Tag Archive: Compassion


Many years ago, a young associate stood on a New York subway, awaiting a train that would take him near the river. It was nearing 5:38 PM and warmth from the Springtime sun lured him from the hotel for several hours of sightseeing. Unbeknownst to him, at that very moment, another man stood squished in an already overcrowded railway car. The repetitive back and forth motion of the train, side-to-side swagger, added to either bad meal, seasonal allergies or an oncoming cold as the trained hurled forward.

Just as ordained, the associate and the ill man met, albeit ever briefly. The transit line stopped in front of my coworker. The doors opened. The man inside threw-up outward toward the platform, hitting my associate chest high. Two seconds later, train doors closed and pulled away.

Turning around, “Why me?” he asked.

Welcome to New York,” an elderly man quipped.

So many things in my life were insignificant as they occurred. Most were overly dramatized, either by the people involved or indulgently over told throughout the years. The memories I’m absorbing from treatment may not be precious to others, but each encounter and quip offers more wisdom than the sum of all valuables in my home. I have learned memories are valuable.

And my current memories? They don’t consist of the tumor. It’s the smaller things like nausea.

After downing another round of medications, I remember my associate in New York. Side effects started 24 hours later. It was the first time I experienced such heavy nausea. If one could bargain with the ol’ ‘Lord of Nausea,’ I would schedule all this for Election Day 2020 to avoid having to decide the pending presidential election. But alas, the bugger arrived at 9:04 AM, just after starting speaking at an internal company meeting.

Now I’ll admit, this is one heck of a way to out myself and my treatments to the entirety of the company. But I was exceedingly quick for ‘Mr. Nausea.’ I attributed my difficulties to allergies, to which, I’ve neither had nor taken medicine for. For a brief moment, I thought of hurling all over Alan. Alan was a prick from day one. So much so that I nearly called him Mr. Prick during a meeting. However, I lost my opportunity as everyone ditched the room, leaving me like a dead goldfish in a glass bowl.

After Mr. Nausea stopped, I defiantly walked to my desk. I expected a HAZMAT team but was greeted by Ms. Ginger C., former drill sergeant and reformed nurse, with lemon tea and orange wedges.

Picked them six months ago,” she pointed.

Sure there are still good?

Probably,” she noted. “But you look like shit anyway. What difference will it make?

Hard to argue logic, regardless of delivery. I downed the orange wedges.

If there’s one thing, I learned about life, that when S*** happens, it’s essential to develop one key skill: humor. It’s not that reasoning skills aren’t necessary. However, humor and humility will allow most to be successful in whatever situation encompasses us. And when dealing with Mr. Nausea, humor is critical.

In the movie Jack Reacher, Helen told Reacher he was wrong.

You were wrong about my father,” Helen stated.

Yeah, let’s not make a big thing of it.”

In Closing

I read a story of a fast-food employee near Houston who allegedly punched a co-worker after the coworker gave away the ending of Avengers: Endgame. MSNBC reported Justin Gregory Surface received an assault citation. Surface’s life got flushed for a spoiler easily read online.

Everyone gets shit in life. Most of it isn’t significant. There are so many other huge things coming down the pike. When S*** comes your way, take a breath. Try not to spend endless hours fumigating ‘why.’ Tumors are a big deal. Nausea? Not so much. So, when nausea visits again, I will channel Reacher.

Let’s not make a big thing of it.”

I had a followup appointment with my physician yesterday. Having worked in the medical industry since 2006, I envisioned the nurse who performed intake returned to the Nurse’s Station saying, “He’s still alive.”

In many hospitals, nurses usually have ongoing office pools for all sorts of weird things: football, baseball, NCAA Basketball Tournaments, the length of Nicholas Cage’s marriages, the number of months between McDreamy’s, and ETOH. In medical terms, ETOH is alcohol. All alcohol has an Oxygen (O) and Hydrogen (H) molecule (thus the OH at the end of the term “ETOH.”) In other words, I’ve seen medical clinicians bet on the intoxication level of DUI’s dropped at the door.  So, I just presumed they wagered whether I would return, and if so, what condition.

Yet, I survived.

