Category: About Love


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.

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.

Acts of Love

I have been off the blog for several weeks, as my body has had a rough go of it lately. Waking up, getting up, grasping things, and getting to work has been challenging. And, in the course of this disease, I realize, that maybe, just maybe, the probability of living beyond two years dwindles daily.

If Nate Silver (fivethirtyeight.com) were tracking me, my polling would probably be approximately 16%. It’s a reality willingly accepted. “Distinguishing the signal from the noise requires both scientific knowledge and self-knowledge,” Silver said. I tend to be pragmatic. Most simply, one intuitively or inherently knows.

Even though sick, I can still manage a good movie. My last adventure took three days. Avengers: Endgame. My summary comes from Tony Stark, “Everything is going to work out exactly the way it’s supposed to.” Even the best things come to an end. Whether you want to call it ‘life cycle’ or the ‘circle of life,’ everything will eventually come to an end.

I offer something more powerful: belief. Believe in yourself, even in failure. At some point in our lives, all have failed. And in failure’s wake, it seems impossible to get back up. But if you push yourself a little harder and get back up to fight back, it will be worth it.

There is something else: love. Love is vital. Love for family, love for a teammate, yearning for a cause/purpose, or love of life. Unless you have passion and belief for something/someone, you can not rise. It’s not that holds us back. Instead, it provides the foundation to rise above the fall; it generates the energy to dive to any lengths. It heals you. It keeps you going. It gives purpose.

Lastly, in the end, some things are meant to happen. A lot of times, we wish to jump to the past and think of the things that we should change or undo. My tumor, and ultimately, my death is meant to happen. Many in my position, want to peel back life and reboot it. Eventually, whether life, God, or whatever eternal wisdom there makes everyone realize that it was supposed to be.

Instead of thinking over the past, we should put thoughts and energy into things that can be changed – those that are more worthy. In the movie, The American President, the president (Michael Douglas) was speaking about an upcoming political battle and said they should “Fight the fights they can win.” His top aide (Martin Sheen) countered by saying, “Fight the fights that need fighting.

No greater love is forged than for fighting those worth the fight.

The characters Black Widow and Hawkeye may not have seemed all that significant, but in the end, when life or death depended upon their decisions, they were only concerned for what is best for the other. In that brief moment of screen time, all of us might better understand the depth of Christ’s love. Just as Hawkeye fought for Black Widow, Black Widow fought for Hawkeye. The fight sequence is symbolic. Just like Christ, it is rare to see someone fight you so you can live a better life.

I have no idea how many days I have left. I feel this world is closing fast. Each day awake, I will try to find someone that I can fight for, in that they, can live a better life.

A Kansas mother posted videos about giving chlorine dioxide (basically industrial bleach), to her sons. Laurel Austin documented her son Jeremy’s first dosing of chlorine dioxide on YouTube. Austin a mother of six, four of whom are adults with autism has tried almost every fad online “cure” for autism — a developmental disorder that has no known cure — including treatments for heavy metal poisoning, hormone therapies used in chemical castration and “natural” remedies such as cilantro and algae.

Nothing worked. Including the bleach.

The solution Austin uses was first promoted decades ago by former Scientologist, Jim Humble. Humble touted the mixture as a cure for AIDS, cancer and almost every other disease known to humanity. in October 2016, after years of investigation by the United States and other countries, and just days after ABC News tracked him down in Mexico to ask about the dangerous game prosecutors say his church is playing with desperate people, Humble wrote:

“There are certainly times I have said some things that I probably should have said differently. For lack of a better way to express things at the time — or because others put words in my mouth, in the past I have stated that MMS (Mineral Miracle Solution) cures most of all diseases. Today, I say that MMS cures nothing!”

Few four-letter words in disease management are more frustrating than the word “cure.” I believe I got ‘sick’ during my military rotation on Guam. In four decades of being sick, I’ve been repeatedly told about cures. I just took this one supplement or went on that one diet, all of my troubles would end. I’ve been told to drink more water. Why hadn’t I thought of that?

Random cures popped up everywhere. First, there was shark cartilage supplements. Then there was Bee venom. Let’s not forget acupuncture. Now turmeric is now in vogue. You know, that magic root used in Indian cooking that turns food and fingers a burnt yellow. Yeah. I only presume that some nameless researcher, at an Indian restaurant, picked up a piece of turmeric and said, “Gee. I bet this will cure cancer, arthritis, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, and gout.

