Monday, May 15, 2006

An Anacronism

While visiting Stockholm, I had an opportunity to visit the Vassa Museum. The museum is built around a ship that foundered in the port in 1628 and was raised in 1961. The ship itself is an anachronism; it is like the iceman that they found in the Alps several years ago. These items have fallen into our world from a distant past and they provide us a window to consider these times, if not to experience them.

Many of the sailors on the Vassa drowned when the ship went down and I spent a lot of time thinking about them. What were their dreams? Did they find happiness in their lives? What were their lives like? We hear very much about the suffering and squalor that were a central part of those times for most people in Europe. I don’t doubt that there’s some truth in this, but I’ve come to question much of what we are taught to take for granted. We are constantly told that we live in the best of all possible countries in the best of all possible worlds. I’ve seen first hand that in many ways the first part of this mantra is false…I have no more doubt that the second is equally untrue. Looking at it all from this perspective, the people who feed us this “Mom and Apple Pie” stuff are just as ridiculous as Voltaire made them out to be.

What I have found in my travels is that we are much more alike than we are different. The Chinese, the French, the Maltese, and the Greeks. People everywhere are not so very different from each other. They all share the same hopes and dreams. The same things are important to most of us, and they are not the things that we hear on the news or are told about ourselves. It’s the people in our lives, our lovers and our friends. I have seen as much happiness in the eyes of the poor farmer in Hainan as I have seen in the eyes of the rich stock broker in Manhattan. It is not comfort or things that make us happy and a hard life does not mean a life of despair.

If the people that I have met around the world are so similar, then why should the people who are separated from us by the gulf of time be any different? It seems that those in power need to make us feel that we are unique and that every one else thinks and feels differently than we do. I think they do this to maintain their own power, but it also keeps us separated…keeps us apart from one another. This is the great tragedy of our world; that our leaders would separate us for their own good and to our own great loss. I don’t think it was any different for those who died on the Vassa. They were told that they, the Swedes, were the good guys and that the Poles were the bad guys. They were proud of who they were and of what they were doing. They were proud of all the wrong things, just like we are today.

I have always been very proud of being an American, but I think I’m over that delusion now. I find much of John Lennon wrote to be naïve, but I can’t get over the idea of, “Imagine there’s no country…” That thought sounds pretty good to me!

Best! Norm.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

I'm Free

I had an interesting experience the other night…

I recently took my daughter to see the movie “V is for Vendetta”, which was an incredibly good movie, with a very meaningful message. But the point I want to bring into this entry is associated with a particular event in the film…one of the lead characters is tortured and overcomes her lifelong fear of death. When this happens, her antagonist tells her that she is free.

I had a massive stroke when I was 29 (15 years ago) and was not expected to survive or recover…obviously, I came out of that experience fine and have done relatively well since. I had a small spell a few weeks back while traveling. My vision went blurry for about 20 seconds and I experienced some dizziness. Normally this wouldn’t be a big issue, but with my history it made me take notice. I went to see my doctor when I got home and it doesn’t seem like this one will do me in either (it was probably just strange food or something). The point is that the brief scare gave me something of a revelation…

One evening between the dizzy spell and my seeing my doctor, we had company over and did a fair amount of drinking (ended up singing Karaoke). As I lay in bed that night, I had a headache that centered on one side of my head. It occurred to me later that this was a result of waaay too much wine, but the mind wanders late at night when you aren’t sleeping. I wondered for a moment as I lay in bed if the dizzy spell wasn’t the messenger of another large stroke coming on and if it wasn’t possible that I wouldn’t be getting up in the morning. It surprised me that the thought of dying had no fear for me at all. I was completely ready to go and comfortable with the whole idea of moving on.

I have had the same fears about death that most people have and it was such a liberating feeling to realize that I have come past all that. I have good friends and a great life and I don’t expect to leave here any time soon, but it is incredible to know that I will no longer worry about when my time arrives or regret my leaving this place and moving on. I will enjoy every moment and not focus on endings. I feel as free as the character in the movie…I hope you have the opportunity to recognize that death is nothing to be afraid of and that you can leave without regrets…I hope you find your freedom too.

Best! Norm.