Monday, November 19, 2007

Entry for November 18, 2007


Well, I made it back to the States!  I have actually been back for a week now!  I flew from Dublin, Ireland, to Chicago, Illinois, last Sunday!  I left Dublin at 10:30 A.M. and arrived in Chicago at 12:35 P.M.  Yet the flight was 8 hours long!  How does that work out?!

Needless to say, that was a veeery long day for me!

I was greeted by my Mom, Dad, sister, uncle, aunt, cousin, friend and his almost wife (hence my return), and two other real close friends...all at the airport!  I was chosen for a scrutinous security check, so I was able to sneak up on them without them ever seeing me.

I walked up behind my friend who had his eyes on the doors coming from the Arrival Terminal, and I asked, "Who are we waiting for"?  It was about that time that I heard my mom scream, "There he is!  Andrew!  Andrew!"

And then the fun started.  Actually, it wasn't too bad.  Not bad at all, really.  We stood there outside those doors in the airport and probably talked for a good 10-15 minutes before we decided to head to a restaurant (Giordano's!) and continue the conversations.

I was surprised at how warm Chicago was!  I was still in shorts, and stepping out into high-50's or low-60's weather in November was quite surprising (and welcome!).  But I'm not banking on that to last too much longer...I've already experienced a night down to 30 degrees...and I've had the cold hands, cold feet, and runny nose already.  Just not fun!

But in one week, I have a couple of insights about America.  From the get-go, I quickly realized that America is loud and fast.  When it comes right down to it, I am not surprised.  I mean, before I left on the trip, I could have told you that, I suppose.  But it's one of those things that you just don't notice when you are so submerged in the culture.  But ever since I stepped foot into the van on way from Chicago, Illinois, down to my home in Springfield, Illinois, I was just amazed at how fast everything was moving.  A little too fast for me!  I had grown accustomed to a slower pace of life the past month and a half, and I was quickly thrown into quite a change!

Jumping on the interstate was a thrill all in itself.  Of course, my dad was driving, but I just watched as cars zoomed by...70 mph.  75 mph.  80 mph.   Merging.  Passing.  Tailgating.  Everyone in a hurry to get somewhere.

I felt a bit out of place!  I mean, I was eager to get home (the four-hour drive was a loooong one that night!), but c'mon, folks, you're going to get where you're going!  Slow down a bit!  A song from Portugal just echoes in my head right now..."Relax, take it easy!"

Other than that, I have just been amazed at how much noise we have.  Everywhere I go, there just seems to be some type of background noise.  Filler noise, as I call it.  And it drives me nuts.

Now I'll let ya in on a little secret...if you have ever driven with me, you know that I will never turn on my radio.  I just don't listen to it.  Now I can sing a good many a song with the best of 'em...I seem to know country songs as they come out...but it's not because I listen to the's because everyone around me listens to the radio.  I find myself knowing new songs...or new television shows...or culture in general...not because I pursue it.  But because everyone else around me pursues it with me around!

What do I mean?  Well, within a day or two of getting back, I found myself listening to TV again.  I say "listening" because I am just not a big TV watcher.  But I have heard countless movies, television shows, and sports games by listening to them from the other room.  The TV seems to be on more often than not in my parents' house, and no matter which room I am in (outside of locking myself in a back bedroom), I hear noise, noise, noise.

Sometimes I wonder just how beneficial it is, too.  It just seems like "filler" in life.  "Well, I've got nothin' else to do, so why not watch TV"?  And that just drives me nuts.  Just today, I heard my dad say that the show that he had just finished watching was ridiculous...a total waste of time.  He was telling my mom that who was also watching.  And I'm thinking..."yeah, it is!"  Of course, I myself have seen movies and shows that really are ridiculous.  I would almost pay to have those hours back...but being away from TV for so long just made me not want it all the more.

I watched several hours on TV while gone.  I will concede that.  But "several" means under 20 in 3 months.  To break it down, here is how it went...80% were futbol games.  Futbol has supremacy in Europe, and it was impossible to avoid.  I watched most of the games in Portugal (with a passionate crew!), though I would often see games in airports and restaurants along the street, as well.  10% was a movie I watched in Portugal.  And 10% was a couple hours of television watched with girls in Ireland (they were girls, who was I to say no?!).  These couple hours consisted of a popular American show as well as a local Irish phenom (The Rose of Tralee!).

But the clincher was when one of my friends wanted to come over to visit me.  He had heard that I was back in town, and he wanted to visit.  Of course he could come over, I told him!  Well, he came over, and it just so happened to be during a TV show that my dad was watching.  Well, we were in the living room, and Dad was more than wanting to finish up his show (granted, that is fair).  So we talked as the loud noise was in the background.  Well, I pulled out my laptop to share pictures and stories, and I started to show my friend.  Except that he couldn’t keep his eyes off of the TV.  So there I was, flipping through my pictures, with my friend at my side watching TV with my dad.  Occasionally he would pop his head back over to see a picture, but he just couldn’t pull himself away from the TV.  It was rather disheartening.  And when the show was over and my dad goes on to watch another show, I was more than disappointed.  Here I have a friend visiting, having not seen me in three months, and he comes over to watch TV.  C’mon, people.

But it's not just confined to home.  I visited one of my favorite restaurants the very night I was back.  And there are literally 40 or so TV's in this restaurant.  And they are all sports.  And as any guy knows, it is just hard to have a conversation with someone when numerous sports are on the big screens.  But it wasn't the distraction that bothered me.  It was the noise!  The restaurant was packed with American football fans cheering on their teams, not to mention the announcers being broadcast loud throughout the entire restaurant.  More noise!!!

And then I go to the gym with my brother.  We hop into my Dad's car, and the first thing he does (even more frequent than turning the ignition) is to hit the radio button.  Mind you, I already mentioned that I am not a huge fan of listening to the radio while driving.  I actually like to think to myself!  Of course, he has annoyed me numerous times before with this habit of his (and I have told him), but he continues to do it anyway.  The part I don't understand is how he always trumps whatever I want.  When he drives, he says he is in charge of the radio (it is his truck).  Ok, I give him that.  But when I drive, he also takes charge of the radio.  I often turn it off, but he turns it back on.  I'm not sure, but the more I step back and look at this, I almost wonder if he thinks that the car itself doesn't run off of noise.  It's as if the radio HAS to be on in his head if the car is running.  I think he may think that if the radio is turned off, the engine may die.

Well, I almost died.  Or at least went crazy.  I managed the ride there without much of a problem (not that I can remember anyway).  But on the way back from the gym, just a few days into my return, I nearly went crazy.  The music was blaring, I was thinking about America...about how noisy it was, and I just wanted to scream!  I seriously was on the verge of just losing it in the car.  I had had enough.

Talk about reverse culture shock!  Welcome back to the States, Andy!

But those were some insights I have had in just seven days...

Other fun stuff...we're a culture built around eating.  Now I ate through all five countries I visited.  And rather nicely, too!  But I ate healthy.  The people cooked me seafood and vegetables.  Grease was a rarity...and I saw oil only the last few weeks while working on the ship.

But I was humored to wake up that very first day to have my dad offer me some breakfast...nothing like eggs and bacon coming out of the greasy pan!  I'm not going to lie...I love 'em.  The sandwich was tasty, and I have fond memories of bacon and eggs...but it was just the start of the American epidemic.

Here's a rundown of the last week...

Sunday--Giordano's Pizza.  Grease, loads of cheese, but oh so good.

Monday--Bacon and eggs.  Cooked in grease.

Tuesday--Applebee's...nothin' like a big fat juicy quesadilla hamburger and french fries...

Wednesday--Burger King...chicken sandwich and french fries.  Oh, and that night?  Kaleidoscoops...two heaping scoops of ice cream.  NOT fat-free.

Thursday--Thanksgiving Dinner at my Dad's work.  You name it, it was there...mashed potatoes, turkey, dressing, gravy, pumpkin pie, sweet potatoes, pop [soda]...oh, and a pizza party that night to celebrate a friend's promotion.  A medium pizza split between me and my brother.  Along with a root beer.  And another beer.

