Category: Faith & Doubt


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?

I awoke stiff. Without personally checking emotion at the door, I could have screamed — the cervical bones within, and maybe the tumor within, grows angrier each day. Still, things moved. Legs worked. Arms worked. Fingers grasped. Nothing seemed to operate efficiently as yesterday.

It’s a sick person’s life. The body groans. Maybe it’s a moaning borne from careless days of abandoned discretion, discarded thoughts and pushing the barriers of my body beyond natural law.

My brother asked, “What caused the tumor? Something caused it.”

In truth, it could have been a wanton disregard of my body. Maybe carelessness. Maybe even genetics. Could also have been exposed to white phosphorus emissions, a heavy dose of radiation, exhaust carcinogens from having worked 12 years a slave for American Honda or any number of exposures.

I could only muster, “Life. There is no reason. Shit happens.”

“Maybe there’s a ‘new normal,’” he replied.

A new normal. Hmm. ‘New normal?’ How does one define ‘new normal?’

For anyone with a terminal illness, there comes the point in time when ‘normal’ undergoes several stages of metamorphosis. Paraphrasing from Heinrich Harrer, “I am now in a place where time stands still, yet everything moves.” Prediagnosis, the world stopped for no one. Post-diagnosis, the world stopped for no one. All of us are skateboarders on a cosmic marble.

Life continues regardless of trials, tribulations or triumphs. At work, there are projects, plane tickets, phone calls and money spent to complete them all. Nights are filled with my mother’s surgeries, my father’s dementia, and any number of assorted crises from friends, family and neighbors alike. Strangely, each offers a reprieve from my burden, yet none affords the pardon silently sought.

My life stopped April 22, 2019, 1:09 PM. Diagnosis? Tumor. I wonder if others experienced the same.

I’m not an expert in medical systems, PET or MRI. But I’ve had enough training from countless EHR installs that even I could tell across the room. My PET scan measured how much work cells were doing. Cancer is very active. And part of my neck scan looked light city at night, from an airplane. When there is no cancer, the film appears dark. “Double Fucked,” or DF, as some nurses call it, looks like downtown Los Angeles. My scan didn’t look like Los Angeles. Instead, it looked like Saint Louis.

The doctor used many words — the last few reinforced what I already knew. Treatment will focus on arresting the tumor. “Quality of life,” not cure.

The EHR delivered the scan electronically. I read it on April 22, 2019, 1:09 PM. The day my life stopped.

An acquaintance from work noticed I was lost in thought.

Homesick?

Interesting question,” I thought. “Wherever I live, I shall feel homesick for upstate New York. I often think of walking the banks of the Hudson River, where I can still hear the cries of wild geese and deer as they darted throughout the clear, cool moonlight. I remember no other home, not even that of my childhood where I can be so instantly immersed.

Admittedly, I wished to have been walking the Hudson, where both comfort and hope percolated and bathed the soul. It’s where I felt the presence of God, just as I do now. And just like MacClean wrote, “I am haunted by water.” The Hudson haunts me.

Laying in bed, a breeze spilled through the open window. I mustered to sit forward and peered outward at the cars three-quarters of a mile away. A silence fell upon me. There, in the late-night silence, my thoughts stirred. Not everyone will understand my journey. And that’s OK. I have to this life, for I can live no other.

Once again, I paraphrased Harrer, looked up to the stars above, and silently whispered unto the heavens.

I can’t say I know where you want me to go, nor if my bad deeds can be purified. There are so many things I have done that I regret. But when I come to a full stop, I hope you understand that the distance between us is not as great as others may claim.”

I rolled back to bed and muttered to the Godly presence still with me.

It’s not what has happened to me that counts, it’s how I choose to respond. I will give my best.”

Laid quiet for some time. I sighed heavily for a moment. Just like others before and after me, my life will change irretrievably; priorities, aspirations, and promises would go unfulfilled.

By the way, please start time again?”

On December 22, 1944, at about 11:30 in the morning, a group of four German soldiers, waving two white flags, approached the American lines using the Arlon Road just south of Bastogne.

The Germans sent soldiers to take the American surrender. Awoken from a deep sleep, Brig. Gen. McAuliffe, said “Nuts!” The response was typed and delivered by Colonel Joseph Harper, commanding the 327th Glider Infantry, to the German delegation. It read accordingly:

December 22, 1944

To the German Commander,

NUTS!

