Day Two – San Patrignano Experience

Out first full day at San Pa began with breakfast. The breakfast is rather unusual. It consists of day-old bread that you can dip into marmalade, orzo ( a liquid consisting of barley extract and milk) and espresso. From there our companion/guide, Alessandro, gave a quick history of San Patrignano, which began about 50 years ago with one struggling addict being welcomed into the home of Vincenzo Muccioli and culminating in a community covering over 300 acres, several locations and housing 1,400 people today. Over the years there were lots of mistakes, trials and errors and revisions to the program but core beliefs of the program remain the same. The senior residents supervise and shadow the newer members – showing them the ropes, teaching them about the community and guiding them in what is expected of them in the community. Sometimes that guidance is gentle and sometimes it is tough – the community, as in life, requires the members to live up to their responsibilities.

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Our guides – Alessandro, Laura, Kyra and Rachele

We toured some of the vocational training departments – sectors with our guides (in the photo is Alessandro, Laura, Kyra and Rachele). Every resident is assigned to one sector when they arrive and there they will remain throughout their stay (with a few exceptions). The program has always prided itself on the belief that putting in a good day’s work is essential to developing self-respect, self-confidence and feeling part of a community. Developing life and job skills is a critical component of the long-term sobriety success of successful graduates of its program.

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The first sector we visited was Graphics. There the residents maintain the website, post on various platforms for social media, prepare and modify various media for the internet. In addition, they also design and print various brochures, posters, business communications, etc. for San Pa and outside clients.

The next sector was the fabric sector. In this sector the residents manufacture various styles of fabrics from natural and recycled material. The material is used to create clothing, blankets, scarves and bags. The items are then sold by San Pa to raise funds for operations or are delivered to outside designers as prototypes for future orders. The quality of the finished products was incredible! IMG_1190

The decorations sector was next on the list. There they make special order, hand stenciled wallpaper; they produce work for a number of world-renowned architects who ask for custom made wallpaper for their clientele. The process as explained to us was painstaking but produced some magnificent works of art in the guise of wallpaper. Some of the wallpaper was designed and printed to look like ornate wood paneling; this was achieved using a long process that begins with different earthen materials and sponging techniques to simulate the wood grain. Within the same sector Kyra talked to us about how they use leather, eco-leather and other materials to design and manufacture bags, purses and stuffed toys. The craftsmanship was second to none. IMG_1194

We made a quick stop in the woodworking department. There they specialize in re-purposing old wine casks and using them for a variety of products ranging from furniture to cutting boards. They also make and repair all wood items used in the community.

Lastly we toured the lavanderia – the laundry. Laura took great pride in explaining the system in doing laundry and dry cleaning not only for every table cloth and uniform but also for all the residents. From collection to washing to drying to folding and returning clean items to 1400 residents and various sectors is an enormous task, as you can imagine. IMG_1200

After lunch we were given the afternoon off and we all headed off to the nearby principality of San Marino. The views from this tiny, mountain-top kingdom were breath-taking as was the ancient stone walls of the castle. After sightseeing we paused for some refreshments and managed to call our loved ones back home.

We have been interacting with a host of the residents here – Scott, Rachele, Ivan, Azzura, Tom, Christian – just to name a few. All of our interactions have been very positive. Everyone has been very pleasant and accommodating. Their stories are similar to the ones we hear at home – drugs ravaged their lives, ruined relationships and led them to the brink of destruction; they have learned to deal with life without avoiding the difficult spots, appreciate what San Pa has done for them and are a little nervous about facing the big world when it is time for them to leave. IMG_1226IMG_1208

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Day One – San Patrignano Experience

As much as you expect a transatlantic trip to be a grueling experience, you are nevertheless surprised at how much sitting in a cramped plane for hours can take out of you. We arrived in Bologna exhausted and feeling pretty grimy but anxious to get to the final destination in Rimini. The last leg of the trip would require a bus trip (about 2 hours) from the airport to downtown Rimini.