Friday--Pork chops.  And a dessert of ice cream out of the box.  But I had a good five or six scoops from Pa.  Much less than what the families would serve me in Europe.  The amount of ice cream I received here was essentially another meal...whereas in Europe it was a tasteful dessert ending.  Just enough to make you want more sometime in the future at another meal.  Oh, and I had Steak 'n Shake.  Root beer.  And finishing off peoples' plates (what they didn't finish).  French fries.  Some greasy reuben sandwich...

Saturday--4 hour-drive to Lambert's favorite restaurant.  Numerous hot rolls already buttered but with butter added again by me.  And thick molasses added.  Barbecue pork chop.  Fried okra.  Sweet potatoes.  Sweet apples.  And a huge tub of sweet tea.

Sunday--Thanksgiving meal at church.  Again, you name it, it was there.  I had little weenies wrapped in bacon, numerous casseroles, and desserts to go 'round.  The crockpots were plentiful, and the desserts were a'plenty, as well.  A little chocolate/whipcream mixture, some sweet potato casserole, and some pumpkin brownies, just for starters.  And my second dose of Buffalo Wild Wings in 8 days.  12 Honey BBQ wings deep-fried.  And two large cups of sweet tea (did I mention that you do not get free refills in cup or can and that's it!  A problem?  Not exactly.  If you took the numer of calories in each cup and multiplied that by the number of refills we get at restaurants (2-5!), we Americans gain pounds simply by drinking so much each year...not just by eating!  I learned to have one drink while in adjustment to me, but I easily got used to it.

Oh, and this week is Thanksgiving.  At least another huge meal promised to me on Thursday.  Oh, and I'm invited out to lunch tomorrow... 

I've been back for 8 days now.  And I think I have consumed more calories in the past 8 days than possibly the past 21 while over in Europe.  Of course, someone could argue that it's my food choices, and that is fair.  But try this on for size...

You can't fly into clouds on a clear day.  What do I mean?  I mean that if the choices for grease, fat, ice cream, etc. aren't there, then you aren't going to be able to choose them.  Case and point...I wanted a lil' dessert this week, and a banana was laying on the counter.  I could've chosen ice cream or cookies, but the banana was there, so I ate it.  A different time I chose a frozen chocolate chip cookie (ok, so I chose that twice already this week!).  But if the box wasn't there, I wouldn't eat them.

Aye, aye, aye...would ya listen to me!  I sound like a guy with no self-control!  Wait, check that.  I sound like a guy with self-control that only wants to blame his surroundings for his choices.  Want a synonym?  It's called an AMERICAN.

But I have been amazed and somewhat disgusted at just how much we revolve around food.  And to think I ate so well over in Europe (I have pictures to prove it!).  But the food was so different.  Prepared so much more healthily.  Shelf-life is as foreign to them as large cars.  They just don't have them.

In Europe, the food was not the reason for getting together.  The people were the reason for getting together.  The food was just an added bonus.  Here, I wonder if we don't have that concept backwards...

So there's 8 days of reflections!

I'm sure I'll have more as I get myself more and more acclimated to this culture.  Loud, fast, and fat.

My thoughts on those three?  Well, take it for what it's worth, but that sure wouldn't be my first choice for who to sit next to on an airplane.

America welcomes Andy back home.

(It is good to be back, though, and I appreciate the phone calls, dinner dates, handshakes, hugs, invites, e-mails, and whatnot.  Sure, some of the above comments are obviously generalities, but as with any comment, one would be foolish not to at least evaluate what I write.  I know there are perfectly healthy vegetarians out there in America.  Congrats.  But for every one of those, I have 543 obese people.  So eat that (pun intended).  And I know that some people in Europe drive big cars.  Granted.  But for every big car there, there are 73 small cars.  It's the opposite here.  Just for reference, my truck would not have been able to drive through several towns that I visited.  It simply would not make the turns or fit down the roads.  I just write down my observations.  Take them as they are.  And if you take offense at what I say, sweet.  I don't really mind.  If you don't, let me know, and I'll try to find a topic that will offend you.  haha...all the best, friends).

2007-11-19 20:24:35 GMT

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Entry for November 6, 2007

Hola mi familia y mis amigos!

First of all, thanks for all of the e-mails, phone calls to home, worries, prayers, and everything else!  You´ll never really know how much those mean to me!  haha...some of them even quite surprised me!  And I laughed at several of them, too!  Good times.

And thanks to mis amigos for offering to come over and help out.  I´m still contemplating buying tickets for you to come on over...there is no sense in leaving a job undone, right?

Forgiveness, Andy...forgiveness...but what about the stories where justice and good living is even more sought after.  The thought of a sword through a couple of bodies comes to mind.  If that means nothing to you, then ask around.

Well, it´s a somewhat bitter ending for me.  It´s hard to believe that I have been traveling for nearly three months already.  It just doesn´t seem possible.  And the ending has been...well, not what I had expected!

A couple of blogs ago I wrote that I was taking a pretty big gamble.  Well, I did the gamble.  And it just didn´t pay off.

Let´s back up a few weeks...ok, I am coming home for a wedding in Chicago (not mine, friends, not mine!).  But I am the Best Man in a wedding, and I figured I should probably show up.  And so I started looking at flights.  Very expensive flights, mind you.

I didn't so much care for that (I have flown quite a bit already!).  I mean, I love it, but I wanted something more exciting.  So I looked into ships.  Big ones.  Cruise ships.  But all of the Transatlantic cruises were already booked full...yeah, FULL!  Or they had penthouse suites available for $3500.  Probably not for me.

So I looked into other ships.  Big ones!  As in cargo ships.  And wouldn´t ya know it, freighters DO carry passengers.  Granted, you don´t get a towel animal every morning on your bed, you might not have fancy lights and music, and you may only ride with eight other passengers, but it got me from Europe to America.  Sounded great!

Until I learned that these were even more expensive than cruise ships!  Yeah, because of the rarity and adventure of it all, the Captains bumped up the price...around 100 Euros a day.  Easily over $1000 to ride on a ship with hundreds of tons of cargo.

Not so much.

But I kept looking.  And lo and behold, once every year, a whole regatta of yachts take off from a certain place on the east side of the Atlantic.  Over 200 sailing vessels will ¨take the march¨from the east side of the Atlantic to the west side.  And they leave in October and November.


The location?  Las Palmas, Gran Canaria.  So a few weeks ago, I did all the research, I posted my resume on a couple of websites, I made the phone calls, and I lined up a boat.  We would be leaving Las Palmas November 1 with landfall in the Caribbean.

So I flew from Spain down to Las Palmas (very much on the west side of Africa!  Find a map, and check it out!).  I have been here for the past two weeks.  And the day I got here, I hopped on the boat, talked to the Captain...and everything was going sooo smoothly.  And I was excited.  Until I asked the question...

And we´re still leaving November 1, right?

Oh, no, no...we moved it back a few weeks until November 25.

Just like that, my plan had bombed.  With no warning.  Hmm.

But I still had a place to stay on the boat.  In exchange for four hours of work a day, I would have free food and lodging.  Sounded good to me.

So that is where I have been the past couple of weeks.  Sanding, painting, sanding some more, painting some more.  It feels like slave work!  haha...seriously!  And it´s a rough and tough crew.  I am going to need a few weeks of ¨cleaning time¨to erase the stories I have heard, the jokes I have been told, and the language I have been surrounded with (did you notice my langugage when I was attacked?!  Strictly from hanging with these guys!).

But it has been somewhat enjoyable, too.  We are completely taking an old boat and trying to make it look nice.  It´s heading over to the Caribbean for a party boat for scuba divers...And I rarely wear a shirt.  In November.  The sun shines brilliantly every day...a good 80-85 degrees.  So that´s hard to beat.

But I was pretty stranded way down south...far from Europe...and right next to Africa.  Very far from Chicago.

So I asked cargo ships, freighters, cruise ships, sailing yachts, private yachts, travel agencies, people at the sailors´ hangouts, companies, employees...I seriously ousted everything I had.

