Struggling to Understand

Thoughts on an article from the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Sunday, August 17, 2014

IGHGrampa writes about ‘struggling to understand issues of Life (and Death)’. He reflects upon the suicide of Robin Williams, saying he had everything a person could possibly want, so how could he possibly want to take his life? Perhaps he has a point, but, many would ask, who is to judge? This point of view reminds me once, when I actually took the attitude, that if someone wants to kill themselves, it is alright. Today, I think twice before making this judgement, and it all stems back to when Someone, somewhere, when I lived in Nebraska, had taken their life. I don’t remember who they were, but it was someone, a coworker of mine and I were talking about one day, at a cafe, or bar. What I do remember, is my conversation with this very attractive blond girl, younger than myself. I really liked this girl a lot.  I think it was her very strong character and the self-confidence, with which she projected herself. In reference to this suicide, I said something to the effect, that it was this person’s decision to do what they wanted with their life, whether it was to continue on, or end it by their own hands. What will never leave my memory, is this girl’s totally unexpected, and strong reaction to my statement. With her steel blue eyes, she looked into, my eyes, and told me point blank; “It’s wrong!” She was adamant and unwavering in her statement, and went on to say that it was a totally selfish act, and that this person had no regard for the feelings of others around him or her. She was so fixed in her opinion that it truly made me stop and think about the act of suicide. To this day, and with utmost respect, I think of the proud and moral position this girl took, and I admire her still, for standing her ground on an issue, about which many people were, and still are, wishy washy. Furthermore, she was young, in the years of the late 70’s, a time when, ‘everything goes’. Today, I shame myself for not having a stronger spine and for following the opinion of the flock.

Going back to the article, IGHGrampa goes on to talk about ‘the struggle’, so to speak. He makes reference to the main character of the movie “Precious”, a woman who seems to have “insurmountable” problems. He writes about the struggle by astronomers to acquire knowledge and an understanding of how the planets and stars are formed, the forces of existence itself.

Pondering these struggles, Grampa remarks on his own trivial struggles, and that ‘sometimes you just have to put the struggles aside for a time.’ He even works on his own little problems in his workshop, to help him forget about the larger struggles of the world. Or, he likes to simply listen to classical music, to escape. His final statement makes so much sense to me, and that is, that perhaps, in order to understand, the key is ‘to make an effort to remove oneself from the struggle’, someway, somehow.

Grampa’s words bring me back to the idea of the struggle, to choose life, or death, between what is right, and what is wrong. In light of these thoughts, it is our duty, to find something that can be done for those, who find themselves alone in a moment of desperation, something to prevent them from hurting themselves, and/or others, whether it be with words, actions, or no action.  The passive-aggressive route. To help them to make an effort to ‘remove themselves from the struggle, and carry on in this world of life and death.  If my blond friend were here today, she would know. She would know what to say, and do.

Presently, I am thankful that this girl stepped into my life, if only for a short time. Like a few people in my life, she is gone, hopefully living, nonetheless, out of my radar.  Yet, the spirit of her hopefulness, has not subsided.  When the question of suicide ever comes up, I think of this girl, who worked by my side, in Lincoln, Nebraska, and, I think twice.

New Britain Museum of American Art

New Britain Museum of American Art

This museum is a little gem in New Britain, Connecticut featuring primarily American Art from the 17th century to the present.  There is American Impressionism, Academic, Hudson River School, Colonial and Early Republic, First Half of the Twentieth Century and Contemporary. “The Weir Family” and “Nelson White” are two exhibits currently on display. Both show works created by three generations of painters from the same family. The evolution from grandfather, and father to son, is in itself, a lesson in art history.

After walking through the museum my friend Sylvia and I stopped for a bite to eat at the museum cafe.  We had a scrumptious lunch consisting of orange chicken on a croissant and a grilled cheese with pulled pork on wheat.  These were accompanied by a garden salad, an orzo salad and for the finishing touch, a salad of cubed watermelon lightly sprinkled with balsamic vinegar and feta cheese, all garnished with pistachio nuts, arugula and bits of delicious pickled beets.  Very gourmet!

Go soon, to see the two new exhibits, the permanent collection and have lunch at the cafe before you leave.  It is time well spent.  Although yesterday was a perfect beach day, you could go on a rainy day, but then you wouldn’t be able to have lunch on the outdoor cafe patio which overlooks a green bucolic park.

