Category: Faith & Doubt


Question. If you were told you are going to die in three months, what would you do? That’s a similar message I received twenty months ago. The March 2019 prognosis went something like this, “Subsequent diagnosis indicated cerebrovascular disease .. with proper medicine and dietary changes, maybe minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or a couple of years.” I’ve been living in minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years since. In clinical terms, I met expectations, with some physicians claiming I even exceeded expectations. Tuesday, that “progress” was updated. ‘Years’ was removed. The subsequent redefinition becomes more impactful when life gets reduced to “minutes, hours, days, weeks, or months.”

Those in the medical profession (like me) talk about that one moment when a dying person first comprehends, on a gut level, that death is close. Nessa Coyle summarized that the habit of allowing thoughts of death to remain in the background suddenly becomes impossible when it can no longer be denied. Instantaneously, death is in your face.

Intellectually, I’ve had a long time to accept being terminal. And throughout the past twenty-months, I tirelessly treated (for lack of a better word at the moment) the physical, psychological, social, and spiritual domains of my soul. Even now, I feel neither feel depression nor anger. I am more horrified by death’s methodology than the literal act of dying. Monday morning’s episode revealed that the process of dying (for me) would either be long or swift. I fear the lengthy.

Clearly, I inherited my father’s computer wiring (brain schematic). For years he seemingly suffered endlessly with Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIA, a fancy name for short-term strokes) that arrive at night and leave by daybreak. Until it didn’t. Five years later, my father entered Hospice (a month ago). His demise has been slow, painful, and completely compromising, not only for me but also for my mother, who lived day and night by my father’s principal caretaker. 

My TIA arrived like a freight train after midnight and departed before dawn. Similar to early 2019, this was another warning shot, only bigger. It was a massive detonation. Sure I survived, but I was assured Mr. TIA would reappear and probably won’t leave. Doctors experts ran the statistics. About 1 in 3 (some studies claim 1 in 5) who experience a TIA are likely to experience a stroke within six months. The odds of experiencing this within 90 days are 2%-17%. My thought after being told I was going to die in months? In the immortal words of Burn Notice character Michael Weston, my physicians were saying, “Don’t make retirement plans.

One fortunate outcome (thus far) is that I’ve never lost control of who I was. This is an essential point for all facing death (or will face death). I may have lost control of the body, but I never lost control of me. Even during Monday’s TIA, I understood who I was, from where I came, the day, date, time, the problems facing me, the problematic discussion about whether one would find me with an unclean butt. Therefore, I hope that no matter how far I progress through this process, I believe there will be some part of me that will exist. It is a part I can knowingly take with me into the future to whatever lay beyond. 

As stated in many spiritual teachings, helping another die with a peaceful, positive state of mind is one of the most extraordinary acts of kindness we can offer. I think that should be everyone’s focus. Indeed, this will not be easy. Just the physical aspect of dying will be challenging. My goal is to be treated with respect, kindness, and love; to talk and be listened to; or, at certain times, to be left alone and in silence. People like me have spiritual needs – to make sense of life, their suffering, their death, have hope for what lies beyond, feel that they will be cared for and guided by someone or something wiser and more powerful than themselves. I am fortunate, for I believe someone awaits me and will provide guidance. 

After the doctors guided me through their updated prognosis, I momentarily reflected upon a recent Zoom business seminar. A seminar leader asked the roundtable of healthcare leaders what they had learned thus far through the pandemic. Most provided rather mundane versions of being a better spouse, parent, friend, or mentor. One person silenced the room. “I learned to humanize people and how not to be afraid of others, for everyone has value. It is a privilege to be a part of — even a small part of their life. And it’s a privilege to help them move on to wherever is beyond [death]. All of you inspired me to do that.”

And that’s been my goal. Hopefully, that’s what this blog has been about. May each of you be the part that helps people to move beyond. When things seem dark, find the power of love in those who surround you.

