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Striding from building to building can bring unexpected moments. Friday was no exception. In the burning afternoon heat, I stumbled over to a concrete beach and sat. I gazed up toward blazing blue backdrop and unto the white-hot orb piercing through my eyebrows.

Briefing supporting my upper body, my arms gripped my knees. I peered down, peered upward toward the heavens, and peered down for a long moment. A deep sigh breathed back into my face as it succumbed to breeze pushing against my face.

Arching left. “Crack. Pow. Bang,” echoed from my spine. Arching right, fared better. Only, “Crack and bang.”

A few may have presumed I derived some benefit from the afternoon heat. Indirectly, that would be true. Truthfully, I stopped because I had to. I couldn’t walk further.  I simply couldn’t move. Looking between my feet, I reflected upon what Tiger Woods said after his round at the British Open.

“I’m going to take a couple of weeks off and get ready for the play-offs,” he said. “After that, have a break. I just want to go home.” Exhaustion dripped from every word.

And to Tiger, I can concur. There are many days when I simply want to go home.

Pain has been my companion for four decades. When I was 20, didn’t think about it. In my thirties, pushed past it. In my forties, roughed it out. And in the last decade, maybe I’ll succumb to it.

Every person must deal with their own moment. There are those moments when we’re fable to do with natural God given talent. And then there’s what we our body to endure. Former NFL pro-bowler Chris Carter said “My mind was mentally sharp, but I couldn’t get my body to respond to what I thought.

In the movie ‘For Love of the Game,’ Vin Scully had the best quote on aging.

After 19 years in the big leagues, 40 year old Billy Chapel has trudged to the mound for over 4000 innings. But tonight, he’s pitching against time, he’s pitching against the future, against age, against ending. Tonight, he will make the fateful walk to the loneliest spot in the world, the pitching mound at Yankee Stadium, to push the sun back into the sky and give us one more day of summer.

After nearly forty years of travel, bad hotels, cheap bad food and long nights, I looked up into the afternoon sun . . . my body said ‘enough.

Like Tiger, “I just want to go home.

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

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

December 22, 1944

To the German Commander,

NUTS!

The American Commander.

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

A tumor in the neck measuring 4.1 x 2.3 in transaxial dimensions and 3.7 cm in height (1.6 inches x .9 inches x 1.4 inches), surrounding the spinal cord and C5-C6. Preliminary indication benign. Requires biopsy. Metastatic or secondary tumors may spread from another site. Delicate neural structures will complicate treatment, resulting in nerve compression, spinal deformation and compromised bone strength.

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

Nuts!

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

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

So, what’s next?” my boss asked.

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

What I really thought was “Relationships.”

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

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

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

So, nuts.

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

You should too.

A friend called from Chicago to vent.

“I have been working on a PowerPoint presentation for executive management for two weeks. The Vice President for the company sits ten (10) feet from me, but will not talk to me because I am just a Senior Manager. Instead, the Vice President will only accept email from his Director, who works at the regional office in San Francisco, California.

After reviewing the presentation, the Vice President sends the slide deck to his Director in San Francisco. The Director in San Francisco reviews it. However, since he is a Director and feels the work is beneath him, he refuses to change anything and forwards the slide deck to me.

I review the slide deck. Only three words require changing.

I make the changes and send the slide deck back to the Director in San Francisco. The Director reviews and forwards the slide deck back to the Vice President in Chicago.

After an hour, the Vice President decides he wants to change another slide and inserts a “comment” into the slide on page six (6) and returns the slide deck back to the Director in San Francisco. The Director reviews his request, makes no changes and returns the slide deck to me in Chicago.

I review the requested changes. Only two additional two words.

I then return the slide deck to the Director in San Francisco, who in turn, returns the slide deck to the Vice President in Chicago.

Now, wouldn’t this have been easier if the Vice President just came out of the office, walked ten (10) feet to my desk and requested the change?”

“Pretty funny,” I stated.

Well, I hate it,” he replied. “I would rather sit and do nothing.”

Really?

Really!” he said.

I concluded with the following parable.

A crow sat on a tree and did nothing all day.

A rabbit noticed this and asked the crow, “Can I also sit like you and do nothing all day long?”

The crow answered: “Sure, why not?”

So, the rabbit sat on the ground below the crow, and rested.

Shortly after beginning, a fox jumped on the rabbit and ate it.

Moral of the story: To be sitting and doing nothing, better sit very high up.  In other words, rank has privileges.

