Tag Archive: Life Lessons


Veterans and military families were divided about reports that President Donald Trump made disparaging comments toward the military. Some service members bristled at the remarks while and others questioned whether they occurred. Supporters claim that should one twist the President’s words, take something out of context, or cannot refute anonymous sources, an avenue to criticize exists. Other veterans have become disenchanted by the Trump presidency. Therefore, regardless of what’s done today, America needs a change.

I have no clue whether Trump openly disparaged Veterans. His past attacks on John McCain, a Gold Star Family, his military leadership, and the open disregard of the Uniform Code of Military Justice can propel one to conclude that Trump may have disparage military members. As seen on the news, our fearless leader launched an unprecedented public attack against the U.S. military’s leadership on Monday, accusing them of waging wars to boost defense manufacturing companies’ profits. Also notable was the choice to attack members of the press, specifically Jennifer Griffin and Laurene Powell Jobs.

While reporters from other news outlets confirmed aspects of the disparagement, Griffin works for Fox. And there, in the house of Fox, opinion hosts and corporate owners are seen as Trump’s personal media outlet and reliable supporters. Griffin’s confirmation led to Trump’s call for her firing via Twitter. Laurene Powell Jobs was also accosted via Twitter, stating that The Atlantic was “failing” and “radical.” Job’s sin came because she established The Emerson Collective, which focuses on education, immigration reform, the environment, media, journalism, and health. The organization happens to have an ownership stake in both The Atlantic and in Axios. Why do women always get the brunt of attacks?

Hillary Clinton, Carly Fiorina, Elizabeth Warren, Heidi Cruz (and a long list of other women) also experienced attacks. The way he talks about women, any prominent, powerful woman, is trivializing in the most demeaning ways. Professor Marianne LaFrance, a psychologist at Yale University, stated that when a female opponent is criticized, that woman is often reduced to sexual objects or someone unworthy of respect or attention. Yet, Trump receives support.

Ms. G. (a Trump supporter from work) said she did not mind. She and other conservatives say there are more critical issues than his remarks. They applaud the low unemployment (before COVID) rate among women and appreciate how he fought against abortion. Supporters adore Trumps’ appointment of conservative judges, attack on the poor, anti-immigrant stance (unless you are from Norway/Europe), the fight against other countries via tariffs (which they pay, but what do I know). Yet, these supporters only look at one or two issues rather than the whole. Trump’s road to 270 electoral votes would have been a cakewalk had things been done differently.

Had the Trump administration implemented healthcare reform that reduced costs, covered everyone, and ensured quality care, his support would topple 90%. Did America get healthcare reform? No. Can I drive to work without worrying about whether the bridge my car is driving upon collapses? No. However, the Trump administration held many ‘Infrastructure’ weeks. Did America get better roads and bridges? No. And about that steel boom? Overall, the employment rate at steel mills remains unchanged from when Trump began his presidency. ‘Protectionism’ cost more jobs than it saved. Face it, America lacks a plan.

America’s leadership has no plan for COVID, no healthcare plan, no nothing. All American’s have received is ‘crass and crude,’ a hell of a lot of unemployed citizens, and the promise of darker times. “Praise Jesus that abortion will become illegal, and we have conservative judges,” I heard Ms. G. exclaim shortly after Justice Kavanaugh received his appointment. 

Ms. G. died two days ago in the same hospital I.C.U. she worked.

Transparency

My cellphone rang just before 2:00 PM. Pulling away from watching people stroll near the waterfront, the number only revealed my employer. When one is technically on sick leave, the person being called always wonders about such calls. The call could be anywhere between the benign, “You’ve received a package,” to the dramatic, “Hey. Hate to tell you; you’re downsized.” Pressing #1 revealed our company’s mentorship program indicated someone had chosen me to be a mentor – their mentor.

Mentors are important, so choose wisely. Maria Shiver said, “God puts mentors in your path. They may not look like you, sound like you, or be what you expect.” As such, I was curious about why on God’s earth one poor fool to choose unwisely. Even those with limited knowledge understand, I am not the poster boy of mentors. I’ve neither written a book nor cured any disease. During a meet and greet company social, my last mentee asked, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” “Dead,” I replied with a smile. And that quick exchange started a two-year friendship ending when he left for Washington, D.C.

