could; mom was fiercely stubborn. We had a complicated relationship and I was tired of the drama; I was done. Before you start hating me, I’d like you to consider a few facts. For one, my mother had been in and out of hospital for several years and near death numerous times. She was resuscitated and even though she told my stepfather that she did not want to be, he went ahead and ordered it anyway. She had not completed the paperwork in hospital, no surprise to me or my siblings.
When I say that my relationship with my mother was complicated, I believe an explanation is warranted. In many ways, throughout my youth and twenties, I was the parent. My mother was a heavy smoker (even during her pregnancies), a gambler, cheated on my father, a thief (insurance fraud and groceries to name two), and she did psychological damage to all four of her daughters. Three out of four of my sisters had eating disorders due to my mother’s unhealthy weight obsession. I was constantly reminding her about the hazards of smoking, begging her to cut back on that and gambling, and soothing a great deal of her self-inflicted pain. So when I said, You can go now mom, it was after many years of shame and disappointment, as well as a strong belief that modern medicine was prolonging the inevitable. Some people will say that I judged her harshly; others will say that it does not matter how awful she was, I should not speak ill of her. You can be certain that my living siblings would attest to my account of our upbringing and the chaos she rained upon us as adults.
When she was alive she would actually say, “I know you’re going to write a book about me when I die.”
That was her way of telling me to wait. The irony is that I loved her. When family members would scorn her, I would jump to her defense. But deep down I believed that she was selfish, disingenuous and should probably not have given birth to children. True, she had an abusive father and she got pregnant when she was 16 years old, but that does not excuse the poor mothering; she knew better. I’m certain she knew better.
So when I told my mother that she could go, she had a week prior contracted an incurable blood disease in hospital, and she was in a medically induced coma. My niece was with me in the room and witnessed my mother’s reaction. Nicole was close to my mother, her grandmother, and she agreed that my mother would be better off letting go. Being that mom was in a coma, I expected her to continue to lie still; what I was to tell her was more for me than for her. After I whispered, “You can go now mom,” my mother violently shook her head from side-to-side. I’m not going to lie, it was unexpected and scary.
We shared this with her doctor, who shrugged and said, “It could have been an involuntary reaction or she could have been in the middle of a dream.”
Nonsense. My mother heard me and she was letting me know she didn’t want to die. The whole damn affair was extremely frustrating. Frank, her husband, had been ill for quite some time. He had dementia and other issues and he was in no position to be making decisions about mother’s life. The hospital was concerned about liability and nothing else. My mother remained in a coma for two more weeks until my stepfather gave the go ahead to pull the plug. Frank was not my favorite person in the world and considering how much he supposedly loved my mother, it was ironic that he spent most of her memorial service flirting with a younger blond.
As you can see, I haven’t been able to just shrug-off the experience at her deathbed. It’s been almost 10 years and I still see mom shaking her head violently. Perhaps I remember her obstinance more than her actual reaction. These demons we carry around are quite strong and they show their potency at times when we are most vulnerable.
Despite my resentment and anger, I miss her dearly. She gave birth to me and mothered me for over 50 years; if I didn’t have strong feelings, I’d be an amoeba. I miss how she eagerly took my calls, how she put up with my badgering about the past, her unapologetic sense of humor, her ability to make strangers feel better, her fighting spirit, the happiness she would always try to portray, the grace in which she dealt with losing two children, when she worked as a bartender until 2:00 a.m. every night to ensure there would be food on the table, her support for my education, the way she dealt with my sexuality, her reputation for being one of the best poker players in North Carolina, and her sloppy, but well intentioned cooking.
Perhaps I did want her to leave us peacefully and without guilt, perhaps that was my intention after all.
I dream about her a lot — another sign that her life and death matter. I do forgive my mother, but I have not forgiven myself. The takeaway for me: dream of her for the rest of your life, that way she will remain with you. And for you: None of us should throw stones, especially when personal perfection is so far from reality.
Nothing like homemade pizza. Two tips: 1)pizza freezes well and 2)use parchment paper on your pizza peel and you won’t have to worry about the dough sticking to it — remove parchment halfway through the cooking process.
