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“Next,” Sheila called.

The African American woman was a beauty. At five-foot 7 inches, neatly tucked hair, smooth complexion and deep black eyes gave way to a wonderous smile. I placed my phone face down on the electronic reader. “Bobink,” sound the familiar signal while simultaneously lighting green.

“Thank you sir,” Sheila replied.

For Sheila, this common interaction probably plays hundreds time a day. In the several hours prior to my flight, I watched Sheila from my gate, interacting easily, with a level few could exhibit. In wake of burning hours and no salary, she continued to perform her job.

Sheila is a TSA Agent.

I’ve never met Sheila. More than likely, I will never see her again. In prior flights, this interaction would have been greeted with a warm simile and quick hello. Truthfully, TSA agents like Sheila would remain unnoticed. Yet today, I was in the ‘moment.’ I quickly grabbed my stuff, looked her in the eye, and complimented her for all her effort, even in spite of an ongoing government shutdown share all facets of legislatures willingly play chicken.

I’m confident President Trump will never meet Shelia. I don’t believe he would care enough to go out of his way to engage her in any meaningful conversation. I presume Trump only revels in a game of win at all costs – never back down, never surrender. In Trump’s mind there’s only one path to this shutdown – it’s victory. Complete and unconditional surrender.

Objectively looking, there are two wars. The White House have drawn battle lines on many fronts: internally, with the GOP and of course with new House leadership. Each war increases the number of victims, often termed as collateral damage. People become fractured. Friends become enemies. And battle hardened leaders must address a war never imagined, one of the heart and soul of America. Trump’s war can only be won through fortitude, unity, coherent messaging via Twitter and the willingness to fight.

Shelia experiences a far different war. She’s not out for accountability. Neither does she search for blood. Her war involves keeping millions of travelers safe. Finding weapons, suspicious packages and other illegal items is a minute-by-minute battle, fought on the front lines in local airports.

However, in the midst of this shutdown, she’s required to fight hunger as coworkers fight homelessness. Maybe she’s denying herself required medication. She forgoes an electric bill payment, a school payment, or a mortgage payment. The battle is on all fronts and extremely complex.

On January 11th, on the 21st day of the shutdown, TSA agents arrived at work with the painful reality that their biweekly paycheck would not arrive. Many government employees live paycheck to paycheck. Yet TSA agents, like many other government employees are required to work. And still, Sheila can smile. She treats every passenger with respect and dignity.

I am not sure if my words made any difference to Sheila or not. But I stoped and said:

“Thank you so much for all you do. I know you’re going through a difficult time. I just want to say thank you.”

Sheila is one of many selfless employees who are the heart and soul of America. They deserve better. America deserves better.

Don’t Let Go

loveAn airline employee discovered a love letter written on an air sick bag. Discovered last year, the letter chronicles a woman writer on her way to confess her feelings to her crush.

“If you’re reading this, hello 🙂 My name is Andrea and I am incredibly bored. Right now this flight is going from Miami to DC. I’m 21,” the letter begins.

So, I bought the ticket last night at 4am because I have a huge crush on my best friend. He’s flying from Boston to New Orleans and has a layover in DC. I actually live in DC and was gonna go up soon anyway so I thought why not, I’ll surprise him at the airport during his layover. I’m gonna tell him I have a crush on him.

But see I’m going to Australia for a semester abroad in 4 days and I won’t see him for 5 months so it’s really the last chance I have.”

The writer requested that whoever found the letter to “do something crazy today like I am.”

Good luck whoever you are,” the letter concluded.

Of course, a search is underway to find the love struck passenger who wrote the note.

Some will call the writer childish, a dreamer lost in the fog of burning hormones. Others are enchanted by dreams of a lost love who’s memory has given to the daily rituals of life. I am in the ‘enchanted’ category.

Over the course of thirty-years, I must have written close to a thousand letters. About 40% were romantic. The addressees were numerous: Karen, Kelly, Valerie, Farrah, Ruth, Jennifer and you, my readers. A few were even addressed to God. For the most part, many were read, several were ‘returned to sender.’

Even today, as my body continues its decline, writing remains a privilege, though many aren’t love letters. But the hope that propelled 21-year-old Andrea to Washington, D.C. remains alive in me.

