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Veterans and military families were divided about reports that President Donald Trump made disparaging comments toward the military. Some service members bristled at the remarks while and others questioned whether they occurred. Supporters claim that should one twist the President’s words, take something out of context, or cannot refute anonymous sources, an avenue to criticize exists. Other veterans have become disenchanted by the Trump presidency. Therefore, regardless of what’s done today, America needs a change.

I have no clue whether Trump openly disparaged Veterans. His past attacks on John McCain, a Gold Star Family, his military leadership, and the open disregard of the Uniform Code of Military Justice can propel one to conclude that Trump may have disparage military members. As seen on the news, our fearless leader launched an unprecedented public attack against the U.S. military’s leadership on Monday, accusing them of waging wars to boost defense manufacturing companies’ profits. Also notable was the choice to attack members of the press, specifically Jennifer Griffin and Laurene Powell Jobs.

While reporters from other news outlets confirmed aspects of the disparagement, Griffin works for Fox. And there, in the house of Fox, opinion hosts and corporate owners are seen as Trump’s personal media outlet and reliable supporters. Griffin’s confirmation led to Trump’s call for her firing via Twitter. Laurene Powell Jobs was also accosted via Twitter, stating that The Atlantic was “failing” and “radical.” Job’s sin came because she established The Emerson Collective, which focuses on education, immigration reform, the environment, media, journalism, and health. The organization happens to have an ownership stake in both The Atlantic and in Axios. Why do women always get the brunt of attacks?

Hillary Clinton, Carly Fiorina, Elizabeth Warren, Heidi Cruz (and a long list of other women) also experienced attacks. The way he talks about women, any prominent, powerful woman, is trivializing in the most demeaning ways. Professor Marianne LaFrance, a psychologist at Yale University, stated that when a female opponent is criticized, that woman is often reduced to sexual objects or someone unworthy of respect or attention. Yet, Trump receives support.

Ms. G. (a Trump supporter from work) said she did not mind. She and other conservatives say there are more critical issues than his remarks. They applaud the low unemployment (before COVID) rate among women and appreciate how he fought against abortion. Supporters adore Trumps’ appointment of conservative judges, attack on the poor, anti-immigrant stance (unless you are from Norway/Europe), the fight against other countries via tariffs (which they pay, but what do I know). Yet, these supporters only look at one or two issues rather than the whole. Trump’s road to 270 electoral votes would have been a cakewalk had things been done differently.

Had the Trump administration implemented healthcare reform that reduced costs, covered everyone, and ensured quality care, his support would topple 90%. Did America get healthcare reform? No. Can I drive to work without worrying about whether the bridge my car is driving upon collapses? No. However, the Trump administration held many ‘Infrastructure’ weeks. Did America get better roads and bridges? No. And about that steel boom? Overall, the employment rate at steel mills remains unchanged from when Trump began his presidency. ‘Protectionism’ cost more jobs than it saved. Face it, America lacks a plan.

America’s leadership has no plan for COVID, no healthcare plan, no nothing. All American’s have received is ‘crass and crude,’ a hell of a lot of unemployed citizens, and the promise of darker times. “Praise Jesus that abortion will become illegal, and we have conservative judges,” I heard Ms. G. exclaim shortly after Justice Kavanaugh received his appointment. 

Ms. G. died two days ago in the same hospital I.C.U. she worked.

Transparency

My cellphone rang just before 2:00 PM. Pulling away from watching people stroll near the waterfront, the number only revealed my employer. When one is technically on sick leave, the person being called always wonders about such calls. The call could be anywhere between the benign, “You’ve received a package,” to the dramatic, “Hey. Hate to tell you; you’re downsized.” Pressing #1 revealed our company’s mentorship program indicated someone had chosen me to be a mentor – their mentor.