And I came up short.

So I had to opt for a plane ticket.  The flights to Chicago were quite expensive from here, too...even moreso than mainland Europe!  But I did some looking around, and I decided to fly to Boston instead...I mean, it is closer to Europe, I have friends there, and it would be cheaper.

And guess what I found?  A flight to Boston cheaper than a flight to Chicago.  The only catch?  It was a connecting flight...with a stop in Chicago.  So I am flying to Boston...but not so much.  I´m hoppin´off in Chicago.  Airlines are crazy.  It is cheaper to fly to Chicago and then to Boston than it is to fly to Chicago.  Hmm.

But yeah, a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth.  For you all and for me.  The trip as a whole has been great.  Really.  I have learned so much about myself, about the world, about people...but here in the last week or so, it has been tainted a bit!  Traveling took a turn for the worse, I lost trust in people, and my dream fizzled rather quickly!  And I don´t want it to be that way...for you, either!  I have really enjoyed the trip!

Of course, I would very much love to be coming back on the high seas!

But such is life.  As the sailors, I´ll spare you that.  Um, let´s just say life isn´t always a bed of roses.  There, that´s better.

So I´m coming to the end of my three months.  I´ve got a wedding in Chicago to get to.

And rather than pay for mis amigos to come over to Las Palmas with me and take care of some business, I´m going to ask for something else.  Meet me at the airport, and protect me from those who love me most.  As in my mom.  And those crazy ladies at church that think the world of me.

I´m afraid that their hugs and all might suffocate me and choke me out anyway.  So can we just start with...handshakes?  High fives?  Smiles?  And homemade ice cream?  Lambert´s hot rolls?  And honey BBQ chicken wings?!


2007-11-06 15:13:32 GMT

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Entry for November 3, 2007

I left the Sailor’s Bar at 11:45.  I had gone over there to check some internet and just hang out with some people from the area.  Well, it turned out that no one I knew was there (outside of one British guy), and I was tired, so I decided to head back to my bed.  I met my friend Grman on the way back...he was heading to the bar, but I still wanted to my bed, so I said I wouldn’t be going back with him.

I walked the 10 minutes back to where I’m’s more or less a stroll along the ocean the entire way.  Nothing like Portugal...this is more industrial, but it’s still nice to have the sea right next door.  I actually went swimming in it today!  Grman and I did some jumps today from a ledge.

Well, I’m finally at the place where I am staying, and lo and behold, some guys that I know are outside on a bench.  It turns out that they are quite frequently here, so over the past eight days, I have talked to a couple a few times.  As I’m making my way towards where I’m going, the Lithuanian spots me.


Of course, I return in kind...”Amigo!”  And we do the buddy-buddy sideways hand grab.  He is out here drinking the night away again...that is just what he does.  On the weekends especially, outside where I’m staying there are several benches, and the one right in front of us is filled with guys getting drunk.  And high.

As a token of friendship, I was given a small piece of marijuana last week.  Needless to say, I didn’t smoke it.  Even after numerous repetition of, “No fumo” (I don’t smoke), the guy insisted.  How could I not accept his “regalo” (gift), he would say.  And his friends insisted.  It was quite an awkward position to be in.  I later threw it in the ocean.

Well, the guys are all back tonight...some familiar faces, some new ones.  And a couple of girls, too.  That’s usually how it goes.  And they have the alcohol and Sprite...who knows how long they had been here already.  But they drink, they smoke, and they talk.  To be nice, I sat down (strategically next to the girl, of course) to talk with them.  It’s a great opportunity for me to learn/practice my Spanish, and they love the fact that I am an American.  Even after telling them my name, they insist on calling me, “Chicago.”  Whatever works.

Well, they fill me up a cup of who knows what type of alcohol (friendly people, of course), but I don’t want it.  They insist, and so I hold it in my hand.  And they continue talking.  They ask about the work I am doing, one guy asks me to jump in the water (I thought that was crazy...but you should probably put this in the back of your mind...just helpin’ ya out), and they mention Michael Jordan and Tony Kukoc.  I guess that is what they associate Chicago with!

I’m out there for 10 minutes or so, and the girl I sat next to starts helping me out with some of the conversation.  All of the above was taking place in Spanish, but she knew some English, so she would be the interpreter at times.  She told me she had been to North Carolina and Miami, and I asked her what she thought of them, and she just did the “eh” thing with her know, the one where you take your hand and move it side to side, as if to say, “Eh, it was alright, but not really that great....”  That one.

A guy is sitting between me and the girl, and he keeps on asking me to swim in the water.  “No quiero.”  That was my response.  I simply didn’t want to.  “Porque?”  Um, because it is very cold, very dark, and quite simply very stupid.  But I just told him it was muy frio (very cold).  Yet he kept on insisting.  He asked me if I knew how to swim, and, of course, I responded by saying yes.  We are on a sidewalk overlooking the’s a place where some large boats come in to dock.  Down the way there was a beautiful yacht...and in front of us was a rather dismal-looking piece of floating metal.  But we were on concrete some 10-12 feet above the water.

Some more conversation takes place, some people come up and give me the amigo handshake, and it’s just hanging out on a sidewalk next to the ocean.

The girl leans over to me and asks, “Are you bored?”


“Are you bored?”  I thought that is what she said, but it was kind of random.  So I asked her again...”What?”

“Estas aburrido?”  Ah, yes, that was what she said!  Maybe it was because I hadn’t taken a single drink of the cup they poured me.  Or maybe she could tell that I was different.  Maybe it was because I wasn’t smoking with them.  I really don’t know, but she asked!

I told her nah, but then after I thought about it, she may have been asking me if I wanted to go do something a couple of seconds later, I told her that, yeah, this stuff was boring...and stupid.  She agreed.

And it was somewhere in there where the guy next to me gets up to leave.  After he leaves, the other guys tell me he is a bit crazy.  He either smokes or has been smoking cocaine...I couldn’t pick up what tense they were using.  Interesting.  But he was gone.  And I figured I would be able to have a more civilized talk with the girl now.  Sweet!

Grman walked up somewhere in here.  He had come back from the bar, and he was surprised to see me outside.  “What is this?”  haha...yeah, I was planning on going to bed, but some amigos wanted to talk!  He sat on the bench, too.

And somewhere in there, another guys comes and sits between me and the girl.  Grr.  I would just have to wait.

And then the coke guy comes back.  “I want you to swim,” he said in Spanish.  “No gracias.  No quiero.”  But he insisted.  Um, no thanks.  Even more.  Granted, I did tell him I could swim.  But this was gettin’ out of control.  He was now grabbing my hand.  I was sitting on the back part of the park bench...the part where you rest your back.  My feet were sitting on the part where your butt was supposed to go.  And he grabbed me again.  I was getting serious.  NO.  And I was still able to pull away from him.

But he came back.  And this time his grip was good.  He was able to make me lose my balance on the bench since I was on top.  His pull brought me off of the bench, the cup that I had spilled, and it was such a commotion that everyone just watched us.  I had been pulled from my place, and all eyes were on me to see how I would respond.  I could feel all of the glares.

But I played it cool.  I had been pulled up pretty close to a guy who was standing, so I just stood next to him.  Crossed my arms.  And ignored all of the glares.  That way they could all go back to their conversations.

And then the guy says something, and the next thing I know, I have several people grabbing at me.  “Holy cow, they are going to throw me into the ocean!”  I knew exactly what they were going to do.  Not cool.  Or safe.  Or good.  So I pull back.  I say even more in my strongest language, making the eye contact and everything that I could to tell them I was serious....”NOOO.”  It’s not a yell, it’s not a scream, it’s the type of “no” that you give to a kid...or a dog...after they keep insisting on getting something.  The one that ends all attempts.  It’s the one that says, “Ok, it was all fun and games until now, but I really am serious.  I mean, ‘no.’”

And yet I still feel hands all over me.  This is not good.  I seriously did all I could to fight against them.  And I was somewhat able to pull least away from the water.  The bench was about 15 feet from the enough space for people to walk along the ocean.  By this time, through the being pulled up, the small scuffle, and the trying to get away from them, we had managed to end up at another bench.  I used it as a buffer between me and a couple of them.

