Category: Faith & Doubt


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.

I was having lunch with two friends yesterday.

How does one go on after suffering horrific loss?” a colleague sighed as she referenced gun violence.

The other colleague recalled a story from her days in Chicago.

“”I remember two WGN radio hosts, Kathy O’Malley and Judy Markey.  They were forced by management to end their radio show with no notice. O’Malley and Markey said they had known for weeks their show was ending, but administration forced them to tell their audience during that day’s show. It would be their last. The abruptness by which management forced them off the air caught listeners by surprise.

We’re all going to be OK, and we’re all going to put on our big-girl panties and deal with it,” O’Malley told listeners.””

In other words,” my colleague stoically noted, “. . . Put your panties and deal with it. Life demands we move forward. ‘This day’ will always become another tomorrow.

As a Buddhist, I might have stated the world is full of causation, meaning that the whole universe is a web of interrelated causes and effects. To those who suffered a significant loss, such a statement would be ideological. However, such sentiments offer little to those who’ve lost much.

The Washington Post performed an analysis of recent high-profile mass shootings. Their report suggests that interest in combating the problem tapers out after about three weeks. Thus, by pulling up our pants and getting back into the world, it is the survivors who must make meaning out of the misery. Our presidential and legislative leaders only look to ‘run out the clock.’

And how does one run out the clock? Just do what Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio did. After the Dayton, Ohio shooting, Sen. Portman diplomatically referenced the NRA playbook.

“These senseless acts of violence must stop. While we are still learning more about the details of this tragedy in Montgomery County, we are praying for the victims and their families and thank the officers who responded so quickly and bravely. I am talking to local leaders and law enforcement officials this morning. First and foremost, let’s get all the facts and help the community heal.”

Need an interpretation? First, pray for the victims. Second, thank first responders. Third, talk to leaders and law enforcement. Fourth, help the community heal. Fifth, get facts. What Portman won’t tell you is that he’s running out the clock. Portman knows all he needs is three weeks–three easy weeks.

Portman understood playbook, the five steps. And each sound great, and that’s what voters want to hear. However, Portman also knows it will take months, if not years. Thus, all he’s doing is putting lipstick on a pig.

The Washington Post outlines the strategy.

“This is often the unstated goal of gun rights advocates. Allow the passion that immediately follows the attacks to cool, often demanding that politics wait until an appropriate mourning period has passed. Weeks later, most people have moved on to other issues — including members of Congress.

Trump claimed Wednesday that some background checks were still possible. Maybe. But there’s an established pattern of elected officials whose politics align with Trump’s merely wait out the energy and passion that inevitably follows mass shooting incidents.

Usually, by about now (three weeks later), people have moved on.”

Here’s my colleague’s message.

Every year brings forth a new set of survivors. They come from nearly every race, religion, and socioeconomic background. These otherwise ordinary heroes come from Parkland, Florida; Aurora, Colorado; and scores of towns whose names were chiseled into our minds. These tragedies go against everything we’ve been taught: that we live in a just world, and if we make the right decisions, we’ll be safe. Still, any of us could experience such deep, profound tragedy. With the help of those around us, we can turn fear into purpose.

Parkland survivors worked together and called for changes to prevent similar tragedies from recurring. In essence, they put their panties on, confronted lawmakers, rallied others, took to the streets of Washington, DC, put on the March For Our Lives, and made impassioned pleas for reform. They were able to put anger into activism, interrupted the typical narrative, and refused to let the news cycle or the country move on. They did not allow others to forget.

These same stalwart young activists are providing witness that if you want nationwide healthcare, put your panties on.

You want infrastructure building programs? Put your panties on. Do you want a national healthcare program for Alzheimer’s? Put your panties on. Do you want real gun reform? Put your panties on. Do you want decent childcare and early childhood education system? Put your panties on.

The list is endless.

These are the real changes Dr. Martin Luther King, Christ, Buddha, and so many others would have fought for.