Mentors are important, so choose wisely. Maria Shiver said, “God puts mentors in your path. They may not look like you, sound like you, or be what you expect.” As such, I was curious about why on God’s earth one poor fool to choose unwisely. Even those with limited knowledge understand, I am not the poster boy of mentors. I’ve neither written a book nor cured any disease. During a meet and greet company social, my last mentee asked, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” “Dead,” I replied with a smile. And that quick exchange started a two-year friendship ending when he left for Washington, D.C.

Our relationship wasn’t hard-ass. I required only four things. First, I will not set your goals; bring your own. Second, you must follow through. If you don’t, I won’t. Third, I periodically review the mentee, mentor relationship to ensure it continues to work. Fourth, be transparent. Show your scars so others know they can heal.

During the first introduction meeting, my mentee asked, “What was the greatest challenge you faced.” I could have rattled off a litany of challenges, but the answer was easy, “In 2018, I sat with an FBI agent for the interview portion of my security clearance.” Revealing real grief, I was no longer afraid to show the anguish of someone who knew he had inexplicably screwed up. “During the period between 2009 and 2010, I said and did things that weren’t true. I was fired. I let down my colleagues and spent the last eight years doing my best to reestablish trust and remain true the values I chose to honor. What happened was an acute period in my life, and I had put many people through hell. As such, it is important to remind ourselves who we are, and in many cases, who we used to be.”

All of us have inner-truth, and ten years ago, I required an honest look in the mirror to acknowledge my imperfections (sins). Doing so meant the willingness to transform into a better person. It is not solely about one specific religious path. Instead, it is a path that is more concerned with how to live without harming others.

People want transparency. They don’t like being lied too. Except by the President, which represents an interesting exception, doesn’t it? Is it because “he” is “entertainment,” or because “he” was not like the others? Does it matter the whole thing was most certainly an exercise in marketing and publicity? As one person said, “At least he’s transparent about not being transparent.” I chose a different path.

I wanted to live selflessly and commit myself to the necessary work, sacrifice, and occasional discomfort to choose “the best way to live.” Transparency doesn’t just help the world at large, and it isn’t just about the fact that it’s the right thing to do. It means seeking to understand those around you. Doing so can and will transform your life.

Did He See That?

Stuck in bed from excessive pain and excessive blood loss, l watched the world from a window. Laying horizontally, one views a different perspective of the world, its beauty, frailties, and trivialities. In the hours, and the hours after that, life’s opportunities are thrown to viewers to ponder, but only those who see.

I was taught God knows us. And, in an ideal world, not one shall fall ‘cept by His will. Christ said so. “Yet not one of them (sparrow) will fall to the ground without the will of your father.” Am I afforded the same? Does God willfully wish me to die painfully, either from a tumor or Parkinson’s like a multitude of others? If God sees sparrows fall, does He see all animals? How about cats?

A cat died today crossing the street. Naively darting into traffic to cross the street, its hind legs were trapped under a tire. In excruciating pain, it tried to maneuver back to safety, but could no longer function and finally succumbing to fate’s last breath. We were both unable to move: the cat and I, helpless, and unable to move. Hours later, the moment we both participated remain frozen. My only words, “Dear God!”

“Dear God? Did you will that? Was that YOUR will?” The driver who saw the cat drove on. Other vehicles passing by looked at the struggle and simply passed by. “Not my job,” one might say. “No time,” another may claim. In 2018, Five teenagers who taunted a drowning man while recording his death. Did God see it? George Floyd died with an officer kneeling on his neck. Was that God’s will? Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back. As Blake was shot, did Christ believe the will of YOUR Father was completed? What the hell was He thinking?

When an Antioch, Illinois teenager shot protesters in Kenosha, WI, was HE good with that? If Trump refused to condemn the shooter (and the act), was that God’s will? When Trump plays golf while many painfully die from COVID, are we good with that?  If God does nothing, should we? If our leadership willfully throws children in cages on America’s southern border, is that the type of tough love God condones? If we remove the Affordable Care Act and thousands die, does Christ say, “Cool.” I come to ask these questions because I know of no better forum to bring such grief. As the Apostle Peter once said to Jesus, at a moment of confusion and doubt, “Lord, to whom else can we go?”

