Thursday, February 26, 2009

Stress - A Moral Quandary...

I truly hate stress... I hate it because it has power like nothing else to just cling onto you, like fungus! You don't want it! You don't need it! You tell it to f... off, but it's there, and it's going to stay, no matter how much begging and shaking off you'll do. And not only does it cling, but it eats at you, like mold at a wall ... Just chips away at your body, and mind, and soul, and sanity!!

Ever since I can remember, random people, strangers, friends, people I don't care that much about, even, come and open up to me, usually, about their issues, and problems, and frustrations that they cannot share with so-and-so ... Mom and my sister say I am like the "mother of all wounded soldiers", always taking care of someone's jaded soul ... It's true ... And this used to be a source of pride. But I guess growing old does funny things to your patience level. All it is now, is a source of frustration!

Since you've been around the block a time or twelve now, that you're older, there is only so much you can take about this and that's more or less malicious gossip rather than their wounded selves' sob stories. Plus, I hate repetition, and all that - repeated day in and day out, for days, and months and years on end, heard from the same people over and over again, makes me want to scream!

Someone I admire dearly said to me the other week: "you can't give kindness if you don't accept kindness". I so agree with that! And I think it's the same way with stress: no matter how much you know about non-attachment, no matter how much yoga you do, how much Yoga Journal magazine and Patanjali you read every day ... if you don't associate yourself with people who understand these things just as much as you understand them, you'll never be free of stress, worry, negativity and just plain ... given-up-ness... and desperation ... All these things that people bring to you will cling onto you and eat at your self ... no matter how much you want and try to shake it off. Water can put out a fire, but the quantity of water has to be proportionate with that of the fire. And frankly, I am drying out!!

But I wish one would have a choice there, when the association with the wrong kind of people ... puts food on your table.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Life Revisited

To JC, who has taught me the meaning of life, forgiveness and the preciousness of every single breath, a year later …

“All of my dreams seem to fall by the side like a discarded thought or the day's fading light
but I know that if I could just see you tonight … forever

at times we may fall, like we all tend to do but I'll reach out and find that I've run into you
your strength is the power that carried me through … forever

Your kindness for weakness I never mistook, I worried you often,
yet you understood that life is so fleeting, these troubles won't last forever

inspired me truly you did from the start to not be afraid and to follow my heart

there's a piece of you with me they can't tear apart … forever

Forever I'll find you, forever we'll be
Forever your power and strength stays with me.”
(Dropkick MurphyForever)

We carry our bodies through life, trying to not let the mind take over. And the mind, the control freak that it is, will. We can’t stop it, because we don’t see how treacherous this is. Until the very end.

Are we spirits with bodies? Or bodies with spirits? What’s left, in the end?! As much thought as we put into daily routines, we can’t think deeply enough to figure this one out – because this one is not a matter of thinking - the only thing that matters …

Only when you have literally watched something or someone leave this world, minute by long and painful minute, and seen their peace in facing the Big Unknown while taking a morsel of you with them, you get it! Then, you understand the true nature of people, and the true nature of what we perceive now as “being. This can’t be taught. This must be understood by each one of us, if ever.

The end will come, without asking us. The only bit we’re asked about is the now. And we can choose that, but, blinded by the ephemeral present, we have not the eternal in mind – the curse of the human nature. How can we be so sophisticated to know: that the now must be chosen with the forever in mind?! Requires such insight.

Time passes, empty and void, and every day will add up to the end, an empty string of nothings, governed by our fear of action. Don’t let it! Wait not another second, and act, but with the heart in mind, if you can.

Listen to the heart (not mind), and listen to what is important after these bodies of dust are gone. Just shush the mind long enough to listen to your being. It’ll whisper wisely.

If you remember one thing, make it this: make sure in your final hours you truly have little to regret because you were trying to be “too cautious”.

It’s not about safety, and not about trust. We’re not born in and through safety – that’s a truism. Who’s asking for our trust when they have us?! And would we give it, if asked?!

We all want insurance. We all want guarantees. But who can give you insurance on happiness?! Our fear chains us to a life of bondage – the bondage of the rational mind, which kills the soul, and with it, the happiness which should reside in it.