Moving Aside

Colorful foliage in the autumn parkAs we near the end of 2017, I’ve reflected upon my writing and whether to continue this blog. The mission of my blog was to enable readers to see blessings often hidden in plain packages. I asked for acceptance, guidance, and loving kindness to remind me what love is really like, to feel safe and lay my heart open, exposing my journey and soul to your inner light.

Looking back, I’m unsure exactly what my journey was. My blog’s journey started in 2012. And in four years and eight months since, I’ve opined upon many topics, from politics, health, spirituality and so on. Four years and eight months since, I remain unsure exactly what my journey is.

Over the years, I’ve opined on lost neighbors, friends, even blogs. “Ultimatemindsettoday” is gone. Respect Life? Gone. The Buddhist Blog? Gone. Women Active in Buddhism appears to have been updated eons ago, for Aung San Suu Kyi remains listed a hero. Shakya Design closed it’s doors December 2016. Quiet Mountain’s website struggles upon opening. Thus, since life moves on, I removed them this afternoon. Only one has moved forward – Oscar Relentos by publishing a book on Amazon, even noting a reviewer.

During these past years, our global community lost many good politicians, entertainers and sports stars. Also, too many military members died, both home and abroad. Mass shootings interspersed my blogs – Pulse Orlando, Ferguson, Missouri, Connecticut, and Las Vegas just to name a few. Hurricanes, earthquakes and other disasters crossed my thoughts. Still, forty-eight months later, did any one specific blog post change anything? Hard to say.

As such, I reflect. How has my blog impacted anyone? Or, maybe more so, “How has my blog positively impacted anyone?” That question, in and of itself, leads to a more contemplative thought, “Have I positively impacted anyone.

Looking back at various blog notes, I had a difficult time comprehending how current events could be mastered by older textual teachings. In a world of Trump-ism and self-importance, it’s hard to envision how the Biblical teachings that I grew by could prevail in a world of hyper-conservatism. Then again, it’s hard to understand how good people would let bad things happen. Yet more often than not, ‘we the people’ ignored our faith and jumped toward a pool of darkness representing itself as the path to glory.

Maybe my blog attempted new horizons, trying to communicate something fresh and exciting. My writing became less about legends and storytelling and focused more on current lessons and the beliefs that a Christ, Buddha, Dr. Martin Luther King, and others maybe would have pressed.

It’s ignorant for me to confess, but in my early twenties I visions of becoming a spiritual master. After seeing the God, who wouldn’t? Right? However, I have learned over the past decades is that real heroes are destined for greatness. But I never experienced such, as most don’t. Borrowing from Harry Chapin I am not a hero. At 58, I’m a tame and toothless tabby who can’t produce a loin’s roar.

The arrogant belief in their own legend. As such, I have no legend. I have no Wikipedia page. Just as politicians are blinded by their own ideals and belief in their own legend, so was the man some thirty or so years ago. What I have realized is that teaching and learning is a two-way street that it is. My own mentees have taught as many lessons as I taught them.

The real lesson is that all things are temporary. Even this blog. As leader and in life, I must move aside.

As 2018 nears, I will end with a quote from Roxanne Gay.

The older we get, the more culturally invisible we become, as writers, as people. But you have your words. Make sure there are people in your life who will have faith in your promise when you can’t.”

Yes … the real lesson all along was to ensure there are people in your life who will have faith in you when you can’t. That’s love. Love’s what it’s all about.

Prepare? Nah! Probably Not

Flood evacuees

In 2014, Kate Allen wrote a piece in the Independent on Syrian evacuees.

Since the violence erupted in Syria, 2.3 million people have fled the country, more than half of them children. The Syrian refugee crisis has been called “the most pressing humanitarian disaster of our time”, yet the UK government’s reaction has been tentative, to say the least.

I thought of Ms. Allen’s while reflecting on my nine months of FEMA service during the aftermath of Hurricane’s Katrina, Rita and Sandy. William “Brock” Long is charged with fulfilling the Trump Administration’s Hurricane Harvey FEMA effort. And while I sympathize with tactical, geographical and political challenges, I have grown weary of hearing how Hurricane Harvey was “unprecedented” or is a “one in five hundred-year,” no wait, “one in one thousand-year” event.

No. Harvey wasn’t.

All we needed to do was open the history books of Hurricane’s Katrina and Rita. Then, as now, scared and desperate civilians laid in the path of Mother Nature’s middle finger and fled, swam or drowned. CNN, MSNBC and print media filled our senses of vulnerable people: the elderly, unaccompanied children, flood survivors, drowning victims, and abandoned pets.