If you want to verify how clean hardwood floors are, spend a couple of hours face down sliding your face over each board. It is a cleaning tip I have neither known nor read. It certainly wasn’t on the front page of Good Housekeeping, on the back of a Mr. Clean bottle, or seen on YouTube. Nonetheless, there I was at 2:00 AM early Monday: rubbing my face across my hardwood floors because I could neither sit, stand nor crawl. I rolled over in bed and something went ‘bink.’ Maybe it was a ‘bink.’ Sounded like a ‘bink.’ Then again, it could have been a ‘boink,’ or possibly a ‘dink.’ I cannot accurately describe the internal sound. Doesn’t matter. What I tell you is the subsequent several hours trying to find a way to simply exist. 

I have lived this past couple of years believing I could have gotten lucky. Death would simply fail to notice me. We all do. And for the past couple of months, for the most part, I started thinking about two years plus 1. Then, out of nowhere, ‘bink.’ Sudden onset of severe & constant dizziness, nausea and vomiting, and imbalance. Did not matter if I stood (which I could not) or sat (which I could, only by leaning against a wall). Therefore on a cool crisp night, I lay face down on the hardwood floor. Struggling to coordinate a response, I realized a few critical points that impeded my ability to do anything but ride it out.

Both my overpriced iPhone 12 Pro Max and fancy-dancy Apple iWatch 4 were in the other room. My telephone? You guessed it: in the other room. If you read my blog, you’re probably asking, “Why did you do that?” My response is similar to that of my cat Cougar after being caught climbing the Christmas tree. “Cougar! Why did you do that?” He sheepishly shrugged, “I don’t know.” That’s one of the tricks to fancy-schmancy technology, it is all absolutely of no value when face down on the floor at 2:20 AM in the morning. Siri can’t hear. Mr. Google is asleep. Amazon is off. It’s just you and your thoughts. 

Believe it or not, my first pressing question was “How will I take a dump?” Second question.”I manage to sit on the toilet, can I wipe?” Agreed. These are not life and death questions, but at 2:50 AM, they seemed important. Ok. Important to me. Of course, I should have been trying to figure a way out of this mess. I should have been deciding how to call paramedics, a friend, or a neighbor but the thought of an unwiped behind permeated my thoughts. No. Thought of the Angel of Death finding me with an unwiped behind never occurred to me. It was just thought of an old, bald, fat man lying dead with an unwiped behind. 

“What we have?” asks the corner.

First officer, “An old, bald, fat dude with an unwiped a**.”

“Geez. Third time this week.”

“Yup,” nods the second officer.

As you know, I made it out alive. My doctor reminded me that I am, in fact, dying. Just not today. She also stated March 2021 is just around the corner, that I should expect more problems when nearing the point of no return. Five months is not that far away. Deep down, I know my body is getting worse. I may refuse to show it, but I feel it.

As a spiritual person, a Buddhist, for these 8 years or so, I know the time of death is uncertain but the truth of death is not. I take hope in knowing that everything is intertwined and linked. Like all things, we are constantly changing and regrouping. This means that transitoriness and change are basic features of spiritual life. The same applies to the human body: it too is constantly changing. And even laying on a cool hardwood flow, openly ready to vomit, my body teaches impermanence.

It is a fundamental error to think of one existing separate from others. The fact that I have a human body is considered a rare privilege. I am unsure what I did in some previous life to earn that privilege, even with the understanding I have not nourished it properly for a decade. I disown neither it nor God. I am not my body, but rather I am an inhabitant. I am the renter. I am sorry for the pain I caused my lessor, but I am proud it served me, even unto the end.

Kamma! It Just Is.

I’ve been off radar recovering from ongoing medical conditions. A week ago, one of my eyes decided that going on the fritz was imperative, and for whatever reason, vision blurred. Being the alpha male of my home (Ok, the only male in said home), I decided it was nothing — that the visual part of my anatomy awoke to have a bad morning. Indeed, once I drop coffee down my throat, all will be well, sharp just like the night before. It turns out the alpha male of the home was completely wrong.

