Category: Life Lessons


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What we have?” asks the corner.

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

“Geez. Third time this week.”

“Yup,” nods the second officer.

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

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

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

It’s Free

In the past week, our President proclaimed that as COVID cases in Europe and Canada rise, “It’s going to disappear [in America], it is disappearing.” Additionally, since COVID was a blessing from God, he wants the American people to get the same treatment he did — for free. Think about that, free? It’s free America. COVID is free. As in nada. Just walk to the nearest hospital and order your free COVID treatment.
President Trump’s COVID medication cocktail contained a mix of proven drugs, over-the-counter drugs, supplements, and experimental antibodies only available to those participating in clinical trials. To the average person (without insurance), those medications would cost between $4,300 and $5,145. There is a minor caveat.

Monoclonal antibodies, including one made by Eli Lilly and Co., of Indianapolis, remain under development and are not yet approved for use in the US. The President received it under a “compassionate use” exemption, which the company said it has granted to fewer than ten people. In layman’s terms, ‘compassionate use’ means you are not getting it.

The monoclonal antibodies drug maker Regeneron evaluated the number of multiple dosages required for potential treatment. If I read the information correctly, the maximum dosages they can produce is estimated between 70,000 to 300,000. Maximum prevention doses round out between 420,000 to 1,300,000. Therein lay the math problem. America has approximately 330 million citizens, which of the 1.3 million Americans receives Regeneron? Even if you are lucky enough to receive Regeneron, is there a hospital available with available resources to treat you?

The massive shortfall in US inpatient hospital and ICU bed capacity raises important policy implications for current efforts to address COVID-19. There are not enough hospital beds. To meet the needs ahead, hospitals need to develop contingency plans to expand hospital capacity. Postponing elective inpatient surgical admissions is one straightforward strategy. Still, all hospitals in the US should establish clear protocols to aid decision making on which types of procedures and clinical diagnoses could be safely postponed. Second, the shortage of mechanical ventilators and ICU beds will require hospitals to transition inpatient operating rooms, ambulatory surgical sites, and post-anesthesia care units into flexible ICUs. After years of neglect, the American health system is outgunned.

The miracle vaccine some are desperate to acquire will pose a nightmare for others. What works in one country will fail in another. And Trump’s easy choice this week may not make sense next week. Failing to look at how closing schools’ and our economy to stop an outbreak is likely to surge into years of economic harm. Making choices in the era of Covid-19 isn’t just about fighting a virus; our moral code, ethics, and humanity are also at stake.

But fear not. COVID’s disappearing. Right? Right.

The doctor was quick and to the point. “After all our tests, we believe an experimental drug, consisting of cells manufactured and implanted in the eye to stimulate optic nerve growth and activity, might be the best method of fighting your symptoms. We would require approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) via a compassionate use request that allows experimental drugs to patients outside clinical trials. But getting access to not-yet-approved pharmaceuticals via a compassionate use request is both arduous and challenging.”

What the doctor implied but did not say was, “You will go blind in your left eye because you are not a VIP and associated costs are bigger than the ‘Big Mac Combo Meal 1’ range. Also, you are likely to expire before receiving therapy approval. and, since most experimental treatments rarely work on dying patients, ‘compassionate use’ requests from patients like you become ‘compassionate not.’ In the end, you can still get to heaven with one eye. Ensure you look left and right before merging and change lanes accordingly.”

While paying the $40 copay, I saw Trump’s photo op in front of Walter Reed Medical Center. America’s chief dude made what media sources claim was a ‘photo-up’ by leaving his hospital suite to make a “surprise” drive-by to supporters while undergoing COVID-19 treatment. Trump’s drive-by triggered both safety concerns, outrage, and giving the middle finger to the more than 208,000 Americans who perished. The joyride only occurred because our chief asshole received medical treatments the poor working slob on Mainstreet, U.S.A., will never obtain.

Before the president left the White House for Walter Reed Medical Center, he received a single dose of Regeneron’s polyclonal antibody cocktail. This experimental drug has shown promise in initial trials in improving symptoms and reducing virus levels in the body but has not received Food and Drug Administration approval. Trump was also treated with Remdesivir, an intravenous antiviral medication shown to help treat COVID-19. Remdesivir’s benefits are modest: reducing hospital stays from 11 to 15 days.

For those with insurance, Remdesivir will top $3,000. How much-uninsured patients would pay remains unclear. Regeneron’s cost has not been publicly shared, but suffice to say it will not be in the ‘Big Mac Combo Meal 1’ range.

Trump’s a ‘Very Important Person (VIP),’ I am not. VIP treatment is a feature of American medicine. Major hospitals throughout the country provide private spaces for celebrities, the super-rich, and the influential. These are the patients who get shielded from the public. VIP’s include foreign nationals from places including Saudi Arabia, China, Canada, and Mexico.