My physician eased through the door. A tall Ukrainian woman with a beautiful personality and general concern for her patients. I envied her – not from the aspect of pure beauty alone, but her ability to ease through doors. She moved effortlessly, glided past chairs and bed posts. Seamlessly pushed her coat aside, she sat in the chair next to me.

“I’m glad to see you.”

“Me too,” I replied with a smile.

“Well, any changes from the visit?” she queried.

“No,” I noted while briefly looking down.

“Meaning, you still feel like shit?” she smiled.

“Oh yeah,” I smiled back.

“Well, I got you an MRI appointment in this century,” she laughed. “Either someone found another MRI facility or (winking silently), they no longer require one. Thus, they slipped your name in for the end of April.”

“You mean, April 2019?”

“Yeah.”

“Wow. I feel special.”

“Whatever happened, I think you’ve stabilized. But remember, you’ve been diagnosed as a walking time bomb. So, don’t do anything stupid until we get some better ‘Art Work (imaging photos).’”

“So, no scaling cliffs, paragliding or alligator wrestling.”

“Hmm,” rolling her eyes, “alligator wrestling is ok.” A brief pause. “I will do the best I can for you. We all will.”

A brief tear of honesty dribbled the length of my cheek. “Dang dry eye,” brushing it aside.

“A nursing aid will come in and get you out of here, with a request to draw some blood and get you back in next week.”

“See if you can find my odds for next week. Maybe I’ll buy a square.”

She laughed, “Be nice to her.”

The nursing entered with a cart. I contained my paperwork, one needle and vial.

“Ok.” She started. “Which arm?”

“For what?”

“For your Zoster (shingles) vaccine.”

“What for?”

“Our computer says you need the vaccine.”

“Well, I find it humorous, that I could die at any moment while as computer simultaneously says I need a vaccine.”

“At least you won’t die from Zoster.”

“You’re teasing right?”

“Nope. You’re not leaving until you get this vaccine.”

“Frriiiscncddfkw, ffrrrummmp, frump,” I mumbled.

“Oh,” and the computer says your BMI is too high. You need to get some exercise.”

“I can barely walk 60 yards without pain now. Can I take up jogging?”

Realizing the unforced error, “Sorry, just reading the printout.”

“Frriiiscncddfkw, ffrrrummmp, frump,” I mumbled.

Just prior to walking out, the receptionist yelled.

“Hey. You’re at 93–1.”

Smiling back, “I’ll take a square.”

First of The Last Amends

I was confused. Upon opening my Google Calendar, I noted the ‘To-Do’ list item in my Google calendar, dated Friday, March 22nd, one day after my MRI. It was created during a more blissful period of life, some nine years prior, when I promised someone a trip to New Zealand during their 55th birthday. The note was accompanied with an additional entry:

Your spirit brought us together, and now that things continue to move forward, I vow to keep my promise and take you to New Zealand.  I believe it was for your 55th birthday. So you have a standing offer …. should you decide to accept.

I completely forgot about this Google Task. And it’s strange how it showed up this week. Coincidence?

I believe God has a tremendous sense of humor, a willingness, if you will, to occasionally make light of the absurdities with end-of-life situations. For instance, was God reminding me to go on the trip or reminding me to reach out one more time for closure? The person I made this entry for has refuted any attempt to return my emails, my calls, or letters. So at this point in my life, God’s motive, if any, remains ambiguous.

If I dared to write, I would start with the obvious, “I believe I will have to take a rain check, for it appears I have a prior engagement.” Ha.

Last week I had a stroke. Subsequent diagnosis indicated cerebrovascular disease. The doctors were concerned, pretty much quoting the conversation, “with proper medicine and dietary changes, maybe minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or a couple of years.”

At this stage of my life, I had zero thought of contacting anyone from nine years ago. Almost everyone has moved on. For whatever reason, the task ‘New Zealand’ was there. The only consoling words I would say straight out is, thank you for caring for me. Your heart and love pulled me through many bleak days. I say those things knowing full well my transgressions, and of the harm, my words and deeds have caused. In prayer, I have begged forgiveness 70x7x7x7x7x7x7x7 (70×7). Regardless, prayer, in and of itself, seems so inadequate.