There is backdrop. February 2018, I woke up with primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG) — called open-angle glaucoma — which is the most common type of glaucoma. Open-angle glaucoma is particularly dangerous because those who have it don’t know anything is wrong until significant, irreparable vision loss occurs. Until all hell broke loose, I had no pain, no noticeable vision loss, or any other hint that something is amiss. Yet the “silent thief of sight” struck. Four eye surgeries later, I was a new man. “Go forth and procreate,” clinicians said. (I was told everything was ok.) Until this week.

“Ocular hypotony is usually defined as intraocular pressure (IOP) of 5–6 mmHg or less.” The doctor said. “So, instead of having too much pressure, you’re experiencing too little pressure. Also, the cornea in your eye looks like sandpaper. That’s why you’re experiencing blurred vision. The problem is, we don’t know why you’re experiencing low eye pressure. Every test we’ve performed is normal.” For the time being, blurred vision is my life, and the forecast reads like a weather forecast: partly cloudy to rainy.

Simultaneously, I’ve been listening to the news. Depending upon whom one hears, President Trump is either near post-COVID treatment and is ready to leave, requiring oxygen, has a long road to recovery, or has no clear path to recovery. Trump and I are alike in many ways. Both of us probably have “no clear path to recovery.” Each of us has received medical treatment not afforded to the average person living their life on Mainstreet, U.S.A. Trump received medication that neither you nor I will ever receive. Yet, both of us have avenues to better healthcare than most.

I have known for nineteen (19) months that time is short. Specifically, my time is short. Maybe Trump and I are on a similar path, just different roads. I also affirm that this present life is only a part of the round of existence (samsara). This current life I am experiencing was conditioned by others who influenced me. In turn, my next existence will allow me to learn lessons in this life.

In COVID, there are usually some people who succumb while others escape, even though both are exposed to similar conditions. According to the Buddhist view, the difference between the former and the latter is inherited from the past. Other examples are the cases where though the treatment was given was successful, and the patient died, and wherein spite of ineffective treatment, the patient lived. There have also been cases of remarkable and unexpected recoveries when modern medicine has given up all hope for remission. Such cases strengthen the Buddhist belief that besides the physical cause of disease, illness can be the effect of lousy Kamma in past lives. An infection from Kammic cause cannot be cured until that Kammic result is exhausted. But the Kamma of every person is a mystery both to himself and others.

In reality, all of us know suffering is an inevitable part of life. Like old age and death, sickness is unavoidable. In other words, in this life, “it just is.” This does not mean that I will mitigate every ache and pain through available medical means, but I will accept and mindfully endure if suffering remains. Within the spiritual tradition, physical pain and illness can provide an occasion for the cultivation of healthy and desirable mental states, including forbearance and patience. Therefore, it is not an illness but rather our response to it that has spiritual value.

And maybe that’s my Kamma to learn.

My mother sent me to Sunday Morning Bible study early in my childhood. Much of it was unremarkable, except for a few lessons. One such lesson I remember. The teacher fashioned an animal from Play-Doh and held it out to the class. “Check out this awesome animal I just made! Pretty cool, huh? You know what, maybe this animal has special powers. What do you think?” Of course, we knew there were no special powers. Our teacher was not an artist. Soon, we moved onward to producing our images than the merits of hers. The lesson remains clear 50 years later. Most human inhabitants create a strange set of ‘gods’ which we’ll throw ourselves upon without exception. 

Jesus dramatically showed how the highly educated and the deeply devoted craft words and images about God versus the reality of knowing him. Rather than choose’ knowing God,’ a golden calf is substituted for truth. By instilling the virtues of an ornamental object, they are encouraging intellectual assent. As such, when the false God gets embedded, the outcome becomes tragic. 

