Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A jumble of thoughts

Some shots Lenny took on 12/24 - sadly I have had the flu but got to see some of the activities through Len's photography. Above Neuvo Catedral(above) and Parque Calderon are always a center of buzzing activity when there is a festival.
People began gathering early for a festive day. There were horse rides, llama rides, and many other things to do.
Angels walked among the crowd and princesses and pirates were plentiful.

It is the end of the year and I'm pondering a few things: 
I spent 26 years as a mental health counselor in Portland, Or.  I worked with a lot of different types of people as they addressed their life stages: teens, older adults, twenty-somethings, 40's life assessment,health issues, career changes, relationship difficulties, etc.  I loved offering therapy and always felt honored that people trusted me and allowed me to sit with them while they sorted out whatever was going on.  I was also active in the community, belonged to a church, met with other therapists,volunteered at school functions. 

My point is that I was "out there" interacting with the world. Observing people was part of my living but I've always been curious about people, what choices people make, how do people trust, when do people feel fear, what makes a person fall in love.

As an adult, I lived a couple of years in the state of Washington, a few years in Berkeley, CA.  Also a few in Washington D.C. But the majority of my adult years were spent in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon. Everywhere I go, I talk with people whether it is in line at Costco or across the therapy office. People are interesting and enjoy talking about themselves.  For me, it makes life more interesting.  A harsh punishment for me would be to put me in a room where I could not talk to anyone and I could not read anything.  Ahhhhhhhh, it makes me sweat to even think about that. 

Making and keeping friendships: I have some great friends in the US so this is not in any way dismissing them. You are wonderful and I miss you. Skype talks really help me feel connected to several friends and family members. My grandchildren talk via Skype, showing me a soccer trophy, a new art project, the latest sign language the youngest has learned. Technology is a terrific help to ex-pats who move away from their home country. Other friends write email which is wonderful to receive. Sadly, some people do let a friendship go, do not put any effort into connecting once you are out of sight.  But this is to be expected - it is part of life. Different people have different strengths and challenges.

Point 1:  Friendship and familial love - each is an interesting and beautiful thing.  A person can make a new friend in a new country without diminishing the love for the friend back at "home". Think of how a candle works.  You can light one and then start other candles all from that one light without diminishing the first candle's power. Friendship is like that. 

And love for one's family with all of their flaws and delights does not disappear just because a family member is living far away. Some people will deal by not making an effort to connect because of their own issues.  With email and visual phone calls like Skype, the distance seems less important. Many family members come through in new ways, forming new pathways in the relationship. Some people even report growing closer to a grown child or a parent after moving because the relationship now has importance placed on connecting as adult to adult. 

Point 2: What am I experiencing in Ecuador? The people here are exceptionally friendly. Many Cuencanos I've met tend to be open about emotions, generous-hearted, thoughtful, trusting and curious about people moving to Ecuador from other countries. They are feircly proud of their country. They love it if newcomers try to speak Espanol. Many of them open their home to foreign guests from time to time. It is a pleasant shock to be "adopted" by a loving Ecuadorian family. In my experience, people in the US, while they often are kind, would not be that open, generous and helpful so quickly with a stranger. Remember, I am just describing my experiences and response, not yours.

Point 3:  What feeling was I aware of in the US that does not seem prominent in Ecuador?  A pervasive fear. Today, many people in the US seem choked by fear. They are afraid of strangers. They are afraid of finances. They are afraid they'll lose their job or that they will not get a needed promotion.  They fear if they invite a stranger for dinner, their home will be cased for burglary or something bad will happen.  As I've said before, crime happens everywhere.  But what I'm noticing is that this city, Cuenca, does not operate on fear. The media and citizens do not have a constant focus on disasters. Television does not show over and over all day long people being afraid.  For some years now, citizens of the US have been bombarded several times per day about terror alerts or the latest tragedy.  Monitoring a "threat level" eveny day takes a toll on one's existence. It causes a person to run on stress which is not healthy for anyone. It seems that level of fear does not permeate the air of Cuenca.

