Sunday, June 6, 2010

Food for Worms

So what do you think of my new template?  I miss my former one, but it completely crashed and burned, and is no longer available!  Sigh!  I've put this one in temporarily, but may keep playing with it!  Keep checking back!!

Here's another repost.  But it's a lesson I, in particular, could really use right now.  I wonder if you do too:

Today I'm going to write about another favorite yearly trip that Alan and I take. Every July for the past ten years or so, we point the car south and drive until the road meets the ocean, in Key West. We love to go in July because this is when the town hosts their annual Hemingway Days, in honor of their famous one-time resident, Ernest Hemingway. It's AWESOME!!

The highlight of the festival takes place at Papa Hemingway's favorite drinking establishment, Sloppy Joe's Tavern. This is where they hold the extremely popular Hemingway look-a-like contest. Believe me when I tell you these men are SERIOUS about this competition! Picture a bunch of burley men with grey hair and beard, dressed head to toe in safari-wear. The contest lasts several days and includes a key-lime pie eating contest, talent show, and the "running with the bulls" race (the latter is performed using shopping carts dressed to resemble the livestock of Pamplona. It's a MUST see!!).

We love Key West and the flavor of that eclectic city. One year we decided to really explore the history of the place and took several tours of the old homes there. Key West boasts a rich history, particularly during the nineteenth century. This was an era when shipwrecks occurred daily on the island's off-shore reef. It was a time of pirates and yellow fever, slave ships and Indian wars. There are many huge mansions there built solely from the spoils of treasure found off of those wrecked ships.

There's a fantastic old cemetery there where you can wander amongst the crypts of the town's most famous citizens. The engraving on some of the headstones gives you an idea of the true character of Key West and it's inhabitants: "I Told You I Was Sick," "Devoted Fan of Julio Inglesias," "Good Citizen for 65 of his 108 Years," and "At Least I Know Where He's Sleeping Tonight."

That same year we decided to take a boat ride on the Yankee Freedom to the Dry Tortugas National Park, located seventy miles west of Key West. Here you can find Fort Jefferson, one of the largest coastal forts ever built. It became a prison during the civil war, and even housed the famous inmate Dr. Samuel Mudd. He's the doctor that was charged with conspiracy for treating the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth after he assassinated President Lincoln. It was a fascinating, beautiful trip, but one that soon became extraordinary when we boarded the boat to return back to the Keys.

Apparently, some Cuban refugees, trying to make their way on a make-shift raft to Miami, had drifted west and landed on the shores of the Dry Tortugas. Our country has a "dry foot" law regarding Cuba, in that if a refugee makes it to land, they are allowed to stay (after being processed by our government). Since transportation to and from the Tortugas is limited, they announced to us passengers that park officials would be escorting the Cubans back to the Processing Center on Key West by way of our boat. I'll tell you this, it was hard not to stare at the faces of those tired, relieved men. I thought hard about the intensity of the journey they had just endured.

But our surreal trip was not over. About a half an hour into our boat ride back, the captain again made an announcement. He said we'd notice that the boat was going to slow to a stop for a moment while they paused and performed a brief, two-minute ceremony off the back of the ship. I tore myself away from the exhausted refugees to see what was going on. Apparently, the parents of a long-time Key West fisherman were onboard. Their son had recently lost his battle with cancer, and they had with them an urn that contained his ashes, along with the gold medallion he always wore. The father held in his hand a paper with the exact latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates of where his son requested his ashes to be scattered.

The boat stopped and a crew member helped the elderly couple onto a small platform nearest the water. They both bowed their heads, then cast the contents of the urn out onto the crystal clear, windex-blue water. The last thing they tossed overboard was that gold medallion. As they both turned back, tears streaming down their faces, I struggled for something to say. There was nothing. So as the woman passed, I grabbed her arm, looked her in the eye, and gave her hand a squeeze. She patted my hand and said, "I'm just glad it's finally over." Indeed.

I returned from that trip to Key West with a different attitude. I kept
thinking about how brief the time is that we get on this earth. Seriously, it won't be long before they're giving museum tours of OUR homes, saying, "Here's the kitchen where they typically prepared the family meals. Notice the archaic microwave oven and twenty-first century juicer."