Our relationship wasn’t hard-ass. I required only four things. First, I will not set your goals; bring your own. Second, you must follow through. If you don’t, I won’t. Third, I periodically review the mentee, mentor relationship to ensure it continues to work. Fourth, be transparent. Show your scars so others know they can heal.

During the first introduction meeting, my mentee asked, “What was the greatest challenge you faced.” I could have rattled off a litany of challenges, but the answer was easy, “In 2018, I sat with an FBI agent for the interview portion of my security clearance.” Revealing real grief, I was no longer afraid to show the anguish of someone who knew he had inexplicably screwed up. “During the period between 2009 and 2010, I said and did things that weren’t true. I was fired. I let down my colleagues and spent the last eight years doing my best to reestablish trust and remain true the values I chose to honor. What happened was an acute period in my life, and I had put many people through hell. As such, it is important to remind ourselves who we are, and in many cases, who we used to be.”

All of us have inner-truth, and ten years ago, I required an honest look in the mirror to acknowledge my imperfections (sins). Doing so meant the willingness to transform into a better person. It is not solely about one specific religious path. Instead, it is a path that is more concerned with how to live without harming others.

People want transparency. They don’t like being lied too. Except by the President, which represents an interesting exception, doesn’t it? Is it because “he” is “entertainment,” or because “he” was not like the others? Does it matter the whole thing was most certainly an exercise in marketing and publicity? As one person said, “At least he’s transparent about not being transparent.” I chose a different path.

I wanted to live selflessly and commit myself to the necessary work, sacrifice, and occasional discomfort to choose “the best way to live.” Transparency doesn’t just help the world at large, and it isn’t just about the fact that it’s the right thing to do. It means seeking to understand those around you. Doing so can and will transform your life.

Did He See That?

Stuck in bed from excessive pain and excessive blood loss, l watched the world from a window. Laying horizontally, one views a different perspective of the world, its beauty, frailties, and trivialities. In the hours, and the hours after that, life’s opportunities are thrown to viewers to ponder, but only those who see.

I was taught God knows us. And, in an ideal world, not one shall fall ‘cept by His will. Christ said so. “Yet not one of them (sparrow) will fall to the ground without the will of your father.” Am I afforded the same? Does God willfully wish me to die painfully, either from a tumor or Parkinson’s like a multitude of others? If God sees sparrows fall, does He see all animals? How about cats?

A cat died today crossing the street. Naively darting into traffic to cross the street, its hind legs were trapped under a tire. In excruciating pain, it tried to maneuver back to safety, but could no longer function and finally succumbing to fate’s last breath. We were both unable to move: the cat and I, helpless, and unable to move. Hours later, the moment we both participated remain frozen. My only words, “Dear God!”

“Dear God? Did you will that? Was that YOUR will?” The driver who saw the cat drove on. Other vehicles passing by looked at the struggle and simply passed by. “Not my job,” one might say. “No time,” another may claim. In 2018, Five teenagers who taunted a drowning man while recording his death. Did God see it? George Floyd died with an officer kneeling on his neck. Was that God’s will? Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back. As Blake was shot, did Christ believe the will of YOUR Father was completed? What the hell was He thinking?

When an Antioch, Illinois teenager shot protesters in Kenosha, WI, was HE good with that? If Trump refused to condemn the shooter (and the act), was that God’s will? When Trump plays golf while many painfully die from COVID, are we good with that?  If God does nothing, should we? If our leadership willfully throws children in cages on America’s southern border, is that the type of tough love God condones? If we remove the Affordable Care Act and thousands die, does Christ say, “Cool.” I come to ask these questions because I know of no better forum to bring such grief. As the Apostle Peter once said to Jesus, at a moment of confusion and doubt, “Lord, to whom else can we go?”

