Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Journey's End

Longhorn in Meadow
If you live to be one hundred, you've got it made. Very few people die past that age.
George Burns

Emotions are powerful things.  They are cyclical as ocean waves and complete with under tows.  As I contemplate the end of my mother's journey, I find myself getting stronger and more capable of handling the details of grief and the reality of death.  I've always told people in my similar situation, that death is nothing more than rest for the weary.  Even now, I believe this is true.

My mother has lived an incredible fun life filled with fantastic memories, friends, fiestas, and fantastic family reunions and dinners.  Sorrow touched her life briefly with the loss of my brother Misael at an early age.  She and Dad recovered and somehow managed to stay together despite the guilt and grief of their loss.

A few years later, I was born.  My family and my extended family were elated that another son was born.  I always sensed the importance of my role within my family.  At some point in the future, it would fall on my shoulders to lead the clan.  That event is gradually happening right now.  I am reluctant to accept my charge, but I know that its my turn to lead and to be strong for my family.

Death is certain and like birth a part of life.  What happens between is called life.  My mother has had a tremendous life.  She has always wanted to live and she made all of her days count.  Now her body and mind are getting ready for her final trip.  I pray that we can make her as comfortable as possible.  I don't know if I am ready to let her go, but I do know that we, her children, do not want neither she nor my father to suffer.

There's a tremendous sense of reassurance that is flowing through my veins.  I feel a sense of composure and peace.  I am beginning to feel confident that I will be able to fill this role and give my family a final opportunity to remember Mom.  It may be a few days or it even might be a few months.  Regardless, all I care is that Mom be comfortable and leave on her terms.  She, after all, has lead a life that was always on her terms.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Celebrate with Lucy

Lucy at 90

This week was certainly filled with life ebbs and flows.  Kim and I did find time to celebrate a few things.  Our friend Lucy turned 90.  Any one who meets Lucy becomes a different person.  Lucy fills you with her joy and spirit.  Like my recently departed friend Joe, she's a beacon, a heading and a coordinate of where I want to be as a person.

Lucy celebrates each day she's alive.  She shares her experiences and makes you want to be with her.  She also imparted that to her children.  Each has some of the same Lucy joy and spark.  Each enjoys getting to know you and seems deeply interested in listening to your story and sharing theirs.

Throughout the festivities, I was making arrangements for hospice services for my mother.  It was difficult to be cheerful when I wanted to be tearful.  Life goes on and I am grateful equally for both Lucy and my mother.  In the room was a two month old with a whole life ahead of her.  I wondered if perhaps she would be the next Lucy.  We have to celebrate life with Lucy.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Let the Dog Down

Never let life's hardships disturb you ... no one can avoid problems, not even saints or sages.
Nichiren Daishonen

It's been a huge roller-coaster ride this week.  My mother was transferred from her nearby nursing home to a second this past week.  She fell this past Saturday and spent most of the day in the ER awaiting stitches.  On Monday we were told by the nursing home staff that they could not take care of her and that she had to be transferred yet again to a different place about 30 miles from Mom and Dad's home.  Dad was in tears begging that she be kept near home.  By mid-week, I found out that Mom would be going back to where she originally was just five minutes from home.  Dad was again in tears but this time tears of joy.

The week ended as a prospective employer told me that he didn't think I had what it took to do the job.  I asked him if he had bothered to check my credentials and references.  I told him that if he were a candidate and had said he went to Harvard, I would check it out.  Some people think that unemployment is an illness and a choice.  It's the same few that believe people choose to be poor.

By the end of the week, I recognized that I had even let my dog down.  I could see it in his eyes.  I am tired but I am not broken.  Buckley and I enjoyed our walk today, but I know I owe him more than what I've given him.  Have you ever felt like you've even let the dog down?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Dry Cows

Life Flows
Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.

A while back an older gentile East Texas lady taught me  a very simple country expression.  She looked at me with her slate blue eyes and said:  "Al, you can't draw milk from a dry cow."  At first, I had no idea what this meant and what it had to do with me.   I was somewhat taken back and baffled with what that had to do with me.

Most of my life, I've wanted and looked for friendship and approval.  I've always gone out of my way to win someone over as my friend.  Many times, I've been disappointed by the lack of reciprocity.  Why couldn't that person be as much of a friend as me?  Why is it that it was always me reaching out?  Why couldn't that person sense my needs and be a friend like me.  Why is this "friendship" so one sided?

