Tag Archives: feelings

The Ring

There is one stainless steel ring I keep wearing all the time in this last period. Not because it has any particular material or sentimental value, but simply because I like the design of small flowers it features, flowers that manage to make some difference and let my thoughts drift away from this strange reality that is currently suffocation my mind, body and soul. It has also one pretty good practical advantage – if it gets wet or in contact with disinfectants, it doesn’t darken. Steel is tough and it doesn’t care what you do to it, precious metals do. Precious metals and gems need care, cleaning and pampering – it’s the treatment all special and rare things require in order to shine. But steel almost dare them all, it defies cold, dirt, liquids, it renounces fancy and expensive jewelry stores because they don’t let it sit on their precious shelves. It proudly stands in front of you, almost whispering: I’m not expensive, but I can be just as much beautiful as they are, those I’ll never belong to.

Last Friday I lost it, for the third time. I took my mother to eat ice cream in a shopping mall not so far away from our place. There was one of those usual offers: 2 ice creams for the price of one, so we took advantage of it. We sat and ate our chocolate and strawberry flavored ice creams in the middle of a huge crowd of those who came to eat their small portion of fast food and dwell around fancy stores, usually without buying anything that isn’t on sale. From time to time you would see those with hands full of colorful bags coming out of the hypermarket or cheaper stores, pale, with big dark circles under their eyes, victims to the modern slavery of corporate societies and their own families who expect them to exchange their exhaustion and lack of freedom during the week for material things on weekends, for an instant gratification and small endorphin surge that in many cases vanishes completely by the time they get home and realize that the hard earned money is gone and that they got themselves a ton of not so necessary or good things after all.

I finished my ice cream and left them immersed in their quest for material happiness, heading towards restrooms. I did the usual mistake of taking the ring off before washing my hands, even though water and soap can’t harm it. But it’s one thing when you take it off and forget it in your own bathroom, and something completely different to leave it on a sink of a super crowded shopping mall on a Friday night. It takes us two buses to get home from there and it was only by the time that we reached the bus stop of our second bus that I touched my finger and felt for the ring as I usually do by reflex. It wasn’t there.

I got an immediate flashback of the moment when I took it off and placed it in the corner of the dark sink – the memory of so many dark and metallic shades in that restroom gave me some completely vague hope that it could have gone unnoticed, small, insignificant and totally inexpensive ring hidden in a corner of a big, fancy and ultra modern shopping mall restroom. Yet the hope was vague and almost nonexistent – this is a country in which everybody is lacking something, many people even that totally basic stuff. In such a situation you can definitely expect everybody to collect any single thing that they spot unattended.

I can appear a pessimist or even a coward to many, but I have one quite strange personality trait for somebody with panic disorder – I almost never give up, and it is one of those few rare things in which I don’t resemble my father. He fought to be on the realistic side of things, but he inclined to pessimism. It was impossible to watch tennis matches with him – if you like tennis, you know how the situation can change all the time from one extreme to the other over the entire length of the match. It’s always about the change, but one thing is certain – it is not over until it’s really over. Until you hit the final point, you still stand some chance even though all the odds of the world might be against you. We haven’t witnessed once the situation in which the players crawled back from the bottom of the pit of what seemed long lost match to even the score and even triumph in the end. I believed in my father even when everybody said that he wouldn’t make it, when everybody gave up on him, when he gave up on himself and just begged to die. I believed to the last beat of his heart recorded by ECG brought by the ambulance doctors and even in minutes and hours after it. It just couldn’t seem real that we lost his battle. Maybe this is some kind of foolish idealism, but that’s me and I don’t think it is such a negative trait after all – if we want to live this life, we have to fight, and the only way to just try to win a fight is to believe that you can do it.

I suppose that many people would simply assume with disappointment that the ring was lost forever, go home and eventually stop thinking about it. In my case, things are not over until they’re really over – I had to go back and cast that final look on that sink and assure myself that it was really gone. I don’t know if I truly hoped to find it on my way back to the mall, it was just that my anxious and impatient nature wanted to rush the bus as much as possible to get back there in no time. Just one look, that was all I needed. The bus finally reached the right stop and I jumped out of it and started running fast towards the mall’s entrance – I had no idea that I could even just get back to this huge place at the end of a terribly busy day, let alone run that fast. Two flights of moving staircases, one final run around the corner and there I was, in front of the entrance door of the restroom. I hesitated to enter, as if there could be more than one of two solutions – it was going either to be there or not, it’s not a rocket science. But I stood frozen for God knows how many seconds, almost as if I could materialize it inside if it happened that somebody had taken it away.