In embracing the calf, we lean into vast swaths of character flaws. Instead of discernment, we embrace bankruptcies, self-medicate, and dive into the idolatry of individualism. The dissonance between faith ideals and faith are rerouted to the calf where populism, sexual abuse, environmental destruction, and moral failure to authenticate the message are carried out by people gathering at rallies and weekly worships for Christ. “Yes,” we exalt. “This person (our calf) is our Christ.”

In doing so, we absolve ourselves, and those elected, from responsibility for any action. “Ah,” we scream. “Damn that deep state (or family issues, skin color, economic background). It’s cause and effect, never accountability. “Don’t look here, look yonder. He’s responsible. They’re responsible. Not me.”

We kill Christ with a perverted form of truth and religiously wash our hands. We practice our sabbath through the willful and systemic murdering of dignity, truth, and honor. We condemn those labeled ‘different’ only to elevate our reputation among followers. 

America’s current calf has a long history of scandals: financial, sexual, and political. Yet our caricature of Christ appears as a wealthy republican or paranoid dictator as we neglect the real image of God, like those found in a lowly sharecropper, picking fruit, in the heat-soaked sun. Instead of a religion of peace, hope, love, and joy, our calf offers none.

Many evangelicals misunderstand our calf is a false prophet, as though all his words come from God. Like Children of Israel trying to find God in wrong places, supporters align. Some will protest, saying our calf puts prayer back in school, fights abortion, and meets with religious leaders. In doing so, we fail to ignore cruelty.

Christ said one can’t serve God and mammon. For either, you’ll love the one and hate the other (Matthew 6:24). Christ also said that inasmuch as you had done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me (Matthew 25:40). When Christians praise a rich man who is cruel to the poor and cheats them, when we praise asylum seekers’ cruelty, we are worshiping mammon. When one idolizes the vile, we exclaim, “Fuck you, God.” 

The unforgivable sin is specified in several Synoptic Gospels passages, including Mark 3:28–29, Matthew 12:31–32, and Luke 12:10. All of us need to reread these passages. For right now, we are God’s greatest blasphemy.

Did He See That?

Stuck in bed from excessive pain and excessive blood loss, l watched the world from a window. Laying horizontally, one views a different perspective of the world, its beauty, frailties, and trivialities. In the hours, and the hours after that, life’s opportunities are thrown to viewers to ponder, but only those who see.

I was taught God knows us. And, in an ideal world, not one shall fall ‘cept by His will. Christ said so. “Yet not one of them (sparrow) will fall to the ground without the will of your father.” Am I afforded the same? Does God willfully wish me to die painfully, either from a tumor or Parkinson’s like a multitude of others? If God sees sparrows fall, does He see all animals? How about cats?

A cat died today crossing the street. Naively darting into traffic to cross the street, its hind legs were trapped under a tire. In excruciating pain, it tried to maneuver back to safety, but could no longer function and finally succumbing to fate’s last breath. We were both unable to move: the cat and I, helpless, and unable to move. Hours later, the moment we both participated remain frozen. My only words, “Dear God!”

“Dear God? Did you will that? Was that YOUR will?” The driver who saw the cat drove on. Other vehicles passing by looked at the struggle and simply passed by. “Not my job,” one might say. “No time,” another may claim. In 2018, Five teenagers who taunted a drowning man while recording his death. Did God see it? George Floyd died with an officer kneeling on his neck. Was that God’s will? Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back. As Blake was shot, did Christ believe the will of YOUR Father was completed? What the hell was He thinking?

When an Antioch, Illinois teenager shot protesters in Kenosha, WI, was HE good with that? If Trump refused to condemn the shooter (and the act), was that God’s will? When Trump plays golf while many painfully die from COVID, are we good with that?  If God does nothing, should we? If our leadership willfully throws children in cages on America’s southern border, is that the type of tough love God condones? If we remove the Affordable Care Act and thousands die, does Christ say, “Cool.” I come to ask these questions because I know of no better forum to bring such grief. As the Apostle Peter once said to Jesus, at a moment of confusion and doubt, “Lord, to whom else can we go?”

