The Fury of the Sea, Friends in the Mountains

Petalidi, Greece, September

          The usual hypnotic rhythm of the sea is far from a gentle lullaby this morning. The rains came last evening, followed by heavy seas.

          Slowly at first, deceptively, the dance began. By twilight, the sea became more and more frenzied.  Sometime before midnight, the fury of the wild sea snapped the metal bracket and 1-inch-thick rope holding the jet boat to it’s mooring.  Like a toy, the sea threw the sleek yellow racing hull into the waiting rocks of the cliff.

             Somewhere out there, beyond the horizon, perhaps near Africa, deep in the bowels the Mediterranean Sea it had occurred.  Perhaps an earthquake. The earth rumbled and shook under the sea, stirring it like an over filled bathtub. As if suffering from a huge stomachache, the sea belched with a tremendous force that set forth a fury that knew no boundaries.

Just after midnight, I’d searched in the darkness for the brightness of the yellow boat. In minutes, I discovered her, capsized and trapped against the jagged rocks, each wave thrashing, battering, tearing at the body of the $22,000 ski boat.

          At dawn I find her more torn and battered. Like a fishing bobber, perhaps 10 feet from her body, a large chunk of her topside bounces up and down in the water

          By 7 a.m., under dark clouds, she’s gone.

          The scene on the beach is a frightening one. It’s as if an airliner had crashed at sea and debris washed ashore. Life preservers float aimlessly in a large tide pool. Chunks of fiber glass, foam padding, and the skeleton from one of the four seats are scattered across the wet sand.  Helplessness comes over me standing there, as the rhythm of the sea continues, a song that never ceases.

          The sun begins to warm the coast, and, as the salty mist start to lift, so does my mood, as I recall the afternoon before.

          I’d driven south from the villa. Rolling along the narrow road, passing through a village, I spotted a side road almost hidden between two ancient buildings.  Looking like a road less traveled I took it, and started a climb that led into the clouds and to the top of a mountain in the southern most part of Peloponnese, Greece.

         Entering a village not on any map, I’d come upon ancient houses made of stone and mud lining each side of a narrow road, a road wide enough for only one car. I turn a corner and I am in front of the only store in the village. An old woman sits on a rickety chair in front of the door.

         A huge grapevine covers the one story building. A trunk as thick as a big mans thigh grows up the side of the store. The vines cover the roof almost hiding the Coca-Cola sign. Big, deep purple bunches of grapes hang above our heads.

          “Kalispera,” (Good evening) I say and smile.

          “Kalispera,” she replies matching my smile.

           Inside, I reach into a cooler and take a coke, then notice another woman, a smaller woman, standing behind an ancient cooler in the back of the single room. Behind her lined up on a shelf are dust-covered bottles of Ouzo and other spirits.

          “Yassus,” I say. She answers with the same hello.

          The coke and a bottle of water is 90 cents.

          She follows me outside to where the other woman has now been joined by an old man with a cane. The woman gestures to an empty chair and I sit. I drink, she smiles, and the storeowner comes out and says something. She too smiles.  I smile back.

          I point to the grapes above and give them thumbs up sign, they all respond with something said in Greek and more smiles. We are communicating.

          I grab my digital camera and take a picture of the three. In seconds, I show it to them. As the picture fades in, the brightest smiles appear on all three and their smiles light the darkness of the overcast day.

             They are amazed. They are delighted. We have become friends.

 * * *

 Jerry writes on personal growth, happiness and life, including lowering stress in the work world. His book “Life is a Joke and God Wrote it” can be ordered through www.jerrystanecki.com

©Stanecki 2018

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Don’t Invite Trouble

Daisy Mae was curled up asleep at the foot of the green easy chair that sits in my living room. But just minutes before she was running away from my squirt gun. I shot in her direction in an effort to teach this cat not to run into the garage.

Watching her sleep apparently without fear, without any concern about dashing into the garage, with no worry about getting squirted, made me wonder if. . .

If humans can learn to do something one minute and then completely shift to being relaxed without worry the next minute.

Maybe you’ll never be like Daisy Mae but you sure can rid yourself of anxiety, fear and worry.

How?

By the way and what you think.

Learn from Daisy Mae don’t think too much and when something bad happens stop thinking about the bad and start thinking about good.

Shift your thought from the negative to the positive.

Simply choose to.

When I do the best I can do at a job, I can chose to relax and do what I want to do.

My trouble is my brain. Thinking too much about doing the best that I can do. Was that THE BEST or can I do better?

I tend to let my brain run wild. Sometimes, I think too much. . .and I get in emotional trouble. My life becomes worrisome, anxiety rises, and I find fear growing faster than a weed.

