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With You

I bent over and couldn’t get up. As I said to the doctor, it’s as if my brain was sending signals, by nothing below my waist responded. These past several days, nothing seemed to work right. Back at home, I couldn’t get comfortable. Nothing soothed the pain, standing, sitting, or walking.

It appears I will suffer.

“Then, I shall suffer with you.”

Eventually, I will be unable to move.

“Then, I will sit with you.”

And if I die?

“Then, I shall die with you.”

A New Hope

On December 30th, a suicide occurred. I am thinking of one in particular, but technically, speaking, neither event, time, or place matters. In suicide’s wake, most are likely to be stunned, even surprised. 

“Never saw it coming,” said one.

Robin Williams August 2014 suicide was devastating to those who knew him best. His suicide came at the end of a long decline. Williams faced unnerving challenges, both professionally and personally. His career had stalled, he harbored guilt about divorce and reeled from a Parkinson’s diagnosis (later revealed to Lewy body dementia, an aggressive and incurable brain disorder).

Most miss the signs. Why? A colleague whose son attempted suicide posed hard questions. 

How did this happen? What warning signs did we miss? How will I ever let him out of my sight again? How will I keep him safe? What do we do next?

Of course, certain tendencies may help determine when to get support. It is essential to note that my experience as a rescue man so many years ago left me one truth: warning signs are unique to each person. And some show very few signs at all.

So, I’ll admit. I have considered suicide myself. Not only during high school (especially after a distant friend’s suicide), but more recently, suicide was my chosen method of departure when life’s physical pain and burden exceeded value. However, I busted through such thoughts.

Attending a Buddhist seminar years ago, an audience participant posed a penetrating question: “What happens to someone after suicide?” A monk replied, “Rebirth, and then who knows?” It’s a skillful answer, but a political one. The response is common among politicians. Leaves you something, leaves you nothing.

When asked of suicide consequence, most regurgitate Buddhism’s first precept: Do no harm. Yeah, we get it. Suicide’s act creates a host of significant implications. Almost every dominant religion view’s one’s birth as incredibly precious. Therefore, they purport, such opportunities are not to be wasted. However, if life itself were significant, why do our leaders openly harm those they’re entrusted to serve?

Is there hope? Yes, even by merely sipping coffee. 

Hope For The Day indicates suicide completion rates have surged to a 30-year high. Like many such organizations, Hope For The Day performed proactive suicide prevention by providing outreach and mental health education. They believe suicide is a preventable mental health crisis, with the primary obstacle to suicide prevention is silence. In 2018, Hope For The Day assisted over 500,000 individuals.

I support Hope For The Day by sipping coffee. Sip of Hope is the world’s first coffee shop where 100% of the proceeds support proactive suicide prevention and mental health education. 

I believe one challenge we all can undertake this New Year is to provide hope . . . to everyone. Clean what keeps us closed to those we love. And forgive. I do believe our goodness survives death. And in God, we can cultivate that goodness in ourselves as well as nurture and celebrate the kindness of others around us. 

Our country must come to terms with the fact that suicide has to be taken out of ‘shame’s corner.’ You can do it by sipping coffee.

Funny Quote

Stand-up comedian and news correspondent Francesca Fiorentini during her MSNBC’s “Red White and Who?

“Welcome to Texas, home to Bar-B-Que, Ted Cruz and other things unhealthy for you.”

Greetings one and all. Guess what? It’s ‘that’ time of year again: A New Year. A new decade. As 2020 approaches, it’s time to reflect upon resolutions, new and old.

Many publications detail splendorous lists of resolutions. Waiting for a doctor’s appointment yesterday, Good Housekeeping Magazine editors listed the ‘traditional.’ Create a budget, cook one new thing each week, read more books, join a club, drink less alcohol (seriously?), take the stairs (huh?), become a plant owner, and so on. In all, Good Housekeeping editors ripped off a list of 45. 

