“Happiness is a state of mind when I’m able to perceive something ordinary as a miraculous event. An internal click or connection in my mind where things are more beautiful, more graceful, more special, and more fascinating than usual. I notice things on another level.

It doesn’t always happen, if I’m tired or had a negative day, then food is just plain food. It’s not a comestible art and delicacy that inspires other thoughts or associations.” — my response to the question what “happiness” is to me.

Photos from Thursday House Party | Click to Enlarge

As I’m posting these pictures, we’re watching “El Falsaficador” a German film (with Spanish subtitles) about a Jewish con artist who is imprisoned and forced to forge authentic British pounds and U.S. dollars for the Nazi Party to avoid torture and death in concentration camps. In the course of the harrowing plot, his Jewish friends get brutally threatened, humiliated (pissed upon), tortured and shot point blank…all of this is a biography based on true events. It sparked a somber and enlightening conversation about how cruel, sick and ugly human nature can be, and we began sharing horrific things we’ve experienced or seen in our own lives that has made us who we are.

Marcos was in Ethiopia and Kenya in the years of chaos and brutal civil violence, being on a plane stocked full of machetes, machine guns and weapons destined to fuel the war….and few days later witnessing his travel companion gunned down to death before him, and losing his dearest friends in that civil war. He was in Sudan, before it became what it was today, and his heart seemed to glow…and then darken. He reminisced about his youthful years wandering by foot through Afghanistan and India, and how affected he was by recent conflict in Kashmir, which had destroyed some of the most beautiful monuments of human accomplishment he had ever laid eyes upon. Then, being in Europe: Chechnya. Bosnia…things that summon tears and cries. A photo he has, of a family sitting in the worn down living room with soldiers. It is obvious from their faces that they had just seen something so grotesque, so wretchedly painful, their expressions are arrested in that terrible state.

(…And we talked about photo journalism, how it was composed like a visual haiku. I remembered “Beyond Borders” a movie that I very much appreciated.)

Here, too, in Chiapas and further south in Central America, he had classmates who’d become ambulant doctors who went with noble intentions to El Salvador or Nicaragua to help ailing victims, who returned home with psychological scars and extreme paranoias that had never healed because of violent atrocities the military made them do at gunpoint. They still live in fear. They were never able to live with the guilt of what they had done.

The topic saddened and depressed me, but was so enriching that I felt immediately grateful for it. We talked about courage…real courage…how each person reacts to events in their lives, how much of a person’s natural temperament comes from highly heritable genetics rather than circumstance. Whereas one may have great internal resources, the fortitude and resilience, to undergo tragedies and still see the best of things, others mentally break down. (It always astonishes me how many people become devastatingly miserable for years and years over the smallest things; or how many people simply ignore these heavier topics by ‘not letting it get them down.’ Well how do you empathize with humanity if you blissfully ignore these crimes and atrocities? That in itself is a tragedy.) It has to do with demeanor, discipline, and attitude. It has to do with transforming situations into privilege and what we hold dear.

For most of the evening, I listened attentively, I weighed in, and added my own measly experiences… which while it spans many developing countries and interesting projects, always felt so limited and less valid. Of course, Marcos has decades ahead of me, spoke seven languages fluently, and as well as being a doctor and an anthropologist and well respected director of public health in poverty-stricken Chiapas and international stage, he had the privilege and ability of having traveled more than me… (here we are in Mexico, he is translating a German film to me in English.) And even then, he says that he learns so much from me every day—and here is the most remarkable aspect of human beings–we used irony to turn our tragic conversation into shared laughter. The relief of a joke.

I find it an *extraordinary* miracle that, anywhere in the world, I am so often accompanied by good intelligent souls who’re so fascinating and have such depth to their experience. They exemplify wisdom, genuineness, moderation and a tenderness toward others that is often lacking in the world today.

And later… a phone call from a woman named Maria. (The indigenous Mayans call our house when they feel ill, because not only does Marcos give them medical care without charge, but also they intuitively trust him.) He is attentive to local traditional medicines, and gentle to make them feel esteemed and dignified, he handles them with such respect, that they feel comfortable. He explains complex symptoms in lay terms…

Because of friends like this, I’ve forgotten what there was to be miserable, angry or sad about. The world, it seems, has every possible reason to be hopeful.


“Fix You” – Cold Play

When you try your best but you don’t succeed
When you get what you want but not what you need
When you feel so tired but you can’t sleep
Stuck in reverse

And the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you can’t replace
When you love someone but it goes to waste
could it be worse?

Lights will guide you home
and ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you


Personal Note: Rarely I find an exceedingly well-presented lecture that totally adjusts my perspective. This 20-minute talk was delightful, enlightening, fact based. Another reason to be happy.

Spanish Words of the Day: agravarse” to worsen | “manto de agua” water table | “escurrimiento” drainage | “temporalidad” seasonality | “estiaje” ebb tide | “cenit” zenith, peak | “pizca” pinch, in Mexico: harvest