Lockdown continues in Portugal. I’ve given up guessing how long this will last. Most planned holidays have been scrapped or rescheduled. Cuba in April is precarious; hoping the U.S. in May sticks.
Question of the week:
Does something from your past haunt you? How do you cope with it?
This will be a short blog. Not because I haven’t made mistakes, in fact, I’ve made many mistakes. The reason this blog will be brief, is that I am working on being more positive. Weeks and weeks of lockdown can send you down a dark rabbit hole and I’m choosing an upward path.
Objectivity is way more challenging than most of us care to admit. For me, everything is always personal. The former president signs an executive order to ban immigrants from several Middle East countries and I take it personally. It’s not terribly healthy, but I recognize the mantra, “It’s not about me,” is worth repeating often . . . very often.
Big Mistakes Versus Tiny Ones
I often say regrets are a waste of time; therefore, rehashing bad decisions would be futile; except in at least one circumstance: if you can learn from your mistake.
For example, and I’ll avoid a personal recounting for a change, you purchase oysters and put them in the refrigerator. You plan on opening the oysters that evening, but something comes up and you tell yourself you’ll shuck them the next day. Life happens and the next day comes and goes. On the third day you remember the oysters sitting in the refrigerator. You think about the $26 you spent on them and you wonder how long they sat in the fish market stall before you bought them. You ponder their freshness for another 30 seconds and then you say, “Oh, heck, I’m sure they’re fine, I’m going to have Harry shuck them.” That night you and Harry end up with food poisoning that almost sends you to hospital. I think it’s safe to say that you will never make that mistake again. And who the hell is Harry?
For me, the biggest mistake one could make would involve badly hurting another person. There are so many examples of this: having an affair, killing someone (accidentally or on purpose), pinning a crime on an innocent person, driving drunk and paralyzing someone for life, and more.
Hard to fix a big mistake, in fact, in many cases impossible. You end up having to live with the mistake and live with yourself. So why do we make big mistakes? No easy answer here; however, there is something we can do to preempt big mistakes:
NEVER drink and drive
When you get so angry you want to use your physical power against someone, walk away
Play the worst case scenario game and if the outcome is dire, don’t go with that plan, choose another
Ask friends for their advice
Write a pros and cons list (my favorite past time)
Use protection prior to sex with someone you don’t know very well
Small mistakes are quite different. We make small mistakes nearly everyday. Beating yourself or someone else up over a small mistake, is a waste of good energy (as are regrets). Instead, why not apologize to someone or use it as a teachable moment. No major damage was done and a lesson might be learned. Repeating bad behavior is inexcusable.
A mistake I made this week: I walked into the dog park in my neighborhood with Paco. Please keep in mind that I have been going there with him for seven months and there has never been an issue. I asked the two people in the park if it’s okay to take Paco off-leash. We were all three wearing a mask and the two individuals were fairly far away from the entrance. I believed I had been given the go ahead. Unbeknown to me, one of the two women, is tried to tell me that she didn’t believe our dogs would get along. I didn’t comprehend this until Paco charged her dog and attacked him. The owner screamed and lifted her dog off the ground with his leash. Paco grabbed his tail and he was literally swinging off the dog’s tail. I pried Paco off and tried to grab him, but he was angry and rabid. I held the woman’s dog high in the air so that Paco could not harm him and she managed to put Paco on his leash. I learned that this poor woman has heart problems.
I anguished over this mishap for several days. I have since learned that you cannot not expect a neutered male (Paco) to play with or interact with a non-neutered male (her dog). Lesson learned and I hope it never happens again; it was extremely scary and could have ended in the spilling of blood or even the death of her beloved pet.
Side note: There was an unneutered male dog at the park yesterday and his owner assured me that there would not be a problem. She was right, Paco played beautifully and happily with this dog. She told me that it is not the neuter factor, but a scent that dogs give off. It is this uncertainty that concerns me. Is there a clear cause and effect answer?
Recommend an excellent podcast, Obama and The Boss
Question of the Week:
I’m getting some great feedback on and off-line and I want to let you know how much I appreciate it.
