The Whispers Before the World Screamed

Posted on May 14, 2020 in Tales from the Nomadic Adventure
The Whispers Before the World Screamed

North America: June 12, 2019 – July 28, 2019 | Montreal, Chicago, and California
South East Asia: July 30, 2019 – May 1, 2020 | Taipei, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Thailand 

Lisbon, Portugal – June 10, 2019: Two glasses of beer – one dark and one amber. The glasses are adorned with a gold-colored imprint that reads 1927 but the scene is 92 years later. In the background, a white sailboat slowly glides across the calm foot of the Tagus River, below clear blue skies and set before the silhouette of the dry foothills on the Setubal peninsula just south of Lisbon. In the foreground, hundreds of people stand, lean, and lay on this late spring day to enjoy the sea breeze, the beaming sun, and the energetic sounds of the reggae being strum and sung from the solo guitarist performing on the pier.

There’s a quote painted on the pavement below that calls my attention. While I can read Spanish and Italian, I can only get by halfway in Portuguese. Luckily, it’s 2019 and not 1927, and so I snap a photo and send it to a friend half-a-world away to clarify the meaning of the following words:

“O rio na minha aldeia não faz pensar em nada. Quem está ao pé dele está só ao pé dele.” (“The river in my village doesn’t make you think about anything. Whoever is at the foot of the river is just at the foot of the river.”) 

Through these words of man, the river speaks to me. It wants us to simply “be”… be calm and in concert with that around us. Ironically, nature finds ways to speak to us in various modes and usually when we least expect. It makes me recall once when “time [spoke] to me through dreams, soreness, and flu-like sweats, because in all other conditions I [was] unable to listen.”

Oftentimes, the pace and stresses of life drown out the whispers. It’s not until the sounds evolve into screams that our attention shifts to focus on the here and now, rather than the now and then. Yet, in this moment, it’s time for my wife and I to simply “be” and enjoy this simple afternoon beside the sea, sipping cold glasses of this 1927 Super Bock special selection, on a day that will forever be etched in my mind, as a day Earth whispered before it began to scream.

A Body Whispers Then It Screams

Usually our, now annual, summertime flights across the Atlantic from Europe back to the Americas are a mix of trepidation and excitement. Often more excitement than trepidation, given that my only real concerns involve the ridiculous interrogations I often receive from border officials upon re-entering my official country of residence. Yet, today the trepidation exceeds the excitement. Last night, I spent our final night in Lisbon (and our season in Europe, for that matter), worried for my mother. She was rushed into emergency gall bladder surgery earlier in the day. It seems while I was enjoying an afternoon exercising on the beach in Cascais and enjoying a final walk through one of my favorite cities, my mother was being rushed to the hospital, for the second Tuesday in a row, due to recurring and undiagnosed abdominal pain. Apparently, her body had been whispering to her and now it began to scream.

I could barely eat my last meal in Lisbon. I was only able to get some sleep after hearing that her unexpected surgery went well and that she was stable and recovering. It gave me solace to know that in a few hours I’d be landing in Boston on our way to Montreal for our mid-summer stay. Either way, I’d be no more than a 2-3 hour flight from Chicago, if I needed to rush home for any reason in the coming days. Unfortunately, one fact became as clear as the blinding blue skies we glided across high above the Atlantic Ocean; she would not be one of our cherished visitors during our brief four weeks in Montreal.

Three years ago, my wife and I spent our first mid-summer stay in Montreal for two months. While we’d hoped to show off our summertime abode that year to friends and family visiting from the States, only one made the trek. My mom took her first international trip and got her first passport stamp during that memorable trip up north from Chicago.

To this day, we still fondly recall the Friday afternoon we sat lazily in the park while I listened to her recount stories of her childhood and young adult life. Stories about how her father used to make her laugh, make her proud, and the day he carried her home after she broke her leg. These recollections soon evolved into audio stories, which she began to record at random on her iPhone and send to me throughout the year when we were apart. So that first day, when I returned to Montreal, I began to return the favor – but this time – a thousand words at a time. I sent her pictures from her maiden trip in August 2016, as a way to offer her warm reflections during her hospital recovery.