The biggest irony of us: passing, temporary beings that we are, we try to think in absolutes: we want someone to guarantee us everything for every action we perform. We’re so caught up in our smallness of fear that we forget that we’re on the most relative trip of all: our lives!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

It Takes All Sorts ...

Some days I really regret getting rid of my camera phone. Those are also the days when I think I MUST buy a small camera and keep it in my purse at all times, so I can snap pictures of the world's curiosities.

Take this week, for instance: I pull into this parking lot, for a Chamber of Commerce event, and lo and behold, I park next to a fairly beaten-up van (they made me park there) with an a/c unit (the apartment sized one) hanging off of its back window! The van had those double doors in the back, and the a/c fit in the window of one of the doors, duck taped tightly and all.

I kept thinking: are these people living in it? I mean, I've been to bluegrass festivals and The Dead concerts and I saw plenty of folks traveling and living in them, but even in those vans, I never saw a life-sized a/c unit taped to the window! Or maybe, hippies don't worry about getting sticky and sweaty in summer nights?! Or maybe they don't have enough money to purchase and install one?! Or maybe I was not paying enough attention?!

My bigger puzzlement was that a lady in her mid-forties, maybe?!, dressed in a suit and a long coat, with silk white gloves and a white silk scarf to match, in stiletto shoes, salon-coiffured hair, and a business folder was the driver that dismounted the van!

As I mentioned, this was a Chamber event, Business After Hours, which involves registration and membership (so, you can't just come for the free food and drinks), where people mingle and network, in hope of promoting their businesses and finding out about what's going on in the business community.

Now, call me judgy, but ... I could not get my head around that entire scene: the van with the a/c hanging out like a sore thumb, the lady's apparently spiffy looks, and this event. I know times are tough, and people are losing homes, but ... I can't help but wonder: what kind of business was she promoting?! Hhmm...

I still wished I had a camera with me!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Roots and The Wings ...

My sister and brother-in-law just took their oath to become Canadian citizens. They were happy, excited, tired after almost 5 years of waiting, and grateful that they finally could be settled in a country that can offer their children a life that they only dreamed of while growing up.

My mom, on the other hand, was sad, and crying. Not so much of joy, but of sadness.Sadness, she said, of "losing yet another child (my sister) to North America". She wrote to my sister the same thing she wrote to me in 2006, when I took my oath to become an American citizen: "I lost another child. You have no connections to your mother country and we lost you forever. You have no reason to consider yourself tied to us anymore".

As my sister said, of course she is very wrong. She forgets that wherever we are, and whoever's flag we gather under, deep, down to our character, personality, and even daily routine, we are, and will forever be, and will die Romanian.

Twenty something years of growing up in Romania, and a lifelong belonging to a Romanian family and speaking Romanian, cannot be erased in a 5 minute interview. We say our prayers in Romanian, we think in Romanian when we talk to our innermost selves; we celebrate the saintly feasts and cook Romanian foods for Easter, Christmas, and New Year's. We still think twice when Tuesday is the 13th of a month - a Romanian superstition. We cross ourselves when we start a trip - another Romanian superstition, and we say "So help us God" instead of "Good luck", something we were raised to always do in the mountains.

Today, a co-worker came in with lunch from Qdoba. It was a huge burrito, I think... and it smelled divine. I walked over to see what he was eating and made a mental note of the ingredients. That's what I wanted for dinner! Now, I could have gone to Qdoba and bought a burrito, but I didn't. Instead, I went to the grocery store, got a bell pepper and some lettuce, and came home and made my own burrito: I forgot the buy tortillas and I even made those from scratch, with flour, salt, baking powder, olive oil and whatever else was needed ...

About an hour or so and three dirty pots latter, I had a feast: I layered the ingredients on the fresh flour tortillas: salsa, lettuce, Mexican rice, beans, sauteed turkey, peppers and onions, with garlic and cilantro, topped with sour cream. My house smells like a home now, and I am about to burst, I am so full!

I have been cooking a lot lately: part of it is budget-related, and part of it is, I guess, missing home and ... being Romanian. I love a house wrapped up in the smell of garlic sauteed in olive oil! And carrots and onions sauteed, too. I love the smell of coriander on any kind of meat cooking to perfection.

I love the constant Christmas feeling of having leftovers every day! I love, most times, cooking for at least an hour or two every week, if not every other day.

