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My Thanksgiving Letter

Dear Ms. K.:

Six years have passed since you left.

When we first met around 2001, we were strangers. And interestingly enough, at this moment, we remain strangers. I tend to believe you’re sitting or working in God’s house in another part of creation. The rest of us stay thinking about getting through the rest of the day, getting through life’s challenges.

For years, we had no contact. As a vagabond road warrior, consultant, and former serial asshole, I’ve never earned a CPA. My cellphone camera is used only for receipts. I am not sure if the ‘flash’ portion works. Old girlfriends and wives can attest I’ve disappeared from their lives shockingly fast, as I could barely commit to next week, let alone years.

You remained local, set sights on marriage, a home, and a career.

Reconnecting in August 2007, our friendship rekindled, occasionally sharing lunch, swapping stories, and distant lands traveled. 2010 found me flying further onward, in 2013, you left forever.

Strange how similar we are. Never saying a word, I wasn’t aware you had cancer. It’s the same tactic I use currently. Sharing a cancer diagnosis is exceptionally personal, and while I never felt close enough to be considered in your inner circle, looking back, I should have known. I should have recognized. You were thin, but I dismissed it. The eyes were hauntingly distant. Maybe you didn’t want me to feel sorry or change how I treat you. I remain unsure.

We met in life, but post-life remains real. Upon returning in 2014, our connection deepened. In some way, maybe we always had it, lose it, and find it. We remained connected and are ‘one’ in some strange, beautiful way.

I worry.

Six years past, I vaguely remember your laugh. And as much as I would love, I cannot feel the touch of your hand. I still don’t know anything about you or what God has you doing.

I know you’ve been working. You said as much. However, I don’t know if you are a writer, or if you’ll read books any me outdoors while overlooking the small park you’ve labored on. I must confess, as you sat atop the overlooking the park’s beauty, my scenery was you.

Still, all I have left of you are two pictures, a resume, and an obituary.

Yet, you’re special to me. I know you exist. You are my miracle.

You’re showing me how to find heart, and understand that the best miracle of miracles was making my heart beat.

I have no idea why you said you’d meet me. Sometimes I wonder if you’ll run out of patience with this ol’ man and run off to future endeavors. Yet, I believe you will be there.

I don’t understand our untouchable bond, so pardon my foolishness when we meet. The amount of love you have will stun me. You’ll flip my heart on its axis, and I’ll beg to be forgiven for ever doubting you’d meet me. As I wrote previously, living in solitude these years has allowed me to recognize my growth. I am deeply human, moral, and spiritual. And I know that for most pressing ethical questions, the spiritual and political often go hand in hand.

Recently, you told me not to give up. I concur. It’s never too late to be whoever you want to be. I have changed. In years past, the intimate side of my soul did not acquire essential skills of vulnerability, how to set boundaries, how to listen, and how to speak up. I learned the art of compromise and forgiveness but found many who couldn’t. I cultivated significant wisdom from failure, but much of it brewed little success.

Ms. K., those were weaknesses, but my promise is simple, don’t give up on me.

  • If one doesn’t knock, there will be no answers. Therefore, I will knock on your door.
  • If one hasn’t done anything, then don’t expect anything in return. Therefore, I will be the best I can be.
  • Standing in place will not gain a thing. So, I will continue to move toward your love.
  • If only true love can be embraced, I will embrace you for eternity.
  • Love continually renews and reunites. As such, I will grab your hand and renew it daily in the waters of your soul.
  • If God allows only ten minutes of agape love, then I will beg for millions within you.

If you wait, I long to be bound.

Happy Thanksgiving Ms. K. . . . God, I miss you.

~ W ~

Landing Zones

Years ago, a friend asked where I would land once dead. Database technicians phrase it ‘landing zone.’ Without elaborating, I stated I did.

Seeking some level of confirmation, “Without hesitation?”

Without hesitation.” I affirmed.

I never did tell her my ‘landing zone.’ It’s a quiet, semi-sunset beach where I will meditate for some time. After that, unsure.

