Ashes to ashes…tragedy befalls us

Tragedy befalls us or does it? in Greek «τραγωδία» is a word referring to a very sad situation that doesn’t have a very happy conclusion as it leads to suffering and most often death. When we say “befalls” it refers to things that happen by fate or chance. In the ancient world there were perfect explanations for everything, and usually involved ‘gods’ or other deities and mere mortals often trying somehow to make things “right” as they raise for us ethical or real life dilemmas.

Taking a recent trip with a group of colleagues and friends to the ancient theater of Epidaurus, we experienced one of the most famous of Sophocles’ plays “Electra” which the wise poet wrote towards the end of his career playing up the post-trauma of the Trojan war in the house of Mycenaean King Agamemnon (more here: classical literature ‘Elektra’). Though many directors change the structure of the plays to make them more to modern standards, this version was truly respectful of the storyline. More importantly we FELT the pain and inner struggle of the characters…I can still hear the drums beating as fast as my heart in the evening darkness as the actors in unison walked slowly with floating robes like solemn soldiers on a mission.

24569E41-F95E-4BFE-90D3-E06F14F2A3E0

Concluding the play Elektra, Epidaurus Summer 2018 Festival

This ancient theater in the valley of the Peloponnese is an acoustical marvel, and many world famous actors have passed through including Kevin Spacey as King Richard III (by William Shakespeare) honoring the ancient tradition with exceptional performance — glimpses can be had on this ‘World Stage’ clip.

I still recall Elektra’s brother Orestes’ blood-stained arms, the circles of ashes made in Elektra’s frenzy. Ashes to ashes, from dust to dust, this indeed is all we are made of. How ironic that the very next day we would be witnessing real-time tragedies of fire and ashes with almost 100 people dead in the ‘eye’ (mati) of Rafina, a seaside community outside of Athens (coincidentally the most losses in a fire since WWII), multitudes of animals, properties and nature burned within a matter of hours…. in the days following rainstorms and flooded streets in many parts of Greece as well as a “state of emergency” in California fires on the other side of the planet this year with several firefighters already dead and almost 100,000 acres of land burned to the ground.  Apparently since last year a sobering 60 servicemen have lost their lives on duty from such things like falling trees, bulldozers, etc. (more in the Mercury News article)

Unfortunately, tragedy befell Greece, and this is due to several factors in my humble opinion —

  • communication  breakdowns — in many countries in a state of emergency the military and the government have the right to take over a situation that is out of hand and work directly with media and municipalities.
  • organization and planning — ditto for this, but we know in the summer with high winds fires are constantly being set off, what are we doing to monitor beyond forest volunteers?  what about having a ‘drone watch’? See aerial surveillance for legislatures.
  • the “oh brother” syndrome («ωχ αδελφέ μου») — really now, you ARE global citizens so act like one!
  • environmental preparedness and social marketing — cutting down overgrowth, keeping water hydrants functioning, a system of communication (sirens, media buzz sound, megaphones), volunteers patrolling forests. One favorite character that was ‘built in’ U.S. culture was Smokey the bear to ‘prevent wildfires’ including some practical how-to steps…
  • health literacy about fires — taking care with outdoor fires (beach, camp, etc.), understanding that plastic and other waste (that people often leave near bushes on the sides of the roads) can be ‘fuel’ for any set fire.  If near a fire and no access to water hoses or water (many people were saved because they went to sea) keeping wet or wool blankets, crawling on the ground to avoid smoke inhalation, having adequate fire drills (and alternate with earthquake drills in schools once a year at least!), the need to have smoke detectors as well as functioning fire hydrants, firemen equipped with supplies (addressing shortages in Greece), using volunteers effectively, understanding how important time is when there are high winds…..moving quickly is of the utmost importance.

This tragedy could have happened to any government (or political party) but the situation was all too familiar to the fires back in 2007… it was purposeful arson in many parts that also ended in tragedy. However we know that prior to 2007 the persons responsible for the fire brigade planning in the country seemed to have more clear plans to make clear paths for the fires not to ‘jump’, cutting down overgrown trees, etc.  There are so many unpaved roads, no street signs, no functioning fire hydrants (or none at all) and the list goes on and on. Notably when systems don’t work (systems), we need to test and change them to be more effective as public safety and the public’s health should override any individual ‘rights’ this is why public health law exists!

