Monthly Archives: October 2009

Nothing is guaranteed and everything is a gift

Take me back, ’cause just before I was spinning

Take me back, just before I got dizzy

Take me back, amazing what a minute can do

Just like you

(Dave Matthews: So Damn Lucky)

We go through life trudging heavy on solid ground until the day the Earth gives way and we find ourselves on a skid of ice, dark water below.  To take one last breath of fresh air…  To see the sun rise again with these eyes…  To tell my family one last time how much I love them…

The spirits of the departed call to us to honor them by celebrating their memory, what’s left of them in time.  We are the ones who living and yet asleep wallow in the grave, unaware of the earth falling around our heads.  Awake, the souls of those we cannot see smile down upon us, the unfortunate inhabitants of these bodies.  Open these old eyes and make them new again.

Moments of intense happiness and absolute sorrow punctuate long monotonous periods of toil and boredom we call living.  But you, you were alive.  Now we live and remember you.   We feel the coolness of the air on our skin, the warmth of the sun on our face, and the love for those we’ve lost alive in our hearts.  Live life today and take nothing for granted.  Nothing is guaranteed and everything is a gift.

Brian Eyles

You'll be missed Brian

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An Egyptian Halloween

“I could only get on at all by taking “nature” into my confidence and my account, by treating my monstrous ordeal as a push in a direction unusual, of course, and unpleasant, but demanding after all, for a fair front, only another turn of the screw of ordinary human virtue.” – Henry James, The Turn of the Screw

The following occurred while in Egypt in the fall of 1997 when a fellow student from Conn went missing shortly before Halloween.  The worst was assumed for an American college student alone in a foreign land.  Without warning several days after his disappearance he reappeared at the dorms and told us of what had happened; this is his story:

It was mid October, even though it didn’t feel anything like autumn to us within the fragrant smog of Cairo.  We were preparing costumes for an upcoming U.S. Embassy Halloween party and Oliver’s costume was the traditional attire of a Bedouin tribesman.  The Bedouin are nomadic peoples who live throughout the Middle East, and who usually live as outsiders within their own countries.  I think the place of the Bedouin within Egyptian culture fascinated Oliver, as it was a classic example of native peoples whose fidelity to their traditions had kept them apart from assimilation into the mainstream culture.  The inspiration for his costume was a Bedouin dagger he had recently purchased at the Khan Khalili bazaar. All he needed to complete his costume was a robe, so he put the dagger in his backpack and got on a bus to head to a particular shop in one of the outskirts of the city.

After walking for a while, searching for the shop he realized he was lost.  Dusk was approaching so he tried heading back toward where the bus had dropped him off.   Retracing his steps, the streets falling quiet, he continued on when to his right he heard what he thought were the sounds of muffled screaming.  He backed up slowly and in the shadows of a small alley he saw a man and a woman struggling.  Frozen, not knowing what to do, only he could know what flashed through his mind in those few seconds.  He realized as the man ripped the woman’s clothes that this was no domestic dispute but a rape in progress.  He walked into the alley, moving closer.  Quickly, Oliver shouted at the attacker hoping to scare him off by taking him by surprise.  Instead, in that split second the attacker jumped up and instead of running, swung round and lunged at Oliver with his fist.

The next thing Oliver remembered, he was lying on his back with a warm sensation of blood running down his face.  Awareness slowly came back to him and he realized that only a few feet away the woman lay sobbing, pinned to the ground, the attacker on top of her.  For seconds that seemed to last for minutes he fought the overwhelming urge to drift back into unconsciousness.   Closing his eyes, all he could hear were her cries in his ears.  In that moment he remembered the Bedouin dagger.  With all his will, Oliver pulled the dagger from his pack and rose to his feet.  Quietly he approached from behind.  Suddenly, Oliver pulled the attacker up by the shoulders and swung him around to face him.  As the attacker wheeled around to strike, Oliver raised his arm and sliced the dagger across his face!  Down he brought the knife and with every ounce of strength he buried the blade into the attacker’s midsection.  Waves of pain and adrenaline overtook him and before Oliver lost consciousness he saw the attacker doubled over, stumbling off out of the alley.

