Motto: What we are is God's gift to us, what we become is our gift to God – Eleanor Powell
In order to restart my dialogue with you, I need to take you back almost a year ago, to a late summer day when I started to write about my understanding of basic roots of current global crisis. I have written altogether seven roots and have still a long waiting list set aside for other triggers of the current mess. The first writings came quite close to each other and rather critical with our world, our priorities, our bad habits and overall ourselves - as human and faulty, as beautiful and crazy, as talented and rotten as we are. As guilty for our current troubles and as hopeless for a better future as we seem right now.
Gradually, my need to explore and uncover the dark side of us started to faint away. Lately I haven’t actually been writing much. I could of course blame this on the intensive travelling, busy hours - working late and still getting almost nowhere with my work. There are days when I wonder why I run so fast, why I spend so much energy and time to get somewhere and … where do I actually want to get?... I remember reading some words of wisdom few years ago and how this message seemed really abstract to me: ‘All men should strive to learn before they die what they are running from, and to, and why.’ (James Thurber)
Yesterday I got the very distinctive feeling that I am coming close to some tentative answers to the first part, respectively the ‘running from’ part. I would still need to determine the second and third, however I also realized this is actually not only difficult, but also volatile. I remember my grandmother saying that her sleeping time got shorter and shorter the older she got (and I can assure you it did not affect in any way her high energy levels). She always ended up saying ‘I will sleep long enough when I’m gone’. I know it’s a common saying for many old people, but still it touched me. For me, finding the answers to the three questions about our running through life is almost a similar exercise with the sleeping one. Once we will get all those three answers we will probably stop running and just go to the long sleep...
Last month I went out with some friends on a wine tasting trip on a Saturday. We left the town early in the morning and returned late at night. We experienced extreme heat and witnessed drought conditions during the day, specifically integrated by one of our hosts into the story he told us about the vineyard, the workers, the plants and their self-protective approach to survival in difficult weather condition. He also told us how the grapes and then the wine have everything to do with the passion for work and a sense of mutual respect, understanding and loving communion - between people and nature. It may sound silly and outdated for current world, however the age of the vineyard and the passion of the guy were convincing enough to make me feel part of something that will last - longer than our global crisis, local political conflicts or cultural prejudices. I mention culture as he was not originally from that region, but has travelled from another country and has chosen that land and those people to stay, build, love and enjoy the fruits of their work together.
After the intensive heat during the day, an incredibly heavy rain came down in the evening, on our way back. The minibus actually slowed down close to stopping, the road seemed to be passing straight through the heart of a cascade for a while, and lightning and thunder surrounded us, while we passed by two gas stations that were out of service – electrical power failure. Finally we arrived back in town, where it was again dry and hot, no rain and no wind at all. Hot night followed.
The next day (a quiet Sunday) I went to visit a part of my family somewhere close to the mountains – quiet and not so hot, rainy but not so heavy… I am not sure how we got to that point, but my cousin started talking about our grandfather. I always knew he was an orphan, but I never asked my mother about details, somehow I presumed he was born without a family, as this was my definition of ‘orphan’ as I was growing up. I just learned on that Sunday that actually ‘orphan’ meant that he arrived in Romania (in the area where he would later meet my grandmother) after both his parents were killed in the war and he crossed the war line (coming from the Russian territory). He came all by himself to the village as he had an aunt there, who took him in her household. He was a teenager at that time.
Then I also thought of my grandmother. How she defied the rules of her time and refused to enter an arranged marriage, how she dreamt about getting married to a ‘town boy’ instead of a village land owner (mostly vineyards in that area…) and how she waited until she got her dream, even thou the family was quite outraged (she was the older sister and there were rules…). She also survived a war experience with hostile soldiers chasing her down in the mountains, which she escaped but with serious physical and mental shock. Yet I always remember her beautiful laughter and positive energy – she never compromised on optimism, even her favorite cursing exercises made us laugh our heads off…
Those two simple people had four kids and lived long, healthy and happy lives obeying by a basic honorable principle: being poor while affording to get whatever they reasonably wished for. All four kids were sent to school up to university, they were always respected and helping others within the community.