What’s left now for many are feelings of emptiness and anger for many (typical of grief and post-traumatic symptoms that can range from loss of sleep to anxiety or the need to self-medicate). Grief or “bereavement” Counseling is needed and it is important to continue support groups and understand that even those watching the news may have anxiety or worse panic attack type reactions (children are in particular vulnerable to anxiety so it’s important to discuss with them ways to feel safe and express their sad or angry feelings). Play and music therapy are useful as are regular counseling and parenting techniques. A local bookstore has a book for kids emphasizing the circle of life and loss for children to understand (Εκδόσεις Παπαδόπουλος «Η Έλλη και ο Κύκλος της Ζωής» — Papadopoulos book publishers “Ellie and the Circle of Life”) but there are no books in Greek specific to dealing with traumatic events. A spiritual approach and books like Thomas Moore’s Dark Nights of the Soul help people who have experienced loss and difficult life ordeals. There are several theories about the stages of bereavement and people can feel denial that it happened (avoidance), anger, or try to accept it and move on. Particular emphasis on expressing sadness and anger is needed here.  It’s also not easy for servicemen (people) to endure everything from evacuating to picking up the corpses. There are many groups, therapists who use cognitive behavioral, meditation, and virtual reality techniques proven to be effective with these workers.

We are angry at the government and inefficiency. Mr. Tosca, the Ministry of Internal Affairs recently resigned, but nothing will change unless we re-evaluate and organize better — house in order, country in order, and see my past post on Kondo method. We can help Greece, a country in its worse crisis since WWII, by donating to worthwhile groups and initiatives like Act4Greece or The Hellenic Initiative, and Red Cross initiatives for those affected. In addition some self-care on a daily and weekly level like guided meditation helps. If we do this at least 3 times a week (much like exercise habits) and I particularly liked this one to bring more inner peace:

We cannot change that which we cannot control but YES we can learn to be more effective for the betterment of our communities.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Valentine Health Messages

One of my favorite romance movies is Chocolat, not only because of all-star actors like Depp, Binoche and Dench, but the priceless moment is when the town’s Mayor gorges himself full of chocolate which his overly Catholic moral self would not allow, and gets caught…  Dark chocolate in particular has always had medicinal properties, a surprising antioxidant super food according to Paleohacks!   Anyone who savors chocolate everything would appreciate being invited to a chocolate-tea party or in the spirit of the season an “anti-Valentine’s party,” but really why not focus on positivity of social support rather than the lonely hearts club?

Another great romance and true-to-life story of Elizabeth Gilbert in her book and later Hollywood movie Eat, Pray, Love speaks true of overcoming one’s fear of healthy relationships (commitment phobics you need to work on it!), enjoying the moment with terrific food, praying (cultivating spirituality and mindfulness), and of course having an openness to love. Perhaps fun messages on candy (or cinnamon hearts, one of my favorites), cool cards, heart shaped chocolate boxes, an overrated pressure of getting it ‘right’ on Valentine’s day… leaves a lot to be desired. Having a truly healthy mind, healthy body, healthy spirit, are true achievements of an overall healthy life including building and maintaining health literacy.  Gilbert got it, Snoopy got it, do we all get it?

Do you love the names “Valentina” or “Valentino” (female and male versions) perhaps because they are polysyllabic, or that they conjure up visions of kissing the silent movie actor, Rudolph Valentino, near an Italian stream as in the dream of the mid 80’s band The Bangles?  Then there is the truth of the ever-popular 3rd century Saint Valentine, becoming popular among many cultures around the world, supporting the practice of marrying lovers despite the decree of the then Catholic Church, and ultimately for his practices being beheaded in punishment. A gruesome reality of those times.

Happily we went to a cafe-restaurant (Dtale cafe) that maintains a smoke-free environment, which in this part of the world is always a positive and needed to prevent second-hand or passive smoking. In addition to their fabulous dishes, coffee and desserts, they have a great addition of objects with fun messages…. regardless of what you do this V-day, enjoy the food and your company, you deserve it!

Winter Solstice, The old and new

It’s bleak in the winter, cold, we often just want to snuggle up with a hot chocolate a blanket, a book, near a good warm fire, some alone, others with special people, pets, in the comfort of “home”. In  thinking of our physical, mental, and spiritual need of “balance” it is important to remind ourselves about some of the old to new world traditions, and how we may benefit from better understanding towards an improved life.

Celebrating the winter and summer solstice goes back to ancient times in places like Syria where it seems we only hear negative press these days. These traditions were more often linked to astronomy, once linked to the ancient gods of Greece and Rome (the sun-God Apollo); the Celts and places like Stonehenge were thought to keep track of these solstice related equinoxes, and we can learn much from even the Farmer’s Almanac!

Even more interesting this year after about 150 years we witnessed the “Super” Blue Blood Full Moon a rare phenomenon. Indeed it makes Ancient Greek Temples like the Parthenon aglow! Notably our more traditional customs and celebrations are simply, ways to bridge the pagan with the modern religious and cultural world, hence we can learn more about commonality,  tolerance and respect.

d3f76162-02db-474d-8105-c416d523deeb.jpegCelebrate in your own way, and think of adapting the following:

1) Warm drinks  — whether cinnamon spice in warm apple cider, or mulled wine are good “heating” drinks for the body. There are many great recipes.