During my incapacitation, In Fakebook’s show Sorry For Your Loss, the lead character typed a deep heart penetrating comment. “Everyone says it’s not the end of the world. That’s because it’s not the end of THEIR world.” I truly believe our world no longer feels grief because we no longer experience connection.  I had no close ties to the cat, but in a searing single moment, part of us shared a body of pain. As the cat suffered, I suffered.

Many of us will succumb similarly to the cat. We come. We live. We get ill. We succumb. However, in order for us to get past the ideology of the day (whether Trump, QAnon, GOP, Democrat, whatever), we’ll need to feel scars, In the presence of Jesus’ scars, Jesus instructed Thomas to “Feel my hands” and “Touch my side.” In a flash of revelation, Thomas saw the wonder of a God who in some way, stooped to take on our pain. In that sense, I can attest that where there is misery, there is Love (God).

In moments of pain, I want answers. “(Looking at Trump’s antics) Like God, why?” Yet God appears to remain aloof. Or does He? Frederick Buechner said, “I am not the Almighty God, but if I were, maybe I would in mercy either heal the unutterable pain of the world or in mercy kick the world to pieces in its pain.” God did neither. He sent love (Christ). God joined our world in all its unutterable pain to set in motion a slower, less dramatic solution … one that involves us.

All that has happened in these past four years demonstrates that your life—the decisions you make, the kind of person you are—matters now. Neither the cat nor I have a future. I would like to promise an end to pain and grief, and that one will suffer again. I cannot. I can, however, stand behind the promise that all things are redeemable, and can work together to a greater good. It’s a lesson God, Kanako, and that cat taught.

Trump’s fifty-plus minute diatribe in Charlotte, North Carolina reminded me of a Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. . . .” I flashed to 1963.

In June 1963, Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc publicly burned himself to death in a plea for President Ngo Dinh Diem to show “charity and compassion” to all religions. By November 1963, Diem was overthrown. Students of history, all of us should compare such self-sacrifice against the tyranny of the current administration. To be fair, Trump doesn’t hate protests, only dissent.

Pandering to cult leadership is not new. However harmful we thought previous leaders were, I don’t recall the overly targeted criticism of athletes who knelt, silently and peacefully, during the national anthem. Public rebuking NFL players in a series of tweets ended the NFL quarterback (Kaepernick); goodness of evil was emphasized when white supremacists marched; and black men and women are wrongly shot, most recently in the back. And most Americans sat on our asses and watched it all while the ‘shit-show’ ran amok.

In four short years, America witnessed institutional dismantling, justice to the preferred, truth for those who lied under oath, and rapping U.S. coffers for personal gain. In four years, healthcare dismantled, environmental standards ripped apart, legal norms suffocated, sought election interference from foreign powers, separated children from immigrant families and threw them into cages like stray dogs, told citizens to inject bleach (or maybe a light), spouted unproven medical quackery, and by December, will have witnessed 300,000 U.S. citizens die. We watch, all the while acknowledging the damage.

The president’s sister described him as a liar and fake. A former senior official at the Department of Homeland Security deemed him a danger to the country. CNN claims a prominent Fox News anchor had once called him “batshit crazy.” John Bolton, former Defense Secretary James Mattis, and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have described our leader as a danger to America. Sadly, none of these men or women were able to rise above the moment to demonstrate something greater. Perseverance of love failed miserably.

In his death, Thich Quang Duc demonstrated his compassion love – the need for bridges, not hatred. Presidential Historian Jon Meacham echoed Duc’s sentiment at the recent Democratic Convention, “Extremism, nativism, isolationism and a lack of economic opportunity for working people are all preventing us from realizing our nation’s promise, and so we must decide whether we will continue to be prisoners of the darkest of American forces or will we free ourselves to write a brighter better nobler story. Our (the American) story has soared when we have built bridges, not walls.”