Have you done something in the past that haunts you? Is it time to let it go?
Is there someone else? When did it start? I should have known you’d cheat, you bastard; who is he? How did I not see it. I didn’t want to see it, I was blindsided . . . or so I thought. The truth is, there were weeks and weeks of deafening exchanges, changes in patterns, and forced smiles. Back then I thought I was the cat’s pajamas, the guy who could pick and choose. Why would anyone walk away from a guy who can cook?
In total, we broke-up nine torturous times. Each time I swore to the gods that I would never go back. How many times can you smash your head against the wall before you realize it may cause permanent damage?
When you force a conversation, please talk to me, tell me what you’re feeling, tell me what’s wrong, and this is what he tells you:
“I don’t know.”
You don’t know? I ask.
“I don’t know.”
Time to walk away, except for some reason you will never fully understand, you stay. You stay and allow yourself a daily dose of torture; sometimes two or three doses. That’s called low self-esteem and it’s time to build it back up, but not there, not with him. It took a good deal of heartache and losing a couple of friends, before I had finally had enough. I was fortunate that the tipping point arrived before I’d hit rock bottom. I know too many people who stay and regret it years later. Sound familiar?
Side note: When someone says, “I don’t know why I treat you so badly,” it’s because they are afraid of saying the one thing that might make you say, “Fuck you, get out and don’t come back.” As hard as we might try, we cannot change people.
What’s Your Story
Many of us have ended relationships. For some, it’s as easy as snapping your fingers; for others, it feels more like passing a kidney stone. For me, I’d have to say it depends on who it is and the circumstances.
We never really know what another person is thinking or feeling. They can tell us or we can guess; however, the truth can be elusive or distorted. Here’s what I mean:
You’re dating an individual who may have very few faults or imperfections. If you’re like me, the tiniest issues reveal themselves very early on. You find yourself tormented by the idea of ending the relationship because you might not see it going anywhere. Sabotage is alive and well in my world. Communication is essential, without it, you have a wobbly foundation. With a solid foundation, you can address nearly any issue. Still, some problems are insurmountable and if your eyes are wide open, you’ll see it.
The Kinds of Endings You Might Contemplate:
Love Relationships — I am the last person to comment on ending love relationships. There are only two things that I know for certain: 1) Sex after a break-up will not make you feel better or help you get over him, and 2) Until you decide it’s over, it will not truly be over. If your gut tells you it’s not working, listen to your gut.
Friendships — Ending a friendship, long or short, is not easy. However, not unlike a love relationship, once a friendship becomes toxic or unpleasant, it’s time to consider cutting your losses. In the end, it’s about what you think of yourself. If you value your self-worth and quality of life, walking away from a friendship — as difficult as it might be — may be the best thing you can do. I think this rule applies to any friendship, long or short.
Many of us view the end of a friendship as failure; for some of us, failure is not an option. So we remain and allow it to slowly rot bits and pieces of our core. I had a 25 year friendship that ended about 10 years ago. I contacted this former friend on her birthday a few years back and she was very angry; she hadn’t let go of the bitterness that tore us apart. I realized that nothing and changed. In some ways that revelation can be a good thing, it helps gives you closure and affirmation. We reach out to one another on our birthdays now, that’s about all the contact either of us can tolerate. Not going to lie, every once in a while I find myself missing this person, but then I recall why it went south and I am relieved that I called it quits when I did. At the end of the day, your integrity is all that matters; and your sanity, that matters as well.
There are those who believe that when you end something it’s best not to revisit it. I’ve had situations when I can’t recall why it ended in the first place and some people do evolve, don’t they?
Business Partnerships — I have a friend that hated his business partner. It got so bad he’d drink himself to sleep at night. If have to ask yourself if it’s worth the pain and suffering, your answer is right there in front of you. Talk to anyone who ended a business relationship that was poisonous; nine out of ten times they’ll tell you they bounced back and came back stronger. When you take care of yourself, you not only fix the problem at hand, but you also end up mending a lot of other broken parts happening simultaneously. Your courage and strength carries over to all other aspects of your life.