I am not a fan of Walmart management. However, I read this morning that the El Paso, Texas Walmart, where 22 people were killed earlier this month, will be remodeled and reopened. According to news reports, the renovated store will include an on-site memorial honoring victims and recognition of the El Paso and Ciudad Juarez “binational” relationship. And that’s what should be done.

So, you, the one reading this blog post, do you want change? If so, put your panties on.

Five years ago, just before Thanksgiving, I had a colonoscopy.

For those unfamiliar with the procedure, a colonoscopy is a medical test that examines your colon for abnormalities and disease, mainly cancer. For new patients, a physician might show a color diagram of the colon. Such visuals are like AAA roadmaps that appear to go everywhere. Mine looks like the Louisville Kennedy Interchange, an intersection of Interstates 64, 65 and 71. Anything passing out of that whizzes past Lexington and jams up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The physician will state that a long flexible tube (colonoscope) is inserted into the rectum and the video camera allows clinicians to view the inside of the entire colon. Often, digital photographs are taken, none of which should be shared at family get-togethers.

I was amazed at the precision by which this procedure gets completed. Like flights landing and taking off from your local airport, patients are moved through the various stages: pre-op, operation, post-op, recovery, doctor’s summary, exit.

What most hate is preparation. It begins during the previous night and involves chugging a gallon size concoction that tastes similar to a dishrag and cat saliva. If you’re lucky, one might get a hint of strawberry. Most times, one is not so fortunate. Instructions forewarn said participant that ‘loose, watery bowel movements may result.’ May result? For me, ‘loose watery bowel movement‘ resembled ‘Old Faithful,’ with timely eruptions occurring every 20 minutes.

I overheard two clinicians saying they know of patients putting a shot or two of alcohol in the prep.

Damn,” I thought. “Why the hell didn’t I think of that?

Recovery resembles ‘America’s Got Talent.’ A group of clinicians gather around their scoreboard (x-rays and pictures), point, “Hmm” in unison and shake their heads. Awaiting my ‘Golden Buzzer’ or dreaded rejection, I overheard one patient-doctor conversation. The woman was given the sad news of a stage 3 tumor.

Hard to imagine: In less than a minute, someone went from Thanksgiving festivities to cancer patient.

In 2011, Vietnamese Buddhist monk William Tran went to the dentist for inflammation in his gums. Antibiotics did not help, and when the dentist saw him again, he was so concerned that he took Tran to the emergency room. There, Tran was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and told his disease might not be cured. Tran went from monk to a cancer patient.

Writing previously, my diagnosis never came via a patient-doctor visit. I read about it from the online patient portal.

“. . . tumor in neck measuring 4.1 x 2.3 in transaxial dimensions and 3.7 cm in height (1.6 inches x .9 inches x 1.4 inches), surrounding the spinal cord and C5-C6. Preliminary indication benign. Requires biopsy. Metastatic or secondary tumors may spread from another site. Delicate neural structures will complicate treatment, resulting in nerve compression, spinal deformation and compromised bone strength.

I remember these stories as I learned of a friend who, in a matter of minutes, went from vibrant mother, wife, and business owner to cancer patient.

I am lucky. Years of work in the healthcare industry provided some tools to meet the requirements of my illness, its treatment, and when I could, the compassion to be patient with myself and others. In many ways, I revealed how I applied spirituality and or humor in many difficult situations. I always hope my experience would be of use to someone walking the same hallway.  As noted, I am not a spiritually mature person. As noted in my blog, I fail often but succeed as well.

My years in the healthcare industry has provided a general understanding of life and the body’s capability.

One such lesson: Spirituality, whether Buddhist, Christian or other, will neither prevent anything nor will it shield us from anything. Faith can soften the blow and open us to meet everything coming forth. A patient could spend the rest of their life thinking about treatment, without looking at the nature of their mortality and meaning in their life. Therefore, it is essential to have the courage to live a life true to yourself, not the life others expect. When people realize their life is almost over and look back, it is easy to see how many dreams go unfulfilled. Most have never honored even a quarter of their goals.