Which story will you build? Bridges? Or walls?

A week has phased since my last blog post. I could have generated a few excuses, but none fit. I awoke Thursday morning stiff. Friday through Saturday, my neck felt like a volcano near eruption. I couldn’t hold a thing, had a hard time moving, and every muscle in my body regurgitated at the thought of moving, anything. Staying awake was difficult. Awake one moment, drowsy the next, then awake again.

Sleeping provided respite. I slept ten hours from Friday night through Saturday morning. Saturday to Sunday, thirteen hours. I felt comfortable enough not to use the restroom, though I did. When the act of laying down caused more grief than getting up, I nudged to the bed’s edge and stood. Shuffling over the cold hardwood floor provided momentary relief as I stood under a hot shower and wondered, “What the f***?”

I debated whether the Parkinson’s or osteoarthritis was the cause. Rigidity is seen in many Parkinson’s patients. Though not entirely understood, researchers believe stiffness is associated with the reduction of dopamine. If that is the case, then my Carbidopa-Levodopa failed and I should demand a refund. However, osteoarthritis pain can occur at either rest or night. In my case, nearly every part of my body was on fire, and more than once, I wished a ‘water scooper’ (aircraft that drops water on a forest fire) would drown me in Aquafina (purified water). Having inside knowledge of medical science, I know osteoarthritis usually does not affect the wrists, elbows, or shoulders. In the end, neither argument won.

Like many suffering in major illness, I am left with daily challenges. Whatever body part that’s inflamed today may not be tomorrow. Others experience it differently. Buddhists believe suffering is part of life. Pain is expected. Therefore, if a person experiences pain calmly, he can attain higher states of being without becoming emotionally distressed. At 2:26 AM, not sure I can buy Into that argument while every limb screams, “Holy Mary, Mother of God.” A pancreatic cancer patient once described abdominal and back pain, “I had woken up in the middle of the night screaming because of the pain, terrified to move because each time I did, it hurt more. It felt as if someone was stabbing my lung over and over again.” Such stories are not uncommon, and it’s hard to neatly fit spirituality when nature Is gnawing upon the body.

Even though I didn’t complain, the prospect of living under this type of pain is hard to fathom. I know pain is part of our human living experience. There is no way to escape and we often feel victimized. Being in pain also makes one anticipate further discomfort in the future and reminds us how finite our life is and of our fragility. Therefore, I chose my pain to be ‘teacher.’

My educator will help me to prepare for the pain that might be present as I die. Given a chance, I will try to explore whatever lessons that bring my life into greater focus and meaning, teaching me strength, patience, and giving me compassion and humility. Of course, I will take whatever medication is prescribed. Yet, maybe this pain level will allow me insights to endure, make me more mindful, and see the road ahead. Like others, I might even view it as a gift, like many of those dying realized their pain and suffering made their relationships more valuable and helped them reorder priorities.

There are numerous spiritual and psychological approaches to pain management. Medications make it possible to manage pain without diminishing awareness and provide one time to strengthen practice, be with others, and not have pain or be of an unclear mind. In such ways, I often say to myself: “I am in pain, but I am not suffering.” I say this to remind myself not to amplify the pain by building Some grand story. Rather, I can become ‘friend’ to my pain. Reach out to it. See what it needs. I may not know what to do, but the pain might. I can give it latitude, and try to see what it may teach. Therefore, I can use the experience of suffering to develop compassion for the lives of others who have pain like me.

Keeping It Real

Sometime in the coming months, this blog will either stop, or a huge gap between writing could occur. I may be out of pocket, or I must determine how to write one-handed. God, nature, or life gifted the metacarpophalangeal joint in the middle finger (my writing hand) a lump. The doctors do not believe this is a Ganglion cyst. The doctors explained that since conclusive diagnosis appears improbable, they suggest surgically removing it. I, however, must think of some way to explain it to my employer.

