Lorca, Spain Easter Parade

One of the many floats in the parade

I thought I knew about parades. As an American, I had seen many Fourth of July parades. And living in Chicagoland, an area chock full of Irish people, I had seen many a St. Patrick’s Day parade. Chicago turns its river green in honor of this event. But nothing I have ever seen in the United States compares to the Easter parade I saw in Lorca this Maundy Thursday. This city of almost 500,000 people really knows how to put on a parade! Once you have seen it, you can’t really compare it to anything else. It’s like going to Disneyland or Disneyworld and then visiting a regular amusement park. Nothing can really compare.

Lorca is the third largest city in the southeastern Spanish provence of Murcia. The two largest cities are Cartagena, and the capital, Murcia. The Lorca parade combines amazing floats that tell historical tales from the old and new testament with horse-drawn chariots that race down the parade route. Here is one of the horse-drawn chariots. Look how fancy the driver’s cape is! Supposedly the thread used in the capes is actually made of gold.

Two rival brotherhoods (Paso blanca and Paso azul), compete to have the best biblical parade. The parade we saw started with the blue brotherhood, with people waving blue bandanas to cheer their people on the victory. “Viva azul,” people would shout. Then when the white brotherhood presented their parade, people waved white handerchiefs and yelled, “Viva blanca” and “Guapa,” meaning beautiful in Spanish.

Besides horse-drawn chariots and fancy floats, the parade also included impressive religious displays that required dozens of people underneath to carry the load. Both men and women dressed in the same colored religious garb to carry the display. This one below featuring Jesus Christ was especially impressive.

Display showing Jesus beset by Roman soldiers

The parade also included many impressive displays of horsemanship. We saw dancing horses and many horses jumping up onto their hind legs, with their riders holding tightly to the reins. There were also many people clad in fancy costumes riding two, four or six-horses across, and racing down the street in their chariots.

Here is one of the many horse-drawn chariots in the parade

Lastly, between the floats, chariots and horsemanship displays, there were many bands playing music. The use of drums and brass instruments seemed particularly favored.

Here are some Roman soldiers playing brass instruments and pounding on drums

If you ever get a chance to see this parade, which typically runs for four days during Semana Santa (holy week), weather permitting, I would highly encourage you to do so.

One more example of a fancy float depicting a biblical tale

Spanish Civil War 80th Anniversary Memorial Museum

These thoughts were posted in the museum in remembrance of
the 80th anniversary of the end of the Spanish Civil War

I went to Alicante, Spain, recently to a new museum commemorating the 80th anniversary of the fall of this port city to Franco and the Nationalist forces. One of the main events depicted at the museum relates to the last-minute evacuation of war refugees from the harbor. Spaniards fighting on the Republican side and their families wanted to leave Spain before they could be killed or imprisoned by the enemy. As Alicante was the last Spanish city to fall, at the end of March 1939, there were thousands of people who went there, hoping to get on boats to leave the country.

This is a poster displayed outside the new Alicante museum.
It says “Alicante has fallen. Here the war ended.

Only one man was brave enough to transport the refugees away from danger. That was Welsh native Archibald Dickson. He transported 2,638 exiles away from Spain on March 28, 1939 on board the steamboat Stanbrook. The civil war ended April 1, 1939, a few days later. It had begun on July 17, 1936.

Here is a photo of the brave sea captain that was displayed at the Alicante museum.

Captain Dickson took the refugees to Oran, Algeria. According to historical accounts, when they arrived, French authorities refused Dickson permission to moor, but finally relented when he threatened to crash into the harborside. The refugees had to wait three months before they were allowed to disembark, from where they were taken to a concentration camp where many would die. Dickson himself died several months after the evacuation when the Stanbrook was hit by a torpedo from a German U-boat.

Here is a statute of Archibald Dickson in the Alicante Harbor, near where the Stanbrook left port.

While at the museum, we saw a recreation of an artists’ gallery featuring political propaganda from the Spanish Civil War period. Here is one of the posters displayed there. This one’s message resonated with me.

This poster says “Culture is the first necessity of the people.”

Another photo from the recreation of the artists’ gallery at the museum

Based on what I have read so far about the Spanish civil war, I think I would have sided with the Republicans. The Nationalists, led by Franco, rounded up many artists and intellectuals and shot them because of their ideas. Ernest Hemingway was one of the most famous writers who supported the Nationalists and traveled to Spain to fight with them. He wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls based on his experience there.