Remember to honor some dreams along the way. If not, from the very moment you lose that thing defined as ‘health,’ it’s too late. Health is a freedom seldom appreciated until no longer available.

Plowshares

When asked about my disease, my comparison is root rot. Yeah, true. Webster’s Dictionary will define root rot as a condition in which the roots of a plant begin to decay, but that’s where I’m at. My days are composed of overcoming various problems: stiffness, numb hands, dropping things, sporadic tremors, and so on. The latest issue is extreme neck numbness accompanied by full neck lock.

Several nights ago, while sitting in a comfortable chair watching the Cubs lose, I suddenly became unable to turn my neck. I quickly downed some essential medication. After an hour, little relief was achieved and grabbed my one form of ‘use at last resort’ medicine, a muscle relaxer, and pain blocker. By night’s close, I drifted off to beautiful sleep.

At dawn’s early light, I stumbled from the bed, showered, drank a cup of coffee, downed a batch of morning medications, dressed and reached for my Smith and Wesson 351PD.

Before this weapon, the only gun I ever owned was a Lone Ranger toy gun received from my Uncle at years for Christmas. Of course, I grew into a trained sniper and handled many weapons during my time in the military, yet I hadn’t owned a gun until 2017. Ownership came after being robbed while coming from a department store. And Smith and Wesson became my choice for personal protection. The 351 PD I carried provided me with a sense of security. With it, merely flashing the weapon to another would-be robber was all required to dispel an attack,

From there, I somehow acquired 8.

Strangely, in spite of everything, I could still shoot. My military instructors would be damn proud. I put in countless hours at the range, and in spite of my root rot, I could shoot nearly as good as some competitors.

Still groggy from the previous night’s medication, I flipped the cylinder open to ensure proper loading, spun the cylinder for the hell of it, handle in right-hand, barrel resting in my left, while and carefully checked the trigger.

The trigger slipped — a rookie mistake made by a professional.

Surprisingly, the. 22 caliber bullet provided little recoil. Amazingly, the bullet travel between my index finger and middle finger touched neither. Best I can tell, the shot angled through the drywall, wedging in a wall stud.

The explosion still resonates in my ear today. Suffice to say; it was huge. It was the first time I heard a weapon discharge so close to my ear. My ear still rings. That sound is forever etched in my mind. I’ll never forget it.

For the first time in my life, I understood the fear of gun violence; it’s sound and the fear of being shot. I could have been seriously wounded. Under different circumstances, I could have seriously injured a loved one or bystander.

The hundreds of hours spent in training is futile when one is slightly groggy. At that moment, I became a threat.

I was blinded to the real possibilities of killing someone. The idea to purchase the weapon was to feel safer. In a split second, I realized just how idyllic and self-delusional. I wasn’t warped by NRA, by some fancy salesman, by the notion of the second amendment. I had distorted by a belief that a weapon would make me safer.

I broke my honor, and the Buddhist precept of Ahimsa, do not harm. The real villain in this story is not the man who robbed me years ago. It’s was neither media nor gun rights advocates. The real villain was ignorance — my ignorance. I projected my fear unto a dreamlike state of peace that could never be created. Personal peace via a weapon cannot be attained.

Late afternoon, I gathered my weapons and handed them over for destruction.

I ended the fantasy.

————————

. . . and they shall beat their swords into plowshares . . .

Isaiah 2:4

And the good old days
They say they’re gone.
Only wise men
And some new born fools
Say they know what’s going on.
But I sometimes think the difference is
Just in how I think and see
And the only changes going on
Are going on in me.

~ Changes, 1973, Harry Chapin ~

In my younger days as a consultant, I would charge off into the world, serving as one of the few ‘hired guns’ that would bail clients out of sticky situations, regardless of whether the client was good or bad. As my former boss would say, “Some of our best clients are our worst clients.” I never overthought it. I would show up, work hard. Sometimes, I didn’t know the endgame. Other times, I did.

Life was a constant ever cyclical season of waves. Like a weather-beaten sea captain, I never gave fear center stage. In the still of the night some years ago, I silently confided: I never feared the surface, but I thought long and hard of the devil underneath. Storms would come, toss the boat, bang your insides, and then … calm.