A thing of the past

RPR in 1st car – 1917

Why do people chase down their ancestors, pouring through letters and documents with frayed edges, faded ink on sheets of paper which crumble in your hands  and between your fingers?  I guess the answer is in the question.  As we strive  for a paperless society, documents become exceedingly inaccessible, buried in forgotten computer files, the World Wide Web, the Cloud, or Google docs and PhotoShop.  Our memory is also buried in these files – gone! – and the danger of obliterating the personal handwritten accounts which affirm the history of our ancestry, becomes more and more imminent.  Long gone is the autograph book and rapidly disappearing is the hand written letter and journal as witnesses of times past. Whatever primary sources resurface in twenty-five, fifty or seventy five years, will certainly be an anomaly, if they exist at all.

Our pursuit of knowledge and wonder are no longer driven by hiking on trails through wooded hills, along running brooks, or on cobblestone streets in historic towns, villages and countries, but rather, through endless hours with our eyes pasted to a computer screen.  Perhaps the advent of the iThis and iThat, and the capability to transmit and receive information instantly through time and space is our way of staying in tune as we are constantly on the move, whether it’s sitting in a chair in our living room or in the seat of a train.  Yet we need not remember a thing, because all information is at our fingertips through technology, and although we are seemingly more cerebral and introverted in our social exchanges, we pursue, record and process information at a faster pace than we ever did before – only to be forgotten.

We are living in an era of heightened individualism and guarded privacy which has made us less sociable face to face, more suspicious, paranoid and worried about what one knows about us and if it is really an apt description of who we are.  In this state of agitation we are unable  to shift our consciousness into a true state of Carp Diem, or in other words, lose ourselves completely in a moment  of time, in the beauty of a poem, the shapes and forms of a painting, or in the seconds at dusk and dawn when the buds of a flower open and close.

As the Age of Technology spins out of control what legacy will we be leaving for our children which our foremothers and fathers have left for us?  I for one find myself sucked into this technology and forever striving to keep up and constantly learning how to use it – dependent  on the keyboard for my social interaction and to satisfy my wonder and pursuit of information. Yet, I am weary and discerning of the lack of reality and authenticity of technology and unsatisfied with the information it has to offer. I am afraid the layers of facts, or facts posing as the truth which are deeply buried in my computer will be quickly forgotten when I turn off the switch. Yet I am happy to know that this information will never compare with the real photographs, authentic documents and letters which I hold in my hand.  I consider myself fortunate and at the same time saddened to have these papers at my fingertips because I realize that their production is a thing of the past.

Surprise!

Martha and Esther were out for a drive and decided to visit my mom today. Martha and I grew up together, sometimes we were like sisters.  She had no idea I would be there so it was quadruple surprise for everyone.  We both came from big families and our mom’s, Mary and Esther would take turns watching us.  The memories we share run very deep.

Mary and EstherImageImageMartha and Esther Image

Happiness

Thank you friends for taking the time to look at my blog.  Since I am on vacation visiting my mother in the Upper Midwest, I thought I would spend the day thinking about happiness and unhappiness. Not much else to do in this tiny town. Anyway, I’ve decided I am a pretty happy person, and if anything rubs me the wrong way, well, I usually get over it pretty fast.  Clearly, life is too short to muddle our minds with unhappiness.

So in the sweltering heat, in Gotham City, where Solitude is taken for granted, I continued to read and edit my dad’s World War II diary in its digital form.  We managed to help  my mom find the originals, which after rummaging around in closets and cabinets, were neatly hidden under her bed.  My brother and I decided they need to be made accessible to the public, but we thought, before sending them off to some museum or having them digitally processed by the Veteran’s Project, that we should scan them ourselves.  Well, this shall be a daunting task, because found in the box were five volumes, and four or five little notepads.  The small notepads he filled while he was crossing Belgium and Germany, digging trenches and wading through snow up to his waist, between the months of January and April of 1945.  Such is warfare!  I often try to imagine him in the midst of bombs exploding overhead and the bullets whistling by, close to grazing his helmut, what it must have been like and how he actually survived this horrible war.  He never spoke about the his activities much in daily life.  Once my son, Francisco asked, “Grandpa, what did you do in the war?”  He replied, “I ducked a lot.”  Of course, we laughed knowing it wasn’t a laughing matter at the time.  With this in mind, Richard P. Rivard’s (better known as Yochen) diary is a testimony to his days in the war, and a relic to be treasured.

Another thing I accomplished in the day was to take photographs of my mother’s art.  An art teacher before retiring, she produced many beautiful things throughout her career and instilled in me a great appreciation for all the Arts.

Oh!  Before signing off,  there is one more thing.  Getting back to what Ivan Ivanich said about having reason and purpose. Well, I just want to say that I am writing this to express my gratitude to my parents for the wonderful life they have given to me.

So, thank you, to the two wonderful people notoriously known as Bona and Yochen, or my mom and dad! Thank you for teaching me how to be a happy person.