2021 – Forget your resolutions, affirmations and manifestations; You have your agenda in life and life has its own: Never tie a bow around it!

As we approach the New Year, it is a time of introspection, where we look back on the prior year with either regretful dismay or joyous glee, a period when the future, though uncertain, holds a refreshing breath of hope and promise, when we get a short respite to reassess where we are in life and where we’d like to be, beware jumping to any conclusions or having set attachments to any outcomes, as it is highly likely, all resolutions, daily affirmations and drive-through-Guru manifestations aside, that what events and actions you think will occur this year most likely will not result in the wishes you so desire.

At this point you are probably thinking that is a bold statement for one to make. It is. But there is truth behind it. For, we are not in control of our lives nor our minds in the ways we think [and have become accustomed] or feel we are. Alone, almost ninety percent of what we do on a daily basis is done without our knowing, our conscious willing, as we are on auto-pilot. Our mind and what we know is of a system that is in itself incapable of answering the biggest questions, for how can a system think outside of itself, it is self-contradictory and paradoxically absurd. Most modern ideas on decision theory, the what, why and how we reach them, have now been debunked by the likes of Gladwell, R Wright and Kahneman.

The cultural heuristics alone at play, if appropriately understood and applied to any said period, would make the average person rethink how their mind works.  Many of the ways we come to decisions are out of our control; and they are made before we are even aware – as if pre-programmed in our subconscious. So, where then are decisions made? And how are they made? We know only one side of the equation. We know why we see the color red but we do not know why it is red. Other than outside environmental factors, affecting the person through epigenetics, imprinting memories from emotions and context links, the brain itself is only a machine good for calculations, logic and reasoning; otherwise, it is an unnecessary, stressful and anxiety loaded ping-pong machine filled with unfathomable confusion.

2020 has been a year for the history books, a year millions would rather have forgotten ever happened. But we cannot – we cannot change anything that happens in the universe or in our own lives even, we can only change our reaction, our attitude and perspective. We can only live in the present, the now – we have no choice, it is impossible to live in the past or future, there is only the present, and the present is now. As the ten-year anniversary of my horrific accident comes to pass, rendering me quadriplegic below the neck, waking up in a cold dark inner-city trauma ward with a priest at my side, it reminded me that we have our agenda in life, but life has its own – and guess whose wins, every time? Dare to guess?

“Love the hand that fate deals you and play it as your own, for what could be more fitting.”

—  Marcus Aurelius

Once we are knocked down in life we have a choice, we can either choose to stand [or try] back up again, refusing to yield a victim, choosing instead to become a survivor by pushing forward and finding purpose and meaning in life, or lay down, crying “poor me,” allowing ourselves to wistfully blow abound in a blizzard of overly-emotional ‘snowflakes,’ offended by every little one of life’s idiosyncrasies, creating a world of delicate little ‘flowers,’ where no one can speak their mind or truth without causing harsh judgment or irreparable psychological damages to a ruling generation already in need of increased self-worth and inner-confidence. If there was ever a doubt, go read Jordan Peterson of the ‘true north.’

When I went out that Christmas week night with three girlfriends I had no idea I would wake up severely injured. Well, I was almost lost on the trauma table four times so I guess it was a bit worse than was originally thought. Most are not found under a moving train and live to talk about it, let alone become eighty-four percent recovered through a long torturous road of recovery and healing – resulting in a book. In due accorded time, I fully plan to walk and run again. It is through Doing The Dirty Dishes of life that one achieves something of any real integrated value or virtue – anything really worth having in life. 

But, did I have a choice? Do any of us have a choice what [personally] happens to us in life? Are we mere products of fate, pre-destined to be a certain someone or somebody? How much of it is in our control? Does free will exist, or is it the greatest invention of the mind since Siegfried thought he could befriend a wild white tiger – crude bold trickery of the mind? This is not the appropriate space or place to address such lengthy complex subjects or concerns, as they are worthy of their own book chapter each, however it is important that they have some mention. Had I not gone out that night to party and celebrate the success of my new business venture would I have still have ended up in a wheelchair? The answer is YES.