This is one of the photographs from the Spanish civil war, showing the suffering of war refugees.
Here is a larger photo of the Stanbrook with many refugees on board

As the above poster shows, not everyone who wanted to escape Spain ahead of Franco was able to do so. Many people were left behind. Some of these people killed themselves to avoid capture or imprisionment. Others were imprisioned in two concentration camps located in Alicante province, including one called Los Almendros and another one in Albetera.

In addition to telling the dramatic story of the evacuation of Alicante, the museum contains a wooden scale model of the Stanbrook, complete with tiny passengers, including a man shaving while holding a mirror in his hand. Outside this exhibit are three separate panels listing the names of many people killed in the Spanish civil war, including victims of bombings and victims of the Franco’s dictatorship.

War brings so much suffering, death and destruction. Why can’t people find a way to work out their differences without violence?

Thought for the Day

“There is not a single adult who has not suffered loss or felt despair about living or wondered how to find the strength to go on. If we truly understand this, we might find compassion for others as well as ourselves, for each of us is fragile and in need of solace.”

From Awakening the Soul: A book of Daily Devotions, edited by John C. Morgan. Published by Skinner House Books.

Life Lesson No. 9: Explore your roots to understand who you are

“Behind every appearance of diversity there is an interdependent unity of all things.”

George de Benneville, a physician and Christian Universalist minister

Are you interested in genealogy? If so, dear reader, I have an amazing story to tell you that might seem unbelievable. But it’s true and it affirms the adage that we are all connected.

Once there were two sisters, born in the late 1500s, in Canterbury, England from a Protestant English mother and Dutch father. Their names were Marie and Hester Mahieu. During this time, the French Catholic government waged a brutal war against all Protestants, causing many of them to flee to England. A church was founded in Canterbury in 1575 for these French Huguenot (Protestant) refugees.

Canterbury’s population had grown to about 5,000 people by then, of whom 2,000 were French Protestants. Since Canterbury was crowded with religious refugees, it became difficult for everyone to earn a living. Perhaps this is part of the reason why the Mahieu family moved to Leyden, in the Netherlands, around 1590. Leyden had a reputation for being tolerant of people of different faiths.

Marie married a Frenchman named Jean de Lannoy. In 1602, they gave birth to Phillip de Lannoy. As a teenager, Phillip arrived on the ship Fortune at Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621, one year after the Mayflower arrived. Once in Massachusetts, he changed his name to Phillip Delano. He married Hester Dewsbury and together they had six children. Perhaps the name Delano rings a bell to you? One of the best-known US presidents was Franklin Delano Roosevelt and he is descended from Phillip Delano.

US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Now before we get too far along, let’s get back to Marie’s younger sister Hester. Hester Mahieu married an English man named Francis Cooke in 1603. He was a Leiden separatist, like his wife and her family. These Separatists were religious refugees who fled England to Amsterdam in 1608 and moved to Leiden the next year. They lived and worked in that city for about 12 to 20 years. In 1620, their emigration to the United States began.

Cooke was a passenger on the Mayflower and arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. Hester came over on the ship Anne three years later with two of their children to join her husband. Hester and her sister Marie’s son Phillip were among the earliest settlers to the American colonies. They both lived in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Perhaps they even lived in the same house or near each other. What is for sure is that they had come to America to worship freely, without being told what to believe by government authorities. They grew corn like the other new settlers so they might have enough food to survive the harsh northeastern winters and they helped build up their community through public service. Between 1620 and 1640, twenty thousand English men, women, and children crossed the Atlantic Ocean to settle New England in what is called the Great Migration.

You will discover as I go down through the generations with the Mahieu sisters and their separate lines, the common element is people who don’t want to be told what they believed. They are independent but closely bound to their community and to America. Faith, family and community were all important.

One of Marie’s grandsons was named Philip, like his father. He lived in Duxbury, Massachusetts, a town on the coast near Plymouth and married a woman named Elizabeth Samson. They only had two children, unlike many new settlers who often had large families. One of his sons was named Phillip, like his father and grandfather before him. Although he had the same first name as his forbearers, he now changed his surname from Delano to Deland. Born in 1660, Philip Charles Deland grew up and settled a little further away from Plymouth, just north of the city of Boston in a seaside town called Beverly.

Phillip Charles Deland had a son named Paul, not Phillip, for a change! He settled north of his father in Newbury, Massachusetts, still near the Atlantic Ocean like all his previous ancestors in America. He married Phoebe Green, a woman with English ancestors, and had two children, including one named Phillip! However, they also had a son named Obadiah in 1733. Obadiah was a soldier who fought in the French and Indian war and in the American Revolution. Obadiah was the first Deland from this line of the family to move inland from the Atlantic Ocean. He lived with his wife in Brookfield, several hours west of Boston.