The next thing Oliver remembered he awoke in a hospital bed surrounded by a doctor and two Arab men in western suits.  They explained that he was in Alexandria, 250 kilometers from Cairo.  Before he could ask questions, one of the men in suits began to thank him profusely for saving his daughter’s life, and told him that anything he wanted they would give him, that whatever he wished for to just ask.   Oliver simply asked that his nose, which was shattered by the blow from the brass knuckles the attacker had been wearing, be fixed and that he have a train ticket back to school in Cairo.  The men told him that the reason he was brought to Alexandria was that the man’s brother was one of the best plastic surgeons in Egypt.   They showed him a mirror and removed the bandage from his face.  His nose had already been repaired, however they couldn’t find any pictures of him to model the reconstruction after. The surgeon hadn’t had any experience working on African Americans before so the only thing they had to go on was a Tupac CD  they found in Oliver’s backpack.

With his nose bandaged, standing around in the courtyard of the AUC dorm, almost a week after he went missing, Oliver told us this story.  When he was finished and we were all asking a thousand questions, Oliver’s roommate Chris said “Do you know what’s weird, do you remember that dream you told me about last week?”  In Oliver’s dream a huge snake rose up and confronted him.  The snake lunged forward and bit Oliver’s face and he in turn sliced the snake in two with a sword.  As we all stood around listening to this we couldn’t believe our ears, but Oliver really did end up with Tupac’s nose and the dream of the snake further re-enforced that we all really were engaged in some larger subconscious drama that was being played out.  We couldn’t explain how a dream could have foretold of events that were yet to take place, but we couldn’t deny the powerful truth of what we witnessed.  I personally will never forget the chills that ran up my spine upon hearing this and it was to me at least, as Henry James had said, another turn of the screw of ordinary human virtue.

The Pharonic Cobra of Lower Egypt

The Pharonic Cobra of Lower Egypt

Don’t look back in anger

Slip inside the eye of your mind

Don’t you know you might find

A better place to play.

You said that you’ve never been

But all the things that you’ve seen

Will slowly fade away

(Oasis – Don’t look back in anger)

In our lives we grow among an understory of tall trees.  Slowly, though age, disease, or disaster the canopy of our elders thins.  As towering presences fall one by one, we either grow toward the light above or languish in the shade, unable to find our own place among the heights above.

When I was a boy I had a dream.  My brother and I are trapped in the basement of my grandfather’s house.  I see my brother up against the wall, light streaming in from the window above, my grandfather throwing darts at him.  I yell for him to stop.  On the floor above I hear a loud rumble.  I climb the stairs and open the door.  In the hallway a herd of elephants strides past.  I remember being outside, crying franticly, surrounded by family members asking what had happened.  My mother yells out she knew they shouldn’t have left us alone with him.  I remember thinking of those elephants and of the adage that elephants never forget…

A few years before my grandfather’s death I found myself alone with him in his kitchen.  He had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and was going through a process of what I think was a coming to terms with his past.  The disease works to undue memory in layers similar to peeling an onion.  First, and most painfully the outer skin of the persona is removed and the boundary between the outer and the inner life falls away.  At this point it begins to get difficult to talk normally of everyday affairs, of what’s new.  The emergence of memories submerged deep within comes forth, and events of the past take on a new found meaning and themselves become objects of reflection and conversation.  As the relentless erasure continues memories of the past are resurrected, like ghosts amidst the light of day.  Wistfully and with a sense of confession he told me of his childhood…

After the death of his mother in childbirth his widowered father could no longer care for his five children and they became wards of the state.  The majority of the children were sent to a farm in western Massachusetts run by a french couple.   He told of the horrors he and his siblings were subject to: labor from before dawn to after dusk, what can hardly be called food barely fit for animals, and sexual abuse perpetrated in unspeakable ways.  My grandfather, the sometimes draconian tyrant, the sometimes witty and charming comedian, the sometimes extraordinarily sweet and caring man; my grandfather, with pieces of his inner life falling away into emptiness and tears rolling down his face told me he was sorry.  He said he regretted so much of his past and the things he had done.

I sit here this autumn, overlooking the sun setting on a blazing array of red, orange, and yellow trees and I think of him and how the now empty spot in my life’s canopy of elders has thinned again, and how his presence in my life has shaped me.  I think of my son and I see the opportunity to provide him with the room to grow which was so harshly and viciously denied my grandfather.  The lack of his presence now highlights to each of us who grew up under both the protective shade of his person and the dark shadow of his personality, how each of our lives is rooted in our own pasts, yet how it is in our power to forgive and to strive toward those better angles of our nature.