I’ll admit, I did create a budget. My employer loved it. Does it count? I did eat one new thing each week. They were all cooked, but every dish came from the employee cafeteria. I read more books. The books were from distinguished authors supervisors claim we must ‘channel.’ Works included “Turn the Ship Around,” “Management for Dummies” and other thought engaging topics. I did join a club, it’s ‘the club’ management ‘highly recommends’ every employee join. All of us inferred that if we didn’t, we’d die. I also acquired a plant. It’s fake, and is fairly low maintenance. However, I’m considering parting with it because it interferes with reading.

Since I’ve been sick, many suggested I adopt a healthier lifestyle. “Find some inspiration,” some professed. Looking back no farther than this decade, I researched about adopting a lifestyle of the rich and famous. Gwyneth Paltrow offered America vagina steam and jade vagina eggs. Kim Kardashian offered viewers vampire facials. David and Victoria Beckham proposed bird poop facials, while Sandra Bullock recommended facials constituted from foreskin stem cells. Instead of alcohol, Madonna suggests I drink urine, preferably mine. And last, but not least, the Kardashians suggest one participate in placenta smoothies.

If you put me on the spot, here’s how I’d summarize my New Year resolutions, by decade.

  •  1970: Become a famous military spy. Save the world.
  •  1980: Become a brilliant writer. Inspire the world.
  •  1990: Become a renowned rescue man. Save a kitten.
  •  2000: Wake up and claim I did something. Anything.
  •  2010: Kiss Ass. Keep the job.
  •  2020: Embrace My Inner Neanderthal: Grunt. Pay rent. Forage for food.

At this point in my life, I wonder if ‘resolutions’ and ‘bucket lists’ should merge? Call it the “Covey Thing:” You remember, First Things First mantra and Seven Habits of Highly Effective Whatever guru who propels one to carry a planner forever, identify quadrants, and shift paradigms. Personally, for a person with a neck tumor and being prodded for colon cancer, the only paradigm I wish to experience is a pain-free dump. I liken Covey’s approach to the mental equivalent of ‘killing two birds with one stone’ theory.

By merging ‘resolutions’ and ‘bucket lists,’ maybe there’s both liberation and empowerment. I recently watched an Indian film, 3 Idiots. I believe this movie has usable ‘resolutions’ for everyone. It’s humorous, heart-warming, and sometimes shouts the value of life to the world. Thus, my 2020 list of resolutions is inspired, in part, by the film.

  • Tell someone I love them.  
  • Make love in an early morning rain.
  • Use time wisely.
  • Create a sense of hope for those I leave behind.
  • Tell myself that “all is well.” 
  • Pursue excellence, and success will follow.
  • Pray to God that I will receive the wisdom to understand all His lessons, even in death.

Have a wonderful and prosperous New Year.

Meetings

“Lord, I sit in these meetings and wonder why I’m here.”

I sit in the same meeting and wonder why too.

A week prior to Christmas I met my counselor. Personally, I believe she thinks I’m nuts.

As you may know, I skipped four of five stages of death. These stages included, denial, anger, bargaining, depression. Maybe I experienced each stage but I experienced them like Tortilla Flat in Arizona, population 6. It’s the sort of town where one presses the accelerator to ensure, that in the unlikely event of mechanical failure, there’s enough speed to coast to the other end.

Thus, her question, “Why haven’t you asked ‘why me?

Having a top secret clearance, I could say, “Classified.” Or better yet, “Because I’m fabulous.” Then again, maybe God didn’t intentionally send me a tumor. “Well, I personally don’t think it (tumor) was intended for me. The package was postmarked, ‘To whom it may concern.’” Truthfully, I have no answer. I just remember that since 2014, my physical symptoms seemed to be accelerating.

On a weird, yet personal note, there were times I reverse-engineered the ‘why-me‘ question.

My first experience with reverse engineering came during a football game where the only player in the history of the NFL died on field. Charles Frederick “Chuck” Hughes. Hughes was sent into the game against the Chicago Bears as an injury replacement. He made one catch for 32 yards and a first down. Three plays later, he was used as a decoy in a play. After the unsuccessful play, he was running towards the huddle with 1:02 left on the clock when he collapsed, grabbing his chest. Hughes was taken away by ambulance and the game continued. At age 11 I questioned God, “Why did I live and he didn’t? What made me so special and not him?”