The Mayor of the City of Houston stated he could not justify evacuating the nation’s fourth largest city. People would die trying to evacuate – which is sort of like saying they’ll die if they try, so might as well die in their homes, terrorized by flooding they cannot outrun. Still, I’m unsure if I can overtly criticize the Mayor. Maybe he’s honest. Maybe he’s a political schmuck representing a broader city council who allowed unchecked regulatory building within a flood-prone area. Regardless, I do, however, note that we’ve been through this before.

Just as Kate Allen described, the European Union’s relocation of Syrian refugees is exhausting, both on an economic and humanitarian level.  Transpose that to Houston, Texas. Image if the U.S. had to relocate 4 million of Houston’s 6 million residents? Where would they go? Dallas-Ft. Worth? San Antonio? Austin? New Orleans?

If many local residents bitch about handling a couple of thousand international refugees, how do we handle the mass relocation of a major metropolitan area? The World Bank defines migration as “a process whereby a community’s housing, assets, and public infrastructure are rebuilt in another location.” Others emphasize other relocation factors as the “permanent (or long-term) movement of a community (or a significant part of it) from one location to another, in which important characteristics of the original community, including its social structures, legal and political systems, cultural characteristics and worldview are retained.”

FEMA is unprepared. In a post-9/11 world, our government’s preparedness for natural disasters takes a back seat to terrorism. 2005 government figures revealed 75 cents of every $1 spent on emergency preparedness went to anti-terrorism programs. A 2015 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) survey found nearly 60 percent of American adults have not practiced what to do in a disaster. Additionally, only 39 percent had developed an emergency plan. This is despite the fact that 80 percent of Americans live in counties that have been hit by a weather-related disaster.

This whole post summarizes the obvious: we suck!

As the nation recovers from Harvey, as of this writing, Hurricane Irma approaches from afar. But wherever Irma hits, it’s already too late. The damage to be incurred was created decades ago by ignorant politicians appealing to their partisan base.

Maybe the U.S. will get serious and prepare for the future?

Nah! Probably not.

gods-calling-1200x800_cAlan Binder’s NY Times article Falwell and Graham Reinvent Their Fathers’ Legacies was an interesting read. Binder wrote that while Falwell and Graham, ponder the rewards and perils of creating identities apart from their fathers say there is no rivalry between them as they pursue different ways of engaging in politics.

Falwell endorsed Trump and Graham simply wants more Christians in office. Graham said, “I want to get Christians to run for office at every level. The Christian voice needs to be heard.”

That got me thinking. Why can’t Graham comprehend God is everywhere?

I mean think about it, God has been everywhere in this election has told almost every candidate to run. Need convincing? Here’s a quick rundown.

  • Scott Walker, the infamous Wisconsin Governor, was convinced God called him:

I needed to be certain that running was God’s calling — not just man’s calling. I am certain: This is God’s plan for me and I am humbled to be a candidate for President of the United States.

  • John Kasich wanted a message from God before becoming the 16th candidate to enter the GOP foray.

“… what does the Lord want me to do with my life? You know, he puts us on Earth, all of us on Earth, to achieve certain purposes, and I’m trying to determine if this is what the Lord wants, and I’m not going to figure that out laying in bed hoping lightning strikes, so I’m out there one foot in front of another. We’ll see what happens.”

  • Ben Carson’s belief was that God would make it clear if that’s something he was supposed to do. Carson also told Fox News last August:

“… that he would run “if God grabbed him by the collar and asked him to run.” 

  • Rick Perry wife’s likened him to Moses, describing his decision to run as heeding signs from above.

“He didn’t want to hear a thing about running for president,” she explained. “He felt like he needed to see the burning bush. I said ‘Look, let me tell you something. You may not see that burning bush, but there are people seeing that burning bush for you.’”

Later, Perry told CNN, “I’m getting more and more comfortable every day that this is what I’ve been called to do. This is what America needs.”

  • Rick Santorum family had a divine understanding of what compelled his presidential ambitions.

“… defending God’s truth …” and “… it really boils down to God’s will. What is it that God wants? We have prayed a lot about this decision, and we believe with all our hearts that this is what God wants.”

  • Mike Huckabee asked his audience that he couldn’t think of a worse place in the world to be than in the Oval Office without God’s hand upon him. He’d rather not get near the place, but if that’s a (God’s) purpose, so be it.”

During the 2011/2012 GOP Presidential race, God told Rick Santorum (again), Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain (the same Cain who infamously quoted as being a brother (to the Koch brothers) from another mother, to run as well.