Everybody Got Their Something

Montreal, Canada: June 12 – July 10, 2019

We haven’t been in Montreal in three years but in some ways it feels like we were here just a few months ago. Walking the streets, biking around town, and running along the river, we can almost completely forget all of the memories we have made around the globe in these last three years. It’s a strange and scary feeling to be honest. It makes us wonder if this is how we might feel if we ever resettled back in the States. Will we quickly dive back into life as before and “in a simple blink of our eyes, [watch] it all slowly dissolve to black, leaving nothing more than a collection of mental and physical photographic traces?” For the time being, those thoughts and fears would have to subside, so that we could focus on the few friends that visited this season and allowed us to share our summertime playground with them.

Montreal is a recreational paradise in the summer. It’s a city that truly comes alive when the temperatures rise and the sun shines 16+ hours a day. For all those we welcomed to the city, we maximized our moments together – taking bike rides around the city and along the river, hiking the namesake Mont Royal, enjoying dinners and deep chats high above the city from our gentrified Griffintown apartment deck, and random walks along the cobblestone-filled streets of Old Town on warm, sunset lit evenings. While each was treated to the same circuit of activities, each visit was special in its own right.

Yet, it was important for us to share this city with some of our special friends while we had the chance. For as much as the mid-summer moments calmed us and allowed us to collect more memories, I could hear whispers in the city. The generational gentrification seemed to be taking its toll. The endless construction, dust, toxins, and torn up streets, along with soaring real estate prices coupled with suppressed wages – these were the whispers of an economy bursting at the seams.

We have seen this progress before and it seems to be building in many of the places we choose to visit around the world. You can feel the velocity increasing and the variance in inequality widening. As I look out over the city from the aptly named “Green Monster” (a rite of passage peddled feverishly by all those who visited us during the summer), I am warmed by the memories we’ve made, while also wondering when these economic whispers that I see across this city (and many others) might soon turn to screams.

Episodes in the Key of Life

Chicago & California: July 10 – July 28, 2019

It’s easy to envision that each of my trips home to Chicago over these last 20 or so years feels like just another episode in long, continuous sitcom. Unlike my time in California, Chicago always feels comfortable and collective. In some ways there’s nothing special about it, but that is what makes it most special. The times are full, slow, simple, and yet spontaneous. Luckily during our month in Montreal, my mother made a fairly quick and full recovery from one of the scariest health events of her life. The weight of appreciation for being able to enjoy another week-long summertime season with her and my dad was heavy and it hit me at all times.

It hit me while having breakfast at our favorite, local spot – Cracker Barrel – just two days after I arrived back into town. It hit me while sitting on my mom’s couch on a lazy Friday afternoon with the summer breeze blowing through the window screen, simply doing nothing but adhering to the wishes of that wise river in Portugal, simply “being” and watching my mother do one of the things she loves most – playing the piano. It also hit me while we all enjoyed a Sunday meal at my father’s house, complete with corn on the cob, deviled eggs, spaghetti, pork chops, garlic bread, and string beans – each of which is one of our individual favorites.

We followed this feast of favorites with an afternoon of playing dominoes, and over the next few days, my dad and I did battle on his old chessboard. We hadn’t played chess in probably over 20 years but the battle felt the same. Even though I love him, I never want to lose to him, and I know he felt the same. Instead, he’d show his love by serving up my favorite breakfast before dropping me off for my flight back to California. Shrimp and grits, scrambled eggs with bacon and toast – a testament to that which is sometimes so simple, can also be so special.

My mother embodies this well. She spent our final few minutes together secretly recording a random conversation between my dad and I, as I drove her car to the airport shuttle bus terminal. She recognizes the significance of simple moments and always collects mementos – audio or visual – to help keep memories from completely fading to black in our minds. Apparently, she had learned to listen to the whispers before they become screams.

My annual trips back to California are anything but another episode in the sitcom of my life. Instead, they are more like a pilot being pitched season after season. It’s never quite the same and for various reasons, it’s never truly relaxing. In my heart of hearts, I’d prefer to spend three months each year living in California – giving me the time to settle in, enjoy quality time with family and friends, and be a more integral part of their lives. Life and circumstance do not afford me this option at this stage. Yet, that which one can afford is often a matter of perspective and practicality.

Rather than focusing on doing everything, I instead focused on doing specific things. Simple activities to make the 10-day whirlwind totaling more than 1200 miles across California shuttled between client meetings, business and government errands, feel like a pause in time. An elongated pause punctuated with focused walks, talks, sips, and trips with family and old friends. The mission was to slow down time, if only for a few hours at a time, to feel as though these 10 days were just as normal and impactful as a full summer season. I’m reminded of something the legendary Prince was quoted saying at one of his last concerns before he died.