As a Buddhist, living with a terminal disease is about learning how to accept and how to adjust. It’s about recognizing progress; being grateful for what I can and can’t do while still remaining optimistic. The tumor in my neck doesn’t define me, rather I define myself. I strengthen in the moonlight of night and live to tarry another day. When all is said and done,my greatest strengths are drawn from tender and heartfelt moments shared with others. There within that body of love, is a door unto another world, that keeps on hoping.

I close with the following story.

A preaching professor at Harvard University tells the story of the year his 5-year-old son was working on an art project in his kindergarten class. It was made of plaster, resembled nothing in particular, but with some paint, sparkle and time in a kiln, it was ready to be wrapped as a gift. He wrapped it himself, and was beside himself with excitement. It would be a gift for his father, one three months in the making.

Early in December, when the child could hardly contain the secret, the last day of school finally came. All the parents arrived for the big Christmas play, and when the students left for home, they were finally allowed to take their ceramic presents home. The professor’s son secured his gift, ran toward his parents, tripped, and fell to the floor. The gift went airborne, and when it landed on the cafeteria floor, the shattering sound stopped all conversations. It was perfectly quiet for a moment, as all involved considered the magnitude of the loss. For a 5-year-old, there had never been a more expensive gift. He crumpled down on the floor next to his broken gift and just started crying.

Both parents rushed to their son, but the father was uncomfortable with the moment. People were watching. His son was crying. He patted the boy on the head and said, “Son, it’s OK – it doesn’t matter.” His wife glared at the great professor. “Oh yes, it matters,” she said to both of her men, “Oh yes, it does matter.” She cradled her son in her arms, rocked him back and forth, and cried with him.

In a few minutes, the crying ceased. “Now,” said the mother, “let’s go home and see what can be made with what’s left.” And so with mother’s magic and a glue gun, they put together from the broken pieces a multi-colored butterfly. Amazingly, the artwork after the tragedy was actually much more beautiful than what it had been in a pre-broken state.

Rather than looking for the magic cure, see what can be made with what’s left.

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 …

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.

What Lucky Taught Me

“And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.”

~ Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories ~

Lucky was acquired. Living in Mendota Heights, MN during the winter of 1993, I noticed a 15 pound stray, orange long haired tabby. Of the few times was seen, he drank from standing pools of water on the street. Finally, on one ‘lucky night,’ I nabbed him. Capturing is misleading; he came willingly. I named him Lucky because it was pure luck we crossed paths.

Unlike ancient Egyptian pyramids, Lucky came with no ‘warning sign.’ Though I certainly could have used one, he had no user manual. And while I looked quite extensively, there was no ‘off’ button. For all the world’s Yang, you know, those loving, wholesome thoughts, Lucky received a double dose of Yin. To this day, I believe Lucky woke in the morning and ate nothing but a quarter slice of lemon. That was the high note, and it dwindled quickly thereon.

He was perpetually cranky. One might say Lucky was prejudice. But after having lived with him much of his life, I can honestly state Lucky was not prejudiced – he hated everyone. Almost equally. As one friend phrased it, “Those aren’t ears, they’re horns.

Still, Lucky taught me just as many lessons as Figaro.

Real Love Does Not Require Complete Understanding
We all want to be loved. Behind the grump, Lucky just wanted to be loved. On most days, his real personality came out, and he was often happy and affectionate. As Norman Maclean observed, I didn’t always understand him, but I loved him completely.

The Truth is Easier To With Those We Love
With little fear of repercussion, its easier to share the dark, deep troubles of those we love. Whatever life Lucky lived before me, maybe we drift more towards truth as we age because we realize “truth” is what cuts through the weighty, granite fortresses of life. As Maclean said, “But maybe what he likes is somebody trying to help him.” In truth, after all these years since he’s gone, I believe Lucky loved someone trying to help him, even if I couldn’t wholly cure whatever ill hurt him.

Interconnection Means Sharing an Life’s Arc
The lake just off Concord Way was perched adjacent to my patio. Watching Lucky follow geese across the clear blue water reminds me that the arc of flowing water symbolizes the arc of life. Lucky and I were connected by that lake, and while living upon the shoreline, we etched deep patterns of life’s harmonic vitality into one another. I was amazed at how we lived through the seasons, and torrent weather with a philosophical exploration of a spiritual dimension. Through it, we believed in each other, because we lived in each other. He was an anchor for me, just as I was an anchor for him.