Obadiah was an energetic soul. When he wasn’t fighting wars, he was busy having children. He married Martha Jones and had ten children with her. When she died, he married her sister Mary Jones and had 9 more children with her. He was also a farmer and a wagon-maker. His oldest child from his second marriage was a son named John Deland, born in 1775, just a year before the 13 colonies declared independence from England. He was the first Deland to leave the state, five generations after they arrived from Holland.

By 1775, about 2.5 million people had travelled to North America to live the colonial life. Many people migrated to America for religious freedom, hoping to escape the religious persecution they faced in their own countries. Religious diversity was a dominant part of the Thirteen Colonies.

Now before we get too far down the road, let’s go back to Marie’s sister Hester Mahieu and see what happened with her and her descendants up to the time of the American Revolution. She and Francis Cooke got married in Leyden, Holland in 1603. While still in Leyden, they had three children, including a son named Jacob Cooke, born in 1610. Her husband, the now well-known Francis Cooke, sailed on the Mayflower in 1620 with their oldest son John. Hester, her younger son, Jacob and her sister came to American in 1623 on the ship, Anne.

Jacob settled in Barnstable, Massachusetts, across the Cape Cod Bay from Plymouth. He and his wife had four children, including son Josias Cooke. Records from that time period show that Josias got into a fight and was injured. Later he sued another man for a debt of 4 pounds and won a judgement of 3 pounds. He also sued someone named John Smith from Plymouth for slander and John Smith agreed that he had “much wronged the plaintiff by his unbridled tongue in these base and false charges.”

Despite his legal issues, Josias managed to have seven children with his wife Deborah Hopkins. Her father, Giles Hopkins, came to America from England on the Mayflower as a 12-year-old child. And her grandfather, Stephen Hopkins, was one of the original 41 signers of the Mayflower Compact, a governing document for the first settlers who would live in Plymouth Colony.

Signing of the Mayflower Compact

The oldest of Josias’s seven children was Elizabeth Cooke who also settled in Barnstable. She married Thomas Newcomb and they had three children, including Deborah Newcomb, born in 1702 in Truro, Massachusetts. This area is now called Cape Cod, near Provincetown, Massachusetts, on the Atlantic Ocean. Deborah Newcomb married Thomas Lamkin and they moved from Massachusetts to Connecticut, a neighboring state. They had a daughter named Mary, who lived from 1732 to 1790. Her husband was Archippas Blodgett, a soldier in the American Revolution.

So both Marie and Hester’s descendants settled first in Massachusetts and had family members who fought in the American Revolution. When the men went off to fight in the war, American women, children, and elderly were frequently faced with the occupation of their houses, churches, and government buildings by British soldiers, according to on-line sources. But most people didn’t fight in the revolutionary war. They were just doing their best to survive during difficult times. For example, the British blockade of America ports caused widespread unemployment.

What happened to Marie Mahieu’s descendants after the American Revolution? As I said earlier, John Deland left Massachusetts five generations after his ancestors first arrived there from Holland. He lived in New York State, where his son John Deland Jr. grew up. Nobody traveled too far away from the East Coast at this point. Automobiles had not been invented yet. John Deland lived in the first half of the 1800s. The Industrial Revolution, which took place from 1820 to 1870, resulted in many changes in the US and in Europe. Three important developments were: transportation was expanded, electricity was harnessed and goods began to be developed on a large scale through industrial production.

John Deland Jr. lived during this time period in western New York State. He had two children, including a son named Luther Lamont. Luther did his civic duty by serving as a juror in at least one court case. He and his wife raised four children, including Frederick Bishop Deland. Frederick was born in 1853 and died in 1928, the year before the stock market crashed. During his lifetime, he served in the Army on multiple occasions and he was the first Deland to live in many different places.

And what about Hester Mahieu’s descendants? How did they make the transition from the American Revolution to the Industrial Revolution? Well Archippas Blodgett, the revolutionary war soldier, had a boatload of children, 8 in all. One of his children was Henry Blodgett, who was born in New Hampshire and grew up in Vermont, two side-by-side states just above Massachusetts. So both the Mahieu sisters’ ancestors were moving away from the Massachusetts coastline now, but still settling in nearby states.