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A quick aside about that bus trip. The bus driver spoke almost no English but a few passengers seemed to have some English. He must have been driving buses for some time because he had no problem maneuvering that big bus in traffic and through narrow streets. I must admit that sometimes he came within inches of cars, abutments or people but there were no incidents or fatalities along the way. He was quite comical on the highway too; he was periodically cursing out some slow moving vehicle and leaning on the horn quite often. His choice in music, however, was the crowning moment. We were expecting some Italian music but instead were treated to Johnny Paycheck, Elvis, Ringo Starr and Charlie Pride. Kate and I had a good chuckle about that.

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We arrived in Rimini and were enthusiastically greeted by Matteo, our driver, who took us to the San Patrignano compound. We met other participants for the workshop – Stephanie (a Californian who now calls UK her home), Tatiana (a Canadian who hails from Croatia and speaks a little Italian), Sonia (a Californian in the process of building and establishing a San Pa model community in Napa/Sonoma) and Don (a Canadian who is in the process of starting up a community based solution to addiction). We expect there will be more participants but we have not met them yet. We met our respective “guides” for our stay (Alessandro, Kyra, Rachele and Laura) here at San Pa and we got settled into our respective “cassettas” or cabins for the length of our stay. We will get together later for dinner with the staff and administration and get to know each other better.

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A hot shower and a hot meal and good conversation never felt so good.

Mom’s Musings – 12/29/63

“Dec. 29 – This day was somewhat of a nightmare but thank God I came through the afternoon crisis.  Pat, Mom and Dad, Margaret and Pat’s mom came to see me in evening.  Too bad Ann will be going home tomorrow. Could use moral support.”

Brothers

 

While rummaging through some boxes I ran across some journals/notes written by my mom.  I’ll be posting some of them periodically and perhaps jotting down some of my thoughts.  This first post describes the day by brother, Steven, was born.

Offer Up Your Hearts

I read a very interesting article the other day. It was a short article in Time’s online edition. Short on length but long on depth and meaning. The article discussed Pope Francis’ different perspective on the traditional Lenten fasting. Most of the time when we give up something for Lent, it’s a personal sacrifice; that’s true but rarely does that sacrifice translate to benefiting someone else. That’s where the Pope’s calling upended the traditional view.

The Pope’s call for Lent? Fast from indifference towards others.

Indifference by Son of Groucho

Image by Son of Groucho

What does it mean, indifference? Mirriam Webster defines it as a “lack of interest in or concern about something.” So what is His Eminence asking us to “give up”? Well, give up being apathetic to others’ problems; stop walking past the derelict on the street; give up our complacence towards others’ pain; stop the coldness, hard-hardheartedness and callous disregard toward the plight, the anxiety, the homelessness, the hunger, the poverty … the fear of our brothers and sisters. We need to show concern for others. “Concern?” “A marked interest or regard usually arising through a personal tie or relationship” is how the dictionary defines “concern.”

So what the difference? Simple. Let your sacrifice have some depth, some heart, some meaning. Let it not be just a veneer – let it sink in a permeate every nook and cranny of your being. We need to hear those inner voices that trouble our conscience; something that causes us to squirm from discomfort.

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Image by QuotesEverlasting

The longer we harden ourselves to the world outside the more our hearts and souls become encased in and encrusted with hardened steel and barbed wire, impervious to the needs of others. We become incapable of feeling compassion, sympathy and empathy for the troubles and pains of others. We tend to believe and act as if “all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.” That belief tends to reinforce the hardness and coldness of our hearts and further distances ourselves from those around us. In the meantime the suffering of others gets progressively worse and unbeknownst to us, our own suffering of spirit spreads like a cancer. Our souls leak as our humanity rusts and withers. Finally, when we are alone we wonder why no one seems to care, no one seems to notice that our hearts are as black as night.

Look around. Take notice. Take action. Give up the indifference to the plight of others. You don’t have to solve the problem – you just have to let them know they’re not alone. Just be their friend. The effect is more long-lasting than giving up chips or chocolate for Lent.