During my incapacitation, In Fakebook’s show Sorry For Your Loss, the lead character typed a deep heart penetrating comment. “Everyone says it’s not the end of the world. That’s because it’s not the end of THEIR world.” I truly believe our world no longer feels grief because we no longer experience connection.  I had no close ties to the cat, but in a searing single moment, part of us shared a body of pain. As the cat suffered, I suffered.

Many of us will succumb similarly to the cat. We come. We live. We get ill. We succumb. However, in order for us to get past the ideology of the day (whether Trump, QAnon, GOP, Democrat, whatever), we’ll need to feel scars, In the presence of Jesus’ scars, Jesus instructed Thomas to “Feel my hands” and “Touch my side.” In a flash of revelation, Thomas saw the wonder of a God who in some way, stooped to take on our pain. In that sense, I can attest that where there is misery, there is Love (God).

In moments of pain, I want answers. “(Looking at Trump’s antics) Like God, why?” Yet God appears to remain aloof. Or does He? Frederick Buechner said, “I am not the Almighty God, but if I were, maybe I would in mercy either heal the unutterable pain of the world or in mercy kick the world to pieces in its pain.” God did neither. He sent love (Christ). God joined our world in all its unutterable pain to set in motion a slower, less dramatic solution … one that involves us.

All that has happened in these past four years demonstrates that your life—the decisions you make, the kind of person you are—matters now. Neither the cat nor I have a future. I would like to promise an end to pain and grief, and that one will suffer again. I cannot. I can, however, stand behind the promise that all things are redeemable, and can work together to a greater good. It’s a lesson God, Kanako, and that cat taught.

Trump’s fifty-plus minute diatribe in Charlotte, North Carolina reminded me of a Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. . . .” I flashed to 1963.

In June 1963, Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc publicly burned himself to death in a plea for President Ngo Dinh Diem to show “charity and compassion” to all religions. By November 1963, Diem was overthrown. Students of history, all of us should compare such self-sacrifice against the tyranny of the current administration. To be fair, Trump doesn’t hate protests, only dissent.

Pandering to cult leadership is not new. However harmful we thought previous leaders were, I don’t recall the overly targeted criticism of athletes who knelt, silently and peacefully, during the national anthem. Public rebuking NFL players in a series of tweets ended the NFL quarterback (Kaepernick); goodness of evil was emphasized when white supremacists marched; and black men and women are wrongly shot, most recently in the back. And most Americans sat on our asses and watched it all while the ‘shit-show’ ran amok.

In four short years, America witnessed institutional dismantling, justice to the preferred, truth for those who lied under oath, and rapping U.S. coffers for personal gain. In four years, healthcare dismantled, environmental standards ripped apart, legal norms suffocated, sought election interference from foreign powers, separated children from immigrant families and threw them into cages like stray dogs, told citizens to inject bleach (or maybe a light), spouted unproven medical quackery, and by December, will have witnessed 300,000 U.S. citizens die. We watch, all the while acknowledging the damage.

The president’s sister described him as a liar and fake. A former senior official at the Department of Homeland Security deemed him a danger to the country. CNN claims a prominent Fox News anchor had once called him “batshit crazy.” John Bolton, former Defense Secretary James Mattis, and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have described our leader as a danger to America. Sadly, none of these men or women were able to rise above the moment to demonstrate something greater. Perseverance of love failed miserably.

In his death, Thich Quang Duc demonstrated his compassion love – the need for bridges, not hatred. Presidential Historian Jon Meacham echoed Duc’s sentiment at the recent Democratic Convention, “Extremism, nativism, isolationism and a lack of economic opportunity for working people are all preventing us from realizing our nation’s promise, and so we must decide whether we will continue to be prisoners of the darkest of American forces or will we free ourselves to write a brighter better nobler story. Our (the American) story has soared when we have built bridges, not walls.”

Which story will you build? Bridges? Or walls?