I close with a few thoughts.

Cruising the Internet some time ago, I ran across a love note, perhaps written by an 8th grader.

“But RU ready to be there when I’m mad, or need to cry, and can do things that I can’t do with anyone else but you. Yes I am ready unless I’m eating fried chicken so chicken is more important than me Only fried chicken and only when I’m hungry. But if not then you are the only thing I care about.”

So, to the Andrea’s of the world, I say this: relationships are not predestined. They cannot be guaranteed. Care not for life’s typos. Care only for love. Rings are the perfect harmony for those in love. If you fail to care for them, they may no longer fit.

If you made it to D.C., but failed in your mission, remain true to your spirit. You weren’t thrown away. You are the most important person to me. You’re an incredible person. And so, you’ll become someone else’s incredibly precious person.

My final thought to all, if you meet someone willing to grasp your hand tightly through life, don’t let go.

Don’t let go Andrea.

Don’t let go.

Shoes

When I lived in New York City, I was flabbergasted at how the city compromises it’s walking environment by dumping garbage on the sidewalks before nightly pick-up. Every day, people must wade around, through or over mountains of waste, dumped on street curbs once reserved for vehicle storage. Anything remaining after pickup is pulverized, ground down by pedestrian and vehicle traffic. Strangely enough, residents are seemingly acceptable to this cyclical motion as the price for city living.

Likewise, as daily bowel movements from the Trump administration gets dumped upon America, we’re seemingly acceptable to the daily, cyclical motion.

Still, there was time, not long ago, when America’s legislature lived for a higher cause. At Gettysburg, Lincoln described America as a nation conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Ronald Reagan loved the United States, both with passion and without apology. During his speech at the Democratic National Convention, Obama described his love for America – qualifying that we did as well and so did John McCain.

Several months prior, in honor of his friend McCain, before Senate peers, Lindsay Graham wept. Maybe in a brief moment of personal grief, he reflected to the nation. Maybe he reflected inward to a deeper soul of life. Maybe both.

“It’s going to be a lonely journey for me for a while. Don’t look to me to replace this man (McCain).”

I bite my lip … I wonder if Graham even tried.

If Graham’s message was internal, the nation will wonder if it truly ever hit home. For whatever ember that toiled in his soul was obviously snuffed out. And ever since, for many a American, it’s been a long, lonely walk.

The lesson America should understand comes from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It’s in the walk. It’s about shoes. Hope is in the sole.

I read Cortez’s campaign shoes are now on loan to the Cornell Costume & Textile Collection exhibition “Women Empowered: Fashions from the Frontline.” Cortez claims to have knocked doors until rainwater came through the soles. 80 percent of her campaign operated out of a paper grocery bag hidden behind a bar. Her campaign was about living life, on the street, every day. Cortez adeptly notes most politicians have forgotten how to connect to others.

Form a Buddhist perspective, you never realize just how different the world is until you knock on doors. And like life, walking home-to-home maybe hit and miss. One door, you’ll get rejected, the next, you might have an amazing conversation. Sometimes, you’ll change a mind. Sometimes, you’ll change yours.

I have no idea how successful Cortez will be. But I suggest you build personal values upon life experiences. If you want to truly successful, wear out a pair of shoes. Stop texting. Put the cell phone away. Walk. Meet neighbors. Meet coworkers. Meet the rich. Meet the poor. Talk. Face-to-face. Works as much in campaigning as it does in business.

Ask yourself a simple question: “How much sole are you willing to give life.”

Shoes. It’s all about ‘shoes.’

Flipping through channels late afternoon, I caught the ending scene of Cast Away.

Cast Away tells the story of a FedEx executive who must transform himself physically and emotionally to survive a plane crash and being washed upon a deserted island. In the years of survival, he saves one Federal Express package.

The ending sequence finds Chuck delivering that package to Ms. Bettina Peterson (played by the late Lari White).  In the end Chuck stands at an intersection – of his life. With map in hand, Chuck must decide which direction the rest of his life will travel and has no idea where the roads will lead. A woman who stops and gives directions is the addressee of the package just delivered.