But another guy says something.  Something serious.  Something about me and “nadar” (to swim).  He wants to know why I will not jump into the ocean.  I tell them, “Es frio.  No quiero.”  But by this time, it is mob-style.  My words meant nothing.

And the next thing I know, I am in the street, staring eyeball-to-eyeball with this guy.  It’s the type of stare that only leads to...

BAM!  Yup.  He jacked me.  BAM!  Another.  Temple.  Head.  Nose.  I was being punched repeatedly.  I have only experienced this one other time in life, and it’s a feeling that is incredibly difficult to describe.  No other sensation or experience comes anywhere close to being in a fight.  Being punched in the face and head with bare hands.  Nothing.

But I don’t want to fight.  Part of it is just me.  I am not a fighter.  I take no joy in punching someone in the face.  And frankly, the odds were heavily stacked against me.  I was very much alone here.  One American.  Four or five participating Spaniards.  I don’t know what would have happened if I would have fought back...would I have had a good match?  Or would they have ganged up on me?  I don’t know.  But I did my best to leave.  A couple of guys sort of stepped in.  I say sort of because they weren’t really trying to separate us.

I was the one trying to separate myself.  And he still wants me.  And I glare at him...”PORQUE?!!!!  PORQUE???!!!  NO ES NECESARIO!”  I was hot.  I was so mad.  I had just been jacked in the face, and this guy still wants to go at me.  And there are still several Spanish guys there, too.  I needed to leave.  I had blood running down my shirt was now hanging on only by the collar...the rest was dangling around my shorts.  I was standing there, with my blood, with my anger, with my exposed chest and stomach....all eyes were on me.  I needed to leave.

So I just start walking away.  Down the sidewalk.  Another guy grabs me.  “Hey, hey, amigo, ven aqui, ven aqui.”  He has grabbed me.  “NO,” I say.  He still hangs onto me.  I know not what his intentions are...if he is going to bring me back to the fight or what he is trying to do.  But you don’t grab a guy and tell him what to do.  He is using force.  I fight myself away.

And I keep walking down the sidewalk.  And I can feel them.  I am being followed.  So I do the half-head turn...keeping them in my peripheral vision.  The guy that started punching me is following me again, as are some other guys.  All I can think about is...”Away from the water, away from the water.”  The ocean was dark, dangerous, and deadly.  And to be pushed in or thrown in...after who knows what they would do to me first...I wanted none of that.  So I walk into the street.  Right in front of a car.  I need to just get away, get to light, get to people, get to somewhere.  Anywhere than here.  I glare down the driver and passenger.  What a sight that must have been.  Bloody face, torn short, a look of fear and anger.

And so I cross the street.

And then just like that, I was one with my perpetrator.  I never saw it coming, but he has bonded himself with me.  He has run up behind me and leaped onto me, using his arms to choke me.  I can only remember supporting his full weight, his legs kicking me around the groin area, and his ever-pressing arms around my neck.  I am literally being choked.

And I so I try to free myself.  To no avail.  The only other times I can remember being choked is with a fight with my brother.  Every brother experiences it.  Once he gets you in the sleeper hold or some similar move, you must tap out.  It’s the sign of being defeated.  If you don’t tap, he keeps choking, and you lose your oxygen.  But that never happens.  Brothers don’t kill.

I am quickly losing oxygen.  I have now thrown myself to the ground, trying to use the force to wrestle this guy off of my back.  But he has a full grip around me...legs wrapped around my mid-section, arms securely cutting off my air flow.  I can remember seeing guys above me.  I remember the bright lights of the parking garage exit where we now were.

And I also remember thinking...”Any time now, the police should be showing up.”  At this port, I am told there are several video cameras to protect the boats, and a week ago, a fire took over a small trashcan...probably from a cigarette.  Within minutes, police were there putting out the fire.

And I remember thinking...”Grman should be mediating anytime now.”

And yet I was still unable to breathe.  And almost instantaneously, I realized I was fighting a losing battle.  And I remember thinking...

“I am going to die.”

It was the most helpless feeling I have ever had in my life.

There was no sense of confidence, no sense of anything really.  It was just that simple statement.  I thought not about God, thought not about anything.  I just remember thinking about my dead body lying there on the exit ramp.

And then I saw a boot coming at my face.  BAM!  Another guy was joining in.

“Ayuda...”  That wasn’t even how it came out.  Nowhere close.  My arms are trying to pull away the other guys arms from around my neck, I am quickly losing oxygen, and I am over.  In the scratchiest voice I think I have ever heard, I must the words, “Ayuda...”  I was trying to scream for help, but I could barely get anything out.  Only a scratchy and quiet muster.  The last I had left.

I think I maybe said it twice.  I don’t know.  I am trying to get these arms off, I am moving around on the ground, and I don’t really remember much else.  I think I saw one guy come over to pull this guy off, but I couldn’t really say who ended up doing it.  But someone came and pulled him off.

I don’t remember a whole lot about the next part, either.  I only know that I ended up in the parking garage, and I saw a window with people in it.  I told them to open the door.  They would not.  I tried to say something, and my blood was flowing...or adrenaline...or lack of oxygen...or wanting to cry...or something.  But I had to literally think about and plan my words.  And it wasn’t because it was in Spanish.  I don’t really know why.

They motioned me over to the other side of the window.  This was the parking garage security or something.  But they refused to come out.  I saw people staring at me.  From their they walked to their cars.  They stopped and stared.

I spoke through the little “bank teller” system...don’t really remember what I said, but I remember starting out...”Mi espanol no es bien.”  I never start out with that.  But I needed to let them know from the get go that I may be hard to understand.  I had no time to lose.

They motion me back over to the protected door.  And a guy comes out.  I don’t remember what I say there, either, but he asks me if I need an ambulancia.  What?  Was I really that bad?  I had no idea.  I knew I had blood on my face, my face felt swollen, my throat hurt, and my mouth was rather painful, and I was constantly spitting blood out of my mouth, but that was all I knew. “No se.  No puedo a ver...”

I said those words...which in Spanish mean...”I don’t know.  I can’t see.”  And I used hand motions to tell him what I meant...motioning that I was not able to see my face.  I don’t think he thought that I literally couldn’t see.  I just meant to say, “I’m not sure.  I can’t see how bad it is.”

But he is on the radio calling the ambulancia.  And the policia.

There are three guys out there with me now.  I felt a little protected.  But I was still feeling a bit...I don’t know.  I had literally almost died.  And I had no power over it.

But though my face hurt, I didn’t feel like it was all that bad.  As in needing paramedics.  So I walked away (much to the confusion and comments to come back of the security) to look at myself in a motorcycle mirror.  Yup, some blood.  Coming out of the nose.  No shirt...except for a collar and some string.  But other than that, I didn’t see any open cuts or lacerations.

I walked over to the guy calling the ambulancia.  “No necesito una ambulancia.”  He said he already had them called, asked me if I was absolutely sure, and I told him I didn’t need one.  As I walked away, I heard him calling the ambulance off.

But they called the police.  And they made me walk outside.  I definitely did not want to go back out there.  I knew not where these guys were, I knew not what they were capable of, and I sure didn’t want to be the nark who tattles on the police.  They would surely come back a different time to teach me that lesson.

I make sure to stay back.  And three parking lot security officers with radios in hand walk out to the sidewalk.  I see some of the guys still around.  And so as to let them know that I am not trying to cause any problems, I stay back.  I sure didn’t want to be leading the police out there.  But I tell them that I was beaten by that boat over there.  And so they make me walk over there.  Of course, everyone on the bench is watching me.  Every move I make.

So I do the small shrug...the one that says, “I have to go through with this...they are making me, but I am not trying to get anyone in trouble here.”  But in reality, I wanted these guys found.  I wanted a video of the whole thing.  I wanted something, anything.  Just not with me there.  I still had no idea what they were willing to do afterwards.  As in tomorrow.  Or later.  And I was quite concerned about that.

