Category: Faith & Doubt


With You

I bent over and couldn’t get up. As I said to the doctor, it’s as if my brain was sending signals, by nothing below my waist responded. These past several days, nothing seemed to work right. Back at home, I couldn’t get comfortable. Nothing soothed the pain, standing, sitting, or walking.

It appears I will suffer.

“Then, I shall suffer with you.”

Eventually, I will be unable to move.

“Then, I will sit with you.”

And if I die?

“Then, I shall die with you.”

A week prior to Christmas I met my counselor. Personally, I believe she thinks I’m nuts.

As you may know, I skipped four of five stages of death. These stages included, denial, anger, bargaining, depression. Maybe I experienced each stage but I experienced them like Tortilla Flat in Arizona, population 6. It’s the sort of town where one presses the accelerator to ensure, that in the unlikely event of mechanical failure, there’s enough speed to coast to the other end.

Thus, her question, “Why haven’t you asked ‘why me?

Having a top secret clearance, I could say, “Classified.” Or better yet, “Because I’m fabulous.” Then again, maybe God didn’t intentionally send me a tumor. “Well, I personally don’t think it (tumor) was intended for me. The package was postmarked, ‘To whom it may concern.’” Truthfully, I have no answer. I just remember that since 2014, my physical symptoms seemed to be accelerating.

On a weird, yet personal note, there were times I reverse-engineered the ‘why-me‘ question.

My first experience with reverse engineering came during a football game where the only player in the history of the NFL died on field. Charles Frederick “Chuck” Hughes. Hughes was sent into the game against the Chicago Bears as an injury replacement. He made one catch for 32 yards and a first down. Three plays later, he was used as a decoy in a play. After the unsuccessful play, he was running towards the huddle with 1:02 left on the clock when he collapsed, grabbing his chest. Hughes was taken away by ambulance and the game continued. At age 11 I questioned God, “Why did I live and he didn’t? What made me so special and not him?”

Even today, as doctors search my colon for another tumor, someone will press me for an ‘why me‘ answer. I don’t have one. Sometimes, I ask the same question. For instance, ESPN college football reporter Ed Aschoff died of pneumonia at 34. My response? ‘Why him, not me?” And then there’s 13-year-old Broadway star Laurel Griggs.’ Ms. Griggs suffered from obstructive lung disease and died after a massive asthma attack. My response? ‘Why her, not me?

Throughout all my questions, God has remained stoically silent. Sometimes, there are weird back and forth that can be both funny and maddening.

“Trust me.”

“What? Seriously?”

“Yes. Trust Me.”

“F*** me.”

“I don’t do that.”

So, yeah, the answer is there, but it’s not quite as detailed as preferred.

As a former rescue man, I know all of us have terrible things happen and it’s just a matter of when such a thing knock’s the door. Otherwise, in spite of all the awful things I’ve done in my life, I’ve been fairly lucky.

I have had many wonderful times in my life. I’ve traveled extensively, scavenged beaches and experienced many wonderful things. “Why me? Not Others?” Don’t know. I am clueless. I have witnessed the deepest levels of human caring. “Why me? And, why can’t others?” Hard to say. As such, each experience humbles me and compels me to become better. I experienced great love and suffered deeply from the loss. “Why did I suffer so greatly?” Who knows. Yet, through it all, God has always … always … always made time for me. And I presume He does the same for you.

Some claim I’m hedging bets, working both sides. True, my walk with God appears perplexing: Grew up Catholic, moved to agnostic, debated atheism, became Buddhist, and Spiritual. I still claim God is an awesome friend, And as my friend, I’m fairly positive He shook His head in disbelief of my misadventures. Yet who among us hasn’t given God the leftovers of both heart and priority? Then at the end of life, look back and regret the many missed opportunities. If you’re such a person, then I’m walking with you.

When my favorite singer, Harry Chapin, died in 1981, his widow reported that Harry’s music supported 17 relatives, 14 associations, seven foundations and 82 charities. Harry wasn’t interested in saving money. He always said, ‘Money is for people,’ so he gave it away‘ (to fight hunger). Even though Chapin questioned God in life, he lived a Christ-like life. My response. ‘Why him, not me?