It all makes sense in the context of what my lady friend said.  Some people simply don't have it to give.  You can tug and tug at them all you want but they can't give you friendship and solace because it simply isn't there to give.  It's a sad lesson but its important to learn.  You can't seek approval from those that can't give.  Stop trying to draw milk from a dry cow.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Happiness depends more on the inward disposition of mind than on outward circumstances.
Benjamin Franklin

The journey is flux and filled with transitions.  As I observe my life, I truly see how transition explains everything.  Even our gravest enemy death is nothing more than a baton passing during  our life relay race.  Where one person's race end's, the recipient's journey begins or resumes.

The passing of a person we love does not have to be the end of the race.  It can very well be the beginning of ours.  We can carry the baton and move swiftly towards our own finish line and pass hope on to others.  The baton message is simply this:  as long as you hold the baton in your hands, you have a life to cherish and live.  Ultimately, at the end, you will share that baton and message to someone else.  You will before your life's end touch someone else; that is your destiny.  The baton transitions and transcends the finality of your end.  It immortalizes everything that you were and is commemorated by those chosen by you to carry it forward.

The transition that I am personally faced with right now is not about a job or a career.  It is about changing my focus from work to living and doing.  Life is not meant to be lived vicariously.  We are chosen to participate and to engage our being with those around us.  We are social beings born to create and destined to love.  The planet is our vehicle in our journey and marking time with the help of the sun and moon as we spin throughout space in our galaxy.  We belong to the universe.  Life spins and hope moves on.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Awash in Rain

Overflow in Keller

It had been nearly a month since we've had any significant moisture.  In Texas, things are always exaggerated.   We had a deluge in a matter of hours and the creek banks near our home overflowed their banks.  It's hard to complain when the rain had been so sparse and wild fire warnings were announced nearly daily.

Life I guess is that way at times, we are inundated with either good or bad news.  It never seems to be balanced.  Throughout the turbulence, we need to figure out how to enjoy both.  I am trying hard to learn my lessons well.  I am paying very close attention; I sure don't want to go through these ordeals again.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Opportunity Awaits

Brick Wall and Open Door
Taylor, TX

Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.
Thomas Jefferson

Optimism is an essential ingredient to survival.  Opportunities lie behind closed doors.  The optimist is willing to open and peer to see what's behind the door.  Lately, I've been peering behind lots of doors some are filled with surprises and some lead absolutely nowhere.   The most outrageous openings are the ones that appear to be be bricked up before I even get a chance to come in.

Whether I like what's behind the door is irrelevant to my survival pursuit.  The fact remains, that good or bad, I've got to keep knocking on doors, turning knobs, and peering in.  Life is filled with doors some are open and some are shut.  None of us knows what lies behind each.  That's why deep inside of me despite the anxiety and despair, I keep trying and knocking on doors.

Sooner or later a door is going to open for me and I will be prepared for the opportunity that lies beyond the portal.  Being ready to take advantage of the door mysteries is a lesson that I've had to re-learn.  Like photography, I have to be ready to capture the moment in front of me.  It may only last a fraction of a second, so I need to be prepared and move swiftly.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Morning Coffee

Morning Coffee

There's something very real and earthy about morning coffee.  It's my universal connection with my history.  My great grandfather was a coffee grower near Lares, Puerto Rico.  Eventually some of my ancestors immigrated to Columbia and continued their passion for growing coffee.

Coffee has both romance and aroma as its characteristics.  It is communal and spiritual as it awakens us in the company of other folks in cafe's around the world.  It remains the most wonderful gift given to us by monks and purveyed by our Moorish friends.

Things always seem a bit brighter with just a cup or two of the relaxing brew.  Have your cup this morning, take time to enjoy and savor whatever blend you choose.  Enjoy the wholly communion it provides and the opportunity to slow down and simply enjoy a moment.  Sip it, savor, close your eyes and partake.  This is the body of life.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Falling in Place

A Matter of Time

Failure teaches success.
Japanese Saying

All of a sudden, after being sidelined, things appear to begin to falling into place again.  I sense that something positive is about to happen even though I don't know exactly what it will be.  For a spell everything negative seemed to be happening at once and it was quite overwhelming.  The truth is that I learned to survive and to tread water albeit grudgingly and clumsily.  My survival instincts kicked in.  The same instincts tell me that something good is about to happen sooner than I might have imagined.