Even today, as doctors search my colon for another tumor, someone will press me for an ‘why me‘ answer. I don’t have one. Sometimes, I ask the same question. For instance, ESPN college football reporter Ed Aschoff died of pneumonia at 34. My response? ‘Why him, not me?” And then there’s 13-year-old Broadway star Laurel Griggs.’ Ms. Griggs suffered from obstructive lung disease and died after a massive asthma attack. My response? ‘Why her, not me?

Throughout all my questions, God has remained stoically silent. Sometimes, there are weird back and forth that can be both funny and maddening.

“Trust me.”

“What? Seriously?”

“Yes. Trust Me.”

“F*** me.”

“I don’t do that.”

So, yeah, the answer is there, but it’s not quite as detailed as preferred.

As a former rescue man, I know all of us have terrible things happen and it’s just a matter of when such a thing knock’s the door. Otherwise, in spite of all the awful things I’ve done in my life, I’ve been fairly lucky.

I have had many wonderful times in my life. I’ve traveled extensively, scavenged beaches and experienced many wonderful things. “Why me? Not Others?” Don’t know. I am clueless. I have witnessed the deepest levels of human caring. “Why me? And, why can’t others?” Hard to say. As such, each experience humbles me and compels me to become better. I experienced great love and suffered deeply from the loss. “Why did I suffer so greatly?” Who knows. Yet, through it all, God has always … always … always made time for me. And I presume He does the same for you.

Some claim I’m hedging bets, working both sides. True, my walk with God appears perplexing: Grew up Catholic, moved to agnostic, debated atheism, became Buddhist, and Spiritual. I still claim God is an awesome friend, And as my friend, I’m fairly positive He shook His head in disbelief of my misadventures. Yet who among us hasn’t given God the leftovers of both heart and priority? Then at the end of life, look back and regret the many missed opportunities. If you’re such a person, then I’m walking with you.

When my favorite singer, Harry Chapin, died in 1981, his widow reported that Harry’s music supported 17 relatives, 14 associations, seven foundations and 82 charities. Harry wasn’t interested in saving money. He always said, ‘Money is for people,’ so he gave it away‘ (to fight hunger). Even though Chapin questioned God in life, he lived a Christ-like life. My response. ‘Why him, not me?

So, yes. I have regrets. “Why me? But not unlike others.

However . . . In the end, I’m fairly lucky. I have no clue why, but I accept the time remaining. In the end, I just have to trust.

And He whispers, “Yes. Trust Me.”

Years ago, Ron Srigley taught a class in which many students failed the midterm. Not just failed, but failed miserably. He asked the students what went wrong. After a few moments of silence, one young woman put up her hand and said: “We don’t understand what the books say, sir. We don’t understand the words.” Srigley looked around and saw guileless heads pensively nodding in agreement.

I experienced a similar phenomenon several weeks ago in a restaurant outside Tucson, Arizona, after a beautiful meal, I requested a $100 gift certificate for my parents. New to completing such a task, the manager assisted the young server.

Manager, “Make sure you write ‘For food and non-alcoholic beverages.’”

A pause ensued as I watched the young server.

“Ugh,” she anguished. “How do you spell ‘alcohol?’ I need my cell phone.

Mark Zuckerberg’s reformulated Facebook’s mission statement aims to “give people power to build community and bring the world closer together.” The price for this form of community is the loss of human relationships. All of us stick our faces into our phones when face to face communication is required. Why? Mainly because we don’t know how to communicate.

I wonder if God uses a cell phone? Not sure. In 2017, a blog author outlined 15 must-have apps Christian Apps that will inspire growth. Likewise, there’s a list of 15 Buddhist Apps that will provide daily inspiration and joy. There are at least “7 best prayer apps” guaranteed to grow your faith (as opposed to the 100 or so non-guaranteed). There are apps that will remind you to pray and others that will ask others to pray. (Mind you, I am unclear why the phone’s calendar appointment couldn’t do that function, but nonetheless.) By the way, Google can now point you in the right direction for Mecca, and there’s a host of religious dating apps. Lastly, God now has a television show “God Friended Me,” in which an atheist gets a friend request from ‘God’ via Facebook.