I want you to know that no matter how it turns out for me, I am forever thankful for the friendship we had.

Stay Well. God Bless,

Mary Elizabeth Dallas wrote, “With terminal illness comes newfound, and profound, wisdom.” I concur. What I’ve learned from working in hospitals is a surprisingly common theme: that until the end, many fail to realize, that happiness is a choice. We often get stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and themselves, that they were content when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

Like others before me, I have a desire to find peace or acceptance. I don’t want to change the world. But I would covet peace. The lesson learned was life is short, and it is necessary to impact the world while one is still alive positively. For me, making people smile, to relieve the world of pain, even for one minute, is my goal.

And like others before me, I woke up today and still have an entire day to face. Life keeps going, whether I am ready for it or not. As such, I am filled with more gratitude – gratitude given by the person written about above and the gratitude I’ve received from countless others. The question then becomes:

Is it possible to find such beauty in everyday living?

If so, why did I ignore so much of it in the living years?

What Figaro Taught Me

Many years ago, I adopted Figaro, an orange tabby. It turns out Figaro may have been named after Mister Geppetto and Pinocchio’s cat. I speculate, for Figaro was Walt Disney’s favorite character in Pinocchio; he loved the kitten so much, he wanted Figaro to appear as much as possible. Once production on Pinocchio was complete, Figaro became Minnie Mouse’s pet.

In real life, Figaro and I had a great relationship. During the time Figaro allowed me to rent space in his pad, our one-bedroom apartment in downtown Chicago overlook a bank of elm trees. Ever dutiful, ‘Guard Cat,’ as nicknamed, was always on the prowl for stray birds wandering too far or those that dared to land on the adjoining window ledge. Sometimes, in the depth of REM sleep, one could find Figaro running through high timberlines, chasing fowl near or far. It was hard not to be fascinated by enjoyment.

Figaro was spoiled, and he knew it. However, I learned so about life from him.

Live in the Moment

Since his adoption, Figaro never had to worry about the past or future. Instead, he made my ‘present’ better.

Made His Own Toys

No entertainment is as good as our imagination. No cell phone, text, tweet, Nintendo game or John Madden, Version 12,216 can replace our own ability to find joy. I bought Figaro many toys. He ignored most of them. Instead, he made his toys. His favorite you make ask? Leftover plastic strips that held newspapers. He’d play with those things until they started to shred and were thrown away. I would acquire another, and the same process would repeat itself.

Rest

Figaro was rarely tired. He knew when to lie down and sleep. He never got burned out, never had a nervous breakdown, never had to use drugs or alcohol to make it through the day.

Love

True love came from sharing and caring. He wore his heart on his sleeve. Cheek rubs, belly rubs, purring and head bunting and other small things meant constant love and affection. Figaro lived and died by them.

He would also hang out. Friday and Saturday movie nights were not complete without Figaro. Each week, a few friends would gather and watch the latest movie. The night would neither start nor end without Figaro. Sometimes, it is merely the joy of sharing the same interest and passion.

Lifelong Learning

In days long gone, communities would have gathering places where children listened to older men and women as they told stories of life, of life’s challenges and the lessons that can be drawn from the edge of survival. People knew that sometimes our greatest lessons lay in our greatest pain. Figaro and I were lifelong buddies in learning.

For instance, one night, instead of dishwashing detergent, I mistakenly placed Spic and Span into the dishwasher. While the dishes were immensely cleaned, soap suds escaped the dishwasher and rolled throughout the kitchen floor. On hands and knees, mopping suds, up popped Figaro onto the dishwasher. His look said it all.

That was pretty stupid.”

Like a great Buddhist mentor, Figaro taught that life’s lessons involve working on our smallness, getting rid of our negativity and finding the best in ourselves and each other. These lessons are the windstorms of life and made us who we are. We are here to heal one another and ourselves. Not healing as in physical recovery, but a much more profound healing. The healing of our spirits, our souls.