“The space between the notes – that’s the good part. However long the space is – that’s how funky it is. Or how funky it ain’t.” – Prince, The Beautiful Ones

In between my blitz of meetings, conference calls, and hundreds of miles driven, I enjoyed unscripted and impromptu afternoon walks and wine escapes with my aunt in Central California – a semblance of normalcy from our many years spent together in California. If not for listening to the whispers in her shadow throughout much of my life, I would not be even writing these words. It is her energy and her light that I’ve followed for as long as I can remember, a fact not lost on me each time we lazily stride along a dirt trail on a sunny California Saturday exchanging random stories, while enjoying our place under the sun on days “hotter than July.”

Speaking of the heat and dryness, it was even more noticeable the following weekend when my wife and I slowed down time again for hours to live as though we had never left. In days gone by, we relished spending Sunday mornings with warm coffees in-hand, taking walks with our most anxious and excited canine companion (Nismo) through the historic streets and trails beneath the beautiful Saratoga foothills. Moments like these provide renewed perspective on the life we’ve built abroad and the life we cherish from days passed. But for Nismo, it feels like yesterday. Time is irrelevant to him; you can see it in the overwhelming excitement he displays when he first sees us again after 364 days apart. For him, last year was yesterday and there is no tomorrow.

During those moments in life when we are most engaged (i.e. in “flow”) people often express that everything slows down. Our focus narrows, our senses are heightened, and our ability to simply be “at the foot of the river” seems effortless. It is in those moments when we’re often able to see, feel, and hear things that often escape us when are focused on the notes rather than the space in-between.

As my focus narrows, I feel the hot summer sun beaming on my neck, smell the oranges emanating from the neighborhood trees, and gaze out towards the dusty brown foothills with their tiny dots of greenery. My mind flashes back to the same thoughts that emerged when I looked out over Montreal from its Green Monster just a couple of weeks earlier.

“How long can this last?”

Each year these hills seem to get drier and drier, earlier and earlier. Yet, prices rise, inequality widens, and the thoughts of returning to this same life as before, seem farther and farther from reality. Not surprisingly in the coming weeks, the winds across the mountain ranges in California would soon sweep up the whispers and turn them into screams, causing indescribable destruction later in the summer. Fortunately, we were able to afford a few precious days prior to these inevitable events to slow down time and enjoy the space in between the notes strum in the frenetic keys of life.

Just As I Am

Taipei, Taiwan: July 30 – August 4, 2019
Da Nang, Vietnam: August 4 – 18, 2019
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: August 18 – Sept 1, 2019

Listening to the whispers, trying to find the stillness in the noise – it’s what I naturally do. It’s what’s made me successful both through my professional career, as well as in my personal life. Sometimes the pace of everything around me is too great to process and so I go inward, in an attempt to slow it all down, listen for the diamonds in the rough, and stare into the wind to read between the lines. Finding the subtle connections between seemingly disparate things, this is where I get my energy and how I give light to those around me. After my usual 3 hectic weeks in the States, I’m typically depleted and must use the succeeding weeks to slow down, go inward, and regain my energy.

Taipei is one of those perfect spots for me to reset and recede back into my inner world. The city, its park, its beautiful, wide boulevards, and cityscapes make for great daily escapes into the corners of my mind. I often spend the bulk of our few days in this bustling, yet seemingly balanced Asian capital city, drowning out the noise and daydreaming about future plans. Days are usually spent in parks immersed in podcasts, after my mid-morning work sessions, and the evenings spent enjoying the edible delights of one of the best Asian foodie cities. Given my expected dilemmas with life in Da Nang, Vietnam, our next stop along our August in Asia, I relished the calm of those first five days in Taipei.

Calm is comforting but it’s not always challenging. After the frenetic weeks in the States, the last thing I needed immediately was a challenge. But by the time we arrived in Da Nang, I was ready for the challenges that life in Vietnam, as well as a place that is changing at a rapid pace presents. The speed of change in this emerging third city is mind-blowing and difficult to describe, unless you have been on the ground and have seen it for your own eyes. Pictures don’t give justice to the pace, and time and opportunity are quickly wearing away at the space. So rather than trod along it all beneath the blistering summer sun, I found places high and low to beat the hellish summer heat and bleed off the sands of time.