Keeping It Real

Sometime in the coming months, this blog will either stop, or a huge gap between writing could occur. I may be out of pocket, or I must determine how to write one-handed. God, nature, or life gifted the metacarpophalangeal joint in the middle finger (my writing hand) a lump. The doctors do not believe this is a Ganglion cyst. The doctors explained that since conclusive diagnosis appears improbable, they suggest surgically removing it. I, however, must think of some way to explain it to my employer.

There are some notable examples. Entering on stage with a shoulder spica cast, Phyllis Diller opened with something like, “I want to report a typo on page 164 of The Joy of Sex.” Another person said she sliced her hand, opening a frozen waffle. Another claimed to have broken her nose while adjusting her bra. (She was fitting her bra and slipped, releasing her fist into her nose.) Having such examples provided a creative license. 

“Hey everyone. I was coming into work and saw a cat (correct that: kitten) stuck on an overpass ledge. I saved the kitten but cut my hand. I will be out of pocket for two to six weeks.” There is an attacker’s excuse. “I saved a person from being attacked. The attacker cut my hand. I will be out of pocket for two to six weeks.” Then there is this one. “My girlfriend and I were play wrestling. My cat came to defend her and bit me. Stupid cat. I will be out of pocket for two to six weeks.” (The last one was real.) I want a great story, for truth is boring. 

Which is better? You fought off a shark, or you have cancer? I was free-climbing and cut my hand or arthritis created a node (bone spur) that must be removed? I saved a child from falling over a cliff or waking up this lump and having no idea what the hell caused it? Yet, capturing my cat’s identification tag forces me to keep it real. 

Houdini was my adopted cat for six months in 1998. His name was provided by adoption agency staff who swore to his ability to escape from anything. Place Houdini in a kennel cage for dinner, and he would be out by dessert. One afternoon, I went to see Saving Private Ryan. Houdini was placed in his cage, double pad-locked, and inserted molded concrete around the exterior. He was out when I returned. 

What keeps all this real was his death. Houdini passed away in my arms. He was real. He was alive, and to some extent, remains active in me. Houdini never complained about being weak. He never allowed himself to feel life’s sorrow, nor did he tell a tall tale. And secretly, he is probably the single essential inspiration for living today. Houdini’s aim was to love everyone and everything. He lived a pure life love, for pain was inevitable, suffering was optional.

All lives will be fraught with some measure of pain, but it is in leaning away from that pain instead of accepting it with a grace that suffering occurs. Anthony de Mellow said let the Spirit work. Stop straining your spiritual muscles. Become attuned to your deeper self and let the force of love take over. Let the Holy Spirit take over. 

There is a comfort in accepting that life is a continual ebb and flow between things going smoothly and going to hell. I think being a spiritual person means becoming a real human being. Thich Nhat Hanh said, “It is not so important whether you walk on water or walk in space. The true miracle is to walk on earth.” In other words, be real. Therefore, my medical condition will be explained as “I woke up this lump and have no idea what the hell caused it. The doctors believe it should be surgically removed. I will be out for two to six weeks.” Keeping it real.

Prayer

I was recently requested to write a letter of prayer to God for a late friend and her widowed husband. A few days ago, I searched for my good letter-writing fountain pens, ink, and letterhead. I wrote that letter, addressed it to God, Jerusalem, paid for postage, and tossed it into the mail. I figured I was done, but content stayed with me. In the end, I knew I wrote a pretty crappy letter, and decided I had to redo it.

Turns out, I forgot how to write a letter. I’ve become so used to typing, editing, and spell check that pen and ink seemed like a foreign language. It was hard to transition words to paper. I was stuck by the constraints of six-by-nine stationery. Whatever I wrote, must have been awful, for the finished product sat like dead weight.

I have no problem expressing my soul, bearing witness to my insecurities, and failures. I don’t fear the world knowing them either, for I presume, we all have faults we wish to bury from the world. It’s just that my late friend and husband deserved a thoughtful prayer, one considered honorable under God versus one in which the writer spent more time in search of the pen than then on the letter. 