One could go so far as to the hard-determinism view on life, where Elon Musk, a huge proponent and supporter of simulation theory, where it is believed our whole lives are being lived out through a VR headset, sitting in a comfortable cosmo chair, somewhere in a universe conference room, believes we see and experience modern life and reality – virtually – the “ultimate reality.” It is no wonder he wants [and will] to take us to Mars one day in our future, our lifetime. Not that determinism, the doctrine that states that all actions are outside the will of humans, is flawed. Free will is a phantasm of the brain.

The existential and corporal illusion of free will once discovered is overtly disappointing, and at the same time covertly surprising; but once fully understood, an [third] eye-opening occurs, an enlightening and freeing of the mind and all its constraints. Along with believing we have control over our lives, they are the two most critical elements in contributing to the massive increase and ramped rise in stress and anxiety in modern society. There is no need to worry or stress, you have no control over any of your life, including your thoughts. We do not live in the universe; the universe lives within us.

“Fate leads him who follow it, and drags him who resists.”

—  Plutarch

Your life was pre-planned long ago at a meeting somewhere and sometime in the universe. It might have been near your home planet, or somewhere else of past assimilation or experience, but you were there in pure soul-spirit-form and agreed to every little facet of your life. In pre-birth soul planning you planned every part of your life, every last detail, from whom would be your parents, brother, who you will marry, kids or not, divorce, disease, accidents, graduations, travel, likes and dislikes – nothing is left out, or to chance. You spend all your lives surrounded by the same tribe of people, interchanging roles in each lifetime. So in this lifetime your mother could have been your brother in a past life, other-where.

Ever wonder sometimes when you wish to give up, when you ponder taking your own life through suicide, that there is this small flame deep inside that still burns on, a dim pilot that gives you a flicker of hope, a connection to something, a something familiar that makes you feel as if it will all be ok? When you intuit such feelings, even those you feel as you are committing wrongs, there are multiple reasons other than your inner body’s feeling of dis-agreement, they are also influenced through angel, spirit and ancestral guides, as well as your inner Holy Spirit, higher-self, inner-spirit-being, conscious existence – God, and the inexhaustible wheel of karmic debt self-balancing and inescapable cycle of reincarnation.

For those who question fate, and especially for those who believe in [what others blindly tell them] self-manifestation, for those who think you can (or sell other “sheep” into slaughter) do and become anything you wish, or order from the fast food universe, never having done the “actual” inner-work to achieve the desired results, who occupy their time being narcissistic, self-centered and egoistic, have not gone deep within their heart – into their soul – try temping it and see what results. Thus differently, without giving up control in life and what it brings us daily, it is impossible to garner the said outcome cleverly sold to you. That is for those who see success in the most verdant sense, not riches of the heart.

“Everything hangs on one’s thinking…A man is as unhappy as he has convinced himself he is. “

—  Aristotle

For those who think that success, since in the modern world he with the biggest and most toys wins, the prevailing current ethos of our society where we elevate the superficial and reward the shallow, in constant need of daily emotional affirmation, is the result of untold selfless hard work, sacrifice, perseverance, Sisyphus grit and determination, are in for a shock. It is not due to their hard work, lack of personal conviction or endless resolve. The Bill Gates and Oppenheimers of the world owe their success to a complex sinew of universally inter-woven and inter-connected ensemble of synchronistic events.

Resolutions are also a waste – as if the habit, the base of the addiction or pattern, is not changed, so too will the results remain unchanged – rendering them worthless. Otherwise, beware, by definition, if you continue to do the same thing each day and yet wake up the next day expecting different results, one may be labeled insane. There can only be one Michael Jordan, no one else. Focus on yourself, figuring out who you are, why you are here and your passion and purpose, for everyone else is already taken.