The real coronavirus war cannot be flouted in a presidential joyride victory lap. Memorable scenes of community hospitals fighting on the front lines from California to Maine depicted medical centers nearly overwhelmed by desperately sick people. They are pictures of doctors and nurses working around-the-clock with insufficient equipment. And as of now, there are at least 208,000 COVID victims who cannot take a celebratory joyride. These 208,000 are alumni of the Big Mac Combo Meal 1.

I hope Tuesday, November 3rd, the remaining Big Mac Combo Meal 1 alumni will remember this joyride. I also hope the alumni remember this probably started during Trump’s introduction of  Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett — the same judge who will likely assist in overturning the Affordable Care Act. That means for Big Mac Combo Meal 1 alumni members. Get it now?

November 3rd.

Kamma! It Just Is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And maybe that’s my Kamma to learn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Veterans and military families were divided about reports that President Donald Trump made disparaging comments toward the military. Some service members bristled at the remarks while and others questioned whether they occurred. Supporters claim that should one twist the President’s words, take something out of context, or cannot refute anonymous sources, an avenue to criticize exists. Other veterans have become disenchanted by the Trump presidency. Therefore, regardless of what’s done today, America needs a change.

I have no clue whether Trump openly disparaged Veterans. His past attacks on John McCain, a Gold Star Family, his military leadership, and the open disregard of the Uniform Code of Military Justice can propel one to conclude that Trump may have disparage military members. As seen on the news, our fearless leader launched an unprecedented public attack against the U.S. military’s leadership on Monday, accusing them of waging wars to boost defense manufacturing companies’ profits. Also notable was the choice to attack members of the press, specifically Jennifer Griffin and Laurene Powell Jobs.

While reporters from other news outlets confirmed aspects of the disparagement, Griffin works for Fox. And there, in the house of Fox, opinion hosts and corporate owners are seen as Trump’s personal media outlet and reliable supporters. Griffin’s confirmation led to Trump’s call for her firing via Twitter. Laurene Powell Jobs was also accosted via Twitter, stating that The Atlantic was “failing” and “radical.” Job’s sin came because she established The Emerson Collective, which focuses on education, immigration reform, the environment, media, journalism, and health. The organization happens to have an ownership stake in both The Atlantic and in Axios. Why do women always get the brunt of attacks?

Hillary Clinton, Carly Fiorina, Elizabeth Warren, Heidi Cruz (and a long list of other women) also experienced attacks. The way he talks about women, any prominent, powerful woman, is trivializing in the most demeaning ways. Professor Marianne LaFrance, a psychologist at Yale University, stated that when a female opponent is criticized, that woman is often reduced to sexual objects or someone unworthy of respect or attention. Yet, Trump receives support.

Ms. G. (a Trump supporter from work) said she did not mind. She and other conservatives say there are more critical issues than his remarks. They applaud the low unemployment (before COVID) rate among women and appreciate how he fought against abortion. Supporters adore Trumps’ appointment of conservative judges, attack on the poor, anti-immigrant stance (unless you are from Norway/Europe), the fight against other countries via tariffs (which they pay, but what do I know). Yet, these supporters only look at one or two issues rather than the whole. Trump’s road to 270 electoral votes would have been a cakewalk had things been done differently.

Had the Trump administration implemented healthcare reform that reduced costs, covered everyone, and ensured quality care, his support would topple 90%. Did America get healthcare reform? No. Can I drive to work without worrying about whether the bridge my car is driving upon collapses? No. However, the Trump administration held many ‘Infrastructure’ weeks. Did America get better roads and bridges? No. And about that steel boom? Overall, the employment rate at steel mills remains unchanged from when Trump began his presidency. ‘Protectionism’ cost more jobs than it saved. Face it, America lacks a plan.

America’s leadership has no plan for COVID, no healthcare plan, no nothing. All American’s have received is ‘crass and crude,’ a hell of a lot of unemployed citizens, and the promise of darker times. “Praise Jesus that abortion will become illegal, and we have conservative judges,” I heard Ms. G. exclaim shortly after Justice Kavanaugh received his appointment. 

Ms. G. died two days ago in the same hospital I.C.U. she worked.

Transparency

My cellphone rang just before 2:00 PM. Pulling away from watching people stroll near the waterfront, the number only revealed my employer. When one is technically on sick leave, the person being called always wonders about such calls. The call could be anywhere between the benign, “You’ve received a package,” to the dramatic, “Hey. Hate to tell you; you’re downsized.” Pressing #1 revealed our company’s mentorship program indicated someone had chosen me to be a mentor – their mentor.

Mentors are important, so choose wisely. Maria Shiver said, “God puts mentors in your path. They may not look like you, sound like you, or be what you expect.” As such, I was curious about why on God’s earth one poor fool to choose unwisely. Even those with limited knowledge understand, I am not the poster boy of mentors. I’ve neither written a book nor cured any disease. During a meet and greet company social, my last mentee asked, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” “Dead,” I replied with a smile. And that quick exchange started a two-year friendship ending when he left for Washington, D.C.

