Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Carpe diem - again

Raymond on the peak of 
El Tucuche, Nov. 2010   
My first piano teacher was a short, rotund, elderly nun. Sister Lucy was so ravaged with what I now believe to be osteoporosis that her upper back was U-shaped and her chin rested on her chest. She could barely manage to show me the proper placement of fingers on keys, but her keystrokes as she demonstrated the movements were strong and sure. She had clear grey eyes magnified by her glasses and was a gentle soul. I think she came from Ireland like the other foreign nuns at St. Joseph's Convent and it was under her tutelage, in one of the tiny music rooms that barely managed to fit a piano, two stools and a metronome, that I discovered the joy of playing something that at least approximated music. I distinguished myself under her guidance - far more so than under her successor, a chain-smoking, gentlemanly English lady who terrified me.

I graduated from high school and went out into the not-so-wide world of work in the same town where I had gone to school, and every once in awhile I'd remember sweet Sister Lucy and resolve to go and visit her. I never got around to it, and when I heard that she had died, along with remorse at my procrastination, I began to understand that for most young people, the reality and inevitability of death is not a concept that can readily be grasped. I realized then that putting off a visit to an elderly person means that when you're ready to make the effort, the person might be gone - forever.

Which brings me to November 2010 and an e-mail I received from an elderly gentleman here in Trinidad. I had written a blog post about hiking my favourite mountain, El Tucuche. He told me he had discovered the post and enjoyed it tremendously because that was also his favourite hike and he had scaled the peak more than 100 times in his ninety years. In fact, he had celebrated his ninetieth birthday just weeks before by climbing El Tucuche once again, a feat that attracted quite a bit of media coverage.

When I finally wrapped my head around what my new friend, Raymond, had achieved, I told him he had become my inspiration: I could think of nothing I'd love more than to be able to repeat his feat if I lived to his age. We began corresponding, found each other on Facebook, and he invited me to join him on his next hike in early 2011. This one would be to Paria Waterfall, a lovely trek along the north coast and into the forest that I had undertaken several times in my earlier hiking years. I decided to work on improving my fitness so that when Raymond and his group next hiked El Tucuche I'd be ready.

The hike to Paria was postponed four times. We had an unseasonably rainy dry season and the weather simply refused to cooperate with our plans. When the hike finally came off I didn't go; Raymond had probably tired of having to call and tell me about postponements and didn't want to disappoint me again. The next time we communicated was in July when my niece graduated and he left a gracious comment on her photo on my Facebook page. By this time the true rainy season was in full pour and hiking was out of the question. The months flew by imperceptibly.

Three weeks ago Raymond contacted me on Facebook and told me he had suffered a heart attack three months before, but was on the mend and spending several days a week in his store. I was assailed by a sense of urgency; I told my friend I'd visit him at his store that week. He said he was looking forward to finally meeting me face to face. I asked if he would be at the store on Thursday or Friday. When two days passed and I did not hear from him I felt a deep foreboding. That Friday night I left a message on his page: "Well, maybe another week. Thinking of you and hoping you're okay, Raymond." The next time I visited his Facebook page I learned he had died on November 10, three days after his ninety-first birthday.

It felt like Sister Lucy all over again. I will never be able to hike and not think of Raymond pounding those trails in his nineties. He is indeed my inspiration to seize the day and to understand that living fully has no correlation with the number of birthdays accumulated..

Write that book. Sail that ocean. Climb those mountains; Raymond climbed them at 90.

In memory of Raymond "Don Ramos" Banfield, hiker, former Spanish teacher and vice-principal, mentor of many, practitioner of healthy living. I will climb El Tucuche again, and I know he'll be walking right there beside me.


Debs Carr said...

That's so sad, but at lest you got to tell him he was your inspiration. What an incredible man achieving everything that he did in his life.

Guanaguanare said...

Thanks so much for sharing these experiences Liane. I needed these messages and you have reminded me that that there are some things that I must do SOON. Love the photo of Raymond and the tribute to his spirit.

Liane Spicer said...

Debs, he was indeed incredible and I'm glad I got to know him for the short time that I did.

And all because of a blog post. Isn't the Internet amazing?

Liane Spicer said...

Seagull, you're welcome! I'm such a procrastinator and I wrote it partly to remind myself that some things should not be put off for later because, sometimes, there is no later.

Hope you get those things done. And while we're on the topic of seizing the day, I must tell you that I've used your name in a novel (that's far from complete): Guanaguanare Road. One day I was thinking about what a sanctuary your blog has been and I realised it's the perfect name for that not-quite-imaginary place.

Blessings, blessings, and thank you!

Guanaguanare said...

Liane, I cannot thank you enough for your kindness...for me, kindness IS sanctuary. And using the name, Guanaguanare [pronounced Wannawannare or Wuanawuanare] is a great tribute to our Amerindian ancestors. Love the bamboo grove, by the way...beautiful and dreamy. Haven't seen that in the longest while.
Blessings right back!

Chris Stovell said...

What a beautiful and poignant post. I'm sorry it's taken me so long to catch up with it - it may seem strange, but one of my 4am thoughts this morning was that I hadn't visited your blog recently. (Actually, I haven't caught up with very many because of my own trials and tribulations!). Your blog is another reminder that time runs out for all of us so we have to make the most of every day. Raymond certainly made the most of his days.

The Divorced Lady's Companion to Living in Italy said...

What a beautiful post and what an incredible man. I am certain he will be pacing up the mountain with you.
Best, cat

Liane Spicer said...

Chris, how lovely to be thought of at 4am! :)

I know how hectic life has been all around; I haven't been visiting blogs as much as I'd like either, so I understand perfectly.

Hope your Christmas was lovely and here's wishing you lots of fun, writing and book sales in 2012!

Liane Spicer said...

DLC, thank you! I look forward to hiking again and communing with Raymond in spirit.

Hope you're having a lovely Christmas!

Liane Spicer said...

Guanaguanare, thank you. I haven't been near a bamboo grove myself recently, so I try to create a psychic version. Not quite the same, though. :)

Have a wonderful 2012!

Anonymous said...

The more I read this the more touched I am. Life is too short for procrastination.

Anonymous said...

Happy New Year, Liane :)

Guanaguanare said...

Liane, Happy New Year to you and yours!

Liane Spicer said...

akalol, have a great 2012! What with this being the year of the Mayan apocalypse and some crazy predicting (yet again!) that Jesus is returning on May 27, you'll have lots of hilarious fodder for your blog. :D

Liane Spicer said...

Guanaguanare, thank you! Blessings in abundance to your and yours in the new year too!