Category: Life Lessons


Pathway

It’s been a strange week in Washington (D.C.)

It started approximately four days ago. Washington Post columnist Erik Wemple began his column stating that in the early months of the Trump administration, Attorney General Sessions pledged to take a hard line against leaks of classified information.

Why that reference? Who was Wemple opining? Henry Kyle Frese.

On October 9th, Henry Kyle Frese, 30, was arrested on Wednesday at his office at the Defense Intelligence Agency. Mr. Frese allegedly shared information with two reporters: CNBC reporters Amanda Macias, a national security reporter who also appeared to be his girlfriend, and NBC reporter Courtney Kube.

On Thursday, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, associates of President Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, were arrested before flights departing the United States. Parnas and Fruman were part of the pressure campaign on Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden and Hunter Biden. This criminal case exposes the president’s allies as Mr. Trump tries to discredit ongoing impeachment efforts in Congress.

All of these have one common theme, conflict of interest.

In the CNBC/NBC reporter case, why not have sex with the people they cover?

The answer is painfully obvious: No. Never partner in a business with sources, much less become boyfriend/girlfriend. Such mixing contaminates the end product with the taint of compromise and conflict of interest. Kube should have seen that coming. Yet, she willfully agreed to work on sourced material from Frese and Macias.

In the case of Parnas and Fruman, ethics manuals and rules, either didn’t exist or didn’t deter blending business with criminal probing.

We’ve become accustomed to such intermingling. Hollywood romances such relationships, often adopting this forbidden pairing to power stories, often with female bedding a source. A shortlist of contemporary movies, and TV shows include:

  • Thank You for Smoking;
  • Absence of Malice;
  • Nashville;
  • Scoop;
  • Scandal;
  • Trainwreck;
  • Top Five;
  • How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days;
  • The Fly;
  • Fletch;
  • Mr. Deeds;
  • Three Kings;
  • The West Wing;
  • Crazy Heart; and
  • Iron Man.

After my ethical lapses in business, including one that sacrificed a career ten years ago, I reapplied Spiritual training to my life. I better understand issues of conflicts based on wealth (Trump), sexuality (Catholic sex scandals), and power (Me Too movement). While each member of society is expected to dedicate him or herself to training, avoiding such mistakes, and harmful actions. When such transgressions occur, destructive forces can be released. Thus, such instances must be acknowledged and worked with skillfully through the wisdom of both inner spiritual thought and practical ethical standards.

A Code of Ethics provides a pathway. And I cannot help but think that all the participants referenced in this blog post should have remembered that ‘pathway’ and asked one critical question.

“If I had to justify my actions, how would others view it?”

Had that question been asked, all of this could have been avoided. Yet, here we are. Therein, I query.

“What’s your pathway?”

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.’

Sorry State of Sports

Can you praise of Christ when you suck?” I asked after watching Craig Kimbrel allowed two home runs on two consecutive pitches.

Huh?” responded a friend.

Kimbrel, and guys like him, promoted themselves as saviors of baseball, specifically, their team. They suck. Kimbrel tied his career-high for home runs in a season in 43 fewer innings than the last time. His earned run average is nearly seven (7). I mean, he was the bullpen savior. Kimbrel signed a three year, $43 million-dollar contract. He’s only pitched 20 innings.

Sad,” he sighed. “Just sad.

“Bryce Harper of the Phillies is another whiff. $330 million-dollar contract. Where are the Phillies today? 15.5 games from first place.

But hey,” my friend interjected. “Harper just came out with a new set of training shoes.” Quoting from Bryce himself, “I didn’t want it to be like a turf trainer, I wanted it to be a trainer. Something that I could wear away from the field if I was going out to lunch or dinner or whatever and then something I could wear in the cage or at the workout facility or the gym.

Think maybe all Christ wanted was a pair of sneakers?” I snickered.

It’s a strange time in sports overall. For the past couple of weeks, sports was not sporting at its best. Instead, the biggest story was about its orgy: the love of cash, glitz, and self-aggrandizement.

Odell Beckham wore a $190,000 Richard Mille watch, although to purchase it, you’d probably need $300,000. Maybe this is the way God intended to judge sports events—by crowning the team wearing the best and most expensive watches while on the field of play—and as such, the team’s fortunes will turn.

Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers quarterback, stepped ahead of his Thursday night home game in a silky blue suit, gold shoes and a colorful headscarf. To which, Twitter users and I summarized by saying, WTF?

And who could forget Antonio Brown? The same Antonio Brown, complete with allegations by two women of rape, sexual assault, and intimidation. A guy [Kapernick] who kneels during the National Anthem? Not Good. Can’t have that. A potential rapist, sexual assaulter, and witness intimidator? Sign him up for a one-year $15 million deal, and a signing bonus of $9 million. He’s great for football.