That's one thing I wish my mom would see: the Romanian can leave Romania, but Romania will always live in the Romanian, stubborn as ever, stinking of garlic to high heavens! And cooking everything from scratch is just one thing we have ingrained in who we are, my sister and I. And just one thing my mom should be proud of for giving us.

As they say: "The best parent gives their kids two things: wings and roots". And she did a marvelous job of giving us plenty of both.

Thank you, mom!
Forever yours ...

Monday, February 16, 2009

Wishful Travels

"Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go." (Th. Roethke - The Waking)

I have been trying to plan my travels for the new year, and that's always exciting, of course, for me... You would think this is easy, since I subscribe to a couple of travel magazines, and travel blogs and newsletters which are full of ideas and itineraries each day. Consider a CNN Headline News addict: that's me - with travel ideas from my travel news sources ... I can never get enough of them. The overload should be enough. But that all makes it harder, by giving you too much!

It's hard to marry the perfect destination with the perfect budget sometimes. And in this American land, where the employers are more often than not stingy with the time off (paid or unpaid, just the same), it's even harder to get enough time to do it all.

So, where do I start?! I didn't want to start with my family first, because they sidetrack me. They always want to go to places I have already been, because they've known them through me, and my travels peeked their curiosity. So, I didn't want to travel WITH them this year. In that respect, I do have a new mantra this year, and that is: go somewhere I've never been. Some destinations are on my list: The Rockies in the summer (or fall) is one, St. Petersburg is another, so are Nashville and Memphis, TN, just because I want to do it for my dad, in search of the music he's raised us on!

I have also gone through pictures and diaries of travels past, to see what I loved and what I'd like to see more of - but that is so difficult, because I have a slew of incredible memories from everywhere :

Being on Liberty Island and looking over Manhattan with dad - a lifetime milestone. Unequaled. Walking Manhattan, anywhere from Time Square to the UN building, to the Empire State building, to Macy's, the original one. Dad, silent with awe. You knew that trip was bigger than what you could handle!

Walking the streets of Montreal with my sister and brother in law, in search of the the perfect "flam" at Les Trois Brasseurs and the perfect "home" brew... The best botanical garden I have ever seen; the penguins at The Biodome; the inclined tower of the Olympic Park; the art vendors in Vieux Port ... The "Arret" Stop signs that remind you, you're not in "America", after all ...

Or walking the hilly and olden town of Quebec City with them, where every street corner is watchfully guarded by Le Chateau Frontenac, an impressive hotel built in a castle; a city that's more European, and more German that anything else, especially "North American"; walking the trails of Canadian Eastern Mountains, in search of waterfalls and wild flowers ... Truly wild!

Wandering, wandering in timeless New Orleans, with no recollection of time and place, really, but just pushing through the day, tired of eating and watching strangers: I always say that in New Orleans your eyeballs will hurt from so much people watching; the gumbo, the beignets, the dirty rice, the shrimps and crayfish, oh me... The smell of throw up on Bourbon Street ...The restaurant signs advertising "Big As^ Beers To Go" ... or "Zydeco music from 10 to 11 AM".

Hearing the click-clock of horseshoes in Charleston, while sipping wine and waiting for seafood wonders at 'AwShucks' or hearing and smelling history in The Black Market, downtown. Chilling to the bone.

Wandering in the wilderness and yet the posh neighborhoods of Kiawah Island, where you can spot anything from a Maserati to an egret, from a mountain lion to an alligator just about any time, if you walk about just a few yards from your residence.

Catching some time for a pizza in Amsterdam, while in between planes; hurrying to get through the lines at Anne Frank's museum; and before that, at the Sex Museum, too. Amsterdam does show it all. Wondering if your camera will be confiscated or thrown in the canal if you try shooting the windowed "ladies" of The Red District. What a quilt of emotions all in one day!

Vienna's parks! And historic buildings! The breathlessness The Opera House can case. The richness of art, and abundance of beauty! The hottest mustard I have ever tasted on an honest to God German Wiener! Ouch!

The conch fritters and black beans at Sloppy Joe's, in Key West; the breathtaking sunsets; the end of the world feeling, overwhelming, like a death sentence! The Hemingway house, open from four walls, it seems, with the light, warm breeze seeping through, bringing, it felt like, old ghosts of the past, of art, and talent, and beauty, and passion, and fights! I wanted to be a paint chip on those walls, to see if I could feel what those walls had witnessed. My paradise on earth, with the tens of cats! Oh, me!