Henry and his wife Mary Lamkin had nine children, including a son named Zebina. He lived in both New Hampshire and Vermont. He and his wife had 10 children, including a son named Cyrus. Cyrus was born in 1819 and died in 1881, four years before the first automobiles were invented. He had three children, including a son named Francis Blodgett, who was born in 1846 and died in 1911, three years before World War I broke out.

What happened between the turn of the 20th century and World War II with descendants of Marie and Hester Mahieu? Now that cars were commonplace, their descendants were moving further and further west. Marie’s descendant Luther Lamont Deland married Delia Maltby, who gave birth to Frederick Bishop Deland. He was a man on the move. He lived in Utah, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. No settling down in one place for him.

He didn’t stay with one wife either. He had four different wives in his lifetime. With his second wife, Rosa, a young woman from Germany, he had three children. One of them was Charles William Deland, who lived from 1895 to 1962 in Chicago, Illinois. He and his wife, Naomi Graham, who was Irish, had two children, one of whom was named Phyllis Blodgett. She lived from 1924 to 2004 in the Chicagoland area and worked as a English teacher at New Trier High School.

Going back to Hester Mahieu’s descendants from the early 1900s, Francis Blodgett had a son, Fred Blodgett. He lived in Minnesota all his life, working as a salesman. He and his wife Rosetta Cook, who was from Canada, gave birth to Warren Blodgett. Warren served his country as a soldier, and shipped off to fight in World War I two months before it ended. Warren grew up in Minnesota and worked as a lawyer for an Insurance company but then moved to Chicago for his job. He had a son, Charles Blodgett, who lived from 1923 until 2010. He also served his country, fighting the Japanese in the Pacific during World War II. His timing wasn’t as good as his father’s and he actually saw combat.

One day in 1941, before the US became officially involved in the war, Marie Mahieu’s descendant Phyllis Deland and Hester Mahieu’s descendant Charles Blodgett met at an Anglican/Episcopal church event in Chicago. Phyllis was a beautiful brown-haired teenager and Chuck (as he was called) was a handsome and intelligent man attending Northwestern University in the naval officer’s training corps.

After Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, the United States declared war on Japan and Germany declared war on the United States. Even amid such upheaval in the world, this couple found time to fall in love. They got married in New Orleans in July of 1944. After their marriage, Charles Blodgett shipped out to the Pacific as lieutenant commander of a Landing Ship Tank. Like his father and other Blodgetts and Delands before him, he served his country in wartime. He fought bravely in World War II and even had two kamikaze planes attack his boat, killing six sailors.

LST 700, the boat on which Charles Blodgett served as skipper. This photo was taken in the Phillipines.

Luckily, Charles Blodgett survived that war and came home to raise four children with his wife Phyllis. The youngest of their children was Nancy and that child is me: Nancy Blodgett Klein. Marie and Hester Mahieu are both my great grandmothers. Three-hundred and seventy-six years after Marie was born, I was born. Marie is my great-grandmother 10 generations removed on the Deland family line while Hester, her younger sister, is my great-grandmother 11 generations removed on the Blodgett family line. Isn’t that amazing that the two family lines were connected way back when and came together again with me and my siblings?

My connection to Marie Mahieu

My connection to Hester Mahieu

Life Lesson: Genealogy can be fascinating, like reading a gripping who-done-it-novel that never ends. You uncover truths you never knew about yourself and your family. Be careful, though. This can become addictive and you may find yourself spending hours trying to get more information about long-lost relatives many generations removed from you just because you have been bitten by the genealogy bug.

Life Lesson No. 8: We are all connected

“All things are connected like the blood that unites us. We do not weave the web of life, we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.” – Chief Seattle

Baby birds sitting in the nest on top of palm leaf

The other day, I got to be a hero to two baby birds. I was outside getting into my car and the community association gardener was busy cutting leaves from the palm tree next door to our property. As I was pulling away to go to choir rehearsal, I noticed the gardener had cut off one of the leaves and it landed squarely in our back yard patio.

When I came home after dark, I picked up the palm leaf to take it to the garden waste bin and noticed something small and grey on the leaf. I looked more closely and saw that it was two baby birds. They were so small that their eyes weren’t even open yet. “Oh, oh,” I thought. “I can’t take these birds to the waste bin.” Once inside, I fired up the computer and looked up what you are supposed to do about birds falling out of the nest. It said to put them within earshot of where they fell and wait for the mother to come back. I left them where they fell, since this was within sight and earshot of the palm tree they fell from.