I am amazed the same God reached out Falwell, Graham and all these candidates. The ironic theme running through every message is that it’s from the same God.  You’d think all the candidates would compare notes. ” What? God told you to run too?” But while they’re somehow qualified to run the country, they can’t figure out how bizarre it is for God to have called everyone.

That means either God is extremely confused or has a huge a problem with commitment. I mean this is the same God that parted water, turned water into wine, had His Son killed, raised and then left for vacation. He could have selected any one for president, but each either failed or will fail. So what does this mean for God and for the candidates that claim to be doing his work in running for president? I sort of expect God to call and say, “Sorry, My bad!

At the end of the day, God is either a particularly cruel practical joker, He never really endorsed any of them or most Americans don’t give a crap. The first would be hilarious but the third is most likely.

There is no universal agreement among Buddhists about the right solutions to political issues or even how to prioritize them. There can be agreement, however, about trying to not make one’s political actions the product of greed, aversion, or delusion, and about acting mindfully and employing right speech, etc. That’s where many politicians fall short of God’s calling.

imageMissouri University Payton Head felt hurt that people hurled racial insults. Additionally, Mizzou black students attempted to crucify a professor for being insensitive when he scheduled a test. One twitter user JJ not Jay-Jay, stated he was offended the teacher asked his students not to give in to bullies.

To all who stayed away from campus out fear, I understand your fear and I feel your pain.

Many will argue I couldn’t possibly feel the presence of racism or the fear of death like a black man. I counter, “Why not?” Technically speaking, I can’t feel anyone’s personal experience from racism’s spear. But neither would that same black man or woman completely understand the racism I’ve received either.

Regardless of race, racism itself isn’t completely unique. At it’s core, racism has a strange common bond for many of us.

My viewpoints aren’t developed from entitled white privilege. I understand everyone is trying hard to make all black lives matter. But having been sexually abused as a child, beaten by a gang of school yard bullies on a regular basis, told my life was worthless and that I would be worthless, I determined my life mattered.

Think I’m over the top, hear me out.

Do you think I don’t fear death when I get on a plan and head to the Middle East, solely for the purpose of helping them with healthcare? I am constantly aware of bombs, kidnappings, mysterious deaths, beheadings, beatings, arrests and so on. Like many others are targeted because of race, I’m targeted simply because of my nationality and race.

Don’t believe for a minute I haven’t felt a sense of fear in poverty stricken areas of Africa, where black racists followed me and a colleague. Why? Because of my race and nationality considers us an easy mark.

Then there’s the homeless of East Los Angeles, with whom I’ve had to set aside delusion, shame, direct cursing, spitting, hitting, and attempted assaults. I’ve navigated “white-out” and “black-out” rooms during healthcare clinics and enrollment; derogatory insults in Asia, Mexico, India, South America and America; was accused of being a spy in Asian; constantly watched my surroundings in the Middle East, Asia, Philippines; experienced resentment in Africa; dodged gangs in Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, Saint Louis, New York City, Boston, Denver; evaded drug gangs in Mexico and South America; had personal body guards in Venezuela; was abandoned by interpreters deep in southern Chile; was forced at gunpoint, by the Brazilian military to pay a bribe; been stripped searched by authorities in Argentina; was sexually harassed in Saint Louis, Missouri; received multiple death threats in Atlanta and Los Angeles.

But wait,” one might say, “you have clarify! I mean what about those insults?”

Well let’s discuss insults. I have a lengthy list. Over the past thirty years I’ve been called 8 Mile, Abe Lincoln, Charlie, Albino, Salt and Pepper (when I was with a black female friend for dinner), Anglo (by several Mexicans), Bacon Bit, Bai-Tou (Chinese for white head), Sai-Tou (shit head in China), Bak-Guiy (white ghost), Beach-Nigger (when I got too much sun tan), Bean Dipper (when I went for drinks with a Latino woman), Bird Shit, Bleach Boy, Brady (demeaning word for Brady Bunch), Bubba, Casper, Clampett (from Beverly Hillbillys), Cock (short for Caucasian), Cornfed (meaning I was too fat), Crisco (i.e., the white grease), Ditchpig (because I worked cleaning side-street ditches during college one summer), Gabacho, Goober (by Black NYC Racists just a few months ago), Gusak (by Alaskan racists), Hillbilly, Honky, HP (human parasite), Lo-wai (outsider), MacLord (simply because I use a MacBook), Milkhead, Mouse (used by Black racists as I walked in NY City), Nightlite (used by black racists in Africa, meaning I could be seen in the dark), Redneck, Cracker, Ritz Cracker (because they thought I was rich), Saltine, Skinhead (because being bald obviously means I’m a racist skinhead), Tornado Bait (white trash that gets hit by tornado – they seemed to think that since I help restore medical services in disaster areas, I somehow deserve this name), Triscut (a cracker, but worse than white trash), Wasian (because I lived in Japan helping the Japanese, local racists thought I was fascinated with the Japanese culture), White Out (Meaning no whites – used in NYC when I went to a meeting to hear how I could assist with healthcare), YT (sent via a post-it note during an audit, means Whitey).

