Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What I Learned in Germany - People are the same everywhere

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I got back from a week in Germany on Sunday, November 2nd, 2009. It was a crazy trip as my friend and I discovered that their father had passed away while we were out hiking.

One of the things I found in Germany, and indeed everywhere I've ever been in Europe, is that people are the same everywhere. There's graffiti. People litter when it's inconvenient to go to the next garbage can. If you can't speak the local language, you're probably from North America. And everyone does the same thing with soup apparently.

On the last night, my friend brought me and two of her closest friends to the Ratskellar in Bad Hersfeld where they ordered for me. They started me off with Ochsenschwanzsuppe, a soup which, with my limited German, I thought to be ox tongue soup, but turned out to be something surprisingly available in many cultures.

When it came, there was no ox in it, just a couple of really thin dumplings. By the time it landed on the table, we'd laughed about it and I figured out what it was, but was again surprised that it wasn't in the soup. I cut open the dumplings and scraped the filling out, but no, there was no ox meat in it.

Afterwards we asked the server about it, and she said the part of the ox used is boiled in the soup, then taken out. I was strangely disappointed.

If you haven't figured out what I had, you can check it out with this Google search link and be amazed that it's in so many cultures spanning the globe.

By the way, if you have kids, the Ratskellar menu also features a cutesy fairy-tale menu for kids, with items such as "Snow White and Rose Red" -- from what I could guess, this was fries with mayo and ketchup for dipping.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What I Learned in Germany - The Sadness of Being Sorry Too Late

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I got back from a week in Germany on Sunday, November 2nd, 2009. It was a crazy trip as my friend and I discovered that their father had passed away while we were out hiking.

One of the stories that was shared with me was about a person who hated, or was at least contemptuous, of his neighbour. But one day, his neighbour passed away. He contritely went over to convey his condolences and offer assistance but was turned away: A lifetime of ill-will had nursed resentment and bred distrust. It was even thought his gesture was a cunning attempt to improve his own reputation, to be seen as a respectful person even to someone he thought so little of.

Perhaps he was really, at this too-late time, sorry for the relationship with his neighbour. Perhaps pride had gotten in the way of reconciliation when they were both alive, and somehow at his neighbour's death, when an olive branch wouldn't be met with rejection, it was easier for him to be sorry.

You can unburden yourself of an "I'm sorry" at someone's grave, but they're long gone, and can't take it with them.





Dharma: What is that which, when renounced, makes one lovable? ...

Yudhishthira: Pride, if renounced makes one lovable ...
Dharma: What enemy is invincible? What constitutes an incurable disease? What sort of man is noble and what sort is ignoble?
Yudhishthira: Anger is the invincible enemy. Covetousness constitutes a disease that is incurable. He is noble who desires the well-being of all creatures, and he is ignoble who is without mercy.

-- from the Mahabarata

Monday, November 9, 2009

What I learned in Germany - The Universe is Piloting, part 2

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I got back from a week in Germany on Sunday, November 2nd, 2009. It was a crazy trip as my friend and I discovered that their father had passed away while we were out hiking.

Yesterday I talked about how the universe had once moved me where I needed to be. The trip to Germany turned out to be just another incident of this, but with such longer strands of fate and timing that my friends have been amazed.

I came out of my career change (about 10 years ago now) looking for a "helping-people" type position, and expanded my volunteering. I was with the ASK Friendship Centre (until a transit strike made going there too costly) and the Vancouver General Hospital STAT Centre. I joined the Burnaby Hospice Society, and later the Vancouver Crisis Centre (and I'm still there, eight years later...).
All this volunteering gave me experience with seniors, some knowledge about bereavement, and crisis counselling. I also looked into Occupational First Aid Level 1 for my concierge position (although year after year, it seems they teach less and less).

