Category: Faith & Doubt


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

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

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

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

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

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

First

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

Second

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

Third

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

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

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

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

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

Fourth

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

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

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

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

Fifth

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

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

We are not alone.

I wrote the following letter reply to an email from mother. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, my father is entering the last years of his life. And while I have yet to inform my parents of my diagnosis, I wrote what I hope was a well thought response.

My mother’s letter is as follows.

I’ve been wanting to share with you something Dad said the other day.  I made a small Christmas wall hanging and said (to dad), “Let’s put it up because it’s so close to Christmas anyway and it won’t get wrinkled.” 

I wished Dad a merry Christmas. 

He replied, “Yes – for the next 2 Christmases.” 

“And many more,” I replied. 

“For the next 2 Christmases”. 

“And for many others after that?” 

“Oh yeah. Sure.” replied very offhandedly’

So, I’m wondering if that’s what just came to his mind or he knows something I don’t? Or, can he can sense something?


Dear Mom:

I read your note with interest. I can attest to some extent of nature’s intuition. So, I will get to this upfront.

Every day in medicine, there are numerous examples of patients who know they are about to die, even if no one else does. They often have a feeling. And even though doctors don’t know how to explain it, the intuition is rarely taken seriously.

In hospital terms, when we talk about instinct, we usually speak about expert clinicians grasping diagnoses in ways that seem to defy rational explanation. Doctors appear to know almost intuitively which data to focus on and which to ignore. Of course, their decision-making is based on experience and deductive reasoning (and perhaps on evidence, too). Still, it seems almost mystical.

Personally, I have learned the years to take such intuitions seriously.

I can’t remember if I told you this or not. Instincts can be derived from other sources. In 2007, The New England Journal of Medicine had the story of a cat named Oscar who lives in a nursing home in Providence, R.I., and seems to have an uncanny sense for when elderly residents are about to die.

Oscar goes to the patient’s rooms, curls up beside the patient — even those residents for whom he has previously shown little interest — and purrs. Staff members learned that this is a telltale sign of impending death, as they’ve witnessed Oscar’s similar behavior in the deaths of at least 25 patients. “This is a cat that knows death,” one doctor said. “His instincts that a patient is about to die are often more acute than the instincts of medical professionals.”

There are, of course, other signs that can guide intuition. Natural aging is one. Or maybe it’s a combination of natural aging and the will (internal will) to remain meaningful. Then there’s Google.

If you’re after a bit of a break from worrying whether killer robots will murder us all, don’t worry: Google knows when we’re all going to die. Google’s Medical Brain AI team has been working on neural network software which can scan through a person’s electronic health records, pull together relevant information, and quite effectively determines how long that person will live.

Accuracy nears 96%.

It turns out Google is efficient at sorting through mountains of data, including scribbled notes on old charts, and turning them into useful predictions while also pointing out to healthcare practitioners where they’ve pulled the data.

Then there’s just plain age. Turns out, the older you get, the accuracy increases. Why? Because people get older and die.

In truth, if you create an algorithm that assesses patients against the mean average age of that person in the population, you reasonably accurately and quickly dial into an expected natural life. For instance, FlowingData website calculates that I have a 10% chance of dying in the next ten years and a 26% chance within 10 – 20 years. And if I input’s dad’s age, he has an 88% chance of dying between in the next several years.

My company has a similar AI program. I inputted dad’s age, some essential background information, recent medical trends, and the result nearly equals dad’s ‘intuition’ – meaning the AI estimated dad is likely to pass within two to two-and-one-half years, with a 47% chance likelihood of a circulatory issue (heart or lung).

People are amazed when I tell them fairly accurate things. It’s not magical. In truth, having been in the medical profession and installing all these systems, I know the statistics, even weird ones. For instance, I know that between 45–50, the relative majority of deaths are due to cancer. As cancer gradually declines in importance, circulatory diseases become the leading cause of deaths those between the ages of 75–80. Mental disorders (Alzheimer’s, dementia, etc.) and diseases of the nervous system are common causes of death after 80+ years of life.

Of course, dad knows none of this. He does, however, know his own body. He’s tired, and like many nearing a winter morn’, he may simply want to look moving forward.

Therefore, here’s my suggestion. Forget all the statistics, mind over matter, intuition, etc. Focus on trying to find a way to enjoy the time you have and what you have left. In a way, you are in an enviable position of knowing and experiencing “the ultimate relationship.”

And what’s that?” you ask.

The ultimate relationship we can have is with someone who is dying. This landscape of such a relationship is so varied and so vast that it not only renews, but you’ll discover a new level of intimacy never experienced. In this way, love will teach a certain sense of gratitude for what we have been given.

But … prepare for when the day comes … for it’s sooner than later.