Family — This is kind of break-up has hit close to home recently and it is still somewhat raw. If I write about it, I’ll get a bit of backlash and it’s not worth it. I will say that as difficult as it might be to walk away, there are situations that are so distressing, remaining in touch can do physical and emotional harm. In the end, your choice should be to protect yourself. Exhaust every avenue to fix what is broken before you say goodbye. The harder you know you have tried, the less you will regret your decision.
If you don’t end up sad and hurt by the loss, you are either uncaring or way too guarded. Having an open and loving heart has its pitfalls, but I’d rather be sad and hurt than live through life feeling nothing. Or even worse, being angry all the time.
Employment — This break-up variety is every bit as onerous as any other. You add money and fear of failure to this equation and you have quite a lot to consider. One of the things I did that I found helpful, was to make a list of the pros and cons. I also played the worst case scenario game, which I always find helpful. When you’re going through the hardship, you’re thinking I will never survive if this ended. In truth, we always survive. On the other side of abuse and unappreciative supervisors/owners is something better. Remember there is only one direction you can go when things get that bad. If you’re dreading going to the office or meeting with your boss, that’s a pretty clear sign that it’s time to move on. When my doctor prescribed Xanax so that I could sit in the same room with my ex-boss, I knew it was time to go. Don’t let it get to that point.
One of my favorite ending a relationship quotes:
“I thought I was strong, holding on to you, but I was stronger when I was letting you go.”
Cuba postponed to April 22. I will hopefully get to finally go. Back to the States to see friends and family in May (we’ll see). I’m accustomed to the uncertainty.
I’m still in lockdown here in Portugal. The police are out checking for face masks, ID, and for those who might be illegally leaving their municipality. I’m not sure how much more surreal this whole experience could be. It seems like there may be a light at the end of this tunnel — stay strong and healthy.
Question of the Week:
Do you have a successful break-up story to share or advice you might like to convey?
Photos: the copper cataplana pot is my most recent purchase. I have wanted one since I relocated to Portugal. They’re fairly expensive. I bought this one used and cooked my first seafood stew with it a few days ago. You cook with it on your stove top and serve it in the same pot. The seafood simmers in its own savory juices, providing outstanding results. The marble tabletop was custom ordered a few months ago after being inspired by the Portuguese marble I saw in Alentejo in the middle of Portugal. My neighborhood Catholic church holding outdoor mass (I stumbled upon services while jogging). Paco looking healthy and happy. He’s been with me one year now. Jamie Oliver’s quick pizza recipe, I have come to love. The evening view of the Ria Formosa and Atlantic Ocean, from my terrace. Lastly, a seaside landscape I will never grow tired of (a weekend trip one hour from home, near Portimão).
I posted a blog at the one year overseas mark. It’s now been close to three years — time to post an update.
Before I begin the update, I want to share a thought:
Millions of people all over the world are dying and suffering from illness and loss due to COVID-19. Like most, I am consumed by this pandemic. My way of maintaining some normalcy is to continue to blog and carry on with the things that I can do to remain upbeat and optimistic. We all deal with difficulties in our own way.
A Brief Overview
I have pondered living outside of the United States my entire adult life. Until a couple of years ago, the opportunity had not presented itself. I moved to Maine prior to relocating to Portugal, but it never felt like the right fit. When I’m unhappy I usually consider something I might do to change things up; leaving the country was my best option. I love the United States and will not give-up my citizenship. You just never know what the future has in store for you.
Update: When I wrote this two years ago, I was reluctant to make political comments in my blog posts. There were times I didn’t hold back. When Donald Trump became the republican nominee in 2016, I told the people that I loved that I would leave the country if he won. Like many, I couldn’t imagine him leading my country. I have had a few people ask if I will return to the States now that he is no longer in office. My answer is I don’t know. I have decided to allow these kinds of life decisions to come organically. If I later decide that returning to the States is the right thing for me, then I will return. For now, I’m enjoying Portugal and enjoying stability. Stability has been elusive until now.