Relationships Require Work
Lucky and I worked hard at building trust. I didn’t know him; he didn’t know me. He didn’t choose to like me just because I was black or white. He didn’t care how tall I was, my education, my social status or wealth. We connected because we both chose to trust. As a result, our lives became an intimate story between souls. We shared something beautiful. And now that I think about it, it was always about love and relationship – about how we became brothers and formed one common bond. Even in death, his sense of self-transcendent interconnectedness still lives today.

I am humbled to have been a participant in his life. For all his gruff, Lucky still moves me in a positive, meaningful, and profound way. I’m moved to a different level each time I reflect on him and of our unspoken love.

God, I miss him. And it’s that level of love both Christ and Buddha would honor.

Thank you Lucky.

What Figaro Taught Me

Many years ago, I adopted Figaro, an orange tabby. It turns out Figaro may have been named after Mister Geppetto and Pinocchio’s cat. I speculate, for Figaro was Walt Disney’s favorite character in Pinocchio; he loved the kitten so much, he wanted Figaro to appear as much as possible. Once production on Pinocchio was complete, Figaro became Minnie Mouse’s pet.

In real life, Figaro and I had a great relationship. During the time Figaro allowed me to rent space in his pad, our one-bedroom apartment in downtown Chicago overlook a bank of elm trees. Ever dutiful, ‘Guard Cat,’ as nicknamed, was always on the prowl for stray birds wandering too far or those that dared to land on the adjoining window ledge. Sometimes, in the depth of REM sleep, one could find Figaro running through high timberlines, chasing fowl near or far. It was hard not to be fascinated by enjoyment.

Figaro was spoiled, and he knew it. However, I learned so about life from him.

Live in the Moment

Since his adoption, Figaro never had to worry about the past or future. Instead, he made my ‘present’ better.

Made His Own Toys

No entertainment is as good as our imagination. No cell phone, text, tweet, Nintendo game or John Madden, Version 12,216 can replace our own ability to find joy. I bought Figaro many toys. He ignored most of them. Instead, he made his toys. His favorite you make ask? Leftover plastic strips that held newspapers. He’d play with those things until they started to shred and were thrown away. I would acquire another, and the same process would repeat itself.

Rest

Figaro was rarely tired. He knew when to lie down and sleep. He never got burned out, never had a nervous breakdown, never had to use drugs or alcohol to make it through the day.

Love

True love came from sharing and caring. He wore his heart on his sleeve. Cheek rubs, belly rubs, purring and head bunting and other small things meant constant love and affection. Figaro lived and died by them.

He would also hang out. Friday and Saturday movie nights were not complete without Figaro. Each week, a few friends would gather and watch the latest movie. The night would neither start nor end without Figaro. Sometimes, it is merely the joy of sharing the same interest and passion.

Lifelong Learning

In days long gone, communities would have gathering places where children listened to older men and women as they told stories of life, of life’s challenges and the lessons that can be drawn from the edge of survival. People knew that sometimes our greatest lessons lay in our greatest pain. Figaro and I were lifelong buddies in learning.

For instance, one night, instead of dishwashing detergent, I mistakenly placed Spic and Span into the dishwasher. While the dishes were immensely cleaned, soap suds escaped the dishwasher and rolled throughout the kitchen floor. On hands and knees, mopping suds, up popped Figaro onto the dishwasher. His look said it all.

That was pretty stupid.”

Like a great Buddhist mentor, Figaro taught that life’s lessons involve working on our smallness, getting rid of our negativity and finding the best in ourselves and each other. These lessons are the windstorms of life and made us who we are. We are here to heal one another and ourselves. Not healing as in physical recovery, but a much more profound healing. The healing of our spirits, our souls.

Deep inside all of us, there is someone we were meant to be. And we can feel when we’re becoming that person. Unknown to me, Figaro pushed me to become better and knew when something was off. Consciously or not, we are all on a quest for answers, trying to learn the lessons of life. We grapple with fear and guilt. We search for meaning, love, and power. We try to understand fear, loss, and time. We seek to discover who we are and how we can become truly happy. Sometimes we look for these things in the faces of our loved ones, in religion, God, or other places where they reside. Too often, however, we search for them in money, status, the “perfect” job, or other places, only to find that these things lack the meaning we had hoped and even brought heartaches.

After all these years, I found these answers in my cat.

