Tag Archive: Life Lessons

A Year of COVID

I don’t regularly listen to National Public Radio. In fact, in the past year, I can count the number of times spent listening to anything on NPR on one hand. Last week was either my fourth or fifth. While reaching down to grab something from my chair, I brushed the radio’s ‘on’ button. The NPR station began with the story, March 11th, 2020: The Day Everything Changed

“A year into the coronavirus pandemic, the enormous changes in our lives have become unremarkable: The collection of fabric masks. Visits with friends or family only in small outdoor gatherings. Working or learning from home. Downtowns deserted at noon on a weekday.

While some changes happened gradually, there was one day [March 11th, 2020] that marked the beginning of the new normal.”

For a few minutes, I sat fixated as NPR host Marco Werman took the listeners through what changed. By all accounts, the World Health Organization formally declared COVID-19 a pandemic around March 11th, 2020. Since then, the magnitude of loss has been stunning. Today, nearly 120 million global COVID-19 cases and 2.6 million deaths later, I kept thinking of all that had changed. Sure, one could focus upon key political facts: Chinese officials actively blamed Americans for starting the virus while the Trump administration blamed China. Still, my focus narrowed. The question I asked myself was, “How has my life changed during the year of COVID?”

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I watched Nomadland Sunday. Robert Ebert’s website summarizes the film accordingly: “Fern (Frances McDormand) is grieving a life that’s been ripped away.” Almost every viewer will claim the movie is littered with pain (not in a bad way) of those who face the challenge of living life alone. Some suffered from loss of a town, job loss, homelessness, loss of a spouse, a child, or even loss of oneself. In one scene, Fern so much wishes upon being alone that when she finds an abandoned dog, she ties the dog to a table outside a shop and walks off, thereby averting any potentially sentimental moment of connection. When in trouble, they become masters of finding a way out, rarely calling anyone. And that’s where I can relate.

I spent much of Sunday in a chair, barely able to move. Regardless of position, my neck, shoulders, and chest. Anyone suffering cervical osteoarthritis gets accustomed to the sound or feeling of popping in the neck when moving. At ties, mine tends to sound like a garbage disposal in perpetual grind. Never forget to add that the ol’ ticker (my heart) dribbles in some momentary flickers of pain and reminds me that I am a mere mortal. One day, time will be up. But not today. In theory, I should have been able to reach out to someone, but hell, when you live a solitary life, the question I always seem to ask myself is, “Just who the hell do I call?”

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How do we register details that most miss and fail to interpret? Seriously? How? I’ve formulated many observations in my 61 years of life. Two are more recent. First, be alive is, in and of itself, a miracle, a statistical miracle. Second, how is it I whizzed past millions of people with hardly a notice for details? I know my successes and losses, but why didn’t I ‘tarry an hour’ with another in dire pain?. And of success? When does any form of ‘tarry’ turn to envy?

“Could you not tarry one hour?” Jesus asked several disciples. “Hey, Unknown Buddhist? Could you not have tarried an hour with this man?” Like many, I would tell Christ that I’m pressed for time and line up excuses often spoken by others. “I have to complete this report.” There’s the, “I have to contact this customer.” And of course, “Jesus Christ (Oops. Sorry.), I have to meet my wife. And as you know, tarrying with her for an hour is equivalent to twelve. Even you (pointing a finger to Heaven) can attest to that.”

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The Banker’s anonymous website relayed a story, “A buddy in New York used to tell me that the right way to manage your money is to have just enough to cover your bills until the day you die, and then bounce the check to the funeral home. Man, that poor funeral director.” While it was a joke, there is a speck of wisdom in the humor. My recent burst of wisdom come from two women. I call it, “A Tale of Two Women.”

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I first heard Limbaugh in 1988 driving across America. His voice ricocheted across Iowa as if each corn stalk was were a unison of antennas uplifting far-right conservatism from the depths of a relatively unknown chasm. His voice gave marginalized Americans a voice. To some extent, his views paved the way for likes of Fox News, the Tea Party, and Donald Trump. I listened, not because I overtly professed his beliefs or even liked him, more so because I recognized that this form of vitriolic pseudo-hate would likely climb out from American farmlands to impact America. I wanted to understand, but never did. Limbaugh was uncomfortable. He called HIV/AIDs ‘Rock Hudson’s disease,’ asserted ‘environmentalist wackos’ were scientists organized for a political position, women lived longer than men because they had comfortable lives, being liberal was similar to being Nazi, claimed Barack Obama was not born in the US, and argued against the dangers of smoking.

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During my first big job during my 20’s, I overheard my coworker Jamie crying two cuticles away. I could only hear one side of the conversation, his. From the nature of his tears, his father had been diagnosed ‘terminal.’ The same scene repeated over several days, to which, at one point, I thought, “Get over it. Everyone dies.”