Free will does not exist; it is a mental construct of the mind – same as linear time. They are two sides of the same coin – multiple choices in the tree of life, insofar all decisions lead to the same place, your fate.  You become what you are meant to become, even if you take a few detours on the way. You might even have an Unbreakable Mind and choose the road less traveled. It might take more lifetimes as Samsara plays itself out but, eventually once the lessons of earth are learned, you vibration increases manyfold. To begotten one must beget. Life will not come to you, you must go to it – what you put in, you get out.

All the ascended masters over time, whether Jesus, Buddha or Krishna, have increased their frequency and sprung forth their vibration not by logging onto “Rock-sta-app,” wishing they owned a large Mc-mud-hut atop a large desert rock outcrop – replete with haboob window-covers, through manifestation, by endless prayer (as if it is a list; as if God does not already know your wants and concerns), through daily affirmations (which have been proven to have little value outside the warm-fuzzies), or by the hand of any number of self-ordained – fill-in-the-blank on any social media type – life and success coaches.

These are the newly ordained graduating class of ass-hats, requiring  self-sacrificial thorns, a lamb of the self-crucified sub-group of those who have who have in life only successfully achieved mid-life crisis, a never-ending link in the infinite self-help movement societal noose, where a license found in a Cheerios box is no longer par excellence, however thoroughly ensured you are of impossible results via their Facebook PhD – the same group who they themselves have not walked the path by way of traumatic mistake, planned purpose or even happenstance, yet believe themselves worthy of guiding, or even worse, advising others on life – incessantly selling you inbox success and happiness. It is condescending and arrogant to think you know of another’s life better than he himself does; or that you affect change.

“Just keep in mind: the more we value things outside our control, the less control we have.”

—  Epictetus

Whether I went out that frigid December night ten years ago in Philadelphia or not, I still would be injured, in a wheelchair at this time, unable to walk. If it were not the Friday night Express Train tragic accident, it would have been the Saturday morning bus smash incident – it was fate I would end up where I am now. There are no mistakes in life – or chance meetings of places or people of our collective memory. No mud; no lotus. Everything in our lives is inter-connected, with limitless imagination and possibility, as the trees in your backyard are inter-twined and co-dependent – one cannot escape the eternal condition and balance of our own personal karma – each lifetime and lesson must be lived out.

The meaning of life is just that: life – living. It is an experiential process that requires your participation. Sure, fate will bring us to where we are going, and we will get there, eventually, but only first by getting your hands dirty, Doing The Dirty Dishes of life, do you advance. Think of life as a garden, you can either till the soil, providing the proper earth loving nutrients and sunlight, so splendid flowers of love, support and friendship can take root and develop and grow into healthy and mature, bright and beautiful shining souls, or you can pay it no mind, denying it the necessary inner-self-love and natural needed nutrients to bring the plant, your life, to fruition. Life can and will, and is almost guaranteed, change in a just a flash of an eye – if only the Local Train! In life, by the way, your agenda ne’er wins: Never tie a bow around it.

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My Covid-19 forced adoption in Maine; Secure today due to the love of others: A cornucopia letter of colossal gratitude.

It is such in life that one cannot get through it successfully without others – their presence or help. We are sentient beings that learn through reflection, mimicry, experience, and intrapersonal and interpersonal communication. At every point of your day, no matter how far removed, solo or free you feel your emotions or thoughts or existence, you are wholly dependent on others for your survival. It is not only those in our inner circle that assist us on our journey in life, every day we receive boundless help in imperceptibly planned, synchronistic ways from strangers and other spirit-forms, playing to their own inter-connected orchestra, that most are totally unaware.

On the other side of the coin, life is meant to be lived. But it cannot be lived without facing trials and tribulations, of which, never cease throughout our lives. All that changes is your willingness to accept you have no control, and your attitude and reaction. As we face head-on the inevitable obstacles and countless struggles in life, we are unable to push through them without the help of others. It is impossible to function in life without coming into contact with others. Even having a PhD in advanced mathematics from Harvard will not help you escape. Just ask Ted Kaczynski.