So, yes. I have regrets. “Why me? But not unlike others.

However . . . In the end, I’m fairly lucky. I have no clue why, but I accept the time remaining. In the end, I just have to trust.

And He whispers, “Yes. Trust Me.”

Years ago, Ron Srigley taught a class in which many students failed the midterm. Not just failed, but failed miserably. He asked the students what went wrong. After a few moments of silence, one young woman put up her hand and said: “We don’t understand what the books say, sir. We don’t understand the words.” Srigley looked around and saw guileless heads pensively nodding in agreement.

I experienced a similar phenomenon several weeks ago in a restaurant outside Tucson, Arizona, after a beautiful meal, I requested a $100 gift certificate for my parents. New to completing such a task, the manager assisted the young server.

Manager, “Make sure you write ‘For food and non-alcoholic beverages.’”

A pause ensued as I watched the young server.

“Ugh,” she anguished. “How do you spell ‘alcohol?’ I need my cell phone.

Mark Zuckerberg’s reformulated Facebook’s mission statement aims to “give people power to build community and bring the world closer together.” The price for this form of community is the loss of human relationships. All of us stick our faces into our phones when face to face communication is required. Why? Mainly because we don’t know how to communicate.

I wonder if God uses a cell phone? Not sure. In 2017, a blog author outlined 15 must-have apps Christian Apps that will inspire growth. Likewise, there’s a list of 15 Buddhist Apps that will provide daily inspiration and joy. There are at least “7 best prayer apps” guaranteed to grow your faith (as opposed to the 100 or so non-guaranteed). There are apps that will remind you to pray and others that will ask others to pray. (Mind you, I am unclear why the phone’s calendar appointment couldn’t do that function, but nonetheless.) By the way, Google can now point you in the right direction for Mecca, and there’s a host of religious dating apps. Lastly, God now has a television show “God Friended Me,” in which an atheist gets a friend request from ‘God’ via Facebook.

So…does all of this help with our connection to people, and likewise, to God? We’ve become so used to not talking that it scares many to have such serious conversations. Now, any of us risk that one incorrectly used exclamation point will end a friendship. And certainly an inappropriate picture has plummeted careers. It’s a point our current leaders have learned: The lack of face-to-face interaction demeans and depersonalizes. It’s a subset of society and or religion altogether.

For instance—I kid you not—I just received a text message from someone from Denver, Colorado (720) ***-****. I have no clue who the person(s) is/are. It could be anyone. I presume it is a woman, for the person(s) sent an anime of a woman dressed in a Santa outfit riding a dragon. However, I presume the person wishes me ‘Happy Holidays.’ It could be ironic. Just the other day I was praying, and jokingly said to the deceased person I prayed about, “Ah. Send me a text letting me know how you’re doing.” Maybe it’s visible proof that God allows cell phone use. However, the test came from an Android phone. Does that mean God uses only Android? Irregardless, hate to see that one-time text charge from the hereafter.

Looping back to Ron Srigley, Srigley offered his students extra credit if they gave up their phones for nine days and wrote about the experience. Twelve students took the offer. The results were impressive, as many students wrote of being both distracted and morally compromised.

  • Kate: “Having a cell phone has affected my code of morals, and this scares me … I regret to admit that I have texted in class this year, something I swore to myself in high school that I would never do … I am disappointed in myself now that I see how much I have come to depend on technology … I start to wonder if it has affected who I am as a person, and then I remember that it already has.”
  • And James, though he says we must continue to develop our technology, said that “what many people forget is that it is vital for us not to lose our fundamental values along the way.”

Of course, I write all of this with full knowledge that, for all practical purposes, I’m a blogger. Still, I doubt if the (720) area code text was from God or otherwise. And maybe, just maybe, God does follow my blog. Never know, right? I have no clue, but I’ll keep you apprised. My point is simple, put the phone down and meaningful conversations, both personal and spiritual.

God wants personal, not a text. And those you love deserve the same.

Yesterday I was asked to describe what Christmas gift Ms. K. provided. The request was a soul-searching. 