Sometimes when I’m aboard a flight approaching a new destination or walking through the streets of a city I never envisioned visiting, let alone practically living in for weeks or months on end, I often reflect on the whispers that make a place move from a distant destination to a recurring place of respite. It’s often the simple and not the shiny things. Kuala Lumpur (KL) is a city of a lot of shiny things – gleaming skyscrapers, electronic billboards, and endless in-your-face flashy marketing. It’s a microcosm of the millennial Asian city. Twenty years ago, it looked nothing like it does today, and like the speed of change on the ground in Da Nang, it’s changing massively each time we return.

Four years earlier during our first trip to Da Nang, I peered out over the vast open spaces and heard the whispers of an area now saturated with the ever-growing seeds of economic opportunity. I heard the whispers, I saw the vision, but I didn’t act before the seeds began to sprout. Instead, I reserved it as a potential place for future seasonal stays. The first time I visited KL in October 2016, the city also whispered to me, much in the same way as Da Nang did. But it seems the city has also whispered to many others in this latest period of economic euphoria, such that you can feel the increasing velocity with which the city is teeming with tourists and seething with scores of unsustainable economic projects ready to collapse as quickly as they were constructed.

From the roofs of the many high-rises that dot the landscape of the megacity, you can get lost counting the cranes erected to capitalize on this moment in time. The velocity whispers to me, as do the size of the crowds in the malls, on the streets, and even in the length of the immigration lines at the airport – which have seemed to double each of the handful of times I’ve visited the city in the last three years.

There’s something about speed, sound, and space that communicate imbalance to our senses. The question is often in whether we are able to hear the whispers that these physical attributes emote to our souls and our senses. In the coming months, a tiny whisper in a far off place from much of the world would soon come to test our hearing, as well as the sustainability of our collective actions that had been calibrated almost too perfectly for the present.

Take It All In And Check It All Out

Thailand: Sept 1, 2019 – Dec 29, 2019

The annual return to Chiang Mai in the fall feels as much like the first day of school, as it does the first day of summer. There’s the excitement of returning to see old friends, taking long-awaited walks and motorbike rides around town to see what’s new and what’s changed, and the feeling of having the space to explore new reads, writings, and ways of being. Chiang Mai is the place where I’ve learned to appreciate the precious time in-between and it’s the place where each year I grow a bit more than before. The space calls to me in ways that push me down and force me to find ways to pull myself back up. The space challenges me in ways that the pace of the rest of the year does not. The only other place in my annual swing around the globe that challenges me in a similar vane is Valencia, but for very different reasons.

This season I’d also be approaching a major milestone in life – turning 40 years old. The weight of that minor moment in time was a major thread throughout the events of the season. Oftentimes, I’d find myself reflecting on the decades of my life and the dreams of days passed, to find seeds that would help lead me forward. I also began to recognize the fragility of opportunities and began to act more quickly to seize them. The sands of time were starting to whisper to me in a more voluminous manner and it was my mission to distill and decode the delicate messages that life blew in my direction.

A truly last minute dive down to Bangkok to spend an extended weekend with a friend in mid-October, an impromptu trip to Udon Thani – a place far off the circuit for most visiting Thailand – in late November, and a series of afternoon explorations around the city of Chiang Mai, opened me up to a host of experiences that I may have never savored if I didn’t “go with the wind.” Like the first day of school and the first day of summer wrapped in one, the goal was to build on the lessons and experiences of season’s past to gain new perspectives and garner new opportunities for the future.

Ironically, during one unforgettable morning in the middle of December, I swung open the curtains of my hotel room along Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok and had a thought that would soon symbolize the state of the world in weeks to come. That day the haze blanketing the city was thick, dark, and dirty. It was so thick and dirty that you could almost feel the filth on your fingertips. Each of the last three years in Thailand, it had seemed that the air quality was getting progressively worse, earlier and earlier in the year. We’d even noticed in Chiang Mai that weeks usually clear and crisp in the middle of the October and November were becoming dotted with days of dismal dust and dizzying pollution. Perhaps, it’s been the exponential rise in tourism that has buoyed this economy and many others in the region that has prompted this precipitous change in air quality.