Although, my sisters and I still face the drama and trauma of an ailing aging parent with dementia, we appear to have things in place to handle the situation better.  The hardest part is simply coping with the emotion and guilt each day can bring. All of this is accompanied by a tremendous sense of hopelessness. We try to be supportive of each other and of Dad. The goal is simply to cope and to strengthen each other.

As I look back at some images taken just a few months ago, they appear to me to be super old and in the distant past. Time is moving swiftly and I recognize that I must enjoy each day as it is. I cant waste time wondering about what might be.  Sometimes, you simply have to live the situation you are in.  You must face challenges head on.

Despite all of the drama and emotion of the past year, I am grateful for the opportunity that I have enjoyed to become stronger a person.   I appreciate more the value of each day and the life I still have ahead of me. My focus now has shifted to living each day as if its my last.   Time is precious and life is short.  One thing is certain, none leaves this earth alive.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Morning at Park
No longer forward nor behind I look in hope and fear;
 But grateful take the good I find,
 The best of now and here.
  John G. Whittier

Creativity enables us to temper the distractions and discomforts life brings.  It's life's crutch that sustains and comforts us through difficult times.  There's a part of me that muses if God was having a bad day and that's the reason he created earth.  It would not surprise me that if he had witnessed evil he may have wanted to create something good on a bad day.

Abandoned Memory
Taylor, TX
One of the joys of creativity is the mere fact that it enables your mind to get sufficiently distracted that you no longer see or feel bad about the unpleasant things happening to you.  You only see what is completely in front of you.  You are the first hand witness of what you can do if you let go of where your mind wants to wallow.  

Its not that difficult to imagine  or comprehend that cavemen got sick and tired of being chased by voracious animals and the regular perils of nature.  Someone got the brilliant idea of chipping it away or painting it on some rocks and caves.  Since that time, we've been painting, chipping, whittling and sculpting away our fears, archiving problems and great moments.  We were destined to create and make images to help us explain our earthly ordeals good and bad, then someone invented country music.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Daily Walk

Keller Rock Garden

For nearly a year, I have walked four miles per day.  I find that it's a wonderful way to put everything in perspective again, loose weight, and to observe nature.  My morning walks truly help manage my stress level.  There's something special about how the sun changes my chemistry and mental well being.

As I walk, I realize that there is life happening all around me without my interference.  Birds sing and fly, ducks navigate in ponds, turtles bask in the morning sun, and fish jump to catch a surface bug.  It all goes on with or without me.  It's life.  

You have to get outside to see life.  You cannot be indoors and you certainly can't stay inside of your mind.  Life is wonderful.  Today I am grateful for the opportunity to still live out my life and my dreams.  I am grateful for the fact that I can capture it and share with you.  

It's been a tough year with many transitions.  I am having to learn to float and to let go of many things.  As I walk along my daily journey, I am reminded of the life that is all around me and present in nature.  I am also in nature and I too will survive in it.  We all do.   I am confident that I will be stronger as result of my recent trials.  Just may be down the road, I can help another sojourner along their journey.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Smiling Joe

Smiling Joe
If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it; that surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.

Pensive Joe
It's only been a few months since my friend passed away.  I miss him terribly and there's a chasm in my heart that needs to be filled.  He was a friend, a father figure, and a life coach.  Every wake moment he talked kindly and practiced charity with his whole being.

Joe embraced each day with an attitude of gratitude.  He never complained although he had plenty of cause to do so.  He remained thankful for all of his blessings including his family and close friends.  Joe represented everything that I wanted to be:  a solid man with love and compassion towards those around him.

Each Sunday that Joe joined us for breakfast, I selfishly hoped that some of Joe's optimism would rub off on me.  In the worse way, I wanted to be like him:  cheerful, happy, easy going, loving, gracious, and simply kind.  He was virtuous and exemplified all things good and decent.

Consulting with Fairy Godmother
Joe lived life completely each day and was grateful for each breath that he had.  He looked towards the future with hope and enjoyed each day as it would be his last.  He was not fearful.

