Life/Lessons

I came to Brazil prepared to write. I brought my laptop and pens and lined paper, in case inspiration found me at the beach. But the days came and the sea called my name. I stood on the balcony facing a beautiful ocean on one side and my silver laptop on another. My choice is obviously no mystery here- the turquoise ocean it was!

After four weeks of doing a lot of lounging in a beach chair, I came up with no outstanding ideas for blog posts or subjects to jot down. Instead, I found myself drawn to experiences like shopping at the local market and talking to the sellers (see: He who shreds my coconuts), dancing on a sandy beach under a full moon, and hiking up to a waterfall in the mud while avoiding being eaten alive by mosquitoes.

Whereas I had come to Brazil ready to reflect on the meaning of life, having no agenda to do so made me learn much more. When I sat by the ocean, I learned to relax and to hear the sound of my own breathing. Sometimes life speeds up so fast I forget I’m a human and not a machine. When the wind blew my wet hair right and left then left again, I learned that I’m most beautiful when I just relax and accept all my faults and defects.  When I stood talking to sellers at the local market, they taught me that one of the most honorable things I can ever do is work hard, and work happily. When Brazilians shoved themselves passed me in the holiday crowds, I learned the importance of never forgetting your manners, regardless of where you come from and regardless of whether the locals do the same. During nightly dinners with my family I learned that food always tastes better when it is made with love and shared with loved ones.

But most importantly, I learned that life is short to be so stressed out all the time. So relax, take a breath- there is nothing you and I can change by sighing deeply or belittling others in order to feel better. Tomorrow will come regardless of whether or not we’re ready, so accept the cycle of life and learn to laugh at the curve balls life throws your way.

After all, what fun would it be if everything always happened the way you planned? And what would I have gained by sitting by my computer, ready for knowledge and insightfulness to be bestowed upon me? Live life and let it teach you its lessons. Don’t take it too seriously either. After all, like Woody Allen once said, none of us gets out of it alive.

You would've blown off your laptop too...

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Continuum

The distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.

I find myself staring out into the endless ocean, looking right at the bright blue line that divides sea and sky. I remember the past year as parts that are so enjoined with the present that I confuse myself.

We’re told our whole lives not to dwell in the past. But if there is no distinction between past, present, and future, then to forget the past is to simply forget ourselves, forget who we are.

So when I sit lazily by the sea, I dive right into my memories- all the good ones I keep stored in a little treasure box in my brain. I pull them out as if trying on a new dress, turning them this way and that to appreciate their beauty. I let them teach me who I’ve been and who I’ll always be. Sometimes during this process, tears that weren’t spilled when they should’ve been come find their place on my cheeks.

It’s wonderful to be alone with my memories and the sea. It’s wonderful to see time as continuous, and past events as ones that were never, and will never, be kept solely in the past. They are here on these waves, on the hot sand, under the shade of the umbrella and over the pedestrian walkway. Your name is written with seashells on the shore, your face sculpted in the clouds, and your voice… a quiet whisper I hear in every crashing wave.

He who shreds my coconuts

The man who shreds fresh coconut flesh in the street market of the Jatiúca neighborhood smiles at me when I approach his stand.  He has one hand on a coconut. The other arm is held by a sling under his buttoned-up blue shirt and his hand peeps through the space between two buttons. As  I approach the shredder,  he shows me his pride: a machine made of two iron bowls, the top complete with a shredding tool.

 

Filled with pity I try to conceal, I ask him how long he has been shredding coconuts. He tells me, with a smile on his face, that he’s been shredding cococunts for three years, two withthe help of the shredder. I’m confused by his happiness, although I’ve seen it in the face of other street market workers and homeless for so many years that it really shouldn’t surprise me anymore.

I continue speaking with the man, asking him how he found his shredder and if it has helped him do his job. I half-expect him to sigh back, to share with me how hard his life is, shredding coconuts under the hot sun for middle class and rich folks. But he never does. Under the burning sun of mid day, he continues to smile, and tells me he is so grateful to God, who has been so kind to him. I stop feeeling pitiful for him and start feeling pity for myself. Here is a man who knows how to be happy with so little, a man who is an example to everyone.

I want to hug the man, to tell him he’s an inspiration. I want to buy all his coconuts and make him wealthy somehow… Then I realize that he has much more than any money I could ever give him. I take a picture of him so I never forget that I too, should be as happy and grateful as this man, if not a thousand times more.  Not because I am any better than him, but because life has been kind, because I still have both my arms, and because I don’t have to stand under the hot sun, shredding three coconuts for 2.50 reais.

