Archive for March, 2019


Happiness

Beautiful passage by Hermann Hesse (July 2, 1877–August 9, 1962).

For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. . . . Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.

Waiting Room

In Beetlejuice, the Neitherworld Waiting Room is a waiting room for ghosts. The waiting room is run by civil servants, and it is where one goes to meet or make an appointment with your afterlife case worker. There appears to be other types of offices leading from the waiting room but there is little to show what they are for.

I thought of the Neitherworld Waiting Room after attempting to reschedule a medical appointment.

“Greater State Medical and Pharmacy, how may I assist you?”

“Yes, my physician requested an MRI. I was originally scheduled for an MRI this past Thursday, but I was informed the MRI machine required repair. So, I would like to reschedule.”

“Okay. Are you a current patient?”

“No, I am being referred by Dr. Good Guy.”

“And your insurance?”

“Green Cross, Shield, and Holy Insurance Emporium.”

“Okay. The next availability we have is October 17th. I have both morning and afternoon available?”

“October?”

“I’m sorry. I know that’s quite some time away, but that’s our first availability. I can place you on a waiting list if you like?”

Boston Magazine’s noted a 2017 Merritt Hawkins study found, that in Boston, a new patient can expect to wait more than 52 days. Need a mental health professional? Three weeks. And to emphasize, I received a recommendation with an arthritis clinic to review my spine. My consult appointment is scheduled for the second week in November.

Therein lay the difficulty, wait times mean little for receptionists and billing specialists. They hold the power.

My guess is that the current system works quite well for most. However, specialists can be tough to get appointments with. In my case, I felt the receptionist was really saying, “This is the way we do things. If you want to be seen, you’ll follow the rules – our rules.” Should death take a holiday, I will have waited months. If death refuses to take a holiday, the above conversation is just another pretty pointless exchange in a probably quite common day – for her.

For a moment, I did think of Canadians. Then again, Canadians are reported to have it worse. In 2017, The Fraser Institute reported overall waiting times for medically necessary treatment increased. Specialist physicians who were surveyed, reported a median waiting time of 21.2 weeks between referral and receipt of treatment—longer than the wait of 20.0 weeks reported in 2016.

I note several weird stories from the news. A woman in Santa Anna, CA made news for billing her physician for the 45-minute wait time. The woman, who gets paid hourly, reportedly deducted $150 from her $223 bill return the bill, with a letter, explaining why she wouldn’t pay in full. The physician’s office reportedly agreed to the adjustment. Another physician reports he credits his patients $50 when late.

Both are interesting stories. Maybe I can buy some extra minutes from the Angel of Death.

Greetings oh great Reaper. I received this $50 bucks from my doctor, can I credit it to my account?

We take no credits.”

Damn. Mr. Reaper, you have a poor attitude.

As for me, Neitherworld Waiting Room. I wait.

Like racers competing for a prize, I wonder who’ll win: the Angel of Death, the doctor, or me? Should the Angel of Death appear and inform that my time is up and offer one final request before being accompanied from this world, I will, without hesitation, reply:

“I want a second opinion.”

“What you say, ‘six months for the first available consult?'”

“Hey. I have $50. Want a drink?”

First of The Last Amends

I was confused. Upon opening my Google Calendar, I noted the ‘To-Do’ list item in my Google calendar, dated Friday, March 22nd, one day after my MRI. It was created during a more blissful period of life, some nine years prior, when I promised someone a trip to New Zealand during their 55th birthday. The note was accompanied with an additional entry:

Your spirit brought us together, and now that things continue to move forward, I vow to keep my promise and take you to New Zealand.  I believe it was for your 55th birthday. So you have a standing offer …. should you decide to accept.

I completely forgot about this Google Task. And it’s strange how it showed up this week. Coincidence?

I believe God has a tremendous sense of humor, a willingness, if you will, to occasionally make light of the absurdities with end-of-life situations. For instance, was God reminding me to go on the trip or reminding me to reach out one more time for closure? The person I made this entry for has refuted any attempt to return my emails, my calls, or letters. So at this point in my life, God’s motive, if any, remains ambiguous.

If I dared to write, I would start with the obvious, “I believe I will have to take a rain check, for it appears I have a prior engagement.” Ha.

