Wednesday, February 25, 2009

On the subject of death...

Death is a journey we all undoubtedly begin the moment we scream at birth. It is unavoidable. It is also one of the fairest experiences in life since it touches everyone: rich and poor, young and old, etc.

If you are like me, you don't even think about death on a regular basis. Maybe you even start to believe you are immortal. I know that I have made plans for what I will be doing in my 70s and 80s.

One of my best friends from High School lost his dad this morning to a short but fierce battle with liver cancer. It is the stuff you never hear about anymore. In our efforts to defeat death, we have transformed cancer from a silent sudden killer to a slow death. We have allowed ourselves to believe we can call the shots. This same friend and I happen to have been close to a young man who passed away right after our third year of college after a long battle with a similarly aggressive cancer which came back for the kill quite literally after we all thought we'd found the gold at the end of the rainbow.

I asked a friend this past Sunday what her biggest fear was. She said death. I was surprised being that she is a Christian and understands that upon death we are reunited with the Father. I inquired further. She explained that she is not afraid for her own death but for the death of dear and loved ones and the emptiness that it leaves. That it is not the same to see someone live a healthy 98 years and achieve all their dreams and make a difference as it is to witness someone pass in what seems like "before their time". We discussed the issue of time and forethought. I explained that cancer is quite unsettling to me. Just about every other illness one can die of can be somewhat explained and justified, but cancer just hits anyone without rhyme or reason and regardless of efforts to live a healthy life. Minutes before we embarked on the walk that sparked this conversation, a friend called her. The healthy husband that she was about to divorce had just had a terrible accident and walked the thin line between life and death were the next 48 hours would be crucial.

On Monday, I found out one of my old co-worker's mother had had a stroke over the weekend. My co-worker was on her way home from a trip to India. On the way to her layover in Paris, she heard the news. In a world where not too long ago going to India would be deemed much more dangerous than for a healthy mid-sixties woman to stand up from her bed in the morning, my friend was well and her mom had a stroke. She is afraid to die and losing mobility and independence on account of an unexplainable stroke is a threat to her life. My friend debates on the next point of action as she lives over 4,000 miles away in the land of opportunity.

So, what gives? It gives that living life in any way but the most meaningful way is a waste of time. It gives that doing anything but your best for a season, some season, any season is risky because it might be your last season. It gives that life is short and you should tell people you love them and you care. It gives that you should make every day count. It gives that similar to everything else in life, it makes no sense to just spill about anything which is finite such as your time on Earth and the time of those you love. It gives that you should allow God to take full control of your life, trust him to provide you with direction and not wait until you are older, wiser, done, sick or worse.

My friend's dad was not even 60, not even sickly, not even, not even, not even. Please pray for my friend and his family in this time of loss. Please go and make life worth your while.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Patricia goes speechless...

One of the most eye-opening or demoralizing experiences I had in graduate school was doing poorly on the introductory course for the area in which I wanted to do research which was being taught by the professor I had hoped to study under. Not that I expected to be exceptional, but that I truly believed this was one of the areas in which I felt I was strong.

The real world is different from school. We do not get official grades by people we respect. Actually, most times any feedback we get about how we are doing comes from those who disapprove of our performance. While we exchange kind words with our friends, family and acquaintances, we rarely really give each other feedback that will help us improve on the important areas of life. I say important because we do exchange plenty of endless meaningless chatter about how we do on the wardrobe, hair, make-up, etc.

After school, there are few "checkpoints" in life that can give you a good, clear, objective measure of how you are doing. Some of them: making the proverbial 7-years of marriage mark, having children, children's graduations, work-related items such as promotions and evaluations, knitting the one scarf or blanket, etc.
But how do we know that we are doing good in the deeper areas? How do we know if we are being good friends? How do we know if we are making an impact? For those of us who are Christians... How do we know that we are living properly? How do we know we are sharing God with others? How do we know we are trusting God enough? How do we know?

The truth is that we do not know. The truth is that this is one of the reasons we trust God. The truth is that this is one of the reasons why only trust in the One True God can save us and grant us access to Heaven. How else would we know how good is good enough?

THAT SAID, along the way, if you pay attention, and specially if you trust God, you encounter points in your life that give you pause and shake you awake to realize where you are missing the mark.