There are some notable examples. Entering on stage with a shoulder spica cast, Phyllis Diller opened with something like, “I want to report a typo on page 164 of The Joy of Sex.” Another person said she sliced her hand, opening a frozen waffle. Another claimed to have broken her nose while adjusting her bra. (She was fitting her bra and slipped, releasing her fist into her nose.) Having such examples provided a creative license. 

“Hey everyone. I was coming into work and saw a cat (correct that: kitten) stuck on an overpass ledge. I saved the kitten but cut my hand. I will be out of pocket for two to six weeks.” There is an attacker’s excuse. “I saved a person from being attacked. The attacker cut my hand. I will be out of pocket for two to six weeks.” Then there is this one. “My girlfriend and I were play wrestling. My cat came to defend her and bit me. Stupid cat. I will be out of pocket for two to six weeks.” (The last one was real.) I want a great story, for truth is boring. 

Which is better? You fought off a shark, or you have cancer? I was free-climbing and cut my hand or arthritis created a node (bone spur) that must be removed? I saved a child from falling over a cliff or waking up this lump and having no idea what the hell caused it? Yet, capturing my cat’s identification tag forces me to keep it real. 

Houdini was my adopted cat for six months in 1998. His name was provided by adoption agency staff who swore to his ability to escape from anything. Place Houdini in a kennel cage for dinner, and he would be out by dessert. One afternoon, I went to see Saving Private Ryan. Houdini was placed in his cage, double pad-locked, and inserted molded concrete around the exterior. He was out when I returned. 

What keeps all this real was his death. Houdini passed away in my arms. He was real. He was alive, and to some extent, remains active in me. Houdini never complained about being weak. He never allowed himself to feel life’s sorrow, nor did he tell a tall tale. And secretly, he is probably the single essential inspiration for living today. Houdini’s aim was to love everyone and everything. He lived a pure life love, for pain was inevitable, suffering was optional.

All lives will be fraught with some measure of pain, but it is in leaning away from that pain instead of accepting it with a grace that suffering occurs. Anthony de Mellow said let the Spirit work. Stop straining your spiritual muscles. Become attuned to your deeper self and let the force of love take over. Let the Holy Spirit take over. 

There is a comfort in accepting that life is a continual ebb and flow between things going smoothly and going to hell. I think being a spiritual person means becoming a real human being. Thich Nhat Hanh said, “It is not so important whether you walk on water or walk in space. The true miracle is to walk on earth.” In other words, be real. Therefore, my medical condition will be explained as “I woke up this lump and have no idea what the hell caused it. The doctors believe it should be surgically removed. I will be out for two to six weeks.” Keeping it real.

Prayer

I was recently requested to write a letter of prayer to God for a late friend and her widowed husband. A few days ago, I searched for my good letter-writing fountain pens, ink, and letterhead. I wrote that letter, addressed it to God, Jerusalem, paid for postage, and tossed it into the mail. I figured I was done, but content stayed with me. In the end, I knew I wrote a pretty crappy letter, and decided I had to redo it.

Turns out, I forgot how to write a letter. I’ve become so used to typing, editing, and spell check that pen and ink seemed like a foreign language. It was hard to transition words to paper. I was stuck by the constraints of six-by-nine stationery. Whatever I wrote, must have been awful, for the finished product sat like dead weight.

I have no problem expressing my soul, bearing witness to my insecurities, and failures. I don’t fear the world knowing them either, for I presume, we all have faults we wish to bury from the world. It’s just that my late friend and husband deserved a thoughtful prayer, one considered honorable under God versus one in which the writer spent more time in search of the pen than then on the letter. 

Just as I lost a wife to mental illness during the early ’90s, my friend required prayer of grace. I have no idea what my friend endured. She lost her life. He lost a wife. It’s not like enduring a colonoscopy: drink some liquid the night before, camp out in the bathroom until morning, be escorted to the clinic, have an endoscopy inserted up your behind, get the results, and be back at work in three days. Losing a loved one is a landscape-altering event. No matter how one claims they’re ready, just a handful ever are.