And just as the Buddha predicted, everything changed. From top consultant, no tumor, to patient … Patient ID: H78 . . . blah, blah . . .blah, blah, blah.

In the 90 days since, there are times when I’ve felt very voiceless. Pre-tumor, my weapons of choice, i.e., my medical knowledge and knowledge of the medical proved defenseless against my body. Now, doctors and nurses play high-stakes chess within the confines of my bones as I remain simply a witness.

There are some positives. I’ve had the opportunity to revisit and evaluate several facets of my life. There are all the usual priorities one normally debates: family, careers and other relationships. For me, I was able to look past the disease itself and found transforming truths. First, never take life for granted. Second, love better. Third, I don’t know all the answers. Fourth, there’s significant joy in learning to let go.

I wish to focus on the fourth, letting go, for a moment. It’s hard to believe my blog has lasted over seven years. To date, I’ve listed over 600 blog posts. Throughout my last seven years, I’ve focused on making amends. A May 2012 blog post recorded:

“. . . success of one’s faith might be found in the value of your morals and the willingness to make amends, even when that test may be so brutally honest and painful. I will say this up front; my Atonement List has twenty-six (26) severely painful situations requiring amends, including:

    • The Catholic Church, for all my mortal sins;
    • The only love of my life ~ for whom God called us and I broke your trust;
    • Former boss for violating my position;
    • Financial mistakes; and
    • Mother and Father, for not being the son you could honor.

Twenty-six (26). That’s quite a list–almost one for every year I have roamed the corporate world. I felt an obligation to honor the Atonement List. I researched and contacted all of the people I could. In some cases, the outcome was exceedingly painful. Seven (7) of the twenty-six (26) refused my amends, including the Catholic Church and my love. Eleven (11) forgave me. Four (4) couldn’t be located and four (4) others are a work in progress.

Those numbers haven’t changed in seven years. The only thing that changed, was me.

I told my case manager this past Thursday that I awoke earlier this week and found myself forgiven–the deck was cleared–my sins forgiven. I told her, it was not a ‘faith,’ but rather a ‘knowing.’ I simply knew it. My life is nearing a plateau, maybe its crescendo. And I believe that’s it, some ‘thing’ is coming.

And I feel that something’s coming, and it’s not just in the wind.
It’s more than just tomorrow, it’s more than where we’ve been,
It offers me a promise, it’s telling me “Begin”,
It’s something worth believing in.
~ Remember When the Music, 1980, Harry Chapin ~

‘Begin.’

Treatment began early May. Two months later, I’m amazed at how much my life is tethered to technology.

For many, the smartphone is a magic wand that summons carry-out, pays for gasoline, can connect friends, track flights, make reservations and even order from the great big box store in the sky. With the exception of a few moments in my writings, I’ve focused on just how much this technology can destroy a life. Via some weird purchasing smartphone app, one could buy something from another country, make an ill-advised comment or get trolled, or get a ton of botnet emails on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. I’ve retrieved the weather, texted a friend and checked the latest Chicago Cubs score.

Yet, it can be a lifesaver. September 14th, Siri was able to send a personal distress call. At 2:36 AM, I returned to life. My first comment was to apologize for not having this event at 2:36 PM.

In his article, In The Land Where the Internet Ends, New York Times writer Pagan Kennedy details how he drove down a back road in West Virginia and into a parallel reality. After passing Spruce Mountain, his phone lost service and remained comatose for days.

“I came in hopes of finding a certain kind of wildness and solitude. I live in Massachusetts, and I often disappear into the forests and rivers to clear my head. I’ve always loved the moment when the bars on my phone disappear. When I’m out of range entirely, floating along in a kayak, time grows elastic. I stare down into that other kingdom below me, at the minnows darting through the duckweed, and feel deeply free — no one’s watching; no one knows where I am.”