I am generally bad at having serious conversations with people. Serious conversations make me uncomfortable, most of the time I think it is best to spare others of the details of your thoughts, I often feel like they are a waste of time and then they expose vulnerabilities that are best kept private. Secretly (or not so secretly like on this blog), I enjoy serious subjects. I am intrigued by the workings of the human mind. I am amazed by the way people think and make connections and simply floored by the way even "random" situations bring people together. Recently a dear friend of mine brought this up: "When the student is ready, the teachers will appear". It is so true, but how/why/when?

The friends I have known longest and I have known each other for about 16 years. It is a group of 3 girls plus me. You could not find more different backgrounds, beliefs, personalities and aspirations in any group of 3 random people.

To make a long story short, I can probably count the number of times I have had serious conversations with each of them. We have also, basically, lost touch over the last 10 years. Until recently, I only communicated with one of them on a semi-weekly basis, but more by her effort than any effor of my own (I am ashamed of this).

Recently, I was very frustrated at a situation in my life, and a different one of these girls picked up on it. A very serious conversation ensued. It was more a vent of frustration than anything else. I didn't think much of it. However, over the months following this conversation, we have been speaking more often. I attributed it to ME simply being around more often and this strange solemn frame of mind I can't seem to shake off.

On Tuesday night in the midst of a cough medicine stupor, the realization that I really have not paid much attention to her life in the last 10 years and extreme frustration at the stupid serious mood I cannot shake off, I asked her some tough questions. Yeah, ashamed of that too.

What is the moment that has left the deepest mark in your life?
An afternoon when a good friend of mine started talking to me like she never has before and trusted me with a private conversation. I felt like the best friend in the world and I cannot stop thinking about that day.

I have had the hardest time trying to come up with ANYTHING much to say about anything since then. I wonder if bathing in garlic will shake-off a serious mood?

Checkpoint: I am a clueless SCHMUCK!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A very nice rat wants very nice cheese

A mad scientist has a very nice grant from a very nice university. This affords him a very nice lab, a very nice rat and some very nice cheese.

This is not ordinary rat. This is a very smart rat. It has been through many experiments and acquired wealth of knowledge. She is a 5th generation lab rat, in fact. She reads lab rat science magazines and admires all the great ones that came before her and all the great ones in all the great labs belonging to great scientists with great grants. She reads "Who moved my cheese" daily, just so she can be ready in case there is an experiment that day.

Of course, cheese is an important element of any experiment.

One day, the scientist takes the rat. More than a great lab rat this was the scientist's pet rat, so she got to go places that no other rats adventured to before. Her scientist was mad, but was very kind. On this day, they went to the grocey store. This was usual fare. The scientist felt that to achieve good results it was best to allow the rat to experience the cheese buying experience.

On this particular day, though, on the way back from the grocery store, they stopped at a big place called Home Depot. The rat could read, of course, that is how she knew where they were. At this place, her usually unskilled master bought what seemed like miles and miles of wood which he then piled up in his very nice little sedan (must protect the environment, even if you are a mad scientist).

The scene was familiar from the many journals he had read. Soon enough, it was clear what was going to happen. The proverbial maze.

Now, this was no ordinary rat and she could smell the cheese bought. It was no ordinary cheese. It smelled like no cheese she had ever had before. And so it was that with a tummy full of cheese scent, she set off to beat the scientist at his own game.

She sent a notice to all the rats and mice in the neighborhood. She would be recruiting for a special super secret mission. She needed someone astute enough to conjure up a plan, but not too interested in the cheese for fear that the temptation for the cheese was greater than the committment to work together. These mazes can be dangerous and if a couple of rodents were going to conquer, they would have to stay together. She decided not to mention the quality of the cheese.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of waste in New York City (where the rat lived), so not many replies came without the mention of the special cheese. I mean, why would subway mice leave warm hideouts full of junk food for possibly stale cheese? So it was that the best response obtained and the resource chosen by the rat was not a rat or a mouse but a squirrel. See, with urbanization, there were not many nuts to be had in the city and cheese sounded mighty good.

And so it was that the squirrel moved in. At night when the scientist slept, they schemed and planned and developed and thought about just how they were going to outsmart this maze. During the day, the squirrel would go in the stack of books covered in dust and would hide among the common rodents so the scientist did not catch onto their plan.

The day arrived when they were going into the maze. But, it arrived with the winter. And try as she could to wake up the squirrel, nothing could. She was disappointed and furious. She had not thought about how to obtain the cheese and conquer the maze by herself at all! What is a disappointed rat to do at the call of her master?

