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Trump’s fifty-plus minute diatribe in Charlotte, North Carolina reminded me of a Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. . . .” I flashed to 1963.

In June 1963, Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc publicly burned himself to death in a plea for President Ngo Dinh Diem to show “charity and compassion” to all religions. By November 1963, Diem was overthrown. Students of history, all of us should compare such self-sacrifice against the tyranny of the current administration. To be fair, Trump doesn’t hate protests, only dissent.

Pandering to cult leadership is not new. However harmful we thought previous leaders were, I don’t recall the overly targeted criticism of athletes who knelt, silently and peacefully, during the national anthem. Public rebuking NFL players in a series of tweets ended the NFL quarterback (Kaepernick); goodness of evil was emphasized when white supremacists marched; and black men and women are wrongly shot, most recently in the back. And most Americans sat on our asses and watched it all while the ‘shit-show’ ran amok.

In four short years, America witnessed institutional dismantling, justice to the preferred, truth for those who lied under oath, and rapping U.S. coffers for personal gain. In four years, healthcare dismantled, environmental standards ripped apart, legal norms suffocated, sought election interference from foreign powers, separated children from immigrant families and threw them into cages like stray dogs, told citizens to inject bleach (or maybe a light), spouted unproven medical quackery, and by December, will have witnessed 300,000 U.S. citizens die. We watch, all the while acknowledging the damage.

The president’s sister described him as a liar and fake. A former senior official at the Department of Homeland Security deemed him a danger to the country. CNN claims a prominent Fox News anchor had once called him “batshit crazy.” John Bolton, former Defense Secretary James Mattis, and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have described our leader as a danger to America. Sadly, none of these men or women were able to rise above the moment to demonstrate something greater. Perseverance of love failed miserably.

In his death, Thich Quang Duc demonstrated his compassion love – the need for bridges, not hatred. Presidential Historian Jon Meacham echoed Duc’s sentiment at the recent Democratic Convention, “Extremism, nativism, isolationism and a lack of economic opportunity for working people are all preventing us from realizing our nation’s promise, and so we must decide whether we will continue to be prisoners of the darkest of American forces or will we free ourselves to write a brighter better nobler story. Our (the American) story has soared when we have built bridges, not walls.”

Which story will you build? Bridges? Or walls?

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.

Keeping It Real

Sometime in the coming months, this blog will either stop, or a huge gap between writing could occur. I may be out of pocket, or I must determine how to write one-handed. God, nature, or life gifted the metacarpophalangeal joint in the middle finger (my writing hand) a lump. The doctors do not believe this is a Ganglion cyst. The doctors explained that since conclusive diagnosis appears improbable, they suggest surgically removing it. I, however, must think of some way to explain it to my employer.

There are some notable examples. Entering on stage with a shoulder spica cast, Phyllis Diller opened with something like, “I want to report a typo on page 164 of The Joy of Sex.” Another person said she sliced her hand, opening a frozen waffle. Another claimed to have broken her nose while adjusting her bra. (She was fitting her bra and slipped, releasing her fist into her nose.) Having such examples provided a creative license. 

“Hey everyone. I was coming into work and saw a cat (correct that: kitten) stuck on an overpass ledge. I saved the kitten but cut my hand. I will be out of pocket for two to six weeks.” There is an attacker’s excuse. “I saved a person from being attacked. The attacker cut my hand. I will be out of pocket for two to six weeks.” Then there is this one. “My girlfriend and I were play wrestling. My cat came to defend her and bit me. Stupid cat. I will be out of pocket for two to six weeks.” (The last one was real.) I want a great story, for truth is boring. 

Which is better? You fought off a shark, or you have cancer? I was free-climbing and cut my hand or arthritis created a node (bone spur) that must be removed? I saved a child from falling over a cliff or waking up this lump and having no idea what the hell caused it? Yet, capturing my cat’s identification tag forces me to keep it real. 

Houdini was my adopted cat for six months in 1998. His name was provided by adoption agency staff who swore to his ability to escape from anything. Place Houdini in a kennel cage for dinner, and he would be out by dessert. One afternoon, I went to see Saving Private Ryan. Houdini was placed in his cage, double pad-locked, and inserted molded concrete around the exterior. He was out when I returned. 

What keeps all this real was his death. Houdini passed away in my arms. He was real. He was alive, and to some extent, remains active in me. Houdini never complained about being weak. He never allowed himself to feel life’s sorrow, nor did he tell a tall tale. And secretly, he is probably the single essential inspiration for living today. Houdini’s aim was to love everyone and everything. He lived a pure life love, for pain was inevitable, suffering was optional.

All lives will be fraught with some measure of pain, but it is in leaning away from that pain instead of accepting it with a grace that suffering occurs. Anthony de Mellow said let the Spirit work. Stop straining your spiritual muscles. Become attuned to your deeper self and let the force of love take over. Let the Holy Spirit take over. 