The American Commander.

In March, I read of a Kaiser Permanente robot rolling into a patients room in the intensive care unit and telling an elderly patient by video he would likely die within days. In some ways, I felt more fortunate. Mine were posted on my EHR account. It was ‘transactional.’

A tumor in the 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.

There’s good news and bad news. Good news: Highly likely the tumor is benign. Bad news: Tumor is the size of a walnut, surrounds the spinal cord and or nerves. Prognosis? Nuts.

Nuts!

Every day someone gets the news that a loved one has been diagnosed with a terminal disease. The shock, accompanied by a ferocious sense of foreboding and a powerful dose of premature grieving, can be overwhelming and paralyzing. However, my first inclination was not despair. The gnawing torment some experience never occurred. No nausea. No dread. No anxiety. Using the Kubler-Ross five stage model as a measuring stick, I leapfrogged denial, anger, bargaining, depression and landed on acceptance.

I’ve known since 2014 that my internal clock was running out. I cannot explain it. I instinctively knew death was nearing. My time working in hospitals reveals that even if loved ones refuse to discuss death, the patient knows it is coming. I just presumed it would have been quicker, for five years later, I’m still around. However, in the annals of life, 5 years ago is just a moment ago.

So, what’s next?” my boss asked.

I doled out a usual quip, “Burning a hole through my deductible.”

What I really thought was “Relationships.”

Author Karen J. Warren wrote in 2016 that she was diagnosed with terminal illness. As she confronted the truth about her medical condition. She articulated the personal, philosophical, and medical issues when discussing end-of-life options. However, the following stays with me.

I knew that what gives my life meaning, what really matters to me, are relationships—relationships with myself, with other people, with animals, with the natural world. Creating or nurturing these relationships is what I value most.

The precious time I have left matters! I found myself asking, “Will doing this or saying that make a positive difference to my health or enhance my well-being?” For example, does it make a difference to me whether I participate in a research program, take an X-ray or have a mammogram? My guiding principle has been this: “If doing something makes a positive difference in my life or enhances my well-being, then do it; if it doesn’t, then don’t do it.”

So, nuts.

I will do something that many fail to do: Focus on things that will make a positive impact.

You should too.

WaterExcept for accepting that I could depart this at any moment, I’ve lived a relatively good life. Quiet days of work rolled into quiet nights and quiet hours of sleep. I’ve traveled many parts of the world; some parts were I while others are splendorous. Only two occasions where I ever experienced danger: Once in South Africa and another time in Atlanta. Still, up through last week, I never believed an actual physical assault would visit me.

As Longfellow would write:

Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life, some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

Longfellow’s 1842 poem basically means everyone will experience difficulty and heartache at some point. The “day” is a metaphor for “life.” So, when I reflect back upon the black four-door Ford pick-up that pulled alongside my parked car, I thought little of it. Moments later, I was targeted simply because I carried a cane as the assaulter perceived I was on ‘public assistance,’ “sucking money” from society.

Looking back, I presume that somehow the offender thought beating the crap out me would somehow motivate me to get a job. Turns out he was wrong. I have a job. I am actively employed.

The battle lasted less than twenty seconds, for since my back was sore, I carried a self-defense cane. After listening to how I was a leech on society, a quick flick to the offender’s left shin left him crumpled in pain. He quickly stumbled back to his truck and sped away.

The police report was ‘matter of fact.’ Comments such as, “you were lucky,” to I “was smart,” should have run. My mother gasped. Colleagues momentarily “wowed.” And the world quickly moved on. I sat. Alone. In thought.

The rate of nonfatal assaults on American men 60 and older increased by 75.4% between 2002 and 2016, a new government report estimates. For women, the assault rate increased by 35.4% between 2007 and 2016. Researchers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlighted the need to strengthen violence prevention among older adults.

There’s a small, tiny part of me that wants to meet this fellow again – not for bridging wounds, but rather, to simply wreck his day. However, as a Buddhist, I use several problem-solving or approach coping strategies. They center on direct action and planning. These are directed at solving a problem and mitigating sources of distress. These coping strategies include:

  • Meditation: For the development of love and compassion;
  • Self-Help: Collecting information concerning the justice system, community resources, common experiences amongst victims of violent crime, and so on; and
  • Activities towards empowerment: This includes taking self-defense classes to reduce the possibility of future victimization; activism, such as sharing one’s experience with others to advocate for the protection of future victims.

