17  Oct

“Now, I take full blame for all that came next. For I continued the story…but departed the text.” – Berkeley Breathed, Goodnight Opus

Once upon a time there was a young man named Erminio. Grab your popcorn. Or else skip to the last paragraph for the cliff notes. The story of Erminio is being told by Ione, Ilmar’s sister. And Ilmar was such a great storyteller that his son was very moved when he watched Big Fish by Tim Burton, a movie about other great stories. Cut back to Erminio. It’s the early 70s in the Brazilian countryside of Minas Gerais.  Erminio stopped the car to rest because he was too tired to drive. This was told to Joel who told his mother Conceição, who told Ione. Erminio’s wife Bianca was also in the car. Erminio took a nap and was woken when the car was surrounded by bright lights and being lifted up in the air. Cut to Erminio and Bianca inside the lab. The tall being was communicating with him but he wasn’t sure how, or what language he was using. If you’ve seen Arrival, you know why I liked this part, the communication bit. (And if you haven’t seen Arrival, we can’t be friends, unless you have seen all the Christopher Nolan movies).
The “being” examined Erminio and was happy to answer his questions. “Why are you here?”, to which they replied “To study you”. Where are you from? A place very far. This part made me laugh. I heard the alien saying “a galaxy far, far away” in that Star Wars narrator voice. This being was friendly and had no qualms telling Erminio that he just had scientific curiosity about us, sounded like the same curiosity we humans have to study any animal, really. He also said he “tagged” Bianca, his wife, with some kind of implant. 

Erminio’s family searched for him for a few days, and had assumed that he had been arrested or was dead. When he returned home, he thought the whole thing had only lasted about a half hour. They questioned Erminio and Bianca separately, and their stories matched. They also examined the car and the damage done to it by “the craft” lined up with his story. Also, Erminio had no motive to make this up. He did tell the story to Flavio Cavalcanti, a TV presenter. His local church was not happy. Erminio and his wife lived the rest of their lives being reclusives. The end. 

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night | Snoopy pictures, Snoopy images, Stormy  night

Cut to Ione walking alongside me and the pink sunset over the Long Island Sound, the extraordinarily bright moonlight, and the gargantuan Halloween decorations in every half-acre-wide lawn we were passing. The McMansions on the waterfront went all out this year to make up for last year. You didn’t think one starts telling alien abduction stories for no reason, did you? Whether there’s accuracy or truth behind Erminio’s story is besides the point. The spookiness of the overly manicured lawns with the RIP tombstones and skeletons hanging from trees and string lights definitely set the tone. It was getting dark by the time she finished this story (and cut to a new one, one told by her brother Ilmar). 

Fall in this part of the world is stunning, it is visually striking in ways that are hard to describe, and it smells of acorns, pine and cypress trees. The overpowering smell lingers as you move along. It’s feathery beige pampas grass and subtle touches of copper (at this point) and twenty-pound pumpkins that look like they have been airbrushed to look that perfect. The silverlight reflection of the trees on the water surface shimmers and tessellates with the ripples from the landing of the graceful long-legged cranes and seagulls.   

Ilmar took this same walk with me many times in 2019, telling stories the whole time. Alice’s beach house is on this route, and he stayed there for some time. His sister is here now telling me new stories he never told me. Ilmar would say to us that if you wanted to be happy, you should pull a chair, in the country (light pollution and all), and look at the night sky. When the Halley comet passed closest to Earth, we went out late at night to the top of a mountain in Rio to see it. I was in pajamas, awake way past my bedtime, driving to the utmost quietest place we could find to use a telescope to marvel at Halley’s beauty. Ilmar would sit there staring at the sun, quoting Diogenes, when Diogenes was face-to-face with Alexander the Great, and was asked what he wished for, and he said: “stand a little out of my sun”, or something along those lines. Staring at the sun is enough. Not directly, of course. Ilmar would also bring you film negatives to watch a solar eclipse. He’d give them out to the whole family. My father Ilmar was happy with a bowl of shrimp udon and Sapporo beer. My daughter is happy to stop during a walk and point out that the clouds are actually moving, bit by bit, even though they seem still. The smell of lavender makes me happy, or saltwater. Some might say that’s just passing joy. Ilmar would have told you that’s happiness, if you treasure it right. That’s the meaning of life right there, in those moments. You don’t have to be rich, cool, mighty, or pretty. 