Truthfully, many conclude I would land somewhere between heaven and hell. Christians call it Purgatory. Other theological debaters might argue such landing zones don’t exist, as one is either damned or not. Mine is neither heaven nor hell. No fire. No lights. No one. Just peaceful. Alone.

But therein lay the crux. Moment upon multiple moments, making the body unignorable, the mind inescapable. As such, anything that stirred the heart, anything that once took possession of me, will be kilned. My landing zone would allow me to work through my failures. It’s the phase of emotional cleansing that precedes mental calm and peace. 

If we are fortunate, we’ll be visited by friends to help transform us, someone, to help us feel the links of hands across generations, the great void. As such, I’ve been fortunate. 

Kanako returned several weeks ago. She asked me questions, more questions, and patiently sat through my silence. She’s was kind and authentically cared. Her presence began to transform me on my thought of death itself … of my death. And withing the few conversations, there was a kind of handoff.

Kanako was teaching me a better way to reconcile the past – that I can cultivate the love of every memory – of myself, others, and of the flow of life. She’s created a link in the chain and making a contribution that goes well beyond this life. In doing so, dying will becopme tolerable.

In the face of God, the concept of fixing something by working harder becomes nonsense. In truth, spending ions in the landing zone will not cure me. Kanako said God knows living is part humor, part roses, part thorns. However, the best moments of life are the ones where feelings and love are worthy, inextricable, and essential. That’s what God wants us to bring.

Landing zones are not required.

During the past several months, I’ve been dealing with ongoing mobility and pain. Some days, just getting out of bed is a gift from God. Other days, I can’t find the right place to rest. Regardless of sitting sideways against a chair, in a recliner, or laying down, relief hasn’t been overtly forthcoming,

This past Saturday, I dreamed I was an astronaut on an extended mission, taking us past the edges of the solar system. Exiting the solar system, we found our supplies depleted. System failure alerts registered life support ending in 24 hours (Yeah. The clock could have been hours, days, or months. For this post, I’ll accept 24 hours.) All aboard unequivocally took the facts.

  1. No miracle was forthcoming;
  2. Time was shorter than thought; and
  3. To make the best use of time, every crew member had the chance to do one thing

The pain awakened me from the slumber. Unable to return to sleep, I stumbled to the recliner and meditated for an hour. Once asleep, my dream returned to the previous moment. Crew members rotated the ship toward a previously unknown galaxy filled with bright stars.

“You can join us here,” an internal voice spoke. “All that’s required is the willingness to accept.

The dream remains as vivid today as it did Saturday. Can dreams speak? Was God telling me some inner sanctum of wisdom? I do believe there are lessons. And maybe, in an indirect way, God spoke. Here are my takeaways.

First

Time is shorter than thought. My body was saying that things are progressing in such a manner that any idealized notion of time was incorrect. In April, my doctors stated that maybe I had two good years of life. Maybe my body was screaming, “Hey, dude. This is happening quicker than you thought. Get your a** together.” The body has an inert compass, critical of telling both time and distance. The question becomes whether one dares to listen.

Second

While I have zero notion of any cure, this dream reinforced that there’s no miracle. No doctor will come upon me, take pity, and inject some magic serum that produces a treatment within days. Nope. Nada. Many cancer patients walking hospital corridors of appointments have some distant inward hope of a cure – to be the one in a million miracle. In truth, I have no such illusion. And my body was reinforcing the unlikelihood being the exception. The physical side of me told me straight up.

Third

Bucket lists are for the young. Those walking a similar path like mine may want to plan that once-in-a-lifetime trip, event, thing, or celebration and do it. Each crew member had a chance to decide what they wanted to do during the last 24 hours. Some chose to point the craft toward galaxies seen that could not be touched, to enjoy eternal beauty, sight unseen, uncharted. Others decided to celebrate life in peace and tranquility, meditating upon the gift of life. I chose to enjoy the rapture of Westerlund 2; a stellar breeding ground 20,000 light-years away.