They say the universe only gives you what you can handle, even if it might not seem so at the time.
When my friend's father passed away on my third day in Germany, it really sank into me just how everything had come together. I was at the right place at the right time to support my friend, and with the right training.
If I hadn't had all those experiences, I think I would have freaked out or just have felt lost. But I managed to stay calm and present for my friend. I just hope I was supportive in the right way, with the right mix of mostly empathy and understanding, as well as basic advice and information about bereavement.


It was a strange vacation. I stayed in small villages and didn't see all the major sights. We spent a lot of time walking in the beautiful woods and their fall colours. Above all we talked a lot.

I wouldn't change it for anything.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

What I learned in Germany - The Universe is Piloting, part 1

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I got back from a week in Germany on Sunday, November 2nd, 2009. It was a crazy trip as my friend and I discovered that their father had passed away while we were out hiking.

Long ago, I had an experience of the universe being in control of my life. I had had enough of a desk job that involved a lot of overtime and unappreciative employers. I made lots of money but had no time to enjoy it, and didn't have enough of a social life anyway.
One day, I walked into Transitions, a career-change agency. There was exactly ONE spot left for their next class. On an impulse, I took it and gave my notice.
I came out of it with a vague idea of a job, something involving helping people face-to-face. I bounced around and finally landed as a teaching assistant with King George International College for a while. The SARS crisis lost me my job, but shortly after, Drake Medox called me back to be a companion for a while. They specifically needed a male companion for an assignment, and the client had rejected all their existing candidates.
When that assignment finished, I was shortly after picked up by an apartment in downtown Vancouver to be part of their 24/7 concierge team. Not the most glamourous or high-paying job, but the best and most rewarding type of position I've had to date. I was eight years there, and then moved on to an even more interesting position.

I have never forgotten that experience -- of being moved by the universe to where someone needed me and at the right time, and finally landing in a better place -- and in small ways it happened now and again, although at the time I didn't realize it.
The trip to Germany turned out to be another of these "greater plans" that I'll never forget.
More about that tomorrow night.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

What I Learned in Germany - Relationships make everything meaningful

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I got back from a week in Germany on Sunday, November 2nd, 2009. It was a crazy trip as my friend and I discovered that their father had passed away while we were out hiking.

Long ago, I went on two major vacations. Once on a cruise to Alaska, and years later, on a bus tour in Europe (which I'll never do again since you spend the best part of the day in the bus, because no one wants to sleep on the bus at night, but they do sleep anyway during the long transit on the highways).


The cruise turned out to be a lonely affair. The bus tour had you grouped with a bunch of mostly couples, so there was more of a chance to socialize. I remembered that the best time we had on that tour was when we pulled into Italy (if I remember correctly) in the evening. It was snowing. We had a bunch of South Africans who'd never seen snow, so we brought them out back to build a snowman. Naturally, the first thing that happened when we hit the snow was to get snowballs flying. We had such a blast. And it had nothing to do with Europe.


After that, I lost my desire to travel. Never again was I fixated on any place. "It's not about where I'm going, it's about who I'll be with."


I've heard stories about the generations before us that they'd travel to a country only if they knew someone there. It sounds funny sometimes. But on my trip, it was everything. I had only one week there, and I have no idea when I'll go back, or if ever. I gave up touring Frankfurt on my own to stay in small villages and see friends. (In fact, the museums we tried to go to were either partially or fully under renovation!)
And I wouldn't change a thing.

Friday, November 6, 2009

What I Learned in Germany - Time Wasted Mourning and What You Can Do

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I got back from a week in Germany on Sunday, November 2nd, 2009. It was a crazy trip as my friend and I discovered that their father had passed away while we were out hiking.

When someone passes away, the people closest to them often go through a period of mourning. This is typical, of course, and to be expected. But gawd, is it ever time-consuming! We plod around for days, weeks, maybe even months. Thinking sad thoughts, missing the person, possibly even blaming ourselves.


In other types of loss, we are encouraged to live and learn, look for the upside, call it experience and move on. But not death. Even though everyone knows it's coming and we see it all around us every day.


Dharma: ... What is the greatest wonder? ...
Yudhishthira: ... Day after day countless people die. Yet the living wish to live forever...