One blogger wrote of his pain. “My wife went from fit, healthy, and beautiful in Sept 2017 to not being able to walk by Christmas – I cannot understand the cruelty my wife faced. I know I have been trying to ignore my grief, but the pain and sadness are all-consuming and I’m struggling now to cope with everything; my job, my friends and there lives, my family, my wife’s family – I am drowning in a world where everyone seems to be normal and my life isn’t anymore. I don’t want this life. I don’t know how to cope.” Everyone will say what you’re feeling is normal, but there is no normal. 

Normal is inapplicable within the screaming silence of an empty home, the reverberation of every picture, and a garden that dares to bloom in Spring. Life and the memories of that which was lost circulate throughout the void and pulses in every heartbeat. True prayer embraces this pain, acknowledges the soul, lifts hopeless.

Prayer is a conversation. Prayer is a conversation with God, that friend, a favorite pet. Children in western forms of religion are taught that Jesus began his prayer with some form of “Our Father,  who art in heaven.” Jesus focuses on a distinct person — the Heavenly Father with whom he has a personal relationship. It should be the same for us. Make the person we want to communicate with, part of the process. Written prayers force us to articulate our thoughts and feelings inside.

Love required me to properly articulate what was being asked. Instead of going through the motion, each word had to be formulated with purpose and driven from an authentic heart. Authentic prayer is neither a ‘tagline’ nor purchasing a condolence card at Walgreens and stuffing it in the mail. Written prayer is the process of heartfelt understanding being granted through God. This type of prayer is agape love in the present moment. My second letter became effectively powerful. I only wish my first was just as thoughtful.

Parkinson’s and constipation are brethren. These brethren dance hand-in-hand, just like that couple’s wedding you attended, knowing all the while of the painful divorce forthcoming. In theory, not all Parkinson’s victims experience constipation. I often reflect on this medical tidbit while sitting on the toilet as my body tries to crap the life out of me. Over the months, I’ve experienced dark blood, red blood, little blood, and no blood. I never thought of dancing after a bowel movement, but do when experiencing any movement without blood. My doctor grimaces at my descriptions and reverts to recounting protracted dissertation learned from some medical textbook seventeen years prior.

Common in Parkinson’s, constipation results from the slowness of movement (bradykinesia) and muscle rigidity. My physician noted 65% of Parkinson’s patients get this condition. “Not me,” I retorted. “I have it 100%.” This bit of levity goes unnoticed as she regurgitates a litany of god awful suggestions guaranteed to improve my situation. Recommendations included a dietician to advise on diet and fluids, a physiotherapist to help with abdominal exercises for passing stools, a speech therapist for any swallowing problems, and an occupational therapist who can suggest ways to overcome eating and drinking difficulties.
I’ve neither experienced any problem consuming kettle chips nor beer. Both go down easy. I am unsold on a physiotherapist, as I can barely walk 60 yards without extreme pain. My speech appears solid, “Hey, bartender? Draw me another brew.” I could swallow a laxative, but my only real experience with laxatives occurred in the military watching Calvin (whom we loathed) shit all night after consuming ninety percent of a brownie pan laced with Exlax. Therefore, I consulted my help desk: Google. When in doubt, ‘Google.’

Google tips were undesirable. First, relax. When on the toilet, it’s essential to relax. Don’t become preoccupied with your movement’s process. However, it’s hard not to be preoccupied when you can’t shit. Not sure about anyone else, but at 1:00 AM, sitting on the toilet, one gets somewhat preoccupied. Secondly, avoid medicines such as narcotic pain relievers, antidepressants, aluminum-containing antacids, blood pressure medications, drugs for Parkinson’s disease, and iron supplements can also cause problems. (No Sh**!) Avoiding them would kill me. The only medicine I’m not ingesting is antidepressants.