In order to build character, integrity and understanding, to become more self-aware, the path leads throughout assisting others in life in need. There are lots of ways to assist others: money, time, support, love, forgiveness and gifts. Only by aiding others do we ultimately learn to place ourselves in their shoes, with vulnerability and authenticity, becoming closer to their actual situation, reality, providing the essential room needed for empathy, compassion and forgiveness to take root, resulting in profound inner-growth and an increased sense of self-enlightenment.

“When eating fruit, remember the one who planted the tree.”            

— Vietnamese Proverb

After becoming stranded at JFK in NYC, it became glowingly clear that I was in dire need of the help of others. What was meant to be a quick stopover to see friends in “The City,” on my way to moving to Europe, was turning into an emergency, a calamity within an existential international crisis. The obstacle is the way. True. As with Sisyphus, only with the help of others are we able to push the boulder up the hill. Nevertheless, it is in Doing The Dirty Dishes of life, getting both your hands dirty, that we truly can accomplish something of any substantive or substantial value.

Weeks later, now jettisoned in Portland, Maine, after ten days and finding no place to live – creating even more urgency – only exacerbating an already precarious situation. Things were starting to look more on the frightful side. Though I remained upbeat something would open up for me, nothing ever did; one rental after the other slowly voided into a black hole. Bouncing from hotel to hotel was exhausting, infeasible and unsustainable. The money in assistance I received when in trouble in NYC was quickly running out. The outlook was becoming dreadful.

Ending up at the Hilton, my future in disarray, after being denied General Assistance, trying desperately to find a place to stay long-term (anticipating Covid-19 wave two, I was planning ahead), it was looking like I would have to live in an extended-stay type hotel. But how? That was well beyond the stretch of my limited budget. Until one serendipitous afternoon I met the hotel manager, a Southie from Baston. Informed on my situation, he told me to give him a few days to see what he could do to help. He was my last hope – my Tom Brady “Hail Mary” pass.

A few days later, feeling depleted, while sunning outside on the patio, Vernon Briggs, the hotel’s new manager, came to talk with me. He said, “Steven, could you get by with an additional mini fridge and a hot-plate in your room?” “Sure can,” I answered. With all my past travel and hotel experience, every industry trick in the book inclusive, I could not lock-in a cheap enough daily rate to pay the hotel bill and still be able to afford food. “Well then, Steven, what do you think of this daily rate?” “It is definitely workable – thank you, Vernon!”  “Oh, and it is tax free, he said.”

“Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”

— Voltaire

Over the next few months Vernon treated me more like an old friend than a guest at his hotel. On down days when feeling blue and depressed, he was consistently there with a positive word and smile. When money was tight and food was short, he always ensured I had a warm meal to eat. And most days it was hard to get past him without him offering me some type delectable sweet as well. In due time, several deep conversations abound, eventually a relationship developed. I now consider him a friend and look forward to meeting him and his family again in the future.

The rest of the staff at the hotel was just as helpful and supportive. Clive never let a shift go by when he did not place a goodies bag by my door for me to awake to – constantly going above and beyond. Shauna, evermore the momma-bear of the hotel, never missing a chance to bring me in a home-cooked meal or something much needed from the local food market – like the little sister I never had, a blessing. And Barbara, the humorous feisty Argentine tigress, incessantly greeting me with a vast smile and humorous remark – a pistol – continually nourished my soul.  

Mark, a person with infinite love and care in his heart for mankind, a man so willing to sacrifice his own contentment for the sake of others’ joy and happiness, someone who deeply understands the meaning of being altruistic, selfless. He is the type person one can only wish to have in their life as a friend or mentor– good stock to the core. Everyone else at the Hilton was super helpful, from staff, Sara and Alicia, to the engineers, Les and Al – everyone was spectacular. Forever will I be grateful to those who helped me transition from homelessness to finding a home in Portland.