Last week I had a stroke. Subsequent diagnosis indicated cerebrovascular disease. The doctors were concerned, pretty much quoting the conversation, “with proper medicine and dietary changes, maybe minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or a couple of years.”

At this stage of my life, I had zero thought of contacting anyone from nine years ago. Almost everyone has moved on. For whatever reason, the task ‘New Zealand’ was there. The only consoling words I would say straight out is, thank you for caring for me. Your heart and love pulled me through many bleak days. I say those things knowing full well my transgressions, and of the harm, my words and deeds have caused. In prayer, I have begged forgiveness 70x7x7x7x7x7x7x7 (70×7). Regardless, prayer, in and of itself, seems so inadequate.

I want you to know that no matter how it turns out for me, I am forever thankful for the friendship we had.

Stay Well. God Bless,

Mary Elizabeth Dallas wrote, “With terminal illness comes newfound, and profound, wisdom.” I concur. What I’ve learned from working in hospitals is a surprisingly common theme: that until the end, many fail to realize, that happiness is a choice. We often get stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and themselves, that they were content when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

Like others before me, I have a desire to find peace or acceptance. I don’t want to change the world. But I would covet peace. The lesson learned was life is short, and it is necessary to impact the world while one is still alive positively. For me, making people smile, to relieve the world of pain, even for one minute, is my goal.

And like others before me, I woke up today and still have an entire day to face. Life keeps going, whether I am ready for it or not. As such, I am filled with more gratitude – gratitude given by the person written about above and the gratitude I’ve received from countless others. The question then becomes:

Is it possible to find such beauty in everyday living?

If so, why did I ignore so much of it in the living years?

I reached for the blood pressure kit after being woken early by a racing heart. 3:47 AM flashed as my wrist blood pressure monitor beeped through its cycle. In less than a minute, 98 beats per minutes flashed, followed by 168 systolic and 87 diastolic. Should my BP have increased, I might be at increased risk.

I downed some medications, leaned against the bathroom sink. A momentary look at the toilet produced a soft laugh. “What if I die while using the toilet?” I muttered. A greater laugh ensued thinking of the poor slob who found me sitting on a toilet at the very moment I checked out. Hell of an obituary though, ‘Great guy, bad aim.’

By 9:15 AM my blood pressure had stablized to 117 systolic and 67 diastolic with 57 beats per minute.

Staring at the world from my dining room table, I asked a two-word question, “What’s next?” Having worked in the medical arena for the past decade, there were only a few people who wanted to hear how the patient was honestly doing. Most want to hear hope, courage, and positivity, not how unlikely the chances one would survive or how to live well during the process. For patients like me, there are no breakthroughs. There is no last-minute precision medicine or gene therapy. Such dialogue is written for only made-for-television movies.

I made one attempt to tell a close friend last night of my diagnosis.

Hey Cara,” I started. “I stopped to have some medical tests run late last week.

And of course, you’re doing great.

Well,” I sighed.

Interrupting, “You know my ankle is still bothering me from when I tripped six weeks ago. I have an appointment on Monday. Should I keep it?

Why not?

Because,” she whined, “I am starting to feel better. I know I complained about it, but I believe it’s getting better.

Then cancel.”

Oh well,” she continued. “I still think there’s some swelling. And it hurts if I push on it. But I have to pay a copay and the copay for x-rays. Medical stuff, always robbing anything, supposedly to help the people they serve.

I gave up.

What’s next has been highly contested for several hours. I could complete my 2019 Income Tax Return. Then again, would the effort prove valuable if I die April 14th? There is a humorous part of my soul that wants to die without doing taxes. Or maybe, I would complete them, but not mail it. When the tax man cometh, he will find a handwritten ‘Post-It-Note’ at the top of my folder, “I left $50,000 in the …” An additional ‘Post-It-Note’ underneath would continue, “If you go to my computer, you will find I deleted my browser history …” Those words in and of itself might keep them busy for months.

Many Buddhist teachings and quotes find their way into things, but they sometimes come across as nonsensical phrases meant to sound obscure. There is meaning behind the quotes. Many lessons remain useful today. When I write of all the things I thought, what’s next was answered in one somewhat silly Buddhist quote.

Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

Many of us are caught in the results of what we’re working toward or the way things will be when we finally achieve something. Truth is, that getting to where you want to go, being successful or even receiving a prognosis of a terminal disease doesn’t mean the work you’re called to do goes away. Up until the transition, I will probably do many of the same things I did before my diagnosis. If I cannot continue the mission called to do, if I can’t take on the simple tasks as best as I can, how can I conquer bigger things God requests?