Like Chuck at the film’s beginning, My life was mapped. I had places to go, people to see, work to do, limited time to spend on anything. Yeah, I was very good at my job.

Everything crashed in April 2010. The identity I created died. Meaning, I crashed. Lost job. Lost love. Lost home. Lost reputation.

Like Chuck, I was limited to few choices. I adapted and survived. My first six weeks comprised of long walks and filing unemployment. I was 50. And the chances for good employment like the one I was fired from would not come again.

May 2010 was filled with day-after-day of job applications. I was completing my customary job application quota when I clicked on a Career Builder ad for a job in Albany, New York. I sent my completed resume, printed the receipt, attached the acknowledgement for unemployment compensation evidence. Then, I moved on.

After working several gigs just to bring in a paycheck, I realized I had so soured my life in the city that it would be unlikely to get any decent job offer. Strangely enough, Albany called. A few interviews later, I landed in Albany, NY with two suit cases and a heart of hope. I found a small apartment in Cohoes, NY, adjacent to the banks of the Hudson River.

Metaphorically speaking, my world was exactly like Chuck Noland as Albany would become my small island. Prior to landing on my island, I painstakingly created an identity, but I didn’t live it. I called myself a chameleon, for I embellished so much I could easily adapt and fit in almost any situation.

That’s a key statement. I lived a created identity and remained unable to fully understand just how lucky I was.

In the end, God’s quest for accountability and the events of prior months broke me from my obdurate foolishness. My overall lack of concern for the threats to my life and to those I loved were disastrous.

As such, when walking along the Hudson River at night, each river tide brought peace and tranquility. Even though I lost Karen (Noland’s Kelly), I remain grateful that she remained in my heart – at every step in New York.

Eight years later, I’m an experienced valuing person. I learned to appreciate life and others. Decreased workload allowed me to think about other people and respect them for who they are. God had to cast away Chuck (to throw) Noland (no land). I, wandered and moved onward, albeit slower and hard.

As a Buddhist, I want to say to everyone experiencing deep anguish, it’s normal to consider quitting. Don’t. When we are in the midst of a season of suffering our decision is either to lay down and quit or to keep breathing and trust God will bring what we need during life’s tide.  For me it has brought real peace to my soul.

My dream job before 2010 was illusion.

Last year, The New York Times (NYT) chose Jada Yuan from 13,000 applicants to travel as a journalist to go to each and every place on the NYT’s 52 Places to Go in 2018. In her January 4th, NYT article 1 Woman, 12 Months, 52 Places, Jada Yuan summarized lessons learned. The key lesson applies to everyone.

“Trust in myself, trust in the fundamental goodness of people, trust that as a traveler, I could watch my back without walling myself off from experiences,“ and that “… the center of my life isn’t there [New York City] for me anymore. It’s with me and it’s mobile.

Same lessons applies for me. Of all my experiences since 2010, I too have learned to trust myself – that the center of my life isn’t in any one particular place. It’s within me and within my ability to love.

Given the fact that on any given day I could die, someone asked how I keep going. I remember Chuck Noland:

“… keep breathing because tomorrow the sun will rise, and you never know what the tide will bring.”

Martha Snell Nicholson was bed-ridden for thirty-five years. Yet, her spirit was triumphant through those many weary years and wrote some of the finest poetry ever been written.

Her poems are both sobering and searching. As written, her poems were not intended to condemn, but rather to encourage us to chose the right and to invest ourselves (and others) in ways that fulfill the promise God gave each of us. They help us to discover the wholeness of our life, heal the hurts and make us loving, compassionate, merciful, serene and joyful. For someone who suffered so much, her insights to the works of God was outstanding. Her poem Guests is particularly haunting.

Pain knocked upon my door and said
That she had come to stay;
And though I would not welcome her
But bade her go away,

She entered in. Like my own shade
She followed after me,
And from her stabbing, stinging sword
No moment was I free …

When I read Jennifer Spangenthal’s compelling opinion piece titled A Fortune 500 company hired me to help them be more family-friendly. Then my own kid got cancer, I immediately thought of Ms. Nicholson. In essence, Spangenthal argues that ‘humanity needs to return to corporate America, for the sake of both employees and employers.’