Then the door opened and an old lady came out. I held the door with my hand and headed towards the remote corner of that sink. With hope. Hope dies last, but it still dies from time to time. It wasn’t there.

Two young girls were washing their hands and gave me odd looks as I stared at that empty place where I left my ring, flooded with disappointment and betrayed by hope. It was just a small, insignificant ring that I bought for myself four years ago on the street, in the pedestrian zone. The only sentimental value that it could have was the link with those moments in which I had a job with meaning, I was teaching Italian, that language that I studied and that I still love and miss so much these days, as nobody seems to want to study it any more here where I live. I parted ways with English many years ago and it got revenge on me – I have no longer the fluency and vocabulary I used to have, and paradoxically the only two foreign languages that seem useful in Serbia nowadays are English and German. I taught Italian and my father was alive, it was spring of 2013. I had no idea what 2014 had in store for me. I went out of the restroom and as I was moving away, I noticed the cleaning lady leaned over some boxes in the room for the staff. I don’t think that I had some true intention to stop to talk with her, but remember – things are not over until they are really over. I asked her if by some remote crazy insane chance she spotted a ring on the sink, expecting no for an answer. Instead, she smiled and reached for her pocket. She opened her hand in front of me and there it was, back one more time, as if it were cat with nine lives. I kissed this thin, simple woman with dark circles around her eyes who obviously has a really rough life. She said she wanted to give it to the security staff later when she finished her work but that she was happy that I found her – she could have been on either of several levels of the mall, but something brought us together in the same place at that very same moment. I think she thought the ring was a gift from somebody really special, and as it was hard to explain to her that this wasn’t the case and that I was simply overwhelmed with joy because of winning one more battle against all odds and recovering my only companion in my utterly silent days at work. I don’t think she would understand that a piece of steel could be a lot friendlier than people, so I decided to leave out this embarrassing part of my life story. I left my backpack in my mother’s arms who returned home alone, so I had no money to buy something for her and it felt bad. I do hope that I’ll see her again when I manage to return there and brighten up her day somehow, in the same way that she brightened mine with her honesty and friendly attitude.

She’s my hero of the day, the person who managed to prove that kind and dear people with human traits still exist. I will remember her every time I cast a look at my tiny steel ring with floral pattern. Psy, you were right, such people still exist – just don’t look for them among computers, they are hidden in humble masses like rare remnants of some totally different times.

 

 

Missing the old times

Yes, I miss them. A lot. Times when I was writing while lying on my bed with a notebook and pen, creating words on the paper and not by typing and making them appear on a screen. I miss times when you actually had some time to sleep, stop and think twice what to do and how to do it in a better way. When something you managed to create or write lasted for more than several hours or a day before becoming an old and unnecessary string of words. But above all, I miss times when people actually cared about other people. At least I’m fortunate enough to have certain number of years that permit me to remember those days.

I watched an episode of an old Serbian TV series tonight, “The Policeman from Petlovo Brdo”. There is this moment when the police inspector is threatened by his superior that his absences due to the needs of his 5 kids would not be tolerated any more and that if he continued to “behave” that way that he would either loose his job, or had to go back to work on the streets again for much lower salary which wouldn’t permit him to sustain the needs of his large family. He turns to one of his ex-wives, successful manager in a big company to help him find a job and she asks him:
– Well… anyhow what kind of job are you actually able to do? Are you good with computers?
– No, he replies. I’m good with people.
– Well, in that case nothing, there is no need for people like you any more.

This was 24 years ago. In Serbia, country that was by no means as technologically advanced as the rest of the world at that moment.

Today, 24 years later I found some completely undefined job that absolutely requires the use of computers. I have no idea how long I will have this job because jobs in Serbia last much much shorter than people, but I’m not really sure that when it finishes that I’ll regret it. 24 years ago you had to be good with computers, but people’s feelings still counted. Today, you can’t avoid computers any more, but people don’t speak among themselves. They all stare at their own computer, lost in their own world, totally disregarding those around them. When they make a pause to eat, nothing changes. They go to the “dining room” and eat together in silence, staring at their smartphones or tablets. When the time comes to go home, they walk in a crowd in the same direction without speaking to each other. At most you can get one dull, mechanical hello from them during the first and last daily encounter. The worst thing is that they don’t care about themselves either, about tomorrow, about consequences of their actions. The only thing they care about is the paycheck day. And some of them are only 24 years old.

Oh yes, I miss the old days so much.