I’ve learned that most of the time, I amplify to the hills the negative of what’s happening.

My negativity usually is a hell of a lot worse than what’s really happening.

That is. . .until. . .I chose to think differently and replace the negative with positive thoughts,

I don’t know if Daisy Mae does this or not, but I can. . .then I can become Daisy Mae, in trouble one minute, relaxed the next.

Can you do it?

*

©Stanecki 2018

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Thanks, Jerry

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The Secret: Enjoy the journey and have faith

            “I feel sorry for people who can’t cry,” Verdie  McGee said over the phone from 800 miles away. “I really think crying makes you live longer.”

            Verdie is living proof.  She’s one of the best criers I know, and I’ve known her 35 years.

            Verdie Dempsey McGee, my former mother-in-law, is  telling me how she is struggling with the demons of (feeling) down.

            “ I thought I was over with those feelings, but every time I think of mother and daddy, I get sad. I woke up this morning and said I wasn’t  gonna’ cry. . .but I did. I laid there and had a big cry.”

            Verdie sounded like she might cry right then.

            “I’ll bet your felt better after,” I said.

            “I did.”

            The conversation switched to talk of what wonderful experiences Verdie’s life has brought. She talked of childhood in the mountains of North Georgia, when the Buttermilk Road was just a dirt passage that wagons and horses rumbled over. She told me of the time she first saw her first automobile— probably from one of “them” big cities nearby like, Cedartown or Rome, Georgia. And the time, on a bright sunny day, she stood there with her brothers and sisters as an “aeroplane” landed right there in front of them in the cotton fields. The pilot offering $2 rides to anyone brave and adventurous to go.

            Verdie talked of her teen years and Saturday night dances in Cave Spring, Ga., still a tiny town today. We talked of the days before radio and television and the marvel of those inventions that brought glorious sound and sight.

             She reminisced with stories of honeysuckle vines and springtime, of whippoorwills calling at night and thoughts of the great country singer Hank William’s being, “so lonesome he could cry.”

            She’s weathered tornadoes and the creek arisin’ and watched men fight world wars and men walk on the moon. In her lifetime, she’s seen more U.S.  President then she have fingers.

            It’s been rich, exciting life for this woman who still lives on the Buttermilk Road in the shadow of bald mountain and Pea Ridge.

            Amazingly, most of  Verdie’s  brothers and sisters are still alive, still livin’ within a stones throw—which is pretty close, ‘cause Verdie ain’t pitchin so hard anymore.

            One of the bad times in Verdie’s life was when doctors told her she had six months  “at best” to live. Lets see—that was about three years ago.  We talked about that prediction recently. “The doctor who told you that is probably dead, ” I said, and Verdie laughed hard.

            “I’ll be there for your 90th birthday and we’ll dance,” I told her.

             But, plans change, and I couldn’t make it to the Buttermilk Road.  I felt poorly about not making the celebration.  A big party was planned.

            When I called to say I’d be down in a few weeks Verdie was sleeping. Carolyn, my former wife, said she’d told her mom I couldn’t make it.

            “Mother says anytime you want to come is fine with her— if she is living.”

            That sounds like Verdie.

            Actually, it wouldn’t have done any good if I could have gone to Georgia because Verdie’s not there. She and Carolyn jumped in the car and drove 700 miles to Fort Lauderdale to visit my daughter Annie, sit by the sea and celebrate Verdie’s 90th birthday.

            Happy Birthday Verdie.*

*Editors note: This is a column Jerry wrote in 1999. Verdie McGee passed at age 91.

*

©Stanecki 2018

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Thanks, Jerry

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A Gift to Start Your Day

      I walked out the front door this morning; it was a few minutes after five.  Instantly, the force struck me. It was absolute, complete and total silence.  So quiet, it was actually deafening.   It was incredible.

      Never before. . . ever. . .have I experienced silence like this?  It was almost like a scene from a science fiction movie. That’s it. . .it was eerie.

       There was nothing. No distant hum of traffic, no birds, no wind, nothing.   It was magnificence and a little scary.

       This is the city, for God’s sake, I thought.  There has to be noise. Any noise. Some noise. There was none.

      Even though it’s a Saturday morning, it can’t be this quiet, I thought.

     I’d been in the desert, hundreds of miles from any town, any human and still, there had been noise.

     I’d been alone 10,000 feet high in the mountains on the great continental divide, and still there was noise.

     Now, in my front yard, in the clear cool dawn nothing.

     I looked up and was instantly humbled.

      The heavens were crystal clear and filled with tens of millions of lights. . . souls that had walked this way before, souls who wait to walk this way once more.

     I stood there in absolute awe, for this was one of the rarest moments of life.  You could feel the power, the energy of the stillness, of the total silence.  So thick it was almost suffocating. It was incredible.