Oh yeah, I’m white. Still think I’m privileged?

So why do I do it? What motivated me get up and go to school, earn a degree and work? Turns out, my love for people and my passion to help others is far more powerful than the fear from some dipstick hurling insults from the back of a pickup truck. My soul’s inner core is more resilient, has more wisdom and more strength than the stupidity we reduce ourselves.

I never went on a hunger strike, protested in some lobby, interrupted town hall meetings or screamed demands. Change did not come by demanding some other person do something. I became the one I had been waiting for. I was the change I sought. I went to work, served people, built relationships and changed small snippets of the world through one act of kindness after another.

You need to do the same.

Here’s a personal post from a blogger about being a global citizen.

Governor Jay Nixon tweeted this photo this morning while voting.

Remember – Missouri is the ‘Show Me’ State.

Butt Snip

Do Lives Matter

10092014_Shaw-thumb-295xauto-11734On Saturday, a few thousand protesters participated in a “Justice for All” march in St. Louis, one of the largest and most diverse gatherings since the shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown. Unions, religious groups and student organizations gathered behind banners as flags and posters bobbed down the street while drums thundered above a loud din of chants of “Black lives matter! Black lives matter!

More than 1,000 peaceful protesters shut down an intersection by playing jump rope and silently marched through Saint Louis before staging a sit-in at Saint Louis University early Monday morning. Why Saint Louis University was chosen is beyond me. However, protest leaders addressing the crowd said their demonstration was about ending white supremacy and addressing systemic problems people face regardless of race.

Watching scenes protrayed in social media and news outlets, I ask with all honesty, do black lives matter? Do any of our lives really matter? Placing thoughts into perspective, I repeat part of a previous post:

27-year-old Quinnell Stanciel, was pronounced dead at the scene while the second victim was rushed to an area hospital with a gunshot wound to the arm. Also, a week ago today, Jonathan Saddler, 24, and James Lane, 22, were killed in a shoot out in downtown St. Louis. Police said that shooting was drug-related, and officers recovered suspected marijuana and heroin at the shooting scene. Surviving victims were not cooperating with the investigation.

Researching news wires, readers learned James Lane was the uncle of Latasha Williams, a 14 year-old shot in the left eye September 12th. Latasha was buying snacks at a corner store when bullets were sprayed from a passing vehicle into the store. Latasha’s father, Marvin Williams, also died violently. Willliams was fatally shot on March 21, 2005 at the age of 21. Police said then they believed the shooting was gang-related.

Neither Quinnell Stanciel, Jonathan Saddler, James Lane, Latasha Williams nor Marvin Williams had signs erected on their behalf. And why not? Do any of their lives really count? Or does the community at large largely ignore their lives, while focusing upon only a select few?

From a Buddhist perspective, I ponder whether protests work. In June 1963, a Vietnamese monk Thich Quang Duc sat down in a busy intersection of Saigon set himself on fire. However, the monk’s friends ensured foreign reporters were on the scene; thus ensuring photos would quickly spread around the world.

In spite of significant media reporting, Ferguson protesters appear to have a message looking for a cause, as statistics clearly support, that in total, police shootings of unarmed men are rare. If black lives matter, then all black lives have to matter, not just those cherry-picked for this version of ‘activism weekly.’ This doesn’t mean Michael Brown and Vonderrit Myers don’t matter. But while protesting provides a profound “moral shock,” almost all causes fade in waning years. Look no further than Trayvon Martin, where nationwide protests remain unanswered years later.

As a Buddhist, if we’re going to achieve transformation, we must focus upon the lives of all people, not just black people. I do believe our lives can speak to the future, if all of us become involved to provide solutions. But warning signs are ominous. The interfaith service meant to bring the St. Louis community together exposed fissures between protest leaders and the youth. Still, if the lives of Michael Brown and Vonderrit Myers matter; Quinnell Stanciel, Jonathan Saddler, James Lane, Latasha Williams and Marvin Williams must equally matter as well. Yet few, if any, speak for them.

Everyone has to matter.

If every single life doesn’t matter, the protest won’t last.

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