Monday, October 28, 2013

Drowning While Breathing Air

elian gonzalez miami
Drawing by yours truly.

Rewind to 1999. Elian Gonzalez, his mother and her boyfriend came over from Cuba on a small aluminum boat that started taking in water. The mother drowned but the boy survived when he was placed on an inner tube and was miraculously rescued by fishermen in the Florida straits.

Word on the street was that he was guided by dolphins. It's not surprising. We know dolphins are incredibly sensitive, empathetic creatures, although they can also by very aggressive.

A custody battle ensued between Elian's biological father and the U.S. over who should keep the child. Miami was rife with controversy and many protests took place near Little Havana, where Elian lived temporarily with relatives. People left signs and flowers at the humble home, which still stands.

Eventually, Elian returned to Cuba, but not before a heated political debate and an eventual intervention when U.S. border patrol agents burst through the front door to send a very frightened little boy back to the communist nation.

The media didn't focus much on the mother and that saddened me. She did what she thought was best for her son, which any mother can understand. The feeling in her heart when she was about to go under -- releasing her son to the will of God and fate in that perilous crossing -- is what I tried to capture in this drawing. At the time, no one in the court of public opinion really honored her sacrifice.

After I drew this, I asked my parents -- who were then cogent and able bodied -- to put a copy of this drawing on the doorstep at a protest they attended.  I don't know if Elian ever saw it.

And I revisit this drawing now because this is what it feels like to take care of two Alzheimer's patients who have been married since 1950 and also came from Cuba. My parents didn't plan on me. I was an accident, post-exile.

They had me later in life, close their forties, near the age I am now.

Maybe I am the dolphin who is carrying them afloat to their final days in the most compassionate way possible.

It's just that sometimes I wish I had my own dolphins to save me.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Happy 8th Birthday to Sex and the Beach

Oh dear, I've been so caught up with caregiving, I forgot to celebrate this blog's eight birthday. I've come a long way since 2005, writing about everything from sex and relationships to food, fishing, Florida travel, pirates, culture and much more.

I'm still on "old" blogger, but you know, if it aint broke, don't fix it. Authoring a blog has opened so many doors in creativity -- writing, video, teaching, social media campaigns and speaking gigs have been abundant.

It changed my life, which is why I've told my students, never underestimate the power of self-publishing online.

Happy birthday to my little blog, started on October 5 as a total lark.  Who knew?

PS If you're old enough to guess correctly who's in the above photo, you get bonus points!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Post Not Partum Depression

I never in my wildest dreams figured I’d be a single mom at age 45. My children are in their eighties.  They weigh about 150 pounds each. They poop, pee and need to eat soft foods because of teeth issues. Sometimes, they should be using diapers, although that’s considered an indignity. We go to different doctors for check ups every week and deal with visits from phlebotomists. Instead of writing more blog posts, I’ve become a medical historian and have also “recorded” stool samples.

So yeah, now I’ve got two households, with endless medical, household and financial issues involved; yet no insurance company considers my “children” frail enough for therapy and God forbid the caregiver should get any respite.

I’m so busy taking care of my two “kids,” that I don’t have time or energy to figure it all out and in the meantime, I’ve lost important clients and networking opportunities.  I barely have enough energy to write, although I do get some support from siblings, which I appreciate.

Of course, it’s an honor to take care of my parents, not only because they gave me life, but also because they took care of me. I love them with all my heart and I wouldn’t change a darn thing.

But dear Lord, this country needs to wake up on making elder care a little easier for caregivers, especially when your charge are two eighty-year old folks with Alzheimer’s.

I know we'll be OK.  But my heart breaks a little every day to see these two beautiful people fall apart, no matter how much care I give them and how many sacrifices I make.

Related: an article about caregiving on NPR.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Falling in Trust


Sigmund Freud most famously asked: “What do women want?” but never quite figured it out.

Well, let's posit the following:  in English, it’s a small, five-letter word starting in T and ending in T, with only one vowel in between.


A very fitting vowel -- it's a U and looks like a receptacle -- a basket of sorts, with its feminine energy, able to contain and support the love it's carrying.  But it's also right next to the S, a smooth consonant that bumps into the more masculine, harder Ts that become bookends, conveying that love.  And the R is rippling in between, a fixture of pleasure.

When you think of the word T R U S T, it almost emulates lovemaking, doesn't it?  Savor that word the next time you kiss your beloved.

