Friday, 19 July 2013

Grandma and Milk

"Grandma, what color is your hair? White. Just like milk!

I was moved by my grandson’s observation who, at age two, likes “white milk”.
The primordial nutrient, that brings with it comfort, tenderness, growth and nutrition.
Milk is good!
My grandson didn’t tell me that my hair was white as snow, which is cold and burns, and he wasn’t talking about saudade”.
In his childhood wisdom, he was going against the foul words spoken by a Social Democratic deputy who, in a moment of parliamentary theatricality, said that “our fatherland was contaminated by the gray plague” (sic).
In order to speak against the systematic violence against the elderly, now also perpetrated in our country’s highest Chamber, I did some research on the accomplishments of said gray haired guys: the “plague”. Here are but a few: 
·        Morse developed the Morse Code at age 47;
·        Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan, was a War correspondent at age 67;
·        Bell was still inventing at age 75 and Edison produced the telephone at age 84;
·        Golda Meir was Prime Minister at age 70 and Winston Churchill both at 66 and 77 years old, and Adenauer at age 88.
·        Both Charles de Gaulle and Ronald Reagan were presidents at age 69.
·        Benjamin Franklin gave his contribution to the US Constitution at age 81.
·        Goethe finished “Faustus” at age 81, Tolstoi wrote “I cannot be silent” at 82, Somerset Maugham wrote “Viewpoints” at age 84, and Bernard Shaw wrote the “Farfetched Fables” at age 93;
·        Claude Monet still painted in his 70’s – 80’s, Michelangelo in his 80’s and Picasso in his 90’s.
·        Albert Schweizer still worked on the operating table at age 89;
·        Elizabeth Arden and Coco Chanel both took care of their respective companies until they were over 85 years old.
·        Rubinstein played in his 90’s and Pablo Casals while over 96 years of age;
·        Tesichi Igarishi climbed Mount Fuji on foot in his 100th birthday;
·        Manoel de Oliveira directed twenty films after his 82nd birthday and released his film “Gebo and the Shadow” while he was 104 years old.

One might argue that these are only a few and successful people, while there is an enormous amount of useless and ill elderly that make society spend an enormous quantity of money. The foolish inverted pyramid!
While they don’t decide to retake the old Sparta’s habit of throwing the elderly into the sea, perhaps in Sagres or Cape Espichel, I would like to name but a few elderly who anonymously and without  glamour, continue to prove their usefulness every single day:
·        There are mothers in their 80’s that must once again take care of their unemployed sons;
·        There are grandparents taking care of the household members suddenly unemployed or divorced;
·        There are husbands or wives taking care of their now demented partners;
·        There are many elderly all over the country, taking care of their plantation or villages, and so maintaining our secular identities.
·        There are many elderly still working and making a living;
·        There are many elderly stubbornly living alone.There are many elderly who are unique deposits of our cultural knowledge and of our collective memories;
·        There are many gray heads ruling over Europe’s destiny;
·        There is a national solidarity network of people and institutions, organized beside the current state of affairs, that maintains untouched and alive churches, homes and other social institutions;
·        In Europe, it is mainly gray haired people who silently perpetrate in each church our Lord Jesus’ memento: “Do this in my name”.

The Scriptures teach us that age brings wisdom. Thus, the biblical patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were elderly, and the most stable institutions in History, such as the Religious Churches, Universities or the Armed Forces, have been governed by gray haired people.
Our deputy surely did not have the pleasure of being in his grandmother’s lap, nor does he have parents with gray hair.
Since my hair is white as milk, I am really sorry for you. I’m sorry for you and for all those who can’t see anything in their lives beyond money, power and possessions.
I’m sorry for those who, as Pope Francis says, are contaminated by indifference’s globalization.
I’m sorry for those who don’t include any sort of transcendence in their daily lives.
And therefore, especially for you, Mr. Deputy, and for whoever feels like reading it, I leave a psalm for an eventual meditation.