I love Dead Poet's Society, the movie in which Robin Williams portrays John Keating, the eccentric prep-school professor who challenges his young male students to live life to the fullest. My favorite scene is at the very beginning, where he takes his class out to the school hallway where a row of trophy cases stand. In them are old photos of students from many years before. Mr Keating tells the boys to lean in and get a good look at them. "Peruse the faces from the past," he says. He points out that the boys in those photos are just like they are now, "Same haircuts...full of hormones...invincible...eyes full of hope." But the only difference, he tells them, is that all the boys featured in those photos are now "fertilizing daffodils." They are all dead, and someday everyone standing there in that hallway would be joining them. "We are food for worms, lads." With that in mind, he asks his class to lean in and listen to what those boys want them to know. "If you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you...'Carpe Diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your life extraordinary.'"

My Dad's sisters kid him that he still has the money he received for his First Communion stashed away in a drawer somewhere. He is ridiculously reluctant to spend his hard earned money. My mother suggested recently they spend some of their vast savings and take a cruise. My seventy-five year old father refused, citing that they needed to save that money FOR THEIR OLD AGE!

I know times are hard out there, and I'm certainly not suggesting we all blow our savings and rush off to invest in an Alpaca farm somewhere (unless that's what you really, really want to do!). But since that trip I've decided to focus more intently on making minutes count. Before they sprinkle my ashes or create my hilarious tombstone (I'm still working on my inscription!), I want to make sure I've left no stone unturned. I can assure you, those five Cubans on a makeshift raft decided they'd had enough of living under a cruel dictatorship and did something about it. Talk about seizing the day...

I'd like to think that starting this blog was a version of applying this practice. I was terrified to do it. When I initially created the blog, I didn't provide a space for comments, I was convinced I was making a large fool of myself. Now I love the feeling of accomplishment it brings me. I'm so grateful for the way old friends whom I haven't seen in decades have rushed to offer encouragement and support for this endeavor. Seize the Day. I love how the interpretation isn't "Gently grasp the edges of the day and give it a little tug." No! Seize it! Grab it like a shoplifter and RUN!!

The worms await us, dear friends. I challenge you to make this brief journey worthwhile. Do the thing that you fear the most. Book the trip you've been meaning to take. And while you're making travel arrangements, may I suggest the sunny, eclectic island of Key West?  You won't regret it!

Thanks for reading!!

32 comments:

blueviolet said...

I think when my dad passed began my realization of how fleeting life is. What a wonderful place Key West has been for you. I see why you go there and those Hemingway days sound the best!

Deb said...

Beautiful post. I've been struggling with something very similar and just recently posted about it on my blog. Funny thing, I've seen many similar recent posts within the last week.
I'm wondering if there's something in the air :)

Where do you stay when you visit Key West?

jel said...

ok are you playing with the template? it changed just as i was trying to comment,?

very cool post ! ;)

starnes family said...

What an amazing trip. I enjoyed reading about it. Life is so precious!

Lisalulu said...

yes, something in the air, I've been contemplating writing something like this too.. Thank you for giving me more food for thought

Teresa Evangeline said...

Every once in awhile I change things on my blog to reflect what I believe to be the evolution of it. It's a "work in progress," much like my own life... Thanks for the reminder to seize the day!

just call me jo said...

I'm glad this blog has helped you seize your own moments. We moved to AZ after having lived in ID all our lives (61 years). We knew no one and had no job. Just prayed that would work out. And it has for the most part. If we hadn't done it we would have always wondered. Key West sounds divine. You shared so really interesting experiences. I hope the worms wait awhile.

Sylvia K said...

I try very hard each day to do exactly what you have written about and I've pretty much done that all my life and I have had a fantastic life. Right now it sometimes seems a little dull, simply because of things that I have no control over. But I have traveled over much of world, I have four great kids, I had fantastic jobs until I finally retired at 67 and that was ten years ago. The excitement, the fun, the joy waxes and wanes, but never disappears. Blogging is the latest adventure and what wonderful people it has brought into my life -- an example is the header that a friend in India designed for me and for the wonderful friends I'm going to have an opportunity to finally meet in person! So, life is good and it is what you choose to make it. Enjoy, my friend!