The Carolina and Virginia lighthouses. Claustrophobic, and lonely. Like towers of endurance over time, elements and history. Much history.

The unbearable hotness of the sand on the Atlantic coast in the summers. The stickiness and wetness of the air. The no escape, oven feeling.

The bloody noses of crisp winters in Vail, Colorado and Park City, Utah. The over-crowding and overpricing, but the charm of an old little town like Breckenridge, too.

The intimidating Harbor cruise at Norfolk , making you wonder: how much damage can we actually do with that fleet alone?!

The treacherousness of Romanian mountains: where there are no trails, and no safety law suites to file if you happen to fall out of a gondola ride. Stepping into "Dracula's" footsteps. Or Ceausescu's, in Bucharest. The adrenaline rush!

Atlanta, with its Southern calm, and Northern-like highways cutting through her like a circulatory system: pumping life and energy into it all... The Sundial building that moves around and around while feeding you expensive peanuts! The gorgeous view. Walking the hallways of Margaret Mitchell's home - another life dream come true!

Getting lost in Boston, but found again, when eating the best, freshest seafood dinner I have ever experienced. Ever! It makes sense why they have their own name for their soup: It's "chowda", and not "chowder", because it's their own, and nothing else tastes like it, anywhere else in the nation.

Driving through the peaceful Pennsylvania farmland, through Amish and Mennonite communities, a local reminds us: "We don't have much views out here; but we do have smells". It smells like the land, and the animals. It smells like my mountain childhood back home. It smells of simple, unsophisticated, un-fooled-around with, safe life.

Walking the streets and The Mall in DC, just in search of the next museum. Enjoying the free entrances everywhere, and the exhibitions of anything from NASA to a Buddhist temple from Bhutan!

Driving up to Blowing Rock, just for the day, and the fresh trout, at The Speckled Trout. Watching the sunset over The Blueridge Parkway and telling yourself one more time you'll never move anywhere else again: that is all you need.

So, where to go next, you ask?! Anywhere, everywhere and who the heck knows?!? I think I am putting my wishes in a hat and drawing. And we'll reconvene in December to look back and update . Because all I know now is: the world is an open map, with great destinations, be it far or near. All you have to have is the willingness to go. The funds, and other resources will follow. Somehow. But the willingness has to be there, for fuel!

And for a true traveler, the adventure can be anything: a day in the Smokies, at a lovely old inn, like Celo, where linens are coarse and preserves are fresh from the orchard out back, or a trip over The Pond, where folks speak a whole other language altogether. The thrill is the same.

I'll listen to the clues, the offers, and the winds this year, and "I'll learn from going ... where I have to go".

I also am in dire need of a travel partner, or maybe not, but that's a whole other story, altogether and entirely!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Weird Weekend or ... More

Observations in a stranger that usual week ...

I am one of those children who, according to my mother, "judges" her parents. I don't think it's judgment, but I have always questioned their doings. In a way, I think they (the parents) got what they wanted: they taught us to challenge everything and not accept what is. They didn't specify they were exempt from this.

I say this now because I never understood, for instance, why on earth my mom would buy whatever fruit there was in season in industrial quantities to make canned goods with. She slaved for weeks in the kitchen, every single of the four seasons we have back home, to make hundreds of jars of preserves, marmalade, juices, spreads, and you name it. We had pepper spread, and eggplant spread, and cherry, and sour cherry, and walnut, and strawberry, and blueberry, and wild strawberry, and peach, and apple preserves, and tomato sauce, and tomato juice - hundreds of jars of them. Sometimes we ate for years from the same batch. Her fingers would turn various colors when she was canning, because she had to clean and pit and manually mince the fruit before cooking it - so her hands were red, or green, or black, or orange, or purple, depending on the fruits. How was she not embarrassed to go to work like that?! I never got it. We could afford the things in the store, why would she have to go through all that labor for food we ate once or twice a week??