The Highs (Positives)
I think the best part of leaving the States has been the ability to gain some perspective. A big move, such as the one I made, forces you to take inventory of your life. I left most of my material belongings behind. I didn’t put my things in storage, I got rid of them. I brought five suitcases full of memories I did not want to part with and clothing I hoped would fit for a long time. The purging of most of my material belongings was a good exercise for me. It made me realize that I can live without so much of what I have accumulated. It was also nice to start fresh.
Update: Admittedly, there are times when I wish I had brought a certain something with me. It’s usually a fleeting thought; I quickly remind myself that I have survived for quite awhile without that rug, toilet paper dispenser, or skillet.
The people in Portugal are gracious and welcoming. I have never felt like an outsider. I had dinner in a restaurant last week and when the owner learned that I was living in Faro, she gave me her cell number and said that I should call her if I ever needed anything. That’s just one example of the reception I have received.
I know this is odd, but I had no idea that I would be only a little over two hours away from Seville, Spain and that it was an easy bus ride away. It’s been a huge bonus to take two or three-day trips to one of my favorite cities. I love everything about Seville. Spanish culture is very different and there’s a whole lot to discover.
Update: I haven’t recently been to Spain due to the pandemic, however, during the summer I was able to travel within the country and I was able to fly to Madeira and see other parts of Portugal I may not have visited otherwise. It’s a beautiful country no matter where you find yourself. If you come to Portugal, don’t just go to Lisbon and/or Porto. Wine country and the coast are absolute must sees.
The weather in the Algarve is amazing all year-round. With an average 300 days of sunshine, very little humidity most of the year and the temperature never dipping below 45 degrees, I have to say it’s hard to beat. There is often a beautiful breeze in Faro during the summer months because of where we are located on the Iberian south side of the Atlantic. The beautiful and diverse beaches here are also more than I could have hoped for.
Taxes on property are much lower in Portugal. Condo maintenance is one-fourth the cost in Maine and one-tenth of what I paid in New York City. Groceries are about 30% less. Insurance costs are a lot lower. There are bargain airlines that allow you to fly for less than 30 euros each way (if you carry a small bag onto the plane — I’ve learned how to pack more efficiently). Sometimes I wonder why things cost so much more in the States.
The Little things that make a big difference:
Because there is very little humidity here, things like sponges and clothes never get that damp, musty odor.
No snow . . . ever! I loved snow until I couldn’t ski anymore (knee issues).
The Portuguese government has regulations prohibiting the use of pesticides in farming, no hormones, no food additives, etc. Eggs are bright orange and delicious and do not have to be labeled organic — all food is grown naturally (that I know of).
Very little crime. I feel very safe.
Public transportation is cheap and efficient. City buses are less than a euro a ride and run frequently. Going outside the city is also easy and only a few euros. Buses and trains are never overcrowded. Not owning a car has been freeing and has saved me a good deal of money. My commitment to lessen my carbon footprint has been rewarding. It took me a while to figure out the public transportation system, but once I did, it was a right.
Because we have an abundance of sunshine and great weather, I can cycle all year-round.
I have discovered many European healthcare products that are inexpensive and work well (i.e., face cream, toothpaste, pimple cream). I have a French grocery store a few blocks away and a fresh food market right above it. The outdoor farmer’s market travels from town to town and it’s in Faro on Sunday.
Labor is inexpensive. I have been able to do some very nice renovations to my apartment that did not cost me a fortune (i.e., french doors in my kitchen, tile work, painting).
Furniture is well-made here.
Update: Adding shorter and less expensive flights to Asia, most citizens of Portugal embrace social democracy, and I believe there is a good deal more concern and respect for the environment (my perception). I’d like to also note that when I lived in the States I actually had to step over homeless people in NYC and Maine; I have lived in Faro for three years now and I have never seen a homeless person. When people are unable to take care of themselves, the country provides for them — their fellow citizens do so with pride and compassion.
The pace in Portugal is teaching me patience. Being born and raised in New York City and then spending most of my working life there, didn’t help. I wanted things done yesterday and efficiently; not the way of professionals in Faro — not a criticism mind you, more of an observation. Bottom line, if I want to live here, I have to slow down and accept the more relaxed pace. It’s no wonder the elderly take less medication and enjoy a healthier lifestyle.