As the end of the year approaches, I hope you take the time to reflect on all the wonderful things and people in your life. I hope you also take the time to give back to those who may not be as fortunate, either financially or in kind words. But above all, I hope that in 2012, you never become too proud to walk around and learn lessons from the man who shreds your coconuts.

 

Childhood Tragedy

I was seven years old, maybe eight. Sometimes when I look back on my childhood years and certain events, I always have an inclination to say I was nine years old. But I must have been younger than that considering I thought a copy machine could make me a millionaire.

There was one mall in my small beach town. It had two stories and I even witnessed the building of the second one. I remember out-of-towners from more secluded cities would go to the mall to visit and I would always spot them out as they stood in front of the escalator, afraid to let it take them to the second floor. It always made me feel much more sophisticated to know I wasn’t afraid of the escalator. In fact, on days when me and my best friend had nothing better to do, we’d go to the mall and race up and down the escalators.

Maybe it was on one of those days spent at the mall racing against the escalator with my best friend that I spotted the copying machine in the toy section. I was usually attracted to the Barbies or the board games, but for some reason the copying machine sparked an immense interest in me. I held it in my hands and started thinking of how I could charge people for copies and make a lot of money if I bought it. But one look at the price and I was discouraged. It was worth about three weeks of my allowance, 21 reais, which is about 11 dollars. It might not seem like much now, but it was a lot of money for me then. I knew I could ask my parents to buy it for me, but in Brazil kids only get presents on three days of the year: their birthday, Christmas, and Children’s Day. None of those days were even close. I decided then that I’d have to save my allowance. And I would do it because the machine would more than pay off once I started getting rich from all the copies I was going to charge my family members and friends.

Three weeks went by. I got my money ready and asked my dad to take me to the mall. I remember walking down the hall of the mall to the toy section nervous that the copy machine would no longer be there. As I turned the corner I closed my eyes, held my breath, and prepared myself as any other 7 year old would. When I opened my eyes, it was there! I grabbed it off the shelf as fast as I could and went to the cashier to pay for it. I handed the cashier all my allowance money and went home telling my dad all about my business plan.I remembered he encouraged me and said that it was a great idea, though he didn’t think it was fair for his own daughter to charge him for copies. I considered giving him a discount. After all, he did pay my allowance

You must know by now where this story is going… When I got home and set up the copy machine, I realized that it was just a toy. That even though I spent three weeks of my allowance on it, it did not make any copies. Not even one. It was just a dumb kid’s toy, one you played pretend with.

I didn’t want to play pretend! I couldn’t charge anyone for “pretend” invisible copies. Three weeks of waiting and saving my allowance all went down the drain. I couldn’t even return the dumb toy for something equally dumb that would at last be fun to play with, like a barbie. I was stuck with a useless toy.

I fell into my bed and sobbed. I cried so hard that every tear was accompanied by a gasp, a grunt, or some other strange noise that came from somewhere deep inside me, somewhere I didn’t even think existed. Once I stopped crying I  laid in bed, cowered under my covers, and I refused to get up for food or anything else.

That was my first experience with despair. It was also my first experience with disillusionment, my first hard dose of reality. As a child, I couldn’t understand how they would sell a toy just for pretend. Didn’t they know kids aren’t dumb? That they want to make real copies and sell them for a profit? I wanted to be rich. It was obvious that dumb toy wasn’t going to get me there.

Today when I look back at my childhood, I realize that was the day its naive bits and pieces started to disappear. I never bought anything ever again with the intention of making money. From that day on, I settled for dumb toys that served no purpose other than providing one with fun. I am still, however, looking for a way to get rich.

My life is my message

You have the control-
to create beauty, life, a world you can love living in.
These absolutely beautiful, homeless kids got paid the equivalent of about a dollar to watch my dad’s car while we had lunch at a river side restaurant in Brazil a few years ago. I never learned their names, but when I saw them running towards me after lunch, calling me “auntie,” I had to hug them all and take a picture so I could remember these faces. I love these children, and all the others like them, who are so needy for attention and a little love.
I look like a mess with my beach hair and no makeup on, yet this is one of my favorite pictures in the world. It reminds me that there’s a bigger purpose in life, one that involves bringing happiness and love to others who, when presented with an opportunity to shine, flash their biggest smile to for the world to see.
Don’t run, don’t cower. Hold on to those who need an embrace the most. Even if you don’t ever see them again, let them know that you care, that you have love to give, even if just for a minute of your day.
I think of these kids still. I think of them with a heart full of desire to change their world.
Every. Day.