When life crashed in 2010, I had to relive lessons from a generation ago. During such time, one can think of inadequacies as terrible defects, if we want, and hate oneself. But we can also think of them affirmatively, as doorways through which the power of grace can enter our lives. When I returned to the times when Figaro roamed the rooms of my heart, I realized I no longer had to be perfect. Now, I’m authentic and live life profoundly.

Thanks, Figaro.

I’ve watched both the Smollett and Stone cases in the past several weeks. Both Smollett and Stone wish to position themselves as victims. Yet, neither are textbook victims. In Smollett’s case, police announced that the “Empire” actor is officially a suspect for filing a false police report in regards to his alleged attack in Chicago. And for Stone, he was kicking himself and apologized profusely for his shortcomings. “I am kicking myself over my stupidity,” Stone said, abandoning his infamous “never apologize” mantra and tough guy demeanor. Legal analyst Jack Quinn said, “… if stupidity were a crime, Roger would be in jail for the rest of his life. This was just monumentally dumb on his part.

In truth, both Stone and Smollett were incredibly stupid.

At the outset, I must confess that I have by no means claim perfection in my own life. As mentioned in previous posts, I am riddled with faults, and I further admit that I’ve critically hurt many friends. But I came from a perspective that’s been there and did it. But unlike Stone or Smollett, my work is done away from the public spotlight where I no longer have present ant false veneer.

I’ve witnessed glimpses of myself in other events. For the most part, I ignored them. However, one such incident leaps that leaps to forefront involves an auto dealer’s son. It was late summer 1996, and I was invited to a dinner party by the owner of a car dealership. The owner’s dealership included Acura, Lexus, and BMW.

After mingling with guests I’ve never met, I walked to the back where several of the serving staff were taking a break. Chit-chatting back and forth, one server drew a breath from a cigarette and nodded toward a young man walking with a younger woman.

“Ah,” he said sarcastically, ” There goes Capt’n Cessna.”

“Who?” I responded

“Capt’n Cessna,” he pointed. “We’ve nicknamed Jason J., the dealer’s son, Capt’n Cessna.”

“Why?”

“Well,” said a server sitting on a swing. “He tried to make a BMW fly.”

“Oh,” I replied. “I heard about that. The brakes failed on his BMW and car got totaled.”

“Ah ha ha ha ha ha,” laughed everyone. “You don’t know s***.”

“Really?”

“Hey Jimmie,” the woman to the man next to me. “Tell him. You tell good.”

“See sir. Capt’n there,” he pointed, “wanted an Acura NSX for his birthday. But his father got him a BMW. So, one day, he gets this great idea to release the parking brake in hopes the car would roll and get damage so he could buy another car.”

“Didn’t quite work out that way, huh?”

“Nope. No sir,” said one server.

“He tried to blame it on bad brakes,” claimed Jimmie. “But the car creased in-between the street’s V-shaped storm drain, slid backward, completely straight, and rolled downhill. Police estimate the vehicle started going about 9 miles per hour, gained speed, and maximized at 40. It hit two garbage bins, clipped Ms. McGurdy’s summer azalea’s, pulverized a copy of the Morning Gazette into the pavement before losing its driver’s side mirror against the U.S. Post Office Mailbox before becoming forever immortalized into Morningside folklore.

Once the vehicle traveled past the road’s end, the BMW’s $20,000 value quickly plummeted. Any lingering thought that the street curb would reverse destiny was thwarted, as ‘bla-blup, bla-blup’ emanated from underneath, followed by a quick ‘phooom,’ and a brief second of silence. And there, against the backdrop of an early morning sun, the BMW momentarily floated, and in dawn’s silhouette, dove outward, toward the shore below.”

Everyone cracked up.

“Car buffs along Morningside Drive claim that was the greatest event ever to occur, even when comparing it to Danny Butterfield’s errant 4th of July bottle rocket landing in ol’ Quester’s Wagon Ride. Even today, during hot summer afternoon’s, ol’ folk sit, sip cool tea, and reminisce of the day when Capt’n there confirmed, without question, that BMWs don’t fly.”

In Buddhism, being truthful goes beyond merely not telling lies. It means speaking truthfully and honestly, yes. But it also means using speech to benefit others, and not to use it to help only ourselves — this is where Roger Stone and Jussie Smollett failed. Speech rooted in the poison of hate, greed, and ignorance is false speech. If your speech is designed to get something you want, or to hurt someone you don’t like, or to make you seem more important to others, it is false speech even if what you say is factual.