Then the police show up.  And neither of the two officers speak English.  So I am left to use the security guard to try to explain what has happened.  I repeatedly ask for video cameras, but I am told that they have none where we were located.  I ask about the exit ramp of the parking garage, and they say the cameras only point inside, not outside.  I feel helpless again.

And the whole time the guys that the security officers had brought back over are speaking in Spanish, giving their side of the story.  And then they plead with me.  “Amigo, amigo, tell them we did not do anything.”  Then he shows me that the police want to hand-cuff them if I do not speak up.

“No quiero una problema...”  I repeated that phrase cautiously every time I spoke.  I was scared to death that once these officers left, something else would happen.  Though I wanted justice, I needed to protect myself.  So I made sure over and over that they understood I was not out to be a rat...a tattle-tale...or whatever.  I just wanted to be safe.

And then I say that I really don’t know what these guys were doing.  Frankly, the guy was right.  They did do nothing.  And that was the problem, too.  I was left to myself while these guys watched.  But I do vaguely remember one of the two guys coming over when I was being choked.  Whether he saved my life or not, I don’t know.  I can’t say who pulled the guy off, I can’t say who just sat around and watched.  Those things were quite peripheral to me.  They didn’t matter at the time.  All that mattered was not dying.

But once the police officers found out that these two guys were not ones that beat me, they scrambled.  As in I looked at one of the officers, he shrugged his shoulders as if to say that he was helpless to do anything, then looked at this partner, and they hopped in their car and drove off.  I was shocked...and quite furious...and helpless again.

And then one of the guys (who had pleaded with me to claim his innocence) looks at me and says, “No worries,” in his mediocre English.  No worries.  No worries means that you want your hide protected.  Don’t “no worries” me.

But again, I was helpless.

The guy grabs my hand, tries to get me to come with him again.  I refuse.  The security officers say that nothing can really be done...then they start heading back to the parking garage.  And I am left there...still bleeding...still shirtless...still incredibly angry and afraid.

I walk across the street, ask the security guards if there is a bathroom nearby.  They tell me that there is one, but that I will need to put on a camisa.  Right.  In order to clean up, I first have to put on a shirt.  Shut up.  I again ask and this time point exactly to where the choking took place.  It was right behind them at this point, and they again say that the cameras only point inside, not outside.

I had nothing.

I walk back, grab a shirt, then head to get cleaned up.  And one of the guys has the audacity to ask me...”Why did you fight him?”  I was confused out of my mind.  “Why did you fight with that guy?”

I had no idea what he was talking about.  I didn’t know if he was confusing some words in English with what he wanted to say or what, but I felt like I was being accused of starting this whole mess.  “Um, I didn’t fight.  I didn’t want to fight.”

“Do you want to fight him?”

This was unbelievable.  They wanted to stage an actual match-up between us.

“Manana,” he said.  Tomorrow night.

“No thanks.”  I wanted nothing to do with the guy.  Actually, that is a huge lie.  I want to beat him to a bloody pulp, I want to throw him in the water over and over again, I want to gang up on him with my friends and watch him be helpless.  Frankly, in my honesty, I really don’t think I would mind killing him.  I really don’t think I would bat an eye to the whole thing.  I say that with half-reserve, but it’s the feelings I have.  This guy had nearly killed me, and I would have no problems returning the favor.

But I have nothing.  I have no friends.  I have no back-up.  I have no one fighting for me in my corner.  Even in the best case scenario, I could have beaten the guy up, but who knows what his friends would have done to me.  I may be able to hold my own with one guy, but I simply was no match for four or five.  Even in victory, I could have very easily been defeated.

Well, I leave the place where I am staying.  Some of the people were still there, and I didn’t want to be around.  So I walk back across to the parking garage, to the mall, and I head upstairs to the bathroom.  Everything else is closed by now, but the bathrooms are still open.  And there I assess the damages.  Frankly, I was surprised that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  I had a bloody nose and large red bumps around my neck, but that was more or less the extent of the external damages.  Granted, nearly every part of my face hurt on the inside, and I was a bit swollen, but other than that, I could have passed it off.  I cleaned out my nose, touched the areas of my face, and I quickly realized that my cheek was quite swollen and tender.  I guess one of the punches or the kick jammed my cheek against my teeth.  The inside of my mouth was cut up a bit in this area, but I didn’t need any stitches or anything.  All in all, I think I faired pretty well.

I cleaned up, then walked back outside.  And the last place I was going to go was back down by those people on my way to my bed.  Besides, I was still flowing with adrenaline.  I couldn’t sleep if I tried.  So I sat in a chair of a now-closing bar and watched from the terrace.  Several people were still there.  And so I just waited.  A rather attractive waitress came over to me, said something beautiful in Spanish, then went back to working.

But I just sat there.  For an hour.  An hour and a half.  Two?  I don’t know.  And just waited for the people to leave.  A couple of times I thought they had spotted me, and I was scared that they would see me.  But I tried to remain hidden behind a palm tree.  The waitress came back by, said something else, and then rubbed her hand through my face and hair.  What in the world was happening?!  I didn’t have time for this.  But she left and never came back.

I saw the policia go by a couple of times.  First with a car, then with two motorcycles.  They had obviously been told to heavily patrol the area, as I have been here for over a week, and I rarely see any officers go by.  I can’t even remember of one time, come to think of it.  I was still a bit nervous, though, about what the people would think.  The policia were coming by frequently enough to make their presence known.  And for what it mattered, I was the reason for it.  Not necessarily a great thing.

Finally, the group disbanded, but I waited some more.  I was now the only person outside...having outlasted the vibrant nightlife of the town.  It must have been around three o’clock in the morning by now.  After waiting another 10-15 minutes, I slowly and cautiously make my way back to where I was staying.  I wanted no one to see me, and I wanted to make it quick.  I finally made it back.

The guy who I am staying with was surprisingly awake....but you could tell he had just awoken.  “Hey.”  “Hey.”  And with that, I tucked myself away in the kitchen.  He probably thought I had come back from a night of drinking or partying.  Who knows.  I make my way to my room, and I have to pass by the room where Grman is sleeping.  He says something, but I was so outrageously angry with him for not doing anything, that I just keep on walking.  And don’t say a thing.

Then I head back to the kitchen.  I needed to put some ice on my face...on my cheek.  So I sit there for about 15-20 minutes.  And then I figure it was time to head for bed, though I knew I couldn’t sleep.  In another few hours, the sun would be up anyway.  I get up, put the ice pack back in the freezer, then make my way towards the door.  And I heard someone outside the kitchen. one should be up.  I am now right at the door, and I can hear slow footsteps.

Someone is here.  Someone is out to get me.  And frankly, it has happened before.  The owner says that people have come into his property before.  I stop.  I make absolutely no movements, as I try to figure out who is outside the door.  I catch a shadow movement through the crack, and I wait to see if it is really a shadow or not.  It is.  Someone is outside the door.

I am inches from the door.  Not moving.  I look to my right.  There are the butcher knives.  And I just wait...hoping that the body would leave or at least move.  And then...

The door swings wide open in an instant.  I hadn’t touched it, though.  And there in the moonlight, I see a man with a club cocked back ready to hit me.  What the hell?!  In the quickest of reactions, he realizes it is me, or I realize that it is him, or something.  But I am not hit.  Grman is there holding the club.  He, too, thought that one of the guys had broken in.

And then I just lose it.  “WHAT THE HELL?!  WHAT THE ******* HELL?!”  All of my rage, anger, fear, and confusion just comes billowing out.  I am angry at everything.  I am angry at having almost been killed, at drugs, at alcohol, at being helpless, at having no one on my side, of having been beaten, of the fear I had, at Grman for doing nothing, of the police not doing anything, of the video cameras not being there, of the people just watching, and of being totally, completely, and utterly helpless.  I head the opposite way as Grman and head for my bed.  What in the world is going on?