There is a comfort in accepting that life is a continual ebb and flow between things going smoothly and going to hell. I think being a spiritual person means becoming a real human being. Thich Nhat Hanh said, “It is not so important whether you walk on water or walk in space. The true miracle is to walk on earth.” In other words, be real. Therefore, my medical condition will be explained as “I woke up this lump and have no idea what the hell caused it. The doctors believe it should be surgically removed. I will be out for two to six weeks.” Keeping it real.

Prayer

I was recently requested to write a letter of prayer to God for a late friend and her widowed husband. A few days ago, I searched for my good letter-writing fountain pens, ink, and letterhead. I wrote that letter, addressed it to God, Jerusalem, paid for postage, and tossed it into the mail. I figured I was done, but content stayed with me. In the end, I knew I wrote a pretty crappy letter, and decided I had to redo it.

Turns out, I forgot how to write a letter. I’ve become so used to typing, editing, and spell check that pen and ink seemed like a foreign language. It was hard to transition words to paper. I was stuck by the constraints of six-by-nine stationery. Whatever I wrote, must have been awful, for the finished product sat like dead weight.

I have no problem expressing my soul, bearing witness to my insecurities, and failures. I don’t fear the world knowing them either, for I presume, we all have faults we wish to bury from the world. It’s just that my late friend and husband deserved a thoughtful prayer, one considered honorable under God versus one in which the writer spent more time in search of the pen than then on the letter. 

Just as I lost a wife to mental illness during the early ’90s, my friend required prayer of grace. I have no idea what my friend endured. She lost her life. He lost a wife. It’s not like enduring a colonoscopy: drink some liquid the night before, camp out in the bathroom until morning, be escorted to the clinic, have an endoscopy inserted up your behind, get the results, and be back at work in three days. Losing a loved one is a landscape-altering event. No matter how one claims they’re ready, just a handful ever are.

One blogger wrote of his pain. “My wife went from fit, healthy, and beautiful in Sept 2017 to not being able to walk by Christmas – I cannot understand the cruelty my wife faced. I know I have been trying to ignore my grief, but the pain and sadness are all-consuming and I’m struggling now to cope with everything; my job, my friends and there lives, my family, my wife’s family – I am drowning in a world where everyone seems to be normal and my life isn’t anymore. I don’t want this life. I don’t know how to cope.” Everyone will say what you’re feeling is normal, but there is no normal. 

Normal is inapplicable within the screaming silence of an empty home, the reverberation of every picture, and a garden that dares to bloom in Spring. Life and the memories of that which was lost circulate throughout the void and pulses in every heartbeat. True prayer embraces this pain, acknowledges the soul, lifts hopeless.

Prayer is a conversation. Prayer is a conversation with God, that friend, a favorite pet. Children in western forms of religion are taught that Jesus began his prayer with some form of “Our Father,  who art in heaven.” Jesus focuses on a distinct person — the Heavenly Father with whom he has a personal relationship. It should be the same for us. Make the person we want to communicate with, part of the process. Written prayers force us to articulate our thoughts and feelings inside.

Love required me to properly articulate what was being asked. Instead of going through the motion, each word had to be formulated with purpose and driven from an authentic heart. Authentic prayer is neither a ‘tagline’ nor purchasing a condolence card at Walgreens and stuffing it in the mail. Written prayer is the process of heartfelt understanding being granted through God. This type of prayer is agape love in the present moment. My second letter became effectively powerful. I only wish my first was just as thoughtful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On an early weekend morning, I rolled over to the edge of the bed and realized I couldn’t get up. (At least initially I couldn’t get up.) “F●●●,” my body groaned. I reached for my cane, pulled myself upright, steadied on the bed’s edge.” I am getting old. Quickly. There’s a sobering likelihood that I will be one of the seven 65-year-olds who will be disabled before death. I’m not looking forward to it, but I find myself continually negotiating with ‘Father Time’ for a snippet’s reprieve.

Nora Ephron wrote, “What I believe … is that at a certain point in life, whether or not you’ve been diagnosed with an illness, you enter into a conscious, ongoing … negotiation between the two … This negotiation often includes decisions as trivial as whether to eat the second piece of pie as important as whether to have medical treatment that may or may not prolong your life.” I’m at a point where second helpings are intolerable. I know it. My body knows it. Call it intuition. Call it the ‘sixth sense.’ Call it, ‘Joe.’ Call it whimsical. Doesn’t matter. Most dying can name the time, and date life shifted.

