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.

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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.

 

 

 

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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?

Have a heart & keep your heart healthy… lessons from Snoopy

February is indeed the month of “love” but it is also heart healthy month.  There are many myths and truths about love, heart health, and emotional intelligence… and yes, you guessed it this all ties in with how health literate we are as individuals and as populations. This month I designate Snoopy as my ‘poster child’.

Why? Snoopy is the “man”…  though some of you may like Snoop Dogg (the U.S. rapper and actor) who likely was inspired by the coolest dog, Snoopy, the Charles Schulz Peanut’s character. Though all Peanuts characters that have much to teach us about self-esteem, growing up, friendship, dealing with challenges, there is something to be said about a non-verbal yet very expressive beagle. Some people believe that Snoopy expresses the character of the Beagle breeds the best.

Snoopy knows when to be cool, when to use charm, to express anger at the right times for the right reasons, is cultured as he appreciates art and music, cries and laughs with passion. They have even created Snoopy emoticons calling Snoopy the dog with a thousand faces! He is not a mere bystander when his friend Charlie Brown and gang may experience problems, fear, interpersonal problems, bullying (some countries celebrate February 28th & 29th as Anti-Bullying days though May 4th is the Official U.N. Nations designated date). Snoopy comes to the rescue to teach and handle the situation with the utmost ‘cool’ — one of the best is “He’s a Bully” as how Joe wheels and deals in the bullycharliebrownpower-control arena. The key again in bullying is ‘repeated’ manipulation, teasing, physical altercation (pushing/shoving, hitting, etc.) and yes it occurs from school all through our grown-up lives (in relationships, at work, in communities). Learning about healthy relationships and the power-and-control wheel via The Duluth Model which includes the “equality wheel” — something for all of us to reflect on occasion.

When Snoopy is ‘down’ he also seeks inspiration, friendship, and support from his sidekick Woodstock (named after the 1969 music festival in New York state). Hence why we also need social support and this has been proven time and time again in many psychosocial studies as the one thing that helps us through illness and other life difficulties. As a matter of fact people indeed can die of a ‘broken heart’ (some call it a broken heart syndrome) due to loss of a loved one, lack of social support, or feeling unloved. The American Heart Association gives us the technical names for this syndrome as being stress-induced cardiomyopathy or takotsubo cardiomyopathy — but indeed the reputable organization indicates it is real as it can lead to muscle failure, and more importantly it is treatable.

Getting appropriate blood tests to recognize what we may need to change, dieting, exercising, relaxing, and receiving or looking for support (personal or professional) especially for dealing with our stress or losses, are indeed necessary and can help prevent heart attacks and even death. Most people would benefit from getting in touch with this heart energy, psychotherapy, meditation, prayer, music therapy.  Indeed one of the best experiences both I and others have had in opening this energy, was participating in Insight Seminars. They call their first seminar “awakening the heart” and indeed through facilitation by an experienced trainer and helpful exercises, participants go through a grueling self-reflection… as Michael Jackson said in his song “The Man in the Mirror” — one seeks to change their ways for the better, as an individual and as a community. At no greater time do we need to listen to Michael’s message! Lastly, Whitney Houston reminded us to learn to love ourselves… love yourself but not so much narcissism that you don’t care about others — Justin Bieber’s last hit song hits the spot “love yourself.”

Be healthy, be smart, have a heart…. and stay cool. Thanks Snoopy!