During my incapacitation, In Fakebook’s show Sorry For Your Loss, the lead character typed a deep heart penetrating comment. “Everyone says it’s not the end of the world. That’s because it’s not the end of THEIR world.” I truly believe our world no longer feels grief because we no longer experience connection.  I had no close ties to the cat, but in a searing single moment, part of us shared a body of pain. As the cat suffered, I suffered.

Many of us will succumb similarly to the cat. We come. We live. We get ill. We succumb. However, in order for us to get past the ideology of the day (whether Trump, QAnon, GOP, Democrat, whatever), we’ll need to feel scars, In the presence of Jesus’ scars, Jesus instructed Thomas to “Feel my hands” and “Touch my side.” In a flash of revelation, Thomas saw the wonder of a God who in some way, stooped to take on our pain. In that sense, I can attest that where there is misery, there is Love (God).

In moments of pain, I want answers. “(Looking at Trump’s antics) Like God, why?” Yet God appears to remain aloof. Or does He? Frederick Buechner said, “I am not the Almighty God, but if I were, maybe I would in mercy either heal the unutterable pain of the world or in mercy kick the world to pieces in its pain.” God did neither. He sent love (Christ). God joined our world in all its unutterable pain to set in motion a slower, less dramatic solution … one that involves us.

All that has happened in these past four years demonstrates that your life—the decisions you make, the kind of person you are—matters now. Neither the cat nor I have a future. I would like to promise an end to pain and grief, and that one will suffer again. I cannot. I can, however, stand behind the promise that all things are redeemable, and can work together to a greater good. It’s a lesson God, Kanako, and that cat taught.

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.

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.

After learning being diagnosed with “high-functioning” autism, writer Helen Hoang never told her mother. “I hadn’t really known how to tell her. More than that, I’d feared her reaction, so I’d simply avoided the topic around her altogether.” When I was diagnosed with a tumor last year and Parkinson’s this year, only five knew of my tumor, and only three (my doctor, my case manager, and a friend) knew of the Parkinson’s. Only three knew both, those being my doctor, my case manager, and a friend. Avoidance will either be my enemy or friend.

My doctor has routinely asked why I haven’t told any relatives. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche said, “Death and dying is a subject that evokes such deep and disturbing emotions that we usually try to live in denial of death.” My brother is not particularly adept at dealing with it. And to be fair, most of us aren’t. Dealing with a terminal illness is hard enough without family instructing me to suck it up, swallow some Vitamin C, or work it out. Such a pronouncement would change every interaction; none of them are genuine. When I told my brother about the tumor, he was driving on the highway after flying lessons. Rather than waiting for a more suitable time, he listened to my diagnosis, demanded a second and third opinion, complete several other medical tests, and get back to him. He never called again, even when the date of the surgery came and went. The process of hiding or masking fits better in America’s society.

My military call-sign was ‘Chameleon,’ meaning I could almost on cue, adapt to any situation. I’m very good at it. I learned to blend as a kid because I saw people treated me, ‘different,’ ‘not socially adept,’ etc. Underneath that easygoing facade, was a soul struggling and found the minutiae of social interaction draining. The military changed that and trained me to adapt. It’s an acquired skill I continue to leverage and flawlessly execute.

I’ll admit, for months, I have considered coming clean. I almost came clean to my boss at work about the Parkinson’s diagnosis, but I know its impact on my career, for he was the second person informed of the tumor. Beyond that, I don’t want to have my illness define me, turning every conversation into a series of “how are you?” and every email into “here’s the latest cure you must investigate.” Nor do I want someone telling me to suck it up. Such conversations would provide neither meaning nor purpose. I aim to find out what the truth is for me and to live without vulnerability.

Vulnerability mustn’t be turned against me. It’s bad enough to battle a tumor Parkinson’s at the same time. I am unsure if I can fend off youth’s naysayers, demanding I fit into their mold. I don’t want to be the guy who seeks every nuanced therapy that provides marginal to no benefit. I want to live but live under my control, not under another’s umbrella.

Before the end of the year, I will tell my family. In subsequent days, conversations will become harder, and silences will grow. Relatives living in Chicago, Wisconsin, Florida, and elsewhere will email and either express regret or outrage at being uninformed. The ultimate question for every conversation will be, “Why?” And, it’s a fair question.