Deep inside all of us, there is someone we were meant to be. And we can feel when we’re becoming that person. Unknown to me, Figaro pushed me to become better and knew when something was off. Consciously or not, we are all on a quest for answers, trying to learn the lessons of life. We grapple with fear and guilt. We search for meaning, love, and power. We try to understand fear, loss, and time. We seek to discover who we are and how we can become truly happy. Sometimes we look for these things in the faces of our loved ones, in religion, God, or other places where they reside. Too often, however, we search for them in money, status, the “perfect” job, or other places, only to find that these things lack the meaning we had hoped and even brought heartaches.

After all these years, I found these answers in my cat.

When life crashed in 2010, I had to relive lessons from a generation ago. During such time, one can think of inadequacies as terrible defects, if we want, and hate oneself. But we can also think of them affirmatively, as doorways through which the power of grace can enter our lives. When I returned to the times when Figaro roamed the rooms of my heart, I realized I no longer had to be perfect. Now, I’m authentic and live life profoundly.

Thanks, Figaro.

Belonging

Passing a nursing station, I overheard a nurse say, “He has no one.”

Who?” I inquired.

Startled, she turned, “Oh.” Quizzically, she perused up and down. Whatever she thought, I’m positive an old, bald, fat man was not expected. “Oh,” she murmured again. “409,” her shoulders shrugged. “The guy in 409 has no family. His time nears.”

So, he’s alone?

Yes.

No one?

Nada.”

May I sit with him?”

Her eyebrow raised slightly, “Sure.

I sat with him until near dawn, sometimes in silence, sometimes lightly speaking, letting him know he was not alone. He whispered, “Why?

Standing to stretch my back, I glanced out to the street below. Raindrops angled across the window pane. My breath echoed against the glass as colorful hues light refracted through the early morn by drops darting downward.

Know what?” I said. “Earth is old. The sun is old. But do you know what may be even older than both? Water. It’s a mystery how the world became awash in it. Maybe water originated on our planet from cosmic ice specks. Some claim distant meteorites or comets as they bombarded the earth.

A slight momentary silent filled the room.

Kaboom” and “Smash,” I reemphasized.

A slight smile, “Ha,” he whispered.

The most accurate answer is: I don’t know ‘why?‘ My limited theological training offers little in any way to account for the unexplainable. And after all these years of walking with Christ, then Buddha, questions linger. Regardless of belief, the world reminds me death is not the end, that we carry forward in the glow of love.

Turning from the morning rain, I sat near, “Are you close?

Leaning in, he whispered, “I come and go.”

There was nothing I wanted more than to bring out a suitcase full of proof, saying, “See? You can be confident.” But there is no absolute proof. Heck, some days I have trouble even convincing myself. There’s just us. Instead, I stayed.

In the small moments of life, a bridge of faith is lived in-between the “back and forth” by both believer and witness. God’s faith glides in between moments life and for whatever reason, which remains foreign to most, joins our world through others, and through us.

Glancing at the man, I stroked the soft fragile gray hair, mirrored his peaceful rhythmic breath, and saw myself. While there are stories of miraculous interventions, lightning-bolt moments, and sudden cures, more often than not, in the final moment, the God of unconditional love will arrive in human form – just like his Son.

I whispered, “The ‘Kaboom and the ‘Smash’ were for you. In those very moments He created you. He loved you then. He loves you now. That same love is here for you. The same air that Christ breathed, you breathed. His breath is in you. His love encompasses you just as he encompasses me. And as your friend, I am with you always and will remember you always.

His lips quivered lightly. A tear dotted his eye. I cupped his hand to my heart. He never spoke again.


The real beauty of Christian and Buddhist faith is that faith is lived and experienced moments. As such, in a time of need, God comes to us in physical vessels, where love and grace join to feel His spiritual presence.

Through all my years working in healthcare, I could never explain “why.” Even if I could, it wouldn’t have brought anyone back. Still, even in my own days of difficulty, many have reached out to me to let me know that I was not alone. They were the presence of God to me. They held me up to, guided me to return to this world, brought me back and consoled me. Suffering isolates us. Loving presence brings us back, makes us belong.

Make someone your life know he or she belongs.