In the 245th episode of the CBS-TV series M*A*S*H, ‘Who Knew,’ a landmine killed a nurse Hawkeye was dating. In the aftermath, Hawkeye finds himself performing some severe soul searching when he finds out she was too shy to reveal she had serious feelings for him and regrets not allowing himself to get to know Nurse Millie Carpenter better. Hawkeye uses his eulogy to do something Millie never got to do–to do a better job of letting those closest to him know what they mean to him.

I’m empathetic to Hawkeye. 

For me, Ms. K. was someone worth knowing. However, during the early decade of 2000, I was positive she wouldn’t care to know someone like, and for a long time, I lived for nothing more significant than myself. Moving backward just eight months ago, I feel Ms. K. through experiences of a cool breeze, in the touch of a loved one, and in the memories of those lost who’ve stood beside me, for better or for worse. 

In many ways, I’ve gotten to know Ms. K. through our on-and-off conversations. Many who worked with Ms. K. never saw her. They saw her beauty, but few knew her. Until recently, I was in the former crowd. I could write my feelings, but could never express them. And, I thought my style of communication would clash with her style. However, I only guess exactly what her style was.

Unfortunately, I had to learn post-life. In her death, I learned there remains an unexplained bond. I’m uncertain how long it will last. Hopefully, forever. Then again, maybe our relationship is a hand-off that will make a more substantial contribution beyond just my life. I believe it’s a similar bond Christ gave.

However, to answer the question I was given, the greatest gift I received from Ms. K. is love. While outside our time, she’s within my heart, with no fear, no great anguish. Even in meditation, I yearn toward her and await for God to bring us close. She has the heart of hope and leaves not the smallest thought unfilled. As Matt Chandler might say, ‘love is sacrificial, love is ferocious.’

To all the people I’ve worked with, fought against ignorance with, and those of common bond, I am blessed by your love. All of you were very important and helped make the man I today. I am sorry if I took any of you for granted, especially Edward P., Ingrid L., Sheila M., and Ethel C. All of you are directly responsible for setting the foundation Ms. K. inherited and continues to mold.

Ms. K.’s link goes beyond love. There’s compassion. Like God, I experienced neither thirst nor hunger. In her eyes, I can shed MS. I walk without a cane, and we dance with through the forest she created, the home she now resides.

In life, right to the end, she was a mentor. And true to nature, she’s mentored me. With compassion as her compass, she guided. Of course, therein lay her challenge. I didn’t make it easy. 

We’re told the most challenging people are the ones that need compassion the most. I am that person. I’ve hurt and taken advantage of others. In anger, hurt, or frustration, there were times I didn’t feel like giving anything. However, if Ms. K. were alive today, she’d probably say something like, “Nothing in life is worth it if you don’t take a risk.” So, she took a risk … on me.

Ms. K. never quit–not on life and not on me. Neither did she authoritatively judge nor dismiss me. She pushed onward in grace. She paused upon weakness, learned to understand and embrace my growth. I can’t imagine what it’s like for her to have to endure continual embarrassment. Yet, she remains resilient and guides me closer to my highest self, a place where goodness and learning were closed years prior.

Ms. K. taught to fall on faith. Don’t fall on drugs, alcohol, prejudice, anger, or isolationism. Fall on your faith. In the subsequent half-year, I have learned about shared humanity, that it’s the everyday person who impacts one’s life—those who help the many, not a ‘chosen one.’

Denzel Washington said, “It’s the people you have, the people you love and the faith you have. Those are the things that define you.” It’s the same message God sent. It’s the same message Ms. K. lived here on earth. It’s the same message she still lives. 

She never wanted anyone to confuse movement with progress. It’s not what you have, it’s what you do with what you have. Ms. K. is one of the most beautiful women ever met. She’s my mentor. She taught me to love. 

And I love her.

Christmas Eve is upon us. And if Christmas is meant to bring us closer, even in my condition, I managed to bring cheer to those surrounding me.