The Lows (Negatives)
Losing Giorgio (my dog, brought from U.S., 11 years old) to heart disease has been the worst thing that has happened in Portugal thus far. In truth, he would have had to be put down in the U.S. at some point; however, knowing that the climate change adversely affected his heart, made his death more difficult. The wide sidewalks were great because I could walk him without a leash. He loved our new home (parks and beaches) and that gives me great comfort.
I indeed miss my friends and family and that can be tough at times. I fortunately chose a place people want to visit and so, I’ve had more friends and family come to see me than I ever anticipated (it’s good to have a guest room with an en suite). It’s been quite a treat to show the people I love my new home. My brother and his wife are with me now and we have been to places I had not yet discovered; I’ll make sure to explore the unexplored, in the future.
I’ve gained some weight and I’m not happy about that. Delicious pastries are everywhere and they’re so cheap. I think the novelty will soon wear off; either that or I’ll get tired of buying new pants. I’ve always had to work hard to keep the weight off, but aging makes this even more difficult.
Update: The novelty of Portuguese pastry has not worn off; I love the pastry as much today as I did back then. Even worse, I have found better bakeries. The good new is that my weight has remained about the same. As long as I exercise, I can keep it in check and hopefully, remain healthy. My prostate is giving me some problems, but that’s not surprising. It is looking more and more like surgery is in my future. Prostate surgery is a common procedure, however, COVID-19 will have me waiting for at least a year. In the meantime there is medication that keeps things under control. As the saying goes, “It’s better than the alternative.”
Learning Portuguese has not been easy, mainly because I don’t get enough practice outside of my lessons. The good news is that my vocabulary is more substantial and I can have a decent exchange, especially when push comes to shove. I’m enjoying the learning process and I need to be less shy. I now watch Portuguese cooking shows and read Portuguese subtitles when watching HBO films and series (HBO is only 5 Euros a month here). As I’ve said before, if it isn’t enjoyable than I don’t want to do it, learning a new language continues to be fulfilling for me. Patience.
Paco has helped me deal with the loss of Giorgio and now I find my memories of him comforting. Giorgio was there for me during many difficult situations. I am forever grateful to the animals that have been in my life.
Flying back to the States is expensive. Currently, airfare back to the U.S. is 900 euros during the high season, April to July. I won’t be returning very often. There are bargain fares; however, you have to accept long layovers and not so great airlines. I like TAP — Air Portugal and I hate United (still true in 2021).
Did I Make the Right Choice?
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I chose the right country at the right time. Portugal is becoming more attractive to expats because real estate prices are fairly reasonable; however, in the year since I purchased my condo, the value has risen by 20 percent. It will soon be just as expensive as everywhere else. I saw this happening with Spain 20 years ago. More importantly, I love it here. I love the people, I love the food, I love the weather, the quality of life, my location in Faro, my healthcare, and I love how it all makes me feel. I’ve mentioned this before, but I am 45 minutes to Spain by car and I can fly or take a train to several other European countries very easily. The time difference in other countries is only an hour or two and that’s manageable — I never did well with different time zones.
Access to Travel
Faro is not a very large city; however, it is the capital of the Algarve and the airport is a fairly large hub. Multiple airlines fly direct to many cities throughout Europe. The rail system in Europe is also quite extensive and efficient. I can see the world more easily from my new home. I know that as I get older I will want to stay closer to home where I get to enjoy all the creature comforts. I sleep better in my own bed than anywhere else. Still I know it’s best to travel as much as possible; while I still can.
Photos: I took these photos in Sagres, Portugal a couple of days ago. Sagres is the furthest south and west you can go on the Iberian continent. It’s difficult to capture how truly peaceful and spectacular this part of the world is. It was an easy two and a half hour drive from my home.
I have decided to stop thinking long-term. I am open to possibilities I might not have ever considered before. I have two big trips coming up in 2019. After I return, perhaps a rescue dog? A pet would probably force me to stay put for a while, but that’s not a bad thing. I’m going to go the organic route on this decision and see where the future takes me. Getting older means aches and pains I did not anticipate and other small medical issues that I have to be dealt with. Staying on top of these things is important for long-term good health. When you get older, health becomes a priority.