Just as I lost a wife to mental illness during the early ’90s, my friend required prayer of grace. I have no idea what my friend endured. She lost her life. He lost a wife. It’s not like enduring a colonoscopy: drink some liquid the night before, camp out in the bathroom until morning, be escorted to the clinic, have an endoscopy inserted up your behind, get the results, and be back at work in three days. Losing a loved one is a landscape-altering event. No matter how one claims they’re ready, just a handful ever are.

One blogger wrote of his pain. “My wife went from fit, healthy, and beautiful in Sept 2017 to not being able to walk by Christmas – I cannot understand the cruelty my wife faced. I know I have been trying to ignore my grief, but the pain and sadness are all-consuming and I’m struggling now to cope with everything; my job, my friends and there lives, my family, my wife’s family – I am drowning in a world where everyone seems to be normal and my life isn’t anymore. I don’t want this life. I don’t know how to cope.” Everyone will say what you’re feeling is normal, but there is no normal. 

Normal is inapplicable within the screaming silence of an empty home, the reverberation of every picture, and a garden that dares to bloom in Spring. Life and the memories of that which was lost circulate throughout the void and pulses in every heartbeat. True prayer embraces this pain, acknowledges the soul, lifts hopeless.

Prayer is a conversation. Prayer is a conversation with God, that friend, a favorite pet. Children in western forms of religion are taught that Jesus began his prayer with some form of “Our Father,  who art in heaven.” Jesus focuses on a distinct person — the Heavenly Father with whom he has a personal relationship. It should be the same for us. Make the person we want to communicate with, part of the process. Written prayers force us to articulate our thoughts and feelings inside.

Love required me to properly articulate what was being asked. Instead of going through the motion, each word had to be formulated with purpose and driven from an authentic heart. Authentic prayer is neither a ‘tagline’ nor purchasing a condolence card at Walgreens and stuffing it in the mail. Written prayer is the process of heartfelt understanding being granted through God. This type of prayer is agape love in the present moment. My second letter became effectively powerful. I only wish my first was just as thoughtful.

On an early weekend morning, I rolled over to the edge of the bed and realized I couldn’t get up. (At least initially I couldn’t get up.) “F●●●,” my body groaned. I reached for my cane, pulled myself upright, steadied on the bed’s edge.” I am getting old. Quickly. There’s a sobering likelihood that I will be one of the seven 65-year-olds who will be disabled before death. I’m not looking forward to it, but I find myself continually negotiating with ‘Father Time’ for a snippet’s reprieve.

Nora Ephron wrote, “What I believe … is that at a certain point in life, whether or not you’ve been diagnosed with an illness, you enter into a conscious, ongoing … negotiation between the two … This negotiation often includes decisions as trivial as whether to eat the second piece of pie as important as whether to have medical treatment that may or may not prolong your life.” I’m at a point where second helpings are intolerable. I know it. My body knows it. Call it intuition. Call it the ‘sixth sense.’ Call it, ‘Joe.’ Call it whimsical. Doesn’t matter. Most dying can name the time, and date life shifted.

July 15th, my body shifted. My back, stomach, intestines, and right hip awoke pissed off, as if to say, “We’re in charge, Obiwan. And we decided to drive off that cliff in the near horizon.” My former sister-in-law described a similar feeling. She awoke one morning, feeling something wasn’t right. “It was an ominous feeling,’ she casually noted during an afternoon lunch. A little over a year later, cancer claimed her life. Therefore, any notion that “70 is the new 50” never occurred to me, as I never expected to get to 70. My physician will test whether ‘60’ is my never ‘70.’

Several tests, including complete blood count and tumor marker, have been ordered. I won’t stumble into the results. I won’t get to read it online before hearing from my doctor. Post-results, I will hit ‘pause’ to wait and see what happens. I’ll internalize everything until I know just how true this ‘intuition’ (my decline) turns out, for I do not want to claim to be a victim. 