So…does all of this help with our connection to people, and likewise, to God? We’ve become so used to not talking that it scares many to have such serious conversations. Now, any of us risk that one incorrectly used exclamation point will end a friendship. And certainly an inappropriate picture has plummeted careers. It’s a point our current leaders have learned: The lack of face-to-face interaction demeans and depersonalizes. It’s a subset of society and or religion altogether.

For instance—I kid you not—I just received a text message from someone from Denver, Colorado (720) ***-****. I have no clue who the person(s) is/are. It could be anyone. I presume it is a woman, for the person(s) sent an anime of a woman dressed in a Santa outfit riding a dragon. However, I presume the person wishes me ‘Happy Holidays.’ It could be ironic. Just the other day I was praying, and jokingly said to the deceased person I prayed about, “Ah. Send me a text letting me know how you’re doing.” Maybe it’s visible proof that God allows cell phone use. However, the test came from an Android phone. Does that mean God uses only Android? Irregardless, hate to see that one-time text charge from the hereafter.

Looping back to Ron Srigley, Srigley offered his students extra credit if they gave up their phones for nine days and wrote about the experience. Twelve students took the offer. The results were impressive, as many students wrote of being both distracted and morally compromised.

  • Kate: “Having a cell phone has affected my code of morals, and this scares me … I regret to admit that I have texted in class this year, something I swore to myself in high school that I would never do … I am disappointed in myself now that I see how much I have come to depend on technology … I start to wonder if it has affected who I am as a person, and then I remember that it already has.”
  • And James, though he says we must continue to develop our technology, said that “what many people forget is that it is vital for us not to lose our fundamental values along the way.”

Of course, I write all of this with full knowledge that, for all practical purposes, I’m a blogger. Still, I doubt if the (720) area code text was from God or otherwise. And maybe, just maybe, God does follow my blog. Never know, right? I have no clue, but I’ll keep you apprised. My point is simple, put the phone down and meaningful conversations, both personal and spiritual.

God wants personal, not a text. And those you love deserve the same.

Yesterday I was asked to describe what Christmas gift Ms. K. provided. The request was a soul-searching. 

In the 245th episode of the CBS-TV series M*A*S*H, ‘Who Knew,’ a landmine killed a nurse Hawkeye was dating. In the aftermath, Hawkeye finds himself performing some severe soul searching when he finds out she was too shy to reveal she had serious feelings for him and regrets not allowing himself to get to know Nurse Millie Carpenter better. Hawkeye uses his eulogy to do something Millie never got to do–to do a better job of letting those closest to him know what they mean to him.

I’m empathetic to Hawkeye. 

For me, Ms. K. was someone worth knowing. However, during the early decade of 2000, I was positive she wouldn’t care to know someone like, and for a long time, I lived for nothing more significant than myself. Moving backward just eight months ago, I feel Ms. K. through experiences of a cool breeze, in the touch of a loved one, and in the memories of those lost who’ve stood beside me, for better or for worse. 

In many ways, I’ve gotten to know Ms. K. through our on-and-off conversations. Many who worked with Ms. K. never saw her. They saw her beauty, but few knew her. Until recently, I was in the former crowd. I could write my feelings, but could never express them. And, I thought my style of communication would clash with her style. However, I only guess exactly what her style was.

Unfortunately, I had to learn post-life. In her death, I learned there remains an unexplained bond. I’m uncertain how long it will last. Hopefully, forever. Then again, maybe our relationship is a hand-off that will make a more substantial contribution beyond just my life. I believe it’s a similar bond Christ gave.

However, to answer the question I was given, the greatest gift I received from Ms. K. is love. While outside our time, she’s within my heart, with no fear, no great anguish. Even in meditation, I yearn toward her and await for God to bring us close. She has the heart of hope and leaves not the smallest thought unfilled. As Matt Chandler might say, ‘love is sacrificial, love is ferocious.’