Like Kennedy, I so desperately wish to pull my phone out and hurl the damn things into the air. Yet, I cannot. My life is attached to the technology, intertwined by a host of technology genius, smartwatch, smartphone, and body. The aforementioned technology lives for me. As long as I live, it lives. Dare I pass, someone will wipe its system and become another person’s dread or wonder. Smart technology tracks everything–blood pressure, pulse, calories, exercise, sleep patterns, medications, and weight. I can communicate with my physicians, request medications, receive test results, schedule appointments, track both mood and thoughts. And, at the slightest miscue, it can notify emergency contacts and I might be afforded the opportunity to return.

Medical beeps and buzzes intricately denote bodily vital signs. And in that, I’ve noticed amazing things. For instance, April 25, on the day I learned of my tumor, my ‘Beats Per Minute” was 96. Two months later, after treatment, 66. Yet, this capability and inevitably only deepens the profound mystery of my own identity. I took birth in human form. Therefore, what force gave life? What forces allowed others the ability to create the technology that measures and assists this form (body)? And regardless of the answer, the world’s great spiritual teachings repeat I am not who I thought I was.

But does that mean there is no self or a search for true self? Or, is ‘self’ different? These are hard questions to answer. Technology can measure bleeps and blips, but identity, friendship, love and ultimately, humanity remains elusive to the critical eye. As such, the technology enhances my humanness, and the soul God hath given this vessel (me). I appreciate the fact that the best things humans enjoy (being human) is the same thing that will destroy my time here. Yet, the knowledge that I’m fully alive and awake is wondrous.

In being overly holy and righteous, we discard the wonder of humanity, of being created in the image of something beautiful and miraculous. I don’t believe such deep levels of righteousness is what God intended.

Like Thoreau, I too sometimes awake in the night and think of possibilities. I can catch an echo of the great exchange of love between humanity and eternal life. We have the ability to create an original work of art. This creation (body) does not originate from the bleeps and blips. I was not generated based upon programming. The technology connects my body to the world helps me understand and appreciate my humanity. And if I am strong enough to look beyond my own selfishness, maybe I can understand a small nugget of the divine–how spirit could become flesh. It’s not by luck. Maybe, rather, divine.

“I try to make sense of things. Which is why, I guess, I believe in destiny. There must be a reason that I am as I am. There must be.” ~Bicentennial Man~

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.

Three weeks ago, Ms. Kalabash, my 63-year-old neighbor, stopped me before my travel to Sacramento. She noted how the cool early morn temperature floated through her shoulder-length hair, of the crisp morning air, and of the birds jotting from tree to tree.

“Beautiful morning. Just beautiful,” Kalabash exclaimed. Noting my luggage, “Where are you off to this week?”

“Ah. To the desert –Sacramento.”

“Why? What the hell’s there?”

“Ah, someone decided it was a great place to build a company headquarters.”

She raised an eyebrow while simultaneously wrinkling her nose. “Well,” she paused. “Have a great trip.”

It was the last time I saw Kalabash.

Three days ago, a realtor notice posted a for sale sign the community bulletin board. Deep in debt from recurring years of arthritic pain, and no hope blooming over the horizon, she went to bed on June 10th and never awoke. Some speculated she passed from lack of proper medical care. Others claimed she downed a series of pills in sequence and committed suicide.

Meeting her daughter yesterday afternoon, her daughter indicated Kalabash was over $60,000 in medical debt, even with insurance. “My mother couldn’t keep up,” wiping away an errant tear. Kalabash racked up more than several thousand dollars in out-of-pocket medical expenses—doctors, x-rays, surgeons, anesthesiologists, radiologists, and pharmaceuticals, you name it. She had health insurance. However, the policy had a $6,000 deductible.

Herein lay just one debate over the future of the Affordable Care Act—just because a person is insured, doesn’t mean healthcare is affordable. Years and years of deductibles add up. For those with lifetime illnesses, physicians, hospitals, pharmaceuticals, and other medical costs are killers.

And like many others before, Kalabash became invisible. She disappeared into the night.

Kalabash became invisible – to everyone.