Someone out there knows us

Thinking of you

Cancer stroke once again in my close proximity. Today I learnt that my dad’s best friend’s brother died on Saturday, he had bile cancer – one of the rarest and most lethal forms of this evil disease. He lost his battle in 10 months marked by 6 extremely difficult operations after the diagnose. My dad’s best friend watched my father’s rapid decline and was shocked by the speed at which his life ended, yet he hoped beyond the end of all hopes that some miraculous cure could save his brother and that even the last terrible operation on Thursday family insisted on would make some difference. I perfectly understand that surreal human need to cling to the last shreds of vanishing hope and no matter how much more I know today about cancer, I’m sure that I myself as well would start all over again that battle against all odds if I encountered this evil firsthand one more time. It’s that bargaining part of dealing with loss process, when you try even the most absurd things under the sun to prevent the bad outcome. Even though you know it’s highly unlikely to succeed and that almost everybody else failed, you still push. You still fight. Others failed because they made all sorts of mistakes you imagine to justify your fight. They failed, but you won’t. It’s so profoundly human. Then if miracles don’t happen and things don’t go well, you get into schock. And the dealing with loss starts all over again right from the beginning, from the very start of the denial part.

That’s how my dad’s friend feel now. Fast backward to ten months ago when he first told us about his brother’s issues, he was full of confidence that his brother would be cured. Relatives from everywhere gathered to send all sorts of known and unknown alternative care products and for each new one they included in his therapy dad’s friend would say that if my dad tried it, he would be still alive. It’s so weird when you find youself in the dark tunnel of dealing with an illness without some universally known and definite cure – you want some product to work but you’re still very sceptical, you feel horrible because your family member couldn’t try such product, and in my case you eat yourself alive because you know that your M.D. father would deny trying anything outside allopathic protocol even if you had means to provide it. You go through a turmoil of mixed feelings asking yourself what if this man succeeds while we didn’t manage, does that make me a bad person because I didn’t save my dad? And there comes jealousy, too. That’s such a shameful feeling, to be jealous because someone else out there is alive and you fight every second against it, but it resurfaces again when you least expect it. You know that we’ll all exit this life at one point or another in this or that way, yet you still “fear” that someone else will outsmart the laws of life and stay here forever while you were not smart enough to find the eternal life formula. Totally crazy and quite foolish when you think about it, yet once again extremely human.

I went though all these and many more phases in these past months as I frequently heard news of the state of health of the brother of my dad’s friend. I never met this man, I never even visited the town in Bosnia where he lived, I didn’t even see a single photo so that could at least imagine how he looked like. Nevertheless, over and over again during hundreds of days behind us I asked how he was. I knew where he was, what he did, what was his diet, what were the things he liked, how strong he was and how big hopes he had. I knew so much, although very probably he didn’t even know that I existed and that I followed his battle with so many mixed emotions, praying so much for his life but also for his peace when he was exposed to the last painful procedures. This realization suddenly dawned on me, how probably for each one of us there is at least somebody out there who by chance or through someone else knows about our lives and feelings and how that knowledge often enfolds and stays behind the scene, leaving us completely oblivious of its existence. Just because we don’t know it, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t people out there who hope and pray with us, cheer for us and share our rollercoaster drive in unpredictable circumstances. Depending on circumstances and people involved, this can be a hidden burden or a hidden blessing as some sort of human energy obviously always travels our way. Whatever it is, it’s anyhow one of surprises the miracle of life consists of. I wish you all that only good people have you in their minds and hearts as your and their paths cross for a short time of this planet, may only good energy fly your way. And may the brother of my dad’s friend find his much needed peace till we meet some day. Rest in peace dear man, you were so strong and brave in you battle for life. I know that you were much loved and that you’ll be so much missed. Someone some day will find the cure, I’ll pray for this till the end of my days.

Hang in there

There is one good, middle aged man in my neighborhood who was born with a certain degree of disability due to which he has numerous health problems. I didn’t even know he existed, nor that he lived just several hundred meters away from me, because only in the block of adjacent buildings where I stay there are more or less 1,000 souls, not to mention that this whole area of the town with these same buildings consists of 13-14 such identical blocks. In reality, we are one entire little town by itself, condensed in not that much vast land area, there are so many people living literally ones on the top of others packed in apartments with mostly insufficient number of square meters yet you rarely know the person living next door, not to mention somebody from a different floor or in a different building within the same block. It wasn’t like that in the past, not even in that not very distant past when we moved in here a bit more than 30 years ago. People cared more about other people and life wasn’t so much about material possession and personal vanity as it is now, I sincerely and dearly miss that country called Yugoslavia I was born in. If I were still living in Yugoslavia (and I’m not, even though I haven’t moved an inch away in these last nearly 4 decades), the man from the beginning of this story would be in much better shape today. He would have completely free health care, some personal income due to his very legitimate disability issues, access to daily meals for people with income problems. He would have some dignity in this life and more people on the block would know he existed and offered some help, because social services would work on his integration in the community.

