Places become faces and the missing faces break our hearts.
Places become faces and the missing faces break our hearts.
After hearing of the terrorist attack in Barcelona, I contacted my German friend, Margrit.
Thirty-six years ago in 1981, my mother and father met Margrit’s parents at a wine festival in Margrit’s hometown, Deidesheim, Germany. Our two sets of parents shared the ages of their children, and they discovered they had two girls approximately the same age, Margrit and me. Our parents exchanged addresses, and Margrit and I became pen pals.
Our letters tied us together. Even after the tech revolution, we continued to write. Margrit and I’ve adjusted our writing. We still both prefer a handwritten letter, and I could pick Margrit’s beautiful script out of a line-up for sure! Our letters aren’t as frequent, but with the tech revolution, we’re able to follow each other on Facebook and share photos via messenger. Margrit and I’ve celebrated world events, like the downfall of the Berlin Wall, and we’ve denounced horrors, like the despicable acts of 9.11.
Inspiring this blog entry is Margrit’s and my time on Las Ramblas, celebrating our 25th friendship anniversary in June 2009. Margrit and I walked side-by-side down the peaceful Boulevard, enjoying the summer evening. We people-watched, listened to street musicians and chose a place to stop for a ‘tres bier Grazie.’
We had our photo taken with a Las Ramblas street performer, a larger-than-life gargoyle, who while the camera clicked, leaned in for a kiss, whispering Catalan into my ear. Margrit and I laughed about the gargoyle’s forwardness, and in the years to come, the photo reminded Margrit and me of our harmless, fun-loving encounter with the Gargoyle on Las Ramblas in Barcelona.
The photo’s taken during a time when peacefulness accompanied most traveling Westerners. A time when terrorists weren’t walking into crowded tourist areas with bombs strapped to their backs. A time when people rented cars to get to a destination not to kill people. A time when we guarded our wallets against pickpocketers but didn’t fear for our lives when having coffee or tea in a city square.
On Thursday, August 17th, the day of terror on Las Ramblas, I contacted Margrit on WhatsApp. I sent her the news headliner and referenced our 2009 photo:
our moment with the gargoyle is on my mind😩😢
And three days later – quicker than a letter traveling over the Atlantic but slower than pressing send on a social media message or an international texting app – I received Margrit’s response.
Happiness and tragedy are so close together 🙁
A van didn’t bloodily extinguish our lives on Las Ramblas when we were there. Instead, we had a trustworthy interaction with a gargoyle. To us, Las Ramblas is a place of inside-jokes and laughter, and now I can’t help but cringe thinking about what Las Ramblas elicits in those who suffered pain, personal loss, and unbearable heartache because of a heinous, despicable crime.
Friends, this isn’t only Barcelona’s terror, this is our world’s worst nightmare unfolding in front of our eyes – the disregard for human life and the desensitization toward violence are crippling our world.
Let’s stop the madness!
But thankfully, so do pen pals –
To who and what are you paying attention? Good or evil?
A pen pal uses words not weapons to write a life story.
The world should take a page out of a pen pal’s book.
Remember the adage, ‘sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me?’
My hope is within my lifetime, words connect us again, not ill-willed reactions, violent acts or deliberate tragedy.
One can hope and plot our comeback –
One kind word at a time.
May you find your peace again, Barcelona!
This summer, a week before leaving for Santa Barbara, J⁴ spoke with a man who had had a near-death experience. He flatlined 7 times. The man told J⁴ that he had seen God and that it was beautiful “on the other side.”
After telling me the man’s story, J⁴ said,
“I want you to know that I’m at peace with dying.”
The summer before, in 2016, J⁴ survived malignant pleural effusion, a complication of lung cancer. Doctors predicted a 3-month life expectancy.
“If I’m going to die, I want to spend my last days at the beach.”
Her angel-of-a-husband, QCJ rented a house on a cliff overlooking the ocean in Santa Barbara. They invited their family and my family for a week-long vacation. It was an incredible week.
In my wildest dreams, I never thought we’d make it back to the beach this year, but we did. J⁴ fought every single day of the 365 days, battling and overcoming the coughs, the fatigue, the treatment failures, the chemo, the radiation, and the depression. She assures me,
“I accept I drew the short stick with this cancer card,
but I’m not done.”
She keeps moving – onward and upward – hoping for a miracle and defying the odds.
And because of J⁴’s perseverance and optimism, we’re back in Santa Barbara this year.
We’re in a different rental house with a modified group of family, but we’re back at the beach and still have J⁴.