I have read many blogs where readers posed such philosophical questions of determining the proper moment to inform others of their terminal illness. Blogger Molly Kochan stated, “I have chosen to navigate this journey privately, with a handful of supportive friends and family. It was important to me to not be seen as a “patient” or as cancer.” I do wonder if my selfishness would impact others to such a degree that those affected would never move on. And so I say, “Yes. Eventually, they would find it within themselves to move on.” Therefore, I hope everyone focuses not on my final days (or year(s)), but rather upon leading the kind of life that will impact others. And should that be the result, then I would be truly inspired.

On the way to work, a small simple yard sign caught my attention. ‘Don’t Give Up.’ My first snarky reaction was, “Why not? Why shouldn’t I give up? I’ve been through all this crap and am likely to pass rather painfully, so why shouldn’t I?” The fact that this sign was posted in the front lawn of a home estimated to be in the millions didn’t help.

If one made millions from investments, is it fair to proclamate onto others who haven’t to not surrender? Free speech allows an author to erect such messages, but we gain zero context. Maybe that author’s cancer went into remission. So, don’t give up. Then again, what if the resident lost his business during COVID and is saying, “Don’t give up, I’m not.” Or, I beat COVID. I got sick, nearly died, but recovered. Don’t give up. We can celebrate such victories, but the author had not taken time to understand the reader’s pain, me.

Rollen Fredrick Stewart (a.k.a. The Rainbow Man) was known for wearing a rainbow-colored afro-style wig and, later, holding up signs reading “John 3:16” at sporting events. Known as a born-again Christian, he was determined to get the message out that whoever believed in Jesus would not perish. Seeing him in the background a golfer, nothing indicated he knew me or my life’s experiences. No one in my home, or that I knew, ever said “John’s got it down.” I never watched a sports program waiting for Rollen’s message. He never spoke to me and it’s doubtful such messages mean anything for the average everyday ‘Joe.’

Just as ‘May God Bless You’ and ‘Jesus Saves’ litter highway barns, were not specific to me. Prior to March 2019, I neither would have thought ‘Don’t Give Up’ as a divine message targeted solely for me, nor would I ever believe the author thought of me. God probably never told the author that “In July 2020, the Unknown Buddhist will pass your home. Post a yard sign saying ‘Don’t Give Up.’ He’ll know it’s from Me.” Nor do I believe God was messaging when I drove past the ‘Hell is Real’ billboard on Ohio’s I-71 either. Projecting such views quickly fades from the minds of those whizzing by during a daily commute.

Just as television viewers zoom through commercials, travelers quickly dismiss billboard proclamations. They have no recall ability. Do pithy billboard messages buoy one’s mind? Probably not. Walk out of a room during a radio broadcast and ads fail to engage. If the communication were real-if that communication ever came from God- it would never fade.

God’s communication fundamentally changes life. For Churchill, it was “We shall never surrender.” Roosevelt experienced similar awe when speaking “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” during his inaugural address during the Great Depression. Real communication challenges the soul, the very ideas about who are in the world, and provides the intellectual confidence to achieve great accomplishments.

Jesus said, “The Kingdom is like a mustard seed which a man sowed in his field. Mustard is smaller than any other seed but let it grow and it becomes bigger than any garden plant; it is like a tree, big enough for the birds to come and nest among its branches.” 

I envision the mustard seed fully grown, strong enough to bear the nests of birds. I sit before the full-grown tree and communicate with it. We talk about smallness in a universe so large. We discuss discouragement; risk-taking; change; fruitfulness; being of service; and finally, the power of God in life. I then kneel before God and tell him what the mustard seed taught. And I ask if He will teach me as well.

That, my friends, is the power of real communication.

Someone told me Roman soldiers invented craps using knuckle-bones of a pig as dice and their armor shields as a table. Others said the game originated from an Arabic dice game called Al Dar, which means “dice” in Arabic. The most commonly accepted version of the game’s creation is that it was invented by Sir William of Tyre in 1125 during the Crusades and named after a castle called “Asart” or “Hazarth.” No matter; what matters is the look in your clinician’s eye saying, “Craps.”