Since becoming a Buddhist, I have tried to have a deep commitment to love and compassion – it is a commitment to nonviolence. In reality, should I ever meet my attacker again, I will borrow the Dali Lama:

I am reminded that all of us are basically alike. Therefore, I neither speak with a feeling of anger nor hatred. Yet, as a member of the world’s community, I recognize how dependent we are in one another. The injuries you wished to cause would not have fed one person, would not have given a home to a homeless man or provide shelter from a Winter wind. Your act wouldn’t have extinguished the level of hope within me, for I have crucified myself far worse than you ever could have achieved. Simply put, I ask only to walk and understand your pain.

My attacker claimed I was weak. He sees not the living water within. What is more yielding than water? If you beat a pail of water, can you destroy it? The pail, maybe yes. Yet the water escapes. Over time, water (love) wears upon the strongest – few can withstand its strength.

So, I am water … that which is both elusive and stronger.

Happiness

Beautiful passage by Hermann Hesse (July 2, 1877–August 9, 1962).

For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. . . . Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.

I reached for the blood pressure kit after being woken early by a racing heart. 3:47 AM flashed as my wrist blood pressure monitor beeped through its cycle. In less than a minute, 98 beats per minutes flashed, followed by 168 systolic and 87 diastolic. Should my BP have increased, I might be at increased risk.

I downed some medications, leaned against the bathroom sink. A momentary look at the toilet produced a soft laugh. “What if I die while using the toilet?” I muttered. A greater laugh ensued thinking of the poor slob who found me sitting on a toilet at the very moment I checked out. Hell of an obituary though, ‘Great guy, bad aim.’

By 9:15 AM my blood pressure had stablized to 117 systolic and 67 diastolic with 57 beats per minute.

Staring at the world from my dining room table, I asked a two-word question, “What’s next?” Having worked in the medical arena for the past decade, there were only a few people who wanted to hear how the patient was honestly doing. Most want to hear hope, courage, and positivity, not how unlikely the chances one would survive or how to live well during the process. For patients like me, there are no breakthroughs. There is no last-minute precision medicine or gene therapy. Such dialogue is written for only made-for-television movies.

I made one attempt to tell a close friend last night of my diagnosis.

Hey Cara,” I started. “I stopped to have some medical tests run late last week.

And of course, you’re doing great.

Well,” I sighed.

Interrupting, “You know my ankle is still bothering me from when I tripped six weeks ago. I have an appointment on Monday. Should I keep it?

Why not?

Because,” she whined, “I am starting to feel better. I know I complained about it, but I believe it’s getting better.

Then cancel.”

Oh well,” she continued. “I still think there’s some swelling. And it hurts if I push on it. But I have to pay a copay and the copay for x-rays. Medical stuff, always robbing anything, supposedly to help the people they serve.

I gave up.

What’s next has been highly contested for several hours. I could complete my 2019 Income Tax Return. Then again, would the effort prove valuable if I die April 14th? There is a humorous part of my soul that wants to die without doing taxes. Or maybe, I would complete them, but not mail it. When the tax man cometh, he will find a handwritten ‘Post-It-Note’ at the top of my folder, “I left $50,000 in the …” An additional ‘Post-It-Note’ underneath would continue, “If you go to my computer, you will find I deleted my browser history …” Those words in and of itself might keep them busy for months.

Many Buddhist teachings and quotes find their way into things, but they sometimes come across as nonsensical phrases meant to sound obscure. There is meaning behind the quotes. Many lessons remain useful today. When I write of all the things I thought, what’s next was answered in one somewhat silly Buddhist quote.

Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

Many of us are caught in the results of what we’re working toward or the way things will be when we finally achieve something. Truth is, that getting to where you want to go, being successful or even receiving a prognosis of a terminal disease doesn’t mean the work you’re called to do goes away. Up until the transition, I will probably do many of the same things I did before my diagnosis. If I cannot continue the mission called to do, if I can’t take on the simple tasks as best as I can, how can I conquer bigger things God requests?

Do your work. Do it well, and regardless of whether the message is a success or downright depressing, do it again. It’s all about being in the moment.

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