To all the people I’ve worked with, fought against ignorance with, and those of common bond, I am blessed by your love. All of you were very important and helped make the man I today. I am sorry if I took any of you for granted, especially Edward P., Ingrid L., Sheila M., and Ethel C. All of you are directly responsible for setting the foundation Ms. K. inherited and continues to mold.

Ms. K.’s link goes beyond love. There’s compassion. Like God, I experienced neither thirst nor hunger. In her eyes, I can shed MS. I walk without a cane, and we dance with through the forest she created, the home she now resides.

In life, right to the end, she was a mentor. And true to nature, she’s mentored me. With compassion as her compass, she guided. Of course, therein lay her challenge. I didn’t make it easy. 

We’re told the most challenging people are the ones that need compassion the most. I am that person. I’ve hurt and taken advantage of others. In anger, hurt, or frustration, there were times I didn’t feel like giving anything. However, if Ms. K. were alive today, she’d probably say something like, “Nothing in life is worth it if you don’t take a risk.” So, she took a risk … on me.

Ms. K. never quit–not on life and not on me. Neither did she authoritatively judge nor dismiss me. She pushed onward in grace. She paused upon weakness, learned to understand and embrace my growth. I can’t imagine what it’s like for her to have to endure continual embarrassment. Yet, she remains resilient and guides me closer to my highest self, a place where goodness and learning were closed years prior.

Ms. K. taught to fall on faith. Don’t fall on drugs, alcohol, prejudice, anger, or isolationism. Fall on your faith. In the subsequent half-year, I have learned about shared humanity, that it’s the everyday person who impacts one’s life—those who help the many, not a ‘chosen one.’

Denzel Washington said, “It’s the people you have, the people you love and the faith you have. Those are the things that define you.” It’s the same message God sent. It’s the same message Ms. K. lived here on earth. It’s the same message she still lives. 

She never wanted anyone to confuse movement with progress. It’s not what you have, it’s what you do with what you have. Ms. K. is one of the most beautiful women ever met. She’s my mentor. She taught me to love. 

And I love her.

Christmas Eve is upon us. And if Christmas is meant to bring us closer, even in my condition, I managed to bring cheer to those surrounding me.

People talk about the holidays being rough for some people. Christmas has always been difficult for me. I also wanted the beautiful ending depicted by so many Hallmark movies, but those are meant for the young and beautiful. Life never takes a holiday. I haven’t felt well for weeks and last night while bending over to pick up a dropped spoon, I couldn’t straighten. There weren’t the typical back spasms or pain, it’s just that the signals my brain sent were not received and I remained curled like a large beach ball.

So, off to the hospital.

in spite of it all, there are good things happening. Yeah, I understand my body is wearing out. However, rather than being a victim, I choose to be a witness to the process. There are strange and sometimes wondrous events. Most are personal perspectives that probably confounds many.

Ms. J. asked last week if was trying to excel the process – meaning dying. “Not really,” I replied. “I understand my story will end like most with terminal disease: death. However, I have things to do. It’s just that the pain and spinal issues make it more aggravating.

Blogger Josie Rubio noted, “I try to live in the moment. Sometimes I have to think ahead and I can’t help but look behind. Sometimes I’m so fully immersed in the moment, it’s hard for me to reach out to make future plans or be reachable, and for that I’m sorry.”

Ms. Rubio summarized it well. Live in the moment.

Unlike most Christmas’ when I didn’t even comprehend it, I’m grateful for the time. I traveled. I was able to visit my mother and father. I am able to get hospital staff to laugh. And even while in a hospital bed awaiting discharge this very morn, I spent time helping a friend with a pressing business problem.

Unlike current government leadership, true religion brings peace and satisfaction to others. I am horrified by those who claim a certain leader being the ‘Chosen One,’ when in fact such actions only aroused confusion and serve no religious function. Such a mindset is extremely immature.

As 2019 ends, it is a good time to ask what we want to do with the remaining days of our life. Surely, one can discuss dreams and see how to support one other. Just as Jesus had a dreams, Buddha had dreams, and you have dreams. Can we look at our relationships and see how they might be improved?