I wasn’t as appalled at myself then as I am now. Being ‘terminal’ tends to alter one’s perspective significantly. after surviving life in a military rescue squad, I arrogantly grew to believe I could live forever, that I was invincible. Rescue that person from the edge of a cliff? Sure. No problem. Deactivate that a piece of unexploded World War II ordinance without blowing oneself to bits? Sure. No problem.

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Here’s the deal. I have a conundrum of thoughts. These thoughts are in no particular order. As a result, my readers will have to accept a free form of ‘whatever’ today. Blog writer Julie Williams once said she felt brokenly alive. If two words ever summarized my life at this moment, ‘brokenly alive’ would be them.

I know it’s only February, but 2021 has been a crappy year. Not only was I was extremely ill for a large portion of January, but several people I have known and loved have died: My father, several coworkers, and my first wife (whom I loved dearly). And then my ex-mother-in-law suffered a catastrophic stroke. My ex-wife’s death hit hard. So hard that although I am supposed to be dying, I keep living. Survivor’s guilt is shredding my soul. 

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And Your Dream Is?

When you are a walking medical wonder, you tend to take every day as an adventure. Some days will suck; other days do not. I don’t wallow in pain. Most never know I have a specific medical issue, let alone a sandlot’s worth. Flippant of medical problems plaguing my body, I placed a ‘GoFundMe’ request that would allow me to hike both the Appalachian Trail and Continental Divide Trail in consecutive years.

After watching ‘A Walk in the Woods’ and ‘Wild’, I was convinced many would contribute to a self-imposed work sabbatical, fund my opportunity to hike both trails, and allow me the opportunity to write books or articles. A teeny-weeny part even envisioned a blockbuster movie deal. Sixty days later and zero donations, I realized many considered my request akin to the ‘Powerball Reimbursement Fund’ or ‘Let’s Buy The Loin’s’ [as in Detroit Loins]. Having no desire to purchase an NFL team, I do think of those who did something similar.

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Doctors advise you not to diagnose yourself online. You know (we all do it). ‘Google: Forearm pain’ returns 76,200 results. Have fun reading. By the time you’re finished, you’ve concluded that you have hit your forearm against a door, have bone cancer, or you’re a walking terrarium from a spider having laid eggs under the skin. Have a headache? I am sure you have a brain tumor. There are symptom checkers, pill checkers (what is that goofy looking white oval pill with odd numbers), and diagnosis via pictures. Over the years, many symptom checkers emerged, some here, some not. AskMD has a smartphone app, Everyday Health Symptom Checker (Online), Symptify (Online and Smartphone App), Symcat (Online), Isabel Symptom Checker (Online and Smartphone App), FamilyDoctor.org (Online), MayoClinic (Online), and so on. In COVID, everything is online, including results.

December 11, I received ‘A New Message in Your HealthVault.’ I figured either my doctor either wished me ‘Happy Holidays,’ ‘Holiday tips for staying healthy,’ or my echocardiogram results became available. The first sentence was ‘This is an auto-generated message,’ meaning that once the echocardiologist completed the reading, she auto-generated everyone’s results, including me. I started reading, line-by-line, ‘normal,’ ‘normal,’ ‘normal,’ ‘normal,’ ‘Cardiomyopathy (an enlargement of the heart due to thick or weak heart muscle).’ “Wait. What?” I murmured. ‘Cardiomyopathy,’ and nothing. No further explanation, no details, no you’re f***ed. Just ‘Cardiomyopathy.’ 

In truth, there is no ‘good’ cardiomyopathy. There are stages though. Stage A, where the patient has pre-heart failure and is at high risk of developing heart failure, to Stage D, which is characterized by structural changes to the heart and is experiencing heart failure symptoms. Stage D means one is f***ed … today. Stage A mitigation are aimed at trying to prevent further damage, whereas Stage D means transplant. 

For me, if the doctor runs a test and finds something suspicious (like cancer). I want to think the physician would call the patient, schedule time, and discuss the results. In a COVID world, to post potentially terminal news via the patient’s portal is probably not a good idea. I went through this once before.

In the 2019 bog post Nuts, I discussed my initial tumor results, as they were posted online. I called it ‘transactional.’ “… tumor in the neck measuring blah, blah, blah … Requires biopsy. Metastatic or secondary tumors may spread from another site … blah, blah, blah.” Every day someone gets news that a loved one has been diagnosed with a terminal disease. The shock can be overwhelming and paralyzing, and we shouldn’t take that lightly. Today, I received another bit of bad news—just how bad remains unclear. Therefore, it’s hard to get all ‘worked up’ until there is clarification. Still, there is an incorrigible part of me that wishes to return the favor.

Imagine the echocardiologist coming in from a lazy weekend and receiving ‘This is an auto-generated message. Your bank account will be frozen.’ Nothing further. No detail, no clarification. The message could be more sly, ‘This is an auto-generated message. Your vehicle brakes will fail sometime in the next two-thousand miles only if driven 646.4 feet above sea level,’ meaning the person has to figure out why the brakes will fail and if any part of the current area is above 646.4 feet about sea level. And lastly, ‘This is an auto-generated message. Anyone who used the toilet paper last Friday must be tested.’ Yet, upon reflecting, this is a shared life. 

