Category: About Love


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.

Devon Jackoniski, a physician assistant in orthopedics and daughter of former football player Tommy Nobis, wrote that gladiators fought with spears and swords while American football players use their heads as their principal weapon in combat. In ancient Rome, gladiators ultimately lost their lives in battle. Football players lose their minds and then, eventually, their lives.

My only experience with football was in high school, the military and college. And brief as my career was, I remember suffering only one concussion – that I can remember. Writing that gives me pause. However, any dreams of running the gridiron every Sunday was surrendered decades ago – not from a lack of physical endurance – but from an apparent lack of talent. By age twenty-five, repeated injuries of tendons in both knees relegated had me to spectator status.

On the other hand, my father played all kinds of sports well into his sixties. There was baseball, tag football, skiing, golf, and bowling. The near-daily ritual of sports was followed by alcohol. Sometimes, heavily.

I wonder if all that had an impact. As I care for my father, I watch his ability to remember such escapades has slowly degraded. Instead of sports, medical appointment reminders that blink on his iPad are forgotten within moments. And thanks to my mother’s aid, my father had successfully been able to fool many for years. Eventually, though, even my mother’s assistance was no longer viable.

My brother called to offer birthday wishes the other day. I confided that I wonder if my father lay dormant within me. While I have not lost the ability to remember where I live, what states visited, crimes investigated, or meals eaten, everything hurts – ankles, feet, knees, and back. My heart beats, then skips and once suffered a silent attack.

As such, tracking medications require an hour or more weekly. Since pain’s a significant part of life, I’ve entirely abandoned the five-second rule. Something drops, I query, ‘I wonder if there’s a two-day rule,” and schedule pickup during one of the two times each week I ease down on all fours, crawl throughout the rooms, and capture scattered Statins, Lisinopril, Inderal, pain medications, muscle relaxers, aspirin, and others objects. I’ve also snaggeded stray bottle caps, pens, paperclips, three-day-old broccoli, and other assorted vegetables.

Therefore, buying a Roomba vacuum cleaner may have merit. However, I remember reading of a man whose Roomba ran across a pile of fresh, soft dog doo-doo. The owner referred to it as “The Pooptastrophe, The Poohpocalypse or The Poppppening,” when hs Roomba spread dog poop over every conceivable surface within reach. Ugh, Roomba nixed.

Moving onto dogs, I considered a dog may have a certain sense of appreciation. However, walking said dog in subzero weather does not appear to have any beneficial merit – for me. Sure some whacked out ‘Paul Bunyan‘ type will tear longingly for the great outdoors, the fresh air, and the cold crisp snap of the early morn’.

Last Paul Bunyon I met once said, “Ah, Dog and man. Dog and man.”

He returned a week later with a torn rotator cuff from throughing too many axes into trees.

Nope. Nada. Not me,” I replied.

Of course, there’s another option. A friend suggested a cat. While a cat seemed like a viable option, I had been there, done that. Back in 96′, I adopted a cat named ‘Cleo,’ short for Cleopatra. Apparently, Cleo’s previous owner was under some illusion that Cleo had somehow inherited Egyptian royalty. While Cleo loved to eat fallen broccoli from the floor, on most days, she was more a sovereign state with a tail than royalty.

The whole cat thing ended when I reflected back to my first heart attack. I was cleaning Cleo’s litter box when the heart event occurred. Being awash in sudden and crushing pain gave way, not to the thought of survival, but to whether some paramedic would find me face-planted in ‘Tidy Cats’ Free and Clean. I rolled to the right reflecting upon the Chicago Tribune headlines, ‘Owner Found Dead, Face-First in Liter Box.”

Circling around, being a Buddhist means enjoying my father and the time remaining. Even now, as I write, one can find my father in his favorite chair, either watching old ‘Gunsmoke‘ episodes or the saguaro cactus adjacent to the living room window. Sometimes, he fiddles endlessly with old broken computers. “Hoping to fix this,” he nods. Sure, it’s mindless activity. And he may be lost, but the action itself makes him feel un-lost.

Devon Jackoniski lost her father to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), caused by a career doing the thing he loved. My father doesn’t have CTE. He lost to age. The sad truth is that CTE, dementia and Alzhimers are not treated exceptionally well by current medical technology. Thus, people like Ms. Jackoniski, my mother, my brother and I are unknownly bonded in the same fight – the fight for quality care. It’s a battle mercilessly  fought, but never won.

