Tuesday, May 09, 2006

My Sabbatical has Ended

With my return to the office on Monday, May 8th, my sabbatical has officially come to an end.

Of the three months that I was away from my office, I spent eight and a half weeks in Spain and Portugal. I had planned to go to Mexico first and then to Europe, but at the last minute, I decided against it. I changed my mind, because with Mexico being so near, I was afraid that I might not have had the time to visit Europe like I always wanted to…

Although, I returned from my trip on Monday, April 17, 2006, I did not enter my wrap up on my sabbatical because I wanted to rest up a bit and then have the proper time to digest my experiences.

Time Off
I had taken three weeks off in the past six years, which is not something that I am proud of, but I have to be honest about it. It was the time off was needed very badly.

It was difficult to take the proper time off from work when I first launched the non-profit organization. I mean you can take all the time off you want in the earlier days, but if money is not coming in, then time off without pay is an easy thing to do…

During the middle of the history of the organization, as the project started to grow, then my parents got sick. My father with Alzheimer’s and my mom then was diagnosed with lung cancer. During that time, which was in 2000, I was the caretaker of the family.

Often, when I would finish work, I would often go and spend the night with my mom while she was in the hospital because she did not want to stay alone at night. They both passed away in 2000 and I was the one who had to make the necessary arrangements to bury them. Then came the fund request to the Governor by State Senator Gil Cedillo and the grass roots organizing effort to garner the for support the request. With the dedication of the monument taking place in 2004, there really was no time to take a real vacation or time away from the office.

But the truth of the matter is; there is no reason for not taking time away from the job. I’m a workaholic and I do not think I am telling you anything new….

What I am telling you is that I really needed this time away.

The dictionary describes that a sabbatical is “a period of paid leave granted to a college teacher for study or travel, traditionally every seventh year”.

My sabbatical was not a vacation or shall I say that I chose it not to be a vacation but it was time off from my job. I chose to do something that I was not able to do when I was young and so I traveled to Europe. I learned more about the world and myself.

I let go of all of my office duties and turned them over to my Associate Director, Eddie Martinez. The one thing I was involved with was a grant that was written for the Faith Based department of the organization. That was all.

I traveled to Barcelona, Bilbao, Madrid, Lisbon, Porto, Fatima, Sintra, Zaragoza, and Lleida. I was there for nine weeks. I visited castles, churches, parks, plaza’s, art museums, colleges, AIDS organizations, bars, nightclubs, shopping centers, football (soccer) stadiums, monasteries, government buildings, the Spanish Senado, rivers and I can go on forever.

The greatest fascination I found was the little boy that I really am inside. I had lost that a long time ago. In Europe I spoke to anyone who would give me the time of day. I would often clown around, and made people laugh that brought joy to myself. Somewhere along the line, I had lost that…

I would often start by asking them “where are you from?” and then the conversation would either take off or it would not. I was open to learning more about who they were and where they came from.

I fed the birds and the ducks; I was amazed by the great architecture and often would stare at the clouds and wonder how big the world actually was…. Some of the same things that I would often think of when I was at All Saints Elementary School in El Sereno. Yes, I found my childhood again.

Many people wondered, “How can you travel alone to Europe?” I never really thought of the answer too much until I left Lisbon the last time and I was waiving good-bye to my friends. Vanda and Francisco…you see; I am a child of an alcoholic. As a child, I would often take care of my parents…Often I had to wait until they were both asleep so that I could go to sleep myself because I was afraid that the house would burn down.

Now on this trip…I was able to be who I really am…I mean I knew how to have fun, how to enjoy people and I certainly did. My guard was down and I let myself back in…

Living and Loving
Now that you know a bit more about me, you know that I like people…right? I met lots of people, but only got to know several really good….

