Category: Life Lessons


Parkinson’s and constipation are brethren. These brethren dance hand-in-hand, just like that couple’s wedding you attended, knowing all the while of the painful divorce forthcoming. In theory, not all Parkinson’s victims experience constipation. I often reflect on this medical tidbit while sitting on the toilet as my body tries to crap the life out of me. Over the months, I’ve experienced dark blood, red blood, little blood, and no blood. I never thought of dancing after a bowel movement, but do when experiencing any movement without blood. My doctor grimaces at my descriptions and reverts to recounting protracted dissertation learned from some medical textbook seventeen years prior.

Common in Parkinson’s, constipation results from the slowness of movement (bradykinesia) and muscle rigidity. My physician noted 65% of Parkinson’s patients get this condition. “Not me,” I retorted. “I have it 100%.” This bit of levity goes unnoticed as she regurgitates a litany of god awful suggestions guaranteed to improve my situation. Recommendations included a dietician to advise on diet and fluids, a physiotherapist to help with abdominal exercises for passing stools, a speech therapist for any swallowing problems, and an occupational therapist who can suggest ways to overcome eating and drinking difficulties.
I’ve neither experienced any problem consuming kettle chips nor beer. Both go down easy. I am unsold on a physiotherapist, as I can barely walk 60 yards without extreme pain. My speech appears solid, “Hey, bartender? Draw me another brew.” I could swallow a laxative, but my only real experience with laxatives occurred in the military watching Calvin (whom we loathed) shit all night after consuming ninety percent of a brownie pan laced with Exlax. Therefore, I consulted my help desk: Google. When in doubt, ‘Google.’

Google tips were undesirable. First, relax. When on the toilet, it’s essential to relax. Don’t become preoccupied with your movement’s process. However, it’s hard not to be preoccupied when you can’t shit. Not sure about anyone else, but at 1:00 AM, sitting on the toilet, one gets somewhat preoccupied. Secondly, avoid medicines such as narcotic pain relievers, antidepressants, aluminum-containing antacids, blood pressure medications, drugs for Parkinson’s disease, and iron supplements can also cause problems. (No Sh**!) Avoiding them would kill me. The only medicine I’m not ingesting is antidepressants.

I wish I could have seen the clinician’s face upon reading my 140 character (or less) text via the healthcare app. “Request antidepressant. Thus, I won’t feel depressed about not being able to sh**.” I received a one-word response, “No.” They were kind to include a ‘cut and paste’ diatribe on “… drinking at least four to six glasses of fluids a day. Water and fruit juices are best for preventing constipation.” I wanted to reply, “What about beer? Beer has water?” However, I remember Christ stipulating not to put the lord to the test and turned to a better path.

I contacted a former Buddhist teacher in San Francisco. After the usual pleasantries, I asked about her natural remedies to treat constipation. “Buddha was considered a great physician and psychotherapist due to his compassion and wisdom,” she reflected, seemingly lost in the moment. “Therefore, you must know the suffering, abandon the cause, obtain cessation, and follow the path.” (Goddammit. I just need to sh**.)

In my physician’s waiting room, someone highlighted Anthony de Mello. It was placed on old Gideon’s Bible, you know the book all suddenly searched before receiving the “you’re pretty screwed” diagnosis. Highlighted in yellow, de Mello said, “Most of us suffer in the spiritual life because we do not accept ourselves. Maybe this is the biggest obstacle to the spiritual life. We cannot see our beauty or our power unless we see it against the backdrop of god’s loving us.” I’ve never considered my 1:00 AM toilet sessions as a failure to accept myself. Should I accept the fact that I can shit, can’t shit, or could shit? Certainly, most feel more power post-movement as opposed to pre-movement. Ugh … this is insufferable.

I decided to return to drinking, which eliminates suffering (albeit temporarily). “Hey, bartender. Draw another brew. I’ll be right back … Have to hit the room.” And, “Can I get an order of kettle chips?”

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.