The next morning I looked out on to the patio, and saw a full-grown Eurasian collared dove sitting on our fence. It was looking down at the birds but not doing anything to feed or care for them. After a while, it flew away.

By this time, I had gotten back on the internet and found a bird rescue facility about 45 minutes away. I called them to see if I could drop off the birds and they said they would take them. The woman said a lot more than that, but she was speaking Spanish very rapidly so I was only catching every few words. I think she was trying to give me directions but I thought I had this covered with Google maps.

I found a black rubber container shaped like a big basket and put a towel in it. With the help of my husband, Rick, we took the birds out of the nest and put them in the container. I drove to Murcia, where the center was. But once I got there, I realized the place was in a massive park and finding the rescue center within it could be a problem.

In the bucket ready to be transported to the rescue center

So I walked up to the first person I saw and showed her the birds and asked her where the center was. She told me it was further up the road. I noticed that she had about a dozen or so young people with her all wearing the same uniform. I thought nothing more about this but then heard about six or seven people running up behind me. This made me nervous so I kept walking. They didn’t say anything intelligible to me. It seemed like they might have been developmentally disabled young adults. Finally, I stopped, bewildered as to what they wanted. But it then became obvious that they wanted to see the baby birds for themselves. So I let everyone have a look, waited for them to walk away, and then continued up the hill to the center.

Once there, a kind young man took the birds from me and asked me some questions about how and where I found the babies. In Spanish, the birds are called tortora turcas. In English, they are known as Eurasian collared doves, like the bird I had seen on the fence in our yard that morning. The birds had opened their eyes by now and I told the man they looked hungry. He said, “the vets will take care of them and feed them. Once they are big enough, they will be set free.” “Oh, joy,” I thought. “Thank you, little birds, for giving me the opportunity to save you.”

On the drive home, I wondered why, of all the palm leaves that had fallen, just one would land in our yard and it alone would have tiny grey birds on it, sitting quietly beside each other in their straw nest. ..Did someone up there know I was a friend of the birds and would welcome the chance to be their savior?

Life Lesson: If you have the chance to help any living thing, don’t hesitate to do so. We (humans, animals, plants) are all connected to each other. We are all responsible for the living things we encounter on this beautiful web of life we call earth.

The Bird Rescue Center in Murcia, Spain

The Beauty of Spain

I went on a 13 kilometer hike with members of the Costa Blanca U3A (University of the Third Age) this weekend to Sierra del Ferriol, near Elche, in southeastern Spain. Up on the top of one of the mountains in this region are sculptures by Mariano Ros Martinez, a Spanish goat-herder turned artist. He died in 2017, as the age of 91. Here is some of the art I saw at the place the artist named “El Cau.” In addition to his own works, which he signed “Ros,” a few other artists got inspired here and added their own works.

Ros Martinez art including depictions of his family
A representation of the city of Elche, famous for its palm trees, by other artists

In addition to seeing some interesting outdoor art, I also appreciated the beauty of the surroundings. See what I mean?

Life Lesson No. 7: Be a Good Listener

“Listening is an art that requires attention over talent, spirit over ego, others over self.”

Dean Jackson, author of The Poetry of Oneness: Illuminating Awareness of the True Self.

Have you ever noticed that most people aren’t very good listeners? Typically, when I am at a party or other social gathering, the people I meet will talk about what interests them and not engage in a dialogue with you. A woman might ask what you do for a living and you say, “I am a teacher.” “Oh, my brother is a teacher too,” she replies. “He teaches math. But I was never any good at math.” Where do you go from here? She asked what you do for a living but doesn’t really want to know more about you. Rather, she is drawing a connection back to herself (her brother is a teacher) and she doesn’t like math. Her ego is getting in the way of a meaningful dialogue.

Truly listening requires a deeper level of connection. In fact, don’t talk to me about what you do for a living. Let’s talk about ideas. What is important to you? What do you value? What gets your heart racing? Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” Let’s connect as two spirits in this great adventure known as life.  Don’t talk to me about all the expenses and hassle of maintaining your big house or name drop places you have traveled in the world. Tell me instead how you helped someone in need with your wealth or how you traveled across the world and escaped from danger because a kind local person helped you after becoming lost in an unfamiliar place.

Habit number four of Steven Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is to “Seek first to understand. Then to be understood.” Many people seem to think it most important to tell their stories rather than understand the other person. What you say to another simply reminds that person of a something else they want to share. “Oh, that reminds me of something that happened to me,” someone will say. This is not genuine listening. Rather it can be a contest to see who can get the most words into a verbal exchange.