Our relationship wasn’t hard-ass. I required only four things. First, I will not set your goals; bring your own. Second, you must follow through. If you don’t, I won’t. Third, I periodically review the mentee, mentor relationship to ensure it continues to work. Fourth, be transparent. Show your scars so others know they can heal.

During the first introduction meeting, my mentee asked, “What was the greatest challenge you faced.” I could have rattled off a litany of challenges, but the answer was easy, “In 2018, I sat with an FBI agent for the interview portion of my security clearance.” Revealing real grief, I was no longer afraid to show the anguish of someone who knew he had inexplicably screwed up. “During the period between 2009 and 2010, I said and did things that weren’t true. I was fired. I let down my colleagues and spent the last eight years doing my best to reestablish trust and remain true the values I chose to honor. What happened was an acute period in my life, and I had put many people through hell. As such, it is important to remind ourselves who we are, and in many cases, who we used to be.”

All of us have inner-truth, and ten years ago, I required an honest look in the mirror to acknowledge my imperfections (sins). Doing so meant the willingness to transform into a better person. It is not solely about one specific religious path. Instead, it is a path that is more concerned with how to live without harming others.

People want transparency. They don’t like being lied too. Except by the President, which represents an interesting exception, doesn’t it? Is it because “he” is “entertainment,” or because “he” was not like the others? Does it matter the whole thing was most certainly an exercise in marketing and publicity? As one person said, “At least he’s transparent about not being transparent.” I chose a different path.

I wanted to live selflessly and commit myself to the necessary work, sacrifice, and occasional discomfort to choose “the best way to live.” Transparency doesn’t just help the world at large, and it isn’t just about the fact that it’s the right thing to do. It means seeking to understand those around you. Doing so can and will transform your life.

Did He See That?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A week has phased since my last blog post. I could have generated a few excuses, but none fit. I awoke Thursday morning stiff. Friday through Saturday, my neck felt like a volcano near eruption. I couldn’t hold a thing, had a hard time moving, and every muscle in my body regurgitated at the thought of moving, anything. Staying awake was difficult. Awake one moment, drowsy the next, then awake again.

Sleeping provided respite. I slept ten hours from Friday night through Saturday morning. Saturday to Sunday, thirteen hours. I felt comfortable enough not to use the restroom, though I did. When the act of laying down caused more grief than getting up, I nudged to the bed’s edge and stood. Shuffling over the cold hardwood floor provided momentary relief as I stood under a hot shower and wondered, “What the f***?”

I debated whether the Parkinson’s or osteoarthritis was the cause. Rigidity is seen in many Parkinson’s patients. Though not entirely understood, researchers believe stiffness is associated with the reduction of dopamine. If that is the case, then my Carbidopa-Levodopa failed and I should demand a refund. However, osteoarthritis pain can occur at either rest or night. In my case, nearly every part of my body was on fire, and more than once, I wished a ‘water scooper’ (aircraft that drops water on a forest fire) would drown me in Aquafina (purified water). Having inside knowledge of medical science, I know osteoarthritis usually does not affect the wrists, elbows, or shoulders. In the end, neither argument won.

Like many suffering in major illness, I am left with daily challenges. Whatever body part that’s inflamed today may not be tomorrow. Others experience it differently. Buddhists believe suffering is part of life. Pain is expected. Therefore, if a person experiences pain calmly, he can attain higher states of being without becoming emotionally distressed. At 2:26 AM, not sure I can buy Into that argument while every limb screams, “Holy Mary, Mother of God.” A pancreatic cancer patient once described abdominal and back pain, “I had woken up in the middle of the night screaming because of the pain, terrified to move because each time I did, it hurt more. It felt as if someone was stabbing my lung over and over again.” Such stories are not uncommon, and it’s hard to neatly fit spirituality when nature Is gnawing upon the body.

Even though I didn’t complain, the prospect of living under this type of pain is hard to fathom. I know pain is part of our human living experience. There is no way to escape and we often feel victimized. Being in pain also makes one anticipate further discomfort in the future and reminds us how finite our life is and of our fragility. Therefore, I chose my pain to be ‘teacher.’

My educator will help me to prepare for the pain that might be present as I die. Given a chance, I will try to explore whatever lessons that bring my life into greater focus and meaning, teaching me strength, patience, and giving me compassion and humility. Of course, I will take whatever medication is prescribed. Yet, maybe this pain level will allow me insights to endure, make me more mindful, and see the road ahead. Like others, I might even view it as a gift, like many of those dying realized their pain and suffering made their relationships more valuable and helped them reorder priorities.

There are numerous spiritual and psychological approaches to pain management. Medications make it possible to manage pain without diminishing awareness and provide one time to strengthen practice, be with others, and not have pain or be of an unclear mind. In such ways, I often say to myself: “I am in pain, but I am not suffering.” I say this to remind myself not to amplify the pain by building Some grand story. Rather, I can become ‘friend’ to my pain. Reach out to it. See what it needs. I may not know what to do, but the pain might. I can give it latitude, and try to see what it may teach. Therefore, I can use the experience of suffering to develop compassion for the lives of others who have pain like me.

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