MSNBC Chuck Todd asked Former Obama Political Advisor Valrie Jarrett if she was exhausted. Jarrett responded, “No,” while I intuitively noted, “Hell, yeah.” One could presume Jarrett and I were miles apart. Not really, for there are many definitions of exhaustion. Contextually, Todd referenced the current political climate, the purposeful segregation of any person non-white; the purposeful disparagement of anyone unwilling to adorn servitude to a demigod; or the systematic stripping of humanity from anyone considered unelite. My exhaustion comes from witnessing a single person sarcastically strip human dignity from those he serves. Many think my sense of sarcasm is a problem. I believe there’s a deeper, more insidious problem.

Sarcasm has many definitions: most being construed as a verbal irony that mocks or ridicule. The ‘sarcasm’ I’m referring to originated from the Greek words “sark” meaning “flesh,” and “asmos” meaning “to tear or rip.” So it means “ripping flesh,” an extensively bloody image of speech many world leaders use daily. Trump says he was being ‘sarcastic’ and joking about the use of disinfectants in the body. Trump also claims to be sarcastic when he claimed Jimmy Carter was dead, when asking Russia to find the 30,000 Clinton emails, that Obama and Clinton were founders of Isis, and so on. Such as it is, none captures the genuine threat to America.

Nearly four years into the 45th presidency, America has failed to find the middle ground. We have lost the ability to rally to that which unites. We have evolved into concurrent battles between countries, differences in race, religion, gender, or sexuality. All of those propose one segment of society is better than another because of genetic predisposition. We are forcing core values upon everyone. What happens when we strip our voice and moral compass from the world?

We’ve made countless choices throughout our lives, some that felt morally right and some that felt ethically wrong. Known or not, our choices will impact future generations—intolerance rules. Police kneel on a black man’s neck for over 8 minutes, and riots tear apart cities; police officers called on a black family for talking between swimlanes; a woman shopping at Staples was thrown to the ground sustaining injuries after asking another customer to wear a mask. A July 2020 environmental report indicated that due to the lack of climate-related commitments, the world is on a path for a temperature rise of more than 3°C. Such increases will devastate lives all over the world. Poor choices on racism, poverty, and social injustice are our legacy. As such, leadership has failed to lead.

Leaders often state we must be the change we wish the world to be. Rhetorical speeches denounce society’s continued path to segregationism and a willingness to revisit supremacy. If our leaders cannot lead, we must, for many issues, are too important, too critical. Black Lives Matter. Hunger matters. Education matters. Food poverty matters. The environment matters. Ancient texts state the Buddhist said nothing is permanent. However, look closely, and one will discover that everything is part of a larger, cyclical pattern of renewal.

The world is continually changing, and our morality needs to keep pace. We need to pay more attention to unintended consequences and risks and stop excusing our actions with, “I didn’t mean to hurt anyone.” We need to pay attention to negligence and recklessness. In his last Op-Ed, John Lewis wrote, “Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem America’s soul by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.”

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.

Dominoes

“I wish your father were a part of our lives,” my mother blurted while playing Dominoes. Since suffering a stroke, my father’s health declined from a self-professed sports addict to being unable to recognize anyone, including my mother. In the wake of Coronavirus, many families are staring at walls, hoping for an idea ‒ or perhaps a miracle ‒ to come through those walls that will return life to the ‘normal’ once known. Such miracles rarely, if ever, occur, and we are remanded to rehashing previous events, hidden wrongs, and unquenched anger.

If the story correct, my grandmother said my father created chaos wherever he went. For our family of four, chaos spared none. Preferring to drink with ‘bar buddies,’ my father was absent for a significant portion of family life. Post-stroke, he disappeared again, shuttled off to assisted-living, left to manage his thoughts alone. Yet, each family member is left to balance inner thoughts, and as walls close inward, secrets begin oozing from the crevices.