     I stood there for five minutes—- I swear, five minute in the darkness—- in awe.

     There is no doubt in my mind that this kind of energy could never be created by mere man. I felt faith.

     I looked to the west and saw the Big Dipper. I looked to the north and thought, it’s always darkest before the dawn.   I turned to the east and saw a promise, a soft pink glow on the horizon. I felt hope.

     Suddenly, in the distance, softy, ever so softy, I heard; “coo coo coo “ and though I could not see it, I knew it was a beautiful morning dove.

     The bird of peace, I thought as I walked to the house. What a wonderful gift to start the day.

*

©Stanecki 2018

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When the load gets to heavy—–think differently

         I woke up at 5:30 this morning feeling rested, feeling good.  I lay there for maybe 30 seconds before I started to worry. My spirit started to sink as fear, like lava from a volcano, slowly pushed away the good feelings.

            Then I remembered.

            Think differently!

            I realized that in my negative thinking, I was slipping into a terrible start for the day. I mean, the heavy overcast skies outside were enough to dampen my spirit, let alone feed it with fears of the future.

            Yeah, but!  My magic magnifying mind screamed. What about the money you owe?  What about the house payment? What about no guaranteed money coming in?  Freelance work is iffy at times.  What abo—-

            Hey! Think differently!”

            I jolted myself out of the negative hole I was digging and did a reality check. The house payment isn’t due for two weeks. Did I want to waste today and 14 more days worried about something that is not a demand of today?

            THINK DIFFERENTLY!

            Yeah, but.. .  I’d been struggling with depression and had kinda boxed myself in. Kinda?   I was stuck, obsessing about an old relationship, trying to figure out why it hadn’t worked.   Sadness and some anger flashed, intensifying the pain of the obsession.

             Then I thought about a couple of free-lance jobs that had fallen through and was trying to figure out why.

            I was frustrated and couldn’t figure out why I was having great difficulty writing.

            I had exhausted myself with my own insanity. Insanity for me is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

            I fought back.  Today’s reality is I have enough money.  I have enough food. I have a car; I have gas. . . in the car.  I kept listing what I had.

            As crazy as it may seem, I stopped writing and shouted; “Thank you God. Thank-you for letting me feels better, for letting these words flow. For the feelings I get when the words come.”

            Gratitude sure helps.

              I laughed and called my friend, Father Jack.  He’s an alcoholic, you know.  A recovering Catholic priest with 14 years of sobriety, of the good life, as he puts it.

            “Come on over, ” he said.

            Now, I’m not exactly the most comfortable guy in a religious atmosphere.  As I sat in the dark, wood paneled lobby of the retreat center, waiting, I thought about my yesteryear battles with the nuns of Sacred Heart Grade school.

             God, I’d been stubborn and resistant to authority.

            “Come on in.” The voice broke my thoughts. It was Father Jack. He was smiling.

            Sitting in his small office, two pictures of a laughing Jesus on the wall, I unloaded. I was feeling hopeless. When I stopped he said,

            “Think differently.”

            “Huh?”

            “Think differently, “ he repeated.

            “ Stop trying to figure everything out.  You don’t have to figure everything out.  Give it up and surrender, you’re killing yourself.”

            Think differently!  My God, I thought, he’s right.

            “Yeah, but. . . I mean, I know where some of the fear comes from.  I know what happened when I was a boy that triggers, I know—-

            “Jerry, ” he said and smiled. “ Think differently.  Stop trying to figure it out.”

             “ I hear you, thanks.”

             The lesson was clear. When the negative future started knocking I’d been sucked in until I started to think differently.  Then it all changed-. I changed it. I used the power I have.

            So, if you’re stuck in tomorrow with fear or are having regrets of yesterday, you just might want to—

*

©Stanecki 2018

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Thanks, Jerry

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The journey is not meant to be traveled alone…

  Early one morning, while wandering along the main street of a village at the farthest end of land, I found myself.

            The picturesque village of Mendocino sits on the coastal bluffs of northern California. It a village where Main Street is a few short blocks and ends a rocks throw from the Pacific Ocean.

            Driving toward the sea this morning, balancing a cup of coffee, I was looking for pictures to make. Glancing in the rearview mirror, the sun blinded me for a second. As my eyes adjusted, an image came into focus.  Soon, I would come to understand, it was a mirror of me.

            It was a man, a lone traveler, walking toward me in the morning mix of ocean mist sliced by slivers of rays from the sun. The man was a silhouetted figure passing under trees that shaded the street. In a floppy hat, his coat thrown over his shoulders and hanging loose, one sleeve dangling. In the sunlight it looked as if he was wearing a cape.