One afternoon while J⁴ rested by the rental house’s pool, I went out to photograph. I google-searched a stairway to the ocean that I had seen while doing some travel research on Pinterest. I used my Waze app to lead me to the stairway’s access, hidden in between two homes in a Santa Barbara residential neighborhood. With my 40+ lb camera bag on my back and wearing my street clothes and shoes, I headed down the path toward the stairs. As I approached the stairs, I saw a male runner ascending the stairs toward me. He was in great shape, yet as he passed me, I could hear his heavy breathing. He was out of breath but still running. I second-guessed my clothing and longed for my running shoes and workout pants/top. The stairs were steep and numerous. This was going to be a workout for me, too.
As I descended, I noticed the people who headed up the stairs. Some had beach chairs and towels, so I presumed the steep staircase was the only exit option from the beach. Many took a break on a long bench located midway on the stairs. Below, I could see surfers slowly paddling their boards close to the shoreline, resting before heading back out to sea. It seemed, at the moment, everyone was taking a breather.
I took photos while I made the journey down toward the water. When I reached the bottom, I, too, took a breather.
At the bottom of the steep stairs, I eyed the staircase. I had no choice but to climb in my uncomfortable shoes and with my heavy backpack the 270+ stairs back to my parked car. I knew I’d be out of breath – that the hike up would be strenuous, but I also felt confident I’d make it, possibly breathing heavily, but it’d be doable. I closed my eyes and acknowledged with gratitude my lungs that would ultimately get me to the top. I couldn’t help but think of J⁴, exactly where she should be, resting, taking a breather, by the pool and not with me at the bottom of this intimidating staircase.
That’s what happens when someone you love is challenged. You feel the hurdle with them, and as your compassion grows, you acknowledge the simple acts we so often take for granted, like hearts continuously pumping blood to our organs and lungs expanding and contracting without thought. We may feel occasional stress, but we don’t face a death sentence. For most, a walk up a staircase is not life-threatening. However, when someone who used to walk with such confidence, speed, and grace, now struggles to walk a city block, we become aware. We recognize the gifts of living – of one more staircase, one more triumphant, one more day, and are humbled when we draw the long stick, allowing us one or more years.
Yesterday, I went with J⁴ to her oncology appointment. Her CT scans revealed the current chemo drug is working! Her lungs have 50% more room for oxygen.
J⁴ has triumphantly turned a death sentence into a life sentence, and we’ve all gotten a breather from worrying about her every breath as she moves forward and lives –
Next time you take the stairs, when you’re out of breath and agitated with the climb, take a moment for a breather – a time out to be grateful for breath, for health, for compassion, and for life.
And remember it’s our attitudes that shape our abilities to climb and to withstand precarious altitudes!
Positivity and hope heal – I’ve seen it firsthand “on this side!”
I wanted these, but they were out of my price range.
And because I couldn’t afford them, it made me think –
You can’t buy wings anyway-
You’ve got to
“Earn Your Wings”
The tour bells rang at Filio, indicating the gardens were closed. Being a photographer, always in search of the perfect golden-hour light, I was a straggler. The sun was still too high in the northern California sky for my liking. I left, disappointed I hadn’t been able to capture the garden’s beauty in complimentary light, but accepting, to exhaust, that I’m a rule follower.
The sign on the closed exit gate read, USE SIDE DOOR WHEN LEAVING AFTER HOURS. I exited through the archway of the door with my head down, disgruntled, and stuffing my camera equipment into my backpack.
However, as I learn time and again, we don’t decide when we’re finished. It’s the crazy, little surprises in life that break all the rules and tell us to carry on –
Entering into the side door, used for exiting, the Fioli resident peacock, strode up like a VIP on a red carpet, looked at me, stopped, opened its canopy of fabulous feathers, turned around and showed me its booty and then sauntered right past me and into the closed gardens. The peacock looked back at me, summoning me to join it on the other side, and I followed.
And there we were, back on the inside, after closing hours, with me, fiddling to get all my equipment back out of its storage and shooting this scene of a bird who’d broken all the rules –
Something someone would do who’s
AS PROUD AS A PEACOCK
“I discovered when moving through eternity,
it helps to travel lightly.
In fact, I held onto only one thing – my memory.
– Mary Alice, Wisteria Lane, Desperate Housewives
Everywhere I’ve traveled, I’ve yet to see a human being walk on water.
Without some aid, we could get sucked in,“Crash & Fall,”
Iguazu Falls, Brazil
Be humble. Be respectful. Ask for direction. Accept help.