I’ve work at ABC Inc., for the last five years and get paid $8.75 an hour. I room at the YMCA for $61 a week. I get to do my own laundry. I wish there were more places like it.”

~ Response from someone being asked what they do ~

Remember all the internal conversations where you kept asking yourself why am I working here, doing this job or that job? Friends have asked me similar questions since March 2018. You see, since March 2018, my biggest challenge was trying to find something to do. There are the usual morning routines: in by 7:30 AM. Grab a cup of coffee, flip the computer on, check email. Cruise over to MSNBC, then to CNN, then to USA Today. Later, peruse Google news, smoke some tunes at Jazzradio.com, then open an Amazon book via an online reader and knock out a few chapters.

At this point any number of friends would say, “Why exactly are you working there?”

I always respond something to the effect, “I know I was supposed to take this job. Not sure why at the moment, but maybe tomorrow will be clearer.”

Yesterday, I attended a morning meeting of senior management. Our Director of Physical Security attended. He humped over, holding his right arm, saying he cannot move his arm and has trouble breathing. After watching him throughout the meeting, I forced him to go to company’s onsite medical team. I walked with him to ensure he made it there. He kept saying this was a waste of time.

Turned out he was a having a ‘heart event.’ Had I not interacted, he might not have been properly treated. This is not a statement of self-congratulations. It’s just one interaction of one person helping another. Many people, just like me, have similar events everyday. And maybe, just maybe, this event was just one reason why I was meant to be here.

In other ways, my job has left me an ability to help others in need. Alecia Lane, the furloughed government worker I wrote of in my last post, exceeded her GoFundMe goal of $5,000. Without our help, she may not have made it. In fact, at 10:22 AM yesterday, Ms. Lane posted an update:

“Thank you!!! I’m amazed at all the help provided to my family. There are no words to express how grateful I am to you. With your help I was able to bless 3 of my coworkers.”

If her words are true, our effort not only assisted MS. Lane, but positively impacted three others.

Turns out, our assistance was not unique. City of San Angelo offered assistance to furloughed federal employees during the government shutdown. Restaurants offered meals. People donated to GoFundMe requests. The American Bankers Association has a list of more than 100 banks offering special help to furloughed workers (regardless of whether you agreed with the interest rates or not). The list of assistance is endless and reached every state.

A lot of us search for our own meaning of life. And for most, such deep meaning remains elusive. However, maybe we’re here to assist others. Maybe, just maybe, clarity can be found in those little moments when helping a person in need.

We aneed to be generous with our time, and have self-discipline, patience, perseverance, concentration and wisdom. The practice of generosity is largely entwined with the mind. The focus must be upon assisting others, not validating oneself. But, one can receive validation from effort. Far more important than the gift being given is the intention and state of mind when giving. I try, as much as possible, to give with a pure intention. This means giving from a place of compassion, conviction, attentively, and without negatively affecting others. Buddhists believe that what is given is not lost, but is actually returned to the giver in the form of karmic rewards.

And this my friends, is my purpose in life. Maybe, that’s what all of us are called to do … help. So, if you’re still searching for meaning, hang in there.

You never know what tomorrow may bring.

Several days ago, a friend asked a favor and requested if I could take her to the airport on the way to work.  “Of course,” I replied. I agreed to pick her up at 7:30 AM. At 7:40 AM this morning, she stumbled out of her condominium. I carefully placed her luggage into the back of my vehicle and off we went.

I checked TSA wait times just before picking you up,” while navigating my car through a series of curves before entering the main thoroughfare. “The current wait is 11 – 21 minutes. I don’t believe you’ll have a problem today, but you should be cognizant of wait times on your return.”

Why?

Well,” I explained. “Due to the shutdown, if TSA agents aren’t paid this week, many may call in sick or become unavailable. An absence of TSA Agents could delay your processing time through TSA lines.”

Exasperated, she muttered “I don’t get these TSA Agents. They’ll all get paid. When the shutdown ends, they’ll get paid.

Yeah,” I momentarily fumbled. “But the agents need to pay landlords, car payments, medical bills and other items today. So, at the moment, they are not getting paid and have to make ends meet.”