2) Red red wine — those who live to enjoy wine might like more reds accompanied by heavier foods — and yes you’re allowed more fat this time of year, it is necessary as it burns more easily ! Remember winter fruits like quince and pomegranates (check out more on the latter tradition, here). Enjoying with friends or other special people does wonders for your mental health.

 

3) Keep body covered — take care of keeping warm with hat, scarves, gloves and mittens. I’m a big fan of checking out interesting ideas on Etsy! Wool or wool-blend pants, sweaters, socks are better heat conductors. Though fur is glamorous and warm let’s not overdo it and think of those animals…is it necessary?

4) Keep active — take care when shoveling snow for the back and the heart. Try some winter sports like skiing, ice skating, hockey, or simply making angels in the snow and snowmen, have fun regardless!

5) Embrace the light — you can reflect on yesteryear by adding light in your home (or workplace if allowed) via a fireplace, candles (careful of too many paraffins not good for you to breathe in too many toxins), a favorite brand is Yankee Candles.

Speaking of entrepreneurs, has anyone checked out the story of how this young teen “Yankee” from Massachusetts made his first scented candle from melted crayons for his mom which turned into a worldwide success? Candles indeed make our senses both calming and excitable — not referring necessarily to scenes from the movies “Nine and a Half Weeks” or “Fifty Shades of Grey” though some say the former movie was more interesting and “healthier” than the latter in terms of women’s relationship limits.  Hmmm. It certainly gives a different meaning to physical and mental exercise (!)

Reflecting on yesteryear

 

Ring in the new year in joy, sail to new destinations and deal with the “rough seas” of life.

This past year was quite difficult for many with losses (financial, personal), past months we captured some of the tragic news happening in the US, in Greece, Spain see Keeping Afloat Seemingly Chaos even some “bad luck” like 20+ people dead in a flash flood, a ceiling caving in on the main entertainment DJ and another case of a snow avalanche killing one snowboarding tourist  — granted the news never emphasizing that homes were allowed to be built illegally in the valley, or that the snowboarder went to a closed ski resort, where were the safety precautions? Others dying in shootings or intentional terror type acts in the name of their “identity”, or losing their homes in hurricanes throughout Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.

You might say “life happens”, indeed. Some things could be preventable. As some are building beachside sandcastles in Southern Hemispheres others are awakened in early morning hours with our beds shaking — no it wasn’t Santa’s sleigh landing on our rooftop — indeed experiencing a small earthquake enough to get our hearts active again. When it comes to man versus nature, the latter will always win.

The morning of the last day of December, a favorite uncle beloved by all family, colleagues, friends for his kind and creative nature, lost a painful fight with liver cancer, just short of his 70th birthday. For me he was one of the great life philosophers and taught us about overseeing negativity and being humane. Coincidentally my recent writing about aging and the end of life and how being or building health literacy can help us all adjust to life’s ups and downs, helps to reflect on the sweet memories of yesteryear. Last year’s New Years post was plenty full with thinking of resolutions, and today’s CNN article really summed up what many of us health educators, counselors, teachers have been saying for years including mindfulness, balanced eating with plenty fruits and vegetables, and the vitality of drinking plenty of water!  Some other intentional resolutions to make it simple and real:

1) clean up your home and your environment, keeping in mind the 3 “R”s Reduce, Reuse, Recycle ♻️

2) be light of heart and kind in spirit …forgive and move on, remember doing good goes a long way!

3) daydream, dream small and big, this is what gives us hope. Yes the reason we had a tinker bell in Peter Pan or find “hope” in Pandora’s box is really the gift of “light”. This is necessary for our taking steps forward and believing in ourselves. So where is your dream catcher?304f034f-bf59-43bc-ad30-2b19a27e0f0c.jpeg

4) Accept both sides of joy and sadness — the movie “Inside Out” made this simple, plausible, that even children can understand the necessity of melancholy; it is OK to talk about the darker sides of human nature (even stubbornness, stupidity, and narcissism) but learn to work on yourself and either accept small faults in others or realize life is short no one is perfect. Do not dwell in inner darkness very long and if it gets too bleak seek support!

There is more reflecting to do, Leider and Shapiro’s book “Repacking Your Bags” will   help you do just that so consider it for one of this year’s “must reads” and we’ll get into that later in another posting….so much to say!

Enjoy each moment, and have a wonderfully brilliant new year!