Through out his last years, he kept the embers of his lost love glowing and he kept her alive by recanting his memories of her.  He lived and died in love and surrounded by love.  Each day now, I think about what Joe taught me and how he lived.  In my mind, I want to keep all of Joe alive.  I pray to have the courage and the fortitude that Joe had.  It comforts me greatly to think about the times, I spent with Joe and how soothing his words sounded to me.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Happily Ever After

Bridal Dress for a Princess

I don't know what happened to me yesterday.   Whatever it was I hope it keeps repeating itself.  This morning I woke up early, fresh, and with a new attitude and energy.  The old Al was back and even my dreams were bright and optimistic.  So here I sit in front of my computer typing away trying to capture the mood for you.

Everyone of us grows up with "once upon a time there was...".   The rest of the story is blank and we spend a lifetime filling it up paragraph by paragraph and chapter by chapter.  It's a fairy tale that's made complete by choosing.  We are in control of the happy endings.  We write the script.

Wedding Day Dream
In a land not so far away there lived this princess who longed and dreamed of her  prince and wedding day.  She planned extensively the details of her dress for that special day when finally she would be together at last with her prince.  Her heart would be complete and gay.

The announcements would be sent throughout the land and the guests would attend their fairy tale nuptials.  Everyone would cheer for the princess and her prince.

They would dance and make merry until the stroke of midnight when their white horse lead carriage would arrive.

A wedding "fit for a princess" the throngs would say.  Off into the darkness lit by the joy of the multitude they would show, the princess and her prince, forever to go.

This is how we see it I would say.  Life is filled with princess dreams along the way.  To all the that have those dreams I contend, and they live happily ever after until the end.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

75 Prospect Street

Memories Forgotten:
75 Prospect Street

Sooner or later everyone must face their fears.   For years, I've dread going back to the home where I grew up on 75 Prospect Street in Winsted, Ct.  I don't really know why I had fear.  It became a symbol of a place I have wanted to forget.

My family faced many hardships in that house.  The constant financial stress and worry overcame my father. I watched him endure the anxiety of a nervous breakdown.  My mother picked up the slack even with one daughter in college, one in high school, and me in elementary school.  She kept it all together by toiling in a factory. Eventually her husband recovered and he always cherished her.

The thoughts of being without motivated me back then but now the same thoughts plague me.   What will happen if I don't pull out of this economic downturn?  What if I lose everything I have struggled to obtain? Those thoughts put me back on 75 Prospect Street and make me feel with the anxiety of a ten year old boy. What is going to happen to us?

As I look back at Mom and Dad, they persevered and did not let go of their dreams.   It was not easy but each time they fell down, somehow they had the courage to pick themselves back up again.  Life was not easy back on 75 Prospect Street, but there were some valuable lessons I learned.  Things get tough and rough but we have what it takes to persevere. My parents did it and set the bar higher.  They did it without the benefits of an education and full English speaking language skills.  I can do it.  I am made up of the same stuff.

One summer, I left 75 Prospect Street hopped on a bus and headed to Michigan to check out a college.   I didn't look back;  I only thought about my dreams that lied ahead.   My destination and dream was all that mattered to me.  I need to remind myself; its the dream destination that matters everything else is simply stops along the way.  I need to not lose hope and think about my final destination.  I came from 75 Prospect Street a house with a view of the Mad River and no future.  I've not yet lost sight of my final destination.   Good times, I reckon are still in front of me.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Hasta La Muerte Nos Separe

Hasta La Muerte Nos Separe

My father has been an incredible caregiver to my mother.  He is always at her side ready to help her in any way that he can.  The amount of love and compassion he demonstrates is hard for me to comprehend.  This was the man who disciplined me and I both feared and respected.  Dad's love for his mate is unwavering.

Although I know I used the image before, I decided to interpret the scene the way I felt at the time.  I can feel the surreal moments like a Van Gogh painting.  It's important for me to express what I sense and feel.  I am grateful to have the outlet of photography to voice my views.

Dad will be there for Mom until the end.  Until the end, Dad will teach me how to be better person.  He has given me a great example:  until the end.  What a valuable lesson this man has taught me!

His nurturing has brought her back for us.  Its true she shows signs of dementia now but that doesn't keep him from loving her.  He lives for her lucid moments and she has provided him with more.  I am grateful for all of the moments of happiness that she continues to give him and I pray that there will be more.  Together their journey is made special by moments of shared love.

Life is not necessarily good and it's not necessarily bad; life simply is life.   We have to accept both because life offers us both.  We choose how we will handle our personal adversity.