Do your work. Do it well, and regardless of whether the message is a success or downright depressing, do it again. It’s all about being in the moment.

I was several hours away from a small inter-department speech when it happened.  I wasn’t particularly stressed. The previous night, I had plenty of sleep and my morning was fine. As I started with agenda and opening remarks, I noticed the left side of my face became numb. I could speak, and though the audience never saw, I knew everything wasn’t quite right.

After the presentation, my spelling wasn’t right either. Words like ‘dream‘ were spelled ‘draem.’ ‘Acute‘ became ‘accute‘ and ‘slide deck‘ became ‘sldie feck.

Within an hour, everything returned to normal, as though nothing happened. I knew it wasn’t. I experienced a TIA, a transient ischemic attack, or mini-stroke.

The doctor knocked politely, opened the door, and sat in the standard hospital issued chair. From his look, we both knew his message would suck.

“So,” he started solemnly, “we ran a few tests. We concluded you encountered a mini-stroke.”

“Yeah, kind of figured” I nodded.

“What concerns us is that about 1 in 3 who experience a transient ischemic attack will eventually have a stroke, with about half occurring within a year after the initial attack. We’ve looked at your tests and reviewed your history and previous heart-related issues. We believe you’re more likely to be in that range.”

“Any idea how long I might have?”

“Good question. With proper medicine, a major change in diet, maybe minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or a couple of years.”

“Well,” I laughed. “That narrows it down.”

“We feel it’s going to happen. When? Well, we aren’t sure. Hopefully, we can get you to the years or beyond, but there’s no guarantee.”

I was discharged with medication and a batch of follow-up tests.

Stopped at the Apple store on my way home to pick up a replacement iPhone.

“Would you like Apple care+ or Apple Care+ with Theft and Loss?”

“Huh?” after snapping back from another place caught in random thoughts.

“Would you like Apple care+ or Apple Care+ with Theft and Loss? You know, AppleCare+ extends your warranty coverage from one year to two, and extends phone and chat support from 90 days to the full two years as well.”

Standing dazed for a moment, “No thanks,” I replied with a smile. “The phone will likely last longer than me.”

There are no warranties in life. And while the duration of my life is uncertain, I concluded during my meditation last night to come quietly into this “transition.”  Outside of wanting to take one last Alaskan cruise, I simply wish to feel the presence of loved ones.

I experienced a powerful out of body experience (OBE) during meditation last night. While I will detail that experience in a later post, I realize there is no possible way to escape death. Except for Enoch, No one ever has, not even Jesus, Buddha, etc. And, of the current world population of 5 billion-plus, almost none will be alive in 100 years. So, like others, I will welcome death upon arrival.

Yet, at this moment, my message is simple – it is possible to feel both the beauty of a loved one’s passing, knowing he or she is free from suffering while simultaneously experiencing the relative suffering of my loss. To do anything other than that is to by-pass my humanity in some essential way and listen to the wisdom inherent in God’s love.

I close with this, if my warranty doesn’t expire, I shall write again. But I shall double my effort to enjoy each minute of every single day. I believe we all need to do just that.

Peace …

March 2nd, I wrote I had dropped television for the week. The decision was neither part of lent nor some broader mantra. and there was no oracle declaration from above commanding, “thou shalt abandon thy television.” I only got busy and didn’t watch. I have to say, thirteen days later, I am still going.

Over various seasons of lent, I noticed most sacrifices never make it longer than a few days. Part of me wanted to make some significant sacrifice this year, but I didn’t. I never promised to give up meat. I did not abandon whiskey. Chocolate remains an active part of my day. I wanted to give up laundry this year but would run out of underwear. And having a colleague discuss AOC and the New Green Deal, I then thought of recycling my underwear but decided against it. (Ok. That was a joke.)

I confess, the only thing I ever gave up was the ‘self-imposed sacrifice.’ Others, not so much. One person gave up her diet after realizing she texted for the number of calories in Holy Communion. Announcements did in another, especially after realizing that the announcements were longer than Communion.