Sixty or so years is a long time to carry grudges, but my mother’s pain appears just as raw yesterday as it did 50 years earlier. Like 40 percent of children sleeping in homes where fathers do not reside, my mother bore the responsibility of managing both the household and children. Dark secrets buried nearly half-a-century were suddenly barfed onto the dining room table. I can personally attest to the consequences of a life stuffed into canyons far more profound than anything created.

My father neither saw my brother or I as we were, he saw us only as he wished we were. Being quite adept at sports, my father drew nearer to my older brother as I struggled to find shelter, to hide or fit. To be anything else, I learned, often entailed humiliation. As the years went, I found a way to mingle while never exposing the inner child who desired love. Turning eighteen, I left.

I carried forth my father’s legacy: chaos. At times I skipped school and received poor grades. I committed a crime, but only by God’s grace, I was never prosecuted. I was promiscuous and was foundationally set for poor relationships, including several divorces. Unknowingly, I became my father, and the journey to unwind it has been long.

Being so flawed, I often reflect upon the nature of perfection. Recently, I asked Ms. K. why, out of all the people in heaven, she waits for me. “Because you are always seeking to improve. The danger for you is that you have become focused on shortcomings, that I would judge harshly, unable to accept and forgive your faults. I want someone real, not perfect.” And therein lay the hope for us. Maybe perfection in God’s eyes is the desire to improve. 

I should stress that we should not accept ourselves. By that, I mean that we shouldn’t swallow the notion to “accept ourselves” as a license for complacency. We shouldn’t say, “I’m going to accept myself. Therefore I have no desire to change.” I accept my desire to change. We need patience, kindness, and forgiveness so that we can bring change to our lives. 

To change means bringing more love into your family. And then, ultimately, to you. If we change, you end the repetition of family secrets, children cowering in fear, and unwanted legacies. You are your legacy, and the life you live, by choice or by fate, is the legacy you ultimately leave behind.

Letters To God

I haven’t written for several for nearly a week, as I’ve been so busy with work that I couldn’t pen a decent article. That’s partly true, and part fabrication. I ran out of things to say—a little writer’s block. Maybe time off is good for the soul. Then again, one never knows when inspiration will occur.

I captured a snippet of conversation yesterday. “Ugh,” an exasperated patient decried. “I cannot remember what I prayed to God about ten years ago.” Adding a chuckle, “Now, I’m praying for survival.” I’ve encountered similar ironies throughout the past decade: some funny, a few ironic, and several deathbed confessions. There hasn’t been a patient alive who hasn’t wondered where they were ten years ago or what they prayed, including me.

Years ago, I wrote God two letters. Yup. Him (or her). The head honcho. Da’ man. The great guru. If what’s said is true, God being everywhere, then the Almighty remembers what I wrote. That’s good because I don’t.

Pulling my two letters from the safe, one would never know what was written, when they were written, or circumstances under which they were authored. Was it at a good point in life? A celebratory note? Did I request a permanent piece of knowledge? Or, did I seek forgiveness for some event remaining unforgiven? Should we open and review?

Technically speaking, this letter is God’s letter. Even though I never adhered postage and dropped in the mail, this mail is addressed to God. According to the Associated Press, “…letters addressed to God are routed to Jerusalem, Israel and directed to Israel’s postal service. The Israeli postal service then delivers the letters to a unique address that hasn’t changed in thousands of years, the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall.” Would the Almighty be offended if I opened my letter today and reread it?

Writing a letter to God is not as imposing as it sounds. When I wrote my notes, I heard no internal chorus of objections. “What am I supposed to say?” “I don’t like to write.” “I’ll sound stupid.” “What do we do with it?”

Author Janet Levy said, “I promise you, God won’t laugh!” When you write a letter to God, you are walking right past negative pride, self-doubt, fear, and reservation. You’re allowed to pour out your heart as one would to a close friend. You are permitted to unload problems, worry, fear, disappointment, grudges, and heartbreak. Place your hopes and dreams toward God’s loving attention.