Indifference by Erich Ferdinand

Image by Erich Ferdinand

So eat your chips and chocolates, keep binging on Netflix. Give your heart and attention instead.  Rend your hearts not your garments.

Ever Northward

It is late November.  I can feel the muslin shroud begin to descend over the holiday season – dulling my senses.  The Christmas season is my favorite time of year and my least favorite. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times.

I can feel the tug of “the journey” begin to pull at my heart strings.  December 22nd has come and gone fifteen times already; fourteen Mother’s Days and fourteen July 11ths.  During the past fifteen years, I’ve made this passage dozens of times.  Sometimes it was multiple excursions in a year, especially in the early years but not so much in recent times.  For two years during my battle with my inner demons, my addiction, I didn’t make the trip at all; too ashamed to make an appearance on those “holy grounds”.

I travel northward, ever northward, like the snow geese above me.  Passing the Canadian geese heading south with their incessant honking.  Over the same pathways as before, through the barren and bleak winter countryside.  Past the familiar hamlets and lakes that dot the route of PA 402 through the mountains.  I pick up US 6 through Wallenpaupack and Hawley and Damascus.  There is very little in the way of traffic except in the villages.  Not many people are making this trek.

As I approach Narrowsburg I cross over the Delaware into New York.  Sometimes it feels like I’m crossing the River Styx for nothing awaits me except for reminders of death.  Nevertheless I push onward through Lava.  All around is evidence of a region that is long past it’s prime: unkempt lawns, cars on blocks in the driveways, paint peeling off the ramshackle homes.  Depression epitomized.

I am close.  The summer camp sites that surround Lake Huntington are the harbinger that my pilgrimage is nearing its end.  The three hour journey ends when I pull into the cemetery in Fosterdale.  Fosterdale is so tiny a town that one would miss it if one blinked; it doesn’t amount to much more than a gas station/convenience store, a church and a flashing traffic signal. An unlikely backdrop, I admit, for this blog post but there it is.  This is where she “resides” now.  The car comes to a stop and I turn off the engine.  Silence.

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Not much has changed since last year.  I remove the dried out decorations and memorials from last visit and replace them with fresh ones.  No doubt they will be there next year and I will repeat this little ritual.  I brush away the dead leaves.  My aunt, Margaret, rests nearby.  I silently pay my respects to her memory as my cousin, who has accompanied me on this trip for the past five or so years, places her Christmas memorial greens on my aunt’s resting place.

She used to live not far from here, my Mom.  I can’t be sure for how long but it was long enough for me to have visited several times.  The truth is, I think I’ve visited her more since her untimely passing than when she was living in the area.  There was always going to be plenty of time to visit … maybe next Mother’s Day … maybe next summer … maybe next Christmas.  There wasn’t going to be any more “next times” after December 22, 2000.

Honestly, there were several trips when I felt “obligated” to make the trek – six hours of traveling for a 15 minute visit – but this trip felt a little different.  This time it felt as if she were saying, “It’s ok. You don’t have to do this anymore although I do appreciate the effort and the thought.”

But as I write this I feel something else.  I feel that gentle tug on the heart, that flash of the memories, and I reach a place of serenity and coalescence.  For as long as I am able I will make this pilgrimage to that holy place.  Her memory deserves it and I need it.

 

 

Mission Bells

I was heading into a smaller version of a big box mega store with Kris. It was the midpoint of the Christmas season and the shopping frenzy was in full swing.

We had already passed by several monolithic monster stores, noticing the extraordinary amount of cars in the parking lots. “No way” I thought to myself. Visons of madness at the checkout lines danced in my head. By today’s standards, the one we chose was tiny.  So there was hope that we could get what we needed with a minimum of stress.

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Kris the Elf meets Elsa

 

Our mission that evening – find a few gifts for Peter from Kris.

As we walk from the car toward the front doors, we discuss the types of things Peter would like for Christmas. We decide that cookies and Goldfish crackers would be good choices. We can hear the familiar jingling of the Salvation Army bells.

“What is the story of those bells? Why are they ringing?” he asks.