Ms. Spangenthal’s argument isn’t new. After accepting a job at Unilever, she thought she might have found the role that would help her achieve the elusive work-life balance. However, a couple years after joining the company, her child was diagnosed with cancer and subsequent cancer treatment altered her daily life. However, after her leave of absence, she received a common ultimatum: return to work full time or resign.

Her experience is by no means isolated. Many … like her … like me … work and reside in parallel universes. By day, in waning hours of daylight, we go unnoticed, at work, completely in pain, complete in our suffering, complete in our tears. At night, we muddle through repeat episodes of television, medical bills, medications, physical therapy … unnoticed, completely in pain, complete in our suffering.

My health care summary tells a brutal story.

Retrolisthesis of the L4 on L5, L4 on L5 and L5-S1 degenerative disks, demyelination plaques in the spine and brain (Multiple Sclerosis), severe left neural stenosis at C3-C4, degenerative disease at C5-C6, osteoarthritis at C6-C7, and heart disease, with evidence of a silent heart event (i.e., heart attack).

No one knows. My employer has no knowledge. to avoid being recorded, I buy medications from Canadian pharmacies, my wheelchair never appears at my employer. I move in constant pain. I grit my teeth, bear the pain, endure the battle.

By chance, I was able to re-watch the movie My Life Without Me. One day, Ann, collapses and goes for a medical check-up, where a clinician informs her she has terminal cancer. Determined to shield her daughters from the truth and at the same time take control of her life and to make the most out of it, Ann tells no one.

Like the character Ann (and I beg to extrapolate, like Ms. Spangenthal), I am often burdened by my secret, yet somewhat liberated in that in spite of my disease and pain, I have been led to unexpected places. Still, I forge ahead at work, listen to complaints of the common cold, a broken finger, stubbed toe, ungrateful spouse, dumb this, dumb that. All the while I smile as volatile emotions simmer within. And in this balance, I recognize that as a Buddhist, I have the power to understand, examine and fully live my own life.

For the very reasons to which Ms. Spangenthal experienced, many fail to disclose chronic medical conditions and hidden disabilities for fear they will be labelled, treated differently or jeopardize their future career prospects. As a consultant, I’ve too often heard the boss only wanting to know that the job is done, without hassle.

In Buddhism old age, illness and death are acknowledged to be inherent in life itself, so Buddhists will generally appreciate frankness about diagnosis, the effects of treatment and prognosis. No one is—or should be—required to divulge their medical condition, whether that be to family (even immediate), friends (even close), or to colleagues.

As mentioned in a previous post, 90 per cent of people over the age of 65 die of one of six chronic illnesses: heart failure, cancer, lung disease, stroke, dementia and diabetes. If your genes bless you with long life, I suspect you too will suffer and succumb from one of these illnesses. One day, you too will meet the Angel of Disease. As such, you are presented frontward, will the scales of justice remain blindfolded in objectivity, in that your worth be meted out objectively, without fear, favor, regardless of money, wealth, power, or identity? Will the scales remain balanced for you?

In light of the passing holiday, the classic A Christmas Carol forewarns all:

But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge.

‘Business!‘” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands. “Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!

The chain Marley forged wasn’t imposed by a God in the afterlife. Instead, his chain, as well as ours, was created of our own “free will.” Remember then … employees are not commodities. We are assets. And real work-life balance is important. Oftentimes, it’s critical.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 90 per cent of people over the age of 65 will die from one of six chronic illnesses: heart failure, cancer, lung disease, stroke, dementia and diabetes. In the wake of an ongoing government shutdown over an ineffective border wall and the President’s $5 trillion tax cut for the wealthy, almost nothing has been allocated for any the six pivotal illnesses.

Over the Christmas holiday, a friend was visiting her native land. It was Christmas Eve here when I received a call. My friend exhibited strange mood swings, purposely instigated an argument with her sister on her sister’s birthday and ripped into her father on Christmas Day. Then, there was the constant worry over children, world events and a sense of dread for the future.

Many incorrectly perceived it to be jet lag. No one understood what I’ve long suspected. Dementia! That word. That ugly beast.