When I gave up television, some personal sacrifices occurred as a byproduct. First, I gave up Trump. From February 24th, I haven’t had to see ‘wonder boy’ hugging a flag; no more hearing, ‘…. like you’ve never seen before;’ or ‘… like the world’s never seen been.’ No more signing Bibles, throwing paper towels to homeless people after a hurricane or hearing that Mexico will pay for a wall no one wants. There was also no ‘covfefe,’ no Putin, no receitals of Kim-Jong love letters to Trump’s.

Giving up Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN meant no longer cowering under the kitchen table waiting ‘Rocketman’ to destroy America. I was able to discard my binoculars and found South American invaders hadn’t overrun the country; the war on Christmas remained a war for the stupid; the 157 Democratic contenders running for the 2020 presidency don’t require my attention; and believing fossil fuels is nature’s form of renewable energy (promoted by a Fox News contributor) because those very fossil fuels were once dinosaurs is damn stupid.

Now I realize ‘Morning Joe‘ has transformed into ‘Morning Skype,’ as Joe and Mika ‘phone it in.’ More MSNBC hosts are off more days of the week than some of the best unions in the country, and CNN has become one elongated episode of ‘Crossfire,’ where ten minutes of real news is supplanted with forty minutes of Democratic and Republican spokespeople yelling at each other. News hosts used to present factual news and analysis; now it’s GMO – genetically modified outrageousness. Yelling has replaced anything of value.

Cable advertising and drugs beleaguer me. If it seems as if you are seeing more prescription drug ads on TV these days, you are not mistaken. According to Kaiser Health News, the pharmaceutical industry has substantially boosted its spending on direct to consumer advertising in the last five years. Last year it was estimated at over $6 billion.

I don’t miss commercials of Cialis for erectile dysfunction and BPH (benign prostate hypertrophy), Otezla for plaque psoriasis, Xeljanz XR for rheumatoid arthritis, Eliquis for atrial fibrillation (Afib) and stroke prevention, Namzaric for Alzheimer’s disease, Trulicity for diabetes and Humira for rheumatoid arthritis what these neglects to say, that without prescription benefits, these medications can cost a fortune. For instance, without assistance, Humira costs approximately $6,600 monthly. Lyrica, a drug treating fibromyalgia, is around $650, an increase of 163 percent since 2012.

Like many Americans, I found myself needing television nearly every day to feel okay. I found myself needlessly watching it, even though I knew all the storylines. An otherwise good life was hurt by lost sleep, health, energy, creativity, clarity, and connection to others. A Netflix survey found 73 percent reported positive feelings associated with binge-watching. But if you spent last weekend binge-watching a season of your favorite show, you may have seen yourself feeling exhausted by the end of it — and downright depressed. That was me.

Thich Nhat Hanh, the well-known Vietnamese monk, said, “It is not so important whether you walk on water or walk in space. The true miracle is to walk on earth.” It’s true. In other words, becoming a kind human being is probably the greatest miracle we can perform. For me, television prevented me from joining others.

After 17 days without television, the real miracle is becoming a kinder human being and engaging with those I love.

Blameless

The decision from federal judge T.S. Ellis in Virginia comes less than a week before Manafort’s second sentencing hearing in another case in Washington, D.C., district court. Both cases were brought on charges lodged by special counsel Robert Mueller in his ongoing probe of Russia’s election meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

Manafort is expected to serve only 38 more months of the 47-month sentence because of time he has already spent incarcerated. In addition to the sentence, Ellis ordered Manafort to pay a $50,000 fine, the lowest fine provided for by guidelines that recommended a fine between $50,000 and $24 million.

Before delivering his sentence, Ellis said Manafort had “been a good friend to others, a generous person” and added, “He has lived an otherwise blameless life.”

A “… blameless life?” Franklin Foer of The Atlantic documented Manafort’s blameless life. Here’s a sample:

  • In an otherwise blameless life, he worked to keep arms flowing to the Angolan generalissimo Jonas Savimbi, a monstrous leader bankrolled by the apartheid government in South Africa. While Manafort helped portray his client as an anti-communist “freedom fighter,” Savimbi’s army planted millions of land mines in peasant fields, resulting in 15,000 amputees. In an otherwise blameless life, he spent a decade as the chief political adviser to a clique of former gangsters in Ukraine. This clique hoped to capture control of the state so that it could enrich itself with government contracts and privatization agreements. This was a group closely allied with the Kremlin, and Manafort masterminded its rise to power—thereby enabling Ukraine’s slide into Vladimir Putin’s orbit.
  • In an otherwise blameless life, Manafort came to adopt the lifestyle and corrupt practices of his Ukrainian clients as his own.
  • In an otherwise blameless life, he produced a public-relations campaign to convince Washington that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was acting within his democratic rights and duties when he imprisoned his most compelling rival for power.