“No,” she countered. “TSA Agents are not working for free. When the shutdown ends, they’ll get paid. If that can’t handle that, then they need to find another job.”

Driving 65 miles per hour, I sat stunned. Coming from a Christian educator, her response was dismissive, as if to say, “Tough toenails, toots.”

I guess Trump would be proud.

For many of us in the world, it doesn’t matter what position you have, going without two paychecks, especially families with children, food, rent and other necessities becomes critical. These are people who never imagined that they’d have to stand in line for food. Imagine what that’s like — for someone in uniform to come through a food pantry door … and say, “My children are hungry.”

Like my friend, many US Legislators are clueless. US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross expressed confusion at reports that many unpaid federal were having such a tough financial time during the government shutdown, suggesting instead that those people could take out loans to survive the partial government closure. Likewise, Lara Trump, Eric Trump’s wife, had a different message for the more than 800,000 federal workers going without pay, it’s “a little bit of pain” but your children will thank you later.

In other words: suck it up. Uh, yeah sure.

Is this the price these workers have to pay … for an idiot president who won’t give in for fear of looking foolish?

In my heart of hearts this morning, I personally wished my friend would lose her job. Then, I could say, “Find another job.” Or, maybe the TSA would strike and she would have to rent a car and drive back. I said neither. Instead, I quietly dropped her off and drove to work.

So, here’s what I did.

I read of one impacted government worker today – Alecia Lane. Ms. Lane’s story is as follows.

“I am single mom with 2 boys (ages 12 and 8). We have been impacted by the government shutdown, I thought I was prepared but I wasn’t prepared for it last this long especially so soon after Christmas.  It has taken me days to ask for help through GoFundMe.  I haven’t struggled like this since I was growing up.  My kids don’t know the kind of life I had cause I never wanted them to grow up the way I did.  I’ve never wanted to tell my kids we can’t do this or eat this because I don’t have the money.  This shutdown became really real when we missed my first paycheck and we are about to miss the next one.  I am retired Navy and blessed to at least get a retirement check, but I still have bills to cover.”

I donated (click on picture).

Ms. Lane’s story is not unique. A quick search of the term “Government Shutdown” in GoFundme revealed 3,978 results. From here on, until the shutdown ends, I will donate to a needy family or organization.

As a Buddhist, Christian, Atheist, or whatever, donating to those in need is the right. It’s just. Donate anything. Any amount will help.

Selfishly, totally un-Buddhist like, donating is my way of saying ‘F*** You’ to the “Tough Toenails, Toots” naysayers.

“Next,” Sheila called.

The African American woman was a beauty. At five-foot 7 inches, neatly tucked hair, smooth complexion and deep black eyes gave way to a wonderous smile. I placed my phone face down on the electronic reader. “Bobink,” sound the familiar signal while simultaneously lighting green.

“Thank you sir,” Sheila replied.

For Sheila, this common interaction probably plays hundreds time a day. In the several hours prior to my flight, I watched Sheila from my gate, interacting easily, with a level few could exhibit. In wake of burning hours and no salary, she continued to perform her job.

Sheila is a TSA Agent.

I’ve never met Sheila. More than likely, I will never see her again. In prior flights, this interaction would have been greeted with a warm simile and quick hello. Truthfully, TSA agents like Sheila would remain unnoticed. Yet today, I was in the ‘moment.’ I quickly grabbed my stuff, looked her in the eye, and complimented her for all her effort, even in spite of an ongoing government shutdown share all facets of legislatures willingly play chicken.

I’m confident President Trump will never meet Shelia. I don’t believe he would care enough to go out of his way to engage her in any meaningful conversation. I presume Trump only revels in a game of win at all costs – never back down, never surrender. In Trump’s mind there’s only one path to this shutdown – it’s victory. Complete and unconditional surrender.

Objectively looking, there are two wars. The White House have drawn battle lines on many fronts: internally, with the GOP and of course with new House leadership. Each war increases the number of victims, often termed as collateral damage. People become fractured. Friends become enemies. And battle hardened leaders must address a war never imagined, one of the heart and soul of America. Trump’s war can only be won through fortitude, unity, coherent messaging via Twitter and the willingness to fight.