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” ― Soren Kierkegaard
“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.” ― Beryl Markham, West with the Night
Update: Time for a bit of truth telling — this virus and its many variants are becoming alarming. Some experts say that the vaccinations are not effective against the variants, some are saying they are. The numbers keep going up everywhere. Lockdown has been extended . . . again. Yesterday I ran into seven police officers checking for non-mask wearers and people who were not staying in their homes, where they were told to remain. It’s been a year! It’s confounding, scary and tiresome. Honestly, I’ve been pretty strong so far, but I’ve been feeling that I’m maxing out on patience.
There is so much more I could say about living abroad, but I fear boring you to death. I have zero regrets, I’m probably happier than I’ve ever been, and I look forward to what is to come. I can still see a possible move in the future and I embrace the mystery of where, when, how and why that might happen.
Cuba Update: I was scheduled to leave for Cuba this week, however, the government has extended the lockdown to March 1. The number of COVID-19 cases are down, but the hospitals continue to be overwhelmed with ICU cases. This new wave of cases was a result of carelessness over the holidays. It makes me angry because now we all suffer and the death toll continues to rise. It is astounding how negligent and ignorant human beings can be.
Question of the Week:
Have your feelings about the pandemic changed over time?
Don’t forget there is a “question of the week” at the end. Thank you.
The Meaning of it All
There are individuals who refuse to consider the size of the universe because it terrifies them. In fact, my thoughts tend to navigate toward the extreme opposite. I am fascinated by the enormity of the universe and where I fit in. Let me start by sharing my belief:
The universe is a completely balanced entity and we are a small, but necessary part of what keeps it that way.
I am not a scientist. I don’t even have a scientific mind. However, I do believe in science. I see constant significant corrections and the impact on my life. How much of my theory about the universe is true? I am uncertain and I am okay with that. I believe that the universe is infinite, vast, and mysterious. I especially love the mysterious part.
The life and death cycle occurs throughout the universe: the stars, planets, galaxies, comets, etc., have a life cycle and it all seems to have a singular purpose and that is renewal. Our sun may not have a heartbeat, however, there is no denying that it had a beginning, a middle and it will have an end. The life of our sun serves a higher purpose for the entire universe, and I for one, am forever grateful. If you examine nearly every aspect of our universe, you will come to a similar conclusion: there is a reason for everything and everything has a purpose. So why would any of us not appreciate that we exist for a reason. Furthermore, why is it so important for us to figure out what that reason is? We are the universe and the universe is us; I can live with that. In fact, I am empowered by this truth.
I choose to go with the “renewal” explanation for my own life. Consider this my spiritual awakening. I am alive for a purpose I may never fully understand; however, I understand life has meaning. My life had a beginning, it has a middle, and it will eventually have an end. What is left of me when I am no longer breathing will also have a purpose; whether it be a memory, a lesson taught, a thought that lingered, dust particles, or to make someone smile, it doesn’t matter — what matters is how I choose to take advantage of life now. From where I’m sitting, life was a gift I was fortunate to receive; random or otherwise.
Where My Thoughts Go and How That Has Changed Over Time
At a certain point in your life you realize that you have lived more of your life than you have left to live. This realization can be quite sobering. If you sit with it for awhile, your thoughts will visit various places; some dark and some encouraging. You might ask what could be encouraging about knowing you have a limited amount of time left to live? Well, I’ll share my point of view:
First, it forces you to take stock of your life. If there are things that you long ago decided you wanted to do, well then, you ought to get to it. You must consider variables such as physical limitations, priorities, whether you want to do something alone or with others, and so on. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it forces you to consider what you need to do in order to make certain things happen. For example, if you want to climb a mountain, you’d better make sure you’re in the right shape to do it or that you can travel to said mountain. If one of your life dreams is to have a home on the beach, you may need to save a bit more or choose a different beach.
I recently had a revelation that helps me in sorting all this out. It occurred to me that if my life ended, I probably wouldn’t be regretting what I didn’t get done. Oh come on, it’s not morose, it’s realistic.