I explain what the Salvation Army does in God’s name – help the poor, prepare hot meals for the hungry, shelter for the homeless and special Christmas and Thanksgiving meals.

He takes in what I’ve said. “Hmm, that’s good.”

We purchase our items and as we walk out the doors he asks me to carry the packages. I comply and walk ahead of him toward the ringing bells. I make a small donation and head to the car. Kris follows a few steps behind me.

“That man was very happy with me.”

“Why is that?” I ask.

“I gave $10.”

“Why did you give $10?”

“Because I like to help people.”

I smile.

Yes you do, Kris. Yes you do.

Dont seize your opportunity…

A good example of missing opportunities by the limits we place on ourselves. These limits thwart the higher plan.

Success Inspirers World

Opportunities are everywhere. Did you now that? They are everywhere for grabs by those who are smart. If you don’t seize yours, someone else will.

Once, I missed a very little opportunity, but it left a lasting impression on me. I got to Church when the Church was full. All the seats had been taken except for one which I spotted but concluded that it certainly had been reserved for an important personality. My mind went to the Hon. Speaker of the House who usually came to our Church.

This seat remained empty while many people were standing and none took it. The others must have thought like me that it had been reserved.

After about twenty minutes, a lady alighted from her car, dashed into church, looked round and seeing the empty seat, went straight and occupied it. Nobody stopped her. She sat comfortably throughout the celebration. It turned…

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There’s never enough small talk for shower time.

Conquering Stroke

“Maybe I can still go and get my Doctorate in History someday.”

“Not a bad goal to reach for Dad. If you did, what would you write your thesis on?”

“I’d work to disprove the common belief that –(Civil War Commander)– was responsible for the –(Civil War battle loss)— at ———-. I’ve always felt that they got it wrong.”

“Sounds like that would be a thesis worth reading. Make sure I get a copy…. FYI: You missed the top of your left shoulder and your left thigh. Grab that loofa and get scrubbing.”

Three to four showers a week leave for lots of awkward silence to fill with unrelated conversation. I’m a master at small talk – I meet strangers daily at work whom I massage and see partially clothed before they’ve even decided if I’m legit-looking enough to be capable of healing them. But, shower time with Dad left…

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For Him

Honestly? I don’t really know how to write this post.  I am spending a few days here in North Carolina helping my Dad with a few things.  My step-mom passed in early November and was sick for many months before that so a few things kind were left unattended. Understandable.  There is a lot to catch up on from those items left undone not to mention staying on top of the current responsibilities.  It would be lot for any able-bodied person to handle.

Dad is 78.  His hearing isn’t the best anymore and he doesn’t sleep regularly.  He easily gets overwhelmed with all the crap he has to deal with, especially after a very rough 2014.  He’s tired and he “shuts down” when he feels overwhelmed and that just compounds problems.  His physical deterioration is to be expected at his age but it is still hard to watch, acknowledge and admit.  Couple that with his emotional loss and you have a one-two punch that’s tougher than being hit by Joe Frazier.

Aside from the physical demands and the life demands he has to deal with the emotional issues of losing his wife on over 25 years.  Frankly, he seems to be struggling with survivor’s guilt.  He has repeatedly said that it wasn’t supposed to happen this way; he was supposed to go first.  I think he also struggles with not being told just how serious Kathleen’s illness was; he was somewhat unprepared and he’s mad at the doctors and (I surmise) at Kathleen for not telling him. He’s probably not really sure how to handle that emotion, perhaps feeling a bit guilty too.  Who knows? Maybe he was told but was in denial.

So why is this so hard to write? It’s only gonna get worse.  Despite the fact that Dad is pretty healthy for his age he is getting older. He is more forgetful and arthritis is setting in.  So what does that mean for me?  It means tough decisions in the very near future that will have to be made and I anticipate having to overcome my own denial.  It means tough discussions with Dad about curtailing driving and activities while broaching his living situation. These are not fun times ahead.  It also is also a precursor to what probably lies ahead for me in the not -too-distant future.

But I have to be thankful that I am here for him.  Whenever that time comes for those hard decisions I will be there. For him.

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