So, what is a blameless life? I can only think of a few, two: Christ and Enoch. We’re all pretty familiar with Christ, but Enoch? Enoch who?

Enoch’s life was formally introducted while attending an ethic’s seminar some 30 years ago. His life is not widely discussed, and the Bible does not devote a lot of space to him. About the only biblical information we have on Enoch’s life is found in four sentences from Genesis, 5:21-24.

When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. And after he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived 365 years. Enoch walked with God; then he was no more because God took him away.

My spin is that Enoch walked a blameless – meaning he consistently lived in the present moment, completely aware of God’s presence and that his fellowship with God and others was built through faith and love. For Enoch, blameless living was the business of a lifetime, not the performance of an hour. In other words, walking with God is not going to church every Sunday from 10:30 AM to Noon. Faith exercised once a week for an hour or so, and it is not a good walk!

Biblically speaking, the term “walk” is used when dealing with ordinary, day-to-day life. In the Old Testament, we read of one’s “rising and sitting down,” two of the most natural things people do every day. As Buddhist, I might ask, “Can two people walk together going in opposite directions?” Instead, there’s a sense of common direction, common purpose, and common interests. When I rise in the morning, do I walk in love? When I lay in the evening, do I sleep in love?

As Chuck Swindoll once said, “Faith is not a leap in the dark; it is a walk in the light.”

An author noted great works did not mark Enoch’s life; he merely lived in God’s presence. And apparently, God enjoyed the relationship so much that He took Enoch, uninterrupted, into eternal fellowship. Sadly, our lives resemble roller coaster rides than walks. We rise and plunge as emotions vacillate, we collapse from physical, spiritual, and mental exhaustion, only to rise and go back into the fray. We can, like Enoch, learn to walk with Him.

The life that pleases God is one of faith walking—not running faster than a speeding bullet or leaping tall buildings with a single bound. We don’t need to have great faith; we need to have faith in a great God.

Manafort never lived a blameless life. He lived in pride. Contempt. Arrogance. Self-exaltation. It’s a version of life we must learn to never live.

While not personally seeing the news clip, I read about Homeland Security Secretary Kirsten Nielsen testimony to Congress. Ms. Nielsen was unable to answer about the number of children detained at the southern U.S. border nor was she able to explain how many “special-interest aliens” are detained at the northern vs. the southern border. Nielsen was able to argue that children separated from parents are not held in “cages” – they’re detention spaces.

Nielsen: “Sir, we don’t use cages for children. In the border facilities that you’ve been to, they were not made to detain children. As the children are processed through, they are in some parts of those facilities. I’m being as clear as I can, sir.”

Thompson: “Yes or no, are we still putting children in cages?”

Nielsen: “To my knowledge, CBP never purposely put a child in a cage.”

Thompson: “Purposefully or whatever, are we putting children in cages? As of today?

Nielsen: “Children are processed at the border facility stations that you’ve been at –“

Thompson: “And I’ve seen the cages. I just want you to admit that the cages exist.”

————————————————————–

Bonnie: “Is it [cages] different from what you put dogs in?”

Nielsen: “Yes.”

Bonnie: “In what sense?”

Nielsen: “It’s larger.”

Since I did not see the whole hearing, I will not disparage Secretary Nielsen. However, George Orwell once said, “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Orwell’s statement seems to reflect the sign of the times. Through March 4, 2019, Trump has lied 9,014 through 773 days in office. Trump’s averaging nearly 22 false or misleading claims per day.

Society has gotten so accustomed to lying that they do so even when there’s no apparent purpose. And when their lies are easily disproven, they leave everyone scratching their heads. Over the years, I’ve worked with a number of such individuals. When I read of Secretary Nielsen’s testimony to Congress, I remembered one such lie during my days on Guam.

In 1979, our team was stationed on Anderson Air Force Base Guam. One Saturday, we were performing maintenance on our helicopter and required some basic screws. We went to base supply and found they were out of stock. On a whim, we went to the hardware store and found the same bolt and same packaging.