Whatever the reason, I wrote two letters to God. Putting curiosity aside, I will not open and revisit them. Come Monday; I will place postage (about $1.50) and write “To God, Jerusalem.” I should have done it years ago. And, being as sick as I am, I should write again.

After learning being diagnosed with “high-functioning” autism, writer Helen Hoang never told her mother. “I hadn’t really known how to tell her. More than that, I’d feared her reaction, so I’d simply avoided the topic around her altogether.” When I was diagnosed with a tumor last year and Parkinson’s this year, only five knew of my tumor, and only three (my doctor, my case manager, and a friend) knew of the Parkinson’s. Only three knew both, those being my doctor, my case manager, and a friend. Avoidance will either be my enemy or friend.

My doctor has routinely asked why I haven’t told any relatives. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche said, “Death and dying is a subject that evokes such deep and disturbing emotions that we usually try to live in denial of death.” My brother is not particularly adept at dealing with it. And to be fair, most of us aren’t. Dealing with a terminal illness is hard enough without family instructing me to suck it up, swallow some Vitamin C, or work it out. Such a pronouncement would change every interaction; none of them are genuine. When I told my brother about the tumor, he was driving on the highway after flying lessons. Rather than waiting for a more suitable time, he listened to my diagnosis, demanded a second and third opinion, complete several other medical tests, and get back to him. He never called again, even when the date of the surgery came and went. The process of hiding or masking fits better in America’s society.

My military call-sign was ‘Chameleon,’ meaning I could almost on cue, adapt to any situation. I’m very good at it. I learned to blend as a kid because I saw people treated me, ‘different,’ ‘not socially adept,’ etc. Underneath that easygoing facade, was a soul struggling and found the minutiae of social interaction draining. The military changed that and trained me to adapt. It’s an acquired skill I continue to leverage and flawlessly execute.

I’ll admit, for months, I have considered coming clean. I almost came clean to my boss at work about the Parkinson’s diagnosis, but I know its impact on my career, for he was the second person informed of the tumor. Beyond that, I don’t want to have my illness define me, turning every conversation into a series of “how are you?” and every email into “here’s the latest cure you must investigate.” Nor do I want someone telling me to suck it up. Such conversations would provide neither meaning nor purpose. I aim to find out what the truth is for me and to live without vulnerability.

Vulnerability mustn’t be turned against me. It’s bad enough to battle a tumor Parkinson’s at the same time. I am unsure if I can fend off youth’s naysayers, demanding I fit into their mold. I don’t want to be the guy who seeks every nuanced therapy that provides marginal to no benefit. I want to live but live under my control, not under another’s umbrella.

Before the end of the year, I will tell my family. In subsequent days, conversations will become harder, and silences will grow. Relatives living in Chicago, Wisconsin, Florida, and elsewhere will email and either express regret or outrage at being uninformed. The ultimate question for every conversation will be, “Why?” And, it’s a fair question.

I have read many blogs where readers posed such philosophical questions of determining the proper moment to inform others of their terminal illness. Blogger Molly Kochan stated, “I have chosen to navigate this journey privately, with a handful of supportive friends and family. It was important to me to not be seen as a “patient” or as cancer.” I do wonder if my selfishness would impact others to such a degree that those affected would never move on. And so I say, “Yes. Eventually, they would find it within themselves to move on.” Therefore, I hope everyone focuses not on my final days (or year(s)), but rather upon leading the kind of life that will impact others. And should that be the result, then I would be truly inspired.

On the way to work, a small simple yard sign caught my attention. ‘Don’t Give Up.’ My first snarky reaction was, “Why not? Why shouldn’t I give up? I’ve been through all this crap and am likely to pass rather painfully, so why shouldn’t I?” The fact that this sign was posted in the front lawn of a home estimated to be in the millions didn’t help.

If one made millions from investments, is it fair to proclamate onto others who haven’t to not surrender? Free speech allows an author to erect such messages, but we gain zero context. Maybe that author’s cancer went into remission. So, don’t give up. Then again, what if the resident lost his business during COVID and is saying, “Don’t give up, I’m not.” Or, I beat COVID. I got sick, nearly died, but recovered. Don’t give up. We can celebrate such victories, but the author had not taken time to understand the reader’s pain, me.