            I recognized this man walking toward me from the night before. A lost soul, he’d been sleeping in a doorway when I last saw him.  I’d wondered about him then, his life, his journey.  Now, this? Coincidence? I think not.

             I jumped out of the car and aimed. A long lens brought the man into full frame.

            Click, focus, click, tighter focus, click, click.  Four times I fired, and four different images were frozen in time—images that spoke clearly and showed struggle with loneliness, sadness, of traveling alone on this journey of life.

            I saw my yesterdays on that morning in Mendocino, and by the grace of God realized, with deep gratitude, the joy of my today.

            This stranger in the morning mist mirrored to me so many years of fighting the battles alone, believing only I could handle it all. Struggling until I was bloody; finally beaten to surrender, then humble enough to reach out, to ask for, no, beg for, relief of self.

            It was only then, when I pushed through the paralyzing power of fear, did I come to realize that we are not meant to travel alone.

             I’m not speaking so much of physical partners, of marriage and friendship, as I am of truly being connected. It’s a spiritual connection, one united with fellow travelers.

            In some ways, I still travel alone, but never am I alone, for when my spirit becomes weary, I have learned to reach for a fellow traveler that has walked before me. I have learned to put aside false pride and ask for help. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned to accept myself for who I am at that moment—to accept all of my frailties, weaknesses along with all of the power of my strengths.

            For a lot of us, it is only when we are beaten to desperation that we surrender. Why?  Because we didn’t know better? Fear? False pride in what others will think? What excuse can you think of?  What rationalization do you use?

            A lot of us have gone through life believing that when problems surface, we alone must carry the burden. That fear stops us from sharing our fears, struggles—] our humanness. That alone has contributed to a lot unnecessary suffering.

            After many years of struggling to be happy, after many successes and some failures, I came to realize that never again would I have to be alone on this journey to happiness.

            How about you?

*

©Stanecki 2018

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Thanks, Jerry

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Run, but you can’t hide from – feelings

 

            Melody Beattie, a noted author in the recovery-personal growth field, suggests that we learned how to deny a situation, or certain people and their actions, because of the way it felt to us. We trained ourselves; to deny or ignore how we felt because we had no choice or no say in the matter.

            Why? The answer is pain. Rather than continue to feel pain, disappointment, rejection, we develop a way to cope until we could escape the situation. Or, mistakenly, we think we’ve escaped.

            My thoughts are this applies especially, but not exclusively, to men raised for the most part to deny and avoid feelings.  “Big boys don’t cryMen don’t cry.” Ring a bell?

            One day while sitting with a group of men in recovery, someone suggested we talk about feelings. Gino the Razor started singing, “ Fe-e-e-e-l-i-n-g-s.” Several guys laughed, others groaned at the dreaded song, but we didn’t run, we talked at gut level openly and honestly about our feelings regarding death. It was a powerful and rewarding hour.

            Stuffing your feelings, denying them, leads to a lot greater pain.

            Addiction and/or obsession to food, alcohol, drugs-street and/or prescription, work, sex, are some of the ways we deal with feelings. If life hurts—eat. Life hurts—drink. Life hurts, don’t feel, focus instead on work, shopping or… .

            One of my most exciting moments came a few years into recovery when I realized it was OK to feel OK, to take care of myself. And, with those feelings came a stranger knocking . . .grieving.

            I realized that years before, when my father died, the shock stunned me into numbness, a numbness that stayed for 30 years. Oh, I was sad, but it felt almost like and actor playing a role of sadness. I controlled the degree of feelings and stood tall with a stiff upper lip.

            I was raised believing that fear was to be met, lived with or buried. You thought about it, then either charged head-on into it or you lived with it.

            I buried and avoided those feelings, only to contribute more to self-destruct. Like someone who finds food ease’s the pain, I drank.

            For a lot of folks that solution doesn’t work, because when the fear or pain gets too intense, they turn to the medicine—food, drink, drugs, shopping—anything to feel better, to help cope, to deny and avoid the feelings.

            Sadly, I heard Gino was back in prison somewhere in Florida. He apparently couldn’t deal with all of his fearful feelings and emotional pain because he went back to the monkey, heroin. While in an altered state I heard he did something that sent him back to prison.

            Here’s a guy awarded two Silver Stars (our country’s second highest award for bravery) while in combat in Vietnam. Today, at fifty something, Gino sits in a cell.

            I wonder where Gino would be, if he’d learned during those years of support groups, how to deal with his feelings rather than make fun of them.

            Ironically, Gino used to say, “A lot of people create the illness to get to the medicine.”

            Turns out he was talking about himself. Or, could he be talking about you?

            Feel life; embrace solutions that come from feelings—then celebrate your victory.

© Jerry Stanecki

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