“Sold,” I said.

I was just about ready to install the bolt when a Jeep rolls to a stop. A supply contractor exits the vehicle, waving his hands over his head.

“Stop,” he yells.

“Why,” we asked.

“You have the wrong bolt.”

“What?”

“You,” pointing to the bolt in my hand, “have the wrong bolt.”

“What are you talking about? It’s the same bolt and same packaging.”

“Well,” he said rather factually. “What you have is a bolt. What the helicopter requires is a ‘Thermo-Dynamic Securing Unit.'”

“A What?” I gruffed.

“You need a ‘Thermo-Dynamic Securing Unit.’ You can’t use that.”

“Oh,” I said. “And would I be correct in presuming that these ‘Thermo-Dynamic Securing Units’ come from your company?”

“Yes.”

“And how much are they?”

“Oh, well …” he fumbled. “$250.00 apiece.”

In my years of living, I’ve had my share of lies, untruths and crimes of the heart. Seems like a long time ago, but as Bagger Vance might, “It was just a moment ago.” In finding the truth, I had to go through my own dirty dishes. There’s no dishwasher in the mind. No one was there to wash the dish piles of consciousness. There’s no reality-based TV show mental makeover that will re-veneer guilt. In the process, I became more accepting of myself and learned to be more open and flexible.

Unfortunately, many members of our current legislature have not found the legitimate way in truth. Kristen Nielsen’s lack of candor is a broader reflection of America. She will have to live with that. Unfortunately, we will as well.

Dots

Trudeau thought he could change the world. When Justin Trudeau was elected Canadian prime minister years ago, he became an instant international celebrity. The charismatic and photogenic politician made headlines for everything from his feminist views to his tattoos and past jobs — which include being a bungee-jumping coach.

Sounds like me. When I was young, I was convinced I would change the world. And I did. For few I met, I did change their world – completely. Some positively, some negatively.

Most days of my life, I merely explained ‘dots.’ Allow me to explain.

One day, a professor entered the classroom and asked his students to prepare for a surprise test. The professor handed out exams with the text facing down. Once handed out, he asked the students to turn the tests over. To everyone’s surprise, there were no questions – just a black dot in the center of the sheet of paper.

The professor, said, “Write what you see.”

With no exception, everyone defined the black dot. After all were read, the classroom silent, the professor started to explain:

“I’m not going to grade you. I wanted to give you something to think about. No one wrote about the white part of the paper. Everyone focuses on the black dot.”

The moral is that the same happens in our lives. Excluding those with PTSD or health issues, our lives can be a piece of paper to observe and enjoy. For years, I chose to focus mostly on one particular thing, event or period. I neglected my gifts, forgot the reasons to celebrate, abandoned renewal, tossed away friendship. By focusing only on the dot, I failed to see how little those events are when compared to everything else. These polluted my mind, took our eyes off my true calling, and neglected my true blessings.

Want to change the world, be like Flintoff.

John Paul Flintoff worked to help protect the environment and prevent global warming. He realized he could make an immediate difference by reaching out to his neighbors. Every year, he offered extra tomato seeds to neighbors. Doing so, Flintoff changed his slice of the world. You could too.

Want to change the world? Pay it forward.

From giving someone a smile to holding a door open for someone, doing chores for others, volunteering at a charity, or buying lunch for a friend, it doesn’t take a lot to make another’s day.

Want to change the world, come alive.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. (Howard Thurman).” Be authentic. Be true to yourself and everyone else.

When I first heard the following story, I didn’t feel like I changed anything. I was earning a paycheck, merely surviving. However, while consulting at a hospital on the west coast, I saw a senior woman sitting alone in the cafeteria at the same time each day.

One day, sipping coffee, I asked if she would like company.

I’ve seen you every day for the past several weeks. Do you work or volunteer here?

Heavens, no.” she chuckled. “I am visiting my husband.

Oh, I’m sorry” I replied.

No need,” she replied while raising a cup of tea to her lips. “My husband doesn’t remember me anymore.

Hmm,” I nodded sympathetically.

Straightening up, “My kids say, I shouldn’t make too many trips. Since he has Alzheimer’s and is declining.” Blowing softly across the cup, she pierced me with cat-like laser eyes, “But I remember him. So, I make the trip.