Rollen Fredrick Stewart (a.k.a. The Rainbow Man) was known for wearing a rainbow-colored afro-style wig and, later, holding up signs reading “John 3:16” at sporting events. Known as a born-again Christian, he was determined to get the message out that whoever believed in Jesus would not perish. Seeing him in the background a golfer, nothing indicated he knew me or my life’s experiences. No one in my home, or that I knew, ever said “John’s got it down.” I never watched a sports program waiting for Rollen’s message. He never spoke to me and it’s doubtful such messages mean anything for the average everyday ‘Joe.’

Just as ‘May God Bless You’ and ‘Jesus Saves’ litter highway barns, were not specific to me. Prior to March 2019, I neither would have thought ‘Don’t Give Up’ as a divine message targeted solely for me, nor would I ever believe the author thought of me. God probably never told the author that “In July 2020, the Unknown Buddhist will pass your home. Post a yard sign saying ‘Don’t Give Up.’ He’ll know it’s from Me.” Nor do I believe God was messaging when I drove past the ‘Hell is Real’ billboard on Ohio’s I-71 either. Projecting such views quickly fades from the minds of those whizzing by during a daily commute.

Just as television viewers zoom through commercials, travelers quickly dismiss billboard proclamations. They have no recall ability. Do pithy billboard messages buoy one’s mind? Probably not. Walk out of a room during a radio broadcast and ads fail to engage. If the communication were real-if that communication ever came from God- it would never fade.

God’s communication fundamentally changes life. For Churchill, it was “We shall never surrender.” Roosevelt experienced similar awe when speaking “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” during his inaugural address during the Great Depression. Real communication challenges the soul, the very ideas about who are in the world, and provides the intellectual confidence to achieve great accomplishments.

Jesus said, “The Kingdom is like a mustard seed which a man sowed in his field. Mustard is smaller than any other seed but let it grow and it becomes bigger than any garden plant; it is like a tree, big enough for the birds to come and nest among its branches.” 

I envision the mustard seed fully grown, strong enough to bear the nests of birds. I sit before the full-grown tree and communicate with it. We talk about smallness in a universe so large. We discuss discouragement; risk-taking; change; fruitfulness; being of service; and finally, the power of God in life. I then kneel before God and tell him what the mustard seed taught. And I ask if He will teach me as well.

That, my friends, is the power of real communication.

Someone told me Roman soldiers invented craps using knuckle-bones of a pig as dice and their armor shields as a table. Others said the game originated from an Arabic dice game called Al Dar, which means “dice” in Arabic. The most commonly accepted version of the game’s creation is that it was invented by Sir William of Tyre in 1125 during the Crusades and named after a castle called “Asart” or “Hazarth.” No matter; what matters is the look in your clinician’s eye saying, “Craps.”

Fifteen months ago, my doctor said they would do everything possible. Today, craps. “There’s not much more we can do. We can replace your knee, but that will not repair arthritis in your feet, shoulder, elbow, wrist, or fingers in both hands. We could perform a hell of a lot of surgery, but you would not feel a huge benefit.” Gently grabbing the back of my neck, “Your back is a mess—severe osteoarthritis in your neck, and the tumor. There’s the Parkinson’s, and a lump at the base of the finger,” she said while finger outlined the lump. “My guess is that this lump is not cancerous, but we’ll require Xrays.”

Her words required no steeping. “Craps,” I said.

Shifting across from me, “I will do what you want, but I suggest the best approach is to keep you moving and pain management.” A deep exhale, “Keep you going until…” she faded.

“Craps,” I repeated.

“Craps,” she affirmed. “I can refer you to a pain specialist. Maybe neurology has something up their sle…”

“No,” I interrupted. “Anything more invasive may prolong my life, but it’s unlikely to save it.” Gently laying my hand over her pen, she looked up, “Doc. You’ve done all I can ask. It just is. It’s life,” I affirmed.

