Friday, August 12, 2016

How to paint the perfect picture: A tribute to Joe Ramas

It has been 3 months since Joe and Stacey were in the accident that changed all of our lives.  It seems like only yesterday that I was walking and talking with Joe about his father's last moments.  He wrote and read the eulogy at his fathers funeral less than two weeks before the car accident.  He shared with me what he had wrote and I, in turn, would like to share what he wrote with the community.  In the week after Joe had returned from West Virginia, he mentioned to me that a lot of what he had written in the eulogy for his father reminded him of himself.  He told me that he was considering sharing the eulogy and asked me to give him feedback about whether or not it would be something people would be interested in hearing.  I said he should absolutely share it, but sadly he didn't have the opportunity.  I'm grateful that he shared it with me and that I can pass it on, so that everyone can better understand another side of Joe, and to learn a little about his father, Dr. Mario Ramas.

(The eulogy is written below in italics.  I added a few thoughts afterwords about what I took from it and the similarities I saw between him and what he wrote about his father.  I've also added some personal notes about my connection with Joe).

My father and i used to roast pigs together.  This involved long hours of cleaning, dressing, stuffing, suturing, cooking, and talking.  We talked for hours about how to roast a pig.  We didn’t talk about the game, the last episode of something, or about our lives.  We talked about how to roast this pig.  For 30 years he would start;

"I have an idea” or “This time, i want to try something different.”  
I watched him engage in the development of a single recipe for 3 decades.  My father believed in sustained effort and hard work.  I know that almost everyone here knew his love of lechon, but i suspect almost no one understood that it wasn’t the lechon that he loved, but all of you.  I know that he didn’t express himself with words often, but if you could hear his recipe as he thought of it:

-I leave this union like this for Uncle Pros.  
-I put extra bay leaves here for Tito Peps, he’s has been asking for cuts closer to the hip.  
-Put garlic under the cheeks for Tita Lita; she always takes the head.

The list is quite literally endless.  Hours upon hours of careful dedication to each of you individually.  He was always changing it, always trying to keep up with everyone’s tastes.  I’m sure you have noticed that he always did the carving himself, but i’m guessing few of you knew why.  He was paying attention to what cuts you wanted.  If you started asking for something different, he would note that and change how he seasoned the entire pig.  He listened to your comments at the party and changed the recipe accordingly.  

“I put more salt on this side because your sister thought it was too salty last time, but your mother thought it was bland.”  He never made excuses about the quality and  he was always humble.

Sustained hard work, patience, and attention to detail; these are the things that people think of when they think of my father’s lechon.  What people probably don’t realize is that his secret ingredients are loyalty, integrity, compassion, and love of this community.  I don’t mean that he loved this group of people, i mean that he loved each of you individually.  I know that there are many more important details about my father’s life, like surviving the Japanese invasion, or that time he saved a man’s arm that no other doctor would operate on, the year after year of shipping containers full of medical supplies he collected for the Philippines, the strength he offered my mother, his dedication to his children and grandchild, or any of the other countless things my father did of much greater importance than something as mundane as roasting a pig.  But this, he and i did together.  It was the one thing that gave me real insight into how he thought, what he valued, and how he expressed his love.

I once read that creating the perfect painting was simple.  First, learn to live perfectly.  Next, paint naturally.  My father’s lechon may not have been perfect, but it was close.

As Joe said, I see a lot of similarities between him and what he wrote about his father.  His belief in sustained effort and hard work, patience, and attention to detail; but more importantly, loyalty, compassion, and the love of his community.  He truly loved his community and each person individually.  He had a power to draw out the creative talents of everyone he met.  He was genuinely excited about meeting and connecting with new people, learning what they were passionate about, and finding ways to collaborate with them and make them a part of the community.  I will forever remember the way his face would light up when he was deep in conversation with someone, brainstorming ideas, or geeking out over the new knot he had learned to tie.  Everything Joe did, he did with 100% effort and conviction.  He didn't always succeed at everything, in fact he failed quite often (as he himself would tell you), but one of the things I always admired about him, is that he was never afraid to try.  In everything that Joe did, he strove for efficiency and quality.  He was constantly working to make his life and the lives of the people around him more awesome.

I recently finished reading one of Joe's favorite books, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance."  I had originally tried reading it in 2003 when Joe first gave me one of his copies, but had to put it down due to the depth of the subject matter and my state of mind at the time.  I had decided several months ago that I wanted to try reading it again and this time was drawn into the story.  The key concept in the book is the idea of quality.  The narrator describes quality as being the precursor to both the subjective and objective realms of our world and illustrates his point in how quality can be found in the proper maintenance of a motorcycle.  As I was reading the book, I noticed many ideas and theories that fed into Joe's outlook on life and his own personal philosophy.  I had several "a-ha" moments while reading that I was excited to discuss with Joe, and several moments that felt very bittersweet after the accident because I knew I would never have the chance to discuss the book with him.  As I was reading, there was a particular passage that stood out to me as something that Joe had said recently, "You want to know how to paint a perfect painting?  It's easy.  Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally."  As I began writing this blog and I was rereading the eulogy he had written, I realized that he used this quote in the summary about his father's lechon.  Much like his fathers lechon, Joe's vision for the future of Fractal Tribe and the future of his community was on the path to perfection and was about the end of goal of quality.  There's another quote from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that I would like to share that I feel sums up a few of the ideas that Joe embodied in his life, "The real cycle you're working on is a cycle called yourself.  The machine that appears to be "out there" and the person that appears to be "in here" are not two separate things.  They grow towards Quality or fall away from Quality together."  I believe that's the lesson he wanted us to learn, that by working together as a whole, both internally and externally, we can grow towards quality.

Joe's love of this community and his passion to build something better than our current society is what drove him to form Fractal Tribe.  Fractal Tribe has gone through many ups and downs and several different stages over the years, but with the help of his friends and his community, Joe was able to begin building a foundation for the community he had hoped to create.  I have no doubt that we can continue to carry out Joe's dreams.  Although he is no longer here physically, I believe he is still with us in spirit, guiding us, looking out for us, caring for us, supporting us, loving us, and pushing us towards quality and perfection.  What we do with this energy, what we do to honor Joe and Stacey is what matters now.  As someone that was very close to Joe, I know that it can be difficult to not get bogged down in dwelling on the past and letting all the "what if's" cloud our heads and our hearts... of course we all wish that things could be different and that they were still with us, but we can't change what happened.  have struggled with feelings of blame, feeling that if I had made different choices over the last year that they would still be here... but that line of thinking is a deep dark hole that I am trying to not let myself fall into.  I miss Joe more than I can say; he was my best friend, my confidant, and one of the deepest loves of my life.  My future is forever changed and I'm going to do all that I can to live in a way that would make Joe proud.  I'm going to do what makes my life more awesome.

Jose-Maria L. Ramas
Jaunuary 15, 1977 - May 11, 2016