I never got it, till this weekend, when my fingers turned orange, as I peeled, seeded (yes, they can have seeds, too) and cleaned my first batch of mandarin oranges and made my first jar of preserves. I look at my hands and I smile: I miss mom, and I wish she were closer so she can taste my preserves and tell me how much I suck at making it. I love it, though. It's like no preserves I have ever bought in any store, or country fair. It's so much more flavorful, and so much clearer than the stuff you buy in store. It also tastes sweeter because it's my mom's recipe. And you know what: I am not embarrassed that my hands are orange. If anything, I am proud!


I am reading a great book this week: "My Stroke of Insight" by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D. What a life changing book for me! Stroke and I go a long and unhappy way back. Stroke and I, I feel, will revisit each other in the future, as well. Being close to stroke patients, and brain-diseased patients, I have always been fascinated with what exactly happens in our lives, in our body-lives, when the mind goes, fully or partially. I've always known what it feels like when your body goes, but your mind...?! To read about this kind of experience first hand, from a brain specialist is such a gift!

It's a great, loving, compassionate and easy read; one that, I think, anyone with any nerve for human empathy should read. It's a book that I have probably waited for all my life. It's my escape from the world of "crazy" as I am calling it lately. It's simply beautiful.


I am trying to convince dad that Obama is not a liar. So far, it's not working so good: I'm doing a lot of convincing, and he's doing a lot of not listening to me. It's the first time in my life when I actually give a darn about politics. It's odd! Not sure it'll last.


Ran into a former co-worker that I think the world of. She's great at what she does, and she does it with ease. On top of being a kick-a^^ professional, she's just a cool person, with a great heritage, awesome taste, talented, and unique in every way you can imagine. She now is looking to become a yoga teacher, and she's great at that too. I asked her, would she make yoga her full time job, she says: 'Oh, no! That's my hobby! I am waaayyy too non-committed for that. That's a huge commitment'. Hhmm... That was odd. I would have thought that going through the teacher certification program, and through the exams and all would have been huge in the first place. She went through all that, and now, she's shelving the degree?! Why? I was puzzled. True to herself, however, she never ceases to surprise.


Drove down Aycock Ave in Greensboro, NC this Sunday, and saw this tall young gentleman that looked like a poster guy for an ad for Scotland: kilt, socks, hat, ample-sleeved shirt, bag across shoulder, a lllooooong goatee, down to his belt almost, carrying a Starbucks paper cup and walking the street. Now, if this were New York City, this would have been just another passer-by. In Greensboro, NC, though, it made for an interesting sight to say the least ...


I "broke up" with a "friend" that I have known for over 7 years now, this week. A friend I trusted, and I opened up to, just like I do to any of my friends. There is a time, unfortunately, when we have to "clean up" the "friends" files, and really bring them up for a yearly review: are they still doing their job as friends, and if not, can we fire them?! It's a mixed feeling of sadness and freedom when this happens, but deep down, we ought to know that a friend we lose this way is not, really, a friend worth keeping, is it?! The sad part is still there, however, because those times we did think we were friends, those hours, and dinners, and chats, and Christmas present sharing are lost forever.


The unthinkable happened this week, too: I got excited about television! I typically don't care for tv much. I sometimes wonder if the tv still works, because it's not turned on for days. I remember a co-worker saying in the office, about computers: "Them electronics don't like it much when they're not turned on for a while. One day, they'll just quit!". But this week I switched from regular basic cable to the lowest package you can get on Direct TV, and I love it! I love the remote, even, the picture is clearer, and I am just in love with the new bill! Yay for savings! Now, don't get too excited: the tv craze won't last - I promise you!


The most beautiful and simple thing I have heard this weekend, a true "a-ha" moment, was during my yoga class on Sunday afternoon. My favorite instructor, Terry, always encourages us to know who we are and learn to love what we are, and never chase for what we think we should be. I know this sounds pretty common sense for some, but some people, especially in a yoga class, will look around and see if someone else is "screwing up" worse then them; they're there for a competition of bending or something, not for the pure pleasure of treating their body well. So, Terry said something so simple, and yet so deep, I thought. I am not sure it belongs to him, or he read it somewhere, but ... he went: "We didn't all come here, in physical form, to do what somebody else says. We came here for our own experience."

I have been telling people, not in those very well organized words, the same thing about living with a life threatening disease for years: just because my life is different than the "norm" doesn't mean I am living a lesser life. I am living it still to the fullest. I am living it to my fullest, that is. And that's all that matters.