Surely, a 5th generation lab rat understands well that the principal duty of a lab rat is to further science research and discoveries. So she obediently went on. The maze was everything she had read about and more. Thankfully, the cheese was not moved. She could smell it. With every turn, it smelled like it was closer until the smell was overwhelming. But she seemed to be running around in circles. How could it be? Everything she read indicated there would be an opening and the golden substance would shine right through like a mighty irresistible, mouth watering giant. But, she couldn't get to it. And come to think of it, this did not smell like the very nice cheese from the very nice grocery store. Oh, that nothing this day will turn by the book.

After hours of struggle, the scientist opened the entrance door to the maze and called out the rat. She followed the way out, dejected and disappointed. All the planning, all the scheming, all the desire, all the effort to have neither conquered maze nor tasted golden cheese.

The mad scientist took the rat to her cage and as she opened her eyes, through her heavy eyelids from all the effort and all the frustration, she spotted it. And it was white, not golden. And it was the very nice cheese from the very nice grocery store and she was given it freely by her master and she could not understand. In the cage next door, the other rats and the dust covered squirrel enjoyed the usual meal.

Alas, a very nice lab rat can read very nice writings about the way things should be. She can trust very nice squirrels and come up with very nice plans. But some mazes are unconquerable and the sweetest blessings come but from the mercy of a very nice master. Alas, a very nice mad scientist might be mad, but what is a scientist to do if not care for his flock of rodents, the converse of which makes him a mere exterminator?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sister Alice (or Catholic School stories Pt 2)

Sister Alice was a nun at my High School (one of 4 or so). She had had a pace maker put in her heart shortly before I started school there. She had some other health issues which affected her mobility and forced her to wear orthopedic shoes.

Sister Alice is one of the deepest ladies I know. She was 100% dedicated to her labor as Vice-Principal and teacher all the same. She grew up in Massachussetts and I remember she had an interesting story about how she decided to become a nun. Actually, I never heard the full story. I kind of wish I had dared ask the nuns at school more questions about their travels to clergy, but I didn't.

Anyway, our school always had animals in it. They were not school pets, they were just stray animals: roosters, hens, chickens, dogs, dogs mating, cats. Sometimes, actually a lot of times, the kids at school abused these animals to some extent. One such instance being this black cat.

To the surprise of many, Sister Alice took to this cat very dearly. This cat would hide from everyone but come straight to her. Surprisingly, for a cat anyway, the cat followed her EVERYWHERE. As it turns out, the cat was a pregnant female and shortly after this love began, she had 4 little kittens.

There are a good number of stories relating to the kittens and the cat. A lot of people in the administration office did not really appreciate sharing their space with them. The end of the 5 cats living at school was a bout of stinky diarrhea in the Administration office. They were quickly given away then, all but the original mother of course.

My favorite story:
Sister Alice taught what you guys would call Honors English. One section each for 10th, 11th and 12th grades. I believe this was during my 12th grade. The kittens and cat had contracted the cat version of pink eye. Now, because the mother was afraid of the students, she taught this habit to the kittens and unless they were all "chilaxing" at the Sister's office, you would not see them.

Our English class was right before lunch. The kitties needed eyedrops to cure the pink eye infection, but as I explained the Sister's mobility was not such as to pursue cats throughout school. So, our duty for a week was to leave class and find the cats throughout the yard, catch them and hold them still while she adoringly put the eye drops in their eyes.

That is how a number of people from my class ended up wearing scratches all over our arms. The Sister was very strict and tough. Most people would say they "deaded" her, but if you dig deeper and consider this story, you can easily see that we all were fond enough of her and her labors to get scratched out to lend her a hand.

Next time, I will tell you how 6-10 people from my class ended up with strange moles all over our arms for a couple of weeks.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Thankful Friday (as in thank God it is not Thursday anymore)

This is me at 10:27AM yesterday morning.

This is me around 12 noon.

Yesterday, around 12 noon I was chewed out (expletives and all) by a customer. Actually, I was verbally abused, more than just chewed out. I have very thick skin, so to have been upset by someone speaking nonsense is unheard of. Actually, I have a high tolerance for foul language, to make it more unbelievable yet.

I won't explain the details, quite frankly because I am just worn out of explaining the occurrances to: my co-workers (who did not know what to do when I was so upset), my manager, my Sr. Manager, and recently my Director who wanted a write-up for HR.