Carles….Ruiz-Feltrer…who I befriended when I arrived at the Monastery de Montserrat …I told him…when I first met him…”Listen, I do not understand the language here in Barcelona, so wherever you go, I will follow you, ok?”. And he guided me through some of the best days in my trip. He would knock on my door to let me know what time prayers were…and then when we parted, he kindly walked me out of the premises and promised to be there whenever I may need anything and he was…Thank you, Carles for your thoughtfulness…. Thank you…

Helena Campelo. …From Madrid. An attractive woman that I met on the train on my way to Madrid…. At first, I know it was a bit difficult understanding me, then we got to know each other well…She took me to Toledo and was so passionate about showing me more of Spain…A powerful business woman and a mother, who was so considerate to constantly e mailing me and calling to see how I was doing…and not afraid to tell me…”you know, Richard”. I had to meet you, because there is something that you have that I want”. I often asked myself, what could a successful and attractive woman want from me?

Towards the last few days of my trip, she called and did not just offer but asked me what time can I pick you up from your place to take you to see your friend…and she drove half way through Spain to take me to visit my friend…. Their are no words to describe my appreciation to you…Helena…. not just for the deeds…but your friendship.

Vanda Dias and Francisco Vaz
Wow…who would have known that when I rented a room from Ms. Dias for a week, that our friendship would be so deep…Vanda opened her house and her heart to me…and so did Francisco. They not only allowed me in they’re space, but took me around town and shared with me some of their fondest places in Lisbon. To share an example with you…I accidentally got lost from Vanda one night…at Colombo’s galleria…. it was a rainy night. and she later called Francisco and told him that she was very concerned and worried for me….his response.” Maybe he met someone”…I was really touched by that…that someone who never knew me before would actually worry about me…

I allowed myself to be loved and I opened the door to a new part of who I am …

When I left for Europe, I was really upset about America. I was upset at the system and at the people. The lack of courage, vision, the pettiness, bigotry, laziness, the lack of interest…

Spending time in Europe and speaking to countless of individuals I learned that we are in a very trying time in the history of our country, we still know how to make change and while we have not shown brave, innovative and bold leadership recently we truly have the opportunity to make the change that is so badly needed.

Every person I spoke to asked me “What happened to America? Why have the people allowed this to happen?’ While some of the Europeans have a negative attitude about the United States, there is still enormous respect for this country and it’s people. Even more respect for the expectations that they have of Americans. That became very clear to me.

Despite of all of the problems that this country faces and voter apathy, this country is still the OPPORTUNITY for change. The system is truly the greatest framework for a democratic government; we just elect the wrong people to office.

Today’s modern technology and our overwhelming need to buy the latest products on the market do not always help in pushing our concerns forward. We need to mobilize and organize the people in our communities. That means that each of us must be held accountable. That being said, I have to be an activist not only in the issues that are dear to me but what are the most important issues to the community that I am a part of…

I am ready to do my part. But, I must be strategic with my time and energy.

I am very lucky to be a fairly spiritual person. But, this experience has really deepened my spirituality.

When I lived in the moment, there was magic in the air. Things and people that I wanted to meet came my way. When I thought of something that I needed, I would often turn the corner and it was there for me to experience.

Only in Lisbon, was my accommodations pre-arranged and that was finalized before I boarded the train to Lisbon from Madrid. Everything just happened. Well, it did not just happened, but it was meant to happen. I also allowed it.

I basked in the beauty of my creator often as I would often speak to the hundreds of people that I had the privilege of speaking to and the people I met. From the conservative community organizers in Madrid who were collecting signatures on a ballot measure to the young women of Rescate to the waiters, cooks and hotel workers who were so good to me…. Their goodness contributed to my sense of spirituality. A part of them was God….and for that I am eternally grateful.