On this otherwise clear day in December, I could barely see the sun through the smog, and once again thought to myself – “How long can this last?” But at the time, another thought struck my mind:

“I truly don’t think we have the political structures in place to handle the challenges of our time.”

Eventually this thought would bleed into my conversations over coffees with friends, guided by my belief that some type of drastic generational-shifting event would cause the current governing systems in many parts of the world to be challenged and re-calibrated. I assumed it would happen in the next 30 years or so. Little did I know that an event currently whispering in Wuhan would cause the world to scream in a little over 30 days.


Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam: Dec 29, 2019 – January 5, 2020
Chiang Mai, Thailand: January 5 – March 3, 2020

Nearing the end of 2019, I often found myself anxious and annoyed. The pace and space around me in my usual places of respite were beginning to challenge me. I found myself increasingly limited by the places I could go to getaway from it all and enjoy my simple creature comforts. The volume of tourism in Chiang Mai was increasing rapidly. Streets were now packed with families walking four and five deep, with little kids hanging at arm’s length screaming for seemingly no reason but a lack of attention.

Endless streams of social media starlets strutting along with their purses, parasols, and selfie sticks, ready to stop and take that all-important one millionth photo at any place and at any time. Sometimes off to the side but many times in everyone’s way without any semblance of situational awareness. I began to grow annoyed at the seemingly lack of appreciation for the subtle moments in life, replaced by the superficial, exploitation of self through social means. I recall telling a few friends during this time of dissolution that;

“I feel like we will all die from global warming because we’ll all be too busy taking selfies.”

So not surprisingly, I escaped. For the final week of the decade, I slipped away to the one place where I never imagined I’d use as solace – Saigon. Venturing to Vietnam as an escape from the existential annoyances in Chiang Mai was a much-needed moment in time. Mixed with my momentous event of turning 40 years old, the trip to Saigon signaled the end of decade and start of a new world. On the final day of decade, we enjoyed the final sunset of 2019, the fireworks welcoming 2020, and the first sunrise all from above the spectacular Saigon skyline.

After a brief seven days of respite and re-energizing, I returned to Chiang Mai for our last two months of the season relaxed and relishing my recent ability to slow the sands of time. For months, I’d been working on achieving a personal fitness goal and the morning before returning to Chiang Mai, I’d achieved my aspirations high above the city of Saigon. Now, back in Chiang Mai, I was excited to continue to refine my latest calisthenic conquest but alas, the whispers had been replaced by almost deafening silence.

It was now January in Chiang Mai and days before the peak of the season punctuated by Chinese New Year. Not only was the air becoming increasing debilitating, limiting my ability to perfect my athletic aims, there was noticeable change in the pace and space. Almost overnight, the crowds had thinned and dollars were drying up. Café owners and clerks were starting to whisper wonderment about how things were in other parts of the city, as they could also sense a seismic shift. It was as if there was a calm before the storm, economic or otherwise, that one couldn’t see but could surely sense.

For me, the world changed in a week and it started on a Sunday. I rolled over in between a sleep cycle to check my phone. My dad had sent the following text:

“Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash today.”

At first, I thought it was a joke that had become viral overnight. But my dad doesn’t usually fall for those things. As I tried to rollover and deal with the depths of the news, I thought about his daughter (Gigi), who was his shadow like I’ve been with my aunt in California, and I wondered if she was with him at the time. I screamed inside hoping she wasn’t but she was and the rest is history.

My heart ached all day and all week (and still does to this day). I didn’t know Kobe personally, obviously, and as a player he wasn’t one of my favorites. But as a black man, one year apart in age from me, who I admired as a person, for his ability to speak multiple languages (including Italian and Spanish, as I do), his ability to challenge himself and become a beacon of creative exploration after his retirement from basketball, I cried inside for what the world lost that day and felt one step closer to reality of fatality. That moment shook me and just seven days later, another message would make me pulsate with a bit of panic.

The whispers from Wuhan were now spreading around the world and turning into screams. So much so that friends of mine oceans apart were alerting me to the dangers of remaining in Asia as the disease began to leave the Chinese confines. Their alarms sounding in the middle of the night for me became morning moments of trepidation each time I reached for my phone upon waking up to a new day.

It was too much to handle and there was too little information available to make a split decision. Instead, my wife and I settled on syncing up once a week during the developing situation to discuss the best decision for us at the time. All the while, I recognized the irony of the situation surrounding the end of our seasonal stay – I had only wished for the previously pulsating pace and the superficial insanity to recede around me, and yet it came in a wave that I would never expect nor crave.