How Knowing What I Know Helps Me to Cope
I don’t want to sound preachy or too philosophical. I prefer when others share their personal story or history, rather than telling you on how to live your own life. After years of psychological therapy and a good deal of reflective thinking, I cope by being true to myself. Living for others or believing what others tell you to believe, robs you of your own life. No one knows you better than you know yourself. Take advantage of that knowledge and go your own way — oops, a bit preachy. If this isn’t how you roll, toss my words aside and live whichever way you choose; just know that personal fulfillment is just that, personal.
What If I’m Wrong?
I don’t think much about alternative explanations for my own existence. ‘What if’ games are for worry warts and I tend to worry more about the people I love than myself. I figure that if I’m wrong and there is life after death, well then, I’ll be pleasantly surprised (shush). I strongly believe that all living beings possess a soul and it is our soul that makes us all unique. Most people tend to have their own truth; hopefully, that truth brings you comfort and guidance. And if you truly believe that I don’t spend a great deal of time worrying, I have some property in the Florida swampland to sell you.
Medically Assisted Death
When I resided in New York, I belonged to a “Dying With Dignity” group. Our purpose was to advocate for laws that would allow individuals to decide when it was time to end life. Physician-assisted suicide at the end of one’s life should be a human right. I am referring to an individual with a terminal illness, where there is little to no hope for future quality of life. I am not in favor of being hand or machine fed until my heart stops beating. I accept death as an imminent aspect of life. I truly believe that death can be as beautiful and as meaningful as birth. I don’t see New York changing the law anytime and I believe that is unfortunate.
In the News: The Portuguese parliament has approved a law authorising “medically assisted death” which would make the Catholic country the fourth in Europe to legalise euthanasia should the new law come into force.
Lawmakers approved the final wording for legislation allowing euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill and gravely injured people.
It is expected to become law in the very near future.
Each of these questions focuses on a unique point. The first, for example, asks whether there is an over-arching design or goal to human existence that might clarify our place in the grand scheme of things. The second asks whether some approaches to life are better than others. All of the above questions, though, presume that something’s not right with life as we currently experience it, and we’d like a solution to the problem.
Not everyone is plagued by questions of life’s meaning, and a good test for determining the grip that this has on you personally was suggested by German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche (1844-1900). In ancient times, philosophers from many cultures around the globe entertained a concept called the eternal return. On this view, the universe that we live in now is just one in an endless series of universes that occurs one right after another, each being identical with the others, right down to the tiniest detail. With our present universe, there are fixed laws of nature that determine how it unfolds, including everything about my own personal existence, such as how tall I am, who I married, the job that I have, and every word I ever uttered. Someday this universe will be destroyed by cosmic forces, and from its ashes a new universe will be formed. It too will be shaped by exactly the same laws of nature, and thus all events will unfold in exactly the same way, including my own life. This cycle of universes will continue again and again, forever. Whether you believe the theory of the eternal return is not important. What Nietzsche asks, though, is how you would feel if it was true, and for eternity you would be reliving the exact same events in your life, over and over, in each successive universe. If you would be OK with that, then likely you are not especially bothered by problems of life’s meaning. You are happy with this life, and you would be content living the identical life over and over. However, if the notion of the eternal return sounds like a nightmare to you, then maybe you have serious issues with the meaning of life as you experience it right now.
Philosophers are not the only ones interested in questions about life’s meaning. Psychological studies tell us that happiness declines in our 20s and returns around age 50. That’s a long period of personal struggle for each of us, and today’s self-help industry has jumped in to address our problems. While many of these involve specific concerns, such as relationship issues or alcohol dependence, others are more general in nature. A mid-life crisis or a “spiritual” crisis, for example, will often involve larger questions of purpose and fulfillment. Philosophical discussions of the meaning of life are not meant to compete with self-help therapies. The main appeal of philosophy’s contributions to this issue rests in the puzzle itself: here is a timeless problem that touches the core of human existence. What exactly is behind the problem and which, if any, of the standard solutions are plausible?