Paraphrasing Dr. Martin Luther King, our love must transcend race, tribe, class, skin, and nation. Neither nation nor individual can live alone. We must learn to live and love together or we perish as fools. Every man is somebody. Every man is a child of God. What Christ demonstrated is there is neither Jew nor Gentile. Neither male nor female. Neither Communist nor capitalist. Neither bound nor free. Every human is sacred, in some way.

This morning, I tried to absorb the beauty of the nurses and doctors treating me. I couldn’t. I want to remember them, in everything. I want to embellish the joy of friendship, saying “Thank you sir” to the black man who held the door open for me. I want more moments of saying “Beautiful head scarf” to the Muslim woman who served me coffee. I simply want love. And I simply want to take their love with me.

Love is what Christmas is about. Love requires everything. Yet that’s the simple message of a boy born in a manger.

2019 Christmas Message

It seems like years since my last post. If queried, I could probably craft several reasons: work, lack of time, body’s pain etc., etc. To some extent, maybe some, if not all, is partially true. However, I ran out of things to say. 

Of course, I could have written of Trump, or Congress, world affairs, Time Magazine’s ‘Person of the Year.’ Yet none pale against the daily onslaught of pain, medication, doctor appointments, and other accouterments of the medical journey that I and most will one day embark. Still, I find myself wanting to share a wondrously graceful moment.

Perusing previous posts, December 10, 2018, Lessons Upon Love’s Roller Coaster hinted at something somehow sensed but not processed. I summarize:

“Several days have passed since my last post. I’ve felt ill, not from posting the previous eighteen letters, but from my body. A body zooming past the highest point of life’s roller coaster. I will soon bid adieu and go forth in nature.”

March 2019 saw me turning off the television, except for an occasional football/baseball game. I also experienced an Out of Body Experience (OBE) to which I promised to write about but haven’t (my bad … sorry). And like others before me, I woke up one day healthy, the next day diagnosed with a tumor. As such, like warriors before (those with cancer), I woke up with a full day ahead. 

It’s also the month, I vowed to make one final attempt at making amends. In May 2012, I created an Atonement List (Personal Inventory). I detailed twenty-six (26) severely painful situations requiring amends. It was quite a list ~ almost one for every year I have roamed the corporate world. 

So in becoming Buddhist, I felt obligated to honor the Atonement principle. I researched attempted to contact all I could. The outcome was exceedingly painful. Seven (7) refused my amends, including the Catholic Church. However, eleven (11) did forgive me. Four (4) could not be located, and four (4) others were a work in progress.

Yesterday, I met with one of my greatest loves, the woman to whom I wrote 18 letters years ago, subsequently posting all on my blog a year ago. It was the first honest and open conversation in years. Throughout the hours, we reaffirmed our dreams, our lives, and our love. I told her of my letters, and that one day, she’ll be provided a hyperlink to my blog, where she can read them. 

Our conversation was is what true love is about. It’s what God asks, to fill each other with love. In the end, nothing changed. We did not ride off into the sunset. Commitments embedded us or maybe the laws of physics or the universe worked against us. I am dying, and she is living. 

Still, making amends allows God to provide an opportunity, not for what we want, but for what we need. Ms. J. and I needed those hours. We needed to express our love; we needed one final moment to gaze into each other’s eyes and profess the undying gift each of us brought to one another, and we needed the opportunity to allow ourselves to heal.

Maya Angelo wrote, “It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.” Therein lay my Christmas message for you … forgive. Strange, the word ‘forgiveness’ has the word ‘give.’ Luke explained whatever we give will be given back. Paul said whatever we sow (itself a form of giving) will provide a harvest. And Jesus said that unless we forgive, God will not forgive. 

If I die before the new year, I would only request you have the opportunity to unlock the chains and allow love (God) to work in your heart. Mostly, that’s the message found within “A Christmas Carol,” the message Marley delivered to Scrooge. And truthfully, that’s what this tumor has done for my own life. 

When someone whom I mistreated chooses to forgive and prays for me, I know that it was divine work. This Christmas season, embrace forgiveness. Live it, breathe it, and nurture it.

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