Pomegranates, bittersweet moments

Demeter, goddess of agriculture,harvest and fertility, is a reminder of seasonal changes, human bounty, and potential loss. As the gods and goddesses of Ancient Greece mirrored human nature, one may say as a mother she surely felt a great emptiness when her daughter Persephone was lured by Hades into the underworld disappearing from beloved earth grounds. Hades, a dark figure (may be something like a modern Darth Vader) convinces the kind-hearted Persephone to fall for him offering her a pomegranate. By eating a few seeds she consummates this relationship so that even the great leader-god Zeus could not intervene, thus Persephone travels to Hades part of the year, and as she re-emerges her mother, Demeter brings flowers and the budding of Spring —  a beautiful myth! Writers talk about the necessity of change, darkness being a necessary part of our healing (Thomas Moore “Dark Nights of the Soul”).

The continued pagan tradition of the pomegranate, a bittersweet food of seeds or squeezed into juice, rich in vitamin C and anti-inflammatory properties, is added with barley / bulgar wheat, to commemorate death of loved ones as part of the memorial services of several Eastern Orthodox traditions (called “kolyva” κόλλυβα). There’s a great list of benefits including helping weight loss indicated in a popular fitness magazine, Shape (pomegranate info).

Late this past August through September we experienced several losses — mainly through accidents —filling us with shock, sadness and grief. Perhaps due to fate, some incidents may have been preventable. One great loss was of a couple, namely Dr. Chris and Ms. Claudia Lolas, also promoters of Greek Culture and history in bridging cultures (Ancient Persia – Iran & Ancient Greece … book written in Greek and edition in Farsi and in English forthcoming). These were great friends or family to some as their losses were amidst many other tragedies happening around the globe during those weeks. Prevention is key and such an intricate part of building health literacy.

As all good researchers do, and after an “unfair” speeding ticket I realized that we CAN do something to helping individuals and communities learn about safer driving and advocacy for better roads. In a small but winding distance from one town to another town in Southern Peloponnese (Greece) we counted 39 small memorial “churches” (10 were in straight others on curved road) clearly speeding, two-way traffic, bad weather conditions, malfunction of vehicle or motorbike, inadequate visual cues doesn’t help. GIS mapping can help track possible driving areas that need more attention.

Schools need to promote health literacy via health education, promotion of community health goals. Police can offer special trainings in conjunction with municipalities on good driving, but they must also be consistent in ticketing (speed traps, alcohol testing) and their police cars manned with appropriate equipment.

As individuals we should model good driver behavior for our younger citizens soon-to-be drivers! Here are some ways:

  • Mind our speeding (great articles such as prevent speeding or one by mechanics).
  • Wear seatbelts and ensure passengers are secure (children with safety car seats, etc,).
  • Follow Road Rules and demand clearer road signs as well as some helpful solar powered signs that “show” our speed.
  • Mind the drinking  cup !
  • Remember even if it’s not obvious, pedestrians DO and should have the right of way.

After my speeding fine and finally getting my license back (rules are very strict in this part of the world) I’m definitely checking my speedometer more often. Last night an expensive car went whizzing past me, only to be caught in a police speed trap further down and this time it was justified…as for me, a safe and guilt free ride home, in thinking of my lost friends, truly a bittersweet moment.

 

Survive the heat wave!

This last week seems many major cities, in several countries have been having unbearable heat waves. One can take some advantage of vacation/ holiday time and spend your day next to the actual beach waves, lakes, ponds, rivers, trying to gather as much moisture, drinking much water and steering clear from most alcohol (see last post), all the while minding your sun intake and wearing sunscreen under an umbrella with preferably a scarf or hat. Stop by a trendy or well-known ice cream parlor in the popular range of Haagen Daz or Ben and Jerry’s to area local business like Cape Cod Creamery — support local economies. I particularly like the CCC’s Truro Turtle, their classic French vanilla, and the Dennis Double Chocolate ice cream (enjoyed separately with mindfulness eating of course). I then played some mini golf and did some extra walking to burn those extra yet amazingly tasting calories!

Typical advice. Stay cool, protect, replenish.

Listening to favorite tunes? Into reading? We are visual creatures of fantasy so many of you can think of great summer tunes to take you to that “Isla Bonita” as you imagine drinking that non-alcoholic pina colada right? My latest was to read a novel part of a book series called “Deep Blue” by Jennifer Donnelly (soon to be made into a Disney film I’m sure as we haven’t had any mermaid sequels since Ariel!). Even though this book was in the category of “Young Adult Reader” the cover was enough to draw me in to forgotten worlds like Atlantis, while introducing language including English, Romanian, Greek, and Gaelic. Adventure books may lead some to sweat but it had enough “cool” water scenes to keep me refreshed, and I learned something to increase my own literacy!

Anyone denying we have climate change and it is getting both hotter and colder? Hmm. Well then Mr. U.S. President we beg to differ…..when you have power outages due to overuse of air conditioning and cannot access clean beaches since the plastics and various garbage has affected large ecosystems let’s chat again shall we?