No Hay Nada Natural en la Idea de Normalidad

Da Nang, Vietnam: March 3 – May 1, 2020

The Tuesday morning we left Chiang Mai in early March was undoubtedly the easiest, yet most unusual travel day I’ve ever experienced. The weekend prior, we only wished for two things; 1) That our flight wouldn’t be cancelled and 2) That neither my wife nor I would wake up with a random temperature spike the morning of our flight to Da Nang, VN. Given the steadily worsening air quality in Chiang Mai during the tail end of our season and the impending possibility of a national curfew, the thought of being stuck in Thailand caused me severe dread.

Our pre-dawn arrival at the airport was eerie – there was practically no one there at the check-in counters, at the security checkpoint, or sitting in the international terminal waiting for flights. It seems our flight was the only one still departing that morning, all others to and from the typical regional destinations – China, South Korea, Japan – were all cancelled. It many ways it felt like our last chance to get out before the gates were drawn up in the Land of Smiles. After a brief 1.5-hour flight, wearing masks and being mindful of everyone in our presence, landing in Da Nang was just as startling. We were the only flight arriving that morning and the information board showed all arrivals from other neighboring countries cancelled. There was nothing neither normal nor natural about that day.

Like many Earth-shattering historical events, all that live through it have their own memories of their location, the way they found out about it, and their individual emotions. Not surprisingly, my perspective involves both scenery and sport. On Tuesday, March 10, just one week after arriving to Da Nang, my wife and I were stopped in our tracks upon witnessing a scene that seemed out of old movie.

The sky was filled with clouds and haze, almost matching the color of the sand below it. The waves of the beach were riding rough and the wind was whipping up the trees. There was a song playing over the loud speakers along the beach that painted the emotions of a world entering a period of distress. Coupled with the seemingly exodus of all that were at the beach at the time, we looked at one another and whispered,

“This is so sad. It feels like the end of the world.”

The moment reminded me of scenes from a movie shot in the late 1920s days before the start of the Great Depression. For me, it was the exact moment when the Earth’s whispers turned to screams. The following day, the National Basketball Association postponed their season and by the weekend almost all international travel ceased.

The day we arrived in Da Nang, Vietnam had not had any new confirmed cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) for the past 18 days. Three days after we arrived, new cases started to emerge. Even though things were starting to slow down in the area (primarily due to the lack of airline travel and the cancellation of schools since January), things still felt fairly normal. That began to change when confirmed cases began to creep up and the country decided it was time to join the international parade towards isolation by implementing a two-week quarantine in late March.

Though much of the world continued in quarantine long after the eventual three-week imposition in Vietnam, there was a gut-wrenching reality that symbolized the sad state of affairs in another part of the world. By April 30, Reunification Day in Vietnam (symbolizing the official end of the Vietnam War back in 1975), more people had died from COVID-19 complications in the United States in the previous 3 months than all those that died fighting on the American side of the Vietnam War (which lasted about a decade).

Chaos and Disorder

As the world rises from the coronavirus coma, the landscape they see outside will have changed – maybe not forever but surely for the foreseeable future. It will be a future filled with questions and conflicts resulting from the cracks in the foundation of our civilization that surfaced the day the Earth began to scream. Yet, these cracks have been there and, like the Earth, they have also been whispering throughout each boom period when we become blinded by our omnipotent beliefs.

At the end of the day, the Earth always wins. As humans we are but a rash on its skin that it tolerates for periods of time. Over time as that rash grows – via pollution, population, and a plethora of other nature-destructing disturbances – the Earth will find ways to protect itself. Every organism does – it’s a simple survival technique. So long as we continue to impose our will on nature rather than being a symbiotic guest living within, we will continue to do damage as a rash on Earth’s skin.

The cause for the coronavirus will continue to be debated and debunked for years to come in this current age of hysteria and hyper-politicization. Yet, what we should perhaps spend more time deliberating is the state of our collective economic systems and political structures that govern our behaviors. The polarized politicization of public health in the most prosperous nation on Earth signals that as a civilization our sanity is surely shaken. Balance is the beauty that exists within nature. This recent event should serve as a whisper to us as individuals and societies that the beauty of our collective being has been maimed.