July 15th, my body shifted. My back, stomach, intestines, and right hip awoke pissed off, as if to say, “We’re in charge, Obiwan. And we decided to drive off that cliff in the near horizon.” My former sister-in-law described a similar feeling. She awoke one morning, feeling something wasn’t right. “It was an ominous feeling,’ she casually noted during an afternoon lunch. A little over a year later, cancer claimed her life. Therefore, any notion that “70 is the new 50” never occurred to me, as I never expected to get to 70. My physician will test whether ‘60’ is my never ‘70.’

Several tests, including complete blood count and tumor marker, have been ordered. I won’t stumble into the results. I won’t get to read it online before hearing from my doctor. Post-results, I will hit ‘pause’ to wait and see what happens. I’ll internalize everything until I know just how true this ‘intuition’ (my decline) turns out, for I do not want to claim to be a victim. 

I never thought that anyone would be sorting through my life history 30 years ago. And at this point, there’s no optional editing that can be performed. History is written. I know how the scales of justice both God and man weigh each detail on trial. Afterward, everyone alive will understand I was no victim. It’s unavoidable. Accept it and move on. 

Moving forward is an interesting concept. Buddhists believe most illnesses are primarily karma’s negative energy-consuming the sufferer. If so, I have acquired a s●●●load of it. Such karma stems from greed, anger, and stupidity, including eating pizza, beer, and onion rings. I suppose a lot of cancer is avoidable. Not smoking reduces lung cancer significantly. Avoiding red meat reduces other forms of cancer. Protection from sun exposure reduces skin cancer. For me, cancer is … cancer. Just is. It’s part of life (at least mine anyway). I will take this situation like others and make it part of the path. The path is exclusive. It’s not filled with only right situations, but any situation. Fortunately, I have time to prepare. 

When told of the odds of my survival (a couple of good years), I instructed my physicians I was not interested in hearing about weird drug trials, new medications, or life-saving operations. What good would it do me? I decided to live until death. I refuse to get waylaid by the kind of emotional baggage that frequently accompanies others. Life is short. Admit your wrongs, make amends when you can, and live until death.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parkinson’s can produce some wild dreams. Mine is no exception. I’ve never had evil forces chase after me, had a conversation with an ex-girlfriend in a submarine factory, or drive the Autobahn on a motorized Schwinn Bicycle. I did, however, dream Christ sat next to me and told me to write. “Here on earth or in heaven?” “Both,” He noted.

Let’s face it; thousands claim God has ordered them to perform something. St. Paul’s directive came on a Damascus road. By affirming Peter, Christ requested he lead the early church. And then there’s politicians, who’ve proclaimed God directed them to run for elected office. Other variations litter social media: God laid it on me, provided an idea, or said I must write a book. God may instruct someone to write, what comes after can be more demanding.

When you say ‘God told me to write’ the editorial segue is, ‘Yeah, but God hasn’t told a publisher to publish.’” Wayne Dyer struck a similar tone, “Ok. God wants you to write. Good. Who mentioned anything about publishing?” In response to a submission, a friend received this short, terse note, “I began reviewing your submission, but could not get past the abstract.” Such experiences frustrate God’s divine intent and direction.

If writing is about clarity, then being assigned to author material in Heaven should terrify the soul. Why? Well, everything is perfect. Think one can summarize Henry David Thoreau’s new work, “Walking Through Heaven?” Sure. The byline must be “Perfect.” Every cloud is perfect. Every raindrop is perfect. No vaccines, no medical discoveries. Why? Perfection. Assigned to watch Bobby Jones playing golf? “Perfect.” Sent to summarize Mozart’s Requiem of Heaven in C-D-F major? “Perfect.” Perfect is near impossible to publish, and I’m not perfect.

Therefore, even if you’re sure God instructs one to write, don’t infer publication. Maybe God wants you to write for reasons unfathomable―like growth. Maybe God wants something to share with a select set of people. Being inspired by God doesn’t have to mean perfection; maybe it means pleasing. Perhaps God seeks laughter, humility, thoughts of the soul, or friendship. One thing for sure, if the call is real, you can’t run.

Running means selfishly retaining everything for oneself. Therefore, personal feelings would matter more than others. Had I buried my talent and my message like the servant in the parable of the talents (the one who thought he was smart by keeping that one talent safe, I’ll run afoul for not investing it into others (Matthew 25:14-30). The more significant theme is trying to discover the larger purpose.

Paraphrasing Ken Boa, “God entrusted us with certain resources, gifts, and abilities. Our responsibility is to live by that trust by managing these things well, by design and desire.” Indeed, my writing skills cannot compare to great historical works of literature. But God asked me to write. You might be able to sing, play an instrument, or perform advocacy. Others of us may be good at sports or able to work as builders. Other talents might include understanding, patience, cheerfulness, or the ability to teach others. And we must be willing to share it.

Therefore, I am going to answer the call and write.

Dominoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letters To God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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