On my last night in Europe, I look out from the roof terrace of the Barrio Alto Hotel in Lisboa, Portugal. In front of me are buildings more than a hundred years old sloping down to meet the coast of what was once the most important port in the world. The yellow glow of the lamps, which still hold their gas predecessor’s form, bounces across stone walls and floors of the narrow alleys. Sometimes shadows break the light, a man old enough to be hunched but strong enough to hike, the conjoined shadows of lovers returning from a date, or those of a family, walking side by side, that remind you of the paper-cut figures from preschool linked at the hands and feet. I wonder why they’re all still out. It’s late.
I look back at the sea, and I remember a conversation I had earlier with a man, full of experience and at least thrice my age, as we walked along the bay, he with his tie loose and his coat flung across his back, and I still in business mode. He said, “Many times, I have come to the sea to get my life back together.” I told him that was one of God’s gifts. He nodded towards a lady who smiled while passing us, “THAT is God’s gift! And you seem to be a gifted man. Stay away from them. They’re trouble.” I answered with a smirk. He then started to talk about his third wife, “We were beautiful once. We are no longer. I look at her in the morning, and I say, ‘Who is this fat cow with skin like marble???’ But I love her. I loved her then and I still do. Because she is the only woman I know who wakes up laughing. Can you imagine? A laughing cow with melting skin??? She is lucky to have a man like me! She seduced me, that temptress, she did!” I asked him how a cow sedduced him. He gave me a look that said, “Don’t be a wiseguy.” I decided to change the subject and asked if he regretted his other wives, he said, “I’ve had expensive losses, but I’ve also had expensive profits. I have no regrets.” Looking back it wasn’t the best subject to change to. Unlike him, I can’t say the same. I do have regrets.
The cold wind brings me back to the terrace, and somewhere I can hear singing, like the lady at the restaurant earlier that sang the saddest sounding amore’ I have ever heard in my life. That was the only word I understood, and that was enough. In a way, that describes very well what this trip has been for me. Come to think of it, it describes life very well. Despite not understanding, or misunderstanding, the little we do know is many times all we need.
In places where everything is foreign to you, and you’re foreign to everything, you learn to feel with your heart and you learn to comprehend with your soul. You find that the world is no longer just brown, black, or white, but also reds, and pinks, and ochre, with cerulean, and light. And in the complexities of what’s happening in today’s world, it’s nice to be able to step back and be reminded that somewhere the accordion still rocks, and the sea still speaks, that sons still dance with their gypsy mothers, and that people say I love you in a million different ways.
There was a rally yesterday. It clogged the streets, made a lot of noise, and hopefully it got the message across. I think it’s a good thing that people rally. It’s important that people exercise their rights.
I just don’t think it’s enough.
Let’s say we get what we want, Arroyo leaves, and someone else takes over. What can we expect? Well, to be frank, a new set of crooks. (Not exactly, since many of them are old crooks back in this game of political musical chairs.)
A lot of the conversations now seem to lead to people bickering and complaining at how bad the government is, how bad things are, and how everything that’s happening is someone’s fault – someone else’s fault. Yes, it’s true that many of our problems are inherited, but that doesn’t change the fact that these problems are for the living to solve, and the fruits of overcoming, for the living to enjoy.
A lot of my present businesses were failing companies we took over with the hope of turning things around. These companies came with baggage that made things more difficult, but it also came with assets, if used properly, should allow our success. Now if one of them failed, I can’t say, “It’s not my fault. I didn’t create the problems.” IT IS MY FAULT. It’s my fault because, whether or not the problems originated from me, the company is my responsibility. It doesn’t matter if it was someone else’s mess. It’s my mess now. I believe it’s the same thing with the other areas of our life. We can blame our limitations and failures on others or we can take responsibility. Taking responsibility is the first step to solving the problems.
By taking responsibility, I mean putting ourselves in a state that’s accountable for things that are going on. Obviously not everyone is in a position to be accountable for national decisions, that’s exactly why there’s a government. But we can, and should be accountable for our lives. In our own small way, do we make our families, communities, and nation better because of our existence? This is a question I pose to myself regularly, “Does my existence make things better? Does it make other people better? Do I litter? (No) Do I follow traffic rules? (Sometimes) Do I talk on my mobilephone while driving? (Yes, even if I shouldn’t) Do I charge people correctly?(Yes) Do I pay my employees well? (I could probably pay them better) Do I waste electricity, water, and gas (Yes…) Do I consider others more highly than myself? (This is getting tough)
I remember one particular conversation i had recently, where this one person complaining non-stop. Fed up, I told him, “Then you do something! Give us a good alternative. If not, shut-up.” Because the truth is, if we don’t change ourselves and take responsibility, nothing is going to change. We might as well learn to be content being cheated. That’s better than living frustrated at our impotence.