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When I was 16, my parents loaded our Southwind Motorhome and headed west for vacation. My brother and I were allowed to ride along, but I considered of myself only as an ‘accessory.’ “Hey, get me a beer.” “We need wood for the fire.” “Empty the ‘holding tank.” (‘Holding tank’ was a euphemism for ‘s*** tank.’ Since someone has to empty it, might as well get the cheap labor to do it.) Along the route to Glacier National Park (Montana), my father shrewdly traded two cartons of Kool Menthol cigarettes with an Native American for a personal guided tour of the original ‘Camp Disappointment.’ Camp Disappointment was the northernmost point reached by the Lewis and Clark Expedition (July 23, 1806). Lewis referred to the campsite as ‘Camp Disappointment,’ for it meant the expedition was unable to reach 50 degrees north latitude, which would extend the Louisiana Territory. I viewed Camp Disappointment more pragmatically.

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Ice Cream and Anhedonia

Sorry I have been offline for several weeks. It’s not that I’ve been medically indisposed. And while the pain did follow me, I remained upright and above ground. Instead, I travel to Tucson to collect my father’s remains, spend time with my mother, and worked remotely as though I were in the Central Time zone. 

Working under Central Time while in Tucson presents challenges. No matter what you do, you must plan two hours ahead. For instance, for an 8:00 AM meeting, you must be prepared at 6:00 AM. For me, the alarm rang early – like really, really early. Some days, I found myself sliding out of bed at 4:00 AM, calling it a night by 8:00 – 8:30 PM. The schedule was extraordinary.

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Dark Nights

I could not sleep last night, so I sat in a recliner from 2:30 to 4:00 AM staring into the darkness at nothing. There was no single thought percolating through my mind. There was no despair, no crying, or regrets—just acceptance. It was acceptance of what’s to come that my body provided warning signs of its declaration of impending death. Through all my life’s shame and successes, it comes to a moment of acceptance of all the mistakes, failures, and everything that regularly haunts me despite denying any such thoughts. And every night, I accept them. And every night, they return. The cycle repeats during only those hours of the morning. It is a time of love. It is a time of hate.

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It was late summer of 2010 while walking near the Hudson River shoreline when I heard Chris Carter talk about his retirement. Carter was on the Mike & Mike Show when a host asked Carter how he knew it was time to retire. “Mentally, I was still sharp. I could read the defense, understand the play, and mentally perform. Unfortunately, my body was no longer responding to what I was telling it to do. There was a delay, a gap, or in some cases, an inability to perform. That’s when I knew it was time.” I couldn’t relate. And for the better part of a decade, I never understood what Carter meant. Very few will ever experience a mind-body relationship like professional athletes. But these past ten days have provided one hell of an education. 

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Since Sunday, I have been feeling fatigued. It is simple to describe: On and off feelings of profound fatigue or weariness. That description does not include mental fatigue, the type where I sit at work and ask what I am doing? I have compared such fatigue to being listless, drained, too tired to walk, and too tired to think. A cancer patient was so lethargic that she sent an email canceling her treatment appointment, to which her physician called, stating her body required fluids. “Ah,” I wondered aloud, “Maybe I require fluids.” However, upon seeing several empty bottles of ‘Ice Mountain’ natural spring water (or so they say), I quickly doubted my conclusion. I know what ‘it’ (the symptoms) meant, but I have been so adept at postponing anything relating to dying that I put it out of my mind.

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The day-in-day-out process of Parkinson’s decline is slow and methodical. Parkinson’s is a slow progressive pain in the behind. The stage at which the symptoms appear, progress, and develop is tedious. Last week, brain fog. This week, not so much. However, this week, my hands’ fumble. Next week, maybe they will not.

My case manager got to the heart of the situation, “As you experience your body declining, ‘What are your thoughts?'”

“It’s confirmation my body is dying.”