I lay there...far from sleep.  My blood is still cooking.  The adrenaline is starting to wear off, and I am feeling pain in virtually every part of my body now.  It started to fade when I was over on the terrace, and I only then realized that I had a scraped knee and a bloody right ankle.  This must have been from when I tried to throw him off my back by lunging to the ground.  Or maybe as I tried to wrestle him off when I was on the pavement.   Who knows.  My neck was obviously painful, and swallowing had a bit of pain to it.  I wasn’t spitting out blood anymore, but I had some gritty stuff in my mouth every once in a while.  Rocks, maybe?  Part of a tooth?

But I couldn’t sleep.  And then I heard someone above me.  Someone else was up.  I heard movements all around, I was panicking.  I literally lay there thinking that I was going to be shot.  I could only think that someone had come back, and they were looking for me.

I was now laying in bed, in total darkness, and I was trying to figure out where to go.  I couldn’t leave, because the hallway would put me right by anyone who would be there.  I had no windows in my room.  So I thought about hiding under the bed, but there was a bunch of metal there.  I thought about hiding out in the bathroom, but I was so afraid to move.  Any sound would let them know where I was.  And so I just lay silent, unmoving, and deeply afraid on my bed.  I wanted to just close my eyes, fall asleep, and never see what killed me.  I visualized the gunshot in the darkness, and my mind was just a mess.  Just fall asleep.  Just fall asleep.  Just get it over with.  Be done with it all.

It was close to 5:00 A.M. by now.

Nothing ever happened.  It is now morning, and I still don’t know who was on the property.  I am laying in bed now, not wanting to even see the light of day.  I have work to do, but I just can’t describe the feelings I have.

The part that gets me the most is just the total helplessness of it all.  I couldn’t wrestle the guy off of my back, and no one was there to do anything.  I had no friends stepping up.  I had no one on my side.  It was helplessness in its most extreme form.  I was literally going to be choked to death without some outside intervention.  But I myself was powerless.

It is only comparable to being attacked by a shark...or a bear...or being trapped underneath rubble from a tornado or a bomb.  I would assume people in these circumstances would feel the same way anyway.  You can only hope that the bear leaves...or the shark swims away.  Or that someone is outside with cranes and flashlights looking for you.  But as it is, there is absolutely nothing that you yourself can do.  It is quite possibly the worst feeling in the world.  I had always said up until this point that loneliness is the worst feeling in the world.  But coupled with helplessness, there is no greater hell on earth.

And the thought of me dying just messes with a guy’s mind.  I don’t know if I would have passed out and come back...or if I would have literally been killed.  But I was perhaps within seconds of joining those who have gone before me in similar circumstances.  The countless individuals who experienced the exact same feelings...but were never helped.  The ones that weren’t found.  Or were eaten.  Or left for dead.  We would be bonded only in our feelings, but each with drastically different stories.

Had it not been for someone intervening, and I don’t know who, I would most likely be dead right now.  And that just messes me up.  I will never forget that horrible thought I had as I fought with my last strength...”I am going to die.”  I have never been even remotely close to that place before, and I wish it upon no one.  It is a hellish statement and an even worse feeling.  And I will probably think about that feeling and this night often, though I just wish to put it all behind me.  It only messes me up when I think about it.

My body aches in more ways than I ever thought possible.  My neck still hurts.  It hurts to swallow, and I’ll soon find out how difficult it is to eat.  I can’t smile fully because of my cheek.  And I am sore all over...shoulders, legs, head, you name it.  The adrenaline is long gone, and I am now at the mercy of a body trying to recover from a beating.

I don’t know where I go from here.  I am almost numb to the whole thing.  But I will in no way be present out upon the sidewalk tonight.  I still fear for what will happen.  A few days ago I was saying that this is my favorite place so far.  And it has been.  But now I am more than ready to move on.

2007-11-03 17:56:04 GMT

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Entry for November 1, 2007


Hola, mis amigos!

Sorry I haven´t been writing much, but I am in little bit different set of circumstances right now!  I work some difficult and oftentimes monotonous work during the day, then I hit the beach, town, or mall at night.

Yeah, I said mall.  I visit every day.  They have a mucho sweet mall here.  It´s the hang-out of the city!  It overlooks the ocean, it has nice restaurants and bars...and a great deal of stores, too.  I have traded in my non-mallesqueness for a frequent shopper.  I love it.  Aye.  Save me now!  Just how crazy is it?  You have to wait in long lines to see movies...on the weekends, McDonald´s has a 20-25 minute wait...Burger King is only slightly better.  But they have futbol shirts, french fries, Chinese buffets, muchas senoritas, and hot fudge sundaes...and it´s about 100 feet from where I´m living.  So needless to say, it speaks my language.  Tee har!

Anyway, in other news, I´m not able to post as much, as I don´t have frequent use of the internet like I used to.  I have to pay for 30 or 60 minute increments...and even that is not every day.  But now that I am finally caught up on most e-mails, I have time to write again!

But I thought I would share a rather amusing story with you.  Well, I guess it´s not so much of a just a perspective into a different culture.  And frankly, I find it very interesting and funny.

So remember when I posted that blog about alcohol and drinking and whatnot?  And how to this day it has caused the most number of comments, disagreements, and discussion?  Right....(if you haven´t read it, I would encourage you to filter through the old blogs and check her´s somewhere back there!).

Well, let me just give you a taste of what I have over here...

¨Hola, bienvenidos a Burger King.  Que quisieras?¨  (Hello, welcome to Burger King, what would you like?)

Üm...un hamburguesa, y papitas pequenas, y una cerveza, por favor.¨ (Um...a hamburger, small fries, and a beer, please.¨)

Yup, you read that right.

haha...when I first experienced it, I knew I just had to write!  The King serves cerveza over here!  I am highly amused by that.  To a Mid-Westerner, it may be an insult.  But to a Spaniard, it´s just a way of life.

After all, when you have it your way, it just tastes better.

2007-11-01 17:50:41 GMT

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Entry for October 27, 2007

You wouldn´t believe me if I told you.

Wow.  So, um, it has been a CRAZY few days.  I mean, ridiculous.  I am out currently in Spain...sort of...more on that later.

Some exciting tidbits from the past few days?

Let´s just say that the seats in the backs of police cars in Spain are made out of very hard and uncomfortable plastic...just like in America!

Let´s just say that I had a few hours of sleep in two nights.  Some of that being in some chilly weather.

Let´s just say that I want to marry a Spanish-speaking, black-haired chica.  Ooh la la.

Let´s just say that I am fulfilling one of my dreams.  And I am loving every bit of it.  Probably the most enjoyable part of the trip so far.

And let´s just say that my plan BOMBED.  Big-time.  It was a heavy gamble, and it DID NOT work!ç

So what do I always say when life hands you a lemon (I have never said this before)???  Make some lemonade and drink it as you think about Plan F.

I am very, very far away from home.  And not sure how I´m getting to the wedding.  But once I do arrive, however I do arrive, I will entertain anyone who sits with me.  It has been a crazy few days.

Pero estoy hablando espanol casa dia, y me gusta mucho!

En Espana, nadie habla ingles!  Y me gusto mucho!  Voy a practicar mi espanol!

Y ayer, yo canto a una chica...Bajo el Mar y Kiss the Girl!  Y I kissed her tres times!

Muy bien.

Mucho amor a mis amigos y familia en los estados unidos!


Unas dias locas.

aye, aye, aye.

2007-10-27 19:01:27 GMT

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Entry for October 21, 2007


More pics added today!

I'm leavin' for Spain in a day and a half!

2007-10-22 00:09:55 GMT

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Entry for October 18, 2007


[These are my thoughts from October 18, 2007.  I had a headache, and I couldn’t seem to get rid of it, so I headed for bed early...around 8:30 P.M.  But I was restless.  My mind started thinking, as it often does, and out of the blue, the thought of Andy Pippin came into my mind.  If you don’t know who he is, you will later on...but from there, I just started thinking.  And I figured I would share what happened over the next thirty or so minutes.  My train of thought was pretty focused, but it did wander off-track a bit.  Such is the realm of thinking.  It’s a pretty important subject, and if something triggers a thought for you, please let me know.  I very much love the feedback and conversations that happen as a result of these blogs.]