-- from the Mahabarata


And grieving is all about us. You can say it's about honouring the dead, but they're dead and they probably don't care. The cares of this world are shed. They can't take their riches with you, but neither will they take their debts and worries. And if there is an afterlife, they're probably busy figuring that out.

I definitely think death should be handled better. Accept that we're gone, celebrate the good times we had. Then turn the page to a new chapter. I think that as people who will one day die, we should prepare things for the sobbing messes that are loved ones. Get things in order, prepay our way into the afterlife (coins for the ferryman won't cut it anymore -- it's thousands for a funeral and then there's either the urn or the casket and burial site).
And let people know what you want in the way of post-life festivities: It's almost selfish how they who grieve most get the most say on how the funeral is conducted, and in their depression, you know it's going to be a somber affair.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

What I Learned in Germany - Unrequited Love and Time Wasted on Hope

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I got back from a week in Germany on Sunday, November 2nd, 2009. It was a crazy trip as my friend and I discovered that their father had passed away while we were out hiking.

One of the things I saw in Germany was the profound sadness of unrequited love. There is a certain nobility in loyal love and persistent attention for "the one". Often we are wowed and inspired by stories of grand gestures and enduring patience ending in heartwarming love.

When we read these stories, we already know that in the end it will work out to a happily-ever-after. When we're in it, however, it's different. We need persistence.

But what if there really is no hope? That the other party simply doesn't feel the same way, and tries to tell us clearly and unambiguously that it will never be? How much persistence is enough, and how much is simply wasted time?

For a long time now, I've decided that I will love my friends however much I feel love for them. I don't care if I do more, give more, or love more. Give freely because you want to. Never expect, ask, or hope for anything in return. In fact I feel it's sad and complicates our friendship if someone does something for me out of gratitude.
But I also tell myself not to wait for anyone. Because they might be waiting for someone else (and sometimes it's surprisingly hard to say that, to dash hope away). Cherish friendships for what they are now, not what you hope they will become in the future.
We can only control what we can do, and, of course, we can choose to have hope. But we can't control anyone else, and in love, it takes two.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What I Learned in Germany - The Life Unlived and Living Your Own Life

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I got back from a week in Germany on Sunday, November 2nd, 2009. It was a crazy trip as my friend and I discovered that their father had passed away while we were out hiking.

One of the things that came out -- that almost invariably comes out -- is how the deceased didn't have a good enough life. Often we are reminded that "you can't take it with you" and to enjoy life with whatever riches or resources we have amassed. The life unlived, so to speak. Especially when death comes unexpectedly.

But what if that is what *we* want, and not what they wanted? What if travelling the world and is what is important to us, but not to them? For the person who passed away, perhaps they lived in quiet contentment, with the things they loved comfortably around them, life a comfortable routine of familiarity and ease.

(Especially) in North America and our self-help-book culture, we are taught -- pushed -- to grow and expand and seek new experiences. And if we don't, we aren't "growing", and we are admonished for it. People feel sorry for us.

But there is another way. In Buddhism, "suffering arises from attachment to desires".

Dharma: What is that which, when renounced, makes one lovable? What is that which is renounced makes happy and wealthy?
Yudhishthira: Pride, if renounced makes one lovable; by renouncing desire one becomes wealthy; and to renounce avarice is to obtain happiness.

-- from the Mahabarata

Remember to live your own life. It's exhausting to live it for someone else. And definitely stop doing that when when they're gone.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Back from Germany

I ducked out to Germany for a week to see a friend, and landed back in Vancouver Sunday night. It was the best of times and the worst of times. On day three, my friend's father passed away, and we found him together.

After that, I learned a few things that I always knew but never did pay enough attention to. Over the next few days, I'll blog about them... If for no other reason than to get it out of my system.

I did just fine in Germany, but, combined with songs on the radio in the airplane that seemed to resonate with all that happened... I admit I cried on the way home.

How music can move us sometimes. And how words can take on different meanings at different times in our lives.