Ditto

Ditto

Environmental Working Group list of cell phone radiation emissions

Where does your cell phone rank on the Environmental Working Group’s list of cell phone radiation emissions?  Find out, it could save your life.

Some tips from the EWG website:

1. BUY A LOW-RADIATION PHONE

Look up your phone on EWG’s buyer’s guide:www.ewg.org/cellphoneradiation/Get-a-Safer-Phone. (Your phone’s model number may be printed under your battery.) Consider replacing your phone with one that emits the lowest radiation possible and still meets your needs.

2. USE A HEADSET OR SPEAKER

Headsets emit much less radiation than phones. Choose either wired or wireless (experts are split on which version is safer): www.ewg.org/cellphoneradiation/Get-a-Headset. Some wireless headsets emit continuous, low-level radiation, so take yours off your ear when you’re not on a call. Using your phone in speaker mode also reduces radiation to the head.

cellphone earpieces

3. LISTEN MORE, TALK LESS

Your phone emits radiation when you talk or text, but not when you’re receiving messages. Listening more and talking less reduces your exposures.

4. HOLD PHONE AWAY FROM YOUR BODY

Hold the phone away from your torso when you’re talking (with headset or speaker), not against your ear, in a pocket, or on your belt where soft body tissues absorb radiation.

5. CHOOSE TEXTING OVER TALKING

Phones use less power (less radiation) to send text than voice. And unlike when you speak with the phone at your ear, texting keeps radiation away from your head.

cellphone text

6. POOR SIGNAL? STAY OFF THE PHONE

Fewer signal bars on your phone means that it emits more radiation to get the signal to the tower. Make and take calls when your phone has a strong signal.

7. LIMIT CHILDREN’S PHONE USE

Young children’s brains absorb twice the cell phone radiation as an adult’s. EWG joins health agencies in at least 6 countries in recommending limits for children’s phone use, such as for emergency situations only.

8. SKIP THE “RADIATION SHIELD”

Radiation shields such as antenna caps or keypad covers reduce the connection quality and force the phone to transmit at a higher power with higher radiation.

Saturday morning at the Worcester Art Museum

It’s 10AM on a rainy Saturday morning in Worcester, my son is waking up from his  nap; what to do?  Luckily I remembered that the Worcester Art Museum has FREE Saturday morning admission thanks to the TJX Companies from 10AM to Noon! (WAM admission is always free for ages 17 and under).  So when Baylen awoke we hopped in the car and a few minutes later were at one of the best art museums in New England.

What would an almost 8 month old child get out of an art museum you might ask?  Well let me tell you, he was AMAZING!  As we entered we were greeted politely and just had to give our zip code and we got a map of the museum and were on our way.  Entering the Atrium his eyes scanned the high glass ceiling of the Renaissance court.  We first went to the roman section and he sat quietly in his stroller observing each piece as we passed.  I would stop in front of pieces that he was particularly interested in.  Next we went to the into the Chapter House, an actual section of a 12th century Benedictine Priory from France complete with vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows.  Bay was quite impressed.

We took the elevator upstairs to the second floor and walked around the Renaissance court Balcony.  Naturally my almost eight month old son was particularly interested in the sculptures of Madonnas with child, as well as the full suit of armor.  We entered the European galleries where after a good while Baylen shook his head NO! to the abundance of Dutch still life.  We were lucky to catch the Rona Pondick exhibit which concludes October 11th; a fascinating juxtaposition of sculpture from the museum along side creations of the artist.  Baylen was intently eyeing this exhibit.  Even the curator remarked how Bay seemed to be taking it all in and suggested that maybe he’d grow up to be an artist!

The atmosphere of the museum is relaxed and not hurried.  It’s surprisingly large but very intimate and approachable for a day trip.  There is a cafe’, Museum shop, and Library, as well a number of studios for classes that are offered.   My wife and I had considered the museum as a possibility for our wedding a few years back as the event staff and facilities are top notch.  The museum has two smaller floors upstairs with American and Pre-Columbian art which we did not see today, but as we sat on a bench along the renaissance court, Bay sipping his bottle, we both agreed we’re coming here again.

Renaissance Court at the Worcester Art Museum

Renaissance Court at the Worcester Art Museum