For the Cubs, it’s heart and soul change, but not because they won a World Series. Instead, they’ve become unrecognizable from when I was a kid. The stadium interior has massive video boards, exclusive targeted clubs, and bullpen swept under the stands. WGN TV is gone forever, swept away by the ‘pay-to-see-them-play’ Marquee Sports Network, an upcoming regional sports network operated by a Consortium between Sinclair Broadcast Group and the Cubs.

Yes. It’s that same Sinclair Broadcast Group that forced anchors across nearly 200 stations to read a promotional script warning viewer about ‘fake news,’ and of course, Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts, the Republican National Committee finance chair overseeing fundraising of Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign. If you think Joe McCarthy and Spiro Agnew, you wouldn’t be far off.

When I was a kid, Jesus, big contracts, multi-million-dollar contracts, money, and egos were never part of the game. We were there to play the game and have fun. No one promoted shoe contracts. No one wore what appeared to be 56 pounds of jewelry. No one saluted Jesus, the sky, a brother, sister, lover, or a lost pet. We played.

After these past several weeks, I’ve concluded that most of us are missing something important: Life.

I have never walked out of a meeting and lifted my hands to the sky and praised Jesus. I never closed a deal with a ‘hallelujah.’ I never promoted an iPhone or Galaxy Note, version whatever. I never rejoiced over my shoes. And I never adorned my neck with 72 pounds of jewelry. I come to work because my company has chosen to invest in me, and I chose to invest my talents in them.

Likewise, if you publicly praise Jesus only after a home run and not when striking out, then something’s seriously wrong. I’ve never seen Ben Zobrist, Pedro Strop, Craig Kimbrel, Bryce Harper or any football player praising Jesus after they’ve seriously screwed up.

Yeah. I f****** that up.” Raising hands and pointing to the sky, “Praise Jesus.

That, I would love seeing. Then again, doing that requires integrity. Unfortunately, that’s not something a lot of professional sports players have.

Sitting in an airport lounge, I noticed a discarded newspaper from a Midwest town I frequently traveled. Thumbing through the newspaper, brought back memories. There was the usual discussions of flood aid, farming developments, local sports, and weather. However, one obituary leaped from the page. The announcement momentarily stunned me. Placing my hands on my knees for support, I inhaled deeply.

Terri, my former sister-in-law, passed at 66. Simply put, she was one of the finest people I ever met.

Long before becoming my sister-in-law, Terri graduated with a Master’s in Education and was a Special Education Teacher for nearly 40 years. Of course, she had children, grandchildren, and husband. None I ever met. As usual, I acquired a long list of customary excuses that mean little today: Too busy, never around, too tired or too far to make the trip back home. As such, these will mean little to those judging my life.

As far as I knew, Terri was not a trailblazer. She didn’t transform the world, solve cancer, or establish peace between fickle and difficult leaders. Rather, she chose to trailblaze in her small sector of the world. She was an educator, a restaurant owner, and a friend. And by using such skills, her life of service expertly navigated the hearts of many, often acquiring deep respect from those within the working class.

The Terri I knew was a humble woman, born in humble origins, and lived in service. She based her life on ideas, ideals, works of charity, and caring for those who suffered. I believe the positions she held allowed her to expand the life and shape the viewpoints of those she touched. And while quickly noticing the flaws of others, deep down, Terri recognized most of us were just one flaw away from those who suffer greatly.

She could see strength and weakness. If need be, she weaponized her humanity and forced movement. I remember such a time when she interjected herself into my life as I was dealing with a spouse in a coma, and exhibited a sense of human decency when others could not. She was my inner voice during those long seemingly endless days.

In many ways, it wasn’t her fight. That said, she refused to allow any opportunity to surrender. When I thought I had enough, she somehow knew to call. “I’m not asking you to win. Just do another day. If you want to quit, call me tomorrow.” Of course, when I called ‘tomorrow,’ she requested another day. Then another. And another.

Her family knew her as a person with spunk. She was funny, wise, and smart. And borrowing from writer Beverly Willett, she recognized my worth and helped me realize it too.

I don’t care how Terri died or the cause. I only care about her legacy. For me, Terri’s friendship came at a crucial period in my life and rested in her ability to see through my pain and extract the goodness. She forced me to believe in something more profound and allowed me the ability to face one more day.

Her friendship is a model I only wish to become. And to you Terri, wherever you are, your spirit will remain in my heart forever.

And that my friends are Terri’s final lessons: See beyond the pain and extract the goodness.

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.

Over several weeks, many have queried about why I haven’t sought additional treatment. It’s a fair question that often has nuanced answers. Probably the best answer I heard comes from Andrew Luck.

Having worked in the medical field, many patients have chosen the quality of life over treatment. That choice can be hard for family and friends, but for the most part, people who can make decisions for themselves have the right to refuse any treatment. The reasons vary. For some, there are associated health problems with treatment. For others, it’s age. Others, it’s a moral decision. And so on.