It’s Thursday night.  It’s been a long day.  I left with Bernd to head down south to a town on the coast.  We were taking Maya and Freddy to the vet.  We left around 9:45 A.M. and didn’t get home until 5:30 P.M.  We did some shopping, some sight-seeing, and just had a normal day of enjoying a town.  But I was tired.  And after returning home, I ended up with a headache.  I fixed some food (one egg on white rice), but that didn’t seem to help.  I had already had three bowls of cereal because I didn’t eat anything too fulfilling or fulfilling the entire day (one small pack of yogurt, some bread and jelly, part of a German pastry, a pasty filled with chocolate, and then the cereal and egg/rice mixture).  So I decided to lay down for a bit.  I wasn’t the type of tired where I was going to fall asleep.  I knew that.  But I wasn’t up for doing anything else but laying down.

And almost instantly, Andy pops into my head.  I first met Andy at a football game in New Berlin, Illinois.  He had a swagger about him, and from the first moment I was introduced to him, we hit it off.  From that day on, we would always joke with each other and enjoy each other’s company.  “What’s up, Andy?!”  “What’s up, Andy?!”  We were two laid-back personalities, and he was quite fun to be around.

I never really hung out with him outside of sporting events.  He was about five years younger than me, and he was still in high school, so we weren’t necessarily close friends.  But I appreciated him.  But I haven’t talked to him in ages.  I haven’t been able to.

And so I was quite surprised that his face pops into my head in October 2007.  I am four thousand miles away from New Berlin, I haven’t seen him in the longest time, and I have had no interaction or connection with him.  But there he was, as clear as day.

This friend Andy is dead.  He died several months ago.  Maybe even a year or two.  I’m not sure.  Everything seems to run together anymore.  And to think I am only 25 years old, and things are already started to get blurry.

So imagine my surprise when I think of him.  I remembered his sideways head when he talked or saw me.  I remembered his picture at his funeral.  I remember his dad saluting him in his casket (which instantly made me cry)...a memory I will never forget.  And I remember the funeral itself.  Rainy.

He was 19 years old when he died.

I met a couple more Germans tonight.  Three more came here last night, and I played some darts with them in the beer hut.  And I just met two others tonight.  They are all in town for a funeral.  One of the guys that I met last week at a party died.  I guess he was riding his bicycle but didn’t come home.  His girlfriend went out to look for him and found him 70 meters from home.  By his bike.  Dead.

And so the people are coming into Portugal from Germany for the funeral.

And as happens when you lay down, my mind started thinking about death.  And from Andy I went to Tom.  Another memory I will never forget.  One of my close friends from high school.  One of the guys I knew from elementary school.  One of my teammates on my basketball team.  One of the few guys I kept in contact with after high school.

To the day I myself die, I will never forget Tom’s funeral.  Because I was asked to do it.  How does a 22-year-old do a funeral for his 23-year-old friend?  I grew up quite a bit that day, that week.

And then I started thinking about others.  I remember my first real experience with death...the one that hit too close to home.  But first, I remember my first memory of death.  Of going to a funeral.  I went to my great-grandmother’s funeral.  To be honest, my only real memories of her are her sitting in a wheelchair in my grandma and grandpa’s house.  And so I was quite confused and a bit curious as to why my cousins were crying at her funeral.  To me, it was just another family gathering to attend.  I didn’t understand death, I didn’t know death, and the whole experience was quite funny (not as in comical, but as in curiously funny).  I just didn’t get why my cousins were crying.  I had no tears, and I wasn’t about to get any.

But my first real experience came in high school.  I was 16 years old, and I received word that a classmate named Mike had died in a car accident.  I can vividly remember going to my history class.  I sat directly in front of Mike.  I vaguely remember our teacher talking about not focusing on it (how do you not focus on something like that?), but all I could think about was the empty desk behind me.  And how it was going to be empty for the rest of the semester.  It just didn’t add up.  Mike was 16 or 17 years old.

16 years old.  19 years old.  23 years old.  I myself am now 25 years old.  I have outlived Mike by 9 years, Andy by 6 years, and Tom by 2 years.  I have gone to college, traveled the United States, and now started traveling Europe.  I have visited Buffalo Wild Wings, I have been to Chicago Cubs games, I have made memories that they simply cannot.

Because they are dead.

It’s quite a provocative thought.  And so I laid there in bed, just thinking about death.  Our American society has numerous quotes about it, the two most popular being... “Death comes to us all,” “There are only two things in life we can be certain about:  death and taxes.”  Of course, numerous poets and authors add their takes on death, and men and women for countless ages have had something to say about it.  I myself quote the line from Braveheart all of the time...(in my best Scottish accent)...”Every man dies.  Not every man truly lives.”

And so death itself is not something unspoken of.  Yet at the same time, it is very much unspoken.  I think about my lessons of death, and frankly, they are many.  I think we all “come into our own” in this area, and as such, we all have different viewpoints, emotions, and experiences with it.

But I consider myself to be no virgin when it comes to death.  I already mentioned Andy, Tom, and Mike.  And others that have affected me....June.  She was a sweet old lady from church.  She always hugged me, and I fondly remember her inviting me over for a beautiful spaghetti dinner.  She really didn’t have much to call home, but she had a love for me that I still enjoy thinking about.  She died.

Barb.  She was a huge help for me.  She was another lady in our church, and she often took charge of a very big week for children that we had every summer.  I visited her and her husband at their home, and we talked weekly.  She died rather suddenly.  To this day, I remember an interview that she did on stage about her approaching death.  She knew it was coming, and though she wasn’t thrilled about it, she welcomed it.  She wasn’t afraid.  But my helper was gone.

Dale.  He was constantly looking to get someone.  He was a jokester even in his 50’s, and I can only imagine what he was like growing up.  He was a guy from church, and I was on a special leadership team with him.  He cracked jokes, he had an unforgettable laugh, and he had the biggest hands when you shook them.  He died rather quickly.

Grandpa.  I was driving through Springfield when I got a call from my brother.  He was hysterical.  Gradually, I was able to decipher that my grandpa had died.  I instantly pulled my truck over to the side of the road and just started sobbing.  This was my first real close family experience.  I wasn’t as close to this grandpa as I was to my other one, and it is only within the past couple of months that I deeply regret that.  I would very much like to sit and talk with him as a friend, not just a grandpa.  But he is dead, too.

I have been to other funerals, and I am quickly learning that death is a part of life.  Maybe that is my quote to add to the list.  Other lessons of death that I have had growing up...

Every year around Memorial Day, our church would take a moment of silence, and many of the men in the church would just speak out a name.  A name of someone they knew that was killed in combat.  Maybe World War II, Vietnam, the Korean...and my dad would always say Eddie Naffsinger.  As I grew older, I would wait in eager anticipation for my dad to speak.  I always knew who he was going to say each year.  And somehow, though it was a bit unrealistic to me, I knew that my dad knew someone that died.  How close?  I never asked.

I visited the Vietnam War Memorial when I was in 8th grade.  Thousands upon thousands of names on a big, long wall.  Maybe too many names.  That many people dying in a war doesn’t make sense to me.  But I remember the wall.  I was probably 13 years old.  I also visited Arlington National Cemetery.  Thousands upon thousands of crosses in the ground.  Each representing a soldier.  Again, the thought is still poignant, but the immensity is almost overwhelming.  It’s only comparable to looking at the stars.  There are just too many.  It puts you in your place.

Again, in 8th grade, I had an assignment in my science class.  Every day, I was to look at the funeral notices in the paper and mark down their ages.  Looking back, I wonder if this wasn’t a life lesson more than a science lesson, but I can remember that assignment.  I didn’t do the assignment too well, though, because I was never consistent enough to read the paper every day.  I was always having to look for it or make something up for the ones that I couldn’t find (before internet).  But what I do remember is the variety of ages.  The 60’s and 70’s and 80’s were by far the most consistent with deaths, but every once in a while, over the course of the month, an infant would appear.  Or a teenager.  Or a young adult.

