Monthly Archives: June 2017

From A Distance

From a distance the world looks blue and green, there is harmony, we all have enough and you look like my friend. From a distance. When you take in the big picture it’s easy to see this. A soft blur. The devil is in the details though. And looking closer often reveals something totally different, even though in many cases it shouldn’t.

The words come from a song aptly titled “From A Distance” which was written by Julie Gold and first recorded by Nancy Griffith. It has also been covered by Kathy Mattea, Donna Summer, The Byrds, Richard Clayderman, Fairport Convention, Riva Taylor, John Barrowman, and in a Norwegian language version by Ingebjorg Harman Bratland. Of course the most famous version is probably the one done by the Divine Miss M herself- Bette Midler. All of this attention speaks to the song’s broad based appeal. That is, the appeal of it’s ideals.

I was reminded of this song on a recent trip to Cuba and the simultaneous, but unrelated, reaction of Donald Trump to relations between the United States and Cuba. From the distance of Mar A Lago, Cuba looks like it is thriving. Bigly. Thriving so much that it needs to be stopped dead in its tracks as Mr. Trump suggested in his statement that the improvement of relations between Cuba and the United States begun under the Obama Administration would have the brakes slammed on it. I got in and out just in time.

My political views are not often a topic of my posts. In fact, this may be the first time I’ve revealed them, but reading between the lines of other posts may have given my kind readers a hint. There is a great deal of meanness in the world, and the anti-Cuba stance is fueled by a lot of mean people who harbor a nearly sixty year old grudge and politicians courting their vote.  Mean people suck.

I’ve been to Cuba.  And seen it up close. In detail. Donald Trump hasn’t.  From a distance it looks like a tropical paradise with beautiful colonial architecture, a grand European flair, and of course those fabulous 1950s American classic automobiles. From a distance…

Up close you will find that after fifty years of neglect, those beautiful colonial buildings are crumbling with decay. Beautiful facades, hollow inside. And the cars, up close they sometimes look like they may not make it around the corner. They sound even worse. Cubans are not legally allowed to own an American car newer than a 1959 model. Getting parts for these vehicles is pretty hard, and you will find all variety of foreign parts under the hood.

Color abounds. Bright yellows and blues, soft greens and pinks. It’s paint. On buildings and cars. And in many cases it looks like the paint is what holds the thing together.

The people can’t be painted, but they seem to be hanging together ok. Everyone I met was very nice, and curious about America. They did not speak of Castro, or Trump, but images of the Revolution and it’s heroes are everywhere.

There is great poverty, with old women begging on the streets, in the back alleys away from the tourist centers. People sitting in doorways doing nothing but watching, waiting for something.   Rotting garbage, and it’s stench, in open containers in the streets. It’s definitely a third world country, but there is great promise there.

There are people working in shops, on public works projects, in restaurants, bars, offices, farming, shipping, banks, museums, as police and every other line of work. Internet service sucks, but there are computer repair shops. The people are resilient and looking forward to improved relations.

The majority of Cubans today were not alive at the time of the Revolution. They were born into the Cuban predicament.  The didn’t create it. But they are the ones being punished. A trade embargo with Cuba hurts the people, not the government . And hurting the people is not helping anyone.  I don’t know if the President is worried that a middle aged, well educated, well off, white male like myself would rush to emigrate to Cuba, or that a person such as myself would go there and see the needs that exist and demand action.  I know he loves “stupid people” because he said so.  But the rest of us he can’t control so easily.

From a distance Cuba may look like a threat to America, but in the details, they need some help. Not American developers or capitalists to take over and make money, but humanitarian aid. The Cuban people can decide for themselves what they want the future of their country to be. This isn’t 1898, although some of the technology there suggests otherwise. Instate free trade, let the markets decide. Power to the people.  My opinion… And I’d like to see this post go viral, and for people around the world, people with a soul, to stand up and make the Earth great again…

And that’s part of my story. What’s yours?


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The Picture

Sometimes it takes a while for the reality of something to sink into our brains. It may be a matter of coming to a place where you can accept the reality when it’s much easier to deny it, or it may just be that something hits you that says something like “remember that event? It’s real.”

After thirteen months, it’s finally beginning to sink in that my mother has died. Not that I was in denial or anything. I knew she had died. I saw her in the coffin. And the coffin in the ground. But I didn’t really accept that the person I had seen was my mother. Looked like her, but it wasn’t the woman I knew as my mother.

She died at age 90 of complications from dementia. Complications is a nice way of putting it. Basically, even though she had some memory issues, she knew she was alive, and what her quality of life was like, and would be like. And she said the hell with it, I’m done. After twenty six days of a self imposed starvation diet, she died. My father was with her. But I was nine hundred miles away.

She had been struggling for several years. It started gradually with, with small difficulties in finding a word when she was speaking. In the end most of her words were just a string of gibberish. It made sense to her, but no one understood what she was saying. And you could see her frustration.

For several years I was afraid that every time I visited her would be the last time I would see her alive. Finally I was right. It was one thing when she and my father lived in their own home. The place they lived for thirty eight years. But when they moved to the assisted living facility, which is really very nice, she went downhill fast. There was no more running on autopilot because she no longer knew where anything was. She stopped cooking, cleaning, making coffee, washing dishes. And her speech capabilities faded.

The last time I saw her I walked out of the room and knew I’d never see her alive again. She was sitting in a chair, babbling about something, looking very, very fragile. She had lost a lot of weight in the assisted living facility. She was my mother. At least she resembled her in appearance, and sounded similar. But the life I saw sitting in that chair was not the woman I knew as my mother.

My mother was vibrant and intelligent. She graduated from college the year before I did after having sacrificed for many, many years to raise her family. Her degree was in Far Eastern Art, and she got a job in an art museum working with Japanese wood block prints. Spoke Mandarin. She loved art and history and was widely travelled. Politically active with an eye toward power to the people. She was really something.

So, when she died I wasn’t surprised, and it wasn’t devastating. I lived nine hundred miles away so I hadn’t seen her as often as I would have liked. And after all, it was this new person, not my mother who had died. I went home, helped my dad and sister with the arrangements, went to the funeral and that was that. Sounds cold, but I loved my mother tremendously. She inspired me in my thirst for knowledge and deep thinking. But the woman who died was not my mother. Not in my mine.

As the anniversary of her death approached I thought about the facts. But they were just cold facts. She was dead. But in my mind, my mother, the person I knew as my mother, had been gone a long time, replaced by an imposter.

Then it came time for my own birthday. Just a few days later. And my wife was putting together a big party for me. Milestone birthday and all. She put out a lot of pictures of me as a kid and teen and young man and then as husband and father and whatever. At some point I looked glancing at one of these pictures and it captured my attention. A closer look revealed that my mother, my real mother, was in the picture. She was old, but vibrant, smiling, aware and active.

I had just completed the Philadelphia Marathon and she and my father had come to see me cross the finish line. My father took a picture of her hugging me as I wore my finisher’s medal and warming blanket. I was happy. She was happy. My father was disappointed I hadn’t won the race. He was convinced that being an overweight forty five year old white male was no excuse for not winning.

When I saw the look on her face in that picture, I recognized my mother. And then realized that my mother is gone. I can accept that. In a way it’s sad now, But I will always remember her as she was in her prime.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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