People talk about the holidays being rough for some people. Christmas has always been difficult for me. I also wanted the beautiful ending depicted by so many Hallmark movies, but those are meant for the young and beautiful. Life never takes a holiday. I haven’t felt well for weeks and last night while bending over to pick up a dropped spoon, I couldn’t straighten. There weren’t the typical back spasms or pain, it’s just that the signals my brain sent were not received and I remained curled like a large beach ball.

So, off to the hospital.

in spite of it all, there are good things happening. Yeah, I understand my body is wearing out. However, rather than being a victim, I choose to be a witness to the process. There are strange and sometimes wondrous events. Most are personal perspectives that probably confounds many.

Ms. J. asked last week if was trying to excel the process – meaning dying. “Not really,” I replied. “I understand my story will end like most with terminal disease: death. However, I have things to do. It’s just that the pain and spinal issues make it more aggravating.

Blogger Josie Rubio noted, “I try to live in the moment. Sometimes I have to think ahead and I can’t help but look behind. Sometimes I’m so fully immersed in the moment, it’s hard for me to reach out to make future plans or be reachable, and for that I’m sorry.”

Ms. Rubio summarized it well. Live in the moment.

Unlike most Christmas’ when I didn’t even comprehend it, I’m grateful for the time. I traveled. I was able to visit my mother and father. I am able to get hospital staff to laugh. And even while in a hospital bed awaiting discharge this very morn, I spent time helping a friend with a pressing business problem.

Unlike current government leadership, true religion brings peace and satisfaction to others. I am horrified by those who claim a certain leader being the ‘Chosen One,’ when in fact such actions only aroused confusion and serve no religious function. Such a mindset is extremely immature.

As 2019 ends, it is a good time to ask what we want to do with the remaining days of our life. Surely, one can discuss dreams and see how to support one other. Just as Jesus had a dreams, Buddha had dreams, and you have dreams. Can we look at our relationships and see how they might be improved?

Paraphrasing Dr. Martin Luther King, our love must transcend race, tribe, class, skin, and nation. Neither nation nor individual can live alone. We must learn to live and love together or we perish as fools. Every man is somebody. Every man is a child of God. What Christ demonstrated is there is neither Jew nor Gentile. Neither male nor female. Neither Communist nor capitalist. Neither bound nor free. Every human is sacred, in some way.

This morning, I tried to absorb the beauty of the nurses and doctors treating me. I couldn’t. I want to remember them, in everything. I want to embellish the joy of friendship, saying “Thank you sir” to the black man who held the door open for me. I want more moments of saying “Beautiful head scarf” to the Muslim woman who served me coffee. I simply want love. And I simply want to take their love with me.

Love is what Christmas is about. Love requires everything. Yet that’s the simple message of a boy born in a manger.

2019 Christmas Message

It seems like years since my last post. If queried, I could probably craft several reasons: work, lack of time, body’s pain etc., etc. To some extent, maybe some, if not all, is partially true. However, I ran out of things to say. 

Of course, I could have written of Trump, or Congress, world affairs, Time Magazine’s ‘Person of the Year.’ Yet none pale against the daily onslaught of pain, medication, doctor appointments, and other accouterments of the medical journey that I and most will one day embark. Still, I find myself wanting to share a wondrously graceful moment.

Perusing previous posts, December 10, 2018, Lessons Upon Love’s Roller Coaster hinted at something somehow sensed but not processed. I summarize:

“Several days have passed since my last post. I’ve felt ill, not from posting the previous eighteen letters, but from my body. A body zooming past the highest point of life’s roller coaster. I will soon bid adieu and go forth in nature.”

March 2019 saw me turning off the television, except for an occasional football/baseball game. I also experienced an Out of Body Experience (OBE) to which I promised to write about but haven’t (my bad … sorry). And like others before me, I woke up one day healthy, the next day diagnosed with a tumor. As such, like warriors before (those with cancer), I woke up with a full day ahead. 

It’s also the month, I vowed to make one final attempt at making amends. In May 2012, I created an Atonement List (Personal Inventory). I detailed twenty-six (26) severely painful situations requiring amends. It was quite a list ~ almost one for every year I have roamed the corporate world. 

