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My lungs are heavy and breathing now is hard. Each day seems to bring more heaviness, deeper coughs and heightened states of consciousness that only come from illness for me. A few states to the north west, in another land where African blood was spilled, in a place we now call Louisiana, my grandmother Jocelyn’s lungs are also filling and becoming heavy. She labors to breathe and the life force of 95 years of hard living begins to wane in her. The symbology does not escape me, neither in the conscious nor the super conscious realms.
Another cycle of life is ending. I am grieving the loss of my last remaining grand parent by taking on her suffering with her, knowing I can not be there physically with her, somehow my body is connecting thru the cellular landscape. She is a chord of remembrance to a mysterious land of swamps and Creole culture, and somewhere, far back in the DNA, is the story of the thread of Africa that lives in me so painfully. A distant relative who impregnated an African Priestess forced into slavery and had a child who was hidden from sight as was the custom and also enslaved. A story I will likely never know more of but will feel in my bones til the day I too pass from this world of confusion and chaos into the peace of stillness.
There is more to my grieving than her passing. I am grieving the loss of a part of my soul that has been abandoned and left in the dark alley of despair. Somewhere a beautiful spirit is looking for me, I can feel her calling me. She is free, wild, untamed and gloriously joyful in that place of freedom. She is drumming, dancing, singing and praising Los Dios in every breath. She can not be contained, and no man can ever call his her own. Sometimes I see her eyes, all ablaze with passion, and for a moment I hear her and then she passes into the world from which she came, a ghost I can not seem to access fully.
Something of what’s been happening lately in Cuba is tied in to this grief and I can feel it in the visions and voices that come to me between the worlds lately; the very air is pregnant with it’s weight. The last time I had lungs filled and heavy like this I was in Trinidad praying for death to find me the pain was so intense. Yet another thread of understanding and remembrance. I remember being in that room I had rented and hearing the sounds of the village and feeling such a deep peace even in the pain of coughing and joint aching misery. I was so OK with passing there if spirit took me. I was in total peace and acceptance of everything and knew I would leave with no regrets in that beautiful magical city.
I hear everything is changing there. The news is all full of stories of the opening of Cuba. So many people are happy, and excited for the “opportunity” to capitalize and make big money. Every entrepreneur and bilingual opportunist has dollar signs glassing over in his eyes and a flag to wave. Yet somehow lately I can’t bring myself to even read about it. I feel broken when I think about it, saddened and so deeply afraid for the inevitable demise of one of the most beautiful cultures on the planet.
Some people say to me, “Oh it won’t happen that fast.” Others say the Cuban culture is too strong, but then I look around Miami and see what has transpired and is currently happening in my backyard of Little Havana. I wonder if any culture can withstand the almighty force of capitalism, greed and it’s consuming illusion of success, the ever dangling carrot on a stick most of us in the US are working for. The elusive “someday,” we hope to achieve thru working most of our lives away for the almighty dollar just to try to keep up with the ever increasing costs of living in a world gone mad with technology, life on the go and striving.
My Cuban boyfriend says not to worry and that nothing is going to change. How can anyone really know? It’s all speculation and story upon story. Yet simultaneously, real railroads are being planned to be built thru my sleepy hometown to carry “goods” to Miami to send to Cuba. The paper says something like 30 trains a day are supposed to start ripping thru the quiet little beach town I grew up in. Everywhere I am, even without trying to see it, the signs abound. A ferry from Miami to Havana in the works, new modern cars are being sent to replace the old relics of the past. I heard someone from Cuba tell me that he knew of apartments on the Malacon going for a million dollars already. McDonalds, BK, cell phones, computers, you name it, it slowly finding it’s way and with all the stuff comes it’s own unique price. It’s hard not to think of what happened to Costa Rica, or Puerto Rico with these beautiful, pure people becoming tainted by western consumerism and greed, selling their homes and properties, moving to the city and blowing all their money in a year and then being stuck in the rat race of city life with nothing to show for it. How will Cuba be different? Can we find a different possibility? How can we bridge the old world and the new and honor both? This is for me where the real work lies.
There are some things I am happy to hear of and I, of course, support the liberation and opening on the human rights issue alone. I pray that the change will be all positive and that it will bring freedom without the price of a different kind of slavery. The kind that many in the US silently suffer. Maybe my sweet Cuban man is right and things won’t change as fast as I fear. Maybe it will just be awesome and bring all goodness and happiness and liberation. Yet in my bones, based on the stories of history, I feel that they are wrong somehow. The insiduous curse of modern culture is about to land in Cuba and a way of life that is almost completely gone from our planet is going to be it’s next victim. I remember how hungry the people in the cities are for change and could feel the stark contrast to how villagers felt more content in their reality. The city brings pressures of always needing more, the village dwellers know a deeper reality, that it’s not about quantity, but quality. Same old story, new island: people for profits to make lots of US corporate clowns more money under the banner of “Freedom for all.”
And what am I doing about it. Nothing. I feel defeated and like my voice doesn’t matter. I have a few friends there who I know will be happy, and some who will have mixed feelings. And I have many friends there who think and feel like me and want nothing to do with our modern sickness of overworking just to have barely enough for paying bills and taxes. We spoke for endless long nights over bottles of rum about what they fear happening and how, even though they knew they had problems, they still had the basics of what makes life worth living: community, family, and time to enjoy life far more than their close counterparts and family and friends in the US.
My voice mattered to them. Here I was, a middle aged white woman, deeply depressed by my own culture’s influence on my own life and spirit, coming there and falling in love with a way of life that my culture left behind in the 50’s. A quality of life that has almost completely been eradicated by cell phones, TV, the incessant intrusion of media, computers and all kinds of distractions to good old fashioned dancing, music making, deep conversation, and shared enjoyment of the simple pleasures of life. A friend laughing, a game of dominoes, a walk down an empty street with no fear of anyone shooting you or attacking you at any hour of the day or night, and a purity of sexual intimacy that only comes from healthy sexuality freely expressed. Sure, we idealize them, “The Good old Days,” yet there’s something there for us to reconnect to if we want to heal our minds and hearts.
Then there’s guns, drugs, pornography and all the other wonderful aspects of a liberated free modern culture, and you ask me not to grieve? No going back. Once the door is open, it’s pretty darn hard to close it again and all kinds of feral critters, sweetness and sour alike can enter the gates to the place many call Paradise of the Caribbean. Another tale of innocence lost in the making.
It may be surprising to some to read this fact: I have many friends who are truly happy there, in spite of all the propaganda that everyone there is miserable and tortured into slavery and can’t wait for a revolution. Certainly some are not and there is suffering there just as there is in the US or any other place, different degrees of poverty and well being. It’s a toss up and some Cubans there know it: Freedom and bondage, or Bondage and Freedom. You can have it one way, or another. It’s all a variation to the same theme that’s becoming prevalent in our world.
Everyone with an asshole has their own opinion on what is going to happen in Cuba, so why would another one matter out there? Especially one who isn’t Cuban and can not truly understand what it’s like to live there permanently. Especially a woman who barely speaks spanish, but who understands the Cuban’s heart language of music and dance as it’s own form of communication. A woman who has very little in the form of material “stuff” by choice and who has little to offer except a big mouth and a deep passion for trying to bring just a few people on a journey back to some kind of sanity in the human experience.
So I’ve been silent. For months I’ve been almost dead inside trying to ignore the gnawing frustration that comes when an artist starts to wither inside. I never thought it would happen to me. Not me.
Ha.. I guess I thought I was above it all being so spiritually connected and all. Typical spiritual bypass: yes even I can fall to it’s sad somber song. I’ve been humbled by life 100x since I last stepped onto that magical mystical music filled island and danced into bliss every night. Every illusion I thought was reality has fallen into shards on the ground beneath my feet and left me barefooted and bleeding in that alley wandering looking for myself and numb to the pain that has finally found an outlet in this deep infection that is seething in my lungs today.
It is time. Somehow I must call her back and take her hand and return to feel her again: The Breath of Cuba.