I wish I could have seen the clinician’s face upon reading my 140 character (or less) text via the healthcare app. “Request antidepressant. Thus, I won’t feel depressed about not being able to sh**.” I received a one-word response, “No.” They were kind to include a ‘cut and paste’ diatribe on “… drinking at least four to six glasses of fluids a day. Water and fruit juices are best for preventing constipation.” I wanted to reply, “What about beer? Beer has water?” However, I remember Christ stipulating not to put the lord to the test and turned to a better path.

I contacted a former Buddhist teacher in San Francisco. After the usual pleasantries, I asked about her natural remedies to treat constipation. “Buddha was considered a great physician and psychotherapist due to his compassion and wisdom,” she reflected, seemingly lost in the moment. “Therefore, you must know the suffering, abandon the cause, obtain cessation, and follow the path.” (Goddammit. I just need to sh**.)

In my physician’s waiting room, someone highlighted Anthony de Mello. It was placed on old Gideon’s Bible, you know the book all suddenly searched before receiving the “you’re pretty screwed” diagnosis. Highlighted in yellow, de Mello said, “Most of us suffer in the spiritual life because we do not accept ourselves. Maybe this is the biggest obstacle to the spiritual life. We cannot see our beauty or our power unless we see it against the backdrop of god’s loving us.” I’ve never considered my 1:00 AM toilet sessions as a failure to accept myself. Should I accept the fact that I can shit, can’t shit, or could shit? Certainly, most feel more power post-movement as opposed to pre-movement. Ugh … this is insufferable.

I decided to return to drinking, which eliminates suffering (albeit temporarily). “Hey, bartender. Draw another brew. I’ll be right back … Have to hit the room.” And, “Can I get an order of kettle chips?”

On an early weekend morning, I rolled over to the edge of the bed and realized I couldn’t get up. (At least initially I couldn’t get up.) “F●●●,” my body groaned. I reached for my cane, pulled myself upright, steadied on the bed’s edge.” I am getting old. Quickly. There’s a sobering likelihood that I will be one of the seven 65-year-olds who will be disabled before death. I’m not looking forward to it, but I find myself continually negotiating with ‘Father Time’ for a snippet’s reprieve.

Nora Ephron wrote, “What I believe … is that at a certain point in life, whether or not you’ve been diagnosed with an illness, you enter into a conscious, ongoing … negotiation between the two … This negotiation often includes decisions as trivial as whether to eat the second piece of pie as important as whether to have medical treatment that may or may not prolong your life.” I’m at a point where second helpings are intolerable. I know it. My body knows it. Call it intuition. Call it the ‘sixth sense.’ Call it, ‘Joe.’ Call it whimsical. Doesn’t matter. Most dying can name the time, and date life shifted.

July 15th, my body shifted. My back, stomach, intestines, and right hip awoke pissed off, as if to say, “We’re in charge, Obiwan. And we decided to drive off that cliff in the near horizon.” My former sister-in-law described a similar feeling. She awoke one morning, feeling something wasn’t right. “It was an ominous feeling,’ she casually noted during an afternoon lunch. A little over a year later, cancer claimed her life. Therefore, any notion that “70 is the new 50” never occurred to me, as I never expected to get to 70. My physician will test whether ‘60’ is my never ‘70.’

Several tests, including complete blood count and tumor marker, have been ordered. I won’t stumble into the results. I won’t get to read it online before hearing from my doctor. Post-results, I will hit ‘pause’ to wait and see what happens. I’ll internalize everything until I know just how true this ‘intuition’ (my decline) turns out, for I do not want to claim to be a victim. 

I never thought that anyone would be sorting through my life history 30 years ago. And at this point, there’s no optional editing that can be performed. History is written. I know how the scales of justice both God and man weigh each detail on trial. Afterward, everyone alive will understand I was no victim. It’s unavoidable. Accept it and move on. 