I know my father’s genes swirl within me. I will ride such genetic markers to the ground. I don’t think about it, the good or bad. Yet some days, the similarities are astonishing, with humor being one.

One day, not long ago, I made a statement about not remembering where I put something. My father looked up and asked if I needed one of his pills.

Pass the pill, Dad. Pass the pill.

Dang. Dropped it.

Hey, Dad. Is there a two-day rule?

The Power of Love

Remember when I said you never know what tomorrow will bring? Or as Tom Hanks charater in cast away said:

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


Bob Boilen of National Public Radio wrote this piece.

The story of Bernie and the Believers is the most powerful I’ve ever come across at the Tiny Desk. It’s about a beautiful act of compassion that ultimately led to this performance, and left me and my coworkers in tears.

I discovered the music of Bernie Dalton among the thousands of Tiny Desk Contest entries we received earlier this year. The band’s singer, Essence Goldman, had submitted the entry and shared Bernie’s story. You can hear her tell it in her own words at the Tiny Desk (and I choke up every time I hear it) but she said that a few years ago, Bernie — a father, a songwriter and a musician in his mid-forties, and an avid surfer with a day job as a pool cleaner — answered an ad Essence Goldman posted offering voice lessons. In addition to being a singer, she was a performer trying to manage her own career as a single mom, and Bernie was trying to improve his talents.

Bernie drove 90-minutes from Santa Cruz to San Francisco, eagerly showing up early to his voice lessons with Essence. But not long after they started working together, Bernie lost his voice. They didn’t think much of a it at first, but then things got worse. He had trouble swallowing and eating. Essence encouraged Bernie to see a doctor and after some tests Bernie Dalton was diagnosed with bulbar-onset ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. He began to lose the use of his hands and, along with it, the ability to play guitar.

With a prognosis of only one-to-three years left to live, Essence offered to raise money so that Bernie and his daughter could travel together. But what Bernie wanted more than anything was to make a record. So he asked Essence to not just be his voice teacher, but his voice. From there, they got to business. Essence pulled together a team of producers, engineers and musicians, while Bernie guided the creative direction through gestures and a dry-erase board. They wrote and recorded a new song every day. Their first single, “Unusual Boy,” was the one they included in their 2018 Tiny Desk Contest entry.

Now Bernie’s friends have gathered here in Washington, D.C. to perform his songs. All the while, Bernie watched and listened from his hospital bed on the West coast, communicating with us in a live video feed through his eye-gaze device. What you are about to witness is the ultimate act of love: Essence sacrificing her own musical ambitions to fulfill the dreams of Bernie Dalton. Through tragedy there was beauty.

I don’t know Bernie or Ms. Goldman, but after watching this, I believe they are worth helping. If you can, watch the entire piece. Ms. Essence Goldman told the story at the 9:02 minute mark.

Here are the key links:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPQsEoYHekg

Band Page: https://www.bernieandthebelievers.com

To bring Bernie: https://www.gofundme.com/sendberniehome

This group of talent artists understand the power of love. Beautiful.

Laughter is Essential

By Friday afternoon, most employees were simply exhausted. A week of constant interruptions and emergency meetings for this crisis or that crisis occurred regularly. I liken these moments to ‘interventions’ hoping to salvage what’s left anything good.

A coworker handed me a resume of a potential applicant he thought would fit.

Hey.” He called, handing me a resume. “HR thought this person might be a good fit.

I glanced quickly and winked, “Nah.

Huh? Why not?

Well, when an employment application asks who is to be notified in case of emergency, in this operation, they need to write, ‘A very good doctor.’

I seriously didn’t deny the applicant. I merely requested the application and resume be placed on my desk for review.

Krista Tippett noted humor lifts us, but underscores what’s already great; our connection with others. And like everything meaningful, it’s complex and nuanced — it can be fortifying or damaging, depending on how we wield it. But as a tool for survival, humor is elemental. Much like the Buddha, laughter is a powerful medium for communicating the unsettling truths in life.

For instance, when I was six years old and my brother was seven, we were in the backyard of our Schaumburg, IL home playing war. My brother was in the third branch of a Weeping Willow Tree, with all his G.I. Joe soldiers and weaponry. On the ground was my band of mercenaries, align and prepared for an elongated siege.

Without warning, I ran to the garage and emerged momentarily with a lighted M-80 Cherry Bomb and badminton racquet. With the flick of the racquet, the M-80 soared high into the bright blue sky. A second or two later, “KABOOM!” And simultaneous with the sound, a puff of leaves, half the Weeping Willow Tree, including my brother and army tumbled down.