In high school, I remember being driven out to a cemetery in the middle of the country.  I was with a youth group, and we were told to look at tombstones.  Again, much like the 8th grade assignment, so many of the tombstones were of older people.  But in a cemetery, we would also find infants and young ones, as well.

Death knows no age.

And so here I am in Portugal, lying in my bed, thinking about this whole idea.  And then it hit me.  I am not afraid.  I was talking with Bernd yesterday, and he told me about the death of the German guy.  And he made a couple of comments that have really stuck with me...

“This is just crazy, you know.  He’s perfectly healthy, he has had no problems, and he just went out for a bikeride.”

“This would be terrible, you know, to build up all of this money and then die.  I would hate that.  This would just be too much for me.”

And I just stood there silent.  I watched a man go through what every man goes through.  We start to think about death so much more when it hits closer to home.  It’s like the girl I was talking to in Serbia.  I honestly had no idea that a war was taking place there, but she wouldn’t even let me stay on her couch with couch-surfing because I was an American.  The war mattered to her because she literally had bombs in her backyard.  To me, I thought nothing of it.  But if I had a bomb in my backyard, I would indeed think much about it.

And this week a bomb went off for several Germans.

And my guess is that Bernd has been here before.  To have lived for any amount of time over 20-25 years is to at least have some lessons or experiences with death.  What his are, I cannot say.  But he has had to think about it more this week.

But I thought about it again.  I really am not scared of it.  And it’s something that I had to wrestle with in Scotland.  I was talking to a guy there, and we were talking about religion.  He doesn’t believe in God, and he couldn’t understand how I could.  And so we talked, and I asked him what he thought about death.  And he honestly and openly said that is the biggest concern for him.  In effect, it scared him ****less.  His “religion” (or lack thereof) didn’t really provide a comforting reality of death.  But to his credit, he blatantly told me that he just thinks we die.  We are no more.  We go back to dust.

I wrote a blog about that conversation, and I had to address why I believed in God.  Why I believed in life after death.  I wanted to believe because it is real, not because it makes me feel better.

But I do believe in it, and I am more than talkative when people ask me why.  I just think that there are so many reasons to believe in it.  But that is exactly why I am not scared.  And I don’t know if Bernd is scared.  I don’t think that is the right word (and I’m sure he will read this, so I’ll find out anyway!).  Concerned?  Curious?  Maybe those are more fitting.

I think about some verses from the Bible I know.  “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  Paul actually had a desire to die.  For to him, he would be in the presence of God in heaven.  He had a hope.  He actually considered it a “profit” or “gain” to die.

I think about the story Jesus told about the guy who had so much money that he tore down his old storehouses to build new ones.  And how Jesus called him a fool because he was going to die that very night.  And I think about Bernd’s comment about acquiring money but not getting to use it because you die.

And I think about Bernd and me talking about people we know that came to retirement but died soon afterwards.  I think about my dad’s boss who reached retirement but then passed away within a year.  That was actually one of the stories that further made me passionate about traveling at this age.  I am simply not guaranteed tomorrow.

And I think about the comment from James that say that.  Don’t say tomorrow you will go here or go there, do this or do that.  Rather, say, if it is the Lord’s will, then I will do this.  And I find myself saying, “If it is the Lord’s will,” or “If I don’t die before tomorrow,” because of this verse.

I remember taking my youth group out to a cemetery and telling them they ever since we were born, we have all been dying.  I remember having them search for tombstones of the oldest person.  And the youngest person.

I remember visiting Westminster Abbey in London.  I remember seeing the tombstones of people like Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, and several kings and queens.  People with riches beyond compare and minds that stood apart from the rest.  And they are all dead.

I remember visiting a graveyard in Ireland.  I remember the tombstones from the 16th century.  I remember the church from the 10th century.  I remember the tombstones of brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers.  Men and women with lives, kids, jobs, and influence.  Men and women with stories of success and failure, delight and pain.  And I remember some of these tombstones so faded that no one would ever know these people again.  They have been dead for 800 years.

And so I just thought about death.  Frankly, it’s perhaps the most important part of life to dwell upon.  To avoid it is to be foolish.  Ignorant.  To focus upon it is to be dangerous.  Silly.  But to neglect it is to die already.

For we are all dying.  It only makes me ask...what legacy am I leaving behind?  And it’s sometimes fun to think about, too.  Will I have a place in Westminster Abbey?  Or will I have a tombstone like Abraham Lincoln?  Or will I just join the thousands....the millions...the billions of others quietly laying in cemeteries around the world.  Will I be remembered after my friends, kids, and grandchildren pass away?  (Can you name your great-grandparents?  Your great-great-grandparents?  Your great-great-great grandparents?).  Or will I have a tombstone that is faded by time?  Will I be a distant and forever forgotten memory upon this earth?

To me, these thoughts are absolutely delightful.  As I mentioned before, I am not afraid of death, and it is strictly to the fact that I believe in a certain life after death.  One that I don’t have to be afraid of.

But I just wonder what others think.  I am always delighted to hear their thoughts, their comments, their questions, their boldness, and sometimes their hesitancy.  I would be a fool to say that I understand everything.  But I would also be a fool to say that every man does not land somewhere (whether spoken or unspoken) in his view of death, me included.

And we can avoid it and be fools in every sense of the word.  Or we can address it now while we can and seek to be prepared (if necessary) for it.  The options are many.  Back to dirt.  Life after death.  Reincarnated.  Just gone completely, totally, forever.  Nirvana.

Which do you choose?  It’s not only a necessity in life to hold a view of death, but I wholeheartedly believe that death actually determines life.  Your death determines how you live.  Back to dirt?  Eat, drink, and be merry!  But you can’t cry when a close friend’s just part of the circle of life.

Reincarnated?  You’ll eventually reach Nirvana.  So you can be a horse in the next life.  Or a king.  Work up or work down.  But no worries.  Outside of temporary pain, Nirvana is always available eventually.

Life after death?  Responsible for my actions?  A God that actually made me and cares about me?  Eternity with Him?!  Sounds almost too good to be true.  But it’s where I land.  I believe in God, in Jesus, in life after death.  Sure, it gives me hope, but that is not why I choose it.  I choose it because I have to do something with this historical Jesus guy.  And after study, He is very hard to get around.

But I am always fascinated and eager to hear others.  I have swayed in my own thoughts, and I have been greatly challenged sometimes even in my own beliefs.  But like I said, we all have a view of death.  And it determines how we live.  So what do you think of death?  And if you don’t think about it, why not?  Take some time to seriously answer that question.  I think it’s important to know why you think or don’t think about it.

I’ll end with a humorous story.  I was visiting my grandma and grandpa at their farm one Wednesday with one of my friends from college.  Grandpa was just a’jabberin’ away (he always does when someone new comes around!), and then he said something that Don and I couldn’t believe.

“Yeah, your grandma and I were going to play cards with Ernie and his wife last week, but,” and he said kind of disappointedly in Ernie, “he just up and died on us!”  And with that, he grabbed a piece of meat and started chewing!  Grandpa had lost a fellow card player, and it was cramping his style!

Don’s and I’s mouths dropped.  We couldn’t believe it!  Grandpa just said it so matter-of-factly...just like the telling of the weather or what he did yesterday afternoon. And Don and I tried to hold our laughter in, but we went to the breaking point.  We lost it.

But I have learned much from my grandpa.  One of these facts being that death is indeed a reality for us all.  I can remember other conversations with him about how he has outlived classmates, teachers, and even students.  How his friends are passing away all around him.  He himself is 83 years old, and he knows his time is coming.

He and grandma have already bought a tombstone with their names on it.  And it comes complete with a John Deere tractor on it.  It’s even holding a reserved spot for two in the cemetery.  I know.  I’ve seen it.  It has their birth years and a dash.  It’s just waiting for the year to put behind the dash.

If that isn’t a dose of reality, I don’t know what else is.

Andy.  Tom.  Mike.  June.  Barb.  Dale.  Earl.   [insert your name here]

2007-10-18 22:00:04 GMT