Unfortunately, none of her family really understood what was happening. And truth be told, there is no one in the medical community who can help guide family, friends and partners through the day-in, day-out aspects of helping to guide one through dementia. There is no one who’s willing to say, “Your relative has dementia and here’s what’s going to happen – step by step – over the next few years.”

Living constituents of life always look for the disease. Got to name that bastard. I am living proof that the name is of little comfort. In most cases, when you’re in the throes of battle, it’s fucking irrelevant. In the end, it’s about living. It’s about how to carry on a meaningful life in spite of the affliction.

Even when there is a diagnosis, like so many others, we often fall into the trap of remembering the person who was rather than the person who is. When we realize it, only then do we begin to understand we’re looking for someone who’s no longer there. When my father was in ICU, lay in a coma, all my mother wished for was that my father return home. “Be careful of what you wish for.” Miracles rarely occur. And, just as predicted, my father’s dementia increased significantly from even a year prior.

Just as the daughter of my friend’s family had known, the father my family had known is gone. There’s only the person who is.

Most never come to grips with the terminal nature of our lives. We simply believe we’ll always be the person we were. Simply put, take nothing for granted. In the end, functional limitations force one to adapt. Personally, I can no longer run. I can barely kneel on my right leg for that matter. I can’t play any contact sport. Football is relegated to Sunday television. Some days, I sport a Forcemech wheelchair.

We have to adapt. All of us, in his or her own way. Yet few understand the level of ineptness our society is at caring for patients suffering from heart failure, cancer, lung disease, stroke, dementia and diabetes. Our health care system is based upon diagnosis and treatment. However, what can be done when no medication or treatment can be performed?

We fall through the cracks.

I look at my parent’s road as well as the road of my friend and wonder, “How will I face the final phase of life?” The best answer I get is ‘unknowable.’ I certainly don’t want to be a burden, yet I want to be affirmed. I want death to be appropriate in time and place.

Unless we change how we’re going to care for the afflicted, I too, will be one of many falling through the cracks.

Does Integrity Matter?

Every person is given either a moment or moments to shine, to show who they are and what they mean to the world and to oneself. The people we meet in life, allies, former lovers, friends and acquaintances, each have their own opportunity to become a sensei. These opportunities show the capability of how one uses their strengths, regardless of who they are to another.

It is in this light I thought of President Trump’s signed an executive order, a week into a government shutdown, that freezes pay for 2.1 million federal civilian workers in 2019. The Office of Personnel Management issued “salary tables” the same day that show “rates frozen at 2018 levels.” This action pours salt upon open wounds of 800,000 furloughed federal workers.

Does character matter? How would you define “good character” and has the meaning evolved in any way over time? One definition of good character, would include a cluster of qualities: integrity, trustworthiness, flexibility, understanding, empathy and a set of values from open-mindedness to concern for human rights.

For Trump? Nada. Doesn’t exist.

As Jennifer Rubin noted:

President Donald Trump has an uncanny knack for making a mess of simple, traditional functions every other president has managed to carry out with ease.”

I keep wondering, is Trump’s presidency really the presidency American voters envisioned?

In reviewing action, it’s hard not to see that the Trump administration likens most as movable pieces on a chessboard, serviceable only to political agendas. Through circumstance and systemic oppression, constituents voluntarily chose manipulation, as they are continually promised movement on issues of deepest concern without significant action in any measurable way.

As columnist Brandi Miller captured, over the course of several years, Trump:

“… simply cares about maintaining a base. He has put children in cages at the border, disregarded the value of Black lives, desecrated Native land with the Keystone XL pipeline, oppressed trans people in the military and regularly dehumanized people through his petulant Twitter tirades.”

From someone who’s traveled far and wide, Trump exemplified a slow migration from an NBC evening entertainer to irrational tweets positioned as policies. Such antics are nothing more than a prop for self-aggrandizement. Facts subordinated. Reputations be damned. Honesty dismissed. Integrity trashed.

From a Buddhist perspective, honesty and integrity are essential components of a good life. Integrity is essential in understanding ourselves, our relationships, our knowledge of the world, and most importantly, our efforts to help those in need.

This new year, take time to carefully examine your life – the life you are leading, your world-view, and that which you take for granted. Don’t over analyze others, for it’s easy to pick on mistakes and faults of others. Rather, note the world’s faults and your own.