Sylvia

PinkPatentMaryJanes said...

Such true words - thank you x

Erika said...

Hemingway days look awesome! Key West is now on my to visit list.

Jaime said...

i've never been to key west. whenever i find myself in florida, it's more in the tampa area where my grandma and sister are...

i LOVE dead poets.

Momma Fargo said...

Beautiful post. And I like your new template.

Feeling Just Right said...

Joan!! I like this template too. I like the experimenting. Keep doing it if you like. I'll keep coming back :)

"Seize the day"- LOVED it! Thinking of running like a shoplifter made me laugh! Thank you for this beautiful post, as I start a new day.

The Empress said...

I like your new template. Are you not liking it so much? It's relaxing..

I just wrote something similar, about knowing the gift in you hand while you have it.

Beautiful words from you, thank you.

kim Clayton said...

Awesome and inspiring post I loved every minute of it! Thanks so much!
Kim

Jean said...

I really like the new template! I'm just catching up on all my blog reading and really enjoyed this post!!!

lifeshighway said...

Beautiful post today and a good way to start the day. I like your new template. Less manic for first thing in the morning.

Delana said...

Blueviolet, I think there is something in the air too. Joan, I really like the new template. Very easy to read. And thank you for reposting this lovely article. We can never be reminded too much. Especially in such a wonderful way.

Shan said...

I understand that it's temporary, but I prefer this template to the old one... purely for readability.

Loved this post. Tom and I had a semi-related conversation recently that would fit under this heading, but you said it a lot better than I did.

Leeuna said...

I love the new template. I also think this post was wonderful and very inspiring. Someone once said, "it's better to feel regret for the things you did rather than regretting those things you didn't do," so, yeah, Carpe Diem.

Looking for Blue Sky said...

New template absolutely fab and yep, Dead Poet's Society is a brilliant reminder to sqeeze the most out of each and every day. Thanks for another great post :)

Everyday Song said...

Oh wow! I'm so glad I read this post today. My dad died last year and my whole life has changed. It's why I'm writing for Road Trips For Families and really doing exactly this kind of thing. This story was great. You should do a guest post some time. We point our van south and drive to the ocean too - loved that part. Thanks! (P.S. I switched blogs after a long battle with Wordpress.)

notesfromnadir said...

This is a great layout, I really like it!

What a wonderful posting -- so touching about the refugees & the scattering of the ashes. So much to think about, the impermanence of it all.

But after reading this I'd definitely like to visit Key West.

yonca said...

Love the new look.Your post is very inspiring.I enjoyed to read it!

Langdowns said...

Perfect, perfect, perfect. Love the post and like the template too. Change is as good as a trip to Key West ....

Eternally Distracted said...

I am always looking for new places. Key West it is :0)

Bossy Betty said...

Great post. Love the "I'm Just Resting My Eyes." Lots of touching things here, lots to think about AND a visit to a place I've never been! Thanks!

Bev said...

Love the design! Looks great. Key West is gorgeous - thanks for the post, and enjoy your trip!

You're Lucky I Don't Have a Gun... said...

hey- love the new layout, it looks great!

lori said...

Ok, you've inspired me - I'm booking that trip to lovely Hawaii, the place I keep saying I want to go back to! (just a side note, I typoed booking, and typed boobing instead - I just might sieze the day and give those girls a little work too!)

Anyhoo, love your template!

Kellyansapansa said...

Oh, I have so much to say about this post! Firstly, the template's great!

Secondly, I visited the States with a girlfriend back in 2002 and we spent a couple of days in Miami. We had prebooked a hire car so we could spend a day exploring the Keys, but when we went to pick it up they kept us waiting three hours so we ended up not having enough time to get to the Keys after all. I was furious!

Thirdly, Dead Poet's Society has long been a favourite movie of mine and I agree it's truly inspirational.

Faith Alexander said...

We did the same trip to the Dry Tortugas a few years ago. Courtney spent half the day looking for Cuban refugees. How awesome that you got to witness their event to freedom.

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