The weirdest thing of all is that the moon got drunk, or high, or something on Sunday night. Or maybe the camera did: I tried to take a regular night shot picture of a gorgeous (and close) almost full moon that night, and this is what I got:

I have never done drugs, but they tell me this is what you see on some of them, if you were to follow a lit cigarette waved at you. I did nothing different in my settings, other than moved the camera too soon, I guess ... However, this will be forever filed under "The Moon Got Drunk One Night" in my pictures folder.


My parents' 35th anniversary was yesterday. Happy anniversary, mom and dad! And I always wonder - no, not judge, but wonder: how can two people that practically yell at each other 24/7 make it this long?! Now, I don't care what dad says - he will tell you there is no such thing as "love" that could last longer than 2 months; I don't care what he says, but I'll call it love. Because otherwise, us, single people, would be hopeless!

,My parents in 2007, doing what they do best: playing ...


This week's hardly started, really. It's been a strange one, in good, indifferent and not so good ways. With nervous eyes, I'll face tomorrow - curious as ever!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Moody Times ...

You know ... I have been known to write about spring, and fall , and even many lazy pieces about scorching summers , too...

But I seldom write about winter anymore. That's not entirely my fault, I don't believe. That's because where I live, winters have not grown up yet, and have not decided what they want to do with their lives! I am not joking!

They have not made up their minds who or what they want to be yet! Like a late blooming adolescent, they are still trying to figure that out. Annoyingly slowly, if I may add, because for 11 years now, I have not seen a winter come of age!

You never know what kind of winter you're going to get in Greensboro. One day, you might get a scent of fall, or spring, where a wind breaker jacket is just enough, and maybe an umbrella handy, too; another day you can even go to Harris Teeter in your shorts, to get some milk and bread. Another day, we put New York to shame with our temperatures!

I feel like if winter would be a person, here, it would have to be a moody woman, going through her "phases", or an old, cranky man, one minute happy, and one minute thorny as all!

People tell me I complain too much when it's cold, and I should be used to low temperatures, given Romanian winters; but back home, we wear sheep's skin and rabbit hats in the winter! You can't find those in North Carolina, I can guarantee you! Well, not at Kohls, anyway! So, having temperatures in the teens with the cotton clothes you get here is just not ... comfortable.

It makes me mad when we get 60-65 degrees one day, right about this time. I never plan for it. I plan to do indoor things, and all of a sudden, it's a great opportunity to go for a walk in the park, or a hike! But no, plans are made, hike must wait, till ... tomorrow, when we get an ice storm!

So, I guess, there is a thing or two I can say about the surprising winters around these parts. And that's all good and fine and dandy, as long as that's what you expect from every day: a surprise!

I do miss eggnog right after they pull it off the shelves, and I do wish I could build a real fire, once in a while. I do love to cuddle up with the cats, who are sooo needy and snuggly on winter nights. I love the sound of my heater - it talks about "big weather" out there, as my mountain grandpa used to say. I sleep better in winters. And I eat better too, although I would gladly give up the love handles that magically appear now and then. As long as winter takes them away, when she packs up in the spring, I will be glad!

If there is one consistent feature about winters here, that would have to be (well, other than unpredictability!) ... brightness! The sky is always as clear as Carolina blue, spotless, and the eyes hurt from so much flodding of sun rays, whether it's warm, or cold that day! I do love that we seldom get gray days in the winter, like Canada and Romania do, for about 6 months at a time!

There is a charm for every season , I guess. And right now, I am all about warm sweet wine, and lots of chunky soups. Lots of scarfs and thick gloves, and unfortunately, lots of tissue boxes, too...
Till this weekend, that is ... when I will go shopping in a sweater and flip flops, I think, at least according to the forecast! Maybe ...

Monday, February 02, 2009

Why I Left Romania, You Ask …

Note: if this offends my long gone, distant and passed Gypsy relatives, that I have never met, I deeply apologize. That was never my intention.

State schooling is virtually free in Romania. All the way up to high school, at least. State college is free, as well, if you can make the grades and stay enrolled. That’s one of the “perks” in that country. One of the “rewards” coming from “The Man” (aka: State) to the regular folk. One of the very few.