As well, I met numerous other guests at the hotel that helped make my stay more enjoyable. Thank you to Anthony, Sheena, Brian and Alisa for the lovely meal in the main dining room. Some of recent acquaintance, Rita and Gwen, would later go on to become friends. Many a star-filled night was spent outside on the cozy patio conversing by the gaslit fire-pit. As a result of so much time spent by an airport hotel, I met a plethora of passersby, from all over the globe, from every profession imaginable, listening to their stories by blazing flames, and most often over a cold drink. Some nights with guests did not go as planned, concluding with memorable fodder.

Locally, others were also just as involved in making my extended stay in Maine comfortable. Laney, the friend who rescued me from NYC, and I spent much time road-tripping through New England, traveling the Kancamagus Scenic Byway in New Hampshire, eating seafood at Federal Jack’s in Kennebunkport, Maine, sharing laughs at Bentley’s Saloon (Bush Sr. would frequent when staying locally) with the owner and local celebrity, Bentley, or drinks or eats at any local Portland favorites, Wilson County BBQ, Duckfat or Omi’s Cafe, is an angel sent from above.

“I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and the new.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

In Unbreakable Mind, in order to get through a serious trauma and recovery, I write about how critical it is to form a team and superb plan – a community of unending support, because it is not only required [if you wish to succeed] but necessary – the same is true in life. It is by means of others that we best learn about ourselves. And why wouldn’t it? We are all one; a mere reflection of one another: the cosmos is your eye; and your eye is the cosmos. What you do to yourself, you do to your neighbor – and vice versa. We are all inter-fused through “one” shared sub-conscious.

The journey of life cannot be completed alone – we all require the love and support of others at various times of our lives. As humans we are animals and as animals we are social beings. It is via others how we ultimately graduate extreme ‘spirit school’ AKA earth – as it travels through the universe at 107,000 km/h. As masses of confused meat-drabbed stardust incarnate, we are on this hurling rock of magma through the cosmic shit-storm of unknown together. Community and society do not work unless everyone plays their part; all the cogs are interrelated. A life fulfilled, replete with purpose and mission, success and happiness, is best had by way of assisting others.

We all have the capability within us to bring out the greatest in others and, as a result, ourselves. If not today, when you do you become your best self? 2020 has been a year for the history books; it cannot end soon enough for a myriad. Now is a period of contemplative thinking and resolve – time to be alone with your thoughts and how you wish to improve yourself in the coming year – an opportunity to be together with your family and friends again, breathing life into yesteryear.  And at a time when the world is in such need of healing, why not start by helping others today?!  

#gratitude

Travel Blog: Click here.

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Book: Unbreakable Mind. (Print, Kindle, Audio)

Doing The Dirty Dishes Podcast: Watch or listen to episodes and subscribe: SpotifyApple PodcastBuzzsprout.  Also available on Google PodcastiHeartTunein, Amazon Alexa and Stitcher

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Social Media linksTwitterInstagram and Linkedin.

Travel Blog links: Covid-19 stranded in NYC JFK and Maine – also travel stories on Ireland, Spain, SwedenBelgiumIcelandColombia (Espanol version), AmsterdamGermany, New HampshireTN and NYC.

Personal Website link where you can also find my bookphotos of my travels and updates on current projects.  

Thank you for your love and support.

Ep. #4 Synchronistic Altruism: Homeless and on the run: Meeting Norbert in Amsterdam.

If eighteen years of brainwashing at the hands of nuns and priests in Catholic school taught me anything, it was to be charitable, help those in need and the Golden Rule: Treat others how you would like to be treated. These are basic tenants of humanity, we all can agree. But how many of us actually carry them out; how many of us demonstratively match our actions to our words? Forty-five years into this ‘simulated life’ and I am still learning every minute, day – lifetimes.

Growing up it was instilled in me that as helpful as it was to give a man a fish it was far more valuable if you taught him how to fish for himself. A soft-spot for those less advantaged in life, it was innate. Something I never had to specifically learn or be told; it felt natural to me to look after them, almost instinctive. It was as if I was preparing one day to be on that side of the table without knowing how, when, or if. We now have that answer – complimentary wheels included.  