So in becoming Buddhist, I felt obligated to honor the Atonement principle. I researched attempted to contact all I could. The outcome was exceedingly painful. Seven (7) refused my amends, including the Catholic Church. However, eleven (11) did forgive me. Four (4) could not be located, and four (4) others were a work in progress.

Yesterday, I met with one of my greatest loves, the woman to whom I wrote 18 letters years ago, subsequently posting all on my blog a year ago. It was the first honest and open conversation in years. Throughout the hours, we reaffirmed our dreams, our lives, and our love. I told her of my letters, and that one day, she’ll be provided a hyperlink to my blog, where she can read them. 

Our conversation was is what true love is about. It’s what God asks, to fill each other with love. In the end, nothing changed. We did not ride off into the sunset. Commitments embedded us or maybe the laws of physics or the universe worked against us. I am dying, and she is living. 

Still, making amends allows God to provide an opportunity, not for what we want, but for what we need. Ms. J. and I needed those hours. We needed to express our love; we needed one final moment to gaze into each other’s eyes and profess the undying gift each of us brought to one another, and we needed the opportunity to allow ourselves to heal.

Maya Angelo wrote, “It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.” Therein lay my Christmas message for you … forgive. Strange, the word ‘forgiveness’ has the word ‘give.’ Luke explained whatever we give will be given back. Paul said whatever we sow (itself a form of giving) will provide a harvest. And Jesus said that unless we forgive, God will not forgive. 

If I die before the new year, I would only request you have the opportunity to unlock the chains and allow love (God) to work in your heart. Mostly, that’s the message found within “A Christmas Carol,” the message Marley delivered to Scrooge. And truthfully, that’s what this tumor has done for my own life. 

When someone whom I mistreated chooses to forgive and prays for me, I know that it was divine work. This Christmas season, embrace forgiveness. Live it, breathe it, and nurture it.

My Thanksgiving Letter

Dear Ms. K.:

Six years have passed since you left.

When we first met around 2001, we were strangers. And interestingly enough, at this moment, we remain strangers. I tend to believe you’re sitting or working in God’s house in another part of creation. The rest of us stay thinking about getting through the rest of the day, getting through life’s challenges.

For years, we had no contact. As a vagabond road warrior, consultant, and former serial asshole, I’ve never earned a CPA. My cellphone camera is used only for receipts. I am not sure if the ‘flash’ portion works. Old girlfriends and wives can attest I’ve disappeared from their lives shockingly fast, as I could barely commit to next week, let alone years.

You remained local, set sights on marriage, a home, and a career.

Reconnecting in August 2007, our friendship rekindled, occasionally sharing lunch, swapping stories, and distant lands traveled. 2010 found me flying further onward, in 2013, you left forever.

Strange how similar we are. Never saying a word, I wasn’t aware you had cancer. It’s the same tactic I use currently. Sharing a cancer diagnosis is exceptionally personal, and while I never felt close enough to be considered in your inner circle, looking back, I should have known. I should have recognized. You were thin, but I dismissed it. The eyes were hauntingly distant. Maybe you didn’t want me to feel sorry or change how I treat you. I remain unsure.

We met in life, but post-life remains real. Upon returning in 2014, our connection deepened. In some way, maybe we always had it, lose it, and find it. We remained connected and are ‘one’ in some strange, beautiful way.

I worry.

Six years past, I vaguely remember your laugh. And as much as I would love, I cannot feel the touch of your hand. I still don’t know anything about you or what God has you doing.

I know you’ve been working. You said as much. However, I don’t know if you are a writer, or if you’ll read books any me outdoors while overlooking the small park you’ve labored on. I must confess, as you sat atop the overlooking the park’s beauty, my scenery was you.

Still, all I have left of you are two pictures, a resume, and an obituary.

Yet, you’re special to me. I know you exist. You are my miracle.

You’re showing me how to find heart, and understand that the best miracle of miracles was making my heart beat.

I have no idea why you said you’d meet me. Sometimes I wonder if you’ll run out of patience with this ol’ man and run off to future endeavors. Yet, I believe you will be there.