I had a friend in college who was the son of a single mother who could not afford rugs in the home, they were so poor. He went to college with all of us, though, because he was smart, and kept his grades up. He was from out of town, and he slept in a dorm, and occasionally came to dinner at my house, since he could not afford to pay for the cafeteria, most times. I was lucky enough to live in a college town, so I stayed with mom and dad almost through college.

When he would come to my house, and had dinner, he would pause, and think right before he took a bite. He was always thinking, he told me, at his mother, at that very moment, and at how the food he was about to eat felt like “liquid mercury going down his throat”, because he felt guilty. He felt guilty that he had access to that free, homemade food, while there was no telling whether his mother had any kind of meals that day!

That memory haunts me to this day. I feel the same kind of guilt, and the same kind of remorse, every time I feel like I have a “better life” than my parents. And this happens almost daily here. I could never, as long as they live, feel fully happy with what I have, because my bounty is embittered by their lack of basic needs. By their lack of freedom, and of access to hope, and by their lack of common daily necessities.

That guilt became painful this week, once again. My parents live in a relatively safe part of a quiet, university town, in North-East Romania. But no matter what part of that city they moved to, over the years, they are always bothered by their neighbors, “The Gypsies”. No, Gypsies (or the “Rroma people”) are not just “Artistes” that live a Bohemian life. They are a minority, specific to Eastern Europe, mostly, now, but for the most part spread all over Europe and the World. They refuse to be integrated. They speak their own language, and have their own faith, they refuse schooling, or any kind of “formality”. Some of them are still vagabond, and they travel in covered horse-drawn carriages. They defy everything that’s organized, and anything that belongs to “the norm”. They destroy and mock things, as a sign of disapproval.

During communism, The Government tried to force them to integrate. They outlawed their travelling caravans, and forced them to live in blocks of flats, where they crammed a family of 10-12-14 people into a 1 or 2 bedroom apartment. To this day, they rebel. But not against the Government, like you might think, but against their neighbors, the Romanians.

I am sorry if I sound racist, or nationalistic. I am not! I am sure there are perfectly decent Gypsies out there. I personally have not met them, however. Anyway, this is the topic of another book, much less another post, so I will just skim over this. Ask me details about them, and we shall talk for a while.

This week, one of the Gypsy kids in my parents’ neighborhood got mad at my dad, because he had parked his car in front of a gate that made his entrance to their house awkward – that was his excuse. Not impossible. But awkward. But instead of knocking on my dad’s door, and asking him kindly to park his car elsewhere (the car was on a public road, free for all), he picked up the biggest stone he could find in the street, and smashed my dad’s windshield. My dad has a French car. So, anything “import” is an arm and a leg in Romania. The windshield repair will cost him 2100 lei, or the equivalent of $700! My parents combined make about $1000 a month. Their gas bill alone came in at $400 last month. You do the math!

They do have car insurance, but it covers only collision. No “acts of violence” like these. In fact, there is no insurance that’s affordable enough for the regular folk that will cover that, unless you’re a police officer: and then you’re forced to get that kind of insurance, because you’re more vulnerable.

The law doesn’t stand behind you, the citizen, either: although my parents had the whole neighborhood as witnesses for what the Gypsy kid did, the cops told them that since the kid who did this is a minor, he’s not expected to pay for the damage. His parents are, but since they’re jobless Gypsies, with several mouths to feed, they (The Police) are not going to press any charges against the family, as they know they’re not going to pay for anything, so it’s a waste of their time.

The police also said they have had several eviction requests from neighbors on this particular block of Gypsy families, but they need the City Hall to approve the evictions, and they have not done it yet. Of course, the City Hall is waiting for bribes, but bribery is so rampant in Romania, and bribes are so high, no amount will be enough to pay off ALL the City Hall and City Council members to take action.

And so, “The Man” gets to screw the citizen, the tax paying, legal citizen once more. And that’s the de facto law of living in Romania. Nothing ever makes sense, but you obey, because you have no recourse, no loop holes to pull you through to give you … justice.

When my dad built his house, he had to buy at least three rounds of brick, doors and appliances, because they kept getting stolen every night. He got no money back for the stolen materials. The police took the complaints and did nothing with them.