I never thought that anyone would be sorting through my life history 30 years ago. And at this point, there’s no optional editing that can be performed. History is written. I know how the scales of justice both God and man weigh each detail on trial. Afterward, everyone alive will understand I was no victim. It’s unavoidable. Accept it and move on. 

Moving forward is an interesting concept. Buddhists believe most illnesses are primarily karma’s negative energy-consuming the sufferer. If so, I have acquired a s●●●load of it. Such karma stems from greed, anger, and stupidity, including eating pizza, beer, and onion rings. I suppose a lot of cancer is avoidable. Not smoking reduces lung cancer significantly. Avoiding red meat reduces other forms of cancer. Protection from sun exposure reduces skin cancer. For me, cancer is … cancer. Just is. It’s part of life (at least mine anyway). I will take this situation like others and make it part of the path. The path is exclusive. It’s not filled with only right situations, but any situation. Fortunately, I have time to prepare. 

When told of the odds of my survival (a couple of good years), I instructed my physicians I was not interested in hearing about weird drug trials, new medications, or life-saving operations. What good would it do me? I decided to live until death. I refuse to get waylaid by the kind of emotional baggage that frequently accompanies others. Life is short. Admit your wrongs, make amends when you can, and live until death.

Parkinson’s can produce some wild dreams. Mine is no exception. I’ve never had evil forces chase after me, had a conversation with an ex-girlfriend in a submarine factory, or drive the Autobahn on a motorized Schwinn Bicycle. I did, however, dream Christ sat next to me and told me to write. “Here on earth or in heaven?” “Both,” He noted.

Let’s face it; thousands claim God has ordered them to perform something. St. Paul’s directive came on a Damascus road. By affirming Peter, Christ requested he lead the early church. And then there’s politicians, who’ve proclaimed God directed them to run for elected office. Other variations litter social media: God laid it on me, provided an idea, or said I must write a book. God may instruct someone to write, what comes after can be more demanding.

When you say ‘God told me to write’ the editorial segue is, ‘Yeah, but God hasn’t told a publisher to publish.’” Wayne Dyer struck a similar tone, “Ok. God wants you to write. Good. Who mentioned anything about publishing?” In response to a submission, a friend received this short, terse note, “I began reviewing your submission, but could not get past the abstract.” Such experiences frustrate God’s divine intent and direction.

If writing is about clarity, then being assigned to author material in Heaven should terrify the soul. Why? Well, everything is perfect. Think one can summarize Henry David Thoreau’s new work, “Walking Through Heaven?” Sure. The byline must be “Perfect.” Every cloud is perfect. Every raindrop is perfect. No vaccines, no medical discoveries. Why? Perfection. Assigned to watch Bobby Jones playing golf? “Perfect.” Sent to summarize Mozart’s Requiem of Heaven in C-D-F major? “Perfect.” Perfect is near impossible to publish, and I’m not perfect.

Therefore, even if you’re sure God instructs one to write, don’t infer publication. Maybe God wants you to write for reasons unfathomable―like growth. Maybe God wants something to share with a select set of people. Being inspired by God doesn’t have to mean perfection; maybe it means pleasing. Perhaps God seeks laughter, humility, thoughts of the soul, or friendship. One thing for sure, if the call is real, you can’t run.

Running means selfishly retaining everything for oneself. Therefore, personal feelings would matter more than others. Had I buried my talent and my message like the servant in the parable of the talents (the one who thought he was smart by keeping that one talent safe, I’ll run afoul for not investing it into others (Matthew 25:14-30). The more significant theme is trying to discover the larger purpose.

Paraphrasing Ken Boa, “God entrusted us with certain resources, gifts, and abilities. Our responsibility is to live by that trust by managing these things well, by design and desire.” Indeed, my writing skills cannot compare to great historical works of literature. But God asked me to write. You might be able to sing, play an instrument, or perform advocacy. Others of us may be good at sports or able to work as builders. Other talents might include understanding, patience, cheerfulness, or the ability to teach others. And we must be willing to share it.

Therefore, I am going to answer the call and write.

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