“Surprise! We are going to Cuba!`` My wife revealed on Valentines day. 

Stunned and overjoyed I asked, “When is the trip?” 

She said, “May of this year for your 43rd birthday, on a Royal Carribean Cruise!”

The thought of being back in Cuba after 39 years away was overwhelming. Images of us drenched in sweat dancing salsa into the night. And during the day, we would frolic on the beach and walk barefoot on the soil. This soil has awaited 39 years for my return home. On this epic journey home, I encountered an enormous frustration that lead to a profound realization. Although I am  a US Citizen and Veteran of the US Navy, I am still a Cuban Refugee. This return home is to remember where we come from. In this story we rediscover and honor our true home. We are all yearning for love, safety, happiness, and inner peace, which is our true home. From a deeper sense, we are all refugees. We are all refugees on an epic journey home.

The first barrier encountered was getting a valid Cuban passport. I could retrieve a dusty passport over 40 years old from my mother’s house in Miami. It had a black-and-white photo of me as a 4-year-old when I left Cuba on the infamous Mariel Boatlift.  Furthermore, it was written in cursive and was barely legible. After tedious research I discovered it would cost $400 dollars and I would fill out a one page renewal and it would start the process. When the agent at the travel agency found out I came on the Mariel Boatlift, she said the whole process would take one year. 

Shocked, I inquired, “why would it take one year to renew?” 

The travel agent said, “The Cuban government will have to go to where you lived in Cuba and knock on the door. They will then ask if someone knows of you and confirm that you used to live there.”

The Cuban government would knock on my grandmother's door, who is in her late 80s and ask, “Do you know Orestes Gutierrez and did he live here?”

My grandmother would respond, “Si, Orestico vivia aqui.” 

Yes, little Orestes lived here. I lived there almost 40 years ago.

Alas, I could not renew my passport in time for the trip. The trip could not be rescheduled because we had an important port stop in Key West. I was crushed and devastated to be so close yet so far away…

Imagine a journey of 1000 steps to get to your most cherished destination, your birth home. Then imagine it taking you almost 40 years to get there, and then you are left on the balcony of a cruise ship seeing Havana but not being able to disembark from the ship. I could see, hear and smell my homeland. She was even more beautiful than I expected. From the ship, I saw the crystal blue waters, the 1957 Chevys in old Havana on one side, and statues and monuments in a wild forest. From the balcony I waved goodbye to my wife as she disembarked for a 4 hour guided tour of Havana. To appease the longing and painful gnawing of nostalgia in my soul, I went for a hard workout in the gym on the ship. Then my monkey mind went out of control…

The passengers on the trip had a full 24 hours of freedom in Cuba. I imagined my wife would dance salsa with a stranger deep into the night in Havana. Then she would decide not to come home with me because she was swept off her feet. Further, she would fall in love with another Cuban man. A man who truly knows how to dance salsa. To my surprise she returned after only 4 hours and said she wanted to be with me on the ship. Then she confessed that she had fallen in love with another man on the island. She fell in love with another mans hands. There was a man with huge gnarly hands that supported his family by making hats from straw. She witnessed this man make my sombrero and bought it as a souvenir. She also bought me a 100% white linen guayabera shirt. Can you imagine the suffering, of a man born in Cuba, with an authentic sombrero, guayabera shirt, drinking a Cuba Libre and being only one step away from being on his home soil?

Luckily, the pain and suffering was fleeting since I had an important speech to give. We had a port stop in Key West where I was honored to be a guest speaker at Unity of the Keys. Our gracious minister-friend gave us an amazing tour of the town and the beach was warm and reinvigorating. The profound frustration of not being able to visit my birth home led to an insight that I shared with the congregation of Unity of the Keys.

Key West was my first US home. Even though I was living in a refugee camp, it was still my first home in the USA.

I told the audience, “I feel like I am home again.”

And the truth is, I was home. The last time I visited Key West I was a 4-year-old Cuban refugee, with nothing to my name. In 1980 I got off an overcrowded ship on a dangerous journey in search of freedom. This time for my 43rd birthday, I visited my first US home from a luxury cruise ship as a physician, professor, author, and guest speaker. The audience saw within my story there is a promise of freedom.  My story represents the dreams and hope of refugees. But this story is not about me. This story is about you.

Contemplate the following questions.

Where is the place you call home? Is it a physical location such as your place of birth? Or is it an identity? When you think of your home do you think of a zip code? Or is it a culture? Do you feel at home identifying with an ethnicity on another continent? Perhaps home is a Facebook group or another online community? Are you at home with the veganism movement to save the planet? Is home a spiritual community or blood relatives only?

The deeper that I pondered these provocative questions led to my profound realization. My realization is that my journey home was not about me. This story is about you! 

Home is not a physical location. Home is where you feel safe, free, loved and have inner peace. Home is our own creation without a physical location. In fact, from the deepest sense, home is wherever you have your present moment awareness. Your true zip code is not your city. Your true home address is the present moment, the only place that happiness exist. We are all refugees in search of our true home. Our true home is inner peace and happiness. In a broad sense, when we lose our inner peace and happiness we become refugees. In every waking moment we can remember to come back to the present moment, our true home.

There are Five Ancient Universal Principles that children live every day and allow every day to be filled with peace, joy, and contentment. I have created a mnemonic device that will help you remember the 5 Principles for inner and outer transformation: L.O.V.E.S. The Answer. These principles have been around for thousands of years and can be practiced with any religion.

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