Ilmar was the happiest person, and the best storyteller (ask anybody) that anyone had ever met. Much like him, I’m the prime audience for mysterious stories. And my daughter is the apple that fell very close to this tree. She can make the proverbial big fish sound a thousand times more intriguing in her tales.

I haven’t written about my father since he passed in January until now. The pandemic losses were multi fold, and at some point I felt guilty about being almost more shaken by Karen Trujillo’s passing than the loss of my own father. They were different types of grief. Karen had been hit by a mini-van while walking her dog. The horribleness of this hit me out of left field. Thanks to Kübler-Ross I was able to understand and process the progression through the stages of grief. There is a point to Karen’s story. I struggle with Act 2 of any script- thus this meandering… Beginnings just sprout, and ends are pretty straight forward. Sad/happy; Open/closed- endings are binary. Middles are analog signals, full of static. 

My father may have left me with a treasured (and simple) happiness recipe, but – like many in my family- he was a know-it-all. He was the truth Oracle, the almighty elder figure that the family consulted because he allegedly “knew everything”, and was very proud of that. He lived an incredible life with a wide array of experiences that practically made him James Bond-meets-Yoda. 

One thing that the late Karen Trujillo taught me was the real value of modesty. It never really landed until I met her- the sincere appreciation of feeling humbled by something or someone whom you help, of realizing how little you actually know, how much they have to teach you. And to know that even when you turn a corner, you’ll always have more that you don’t know (that you don’t even realize). I grew up in a culture and in a household that didn’t reward modesty as a value. It was an underrated quality until I came to work with some of the event speakers I now know. One of them actually said: “And I’m certainly not intelligent enough to know that or to guess that…” This came from likely the smartest person in the room, possibly one of brightest and most articulate men I ever met, so that humility just floored me. 

Last week, I was in Orlando, with Dr. Adolph Brown III, who speaks of being “balcony people”. Balcony people cheer others, stay humble, serve others, and also let go of grudges, so they can be lighter, which brings me full circle to Ione. She forgave a lot of silly things I said over the years, overlooked my flaws and continued to be by my side, coaching me to get outside the comfort zone.

If you keep at the “same sports”, it’s easy to be confident but you don’t grow. When faced with adversity, as a defense mechanism or out of self-preservation, we gravitate to the hobbies and routines that we know we have mastered. This brings us self-confidence, intentionally doing something that we are great at, which we need in order to get over a momentary set of unusually hard circumstances. Once that short chapter ends and another one begins, we must bring ourselves back to “learning mode” and venture to be bad at something new. I took that from Tracy Anderson. “Be brave enough to be bad at something new.” (Stay real, Tamily, you may be the only ones reading this). Modesty never came easily to me, but I now know how much I don’t know. You should do the things you suck at because they are hard, not in spite of it. 

It shouldn’t take “big decision” moments for one to realize all this but on the other hand, it’s much harder to have epiphanies while following daily routines. The thing about having an insightful moment is that it’s like when your ears pop and you had no idea that they were even blocked in the first place. You don’t know how much you don’t know until you do know. It instantly humbles you.

The storytellers in my life taught me this much: the ever-so-simple happiness recipe, and the value of modesty. They also taught me to forgive. Forgiving is hard, but well worth it. It’s necessary. The cost of not doing it is much greater to you than to those who wronged you. In the wake of my father’s passing a year ago, I chose to embrace modesty and the simple joy of being (guilt-free) happy. That “Wow, all the things I never knew” feeling sank in. The mentors I have met pushed me to examine the ways in which I need to improve, and challenged me once again to make a departure from the comfort zone. 

Cut to the Departures lounge on a sunny but chilly afternoon. Not the end. Just another one of many flights. Same skies, different latitudes.  

Posted by Kaz, filed under No tag for this post.. Date: October 17, 2021, 11:04 pm | No Comments »