Over the past eight months, I’ve poured through a couple hundred’ bucket lists.’ In reality, my body was saying I am more likely to be able to do a handful of things. My dream presented me with some thought. In the time remaining, “What do I care about?” If I focus on my life’s purpose, then maybe I can align my actions with the deepest values.

During a Stephen Covey seminar, attendees were once instructed to craft a mission statement. After several weeks, I finally penned out something personal and purposeful.

Paint each person met with beautiful brushstrokes of love and beauty.”

Admittingly, I failed on many levels. However, I wasn’t a complete failure. Mission statements force us to continually refocus, detect where we’re off track, and realign. it’s not an ‘end game.’ It’s a purpose. True, one can look at failures, but don’t forget to review the successes.

Fourth

(Here’s the spiritual part.). I am not alone. Whether seen or unseen, there is a spiritual component that cannot be accurately articulated. Other travelers shared the same journey. Truth be told, as you wander from medical appointment to medical appointment, you’re likely the same folks. And you’re likely to recognize a loss from those who are missing from the same said appointments.

Indeed, some of us will physically die alone. That fact is something I neither wish to discount nor take for granted. Single people, widows and widowers, the estranged, even adoptees may feel or experience death’s lonesomeness. Instead, what I’m referring to was inspired by my father’s own near-death experience in 2000, when after awakening from a near-fatal blood clot, he stated that even when he thought of dying, he was not alone. Relatives and angels were present to help and guide him.

Therein lay my argument. I do believe if you die, there will be someone or some spiritual presence to greet you. In the past several weeks, I have been visited several times by a friend who passed in 2013. Before this year, the last time she visited was February 2014.

Sometimes, your friend may be a cat. Oscar, the hospice cat, is known for his ability to predict death and comfort patients who will soon pass away. Oscar’s story is so compelling that Dr. David Dosa, a health researcher at Brown University and a geriatrician working with patients at the Steere House, actually wrote an entire book about it. Somehow, Oscar senses that the end is coming for a patient, would find the patient, and crawl up to them for comfort and hold a little vigil in their honor.

Fifth

Acceptance and embrace that there is something better, different, and more beautiful than an aging body. As instructed, all that’s required is the willingness to accept.

Many hide from death in secrecy, fear, and weakness. We retain a façade, refusing to be authentic, vulnerable. But the truth is, we live with an awesome God who has a whole other reality we’ve never known. As a spiritual person, I don’t believe my dreams lied. There’s no harm in the acceptance of something greater. Moving from this life through through death, leaving this world, and onto another does not have to be fearful.

We are not alone.

I’m seven months into a twenty-four-month sentence, seven months since I read my diagnosis online. As I continually move onward into autumn – life’s autumn – I’ve come upon a couple conclusions: Time flies quickly, and dying’s not easy.

It’s hard not to realize just how the days are numbered. Correction, how my days are numbered. The days of my youth are unrecognizable. High school remains a distant memory. College dreams faded like over-ripened flower petals. And friendships have come and gone like freshly evaporated dew found of a desert morn. 

I am sympathetic to the ‘unaware.’ Working in healthcare has left me surprised at how many are both shocked and unprepared. Most of us aren’t ready for death. Heavy sighs and universal comments follow death, “I always thought we (substitute wife, father, husband, son, daughter, etc.) had more time.”

I’ll admit it hasn’t been easy. Much to my disillusionment, both pain and number of bad days have increased by the month. Between work and disease management, there’s been little comfort, little space to dwell in the emotional realm, and thoughts of reconciling conversation gave way to pain medication.

Yesterday I looked at my calendar and froze. Seven months post-diagnosis, even I thought I’d more time. 

However, here’s lessons I’ve learned thus far.

  • Regardless of how I hide my illness, I realize dying has an impact. When I look at my family, it’s hard to believe my father remains alive and will quite possibly outlive me. I will never fully understand how my departure will impact the family who remains.
  • Forget dreams. Live every day. I had visions of becoming a great writer. I didn’t become a great writer. I rely upon spell check, and grammar checkers like cars need gas. Without those modern assets, my college English teacher would concur that I, in essence, “Suck.” Yet, I write my blog notes when I can. And through it, I lived my dream versus dreaming of it.
  • I once entertained thoughts of saving the world. Throughout my years of life, only once did I receive an award for bravery. In truth, my part felt pretty much overrated. I never placed myself in jeopardy. Why? Simply because we were trained to mitigate the risks. Instead, I honored the men and women who did save the world. Walking among the graves of a national military cemetery in the Midwest, I found true saviors – men and women so much braver than I. 
  • Remain joyful for the gifts received: the many moments of fun, the travel, the cultures, love of others, and the food. But I leave others with insightful, loving thoughts. In turn, I hope they help pay it forward. Take care of the people in your life, and they’ll take care of you.
  • Believe in yourself. Don’t wait on others to accomplish something positive. If you write, write for yourself. If you’re music, be the harmony of notes others need to hear. 
  • Do not fail waiting for someone to drag you out of a ditch. You are just as good as anyone else.
  • Sometimes, you must turn a deaf ear to what others say is impossible. 
  • Don’t be afraid to get back on the bus. A mother once sent her son off to school on the bus. After returning home, the doorbell rang. Opening the door, the mother saw her son. 

What are you doing here?” 

I’m quitting school. It’s too hard, boring, and long.” 

The mother frowned, “That’s life, now get back on the bus.

Regardless what life tosses, get back on the bus. Embrace the days. They are all you’ve got. Rather than keep our heads above water, surviving but not “living,” Focus on living.

I wrote the following letter reply to an email from mother. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, my father is entering the last years of his life. And while I have yet to inform my parents of my diagnosis, I wrote what I hope was a well thought response.

My mother’s letter is as follows.

I’ve been wanting to share with you something Dad said the other day.  I made a small Christmas wall hanging and said (to dad), “Let’s put it up because it’s so close to Christmas anyway and it won’t get wrinkled.” 

I wished Dad a merry Christmas. 

He replied, “Yes – for the next 2 Christmases.” 

“And many more,” I replied. 

“For the next 2 Christmases”. 

“And for many others after that?” 

“Oh yeah. Sure.” replied very offhandedly’

So, I’m wondering if that’s what just came to his mind or he knows something I don’t? Or, can he can sense something?


Dear Mom:

I read your note with interest. I can attest to some extent of nature’s intuition. So, I will get to this upfront.

Every day in medicine, there are numerous examples of patients who know they are about to die, even if no one else does. They often have a feeling. And even though doctors don’t know how to explain it, the intuition is rarely taken seriously.

In hospital terms, when we talk about instinct, we usually speak about expert clinicians grasping diagnoses in ways that seem to defy rational explanation. Doctors appear to know almost intuitively which data to focus on and which to ignore. Of course, their decision-making is based on experience and deductive reasoning (and perhaps on evidence, too). Still, it seems almost mystical.

Personally, I have learned the years to take such intuitions seriously.

I can’t remember if I told you this or not. Instincts can be derived from other sources. In 2007, The New England Journal of Medicine had the story of a cat named Oscar who lives in a nursing home in Providence, R.I., and seems to have an uncanny sense for when elderly residents are about to die.

Oscar goes to the patient’s rooms, curls up beside the patient — even those residents for whom he has previously shown little interest — and purrs. Staff members learned that this is a telltale sign of impending death, as they’ve witnessed Oscar’s similar behavior in the deaths of at least 25 patients. “This is a cat that knows death,” one doctor said. “His instincts that a patient is about to die are often more acute than the instincts of medical professionals.”

There are, of course, other signs that can guide intuition. Natural aging is one. Or maybe it’s a combination of natural aging and the will (internal will) to remain meaningful. Then there’s Google.

If you’re after a bit of a break from worrying whether killer robots will murder us all, don’t worry: Google knows when we’re all going to die. Google’s Medical Brain AI team has been working on neural network software which can scan through a person’s electronic health records, pull together relevant information, and quite effectively determines how long that person will live.

Accuracy nears 96%.

It turns out Google is efficient at sorting through mountains of data, including scribbled notes on old charts, and turning them into useful predictions while also pointing out to healthcare practitioners where they’ve pulled the data.

Then there’s just plain age. Turns out, the older you get, the accuracy increases. Why? Because people get older and die.

In truth, if you create an algorithm that assesses patients against the mean average age of that person in the population, you reasonably accurately and quickly dial into an expected natural life. For instance, FlowingData website calculates that I have a 10% chance of dying in the next ten years and a 26% chance within 10 – 20 years. And if I input’s dad’s age, he has an 88% chance of dying between in the next several years.

My company has a similar AI program. I inputted dad’s age, some essential background information, recent medical trends, and the result nearly equals dad’s ‘intuition’ – meaning the AI estimated dad is likely to pass within two to two-and-one-half years, with a 47% chance likelihood of a circulatory issue (heart or lung).

People are amazed when I tell them fairly accurate things. It’s not magical. In truth, having been in the medical profession and installing all these systems, I know the statistics, even weird ones. For instance, I know that between 45–50, the relative majority of deaths are due to cancer. As cancer gradually declines in importance, circulatory diseases become the leading cause of deaths those between the ages of 75–80. Mental disorders (Alzheimer’s, dementia, etc.) and diseases of the nervous system are common causes of death after 80+ years of life.

Of course, dad knows none of this. He does, however, know his own body. He’s tired, and like many nearing a winter morn’, he may simply want to look moving forward.

Therefore, here’s my suggestion. Forget all the statistics, mind over matter, intuition, etc. Focus on trying to find a way to enjoy the time you have and what you have left. In a way, you are in an enviable position of knowing and experiencing “the ultimate relationship.”

And what’s that?” you ask.

The ultimate relationship we can have is with someone who is dying. This landscape of such a relationship is so varied and so vast that it not only renews, but you’ll discover a new level of intimacy never experienced. In this way, love will teach a certain sense of gratitude for what we have been given.

But … prepare for when the day comes … for it’s sooner than later.

As I write this, I have not seen the final Star Wars film: The Rise of Skywalker. Yesterday I saw its latest theatrical trailer. After viewing its sequence, I placed my pen on the nightstand, took off my eyeglasses, and rubbed my forehead. 

I winched.

I watched these characters from late high school through near retirement. Each trilogy was, in effect, a story. The prequels were of Anakin Skywalker. The original trilogy seen in late high school was of Luke, Leia, and Hans Solo. And the remaining sequel is of Rey. 

I winched not because the movies were terrible. There weren’t. My anguish came from the bowl of my soul. It came from the fact that in forty-years of watching, what good has “The Force” produced? 

Yeah. Yeah. I get it. The movie is of good over evil — lightsabers, and light versus darkness.

I told a friend of my thought during lunch. 

Without hesitation, she stated, “Indirectly, perhaps you’re asking what does the belief in God produce?”

Perhaps,” I replied.

Maybe I’ve come to these conclusions after having only two, three, years of life. If the characters had been real, what did belief in “The Force” produce? Did the technology provide any benefit to life? Many people died. People on various planets suffered interminably, and several planets were destroyed, meaning millions, if not hundreds of millions, died. By all accounts, there is no Shangri-la, no affordable healthcare, technology is used to versus cure and idiot leaders. 

At the end of Avengers: Infinity War, the villain Thanos acquired the infinity stones that let him snap his fingers and turn half the population (universe) to dust. In doing so, Thanos believed he achieved his goal, a universe free of suffering. If any one of us held such power, why is it that the first creative thing we must do is kill? 

Hey! The same holds today.

Maybe Huffington Post Contributor Anamika Ojha was right. She once wrote, “The most crucial lesson that Star Wars taught was that there are heroes and villains in each of us.

You’ve seen God,” my friend stated. 

Yes. I have.” 

“I haven’t,” she replied.

And it’s true. I have seen God. I have seen heaven, a darker side courted me, and yet embraced by beauty. And by God, I continue to question today what the hell is going on.

Yet, I believe.

Jesus said, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who believe without seeing.” Maybe that’s the lesson. Belief. 

The final shot of Star Wars: The Rise of Sky Walker, projects a gorgeous image of Rey. She’s the new icon of hope. Daisy Ridley becomes our sense of hope. And the voice from elsewhere in the room (or maybe from beyond) echoes some memorable lines from the first film: “The Force will be with you,” says Luke. “Always,” adds Leia.

Yes, Luke. I believe.

Pathway

It’s been a strange week in Washington (D.C.)

It started approximately four days ago. Washington Post columnist Erik Wemple began his column stating that in the early months of the Trump administration, Attorney General Sessions pledged to take a hard line against leaks of classified information.

Why that reference? Who was Wemple opining? Henry Kyle Frese.

On October 9th, Henry Kyle Frese, 30, was arrested on Wednesday at his office at the Defense Intelligence Agency. Mr. Frese allegedly shared information with two reporters: CNBC reporters Amanda Macias, a national security reporter who also appeared to be his girlfriend, and NBC reporter Courtney Kube.

On Thursday, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, associates of President Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, were arrested before flights departing the United States. Parnas and Fruman were part of the pressure campaign on Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden and Hunter Biden. This criminal case exposes the president’s allies as Mr. Trump tries to discredit ongoing impeachment efforts in Congress.

All of these have one common theme, conflict of interest.

In the CNBC/NBC reporter case, why not have sex with the people they cover?

The answer is painfully obvious: No. Never partner in a business with sources, much less become boyfriend/girlfriend. Such mixing contaminates the end product with the taint of compromise and conflict of interest. Kube should have seen that coming. Yet, she willfully agreed to work on sourced material from Frese and Macias.

In the case of Parnas and Fruman, ethics manuals and rules, either didn’t exist or didn’t deter blending business with criminal probing.

We’ve become accustomed to such intermingling. Hollywood romances such relationships, often adopting this forbidden pairing to power stories, often with female bedding a source. A shortlist of contemporary movies, and TV shows include:

  • Thank You for Smoking;
  • Absence of Malice;
  • Nashville;
  • Scoop;
  • Scandal;
  • Trainwreck;
  • Top Five;
  • How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days;
  • The Fly;
  • Fletch;
  • Mr. Deeds;
  • Three Kings;
  • The West Wing;
  • Crazy Heart; and
  • Iron Man.

After my ethical lapses in business, including one that sacrificed a career ten years ago, I reapplied Spiritual training to my life. I better understand issues of conflicts based on wealth (Trump), sexuality (Catholic sex scandals), and power (Me Too movement). While each member of society is expected to dedicate him or herself to training, avoiding such mistakes, and harmful actions. When such transgressions occur, destructive forces can be released. Thus, such instances must be acknowledged and worked with skillfully through the wisdom of both inner spiritual thought and practical ethical standards.

A Code of Ethics provides a pathway. And I cannot help but think that all the participants referenced in this blog post should have remembered that ‘pathway’ and asked one critical question.

“If I had to justify my actions, how would others view it?”

Had that question been asked, all of this could have been avoided. Yet, here we are. Therein, I query.

“What’s your pathway?”

I’ve been these past several weeks dealing with pain management and strategizing end of life decisions. Turns out, the two years of quality life estimated by physicians some six months ago, may be an estimate.

In truth, I know life is just an estimate. However, I feel my body is giving way to nature. Some mornings, I’ve barely been able to get out of bed. And when standing, I experience being lightheaded after standing, blurred vision, and neuropathic pain that often comes and goes on its. Some days, the pain has been unrelenting. Other days, it comes and goes. The character Shane Falco from The Replacements summarized it perfectly. I use his analogy when describing how to understand in anticipating life’s end.

“You’re playing (living life), and you think everything is going fine. Then one thing (medical problem) goes wrong. And then another. And another. You try to fight back (medical treatment), but the harder you fight, the deeper you sink. Until you can’t move … you can’t breathe … because you’re in over your head. Like quicksand.”

People ask how I decided not to continue most treatment. Los Angeles Times columnist David Lazarus nails my thoughts in a recent column.

“Americans pay more for healthcare than anyone else in the world. Yes, for all those trillions of dollars spent annually, we have a lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality rates than other developed countries — two critical metrics for judging the effectiveness of a nation’s healthcare.

But the thing that never ceases to astonish me is how needlessly cruel our system is. I’m talking about the small acts of greed and pettiness that make a terrible situation for the sick even worse.”

Gail Boudreaux, Anthem’s chief executive, formerly executive vice president of UnitedHealth, received total compensation of $14.2 million last year. Therein lay my personal ‘red line.’ I refuse to subject myself to endless rounds of cruelty and infinite debt. I refuse to beg for mercy from healthcare providers who only seek to benefit from my misery.

In 2012 I wrote about a coworker who asked how I deal with the pain. “Well,” I explained, “I reflect upon the moment, and remember that I am not having a bad day. My body is, but I am not.

A recent spiritual experience reinforced the timelessness of my life. I will summarize that experience in future writing. However, a master I read of laughed at how easily we grasp at identity. To which, he said, “I am none of that. I am not this body, so I was never born and will never die. I am nothing, and I am everything. Your identities make all your problems. Discover what is beyond them, the delight of the timeless, the deathless.

Therefore, I choose ‘timeless.’

Sorry State of Sports

Can you praise of Christ when you suck?” I asked after watching Craig Kimbrel allowed two home runs on two consecutive pitches.

Huh?” responded a friend.

Kimbrel, and guys like him, promoted themselves as saviors of baseball, specifically, their team. They suck. Kimbrel tied his career-high for home runs in a season in 43 fewer innings than the last time. His earned run average is nearly seven (7). I mean, he was the bullpen savior. Kimbrel signed a three year, $43 million-dollar contract. He’s only pitched 20 innings.

Sad,” he sighed. “Just sad.

“Bryce Harper of the Phillies is another whiff. $330 million-dollar contract. Where are the Phillies today? 15.5 games from first place.

But hey,” my friend interjected. “Harper just came out with a new set of training shoes.” Quoting from Bryce himself, “I didn’t want it to be like a turf trainer, I wanted it to be a trainer. Something that I could wear away from the field if I was going out to lunch or dinner or whatever and then something I could wear in the cage or at the workout facility or the gym.

Think maybe all Christ wanted was a pair of sneakers?” I snickered.

It’s a strange time in sports overall. For the past couple of weeks, sports was not sporting at its best. Instead, the biggest story was about its orgy: the love of cash, glitz, and self-aggrandizement.

Odell Beckham wore a $190,000 Richard Mille watch, although to purchase it, you’d probably need $300,000. Maybe this is the way God intended to judge sports events—by crowning the team wearing the best and most expensive watches while on the field of play—and as such, the team’s fortunes will turn.

Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers quarterback, stepped ahead of his Thursday night home game in a silky blue suit, gold shoes and a colorful headscarf. To which, Twitter users and I summarized by saying, WTF?

And who could forget Antonio Brown? The same Antonio Brown, complete with allegations by two women of rape, sexual assault, and intimidation. A guy [Kapernick] who kneels during the National Anthem? Not Good. Can’t have that. A potential rapist, sexual assaulter, and witness intimidator? Sign him up for a one-year $15 million deal, and a signing bonus of $9 million. He’s great for football.

For the Cubs, it’s heart and soul change, but not because they won a World Series. Instead, they’ve become unrecognizable from when I was a kid. The stadium interior has massive video boards, exclusive targeted clubs, and bullpen swept under the stands. WGN TV is gone forever, swept away by the ‘pay-to-see-them-play’ Marquee Sports Network, an upcoming regional sports network operated by a Consortium between Sinclair Broadcast Group and the Cubs.

Yes. It’s that same Sinclair Broadcast Group that forced anchors across nearly 200 stations to read a promotional script warning viewer about ‘fake news,’ and of course, Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts, the Republican National Committee finance chair overseeing fundraising of Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign. If you think Joe McCarthy and Spiro Agnew, you wouldn’t be far off.

When I was a kid, Jesus, big contracts, multi-million-dollar contracts, money, and egos were never part of the game. We were there to play the game and have fun. No one promoted shoe contracts. No one wore what appeared to be 56 pounds of jewelry. No one saluted Jesus, the sky, a brother, sister, lover, or a lost pet. We played.

After these past several weeks, I’ve concluded that most of us are missing something important: Life.

I have never walked out of a meeting and lifted my hands to the sky and praised Jesus. I never closed a deal with a ‘hallelujah.’ I never promoted an iPhone or Galaxy Note, version whatever. I never rejoiced over my shoes. And I never adorned my neck with 72 pounds of jewelry. I come to work because my company has chosen to invest in me, and I chose to invest my talents in them.

Likewise, if you publicly praise Jesus only after a home run and not when striking out, then something’s seriously wrong. I’ve never seen Ben Zobrist, Pedro Strop, Craig Kimbrel, Bryce Harper or any football player praising Jesus after they’ve seriously screwed up.

Yeah. I f****** that up.” Raising hands and pointing to the sky, “Praise Jesus.

That, I would love seeing. Then again, doing that requires integrity. Unfortunately, that’s not something a lot of professional sports players have.

Sitting in an airport lounge, I noticed a discarded newspaper from a Midwest town I frequently traveled. Thumbing through the newspaper, brought back memories. There was the usual discussions of flood aid, farming developments, local sports, and weather. However, one obituary leaped from the page. The announcement momentarily stunned me. Placing my hands on my knees for support, I inhaled deeply.

Terri, my former sister-in-law, passed at 66. Simply put, she was one of the finest people I ever met.

Long before becoming my sister-in-law, Terri graduated with a Master’s in Education and was a Special Education Teacher for nearly 40 years. Of course, she had children, grandchildren, and husband. None I ever met. As usual, I acquired a long list of customary excuses that mean little today: Too busy, never around, too tired or too far to make the trip back home. As such, these will mean little to those judging my life.

As far as I knew, Terri was not a trailblazer. She didn’t transform the world, solve cancer, or establish peace between fickle and difficult leaders. Rather, she chose to trailblaze in her small sector of the world. She was an educator, a restaurant owner, and a friend. And by using such skills, her life of service expertly navigated the hearts of many, often acquiring deep respect from those within the working class.

The Terri I knew was a humble woman, born in humble origins, and lived in service. She based her life on ideas, ideals, works of charity, and caring for those who suffered. I believe the positions she held allowed her to expand the life and shape the viewpoints of those she touched. And while quickly noticing the flaws of others, deep down, Terri recognized most of us were just one flaw away from those who suffer greatly.

She could see strength and weakness. If need be, she weaponized her humanity and forced movement. I remember such a time when she interjected herself into my life as I was dealing with a spouse in a coma, and exhibited a sense of human decency when others could not. She was my inner voice during those long seemingly endless days.

In many ways, it wasn’t her fight. That said, she refused to allow any opportunity to surrender. When I thought I had enough, she somehow knew to call. “I’m not asking you to win. Just do another day. If you want to quit, call me tomorrow.” Of course, when I called ‘tomorrow,’ she requested another day. Then another. And another.

Her family knew her as a person with spunk. She was funny, wise, and smart. And borrowing from writer Beverly Willett, she recognized my worth and helped me realize it too.

I don’t care how Terri died or the cause. I only care about her legacy. For me, Terri’s friendship came at a crucial period in my life and rested in her ability to see through my pain and extract the goodness. She forced me to believe in something more profound and allowed me the ability to face one more day.

Her friendship is a model I only wish to become. And to you Terri, wherever you are, your spirit will remain in my heart forever.

And that my friends are Terri’s final lessons: See beyond the pain and extract the goodness.

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