My mother also had learned quickly to walk her own way. An early marriage was followed by divorce because she refused to accept an abusive husband, no matter how dramatic the implications of her decision seemed to be (including life threats from a lawyer with a gun permit…). She wanted a family and especially kids and she finally had all that – even thou quite late in her life. She was always opened and truthful even thou it wasn’t the safest way to approach career in a communist country… she was a teacher and a mother, purely refusing to compromise on what she believed was important, and thus she has educated generations of good people. She was always proud when a former pupil recognized her in the street and stopped to tell her how his or her adult life has shaped out. She was as generous with her heart and with her material possessions as anyone can be. She used to tell us girls that it is better to lend than to borrow, but be careful to whom we lend. She also taught us to set aside some ‘white money for black days’ and also not to expect anything back once we help someone in distress. With money we should be careful not to lend again to whoever did not honor their previous debt. All those still sound like sound principles today.
And then there was my father. His parents I never met, as they died when he was a kid. He is quite an enigmatic person for me, partially because I had little time to get to know him. He only walked next to us until I was around 14, then he went on taking care of his family from a different level… He was quite stubborn. For example he never wanted to join the Communist Party even thou was required for his job (they never fired him however, as he was good in his job…). I remember his sense of humor but also his quick temper, his art of story-telling, his passion for food and wines, and his poetry – everything in his life seemed to be as big as his heart.
And of course there are also my uncles and aunts, cousins and nephews, all with their own stories and their own personal and family virtues and flaws, all of them starting from the two grandparents who were so close to getting killed in the war but they managed to survive and smile upon their future with hope.
I got here from exceptional parents, who went through failed marriages and surfed through tough communist time in a wise manner (probably we would call it ‘zen’ nowadays), managing to create and harness a happy and self-protective family oasis.
Why did I tell you this story? Because when I came back to my current home after that week-end, on the way from the train to my apartment (which is cca. 15 mins. walk) the rain started. We are experiencing quite a hot summer in Vienna this year, with evening rain quite often lately, coming from almost clear sky, without any warning and without an attached estimate of how long it will last or how heavy it will get. On that rainy Sunday night I looked around me and I saw people hiding from the rain, running and looking for shelter. And I thought of my grandfather crossing between the two enemy lines during the war. I do not know if it was raining that day or week or month… I also do not know for how long he had to run and hide and keep on running until he got ‘home’. I just knew that I am 15 minutes away from my home and that I know where that is and how to get there. And yes, it was raining and the wind was blowing and I was basically freezing after the hot weekend which I left behind on a distant airport just a couple of hours ago. So I looked up to the sky, smiled to my grandfather and started to walk through the heavy rain. I got completely wet and took a dive straight in the bath tub when I got home, appreciating the fact that everything was safe and familiar.
And then I realized that we perceive the current crisis in accordance with our comfort circle, with our expectation of normality and with our very demanding life standards. And I decided to take a break from the “roots” series and start looking ahead, how we can get out of what seems to be a pessimistic circle. How we can bring the morale back into our life, reasonability back into our expectations, humility and altruism into our attitude.
A friend of mine told me something interesting a couple of years ago. I asked him what he finds most scary in life and he told me (and I apologize to him if my recollection of his words is somehow distorted): ‘the thought of waking up one morning and not being able to watch myself in the mirror because of something I have done’.
This is how I wish to start the “WAYS” series – by inviting all of you to think about your morning mirrors. If you like what you see there, please start tomorrow focused on that. Do not focus too much on the thousands of other mirrors around you, where other people look and see whatever you want them to see or whatever they want to see in you. Just make your own reality and morality check, ask yourself what you would do better today to get a better mirror image when you wake up tomorrow.
That would be all for now. It will certainly not solve the global crisis, but should bring a slightly different perspective on it.
Have a good day!