Being a good listener means paying attention to what the other person is saying, responding with appropriate questions like, “Was that upsetting to you?” or “You must be very happy about your daughter’s new job.” Listening means not judging such as saying things like, “Wow. That really wasn’t a smart thing to do.” Listening isn’t telling the other person how you have it worst off they do. “You think your health is bad. Let me tell you what’s wrong with me.” Or “You think you have a bad boss. Well, listen to this…”

Listening is affirming the worth of the other person by paying attention to what they say and how they feel. Think of a conversation as you holding the other person’s heart in your hand. You need to be tender and caring with that heart because deep inside is a small child wanting to be acknowledged. “Tell me about your day,” you ask. And when your spouse or child tells you, you look at him or her and really listen. “Oh, you must be proud of yourself,” you tell your son when he shows you a science test he got an A on. Or “That sounds really frustrating,” you tell your partner after he tells you how his boss wasn’t interested in his new idea to solve a problem at work.

Good listeners can summarize the key thoughts or feelings of the other person in their own words. When you do that, the other person will feel heard and may say, “Exactly” in response to you. As in, you captured just what I was trying to say.

When I lived in Limerick, Ireland, I participated in a workshop with an organization called Narrative4. The Limerick location is the first Narrative4 office outside of the United States. The organization was co-founded by Irish author Colum McCann and Lisa Consiglio.  According to its website, Narrative4.com, the mission of this worldwide organization is to build a community of empathic global citizens who improve the world through the exchange of personal narratives.

So what this organization does is teach people to deeply listen to a story about someone else’s life and then be able to share what they said in your own words to the group. Your partner then recounts your story in this public forum as well. Doing this was a very powerful experience. I could also see how it can be used to bring deeper understanding not only to two individuals but to clashing political parties or to nations in conflict, such as Israel and Palestine.

Many people are good at talking. Some can entertain you or even make you laugh. Others, unfortunately, make you long to be alone, where you can have silence and think your own thoughts or simply be in the moment. But it’s a rare person indeed who is good at listening and able to hold their own ego in check long enough to make a deep spiritual connection with another human being.

Life Lesson: Learn to be a good listener by paying attention to others. Ask people questions. Respond to what they say to you with kindness and concern. Restate key thoughts of what they told you in your own words. This way the other person truly feels acknowledged. This is how you make meaningful connections. This is how you make good friends. This is how you make the world a better place.

Lesson No. 6: Educate yourself until you find meaning

Education is not just about going to school and getting a degree. It’s about widening your knowledge and absorbing the truth about life.

Shakuntala Devi, an Indian woman who wrote novels and texts about math, puzzles and astrology. She was known as “the human computer” because of her ability to do complex math calculations in her head.

When I was a child, I didn’t connect with school at all. I was one of those students who wasn’t among the lowest performers in my classes or among the most gifted either. I was one of those lost-in-the-middle students. I can’t remember the name of any of my elementary or junior high school teachers except one fifth grade teacher who was mean to me and other students. Her name was Mrs. Hagensen. We called her “Hag-and-Bag.” She told us “seems” was a ridiculous word. Something either was or was not the case. Even then, I knew enough about the ambiguity of the world to realize she was wrong about that.

After school, rather than doing homework or reading books, I would steal quarters off of my father’s dresser and ride my sting-ray bike to the local pharmacy to buy Richie Rich and Archie and Veronica comic books along with a bar or two of chocolate. I especially liked Nestle’s Crunch and Kit-Kat bars. My father worked full-time as did my mother so I wasn’t closely monitored in terms of what I did after school. Eating all that candy caught up with me though: at one dental visit, the dentist informed me that I had 13 cavities!

I was the “baby” of the family and wasn’t inspired to be a high-achiever. I let my two older sisters pursue those roles. By the time I turned 12, though, I started to read some articles in the Chicago Tribune and that did interest me. There was also a class in social studies in middle school that interested me. We were learning about people and what they had done in the world. Now we were talking.

By the time I got to high school, I realized what interested me most was people and what they thought and what they did in the world. It was in these kinds of classes that I found meaning. In particular, when I signed up for a Great Books course in high school, I got to read Walden; Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau. When I read the following quote, it was the first time I felt truly awake in school.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…”

Henry David Thoreau

Now that sentiment was meaningful. “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…” Wow! Finally, this was something I could sink my teeth into. History was interesting, yes. But it also involved a lot of facts and dates. Reading what deep thinkers through history had to say about life was the moment when getting an education really mattered to me. I wanted to read lots more books by deep thinkers about life. So, naturally, when I went on to college, I decided to study philosophy.