The amazing thing to anyone that knows me well is that I never lost my cool and I never talked back. The amazing thing to my 18 year old who does not understand why I didn't break my hand against the phone is that I am just really glad for the lessons I have learned from this:

1. I should stop using foul language. It may seem harmless to me but it may be harmful to others. It also may send the wrong message even when I am not trying to be inpolite.

2. I am thankful for my job, my company, my co-workers and my manager. It is very nice to have people champion behind me and take this situation seriously (maybe a little too seriously).

3. I like my job, a lot. A little something in the back of my head was worried that I would get in trouble and I did not want to be in trouble, because I like my job.

4. I have made headway into a few of my secret goals for 2009. One of which is self-discipline.

5. Another one is re-encountering my fear of mediocrity.

6. The last one being allowing myself to feel what I am feeling. Granted, it is pretty easy to allow myself to feel anger, but it is going somewhere.

7. I have good friends who were upset WITH me and wanted to take this guy down on my behalf.

8. I have a very supportive husband.

9. I have encountered the WORST and handled it, which means I can deal with it ALL.

10. I have a new umphh to do my job and will do my best to prove the jerk wrong and show everyone that I am on top of my game.

11. I have the strength to not let one guy ruin my whole day. We laughed about the whole story last night. Me and my peeps from our very long-running Thursday Night Bible Study.

12. I can know win bad day poker and bad customer poker with one story.

13. I am an emotional eater, after all. This is a good realization because now I can work on controlling that.

All is well that ends well.

My favorite hymn that we sang last night:

O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Catholic School Stories Pt. 1

Puerto Rico schooling is such that whenever possible, a parent will pay to send a child to private school. Most private schools are Catholic and much more affordable than in the US. I went to many schools leading up to the 7th grade. When we moved towns, my mom managed to find us a spot at Notre Dame and my life changed. Yep, even though I am not Catholic and my parents weren't either, we all agree that ND is a life changing school. If you are looking for schooling in PR, look no further and contact me for details, but if you are reading my blog, I will spare you and instead bring you the first of (hopefully) a series of stories from school.

STORY ALERT (may be boring):
Unlike the stereotype, we did not have nuns running all over the place. We also did not have priests. Our school was run by what I consider liberal Redentorist priests assisted by the nuns of Notre Dame, who are also quite liberal and wear simple blueish skirts with white button down shirts and short hair. We had something like 2 priests and 4 nuns. While all but 1 of the priests that went through were Latin American, the nuns were all American. They had been in Puerto Rico for a long time and could converse to some extent in Spanish. The nuns and American priest had quite the American accent and confused the genders of stuff constantly, but you get over the initial funniness of that after a bit.

We had a huge campus (by PR standards at least) and our sports teams were at the top of the lists. Our school also had a very intense/dedicated science program and a strong focus in that area so we competed in many science competitions and belonging to the Chemistry club was just as elite as belonging to the Varsity team.

Our principal is a visionary. An amazing guy really. He has been in seminary, he taught every AP Chemistry class until a few years after we left and while he was not the day to day moderator of the Chemistry club, as a chemist and early member of it, he was quite involved.

The Chemistry club initiation took place close to the end of every year (as close to St. Patrick's as possible) of High School and was officiated by the principal. It was a semi-secret event to which only teachers and Chemistry club members along with special guests are invited. A demonstration proceeded with the legend that a nun, a long time ago had encountered an elf in the school who eventually died. She kept the bones of the elf in a coffer and every initiation, the elf likes to come and visit. The recipe is written in the history of the school. He had all the props, setup the Bunsen burner and added all the chemicals and would stir in the "bones". Supposedly, as he stirred, the bones of the elf would contort and reveal the future of the school.

It was awesome! I do not know if my classmates liked it as much. The elf spoke in parables of wet twins (water fountains) and things of the like. It was up to the attendees to decipher the predictions. Eventually, an explosion would occur and the elf would materialize (really a purple foam) in a cloud of smoke and all the guests would rush out the doors and proceed to the reception.

Why don't we have stuff like that as adults? Why don't we make everyday life interesting like that? It surely isn't just teenagers that enjoyed the demonstration, the teachers (the ones that had been there for a long time anyway) made sure to attend. So what happens when we grow up? When do we become boring and uninterested?