Tag Archive: God’s Love


My trek through this disease reminds me of Vinko Bogataj. On March 7, 1970, A Wide World of Sports captured Bogataj’s third jump on the Heini Klopfer hill. Midway down Bogataj realized the ramp had become too fast. Attempting to lower his center of gravity and stop, he lost his balance, flew out of control, tumbled multiple times and crashed through a retaining fence before halting. Coordinating producer Dennis Lewin inserted Bogataj’s crash to coincide exactly with the words ‘… and the agony of defeat.’ (You can see the clip on YouTube’s Wide World of Sports intro, about the 13 second mark.) Life is filled with the cyclical nature of ‘the thrill of victory’ and ‘the agony of defeat.’ As you walk, almost everyone understands this yin and yang.

Everyone continually proceeds through the cyclic process of suffering and recovering from defeat.  At face value, 2020 seems loaded with fear, anxiety, and other hatred. And unlike the Stella Artois ‘Daydream’ commercial (which admittedly, I’ve personally viewed over 60+ times) the path remains uncertain. The journey is daunting.  You smile, restate a Psalm, Bible verse, famous quote, wear your charm, spew positive thoughts (because that’s what’s expected), but inside, 2020’s tastes like f’ing vomit.  I sometimes think everyone else is somehow favored, for they are free from my 30 years of pain. They are free of a death sentence that beckons at a moment’s notice. They are free from everything being ‘the last.’ 

I understand the felon’s torture. This morning would be the last cup of tea, the last good night’s sleep, the last great shower, the last great meal, the last great smile, the last thought, the last despair, and the last snippet of hope. Eventually, we crash. Life ends. And our last reach unto heaven remains inconclusive. “Do you think he made it into God’s hands?” “Unsure,” mumbles another. The notion that some find grace and beauty in every fall is a matter of perspective.  

No one ever knew me as someone who knew how to fall, but like Bogataj, I got up every time.  I also realized laughter saved many a day. Why? Because it can save the day. There’s a great deal of evidence that laughing improves both mental and physical health. Getting fired in 2010 was a horrific experience. After nearly six (6) weeks self-flagellation, I started to laugh. Captain Gerald Coffee was a POW for seven years during the Vietnam War. He claims he and the other American soldiers he was imprisoned with found solace in laughter, and it helped them make it through the harrowing experience.

I began laughing at my experience, the ridiculousness of taking one medical test after another with little hope of ever detecting that ‘fatal blood clot’ lying in wait to claim my life. Life’s absurdity, and all that could go wrong, deserve a laugh. A medical clinician recommended I eat a healthier diet. “You’ll be healthier,” she stated. Catching her error, “Oh. Sorry.” We busted out laughing. Comedian Demetri Martin once said, “The worst time to have a heart attack is during a game of charades, especially if your teammates are bad guessers.” Fortunately, I hope I’m not one of those who can be improved only via death. Therefore, I embrace the notion that laughter allows joy to flow into an otherwise joyless situation and forces fear out.  And with joy comes gratitude and love and hope. 

I simply let go of fear. Sure I think of death. Quite a lot in fact. I don’t fill my life with repetitive rehashing of what-might-have-been. I figure God will justifiably judge my arse in due time. I have to rejoice in what is, a simple cup of coffee, in friendships and love. I reach for hope, laughter of the soul, and unknowingly, even the most mirthless of situations can become sunnier.

I know it’s hard to find laughter and joy during fearful and self-doubting moments. Kobe Bryant once said, “I have self-doubt. I have insecurity. I have fear of failure. I have nights when I show up at the arena and I’m like, ‘My back hurts, my feet hurt, my knees hurt. I don’t have it. I just want to chill.’ We all have self-doubt. You don’t deny it, but you also don’t capitulate to it. You embrace it.”

Thus, my end life journey continually searches for the man (God) who will profoundly affect my life. He will probably review my life, painfully cry at some moments, and laugh at the most absurd failures. And from those moments within ‘the agony of defeat,’ God will embrace ‘the thrill of victory.’ In that moment, I shall no longer recognize the person from years past, for I will become anew. And looking behind me, I will see thousands of others just like me.

If God were here, He’d tell you I failed to alter the course of human history. Pretty miserably in fact. Like many, I tended to be swept along by Tsunami-like waves of current events, often set in motion by something entirely beyond my control. I survived the years drifting alone and repeatedly tortured myself for the years wasted bobbing at sea waiting for either a rescuer or to be eaten. For fellow bobbies, the year 2020 required an incredible amount of internal fortitude. We made it past COVID, unemployment, hunger, Trump, the election, peril and or death. Now we’re here, November 26th. Congratulations! And since Thanksgiving is upon me, I ask myself, “Do I celebrate, memorialize, or a little of both?”

Ms. K. died seven years ago, just prior to Thanksgiving. I never knew she passed until early 2014. And why should I have known? She was a fellow colleague that I’d meet for lunch, catch-up, shake hands, and say, “Same time next year.” Now, seven years have passed. And since she was from Japan, I wonder if her family would participate in the Obon festival, an annual event for commemorating one’s ancestors. 

According to Buddhist legend, Obon originated from a disciple who used supernatural powers to see his deceased mother had fallen into the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and suffered greatly. The disciple went to Buddha and asked how he could release his mother. Buddha instructed to make offerings to the many monks completing their summer retreat (occurring on the fifteenth day of the seventh month). The disciple did as instructed and his mother was released. I am not sure whether the Japanese version has similar intentions or not. I liken Japan’s version of a festival to honor the dead. 