Shelia experiences a far different war. She’s not out for accountability. Neither does she search for blood. Her war involves keeping millions of travelers safe. Finding weapons, suspicious packages and other illegal items is a minute-by-minute battle, fought on the front lines in local airports.

However, in the midst of this shutdown, she’s required to fight hunger as coworkers fight homelessness. Maybe she’s denying herself required medication. She forgoes an electric bill payment, a school payment, or a mortgage payment. The battle is on all fronts and extremely complex.

On January 11th, on the 21st day of the shutdown, TSA agents arrived at work with the painful reality that their biweekly paycheck would not arrive. Many government employees live paycheck to paycheck. Yet TSA agents, like many other government employees are required to work. And still, Sheila can smile. She treats every passenger with respect and dignity.

I am not sure if my words made any difference to Sheila or not. But I stoped and said:

“Thank you so much for all you do. I know you’re going through a difficult time. I just want to say thank you.”

Sheila is one of many selfless employees who are the heart and soul of America. They deserve better. America deserves better.

Martha Snell Nicholson was bed-ridden for thirty-five years. Yet, her spirit was triumphant through those many weary years and wrote some of the finest poetry ever been written.

Her poems are both sobering and searching. As written, her poems were not intended to condemn, but rather to encourage us to chose the right and to invest ourselves (and others) in ways that fulfill the promise God gave each of us. They help us to discover the wholeness of our life, heal the hurts and make us loving, compassionate, merciful, serene and joyful. For someone who suffered so much, her insights to the works of God was outstanding. Her poem Guests is particularly haunting.

Pain knocked upon my door and said
That she had come to stay;
And though I would not welcome her
But bade her go away,

She entered in. Like my own shade
She followed after me,
And from her stabbing, stinging sword
No moment was I free …

When I read Jennifer Spangenthal’s compelling opinion piece titled A Fortune 500 company hired me to help them be more family-friendly. Then my own kid got cancer, I immediately thought of Ms. Nicholson. In essence, Spangenthal argues that ‘humanity needs to return to corporate America, for the sake of both employees and employers.’

Ms. Spangenthal’s argument isn’t new. After accepting a job at Unilever, she thought she might have found the role that would help her achieve the elusive work-life balance. However, a couple years after joining the company, her child was diagnosed with cancer and subsequent cancer treatment altered her daily life. However, after her leave of absence, she received a common ultimatum: return to work full time or resign.

Her experience is by no means isolated. Many … like her … like me … work and reside in parallel universes. By day, in waning hours of daylight, we go unnoticed, at work, completely in pain, complete in our suffering, complete in our tears. At night, we muddle through repeat episodes of television, medical bills, medications, physical therapy … unnoticed, completely in pain, complete in our suffering.

My health care summary tells a brutal story.

Retrolisthesis of the L4 on L5, L4 on L5 and L5-S1 degenerative disks, demyelination plaques in the spine and brain (Multiple Sclerosis), severe left neural stenosis at C3-C4, degenerative disease at C5-C6, osteoarthritis at C6-C7, and heart disease, with evidence of a silent heart event (i.e., heart attack).

No one knows. My employer has no knowledge. to avoid being recorded, I buy medications from Canadian pharmacies, my wheelchair never appears at my employer. I move in constant pain. I grit my teeth, bear the pain, endure the battle.

By chance, I was able to re-watch the movie My Life Without Me. One day, Ann, collapses and goes for a medical check-up, where a clinician informs her she has terminal cancer. Determined to shield her daughters from the truth and at the same time take control of her life and to make the most out of it, Ann tells no one.

Like the character Ann (and I beg to extrapolate, like Ms. Spangenthal), I am often burdened by my secret, yet somewhat liberated in that in spite of my disease and pain, I have been led to unexpected places. Still, I forge ahead at work, listen to complaints of the common cold, a broken finger, stubbed toe, ungrateful spouse, dumb this, dumb that. All the while I smile as volatile emotions simmer within. And in this balance, I recognize that as a Buddhist, I have the power to understand, examine and fully live my own life.