So what do women want?

Absolute and unconditional trust in the person you love.

T R U S T is a beautiful bed you make and it's not just about cotton sheets or expensive mattresses.  It's a bed of bliss you can rest in and relax in; a peaceful place where your heart resides; and a space without any worries about this love. Of course, that place isn’t built in a day, and it may likely require a confusing, messy construction -- but why settle for less than what your heart and body desires?

Love is nurtured in this sacred space.

When we fall in love, what we really fall in is a place of trust.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

A Song from the Heart

deva premal and miten
Deva Premal and Miten bring yoga mantras to beautiful life in melodies we can all chant.

Several years ago, I trained to become a yoga teacher and on the last day of “school,” we graduating students had a special treat – Deva Premal and Miten came to the studio on Miami Beach. It just so happened that my “final exam” – teaching a full 60-minute class – was right before the arrival of these two amazing performers who would sing with us in the cozy studio space.

My class went well, but I must admit there were a few jitters.  We were all eager with anticipation to sing with Deva Premal and Miten at this kirtan-style community sing.

I remember one exercise quite clearly:  we had to walk around the room in circular fashion, honoring the person before us by holding hands in prayer position, silently expressing “namaste” while chanting a mantra.  Have you ever looked into someone’s eyes deeply while singing? It’s unnerving, but very powerful. It breaks down walls.

Namaste means “the light and love in me honors the light and love in you and because of this, we are one.”  It’s a universal expression of peace and compassion.

Chanting mantras was always a special component of all my classes thereafter.  Yoga isn't just about poses. It's about expressing peace and compassion and sometimes when we're afraid to vocalize, we hold things in.

Eventually, I did create a voice, through this blog.

I still teach yoga, just not poses.

Anyone can learn the mechanics of a pose. But can you learn getting in touch with your heart?  Voice might be the way.

I don’t consider myself a singer, but the whole purpose of mantras is that anyone can do it, even if your voice sucks.  The repetitive sounds help to focus the mind and to decrease stress, which puts you (hopefully) in a more peaceful state of being.  This really isn’t some esoteric trick – all major spiritual practices include vocalization for that very reason.

And we also do it in ritual -- rosaries, mala beads and other prayer traditions that involve repetitive action.

I was raised a Catholic and sang the same songs over and over again at church on Sundays. In high school, when I studied music in a formal manner, I’d sing a song about peace with a Jewish friend.  We were surprised we grew up with the same melody, although her words were in Hebrew and mine in Spanish.  But the syllables matched perfectly.  Shalom and paz were two words we shared in our hearts.

We still do.

Music is primal. It unites us. It brings us back to ourselves. It is about rejoicing from the heart space and creating something sacred in such a simple way.

But it doesn’t have to be so deep. Just sing in the shower. Sing in the rain. Just sing.

Listening to Deva and Miten chant this weekend in Miami brought back a beautiful flood of memories.

And it means a lot more to me now, because my mother has Alzheimer’s and music is one of the few things that make her light up. It’s as if that precious part of her memory remains untouched.  She hums melodies and perfectly in tune.

And so I remembered the power of music to uplift out of spaces that are sometimes silent and dark, when memory begins to fail.  The therapeutic value of chanting (or singing whatever you love) is, as far as I’m concerned, incredibly undervalued.  No pill can replace belting out to your heart’s content.

We all have voice.

And we also “travel” at the speed of sound – our heartbeats and the music within us.  The music we know instictively from the moment our hearts start beating in the womb.

My weekend ended at an unrelated event, where a little girl who aspires to become a singer befriended me.  She was shy; I encouraged her to sing. Her voice was a bit croaky at first, but she reminded me of my mom and how that melody she was singing flowed like a spring of hope. Yeah, I know that sounds corny.  But when your mom doesn’t remember much except melodies, it all makes sense.

Sing, chant, hum, whistle, dance, laugh -- whatever makes you happy. Silence is golden but so is music. The heart is a musical instrument.  Don’t neglect it.

Honor your song from the heart.

I am grateful to these musicians for reminding me of that special lesson.


Deva Premal and Miten, along with flute player Manose, will be on tour through the U.S. and Canada in the coming weeks. I was granted a complimentary ticket to experience the amazing concert, which I highly recommend. All opinions my own. More information at Deva Premal and Miten.  Photo courtesy of website.