What Cuba Taught Me About Being in the Moment After My Traumatic Health Scare


Do you ever hear a song and it immediately takes you back to a special place and time? I do with “La Vida Es Un Carnaval” (“Life Is a Carnival”). It is a popular song by the late Celia Cruz, a lady known for her vocal pipes, but also her loud fashion statements and sometimes wigs.

Every time I hear it, the Cuban percussion, horns and her voice, remind me of my travels to Cuba. Over the past three years and almost 15 trips to Cuba, both my Cuban friends and Celia’s lyrics highlight the powerful role of perspective in life, especially when faced with challenges.

Many people ask me, “What is Cuba like? How are the people? Did you ride in one of those old cars?”

Although I smile as I tell my story of riding in a classic American convertible along Havana’s Malecón (an ocean-side boulevard), I also unveil much more about Cuba than they expect.

Old cars along Havana's Malecon

With all politics, economics and anti-Castro talk aside, I believe Cuba has a culture with life lessons for us all. I have witnessed the perseverance of the Cuban people through shortages of water, transportation, housing and limited quantities of toothpaste, diapers and soap. But the essence I’ve taken away from Cuba is the appreciation of the moment. Just as the song below states, there are bad times, and they will pass. It is true that life obstacles come and will continue to present themselves; however, there is and always will be the moment.

Excerpt of “La Vida Es Un Carnaval” translated from Spanish to English:

“Anyone thinking that life is unfair,

Needs to know that’s not the case,

that life is beautiful, you must live it…

… Anyone thinking that life is cruel,

Needs to know that’s not the case,

That there are just bad times, and it will pass.

Anyone thinking that things will never change,

Needs to know that’s not the case,

smile to the hard times, and they will pass.

Ay, there’s no need to cry, because life is a carnival,

It’s more beautiful to live singing.

Oh, Ay, there’s no need to cry,

For life is a carnival

And your pains go away by singing…”

This understanding of being in the moment can be seen any night of the week with plentiful life outside of the home. I’ve seen each and every ocean boulevard or plaza lined with crowds of Cubans of every generation. In my experience, this recipe for happiness repeats itself nightly, only changing ever so slightly. In general, I think the go-to formula is good company, music, dominos and beverages for a good dose of perspective to create happiness.

Why do I feel a connection to Cuba?

Although I don’t have Cuban roots, I feel a deep connection to the two cultural elements of happiness and perseverance. Nearly six years ago, I faced a traumatic health scare after an accident that broke my neck. While I recovered, I faced two other tremendous setbacks: my high-powered career vanished before my eyes as my marriage disintegrated. I lost all I held dear. But I chose and continue to vie for the upside.

Heidi Siefkas With Friends at the Santa Clara Cuba

I share this story about Cuba and my Post-Traumatic Growth in the hopes that those going through health scares, tragic loss or other struggles can preserve and create happiness through perspective.

So as Celia says, “Smile to the hard times, and they will pass.” I would call that a play on our lemons to lemonade, but done a la cubana (the Cuban way), turning limes into
mojitos.

Heidi in Cuba standing in front of a landscape

Originally from small town Wisconsin, Heidi Siefkas is author of “When All Balls Drop” and “With New Eyes.” Learn more about her powerful story of Post-Traumatic Growth, her books and travels on www.heidisiefkas.com.

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