Romania has cell phones, and web cams, and fast internet, and for the most part a quiet, and non-rebellious (thank God!) political system and society. A lot of Americans ask me weekly, why in the world did I leave Romania?! I could have had “all the conveniences of modern life, AND peace, AND my family close by”- right?!

But it’s hard to explain to them that THIS is why I left! The every day fight for survival, and the lack of ever feeling like you’re treated with fairness and justice, the squandering of every penny you make on the Gypsies’ shenanigans, and the authorities’ bribes; the showing nothing for your cash at the end of the day, because you’re indebted to “the Man” for stuff you never bought! The feeling and almost forced acceptance that you’re not “human”, after all, and thus you “should” be treated like an animal – is why I left. I refused that!

And thus, like my friend said in college: it was physically painful when I got my car from the shop, after I paid just $500 for my deductible and they made it as good as new again, after my wreck a couple of years back, when they pretty much had to replace half of the front of the car to make it move again. The damage was then about $3000 – but it cost me about $500. And I make a tad more than $1000 a month!

I feel so helpless, and so desperate at times like these. And more than anything – I feel guilty for the access to laws, and justice that I have here, in the States! I want to figure out something, other than forcing money on my parents, that they never accept anymore, to make this right! It’s never been right for them. Never been right in that Godforsaken country, ever since I can remember … And they don’t deserve this. Most people there don’t deserve this treatment, but what is there to make it right?!

This year, we’ll celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Revolution – and still little change on the “humanity” front has been seen! Little to none. How’s that for desperation?!

And although I know it’s not fair to blame God for everything, turning to God in moments of desperation is all you’ve got left – so, a question beckons, every time I face this kind of reality: did God really create all of us equal?! Then why do I feel like I don’t deserve what I’ve got now, and rather my parents do, but will never get it, probably?! Never is a pretty darn long time! And also, if we’re all equal, then how and who screwed us up so badly, after Creation?! How can He allow us to become so un-equally screwed up, after He sets us free into the world?!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

On Love

Long years of hoping, and dreaming. And finding, eventually, an oasis with water and green. Like wandering in a desert, for years, and days on end – finally coming home, where hardships stop, and happiness begins.

In there, at home, enjoying the sun but also the water, and the freshness of the spot for which we hope on our journey. It’s heaven! And we get lost. We give it our all, and hope that we are settled now. We love, and give, and for once, we are settled. We think. We let go.

And just like a Fata Morgana – the oasis disappears, after the rush has passed - and we’re back on the road. Hoping. Looking. Searching. Dreaming. Drying out and thirsting for love once more.

We share “friendships”, we call them. We share ourselves with the world, every day. We belong to all, and we slice up who we are to give everyone a piece. None of these sharings becomes a little more longer than a couple of hours, when “it’s convenient”. The giving is truncated by the conditionality of it all. There is no freedom and letting go. There is only conditional sharing, and accommodating everyone’s schedules. At the end of the day, it’s still us alone, contemplating silence and an empty bed.

And we can’t help but wonder: is our fear of commitment keeping us from something bigger, and deeper, and larger, and of more of the realm of “forever”?!

What if our independence, and our love of the “me” and the “now”, our love of the whole blanket, and not satisfaction with just half of it, our love of the whole potato serving, and not enjoyment of just half of it, our fear of sharing the day, keeps us forever wandering?! Keeps us forever soldiers of the desert and of the loneliness?!

We choose ourselves for now, for the sake of simplicity. And the now turns into tomorrow, and into another month and another year. And we won’t know whether this choice is good or bad, till we’re old, gray and “gone” so much that we won’t be able to “share” any of ourselves anymore – as there will be little of ourselves left.

Love for me, as I have found, has been a constant searching. All findings have proven only momentary. And there are some findings out there, who might have been bigger than just a fleeting moment – but we were never allowed to explore them.

We’re letting the mind rule us, and we forget all along that love’s nest is in the heart! We think so much, our thoughts are louder than our heartbeats!

So, we’re waiting. And searching, and wandering…

And I can’t help but ask myself over and over again:” What if we’re looking for something that’s already found us?”

What will we tell our squandered selves when it’ll be too late to fix anything, if that’s the case?! Too late to fill up the empty Sunday afternoons, and the empty hearts we carried on in our journeys?! This question interferes with my peace daily!