In his twenties, he used to live in Yugoslavia as well, and his father’s company helped him the best they could by letting him work in the company’s kitchen for their workers. He carried things around and peeled some vegetables, he had some little income and full insurance – those were the best days in his little unfortunate life, days before the world slowly but definitely started tumbling down on him.
Yugoslavia got torn up in pieces, swallowed by its own inhabitants who turned against each others, failing to understand that the consequences of these actions would harm only themselves and no one else. His dad’s company first suffered the beginning of a bad economical crisis. Then his dad passed away, failing to buy off their living space from the state in the midst of that crazy stellar inflation, as we all did and thus literally saved ourselves. His dad’s company eventually had to be restructured in the process of privatization, obligatory in the transition towards capitalism, but nothing prevented bankruptcy from happening. He lost his little job and remained with his mom who inherited his dad’s retirement money, as she didn’t have any income of her own. Life went on while his mom could take care of their lives in every possible sense, but in the end she passed away too several years ago. And this is when life stopped. He remained completely alone, lost, in Serbia now, with no means to live this life and expired ID, hidden among us with no electricity, with unpaid bills and no food for days in a row. He can do some things, but he needs to be told exactly what to do and he has to be partially supervised, which makes it almost impossible for him to find some kind of stable work position in this country. I found about him for the first time when an old lady involved in an organization for saving stray dogs moved in with him to help him out in exchange for the accommodation for her and the dogs she took care of. Things got better for a while, bills got payed again, there was some food on the table every day… but the lady’s age is such that she progressively needed more and more help for herself, and somewhere by the time my dad declined she left the man’s place as it seems for good. Dogs were took over by the organization, the lady was accepted by some relatives and he is alone again, growing older himself and becoming more and more helpless as time goes by. My mom helps him with food as always in these last years as much as she can, but life has hanged for us as well. I remember that in the middle of my worst panic ridden despair when I didn’t go anywhere, I secretly and deeply feared that I would end up like him and it scared me to death. Those fears returned all right with income problems and the shock my dad’s passing away caused in my little life.

I saw him today. I turned round the corner as he was emptying some huge bag of high class garbage into a container, obviously a chore he was asked to do for someone in exchange for an equivalent of a dollar or two, or a sandwich for that day. It was a sad contrast to see him, a man in a clearly very neglected state and torn clothes, throwing away very expensive waste items. My heart sank as I said hello to him, he wouldn’t notice me otherwise as his vision deteriorates heavily as well. He knows about my dad from my mom, so he asked how we were doing. We were standing in front of that container, the sky was heavy and black as the depths of my soul, and this person who’s lived genuine hardships asked me if I was coping, when the right question would be if and how he is coping. I said I was managing, somehow. He looked firmly at me and smiled, saying: “Hey, hang in there. You have to. Got it? HANG IN THERE.” Then he waved goodbye and wandered away as I stood in disbelief. Honestly speaking, what does he have to hope for in this world? He is doomed to soon lose even the bed he’s sleeping in when bills accumulate again, this time to the point of no return. He would have all the right to totally give up. This person who has sometimes hard time getting simple things wanted to make sure I got it that I had to hang in there. Ashamed, sad, amazed, humbled, shaken… that’s how I felt returning to my realistically really modest home, I have no idea how it feels to be wealthy or even just well off. I looked around me and thought… what would he give to exchange places with me and have my life, with all its hardships? Probably everything. It would be for him as if somebody had taken stars of the sky and spread them in front of his feet. Or it would equal touching that distant sky above us. He would be extremely happy. And I’m so miserable.

How is it possible for people to differ so much in the same circumstances? No matter what, if somebody like him tells you to hang in there, then you really have to do it. Such messages can’t be ignored.

Battles are inside

It’s not the first time that I feel this strange distinction between the storm going on in my inner world and the serenity of the reality that surrounds me. Things in life are very plain if you manage to see them for what they really are, objectively, detaching yourself from the emotions you attribute to them. No matter how hard we try to run, fight, push, pull, squeeze, beg, drive ourselves crazy in some desperate attempt to change the course of imminent things,life blankly follows its own rules. And life’s rules are much bigger and stronger than that small dose of electrical energy that’s pulsating in our bodies while we’re still technically alive. Substantially speaking, life is simple. Life doesn’t divide things in good and bad, it doesn’t judge or analyze, it never gets happy or sad over its own actions. There are processes that have to be carried out from the beginning to the end, and life infallibly fulfills that mission. It does the work, but it doesn’t care about it. It’s us people who care, not life. This realization is one of crucial moments in dealing with panic disorder, that split second when you realize that you’re having all sorts of scary thoughts, panicking, drowning in a glass of water… over actually nothing. Nothing is going on that makes you feel that way, it’s just how you feel about something you want to do or situations ahead of you. Plainly put, it’s not life, it’s you. Understanding this can make the difference between suffering a full blown panic attack and halting it when it made only half of the damage. After some hard practice, it can truly work.