Invisible. Strange word.

Like Kalabash, I don’t look sick yet. Like Kalabash, I’ve told nothing of my health to but only a limited few. Clothes hide weight loss; drugs help me walk; smiles and laughter disarm the curious. As a result, I can find myself not wanting to go out, even if I if can, because the importance of willing to be accepted is more critical than the months remaining. How I look doesn’t necessarily reflect how I feel.

Invisibility can bring tragic consequences. Kalabash feared misunderstanding over what it meant to be disabled. Too sick to work and be active also meant she couldn’t go out to a restaurant or experience a night out. She feared her long-term disability payments would be revoked if someone saw them being active in some way, perhaps going to the store.

Kalabash felt the burden was on her to be invisible to others. It turns out; she died that way.

For those living an invisible life, Author Toni Bernhard wrote:

… I remembered something a [Buddhist] teacher had said: ‘If your compassion doesn’t include yourself, it is incomplete.’

Bernhard’s comments will come as a challenge to many, but looking at myself,  maybe I need to stop blaming myself for getting sick. It might help if the world does the same.

“Cancer is like being stuck in the middle of the road with a bus barreling down on you, but you can’t tell how close it is or when it’s going to hit you.”

~Susanne Kraus-Dahlgren~

I flew into St. Louis Friday to attend a memorial for a coworker who passed about a week prior. I remember the call.

Heart attack,” Ms. J. muttered while listening in stunned silence.

The pause was long.

Heart attack,” she whispered in disbelief.

Bob J. was a year-and-a-half older. At 61, he lived a wonderful life and was appreciated by many. Husband, father, caretaker to many abused pets. He was also a suffering Cubs fan. And if he had watched the ending of yesterday’s Cubs-Cardinals game in St. Louis last night, he be dead. So, maybe he got lucky.

Like many before us, I took it for granted that Bob would be around for years. I never told him of my tumor. I never bothered to figure out how I would broach the subject, I just figured he would always be around and I would ‘get to it.’

Life is strange. I attended the Saturday memorial. Late afternoon, I sit listening to jazz pumped via a Bluetooth headset while sipping ice tea at Barnes and Noble. In a few hours, I will sit at a bar and watch the Boston Bruins-St. Louis Blues hockey game. And all the while, I will look upon the lives before me and realize life goes on. Life always does. The world didn’t stop for Bob. It won’t stop for me either.

Of course old acquaintances gathered and gabbed memoriors from a life unavailable.

Ah, the good ol’ days,” Larry chuckled.

Ah, the ‘good ol’ days.’ It was a life before downsizing, when our business hummed at breakneck speeds. Bob, myself and countless others were part of that life. We remembered a life filled with Bob; a life filled with each other; a life filled with laughter. We told tall stories. We laughed. We shook hands. We promised to LinkedIn. We promised to connect. We promised to stay in touch.

We won’t.

None know my story. So, within the course of the normal ‘getting to know you‘ conversation, there are landmines to navigate . . . like how much to say. Friendships are fragile–come too strong, be written off–wait too long, become insincere. I mean, when is the right time to drop the “I’m going to die” bomb?”

How you doing?

Me?” pointing to myself. “Oh, I am going to die in a couple years. Maybe sooner.

Most haven’t learned what I learned, that the beautiful death portrayed by heroes and heroines in Hollywood film is an exception, not the rule.

Prior to Bob’s memorial, I took a customary shower. Gazing for a moment in the mirror, I realized how thin I’ve become. Clothes don’t longer fit. A belt with extra holes that compensates for a dwindling waste. Skin tinged from small streaks of purple, a byproduct of drugs oozing through my veins. There will be no verbal cue. No one will say it. But their eyes will verify that the rose-tinted death we all aspire will not occur me.

As a Buddhist, I realize y body is rented. The day is rented. Nothing will last. And if we live from a mindset of “I am entitled to this,” or “I deserve such-and-such,” we’ll get stuck trying to hold onto something no longer there. Either we change or the world will force us to change.