It is late 2010s, I am spending my summers living in Europe as a writer. And another three to four months a year traveling the world in my wheelchair, blogging for those whom travel is a challenge. Later I would have an apartment in Amsterdam, Holland, but for much of my time there it is spent in an upper-scale hostel. Hostels are the absolute best for meeting all different type people the world over. Amsterdam: surely a city not lacking in off-the-wall personalities.

This one particular summer I decided to divide my time in Amsterdam into two separate six- week trips. The first would be a bit earlier, in spring, the latter later, into fall. I had never been there for King’s Day, which meant I would be in the city for a time and an event new to me. I had heard it was a wild party but nothing could have prepared me for the mayhem. During the debauchery, shockingly I witnessed a man in the nascent stages of a psychological melt-down.

Later that afternoon in the café, when approached to check his mental state, as he was heavily dosed up on multiple drugs, resulting in adverse ‘Sponge-Bob Square Pants’ type stares, in need of adult supervision, he finally allowed me to talk with him. He would affectionately come to be known as Davo AKA “Crazy Dave.” Davo was a straggly, dreadlock haired down-under wild man, hell-bent on pissing away his newly acquired Australian lawsuit money that summer in Europe.

Each night, at the hostel bar, a gaggle of us would gather to imbibe and indulge decadence. Basically, we were motley group of new friends, from all over the planet, amalgamating as one. Like moths drawn to the magic of ‘the trail’ – sharing understanding and bonding through rich inter-cultural conversation. One night a new guy appeared in the picture – or rather, on the couch. Who was this cat? He looked disheveled – oddly a wee bit dodgy. Something was amiss.

Days passed and he was still there. On the third day, I noticed different people in our crowd ordering food, and when it arrived they would say they were not hungry, pushing the food toward the yet unknown scraggly person, now a part of our ensemble. Later that day I found out that he was from Poland, homeless with nowhere to go each night, other than the streets. Wow, really?! My heart immediately went out to him. But my mind had so many questions.

The next day in the auditorium, a public room with lots of couches and chairs for us to loiter, our group clustered. We would do the same outside the hostel almost every night, on Oostpark. Some days we were there from 11:00 to 03:00 the next morning. Everyone boogied off, doing their thing, leaving only him and I alone. “Hello, what is your name?” “I am Norbert,” he said. He went on to tell me, “I am homeless,” and “I currently live in the park, hidden in the brush.”

Immediately my eyes welled up. I was unsure what I had just heard. He went on to tell me, “Everyone I know steals from me. No one is honest; they all lie to me; take advantage of me.” He continued, “I have no real true friends in life – I am alone on the streets. Currently I live in a park, under a tree, on the dirt.” He explained, “I was squatting on a boat but one morning the owner came home and I had to run, leaving all my belongings there, including my cell phone.”

Before continuing on with the story, let me interject some perspective. I am a spiritual person who has walked through hell to be me. Reading has been an essential tool on my journey. It was also a key part of my recovery and ultimately, healing. It was the foundation needed for writing my first book: Unbreakable Mind.  Although I espouse ‘Doing The Dirty Dishes’ of life, sometimes a person just needs a hand extended with love to get them get back up to the sink.

Being a prolific reader (3-5 books a week), and especially since spending my summers living in Amsterdam, I packed a small library to read. One book that I was most enchanted: Altruism, by a favorite author of mine, Matthieu Ricard. A 700 + page yellow behemoth of lessons awaited me.  As with all books, there are no mistakes – they come to you at the time meant. And, true of all lessons in life, one must first be receptive to change before any enlightenment is possible.

This book changed me; it affected me in profound ways. The book spoke to my soul, extending deep into my core being – Holy Spirit. I thought I understood altruism but I was tremendously mistaken. It is so much more than simply lending a hand or helping someone. Often it is argued how possible is it to be ‘purely altruistic’ but this book makes the case. It explains the high level of compassion, care and concern needed for the well-being of another to help them in their life.