So, does integrity matter? Should we care? Integrity is what you have when you speak and when what you speak comes from a position of love. Ask 800,000+ federal workers if they’re feeling the ‘love.’

However, if you adorn the current rhetoric of America’s leaders, you are witnessing that which is not harnessed in love. Rather, you are witnessing the death of integrity and the increase of power.

Time recently completed a review of 2018’s most influential people of 2018. Thus far, I’ve read only a handful. However, I want to take time to celebrate the life and legacy of those who brought hope and healing to the world we have lived. There are of course, whose values of truth and compassion radiantly defined the courage we often lack. There are those who’ve spread universal, unconditional love and forgiveness. We can celebrate those who’ve reached the masses with inspiration and vision. I carry these leaders in my heart, for I do not live in a ‘world‘ but the world lives in and through me.

We’ve heard such inspiration before. Having vision is important, but once you have it, being able to properly apply these characteristics is completely different. Too often we expect our vision to simply happen, but expectation will never one closer to vision. On the flip side, as a general rule, we shouldn’t embrace those that celebrate government shutdowns, diminish human dignity, or propose the value of monetary gain over life, reporter or otherwise.

All of the above is true, maybe even overly simplified. However, for me, 2018’s most influential aspect was not a person. It was love.

I garnered a truthful nugget from the movie Love Actually during recuperation this past several weeks. Maybe learning an entirely new language is over-the-top. That being said, situations such as struggling to communicate present very real obstacles for many. Still, in life, barriers can be overcome. And while love may not conquer all, love can successfully tackle an awful lot!

Life is messy though. It’s often unexpected. And busy. Therefore, I suggest not spending a lifetime earning others adoration. Seek your own worth and accept that amidst hard times, do not forgot how beautiful love truly is. Anthony de Mellow brought a similar this message through the following story.

A man found an eagle’s egg and put it in a barnyard hen’s nest. As a result, the eaglet grew up among the hens. Believing to be a chicken, the eagle did as chicks do – scratched for worms and insects, clucked and cackled, and thrashed his wings. Years passed and the eagle grew very old. One day he saw a magnificent bird in the cloudless sky. Majestically soaring among powerful wind currents with scarcely a beat, the old eagle looked in awe.

“Who’s that?” the eagle asked.

“That’s the eagle, the king of the birds,” said a friend. “He belongs to the sky. We belong to earth. We’re chickens.”

The eagle lived and died as a chicken, for that’s all he thought he was.

The lesson? Never let any one man’s opinion of you become your reality.

Toward the end of Love Actually, a washed-up British rock star achieves the comeback he so desperately sought. Immediately, upon success, he’s swamped by invitations to a lavish lifestyle. Our rock star attends the party. Shortly thereafter, he returns to his manager’s apartment. Having realized that the only real personal connection he had was with his manager, in the end, he chooses to be with someone he really loved. And that someone, loved him.

Truth be told, 2018 was exactly like 2017, 2016 and all the years before. We are a culmination of what we observe. Yet, I’d not be the man today without the tangible presence and love of a few good friends. The most influential people of 2018 were the same as 2017 – they are those who can, and have, loved. Your’s should be as well.

In 2019, ensure love is not something you have; rather love is something that has you.

I awoke to stifling lower back pain. A quick glance of the clock, ‘1:46 AM,’ Christmas Day.

Stumbling to the bathroom, located some Extra Strength Excedrin, swallowed three and nursed myself to a rocker overlooking the valley below. “Christmas Day!” I squinted as my eyes adjusted to the sparkling lights from the valley below.

As a kid, there were many times I sat waiting to surprise Santa. Armed with a Pentax K1000 35mm camera, surely Santa would be doomed by my conniving nature, as I would be the first in a couple hundred years to snap artwork of ol’ Santa. And like those days of yesteryear, I sat shrouded in the mystery, briefly revealed by an occasional flicker from below.

In waning decades, not much has changed from such days. Even today, adorned by all our gadgetry, motion detectors, instant photo cams, city web cams, and Ring doorbell systems, Santa remains elusive. Today, I’m armed with the best of smartphones. But age has dulled reaction time as well as my ability to capture the red guy.

