All we know is now. This life is it. We don't know, really and truly, what came before or what will come next. Nobody does. Despite how vociferously some people may claim to know, it is actually only a guess, a belief or, perhaps, a hope.
In university, I recall some friends shaking their heads and stating, "You can't know everything." I think this was in regards to the outcome of a test that didn't go so well, but there's still a lot of truth in that simple statement. This is one of those things you can't know.
Is there an afterlife? Many people I know believe that there is, with all their hearts. Others simply hope there is. Some think there is another life to come, as there was before this one. Who can say for sure? We just have to decide what we prefer to believe.
More and more, I would have to say, I am leaning towards reincarnation. ("Before the Stars" is a poem I posted previously that's partly about this topic.) To me, reincarnation is the ultimate form of recycling. Mother Nature, Father Time and the whole holy posse seem to work quite well together to recycle almost everything else; why not souls?
I've often joked that I was something-or-other in another life. For instance, I've sometimes said I must have been a Boy Scout, since I'm almost always "prepared" for anything. I'm the one with the toilet paper and Swiss Army knife in my backpack and a mini Leatherman tool in my purse. I can't tell you how many men I've surprised when they've moaned, "If only I had a screwdriver!"
Lately, in trying to figure out why I have such an affinity for Cuba, I've found myself saying, "I must have been Cuban in another life." Perhaps I was just oppressed. Or, maybe the connection and empathy I feel for the Cuban people is due to my involvement with women who have been abused.
For nearly two decades, I've worked at shelters for abused women and their children; that's the social work reference in my profile. Spousal abuse could be considered "domestic oppression." Living under any form of regime, if you will, that causes you to think twice before you speak or act takes its toll and makes its mark on your psyche.
People, however, are remarkably resilient and able to adjust to almost anything - now I'm thinking more about a society that has been under a powerful thumb for generations, rather than an individual who must walk on eggshells alone, in her own home. When all your friends and neighbors look over their shoulders before saying things that could be considered controversial or disrespectful to the powers that be, or they stroke their chins rather than mention a certain name, it becomes normalized. That's just the way it is. Oppression becomes a fact of life, as much a part of one's everyday purview as the sun coming up.
One sunny day on my most recent visit to Cuba, I met another guest at the resort who was having a disagreement with the management about some aspect of his bill. He kept talking about this problem that needed to be rectified and was frustrated that nothing seemed to be happening. He was met with shrugs and vague apologies when he tried to demand action.
I eventually came to the conclusion that this is a fundamental difference between the North American and Cuban societies. This Canadian man felt he had identified a problem and he wanted it have it fixed. That's what we do in North America. We protest. We lobby. We boycott. We use the media and draw on any other means at our disposal to fix an identified problem.
In Cuba, the problem is, there is no problem. That's just the way life is. If nothing can be done, why waste energy trying? If you risk being identified as a trouble-maker, why speak out? The ramifications for you and your family could be quite serious. That's not a problem, that's life.
Am I sounding cynical? I'm not usually a cynical person! Most people, in fact, would be more likely to label me as an infernal optimist or an eternal dreamer of good schemes with positive outcomes. I prefer to think of myself as an optimistic realist, but that may be me, looking at my bright side.
When I think about the Cuban people I've come to know, I have to smile. They are not down-trodden depressed. They are hard-working and happy, as a general rule. They are giving and forgiving, warm and welcoming. They are survivors. That's what I love about Cuba - the spirit of the people. They have heart. Maybe that's why I feel such a profound, irrefutable connection. I've been through some difficult times, too, but I'm still willing to smile, and to work quietly for change.
For a poetic exploration of this topic, please read one of my earlier posts:
Worth a War
This blog's title means "Cuban-hearted woman" (very loosely translated!). I settled on this name because it had a nice ring to my unschooled ear and, more importantly, because I think the Cuban people seem to have so much heart, and they're in my heart for that reason. In general, the people I've met in Cuba are quite consistently open-hearted and big-hearted in the way they relate to each other or to visitors in their beautiful land. A piece of my heart now resides in Cuba, with the warm, wonderful friends I've made there. This blog is not intended to be a guide to Cuba, just a forum for my eclectic bits of writing – poetry, opinion pieces and information gleaned from my personal experience and reading.