 “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”  – Mahatma Gandhi

Well, it was time to put the metal to the grind. What better time to hone an indispensable life lesson? Or simply put, welcome the universe at play with synchronicity. We were both meant to meet one another and speak alone that day. I decided that I was going to step up and show him what it meant to have a good friend, someone who is genuinely concerned with your inner-prosperity, not just today but also the future – someone who wants better for your life, always.

While he was visiting the bathroom I took the opportunity to fold up Euros, placing them under his beer. Being a poor writer did not pay my bills but being a trader did, providing me enough to share. When he returned for a sip of beer he saw it and said, “What is this…Why?” It was hard to play dumb as no one was there to scapegoat action I would have preferred unseen.  Aware he was Polish, I asked, “Are you Catholic?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Merry Christmas, early.”

That afternoon he went on to tell me a story of extreme heartbreak. At this time he was ‘on the lam’ from the law in Poland – other friends were not so lucky. Some unfortunate things outside his immediate control happened. He and some friends were working for a wealthy businessman and were not paid.  So they robbed his property in order to eat. They worked for two months and were left to starve. All this meant he had no papers, thus living in Holland illegally – a ghost.

“Show me a man without a skeleton in his closet and I will show you a man without virtue. “         – Abraham Lincoln

None of that mattered to me. And at this point helping him with lawyers and legal fees was the least of his worries. He was homeless, living on the streets of a major European city. His biggest daily concerns were primal: food, water, shelter – basic survival. He was living like an animal in the bushes of many a popular park in central Amsterdam, including Vondelpark. Whilst tourists passed by, ignorantly bliss to his dire plight, someone’s son, brother, uncle – was living a hell.

As we sat in the auditorium one chilly spring afternoon on the couch together, drinking beers and eating fries (top 3 in Amsterdam), talking and smiling, he was completely baffled – he wanted to know why I was assisting him in life, why did I chose him? Who was I? He only knew me as the quiet general who liked to eat and drink, puff and chat, meet new interesting people, listen to music and wonder beneath the stars with anyone crazy enough to join the cacophony.  

Norbert, “You deserve to have a good friend in life; you merit to be treated with dignity and respect. You are worthy of love and having someone in life that values you and treats you as a real friend – and now you do not have that. You are lacking the primary essentials in life, needs all humans require and warrant. I will be that friend, I will show you that there are good people in the world still, who love others unconditionally and wish happiness for you.” He cried softly.   

The thought that someone I had just crossed paths with synchronously needed to be reminded he was human, entitled to respect, kindness, goodness, love, courage, dignity, worthiness, joy, hope and dreams – like every other human on this planet, hit me like a ton of bricks. Searching for an opportunity to marry my actions to my words, the universe provided me an alter: a triple cross, draped in neon. Our lives would be forever altered in time. So many others’ lives too!

Friends suddenly all poured back in, the party was back in full swing. Not ten minutes passed since everyone had gone off for a smoke or to the café to fetch some more beers and two lives, now inextricably intertwined, had universally changed in tremendous ways, setting off ripples of love and goodness, ad infinitum. My heart felt like it never did before; it was electrified. The light that was lit inside of Norbert was clear – he now had a friend for life. His grin said it all.

The next morning I was awakened by a knock at my door at 08:30. Aware the cleaning service was not due in that morning – I was puzzled as to who could be at my door so early. It was Norbert, with a big smile. Over time his constant thirst for living life and daily dose of positivism secretly lifted me up on my most difficult days. He stood there, two large white plastic bags in tow. They were filled with food and shower items – gifts of love. What had just happened? I was stunned.

This slim-shady looking Pole, coming from spending the night sleeping in the local park located adjacent the hostel, without the most basic necessities of life, could only think of me, of how he could make me content. Wow! Are you kidding me? The night before I gave him my room key so he could go have a hot shower. He took note of the fruits and snacks I had on my desk and decided to surprise me with my favorites. The fruit was [always] fresh from the Turkish stand.