I don’t understand our untouchable bond, so pardon my foolishness when we meet. The amount of love you have will stun me. You’ll flip my heart on its axis, and I’ll beg to be forgiven for ever doubting you’d meet me. As I wrote previously, living in solitude these years has allowed me to recognize my growth. I am deeply human, moral, and spiritual. And I know that for most pressing ethical questions, the spiritual and political often go hand in hand.

Recently, you told me not to give up. I concur. It’s never too late to be whoever you want to be. I have changed. In years past, the intimate side of my soul did not acquire essential skills of vulnerability, how to set boundaries, how to listen, and how to speak up. I learned the art of compromise and forgiveness but found many who couldn’t. I cultivated significant wisdom from failure, but much of it brewed little success.

Ms. K., those were weaknesses, but my promise is simple, don’t give up on me.

  • If one doesn’t knock, there will be no answers. Therefore, I will knock on your door.
  • If one hasn’t done anything, then don’t expect anything in return. Therefore, I will be the best I can be.
  • Standing in place will not gain a thing. So, I will continue to move toward your love.
  • If only true love can be embraced, I will embrace you for eternity.
  • Love continually renews and reunites. As such, I will grab your hand and renew it daily in the waters of your soul.
  • If God allows only ten minutes of agape love, then I will beg for millions within you.

If you wait, I long to be bound.

Happy Thanksgiving Ms. K. . . . God, I miss you.

~ W ~

Landing Zones

Years ago, a friend asked where I would land once dead. Database technicians phrase it ‘landing zone.’ Without elaborating, I stated I did.

Seeking some level of confirmation, “Without hesitation?”

Without hesitation.” I affirmed.

I never did tell her my ‘landing zone.’ It’s a quiet, semi-sunset beach where I will meditate for some time. After that, unsure.

Truthfully, many conclude I would land somewhere between heaven and hell. Christians call it Purgatory. Other theological debaters might argue such landing zones don’t exist, as one is either damned or not. Mine is neither heaven nor hell. No fire. No lights. No one. Just peaceful. Alone.

But therein lay the crux. Moment upon multiple moments, making the body unignorable, the mind inescapable. As such, anything that stirred the heart, anything that once took possession of me, will be kilned. My landing zone would allow me to work through my failures. It’s the phase of emotional cleansing that precedes mental calm and peace. 

If we are fortunate, we’ll be visited by friends to help transform us, someone, to help us feel the links of hands across generations, the great void. As such, I’ve been fortunate. 

Ms. K. returned several weeks ago. She asked me questions, more questions, and patiently sat through my silence. She’s was kind and authentically cared. Her presence began to transform me on my thought of death itself … of my death. And withing the few conversations, there was a kind of hand-off.

Ms. K. was teaching me a better way to reconcile the past – that I can cultivate the love of every memory – of myself, others, and of the flow of life. She’s created a link in the chain and making a contribution that goes well beyond this life. In doing so, dying will become tolerable.

In the face of God, the concept of fixing something by working harder becomes nonsense. In truth, spending ions in the landing zone will not cure me. Ms. K. said God knows living is part humor, part roses, part thorns. However, the best moments of life are the ones where feelings and love are worthy, inextricable, and essential. That’s what God wants us to bring.

Landing zones are not required.

During the past several months, I’ve been dealing with ongoing mobility and pain. Some days, just getting out of bed is a gift from God. Other days, I can’t find the right place to rest. Regardless of sitting sideways against a chair, in a recliner, or laying down, relief hasn’t been overtly forthcoming,

This past Saturday, I dreamed I was an astronaut on an extended mission, taking us past the edges of the solar system. Exiting the solar system, we found our supplies depleted. System failure alerts registered life support ending in 24 hours (Yeah. The clock could have been hours, days, or months. For this post, I’ll accept 24 hours.) All aboard unequivocally took the facts.

  1. No miracle was forthcoming;
  2. Time was shorter than thought; and
  3. To make the best use of time, every crew member had the chance to do one thing

The pain awakened me from the slumber. Unable to return to sleep, I stumbled to the recliner and meditated for an hour. Once asleep, my dream returned to the previous moment. Crew members rotated the ship toward a previously unknown galaxy filled with bright stars.