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The company completed its reorganization this week. Company management phrased the downsizing as a ‘proactive initiative.’ Downsizing has many different names and acronyms: realignment, restructuring, resource allocation, employee assessment, redundancy reduction, organizational shifting, transformational initiatives, future position, planned efficiency, and workstream synergies. The list is endless. Our CEO (who already makes 25 million a year) secured a couple extra million dollars for his trouble. And those receiving the ‘pink slip’ secured a few additional weeks of pay, a smidge more healthcare coverage, and an escort to the door by company security. I didn’t get kicked to the curb and appeared steadfast through it all. But no one knew I was in ‘brain fog.’

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A Year of COVID

I don’t regularly listen to National Public Radio. In fact, in the past year, I can count the number of times spent listening to anything on NPR on one hand. Last week was either my fourth or fifth. While reaching down to grab something from my chair, I brushed the radio’s ‘on’ button. The NPR station began with the story, March 11th, 2020: The Day Everything Changed

“A year into the coronavirus pandemic, the enormous changes in our lives have become unremarkable: The collection of fabric masks. Visits with friends or family only in small outdoor gatherings. Working or learning from home. Downtowns deserted at noon on a weekday.

While some changes happened gradually, there was one day [March 11th, 2020] that marked the beginning of the new normal.”

For a few minutes, I sat fixated as NPR host Marco Werman took the listeners through what changed. By all accounts, the World Health Organization formally declared COVID-19 a pandemic around March 11th, 2020. Since then, the magnitude of loss has been stunning. Today, nearly 120 million global COVID-19 cases and 2.6 million deaths later, I kept thinking of all that had changed. Sure, one could focus upon key political facts: Chinese officials actively blamed Americans for starting the virus while the Trump administration blamed China. Still, my focus narrowed. The question I asked myself was, “How has my life changed during the year of COVID?”

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I watched Nomadland Sunday. Robert Ebert’s website summarizes the film accordingly: “Fern (Frances McDormand) is grieving a life that’s been ripped away.” Almost every viewer will claim the movie is littered with pain (not in a bad way) of those who face the challenge of living life alone. Some suffered from loss of a town, job loss, homelessness, loss of a spouse, a child, or even loss of oneself. In one scene, Fern so much wishes upon being alone that when she finds an abandoned dog, she ties the dog to a table outside a shop and walks off, thereby averting any potentially sentimental moment of connection. When in trouble, they become masters of finding a way out, rarely calling anyone. And that’s where I can relate.

I spent much of Sunday in a chair, barely able to move. Regardless of position, my neck, shoulders, and chest. Anyone suffering cervical osteoarthritis gets accustomed to the sound or feeling of popping in the neck when moving. At ties, mine tends to sound like a garbage disposal in perpetual grind. Never forget to add that the ol’ ticker (my heart) dribbles in some momentary flickers of pain and reminds me that I am a mere mortal. One day, time will be up. But not today. In theory, I should have been able to reach out to someone, but hell, when you live a solitary life, the question I always seem to ask myself is, “Just who the hell do I call?”

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How do we register details that most miss and fail to interpret? Seriously? How? I’ve formulated many observations in my 61 years of life. Two are more recent. First, be alive is, in and of itself, a miracle, a statistical miracle. Second, how is it I whizzed past millions of people with hardly a notice for details? I know my successes and losses, but why didn’t I ‘tarry an hour’ with another in dire pain?. And of success? When does any form of ‘tarry’ turn to envy?

“Could you not tarry one hour?” Jesus asked several disciples. “Hey, Unknown Buddhist? Could you not have tarried an hour with this man?” Like many, I would tell Christ that I’m pressed for time and line up excuses often spoken by others. “I have to complete this report.” There’s the, “I have to contact this customer.” And of course, “Jesus Christ (Oops. Sorry.), I have to meet my wife. And as you know, tarrying with her for an hour is equivalent to twelve. Even you (pointing a finger to Heaven) can attest to that.”

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