Coming to the end of life, I had one goal: die in the least objectionable way. Of course, doctors have arsenals loaded with weapons against infirmities of the body. Unfortunately, medicine focuses on longevity, not quality. Need an example? Me. I take 13 different drugs daily, three are required before I’m able to get up change clothes. The rest are ingested via a carefully crafted schedule. As I told my mother, medical technology is terrific, but sooner or later, the body wins.

I’ve often said to my physicians, “We all know I’m going to die. Help me die in dignity.” Therein lay the truth; everyone knows I’m going dying. It’s just a matter of when not if.

During a recent walk with my parent’s dog, Skip trotted ahead. He looked back with sympathetic eyes that could only say, “. . . you look like shit.” Sometimes in my humorous way, I reflect upon Doc Holliday’s witty quip (Wyatt Earp 1994), “I wake up every morning looking in the face of Death, and you know what? He ain’t half bad.”

Why am I deciding now?

During the past 35 years, I’ve not known a day without pain. What I learned from the military, from football, and my ol’ man was to suck it up, take the pain, sacrifice the body for the good of the team, and if required, for the good of the country. I’m aware of the physical toll of that profession as well as the traveling of my business. Throughout years of travel, I fought through pain and injury while simultaneously remaining stoic. I felt breaking through the pain helped proved myself. I accumulated significant damage.

Like many sitting behind their desk right now, I silently “self-medicate” to keep fighting at peak performance. Pills hide the pain from 8 partial ligament tears in my left knee, with 6 in my right. I was partially paralyzed from a spinal injury nearly forty years ago; had bone chips removed from my spine; feet suffer from severe arthritis that sometimes the left foot locks; experienced two concussions; one eardrum tear that requires hearing aids; had a silent heart attack; cracked some ribs; fractured a wrist; suffered a shoulder separation; have cervical stenosis; lumbar osteoarthritis; and now a cervical spinal tumor, and multiple sclerosis.

Andrew Luck, the former first overall draft pick and one of the NFL’s league’s brightest stars, eloquently summarized my thoughts. When questioned this past Saturday about his surprise retirement, Luck stated he could no longer take the years of pain and rehabilitation from a host of injuries.

It was not the first time a professional athlete stepped away during the prime of their career, but Luck was one of the more vivid examples of a player weighing the consequences of continuing a career. His decision to retire didn’t occur in the limelight, in front of a cheering crowd. “I’ve been stuck in this process,” Luck said during his retirement press conference. “I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live. It’s taken the joy out of this game. It’s the hardest decision of my life. But it is the right decision for me.”

I echo the same thought; it’s a hard decision, but it’s the right decision. Thus, that’s where I’m at, stuck for thirty-five years. In truth, I have not lived the way I wanted to live. The decision to choose a treatment or not to choose treatment isn’t easy. My body is tired, and I’m tired. Eventually, technology loses – the body wins. The body always wins. Pain has devoured my body, my mind, and my soul.

All of us, at some time or another, will be at a similar crossroad. At some point, one will have to prioritize their health or personal well-being rather than the good of a team or a company. We have to learn to invest in ourselves.

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

Told To Leave

I was having with a newly diagnosed cancer patient about, what if, anything I learned that could be of value. Our conversation wavered to other topics. When she stated her concerns about healthcare coverage and the attempts by the current administration to dismantle healthcare, an elderly woman sitting near us interrupted.

If you don’t like America leave?

Without batting an eye, perfectly calm, I responded, “Where to?

Well,” she started . . .

Ah,” interrupting. “You raise a valid point.

A quizzical look began to envelop her.

Where to?” querying myself. Placing my hand underneath my chin, “Where to? . . . Yes ma’am. Ah, where to?” looking at her.

Well . . .” she started.

Cutting her off, “Yes indeed. So, my father has German heritage. My grandfather was German born, but immigrated to Canada in his youth. Should I move to Canada or Germany?

Beginning to become flustered, “Well . . .

However,” I pointed. “My mother’s side is Scottish. And although my grandmother is Scottish, she was born in Ontario, Canada. Yet, my mother was born in Chicago. So, should I return to anything, should I move to Scotland, Germany or Canada? Germany might be hard though, for I speak no German. Do you think they’ll accept me regardless?

Well . . .” she started.

But you know,” cutting her off and turning to my friend, “I have other issues. I was born near Chicago. Yet, I lived for a year-and-half in Toronto, Canada. I also lived for a year in London. And I lived for a year in Toyko, Japan.” Quickly pivoting back to the women, “Do I need to also consider Japan and the U.K.?

Ah . . .” she gasped.

Wait. Wait. Wait.” shaking my head. “Damn. I forgot I worked in 33 different countries, including, Chile, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Columbia, Australia, New Zealand, China, Philippines, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, Sweden, Taiwan, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Ecuador, Saudi Arabia, France, Portugal, Spain, India, Ireland and a bunch more. Should I count any of those?”

Ah . . .

So,” I interrupted. “Why don’t you just go back to your table. I will buy you another cup of coffee, and you can debate all that shit and let me know.

Well, I never,” she gasped.

I agree,” responding tersely. “You never should have.

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