As I write this, I have not seen the final Star Wars film: The Rise of Skywalker. Yesterday I saw its latest theatrical trailer. After viewing its sequence, I placed my pen on the nightstand, took off my eyeglasses, and rubbed my forehead. 

I winched.

I watched these characters from late high school through near retirement. Each trilogy was, in effect, a story. The prequels were of Anakin Skywalker. The original trilogy seen in late high school was of Luke, Leia, and Hans Solo. And the remaining sequel is of Rey. 

I winched not because the movies were terrible. There weren’t. My anguish came from the bowl of my soul. It came from the fact that in forty-years of watching, what good has “The Force” produced? 

Yeah. Yeah. I get it. The movie is of good over evil — lightsabers, and light versus darkness.

I told a friend of my thought during lunch. 

Without hesitation, she stated, “Indirectly, perhaps you’re asking what does the belief in God produce?”

Perhaps,” I replied.

Maybe I’ve come to these conclusions after having only two, three, years of life. If the characters had been real, what did belief in “The Force” produce? Did the technology provide any benefit to life? Many people died. People on various planets suffered interminably, and several planets were destroyed, meaning millions, if not hundreds of millions, died. By all accounts, there is no Shangri-la, no affordable healthcare, technology is used to versus cure and idiot leaders. 

At the end of Avengers: Infinity War, the villain Thanos acquired the infinity stones that let him snap his fingers and turn half the population (universe) to dust. In doing so, Thanos believed he achieved his goal, a universe free of suffering. If any one of us held such power, why is it that the first creative thing we must do is kill? 

Hey! The same holds today.

Maybe Huffington Post Contributor Anamika Ojha was right. She once wrote, “The most crucial lesson that Star Wars taught was that there are heroes and villains in each of us.

You’ve seen God,” my friend stated. 

Yes. I have.” 

“I haven’t,” she replied.

And it’s true. I have seen God. I have seen heaven, a darker side courted me, and yet embraced by beauty. And by God, I continue to question today what the hell is going on.

Yet, I believe.

Jesus said, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who believe without seeing.” Maybe that’s the lesson. Belief. 

The final shot of Star Wars: The Rise of Sky Walker, projects a gorgeous image of Rey. She’s the new icon of hope. Daisy Ridley becomes our sense of hope. And the voice from elsewhere in the room (or maybe from beyond) echoes some memorable lines from the first film: “The Force will be with you,” says Luke. “Always,” adds Leia.

Yes, Luke. I believe.

I’ve been these past several weeks dealing with pain management and strategizing end of life decisions. Turns out, the two years of quality life estimated by physicians some six months ago, may be an estimate.

In truth, I know life is just an estimate. However, I feel my body is giving way to nature. Some mornings, I’ve barely been able to get out of bed. And when standing, I experience being lightheaded after standing, blurred vision, and neuropathic pain that often comes and goes on its. Some days, the pain has been unrelenting. Other days, it comes and goes. The character Shane Falco from The Replacements summarized it perfectly. I use his analogy when describing how to understand in anticipating life’s end.

“You’re playing (living life), and you think everything is going fine. Then one thing (medical problem) goes wrong. And then another. And another. You try to fight back (medical treatment), but the harder you fight, the deeper you sink. Until you can’t move … you can’t breathe … because you’re in over your head. Like quicksand.”

People ask how I decided not to continue most treatment. Los Angeles Times columnist David Lazarus nails my thoughts in a recent column.

“Americans pay more for healthcare than anyone else in the world. Yes, for all those trillions of dollars spent annually, we have a lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality rates than other developed countries — two critical metrics for judging the effectiveness of a nation’s healthcare.

But the thing that never ceases to astonish me is how needlessly cruel our system is. I’m talking about the small acts of greed and pettiness that make a terrible situation for the sick even worse.”

Gail Boudreaux, Anthem’s chief executive, formerly executive vice president of UnitedHealth, received total compensation of $14.2 million last year. Therein lay my personal ‘red line.’ I refuse to subject myself to endless rounds of cruelty and infinite debt. I refuse to beg for mercy from healthcare providers who only seek to benefit from my misery.

In 2012 I wrote about a coworker who asked how I deal with the pain. “Well,” I explained, “I reflect upon the moment, and remember that I am not having a bad day. My body is, but I am not.

A recent spiritual experience reinforced the timelessness of my life. I will summarize that experience in future writing. However, a master I read of laughed at how easily we grasp at identity. To which, he said, “I am none of that. I am not this body, so I was never born and will never die. I am nothing, and I am everything. Your identities make all your problems. Discover what is beyond them, the delight of the timeless, the deathless.

Therefore, I choose ‘timeless.’

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~

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