Do we have the right political structures in place to address the gravity of the situations we will soon face? Is the perceived economic and social balance we have created built for the many or only a fortunate few propagated by a certain race? Are we able to shift our societies and structures such that we are more comfortable with sacrificing self for the benefit of our collective health?

For one thing is certain, unfettered capitalism and unrestrained individualism infected the souls of our societies long before the whispers from Wuhan wounded our world. Regardless of how we get there, we must find a way to build on our collective ability to react to whispers rather than waiting for screams.

Sign o’ the Times

Just a few days after the quarantine in Vietnam was lifted, the skies finally cleared and the spring sun returned. Sitting along the same shores that signaled the world’s scream, I reflected on what had occurred and wondered what was to come. In one sudden scream, my ability to enjoy the simple things that sprinkled my last eight months with friends, freedoms, and memorable scenes was now seized.

Moments once so close and memories so near to my heart, now felt distant and disheartening. Yet, I was reminded of words that I’d written over 20 years before that whispered to me one night in late November while I was just a junior in college. Perhaps in some small way, both the words whispered in this overall reflection from the events of this past season, as well as those recalled below that arose within me two decades ago, will marinate within us all as we reemerge to “feel what life has to hold.”


It turns the world like never before;
Guiding all its inhabitants to an eternal war.
The searing head of a nuclear bomb;
The misguidedness of an Uncle Tom.

Society has always been this way;
Fighting an endless battle of inner dismay.
Our spirits have died with the birth of this demon;
Extracting all the emotion and health from our being.

Uniqueness fills the world with six billion;
However, we hide under happiness as chameleons.
Experiences and emotions are our most powerful gold;
Escape the empire, feel what life has to hold. – 11/28/98

Behind the Pen: Writer’s Notes

Over the last several months I had many different ideas about how to write this piece but nothing ever felt right. Throughout my life, I’ve learned to listen to the creative whispers and only commence crafting my concepts when they begin to feel whole and tight. While this particular piece may have started down one path, it veered into another – inspired along the way by both book and song (e.g. “Computer Blue” by Prince).

It’s challenging to write about eight months of experiences and find ways to honor all that occurred. But what’s most powerful about a good song – both in lyric and sound – is that it’s able to say so much with so few words. Its power lies in creating visions that help us paint the broader picture of the creator’s story in our minds. Like a sweet song that subtly sings to us differently each time we hear it, I hope that my reflection of this historic episode offers nuggets of insight nestled between subtle notes of poetic prose.

Inspired by a conversation with Candice, the songwriting skills of the late Bill Withers, Prince’s song “Computer Blue” and his autobiography titled – “The Beautiful Ones”, and Claudia Durastanti and her autobiography titled – “La Straniera”, as well as her interview in El Mundo titled – “No Hay Nada Natural en la Idea de Normalidad.”

Read more Tales from the Nomadic Adventure and find out where we’ll be in the coming months.


  1. DJMoeMoe
    May 16, 2020

    Wow! An amazing chronicle of adventure that is a testimony to the challenges of our times. Loved the family warmth, the emotional vividness of the serenity and joy cycled by the sadness, sorrow and worry. Yet another master piece from the Jrod! Bravo!

  2. Mama Jacq
    May 17, 2020

    This article is about slowing down and enjoying the simple things in life and how one’s life can change “In a blink of an eye” – such as how the worldwide emergence of covid19 will now be a part of our lives.

  3. Peggy Graham
    May 17, 2020

    I love your blog! The pictures are fantastic. Please let me know when you complete the book, I will definitely get a copy for my library. Great…

  4. Laurence Grant
    May 23, 2020

    A breath of fresh air that rejuvenate a the soul. A call to arms recognizing true earthly values past from native American values of truth and love for mother earth. Continue to hear earth’s call through silence, peace and solice. I once heard we all have two ears to listen and one mouth to speak. Good luck listening to the world speak and safe travels. Great memoir and more to come. .

  5. Michelle McGill-Vargas
    May 30, 2020

    You’re writing is beautiful and poetic… something I struggle with on my own writings. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this!

  6. Ben Dickinson
    June 23, 2020

    Reading this makes me miss our coffee chats even more. You always have such an interesting, mindful perspective. It’s highly valued and much appreciated. Hope you’ve found a Vietnamese equivalent to Mali Pai. Looking forward to the next convo.