I read Plato, Aristotle, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Augustine, Descartes, Hobbes, Hume, Hegel, Nietzsche, Kant, Sartre, and Marcuse and so on. I studied other religions like Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. My mind opened wide and took it all in. No more comic books for me. I was finally getting a meaningful education in a subject that mattered and still matters to me.

Life Lesson: This is a message especially meant for people struggling in school. If the subjects you are learning don’t interest you, perhaps it is because you haven’t yet been exposed to those ideas that matter to you. Keep educating yourself until you find that subject that sets your mind on fire. It’s out there somewhere. Have faith and keep reading. Also remember to brush your teeth!

Lesson No. 5: Some Questions Don’t Have Answers

    “Zen wants us to acquire an entirely new point of view to look into the mysteries of life. This is because Zen has come to the definite conclusion that the ordinary logical process of reasoning is powerless to give final satisfaction to our deepest spiritual needs.” ~ D.T. Suzuki

Are you an orphan? Are both your parents gone now? How do we deal with this? I think of both my mother and my father every day. Even though I had issues with them both growing up, now that they are gone, I feel their absence keenly. And I wonder will there ever be a day where I don’t think of them or miss their loving acceptance of me? No one cares as much about you as your mother and father! That is, if you were lucky enough to have such a parent.

I had a very good friend named Alice who didn’t have that kind of loving experience. She didn’t feel loved growing up in the way I did because her mother was bipolar and was hospitalized several times when my friend Alice was a child. When her mother was home, she wasn’t loving or particularly kind. In fact, she had few memories of her childhood. That, in itself, should have been a source of concern to me.

However, I didn’t think too much about the traumatic upbringing that 57-year-old Alice had. I only knew that she was a great friend to be with. She was smart, funny, kind and interested in books, music and singing, as I was.  We both had husbands who worked in Information Technology (they were also friends) and we had two children around the same ages. We were also neighbors and attended the same church, singing in the choir together.

One fateful day, I talked to her onthe phone and she told me she was depressed. I mistakenly thought I understood this feeling and said I was depressed too, when my mother died. Alice said,“No, what you felt was grief. Depression is different.” She added that she felt like her life was over.  Rather than ask her to go more deeply into her feelings of profound pain, I instead said, “You are just going through a transition,” as one of her daughters was recentlymarried and the other was planning to get married one year later.  In retrospect, I wish I had just listened to her and not tried to talk her out of her feelings. This wasn’t helpful. I also wanted to tell her I loved her but I didn’t do that either. That was the last time I ever talked to Alice.

The following week, her husband called me and told me Alice had taken her life in the bedroom of their shared suburban home.  This was the most traumatic thing that I had ever experienced, worse even than the death of my parents. Like others shaken by the suicide of a loved one, I could not make sense of what she had done. Why? Why? Why? This question just kept banging around in my head. I was hurt and angry.  I wanted to confront her with my anger.

  • Alice, why didn’t you call me and tell me explicitly that you didn’t want to live any more? Maybe I could have said the right thing to save you. You didn’t give me that chance.
  • Did you think of your husband at all, and how traumatic it would be for him to find you like that? He had to call 911 while trying to revive you. Jesus Christ.
  • Did you think of your daughters and how hurt they would be, not just in the weeks or months or years that passed, but really for the rest of their lives? No mother to call when they give birth for thefirst time and have questions about what to do. No mother to share their amazing bundle of joy with. This absence will be profoundly felt, especially then, and other special occasions that are too numerous to list.

I am glad you found a way to end your pain but for the survivors, for those of us who loved you, the pain jus tgoes on and on.  The pain goes on, the hurt goes on, and the anger goes on, in an endless alternating dance of troublesome, upsetting, emotions.

Suicide is just another word for murder. And you murdered my best friend. How could you do that? I am sorry but I don’t feel understanding right now. Your death was a huge blow. And that makes me so angry at you. It didn’t have to happen.

On other days, though, I yearn to forgive you. On such a day, I take a Zumba class because you told me it was fun to exercise by dancing.  I remember then what a good friend you were to me. We laughed a lot together and shared our joys, our sorrows, our otherwise unspoken hurts.