Lessons Learned
I learned much along my personal journey and here are a the few of the most obvious lessons that I learned…

1) Learn to trust more…that people, places and things will work itself out.
2) It is ok to have fun and you are never too old to do so.
3) To be proud of my accomplishments and who I am
4) Be more attentive to my intuition
5) Enjoy my friends and share with them my affection for them
6) Place myself high on the priority list because I deserve it
7) Allow my self to be loved and accept that it is real
8) Allow time for myself for rest and nourishment
9) Accept the fact that I am a community leader and knowing that, must learn to step back to allow others to grow and blossom
10) Know that the organization and the cause that I am a part of will and can go without me
11) Stay in the present
12) The world is really not that big
13) Hope!
14) Be structured, patient and understanding
15) Be a bigger team player
16) Humility

Now What?
The office did well without me. Now my job is come back to the position of President of the Corporation and the Executive Director.

My primary role will be to raise the necessary funds to manage The Wall-Las Memorias Project. As a visionary for the agency, I have to do a better job of not only sharing the vision, but allow others to adapt themselves to it and not always expecting them to interpret it according to my version.

Looking at other personal projects in the near future, I know that I have to take better care of myself. Taking time off, focusing on myself and the things that I like doing.

One big change that I made is to sell the house that I grew up in that both my brother and I own. My parents had wanted us to hang on to it, but I have outgrown it and the neighborhood. It really is a big thing for me, but then again it isn’t.

As that chapter in my life comes to a close, it is said that most people in the United States usually live to about 76 years or so…. If that is the case, then I have lived 2/3 of my life already…The sabbatical gave me the opportunity to look at how I plan to live the last 1/3 of my life if God allows it.

So now what you may ask? Well, I have started to write my biography. I am writing it, because I would like to share my story with so many… I plan to do many other things in the last years of my life. Within due time, you will hear more about it…please stay tuned.

For the time being, I plan to go back to my office that is filled with Dodger bubbleheads; on the wall there is a tapestry of Mother Theresa, a photo of the Virgin de Guadalupe and awards from elected officials and community based organizations.

I join the ranks of some powerful people that are part of The Wall-Las Memorias Project, a community based non profit organization that constructed an AIDS monument to people who have died to AIDS.

For it was my dream that actually became a reality for many…

Thank You
My deepest appreciation to Mr. Gary L. Yates, President of the California Wellness Foundation and Sandra J. Martinez, program monitor for awarding me the opportunity to take a breath from the office and from the cause. When Sandra called me, I was really in shock. I am humbled by the gift and the honor. THANK YOU!

My thanks to my board of directors who supported me during this time…
Ida Tagliente, Board Chair. Thank you for your hard work and faith in the project and in me. Thank you for your dedicated leadership. You are an incredible woman.

Tim Towery, a hard worker, supporter and very good friend….

Yolanda de Garcia, who has given so much to the cause and to me personally…

Michael Mathews, who finds the time from his new business to lead the fundraising committee…

Father Peter Lambert, who has been so supportive in helping the faith-based community understand HIV/AIDS a little better and for your prayers, love and support…

Vince Sandoval, for your hard work on the board and coordinating cooperate support for the organization

Iris Miranda, who has been a hard working member for many years and although she is on leave of absence from the board, she nevertheless working for the community as a powerful Latina for Senator Cedillo

Eddie Martinez, one of the few people who knows me so well and took the leadership as acting Executive Director and did a great job. You have brought a different perspective to the agency. I will continue to count on you for much of that leadership

Carlos Molina, who committed and continues to commit himself to the values of the organization. His ideas and leadership is taking the fundraising of the project to a whole new level.

Ariel Rivera, is not only sustaining the Faith Based division but has worked hard to expand it. During this period of time he has one of the highest scores in a leadership program at the Centers for Disease Control.

Enrique Topete, Luis Brito, Humberto Franco, Daniel Cardona, Leilani Montes, Ozzie Granjaldo, and Nadia Andrade. To Roz Teller and Geoffrey Gee.

Thanks to my cousin Sandra and my appreciation to Eric Sagot who is a very good friend and like a brother….who kept on eye on me from Los Angeles.

Thank you to you….my friend who has been there for me…a friend, supporter, a reader of this blog. I appreciate you spending some time with me..

And thanks to God for giving me my life……with love…..Richard

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