Fifteen months ago, my doctor said they would do everything possible. Today, craps. “There’s not much more we can do. We can replace your knee, but that will not repair arthritis in your feet, shoulder, elbow, wrist, or fingers in both hands. We could perform a hell of a lot of surgery, but you would not feel a huge benefit.” Gently grabbing the back of my neck, “Your back is a mess—severe osteoarthritis in your neck, and the tumor. There’s the Parkinson’s, and a lump at the base of the finger,” she said while finger outlined the lump. “My guess is that this lump is not cancerous, but we’ll require Xrays.”

Her words required no steeping. “Craps,” I said.

Shifting across from me, “I will do what you want, but I suggest the best approach is to keep you moving and pain management.” A deep exhale, “Keep you going until…” she faded.

“Craps,” I repeated.

“Craps,” she affirmed. “I can refer you to a pain specialist. Maybe neurology has something up their sle…”

“No,” I interrupted. “Anything more invasive may prolong my life, but it’s unlikely to save it.” Gently laying my hand over her pen, she looked up, “Doc. You’ve done all I can ask. It just is. It’s life,” I affirmed.

I already knew the progression. I knew this moment inched into my future every day. With all the experts I’ve sat across from, the hospital shift work, and camaraderie, I couldn’t place the ultimate responsibility for my care on one individual: my physician. Instead, it’s how you guide patients through the last month (or year(s)) is essential.

Doctors must be sure to take the time to remind their terminally ill patients that even though a cure might be out of the question, patient health is still relevant. I gave my physician affirmation that she performed exemplary. I know my diagnosis is terrible. And surely, I still have to figure out precisely what flavor of bad it is. But the real message from God is, ‘I only have so much time to do the things I want to do.’

In The Shawshank Redemption, the fictional character Andy Dufresne said, “I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.” Time to find out the best way I can live. “[Red] Get busy living or get busy dying. That is goddamn right.” No time for craps.

For most, dying is slow. It’s about the minutia, the ever so quiet, stealthy diminishing ability to perform the ordinary.

Sherri Woodbridge phrased it as a silent thief, slowly robbing one of who they were and been. Through it all, those of us experiencing such dilemmas try to maintain a sense of normalcy. For instance, my left-hand refuses to stop shaking. The shaking doesn’t prevent me from doing anything, just makes everything harder. I can still button my shirt, but not as quickly as a week ago. I can still make a salad some days. I can still sew a button, only if another threads the needle.

It’s all part of change. Everything is impermanent. Of course, we all change. True to form, people change–healthy or otherwise. We fall in love; fall out of love; become addicted, become free. Some choose wisely. Others choose unwisely.

In the song ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!‘ The Byrds highlighted the never-ending cycle.

To everything (turn, turn, turn)

There is a season (turn, turn, turn)

And a time to every purpose, under heaven.

Pete Seeger wrote Turn! Turn! Turn! from Ecclesiastes. Released at the height of the Vietnam war, the song’s plea is for peace and tolerance. The Vietnam war had its season and we are reminded that time, pain, and suffering has a season. Every one of us experiences this never-ending cycle.

The Buddhist compass within me points to impermanence. We arise, change, and disappear. My hand worked fairly great a year ago. Today, not so much. The impermanence of a non-functioning hand is nothing new. Instead of loss, I want to profoundly remember the beauty of what it means to exist. Impermanence is the path, the vehicle, to that appreciation. Over time, in my own soul, nature presents itself and I was able to unlock a deeper meaning of our current challenges.

The loss of hand function would not change who I am in the eyes of another. The frustration rests within in my soul, for my fear is that in my life, my career, may be dependent upon how valuable I am to others. I presume God will let me off the hook of this endless chore of self-improvement, of being that one person recognized by world aa an authority on whatever. I was never an authority. Never will.

Impermanence will allow me to unlock God’s message of humanity. However, that doesn’t mean I won’t miss the ability to zip my pants. Ha. It means I will accept life’s ever-changing cycle, even my own.

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