Enlightenment! She changed my world.

Go change the world, even if it is only one person at a time. The power comes from love.

Interpreting God

I was dining one night when I overheard two people discussing the best way to interpret God. After a brief pause, one said, “Maybe there’s an app?

Reflecting on my youth, I first read the Bible cover-to-cover at age 18. Having no theological training, many of the thou’s, tho’s, thus’, thereby, shalt’s, coulda’s, shoulda’s, woulda’s were way over my head. It was a weird feeling. I could take apart an M-16, clean it, and reassemble it in 20 minutes, but somehow, Biblical verbiage escaped me.

The Bible was never read in my home. As a kid, English was the only chosen language. One semester, I was registered in a French class. Any hopes for entering the diplomatic corps were dashed on the blackboard as I could barely comprehend Merci (thank you) or S’il Vous Plaît (please). I once said Merci to my father. The look on his face was priceless. To him, French was best left in school, and generally, everything outside our home and conversations of Coors beer barely registered. Foreign films, short documentaries and other attempts to introduce any ‘refinement‘ were quickly forgotten, mostly within minutes.

I was so inept at Biblical reading that I was convinced, that after prayer, God would respond, but respond in Tongues. Damn, then I would have to find someone who could understand Tongues. How would an 18 year find such a person? Place a classified ‘Help Wanted’ ad?

18-year-old, first-time bible reader, received a message from God. Unfortunately, the message is in Tongues. Need interpreter. Will pay, but can’t pay much.”

Comprehension was always a challenge. I have to admit; I learned conversational Spanish. However, even conversational Spanish had difficulties. On a fraud investigation in Southern Chile, my driver asked if I wanted to go to the cocina (kitchen). I laughed heartily. “Knowing he did not understand English, I replied, “It’s 10:30 PM. What the hell do I want to go to a ‘casino’ for?” Wasn’t until I repeated the story to a coworker in Atlanta that I learned my error.

There were many times I thought God must believe I’m incompetent. This personal level of insecurity dates back to 1999 when I worked with a colleague who spoke 12 languages and could easily skip, with ease, between dialects. He smoothly transitioned from Arabic to Darija, to French, then Hindi, Bengal, Spanish and so on. Elderly Egyptians recount how in Alexandria, in the early 20th century, they would switch between Arabic, French, English, Italian, and Greek, depending on what they were doing and whom they were addressing.

For some time, I remained rudderless. While able to speak to God, I often did not hear the response. In truth, none of us who commit to prayer and the spiritual life enjoy those periods during which prayer, liturgy, or spiritual reading seem dry or dull. But such moments are necessary—or so it would seem—for God permits them. It turns out I wasn’t alone.

St. John of the Cross wrote of “the dark night of the soul.” So did Mother Teresa. And Terese of Avila discussed “the period of aridity.” It’s typical for the religious life, to be plunged into not knowing. I don’t lead an overtly religious life. However, what most are looking for: some way to let real life, with the pain, not blow us apart. And in the wake of such great forces, many quit.

Then again, how many times do both the prayee and responder misinterpret the message?

A rather old-fashioned lady was planning several weeks of vacation in Florida. Being quite elegant, she wanted to ensure the campground was adequately equipped with “toilet” facilities. Feeling too dignified to write the word “toilet,” she thought of an old fashioned term “Bathroom Commode,” and abbreviated it as “B.C..” Her letter included the request, “Does the campground have its own ‘B.C’?”

Upon receipt, the owner couldn’t understand what ‘B.C.’ meant. He came to the conclusion she was asking about the Baptist Church. So, he responded:

“Dear Madam: I regret the delay in answering your letter very much, but I take pleasure in informing you that the “B.C.” is located nine miles north and is capable of seating 250 people at one time.

As a Buddhist, I learned every person has a personal language which provides a unique prism through which to interpret God’s wisdom and experience. We’re not in the position, as human beings, to figure out the mind of God. It is our shared humanity and fellowship with other humans. I now believe God communicates not with mere words alone, but through culture, shared experience, laughter, tears, music, books, blogs, and joy.

It’s important to realize God shares our condition of humanity. God became one of us and poured himself into our human experience so that we are never alone, so that God is with us even into the worst of times, even when we do not know it. God is there. God will equip you with what you need when you need it.

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