I already knew the progression. I knew this moment inched into my future every day. With all the experts I’ve sat across from, the hospital shift work, and camaraderie, I couldn’t place the ultimate responsibility for my care on one individual: my physician. Instead, it’s how you guide patients through the last month (or year(s)) is essential.

Doctors must be sure to take the time to remind their terminally ill patients that even though a cure might be out of the question, patient health is still relevant. I gave my physician affirmation that she performed exemplary. I know my diagnosis is terrible. And surely, I still have to figure out precisely what flavor of bad it is. But the real message from God is, ‘I only have so much time to do the things I want to do.’

In The Shawshank Redemption, the fictional character Andy Dufresne said, “I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.” Time to find out the best way I can live. “[Red] Get busy living or get busy dying. That is goddamn right.” No time for craps.

Reclaiming Humanity

I watched PBS’ four-part documentary College Behind Bars. The documentary tells the story of a small group of incarcerated men and women struggling to earn college degrees and turn their lives around in one of the most rigorous and effective prison education programs in the United States – the Bard Prison Initiative.

During the 4th episode, the internal reflection of Rodney Spivey-Jones challenged me to reevaluate my failures. Looking squarely into the camera, Mr. Jones reflected on his shortcomings. “We rarely get a chance to think about how we hurt the victims. And yet, that’s something that’s required of us when we go to the parole board. Once you can empathize with other people, you can realize that you’ve caused a lot of harm. If you can connect your pain to the pain that you’ve caused, there’s a responsibility there. And it’s hard to escape it.”

Over the past eight years, I revisited the concept of ‘making amends,’ a traditional term specifically designed to “correct a mistake that one has made, or a bad situation one has caused.” In May 2013, I wrote of twenty-six (26) severely painful situations that required amends. Seven (7) of the twenty-six (26) refused any communication, eleven (11) forgave, four (4) were never found, and four (4) others were works in progress. March 2019, I reconnected with a woman to whom I wrote 18 letters years prior. Despite those efforts, Mr. Jones caused reflection. Did I do enough?

What is enough? All of us are like Rodney Spivey-Jones. I have many people where I only recently thought of how I hurt them. Only a short-term diagnosis of ‘terminal’ forced me to explore the level of harm I caused? For instance, that woman in the military who I badgered for a date is ok now? Did she have a good life? That company I took quietly accepted over expensed travel reimbursements, could they have used that money to benefit another? And of the woman I married and divorced, did I leave you better, or just me?

The PBS documentary also followed former inmate Dyjuan Tatro, who was serving a 12-year prison sentence during filming. Not only did he pay for his crime, but he also made amends and laid the foundation for a better life post-prison. “It was in prison; through the Bard Prison Initiative, that I was able to turn my life around,” Tatro said. “When you’re in prison, and you don’t have any other opportunity, you have to make the most of the one that’s been given to you.” Tatro is making the most of every day. 

Our lives are a collection of ‘single’ days. As such, throughout much of my life, I embraced little ‘intentionality.’ Did I amend the errors of my past? Have I transitioned through restitution? Was there an apology, changed behavior, compensation, or generosity? Or, did I play the ‘victim’ card like decades earlier? Did I lay the foundation for a better life (whether here or in the next)? 

For so many years, everywhere I went before, I created a lot more damage than good. So much so, that I am unsure whether I could seriously restitute anything for past aggressions. As stated before, and as I state to God, I am accountable. Just as Rodney Spivey-Jones did on national television, the ‘buck’ drops at my shoes, and I must make amends. 

Even though I am down to nine months of a two-year ‘prognosis poor’ diagnosis, I have much to give and much to offer. I will continue to show that I am capable of redemption. God knows my life has value beyond the sum of my errors. One day, I hope God will note that this man was able to reclaim his humanity rather than succumbing to ignorance.

Reclaim yours too.

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