When it comes to real life events, it’s a lot harder, even though the principles are almost exactly the same. My dad got sick at some point in time. When exactly and how, we’ll never know. His cells grew and divided for many long years without particular problems. Or if there were problems, his body had ways or means to fix these mistakes. And on he went this way till some day when some big, irreparable mistake happened. Cells continued to grow and divide, healthy ones in their usual way, unhealthy ones in some fast, vicious, mistaken way. This process continued as he was living his life calmly and peacefully, oblivious of what was going on inside. When he got the symptoms, it was already too late. What we witnessed was only the last phase of that for a good reason called malignant process. Bad cells grew right through the most important clusters of good cells and ended my dad’s life, dying instantly in the battle they so triumphantly won. And then there was silence. Simple, bad, dead silence. It happened, it had its course and then it was finished, life did its job. All the rest – all my physical and mental struggle, all the images that still come back in horrific flashbacks day and night, all the tears, all the sorrow, all the questions (why this, why him, why us…), all that denial, anger, bargaining, depression and occasional painful acceptance, those are all just human created extensions of this story. The story ended more than a month ago and I’m still shaken inside and it’s still shaking every thing in my life, I’m still struggling and drowning in that small glass of water… but there is nothing in my reality OF TODAY that’s provoking this. The only difference between this situation and a panic attack situation is that I have a reason for my feelings, while panic has no foundations in reality. There surely is a reason, but it’s already sealed as a past event. I can’t change a thing about that reason. I can’t travel back in time and change things that haunt me as being something that I could have perhaps done differently. I can’t escape to future either to run away from the intensity of this recent loss. The only thing I have is now, this present moment. And as nothing bad is going on right now (at least nothing I’m aware of), it turns out that I shouldn’t be so shaken. People who manage to put this truth into action are on a good road to mastering that Zen’s full embracing of the reality in the present moment. There is nothing bad about holding onto this truth, it can only spare you from all that pain that actually serves no other purpose than to harm the person experiencing it. Yet it’s so hard to make this detachment. Is it guilt, the feeling that you’ll forget the person you loved very much if you no longer experience pain? Or perhaps the failure to put this into action is some sign of emotional immaturity or instability? I don’t know the answer. What I know though is that I’m still very much battling with myself, paradoxically still fighting against a finished illness, worrying constantly, reliving the details and painfully looking for the exact thing that went wrong in the first place. I do the chores of the day, I suffer, I live, I suffer, I sleep, I wake up and I suffer again. And none of this ongoing agony is real now, there is stillness of an autumn night outside, occasionally interrupted by rain and blows of wind against the windows. There are no battles out there, not any more, battles are all inside. But there is a huge step between understanding and implementing this.

It’s all life

Something crossed my mind tonight as I was washing the black shirt I wear a lot these days. I’ve been wearing only black things since dad passed away, but not really or only because it is the tradition in my country – this is how I feel and this is what the mind naturally chooses to do, it’s somehow that the brain becomes color resistant in grief – at least this is the best I can describe it with words. It totally is not me though to wear only black, so I had to buy some shirts, the one I was washing being one of them. My mind wandered off in this process to the phone conversation I had had earlier in the evening – I wasn’t feeling well at all in the first place when the phone rang, and there was this person calling with lots of shiny and glittering details about going on a luxurious holiday. Not a word about me, my life, my feelings, if and how I’m coping. Just about how great the place is, how much it costs, how special the accommodation will be… I sort of couldn’t grasp why I had to endure listening to all that boasting in this period of my life, with or without the situation with my dad I’m miles away from such a lifestyle and people involved in that story. Then as I was wrenching the shirt, I suddenly realized how firmly black its color is and how different life is for every one of us in any given moment – somebody is embarking on a high style journey, somebody is as we say wrapped up in black, somebody out there is being born at that very instant, somebody is celebrating a birthday or an anniversary. Somebody is getting married or divorced, somebody is sick or dying, somebody is being buried. It has always fascinated me how so many different things could be going on in the exact same fraction of time on this planet. Good, great, bad and horrible things, all together. And it is all life.