For the very reasons to which Ms. Spangenthal experienced, many fail to disclose chronic medical conditions and hidden disabilities for fear they will be labelled, treated differently or jeopardize their future career prospects. As a consultant, I’ve too often heard the boss only wanting to know that the job is done, without hassle.

In Buddhism old age, illness and death are acknowledged to be inherent in life itself, so Buddhists will generally appreciate frankness about diagnosis, the effects of treatment and prognosis. No one is—or should be—required to divulge their medical condition, whether that be to family (even immediate), friends (even close), or to colleagues.

As mentioned in a previous post, 90 per cent of people over the age of 65 die of one of six chronic illnesses: heart failure, cancer, lung disease, stroke, dementia and diabetes. If your genes bless you with long life, I suspect you too will suffer and succumb from one of these illnesses. One day, you too will meet the Angel of Disease. As such, you are presented frontward, will the scales of justice remain blindfolded in objectivity, in that your worth be meted out objectively, without fear, favor, regardless of money, wealth, power, or identity? Will the scales remain balanced for you?

In light of the passing holiday, the classic A Christmas Carol forewarns all:

But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge.

‘Business!‘” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands. “Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!

The chain Marley forged wasn’t imposed by a God in the afterlife. Instead, his chain, as well as ours, was created of our own “free will.” Remember then … employees are not commodities. We are assets. And real work-life balance is important. Oftentimes, it’s critical.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 90 per cent of people over the age of 65 will die from one of six chronic illnesses: heart failure, cancer, lung disease, stroke, dementia and diabetes. In the wake of an ongoing government shutdown over an ineffective border wall and the President’s $5 trillion tax cut for the wealthy, almost nothing has been allocated for any the six pivotal illnesses.

Over the Christmas holiday, a friend was visiting her native land. It was Christmas Eve here when I received a call. My friend exhibited strange mood swings, purposely instigated an argument with her sister on her sister’s birthday and ripped into her father on Christmas Day. Then, there was the constant worry over children, world events and a sense of dread for the future.

Many incorrectly perceived it to be jet lag. No one understood what I’ve long suspected. Dementia! That word. That ugly beast.

Unfortunately, none of her family really understood what was happening. And truth be told, there is no one in the medical community who can help guide family, friends and partners through the day-in, day-out aspects of helping to guide one through dementia. There is no one who’s willing to say, “Your relative has dementia and here’s what’s going to happen – step by step – over the next few years.”

Living constituents of life always look for the disease. Got to name that bastard. I am living proof that the name is of little comfort. In most cases, when you’re in the throes of battle, it’s fucking irrelevant. In the end, it’s about living. It’s about how to carry on a meaningful life in spite of the affliction.

Even when there is a diagnosis, like so many others, we often fall into the trap of remembering the person who was rather than the person who is. When we realize it, only then do we begin to understand we’re looking for someone who’s no longer there. When my father was in ICU, lay in a coma, all my mother wished for was that my father return home. “Be careful of what you wish for.” Miracles rarely occur. And, just as predicted, my father’s dementia increased significantly from even a year prior.

Just as the daughter of my friend’s family had known, the father my family had known is gone. There’s only the person who is.

Most never come to grips with the terminal nature of our lives. We simply believe we’ll always be the person we were. Simply put, take nothing for granted. In the end, functional limitations force one to adapt. Personally, I can no longer run. I can barely kneel on my right leg for that matter. I can’t play any contact sport. Football is relegated to Sunday television. Some days, I sport a Forcemech wheelchair.

We have to adapt. All of us, in his or her own way. Yet few understand the level of ineptness our society is at caring for patients suffering from heart failure, cancer, lung disease, stroke, dementia and diabetes. Our health care system is based upon diagnosis and treatment. However, what can be done when no medication or treatment can be performed?

We fall through the cracks.

I look at my parent’s road as well as the road of my friend and wonder, “How will I face the final phase of life?” The best answer I get is ‘unknowable.’ I certainly don’t want to be a burden, yet I want to be affirmed. I want death to be appropriate in time and place.

Unless we change how we’re going to care for the afflicted, I too, will be one of many falling through the cracks.

%d bloggers like this: