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Pre-departure Gloom to Gratitude

Her wind against my back sends dust and leaves and trash racing in front of my feet.  My heart feels ready to surrender to the death of loneliness that I feel approaching.  It feels like a tornado of grief about to suck me up into the spiral and cast me down in some desolate lifeless hell I never imagined myself in.

Suddenly alone for the first time in 3 weeks, I find myself laying flat on my back on the bed in my room on Calle Obispo in Havana Vieja.  My chest is tight.  My spirit is fighting.  My body longs for the soft touch of my loyal companion of the past 2 weeks, his smell, his voice, some reminder of his presence.  The sound of hundreds of voices swirling in my head from the street below me create a sonic blanket around me that comforts me in my aloneness, yet also reminds me that in just a few short hours that too will be ripped from me.  My world at home is practically silent.  No children’s laughter in the streets, no voices to remind me of humanity’s goodness drifting in from below, no easy access to dancing, no friendly smiles outside my front door to remind me of humanity’s shared experiences.  My world at home is silent, isolating and in total contrast to the world Cuba gives me access to. Everyone in their big homes, shut off from nature and each other, afraid of connection, too busy to have time for coffee and conversation and so stuck in their own worlds of isolation they don’t even know how to find each other anymore off of their flickering screens.

I want to cry, to collapse into death and just not have to face what’s coming, but instead I force myself up and enter the storm starting outside to find somewhere to sit and write these words, to get this out of me and prepare myself for tomorrow’s departure.  Feeling vacant, like a ghost wandering through a huge haunted city, I wander aimlessly through Havana’s streets, impermeable to the flirtations and kisses thrown at me by an endless stream of Cubanos being typical Cubanos.  I just have no heart for even smiling or engaging with their playfulness right now.  All I can feel is the oppressive ache in my soul knowing the weird PTSD depression that always follows me when I leave this island; the funk that hits me from being flown away from everything I love here and into a world that makes me feel soul suckingly alone anywhere but on the dance floor.  For three weeks I have had virtually no muscle or nerve pain.  I have felt cared for and accompanied in any and every moment I could ever want or need.  I have felt loved, appreciated, acknowledged as a human being, and like I’m part of a shared experienced rather than an individual one.

Sitting for a coffee and writing is the only thing I can seem to manage to do to deal with the inner cyclone that wants to consume me.  Havana passes in front of me as I start to write, but it is the clicking pen in a woman’s hand that draws my attention.  As if that clicking is amplified on a speaker, it commands my attention.  Piercing black eyes reach into mine for a moment of acknowledgment.  We both smile a bit awkwardly at each other before looking away, yet somehow we are studying each other.   Her jet black hair is pulled as tight against her head as her white t-shirt is against her full bosom.  Her face is pocked with acne and she is standing on one leg in black pants with a white stripe running the length of the legs.  She seems quite curious about me as if she’s wondering what is going onto my page.  I doubt for a moment it would occur to her that it is her presence captivating my attention.  Two women who have never met feeling the kinship of sisterhood, perhaps scorned in similar ways, the toughness we share inside is mirrored in each other.

I sit here until the day starts to end, absorbing as I work to transform the energy inside of myself into a calm return to the moment.  The constant buzz of voices, the hypnotic rhythm of reggaeton and the coolness of the day’s end start to do their magic on me.  A round chubby toddler in pink pants swaggers down the brick street under the glowing strings of lantern lights, joyfully unaware of anything but her own curious explorations as her father follows her close behind.  A skinny dog barks as a cat passes the window he’s perched in front of, unbothered by his presence.  Life is everywhere moving through victories, challenges and sufferings.

There is no place like Cuba.  No matter where I go, or what I do, the impact this place has had on my heart, mind and life will always be with me and I have been forever transformed by all it has taught me of humanity.  I have long ago had to accept that I can never reintegrate fully back into the culture of the USA or modern life, nor do I truly want to.  Yet one thing Cubans have taught me is to make the best of the worst life has to offer.  Adelante and with a smile and gratitude in my heart, I must move forward and keep on keeping on.  It is the Cuba in me that keeps me dancing and finding the joy and companionship and love wherever and however I can.

I smile at the chubby toddler when she finds her way past my table.  My work ahead is to bring as much of what I can from here into my life at home and to focus myself on the solutions and find magic in the mundane.  I feel the wind shift.  I breathe in as Oya calls me into motion again, and slowly, purposefully and with deep gratitude rise up and resolve myself to the work at hand to transform the grief to gratitude once again.  I’ve gotten to experience something that so few people in this world get to know the way I have.  My time and connections here in Cuba have been the best teachers I could ever want for learning how to cope with struggle, lack, despair, depression and all of humanity’s challenges.  I have everything to be grateful for.

I pray the winds of change come soon and that Oya is gentle but fiercely determined as she clears the path ahead.



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