“You can join us here,” an internal voice spoke. “All that’s required is the willingness to accept.

The dream remains as vivid today as it did Saturday. Can dreams speak? Was God telling me some inner sanctum of wisdom? I do believe there are lessons. And maybe, in an indirect way, God spoke. Here are my takeaways.

First

Time is shorter than thought. My body was saying that things are progressing in such a manner that any idealized notion of time was incorrect. In April, my doctors stated that maybe I had two good years of life. Maybe my body was screaming, “Hey, dude. This is happening quicker than you thought. Get your a** together.” The body has an inert compass, critical of telling both time and distance. The question becomes whether one dares to listen.

Second

While I have zero notion of any cure, this dream reinforced that there’s no miracle. No doctor will come upon me, take pity, and inject some magic serum that produces a treatment within days. Nope. Nada. Many cancer patients walking hospital corridors of appointments have some distant inward hope of a cure – to be the one in a million miracle. In truth, I have no such illusion. And my body was reinforcing the unlikelihood being the exception. The physical side of me told me straight up.

Third

Bucket lists are for the young. Those walking a similar path like mine may want to plan that once-in-a-lifetime trip, event, thing, or celebration and do it. Each crew member had a chance to decide what they wanted to do during the last 24 hours. Some chose to point the craft toward galaxies seen that could not be touched, to enjoy eternal beauty, sight unseen, uncharted. Others decided to celebrate life in peace and tranquility, meditating upon the gift of life. I chose to enjoy the rapture of Westerlund 2; a stellar breeding ground 20,000 light-years away.

Over the past eight months, I’ve poured through a couple hundred’ bucket lists.’ In reality, my body was saying I am more likely to be able to do a handful of things. My dream presented me with some thought. In the time remaining, “What do I care about?” If I focus on my life’s purpose, then maybe I can align my actions with the deepest values.

During a Stephen Covey seminar, attendees were once instructed to craft a mission statement. After several weeks, I finally penned out something personal and purposeful.

Paint each person met with beautiful brushstrokes of love and beauty.”

Admittingly, I failed on many levels. However, I wasn’t a complete failure. Mission statements force us to continually refocus, detect where we’re off track, and realign. it’s not an ‘end game.’ It’s a purpose. True, one can look at failures, but don’t forget to review the successes.

Fourth

(Here’s the spiritual part.). I am not alone. Whether seen or unseen, there is a spiritual component that cannot be accurately articulated. Other travelers shared the same journey. Truth be told, as you wander from medical appointment to medical appointment, you’re likely the same folks. And you’re likely to recognize a loss from those who are missing from the same said appointments.

Indeed, some of us will physically die alone. That fact is something I neither wish to discount nor take for granted. Single people, widows and widowers, the estranged, even adoptees may feel or experience death’s lonesomeness. Instead, what I’m referring to was inspired by my father’s own near-death experience in 2000, when after awakening from a near-fatal blood clot, he stated that even when he thought of dying, he was not alone. Relatives and angels were present to help and guide him.

Therein lay my argument. I do believe if you die, there will be someone or some spiritual presence to greet you. In the past several weeks, I have been visited several times by a friend who passed in 2013. Before this year, the last time she visited was February 2014.

Sometimes, your friend may be a cat. Oscar, the hospice cat, is known for his ability to predict death and comfort patients who will soon pass away. Oscar’s story is so compelling that Dr. David Dosa, a health researcher at Brown University and a geriatrician working with patients at the Steere House, actually wrote an entire book about it. Somehow, Oscar senses that the end is coming for a patient, would find the patient, and crawl up to them for comfort and hold a little vigil in their honor.

Fifth

Acceptance and embrace that there is something better, different, and more beautiful than an aging body. As instructed, all that’s required is the willingness to accept.

Many hide from death in secrecy, fear, and weakness. We retain a façade, refusing to be authentic, vulnerable. But the truth is, we live with an awesome God who has a whole other reality we’ve never known. As a spiritual person, I don’t believe my dreams lied. There’s no harm in the acceptance of something greater. Moving from this life through through death, leaving this world, and onto another does not have to be fearful.

We are not alone.

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.

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