Moving forward is an interesting concept. Buddhists believe most illnesses are primarily karma’s negative energy-consuming the sufferer. If so, I have acquired a s●●●load of it. Such karma stems from greed, anger, and stupidity, including eating pizza, beer, and onion rings. I suppose a lot of cancer is avoidable. Not smoking reduces lung cancer significantly. Avoiding red meat reduces other forms of cancer. Protection from sun exposure reduces skin cancer. For me, cancer is … cancer. Just is. It’s part of life (at least mine anyway). I will take this situation like others and make it part of the path. The path is exclusive. It’s not filled with only right situations, but any situation. Fortunately, I have time to prepare. 

When told of the odds of my survival (a couple of good years), I instructed my physicians I was not interested in hearing about weird drug trials, new medications, or life-saving operations. What good would it do me? I decided to live until death. I refuse to get waylaid by the kind of emotional baggage that frequently accompanies others. Life is short. Admit your wrongs, make amends when you can, and live until death.

MSNBC Chuck Todd asked Former Obama Political Advisor Valrie Jarrett if she was exhausted. Jarrett responded, “No,” while I intuitively noted, “Hell, yeah.” One could presume Jarrett and I were miles apart. Not really, for there are many definitions of exhaustion. Contextually, Todd referenced the current political climate, the purposeful segregation of any person non-white; the purposeful disparagement of anyone unwilling to adorn servitude to a demigod; or the systematic stripping of humanity from anyone considered unelite. My exhaustion comes from witnessing a single person sarcastically strip human dignity from those he serves. Many think my sense of sarcasm is a problem. I believe there’s a deeper, more insidious problem.

Sarcasm has many definitions: most being construed as a verbal irony that mocks or ridicule. The ‘sarcasm’ I’m referring to originated from the Greek words “sark” meaning “flesh,” and “asmos” meaning “to tear or rip.” So it means “ripping flesh,” an extensively bloody image of speech many world leaders use daily. Trump says he was being ‘sarcastic’ and joking about the use of disinfectants in the body. Trump also claims to be sarcastic when he claimed Jimmy Carter was dead, when asking Russia to find the 30,000 Clinton emails, that Obama and Clinton were founders of Isis, and so on. Such as it is, none captures the genuine threat to America.

Nearly four years into the 45th presidency, America has failed to find the middle ground. We have lost the ability to rally to that which unites. We have evolved into concurrent battles between countries, differences in race, religion, gender, or sexuality. All of those propose one segment of society is better than another because of genetic predisposition. We are forcing core values upon everyone. What happens when we strip our voice and moral compass from the world?

We’ve made countless choices throughout our lives, some that felt morally right and some that felt ethically wrong. Known or not, our choices will impact future generations—intolerance rules. Police kneel on a black man’s neck for over 8 minutes, and riots tear apart cities; police officers called on a black family for talking between swimlanes; a woman shopping at Staples was thrown to the ground sustaining injuries after asking another customer to wear a mask. A July 2020 environmental report indicated that due to the lack of climate-related commitments, the world is on a path for a temperature rise of more than 3°C. Such increases will devastate lives all over the world. Poor choices on racism, poverty, and social injustice are our legacy. As such, leadership has failed to lead.

Leaders often state we must be the change we wish the world to be. Rhetorical speeches denounce society’s continued path to segregationism and a willingness to revisit supremacy. If our leaders cannot lead, we must, for many issues, are too important, too critical. Black Lives Matter. Hunger matters. Education matters. Food poverty matters. The environment matters. Ancient texts state the Buddhist said nothing is permanent. However, look closely, and one will discover that everything is part of a larger, cyclical pattern of renewal.

The world is continually changing, and our morality needs to keep pace. We need to pay more attention to unintended consequences and risks and stop excusing our actions with, “I didn’t mean to hurt anyone.” We need to pay attention to negligence and recklessness. In his last Op-Ed, John Lewis wrote, “Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem America’s soul by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.”

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