The tricky thing we must do is forgiveness. In the case of Stone and Smollet, when all is adjudicated, and sentences are over, we must forgive. However, many holy words one reads, or however many are spoken, what good will they do if we cannot act on upon them? Therefore, my friends, if we fail to forgive, then holding on to our anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you get burned.

Firgiveness is never easy. For Stone and Smollet, forgiveness will not be a single event. Rather, it will be a series of decisions repeated many times over.

In Memoriam: Tony

A former colleague called. My fingertips deeply massaged my forehead listening to the news streaming through the phone. Tony was dead.

Tony wasn’t a longtime friend. We never hiked nearby rivers on summer afternoons, traversed local cliffs or watched football on lazy Sunday afternoons. Not once did we grab a beer, eat lunch at a local pub, or shoot the sh** while sitting in bleachers as our favorite baseball teams lost for the umpteenth time.

Our relationship was, um, complicated.

An ash-burnt sky added to the misery. Rain pelted the windshield and my hands tensed when I gripped the wheel. Once off the elevator, the heavy wooden entry door swung inward, and I eased into the living room. I flung my laptop to the couch, caring neither if it landed adequately or not, powered up the stereo, and inserted the CD ‘Rent.’ An ice cube skidded across the floor after bouncing off my shoe. I stared momentarily before plopping the remainder into a quarter-sized glass. Southern Comfort oozed over the clear cubes of frozen water and a passing whiff of steam ascended then disappeared. Frozen in thought, I sat looking outward, unto the ceaseless rain. “Seasons of Love” echoed in the background.

I met Tony in February 2018. An accountant by trade, he spent several years in internal audit. He loved baseball, and dutifully charted his favorite team throughout each season. Pictures of his wife and kids dotted along desk shelves and stacks of audit samples sat on the floor in checkerboard format. By all accounts, he appeared happy.

I began a two-month company audit in February. To say the company had financial control issues would be an understatement. All-in-all, he knew the results wouldn’t be positive. The firm struggled, often chartering its boat to the prevailing wind of the day versus destination. And while that alone is a common mistake by most firms, Tony knew he would be under siege; he would be responsible; only he would be accountable.

Two-and-one-half months later, he died.

I learned of his death by coincidence, from a friend of a friend of a friend. I Googled his name plus the word ‘obituary.’ A summary of his life followed: “beloved husband … ; loving father of … ; dear brother of … ; brother-in-law, uncle, cousin, and friend: will be greatly missed—he already is!” The story of life – crammed into two paragraphs of an obituary page.

Hauntingly, I ask, “Had I known, could have I done anything?” More so, “Would I have done anything differently? Did I fail him, God or both?

Ethically, no. Spiritually? Most definitely.

My failure is that I discovered only a handful knew anything about Tony. Like most, I reduced many of those around me to ‘just acquaintances’ – just another person, not someone special. And harder still is the fact I’ve used humor as a defensive weapon to remain emotionally detached from almost everyone. I’m unsure if Tony acted similarly. Yet, I feel profoundly connected.

In singing “Five hundred and twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes,” the cast of Rent asks listeners how to quantify the value of a year in human life. The song concludes with the most effective means – “measure in love.”

Love” was the spiritual connection missed. Love was the only connection that mattered. When physically alive, I could not feel or respond to his love. Now that he’s dead, only now do I realize the abundance and capability of the love he had. He was an untapped treasure I failed to grasp and call ‘friend.’

As daylight faded, I am reaffirmed by faith that all existence will fade into God’s love. And therein, will be Tony. A friend whose soul and memories will merge with the tapestry of life I continue to weave. As such, I am assured Tony’s death will not go in vain.

I will carry forward the lesson that relationships go through seasons and we all always be finding ourselves looking for signs of growth, signs of life and symptoms of renewal. “Eternal possibility,” a mentor once claimed. Tony helped bring an understanding of myself and allowed me to ponder the desire for a deeper understanding of others. As such, life is not measured in time alone, but in the moments spent with others. It’s about little moments in life; the coffee and the hugs; the tears and the laughter. Don’t remember a year as merely gone. Rather, remember each year for the time spent in the company of good friends that love you.

Measure your life in love.” Measure the people you love in love.

Without love, life is death.

Thank you, Tony, for sharing. Thank you for your life.

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