Human beings share everything, including birth, aging, illness, death, sorrow, pain, grief, getting what we don’t want, not getting what we want, and losing what we cherish. Even in the darkest early days of the illness, when I didn’t understand, I remembered the first noble truth: suffering. Yes, it’s true that life brings with it a considerable share of unpleasantness and difficulties, but happiness and joy are available, too. Taoist sage Chuang Tzu referred to the world as the realm of the ten thousand joys and the ten thousand sorrows. 

Through spirituality, I’ve learned to set aside fear and the fight to live genuinely. Even in my own chronic and, at times, debilitating illness, I can see a different disease perspective. It’s not about surrendering to death, it’s about accepting the current state of my health and, using it as a life marker, and learning to take the best care of my body and mind. It’s about living gracefully and fully in light of that which will challenge us all.

If none of that works, try humor. Type the following.

This is an auto-generated message. Anyone who used the toilet paper last Friday must be tested.’

Press ‘Send.’

20 Years in Prison

Reflecting upon his time in prison, Wesley Snipes said, “Nobody wants to get locked up, although ‘locked up’ is a matter of perspective. There can be people who are out who are in prison mentally and emotionally and worse off than those who are behind bars.” Snipes’ comment is similar to Proverbs 27:3, ‘As you think, so you are.’ Its meaning is simple, whatever the beliefs and thoughts you hold about yourself, they are likely to become reality. Combined thoughts and feelings can embrace you or defeat you. Some thoughts are great, some are fairly simple.

According to research, the average person generates 60,000 thoughts per day.  Multiple that by 365 days, one gets a grand total of 21,900,000 thoughts per year. Thoughts run the gamut. Simon McCarthy-Jones noted 60% of reported thoughts about running a car off the road. 46% were about hurting family members. Other thoughts included fatally pushing a stranger, sex, forcing another adult to have sex, and other desires. In my teens, my thoughts were consumed with thoughts of getting any woman into a horizontal position for an extended period of time. Unfortunately, all those thoughts lacked any proper planning and execution. I once read men think about sex every 7 minutes. I cannot say I do. But that leads me to ask, how the hell does a researcher prove that? On the other hand, after hearing women talk incessantly over the past 3 decades, women seemed to obsess about burning 200 calories to compensate for eating that one piece of chocolate. Once past the failures of my terrible teens’, I turned to guilt, constantly reflecting upon what I did wrong. I reflected upon such events so much that one Priest finally stated, “Jesus died for you. If so, why do you keep crucifying yourself? You’ve become nothing more than a slave to yourself.”

And that’s what I became — 20 years a slave (unto myself). Richard Francis Burton wrote “… that one should conquer himself. Until you do, you are nothing more than a slave.” I agree with Burton’s commentary. Wesley Snipes notes similar themes, that many are mentally and emotionally in jail. We live it, breathe it, and eat it. Mental jail had become so ingrained, I didn’t know how to live without.

The self imposed jail I built cost 20 years of living, the greatest love of my life, and riches far greater than money. Nearing life’s end, I simply want a good name. As Proverbs notes, a good name is more desirable than great riches, it’s better than silver or gold. I was convinced a ‘good name’ could not be had, that I [the intrinsic soul] would forever remain undesirable. 

Two decades is a long time to be stuck in such a cycle, passing blame, fading in and out of other lives, and neglecting to understand the lessons God wanted me to learn. People like me walk the streets everyday, We allow ourselves to become so overwhelmed, that it seems impossible to overcome anything. To bust the cycle, I had to become free and studied how ‘my’ universe worked and I authored the thoughts that strove that imprisoned the soul. My escape was in pen and paper.

I’ve acquired tons of computer equipment, by most advanced piece of technology remains either a fountain pen or a #2 pencil. The latest book of Barack Obama’s political memoirs, A Promised Land, became a best-seller. What is unexpected is that Obama’s 760-page book was written by hand. Maya Angelou did likewise, noting she had written 31 books, essays, plays and lyrics for songs — all on yellow pads. In doing writing, I learned a few things and some timely lessons.

Writing allowed me to express my thoughts, recraft my image, to let go of the past, to focus on the here and now, and helped me choose more empowering thoughts. Second, I stopped growing old. Samuel Ullman noted that nobody grew old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Sure time may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Last, having a false image of what people actually are can harm the health of society. Likewise, having a false image of what your soul is like, will harm you. The negative image of myself was wrong.

People have negative thoughts all the time. That’s natural. However, victory is ultimately determined by the outcome of the war on the psychological front, whether one is able to live, to love, and to laugh before the specter of death is significant. 20 years on, I am a freeman, living and reliving the reasons I remain worthy. In my mind, now that I face my last few months/year(s), I choose to live, love and laugh with a light and smile like no other. Do me a favor, pardon yourself.

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