Sipping ice tea from a porch chair, my father squinted. In momentary disbelief, he glared.

What happened to the Willow Tree?” he pointed.

In usual kid refrain, “I don’t know.

Sternly, he looked at my brother and I, “WHAT happened to the Willow Tree?”

Well,” I said, “We trimmed it for you.

I don’t believe my father ever learned I launched and detonated an M-80 into his Willow Tree. But as a professional manager, I cannot tell you how many times laughter has connected me with all different kinds of people throughout the country, of all kinds of political persuasions. And I honestly think that out of laughter, comes love.

And as a manager, friend, and son I found that no matter how happy people are with the success of getting a great job, we get consumed by the competition, the workload, the hassles, stresses, complaints. Yet, if I can laugh with you and we can see a commonality in humor, I can see you, and I can respect you, and I can love you.

During a recent one-on-one session with an employee, I commented that society needs to laugh more.

How will we accomplish that?” he asked.

Drink tea. It nourishes life.”

Huh?”

Through every sip.”

A wave of confusion circled him.

With the first sip… joy. With the second… satisfaction. With the third, peace. With the fourth, a Boston Eclair.

He smiled approvingly.

Laughter is essential.

Belonging

Passing a nursing station, I overheard a nurse say, “He has no one.”

Who?” I inquired.

Startled, she turned, “Oh.” Quizzically, she perused up and down. Whatever she thought, I’m positive an old, bald, fat man was not expected. “Oh,” she murmured again. “409,” her shoulders shrugged. “The guy in 409 has no family. His time nears.”

So, he’s alone?

Yes.

No one?

Nada.”

May I sit with him?”

Her eyebrow raised slightly, “Sure.

I sat with him until near dawn, sometimes in silence, sometimes lightly speaking, letting him know he was not alone. He whispered, “Why?

Standing to stretch my back, I glanced out to the street below. Raindrops angled across the window pane. My breath echoed against the glass as colorful hues light refracted through the early morn by drops darting downward.

Know what?” I said. “Earth is old. The sun is old. But do you know what may be even older than both? Water. It’s a mystery how the world became awash in it. Maybe water originated on our planet from cosmic ice specks. Some claim distant meteorites or comets as they bombarded the earth.

A slight momentary silent filled the room.

Kaboom” and “Smash,” I reemphasized.

A slight smile, “Ha,” he whispered.

The most accurate answer is: I don’t know ‘why?‘ My limited theological training offers little in any way to account for the unexplainable. And after all these years of walking with Christ, then Buddha, questions linger. Regardless of belief, the world reminds me death is not the end, that we carry forward in the glow of love.

Turning from the morning rain, I sat near, “Are you close?

Leaning in, he whispered, “I come and go.”

There was nothing I wanted more than to bring out a suitcase full of proof, saying, “See? You can be confident.” But there is no absolute proof. Heck, some days I have trouble even convincing myself. There’s just us. Instead, I stayed.

In the small moments of life, a bridge of faith is lived in-between the “back and forth” by both believer and witness. God’s faith glides in between moments life and for whatever reason, which remains foreign to most, joins our world through others, and through us.

Glancing at the man, I stroked the soft fragile gray hair, mirrored his peaceful rhythmic breath, and saw myself. While there are stories of miraculous interventions, lightning-bolt moments, and sudden cures, more often than not, in the final moment, the God of unconditional love will arrive in human form – just like his Son.

I whispered, “The ‘Kaboom and the ‘Smash’ were for you. In those very moments He created you. He loved you then. He loves you now. That same love is here for you. The same air that Christ breathed, you breathed. His breath is in you. His love encompasses you just as he encompasses me. And as your friend, I am with you always and will remember you always.

His lips quivered lightly. A tear dotted his eye. I cupped his hand to my heart. He never spoke again.


The real beauty of Christian and Buddhist faith is that faith is lived and experienced moments. As such, in a time of need, God comes to us in physical vessels, where love and grace join to feel His spiritual presence.

Through all my years working in healthcare, I could never explain “why.” Even if I could, it wouldn’t have brought anyone back. Still, even in my own days of difficulty, many have reached out to me to let me know that I was not alone. They were the presence of God to me. They held me up to, guided me to return to this world, brought me back and consoled me. Suffering isolates us. Loving presence brings us back, makes us belong.

Make someone your life know he or she belongs.

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