Some days I weary of life’s demands and that’s when I feel some understanding of what you did. But most of the time, life is worth living. I am not going to blame you. But I am not going to feel guilt either. If you wanted to die, that was ultimately your choice. And I have to accept that I will never really understand why you took your life, even though you wrote not one, but two, suicide notes to explain your reasons.  Some questions simply don’t have adequate answers to satisfy our need for understanding.

Life Lesson: The suicide of a loved one really hurts. It’s okay to be hurt and angry. It’s okay to never really understand why. These feelings might never go away either. But don’t blame yourself if someone you love has taken his/her life. It was truly out of your control.

Lesson No. 4: Life should be a daring adventure

“Life should be a daring adventure or nothing at all. —Helen Keller

Spanish seafood paella

My hubby and I both like warm, sunny weather so we decided to retire to Spain.  Even though this is commonly done among British and Irish people, it’s not so common among Americans.  The Spanish government makes it hard to retire in Spain, throwing lots of hoops out for people to jump through.  You have to proof you have never been arrested anywhere in the US. You have to prove you have no contagious illnesses. You have to buy a full medical insurance policy for a year, even before you have actually moved there.  If you want to get a retirement visa or what they call a non-lucrative residency visa, you have to prove a certain minimum level of monthly income. When we applied for the visa, the minimum income level was a little below 2,200 Euros a month.

If you can’t do all these things, plus spend money for a variety of fees and taxes, you can forget the whole thing. And everything they request must be translated into Spanish by a certified translator. Plus you have to have copies of everything, plus many photos of yourself. In short, you have to really want to move to Spain because retiring to sunny weather climates like Florida or Arizona are much easier. Just pack up the car and drive there.  What is the big deal?

But we didn’t want to move from one state to another to eat at the same chain restaurants we just left behind, such as Red Lobster, Italian Garden, Panera, and so on.  We thought it would be fun to try paella, rather than pizza. We wanted to dive into a variety of tapas (jamon iberico, calamari, spanish omlettes) rather than order a burger and fries. We wanted an adventure, but nothing too extreme like trying to backpack across Afghanistan. We wanted to live in a safe, democratic country with warm weather, good music, lots of culture and history. So Spain fit the bill in all these ways.

Now that we are here in sunny Spain, we are glad we successfully jumped through all the hoops. It was well worth it. Every day is a new adventure, whether it be trying to get a Spanish drivers’ license or having day surgery in the hospital. Things are done differently here and that’s what makes it great. You are not sleep walking through the day, but navigating a roundabout with your eyes wide open looking out for drivers on the inside lane inside who decide to cut in front of you at the last second to turn right off the road.  This makes for exciting driving. But it is not for the faint of heart. I have a North American friend here who doesn’t drive at all because the roundabouts are too scary for her.

Of course, lots of things are done differently here in Spain. For example, they traditionally eat much later here. But the good thing about that is some restaurants offer early bird specials. So you can go to dinner between 5 and 8:30 pm and get the discounted three-course meal complete with a bottle of wine for 10 euros a person. In the U.S., if you want to partake in the early bird dinner special, you typically have to be in the restaurant and ordering by 6:00 pm, at the latest.

They are more relaxed about time here too. So if a Spanish electrician says he will be at your house at 10 am, don’t be surprised if he shows up at 11:30 without explanation.  This relaxed attitude rubbed off on us after living here a while, permitting us to enjoy the moment rather than continually checking our smartphones for the time.

Another bonus about Spain is they speak Spanish here. So if you move there, you have to learn a new language and that’s good for aging brains like ours. Learning new things helps reduce the risk of dementia. Putting sentences together in Spanish and being understood by a native speaker is fun. It’s almost like being a child again and learning how to read. New connections get made every day. For example, just a trip to the grocery store can be an adventure because all the spices have different names in Spanish than in English.  So you have to fire up your smartphone app that translates words from Spanish to English to come home with the cumin you want rather than the coriander you don’t need.

When you speak Spanish to a native speaker here, you typically get a warm response because you have made the effort, even if your pronunciation or grammar isn’t perfect.  At least you are trying and showing respect for the people in your adopted country. In general, when I do speak English here, Spanish people think I am from Canada.  That’s close enough to the United States, as far as I am concerned, because I am still learning to tell the difference between the accent of a Scottish person and an Irish one.  As long as we are living, we should always be learning!

Life Lesson: If you want adventure in your life, be open to new challenges. Be prepared to leave your comfort zone in a variety of ways every day. Traveling to other countries or even living abroad is a great way to leave your comfort zone and experience life differently. So is trying new foods and learning a new language. Life is short. Make the most of it.