There are many lessons. First, life goes on – until it doesn’t. Second, the idea of having time for preparation, a time to say goodbye, to receive love and give love, is the kind of death any would choose is wonderful. We all want a death, without suffering, to do what we want to do. Only a handful will get it.

It would poetic for me to say my death should be free of pain, free from suffering, free of deterioration, and free of complications. But that’s not death. That’s a dream. Therefore, the goal should be to have a deeper compassion for others and a greater appreciation for the life that remains.

In doing that, life will go on. And that’s the final lesson Bob taught.

After reading Rebecca Byerly’s piece in the New York Times, one cannot help but think of themself.

Isabella de la Houssaye and her daughter, Bella, struggled to breathe in the thin air of the high Andes as they trudged up a zigzag trail to the top of Aconcagua, the highest summit outside the Himalayas.

At an elevation of about 22,840 feet, it is often called “the roof of the Americas.” At this height, breathing is difficult and the risk of debilitating, even fatal, altitude sickness is a reality even for the strongest climbers.

Isabella has Stage 4 lung cancer, which makes breathing especially hard.

Houssaye made plans to go on adventures — maybe the final ones — with each of her children, ages 16 to 25. Climbing to “the roof of the Americas” with her daughter Bella was one of them.

I have to admit, Ms. Houssaye is both pretty damn strong and admirable. After my diagnosis, no such thoughts ever came to me. While it’s true I have no children; climbing mountains was never a personal forte. It’s not that I don’t have ‘desire,’ but I presume the term ‘desire‘ would be different for each person.

Several weeks prior, I Googled ‘things to do after a terminal diagnosis.’ Google retrieved an accouterment of suggested links, but each mostly centered upon either financial or ‘bucket list.’

Financially speaking, I both a will, and living will. Car paid? Check. Home paid? Check. Will updated? Check. Bucket list created? Check. Check. Check. And so on.

Moving to the bucket list, I compared mine to those found online. The first thought online writers conveyed was accountability. Meaning that If you made a bucket list goal public, theoretically others would hold you accountable. Should such accountability exist, one is much more likely to accomplish said goal(s).

Many writers start with travel. Visit Asia. Hmm, did that. Africa? Check. Australia? Check. Europe? Check. South America? Check. All 50 states in America? Check? Yosemite National Park? Check. North Pole (that’s North Pole, Alaska)? Check.

There are specific items such as Heli-Ski in Valdez, Alaska. Nope, no interest. Sell a House for a Profit? Check, been there, did that. Attend Coachella Music Festival? No interest. Experience Burning Man? No interest. Be an extra in a Hollywood movie? No interest. Whitewater rafting at Cherry Creek, California? No interest. Bench press 200 lbs? Been there, did that. Have coffee with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company? Did that (but had to listen to how wonderful he was in comparison to everyone else). Fly in a Fighter Jet? Did that. Parachuted? Yup. Spend a day shooting video with Peter McKinnon?

Who the heck is Peter McKinnon? … Sorry, I digressed.

So, did I learn anything of value? My one point of note came from Michael Riley’s 2017 column, 7 Life Lessons from the Movie “The Bucket List.

“Imagine you were told you had 6–12 months left to live,” he wrote. “Talk about terrifying. What would you do with your time left?”

Riley’s list included three that gave pause for thought.

  1. Death often comes out of nowhere.
  2. Find the joy in your life.
  3. Bring joy to other people’s lives.

In the movie “The Bucket List,” Carter tells Edward that when death occurs, the gods ask the person two questions: First, “Have you found joy in your life?” Second, “Has your life brought joy to others?” My experience with those dying suggest most neither remember the joy found in living nor the amount of joy brought to others.

Life isn’t meant to be all about me. Yes, my dreams and goals matter, but it’s really about my impact and legacy. How many people’s lives can I touch while I’m here? Likewise, how many people’s lives can you touch while you’re here? How can you be a role model for others?

Maybe therein lay the best to-do list for everyone. One To-do: What can I do with the remaining portion of my life that will bring joy to others?

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