Obon can be held during the 1st year anniversary, sometimes in the 3rd and or the 5th, 7th and 13th years, and a number of times afterwards up to either the 39th or the 50th year, and that each time, ancestral spirits return to visit relatives.  Remembering from my days in Japan, it is not a solemn event. Dances are performed, ‘ozen’ (offerings) are placed in front of altars, temples, and sometimes grave sites. Many families visit grave sites and clean gravestones. Paper lanterns are hung round to help guide the spirits return. Some families carry lanterns from the graves back to their homes. Toro nagashi (Floating lanterns) have sometimes been set afloat downriver, running to the sea. Symbolically this sends their ancestors’ spirits into the sky. 

The thread between all these stories is to understand how past selflessness and the sacrifices were made. In life, I never knew Ms. K., but she has since visited and I believe she remains a guide during my travels here. As much as I’ve tried to research, I know nothing Ms. K. ‒ not where she went to college or how many siblings her family has, what she did for a living prior to settling in the United States or other minutiae of snippets that surround typical friendships. Yet, by the very nature of my illness, I deeply understand the personal impact of pain, despair, constipation, the trudge of earning a living while dying, pondering the future ahead, and finding hope. If anything, I would say each of us must embrace any friendship founded in hope. 

For many families, Thanksgiving and Christmas will be filled with music, small parties (if any), a Netflix movie, family and friends via Facebook, Facetime, or Skype. Others will look upon the empty chair and dabble at tears. My heart aches for Mothers like the Duchess of Sussex, who ‘clutched her firstborn while losing the second.’ I cannot imagine the pain. 2020 saw so many heroes lost, including clinicians, fireman, police officers, teachers and activists. Jess Wells lost her husband (an Egyptian activist) to a dictator. Activist Travis Nagdy was shot and killed by a carjacker. Still, I feel a sense of optimism. I remain grateful for the kindness and sacrifices of all those who sleep. We should remember and appreciate each person not not as though they were perfect, but rather the positivity brought to life. 

As trite as it may sound, I will embrace hope this Thanksgiving, for it is a powerful force that propels us through fear, depression and paralysis. Hope is unlike any other medicine. It kept me going throughout the years. I will retain my faith in both God and Ms. K. In 1978, God told me He would always watch over me, and personally know He intervened when He neither really had too nor probably wanted. I presume He did so for two reasons. First, He promised. Second, He cared. As for me, I don’t get up and work in spite of the pain because God was committed to me. I did it simply by the fact that since I awoke in the morning, that I should get up, be productive, and in some small way, help another. It’s what God would have wanted. I think that’s the way Ms. K. would want me to honor. 

Ms. K. didn’t require a chochin lantern to call her spirit nor did she require one to return. (Heck, I don’t even know where she’s buried.) However, I know she is in my heart, and that’s a toro nagashi (floating lantern) that will never burn out. Therein lay my Thanksgiving message, never let hope (love) burn out. It is all we have.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Happy Thanksgiving Ms. K. Feel free to stop by. 

A ventilator can mean the difference between life and death for seriously ill patients. But sometimes even these ventilators cannot save someone’s life. I looked at the age Mr. Smith had progressed through his short three-week stay at our hospital: a non-active otherwise healthy 86 year old, to mini-stroke, to heart attack, and now near death. Through the multiple layers of protective gear, I stroked the thin aging hair. His eyes remained shut but somehow I felt some connection. 

Medical teams face tough decisions about when to stop treatment. The decision is made after careful consideration, analyzing factors including age, underlying health, response, and ability to recover. With our hospital at 94% capacity of COVID, I volunteered to assist the attending physician Dr. Nessie (also a sister/nun). Our presence ensured Mr. Smith would not pass alone. 

Restrictions meant this man would die without family. Dr. Nessie used an iPad, assured the family their father was not in pain, looked very comfortable, and asked about her Mr. Smith’s wishes and religious needs.” The curtains were closed, we turned off all the alarms, watched the heart rate monitor hit zero, and just like that, flat line (death). 

After processing, Dr. Nessie asked, “Normally, I don’t get volunteers. Why today?” 

“I felt I needed to give back. I couldn’t be there when my father passed away. I am trying to give someone what I couldn’t.”

“I am so sorry for your loss.” Dr. Nessie continued, “When did he pass?”

Glancing at my watch, “About two-hours and forty-three minutes ago.”

My father passed away 1,400 miles away and several weeks shy of his 89th birthday. Like Mr. Smith, only the Hospice nurse and nursing home staff were with him. My mother and I were able to view his passing via an iPad. It is a connected disconnected way to say goodbye. You are a witness but excluded from end of life moments that regularly occurred during pre-COVID times. One could hear the election coverage echoing from another room, “F*** it. I am tired of watching this s***,” he reasoned and left. Now he’s just another CNN/MSNBC statistic. 

Nearly 20 years ago, my father had an Near Death Experience (NDE). During his time in a coma, he claimed God sends two types of angels: ‘takers’ and ‘helpers.’ “Takers’ help the newly deceased to heaven. ‘Helpers’ assist people in moments of crisis, such as heart attacks, car accidents, and other calamities. In the years following his NDE, we’d walk during late summer evenings and discuss how no one actually dies alone, that there is always an angel(s) present even if one can’t see them.

Personally, I sensed no such presence in either death. One cannot detect the extraordinary via an iPad. Yet, I hope both Mr. Smith and my father experienced God’s loving angels, who cared for them in their hour of need; that each of them saw the extraordinary in the ordinary; that each were embraced by Chrrist’s love. 

If today’s election and deaths must be connected, may we find hope in Abraham Lincoln’s words. “The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

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