Ah,” I smiled. “Christmas Day.”

Looking back at the kid from years gone by, I was merely caught in gifts. Yet, by the age of 9, I started to keep the traditions of ol’ Saint Nick, having unknowingly moved from the spirit of Santa to a spirit of faith. What I had hoped for the world – more specifically, my world – was something bigger than just our world. I wanted to experience the beauty of love, in celebration and embracing one another. It was a world of faith that both Christ and Buddhist would have been proud.

In essence, all the presents in the world mean nothing without a faith for love and a faith for life. As such, the questions I reflect upon include ‘What difference did my faith and love for life make to me yesterday? What effect did my faith in love have on what I did yesterday?’ Much to the disparagement of some traditionalists, my personal faith is genuinely nourished by more than one religious tradition, by more than my home ‘root’ tradition.

One inquisitor queried, “What then, is your great way?

Love,” I replied. “Many people can follow a ‘great way.’ Only a handful understand and follow the small way.

Just as in years before, I fell asleep shortly after my search began. A welfare check from a friend wakened me early morn. Alas, Santa silently sleighed by in the night. There was no Mercedes-Benz in my driveway, no WeatherTech Floor mats, nor any diamonds from whatever jeweler. Just a new day … and new opportunities for love.

What I’ve realized though, is that Santa is bigger than any one person. His life of love has gone longer than any who’ve lived. What he does is simple, but powerful. He teaches how to have belief in something unseen or touched. As such, all of us remain students of the real Santa, the real Christ and the real Buddhist.

And the lesson?

Love.

Last night a friend texted, “Have you seen the moon? Beautiful, isn’t it.”

At the time, I couldn’t see it.

However, pushing and pulling the bed, just past 1:00 AM Christmas Eve, I was able to maneuver near the window. Wow. It was a beauty. Over the years, the moon has been my true companion. It’s always there. Steadfast. Guiding. Loving. I suppose this year be no different. I’ve never heard its rotational voice, but I’ve always understood its imperceptible power.

Christmas Eve. Made nearly another year. Not sure how, but I did. Gazing at the brilliance, I remember astronaut Bill Anders looking out a window of the Apollo 8 spacecraft on Christmas Eve, 1968 and snapping a photo of earth (titled Earthrise)– to which the poet Archibald MacLeish offered:

To see Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence as it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in that eternal cold.”

I thought of MacLeish’s elegy after reflecting upon my last 12 days – 12 days since my last blog. Many remain unaware how difficult the last 12 days have been. A single cell phone calendar note states it all, “Awoke – unable to move.” Cheating life’s natural wavelength, I’ve out-maneuvered spinal and heart problems for three decades. Until December 13.

As the days wore on, I regained use of my body, I remember my father battling like mad to fight from going mad – he never quite recovered from surgeries a year earlier. The anesthesia seems to have spun his brain like an emcee spinning balls on Catholic Bingo night. He never came out quite ‘right.’ Thus, upon discharge, I caught an American Airline flight to Tucson, AZ to visit my father.

It doesn’t matter who he is, it matters only how I remember him. Doesn’t matter if I die first or should he. We are unified in love. He is my father, but he is my brother. We are riders on the same earth.

Contemplating Anders’ photograph, noted authors and dignitaries attempted to invoke a similar sense of humankind’s spirituality. Not sure we succeeded. Alas, the Christmas Eve message from 1968 and today remain the same – that Christmas is not solely about a child in the manager. Of course, it is. And it isn’t.

Christmas is about the unity my father and I have – about the unity humankind should have. Millions of people saw Anders image, with Gary Lovell saying, “The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring, and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth.” And what we have is awesome. It’s awesome, because you help make it awesome.

During this Christmas (and any other time), let us adopt a similar attitude. Let us follow after real courage and understanding. Lay aside whatever may be disturbing us today and forevermore and attune ourselves to all that the Christ within represents – we are loved. And we are one.

Reaffirm your faith. Remember MacLeish’s “To see Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence as it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in that eternal cold?” There’s a smidgen more, often omitted “… brothers who now know they are truly brothers.”

This Christmas, be the ‘brothers who now know they are truly brothers.

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