When the student is ready, the teacher appears.  — Proverb attributed to Buddha

On my return trip that summer, upon arriving at the hostel, Norbert was waiting outside for me. He always had a welcome satchel of treats and bathroom items when I arrived; and travel to-go bag when I departed. From that day forward, to the end of my stay in September, never once did he leave my side. Amsterdam is a big city with dangers, aside from all the drugged up tourists ‘running amok’ in Centrum, home to the Red Light District, where safety is prudent.

A person whose life has been dealt a bad hand but approaches every morning with a glimmer of hope, always overly optimistic the sun will shine tomorrow. He almost has a touch of innocent naïveté. He now had a safe place to keep his bag of life’s belongings, to eat whenever needed, or have a shower and rest. Without ID he could not stay at the hostel; papers are required for proper ID. Often I would give him a pillow and linens to bring to the park to sleep for the night.

Every morning he was at my door – even one day after being stabbed in Oostpark on his way to see me. The greatest helper an injured person could wish, forever a step ahead of me. Always he handled the wheelchair for all Uber rides – endlessly my guardian, always ensuring my safety everywhere we went. He constantly checked locations we patronized for accessibility. He never knew how much that meant. His love and care meant the world to me. I am forever grateful.

We went everywhere together, most times surrounded by other friends from the hostel. Over the next two summers we shared countless memories. We visited museums, exhibitions, the zoo, the beach, went to lunch at fancy places and spent much time in the sun at local cafes, enveloped in conversation. He told me how special all those trips were to him – how they made him feel like a little boy again. He had a hard upbringing in rural Poland where money was tight. 

If ever I wished [secretly] to have a little brother in life – I had found him.

Many nights at the start of the relationship he wanted to know why I was so generous to him. Explaining the 700 page opus on Altruism was out of the question. But a story from a past life was not. I told him that most likely in the 1500s, in Europe, I was a poor peasant in trouble, in dreadful need, and he was a rich businessman who took pity on me and my family. This was the universe’s karmic balance. In fact, truth told: he was my helper, an angel – my life teacher.

Not my circus, not my monkeys.  – Polish Proverb

But, oh, yes, it is our circus, and they are our monkeys.

The measure of any civilized society is how it treats those who are in need. The measure of an individual is how he/she, through daily virtue and practice, treats those same in need. By which he transcends all differences, helping relieving suffering of others, giving fellow humans hope for days of happiness ahead, assisting others without question or prejudice, eliminating despair and instilling hope, truly caring and concerning for the welfare of others. That is just a start!

Life’s worth and happiness do not come from how many toys or titles you can collect but the good you do in life.  We all originate from the same wellspring of humanity. It goes beyond the ethos of a society, squarely at the base of your core values as a person, as a human. Anyone can help another person – Altruism is about transforming their whole life into one that guarantees them the same universal dignity and respect afforded all humanity. It is about service to others. 

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” The question I have for you at this point of our journey together is, “What is your genius?”  – Albert Einstein

There is no limit to what ‘true altruism’ can accomplish. In the end, we are here on this planet to contribute to the betterment of humanity: it is our sacred duty, to the extent our best inner strengths are utilized for the sake of all people. When we die no one remembers our 3000sq meter home but they certainly remember those whom we helped from disparagement, those we supported their greatest inner qualities so as to awaken happiness. That is one’s true legacy.

Everyone within them possesses immeasurable gifts of treasure and promise; it is up to us to tap into that creative light, encouraging others to be their best self – to shine their brightest.

Life is a dance best done together. Thank you for being my partner – your love, Norbert.

Three years on, life is vastly different for Norbert. No longer are the park, jail or prison nightly sleeping options. He now has a full-time construction job, a Polish girlfriend and an apartment replete with friends, in a nice suburb of Amsterdam. He has made progress on the legal front, expecting to get his “papers” within months. He now has dignity, hope, confidence, joy and happiness in his life again. He dreams of one day going to America. I’ll be waiting, arms open.  

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