Psalm 92:12-14

The justs will flourish like a palm tree and will grow as Lebanon’s cedar trees; planted in the Lord’s Home they will flourish in Our Lord’s court. They will still bear fruit in their elder age and will remain fresh and verdant. 

Professor Teresa Paiva
Lisbon, July 19th 2013

Friday, 12 July 2013

Guardian Angels

It happened on July 2nd around 9:30 am.
It was a noise, so loud and unknown, that no one could identify what it was.
One had to run…to run from something unnamed and terrible.
When I opened my bedroom door, I saw the street and a burned neighbor crying for help.
The stairs were filled with glass, wood and debris. The phone call to 911 was messy: “An explosion, on Conde das Antas Street, in Campolide it’s serious.” “We already know!”
Everything was black, and the fire was starting, wrapped in an even darker smoke. Terrifying.
What about the grandson, who I had heard in the backyard just before? He was alright, Anabela cried. “I heard a noise, a candle fell on my nose, and I cried”. To take him away from the fire was imperative; friends from the office appeared as by miracle in the garden and came towards us; we left, towards the corner to peek at the fire.
Cars burning in the street, one first, then another and another. A jeep burning beneath my window. How to avoid fire? A hose? The house is going to burn…No one can think straight in these circumstances.
A man filled with glass cuts laying on the street. Ambulances arrive. The firefighters arrive and quickly put out the fire.
We are together and each one tells her story. Ana watched a bus stopped because someone had their car blocking its way and opened the window. The explosion threw her underneath another desk and filled her with glasses, she fainted but, Sofia, who had also been hit by glasses, came to her aid, and both were unharmed, other than a small pain resulting from the fall. Ana V. entered the corner where the computers are seconds before the explosion, which meant she saved herself from all debris thrown like bullets. Teresa and Vera had just left, a minute before the explosion and when it happened, they were safe on the next street. Deolinda was in the gym and ran towards the others. They ran to the garden in search of a safe haven. Everybody was alright.
There weren’t any patients in the Office. The one who had just made an exam had just left, the one who had an EEG appointment at 9:30 had canceled, another forgot her consultation. For unexplained reasons, I had canceled that day’s appointments.
I now look back. I was feeling a bit lazy and took longer to get up, and it was those precise seconds that saved me from a rather certain death. We had all escaped by a narrow edge.
This street, where there’s usually a fair amount of traffic was empty, no cars were passing by when the explosion happened. The bus went on his way moments before, taking all its passengers with him.
A neighbor, whose jeep burned, harassed himself for a moment, then looked to his parents’ home completely destroyed an thought: “They went away in vacation just yesterday and are all right. What a relief!”
An elderly grandmother had just gone somewhere with her grandson, took a bit longer than she should have coming back; she was on the corner of the street, away and safe from any danger.
The destruction was monumental, doors, glass and windows had disappeared in three buildings; the fire had ravaged  the street, there were broken glasses in many locations through the surrounding streets.
Many helped us: our neighborhood’s delegate, Dr. André Couto, was flawless, and like him, both his staff, the Police and the civil protection.
I thought how good it was to have a 19th and 20th century house, with such sound foundations, whose structure resisted the impact, and I mentally thanked the Pereira Coutinho family.
Friends called giving comfort and asking “What can I do?” It was good, very good.
I called my daughter and my son-in-law. “It was bad…” They rushed over to give an enormous help and an invaluable support.
But we were alright, protected by forces bigger than ourselves and that, one by one, took care of us. Without a single injury in a sea of debris.
The guardian angels had protected the Practice and had taken care of us.
A deep appreciation; a deeper gratitude, because as we pray in the “Our Father”, “we had been delivered from Evil”.
When I am told “What bad luck!” I think, “No, we were very lucky!”
And this is how, together, we are putting things back up, as a strong and united team.
And today, now that the worse is behind us, I feel the guardian angel’s protection hovering over this house and quietly go to sleep.

Professor Teresa Paiva

Lisbon, July 11 2013