A comfortable day to wander and watch people, Christmas 12/24/2011

Of course there is still crime.  Some crimes we have heard of here are frightening.  Taking specific precautions and being "street smart" will usually be enough to keep one safe here. Crime can occur anywhere. If you don't experience any crime, that is great.  But do you want fear to run your life and limit your choices?  It is a tough spot to be in.

Another thing many people are frightened about in the US is their health.  The cost of medical care in the US is prohibitive even if one has medical insurance.  Many people live constant fear of having a serious medical event.  They put off dental care or skip routine annual check ups because they cannot afford the costs, even if it is "just a co-pay".  If a child is inured playing sports or a fender bender means mom needs physical therapy - these events could add up to hundreds and hundreds of dollars.  Many people in the US are uninsured.  And those with insurance often have impossibly high deductible.  If the insured has to pay the first $1500 before his insurance company pays a cent, that amount can present an impossible barrier to normal health care needs.  For the uninsured,a medical event could ruin them financially, aousing them to have insurmountable debt that ruins their credit ratings and impacts the rest of their lives.  These things are overwhelming for many regular Americans. Some fear is warranted.
I am not sure when this shift took place in the United States - unemployment has been rising for some time, medical costs have been spiraling out of control for years. But it seems like it was during the Bush administration that fear became a commodity. After 9/11, the country was flooded by a smog of fear. Government spokespeople and the media began trading in fear. Suddenly reporters loved to tell the daily terrorist threat level and privacy disappeared.  Any citizen questioning if all the disclosure and homeland hyper-protection was wise  was suspected of being a threat.... but I don't want to get into politics. 

Where I'm heading with this is to encourage you to look at the role fear plays in your life, wherever you live.  Has that changed for you in the past dozen years? Is there a way to reduce that level of fear so that you can experience more joy on a daily basis while still being reasonable about safety issues?

A beautiful 12/24/2011 with weather to match. The pace of activities picked up with 8000 school children marching through the streets for a parade in their school uniforms. There is often great pride in neighborhoods. 

Are there one or two tiny changes you could make to make your daily life more fun? Can you experience the moment rather than living for the future?  It is a difficult thing for me to do but when I notice little things that give me pleasure, they are often simple free things.  For me, noticing the light at different times of day, hearing a birdsong and looking for its owner, re-potting a plant with my hands in the earth, listening to a brilliant piece of music are small free things that bring moments of joy. 

Take the next day or two to quietly notice what things bring you peace, pleasure, tranquility.  What eases your heart.  This is what I recommend rather than New Year's Resolutions.  Experience the journey in the daily moments for that is what makes up one's life.

                                                  Tranquilo is a state of existence


  1. Sharon --

    What a beautiful blog post! And your point about fear being pervasive in the U.S. is spot on. It is the first time in my life that I feel that it is a palpable force surrounding me -- and we live these days in San Francisco, one of the less fearful locations (mostly due to a single-payer citywide health plan).

    We are so lucky that we, like you and Len, have the mindset and ability to reinvent our lives in another country. We love San Francisco and we loved our life in Portland, and will miss our friends, but...

    We are excited about being in Cuenca in April to begin our new chapter. K. W. and I are looking forward to meeting Len and you then.

    Have a wonderful trip back to the States.


  2. Truly appreciated your post. That is also one thing I appreciate about Cuenca--absence of fear. And hey, I'm moving there alone! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. LT Murphy

  3. This posting about fear really hit the nail on the head for me. We have been here over 3 months now and the stress level is way down for me. I couldn't really put my finger on why until I read this blog posting. It's true that one has to be more careful of theft here, but the fear in the USA is of a different and more dangerous type. Fear of speaking one's mind almost anywhere, if you live in an area where you are in the minority politically, fear of being attached by foreigners who have a grudge against your country, fear of slipping further down the economic scale as the middle class grows smaller, and just fear of being different in any way. I really mourn for what is occurring in our country of birth and the growing spirit of hatred and intolerance.

    We have really enjoyed our time in Ecuador and the return to a kinder environment, but we will have to return to the USA the end of Feb. due to committments. I know it won't be easy - especially in an election year! Hopefully, we'll return, but haven't made the final decision yet. But I had to tell you how much I have enjoyed your blogs!