Tag Archive: Life Lessons

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.

In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Scrooge asked the spirit, “… tell me if Tiny Tim will live.” The ghost indicated that should the shadows remain unaltered, he saw an empty seat. Eventually, the spirit used Scrooge’s own words against him, “If he is to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.” Interpretations tried to turn it into an assault on the wealthy, critiquing capitalism’s effect on society. It is not. Rather the spirit condemned Scrooge for the act of looking away, ignoring the evils imposed on people who cannot survive in society and also the political structure that keeps them in place. If I had to summarize God’s message to me, Dickens’ message would be an arrow between the eyes. 

These past weeks, I have been meditating upon my transition. In Dominoes, I noted Ms. K., waits. Why? In 2019 (see My Thanksgiving Letter), both God and she promised not to surrender, that they would always be knocking. I repeatedly told God I wanted to mentor people as if I could somehow drop from heaven and mysteriously help those in need. It’s as if I was saying, “Yeah, that’s it, God. I’m your man, your go-to guy. Bring it on. Let’s go.” I was on a roll until God provided a small portion of my end of life review.

An end of life review is a common aspect many Near Death Experience (NDE) claim to experience. It is sometimes described similar to a movie, in segments, or reliving every moment of life. During that process, there are no secrets, nowhere to hide. It’s all open. Suddenly, my meditation was no longer an exchange. God began to speak.

He told me that running the universe is above my pay grade. “You want to be a mentor? Then when did you mentor the needy in life?” Showing just a few clips of those I’ve ignorantly hurt or dismissed, God continued, “Who are you to request your position? What makes you so right? Why do you ask for something to be in heaven that you willfully failed in life? What effort did you give? What passion did you expend? Where are your fruits?” God claimed that the same passion that resides in us, the spark of the divine, the image of God that we bear, is what also allows us the free will to do good or evil, to choose to harm or either ignore willfully. 

It was a lovingly rebuke during a moment of arrogance. There were many moments where I failed to mentor. Let’s face it. I am not perfect. I was presumptuous to think I could ask God for what I thought I would like to do, but I was honored by God’s honest questioning. Terminally ill or not, I shouldn’t have overstepped. As written, “If you want to be first, you must be the very last. You must be the servant of everyone.”

What Jesus told His disciples is the same lesson God had for me: I needed to be a servant. A servant does things for other people before themselves. When someone is a servant, they put themselves last. As mentioned before (Deciphering God’s Call), Ken Boa stated God entrusted us with specific resources, gifts, and abilities. Our responsibility is to live by that trust by managing these things well, by design and desire. For a good portion of my time on earth, I the very gifts God entrusted me. Seeing my own arrogance, I sheepishly requested to be the caretaker [janitor] of a small park. “No. Taken.” Angel of gum removal? “Taken,” He interjected. “I have something else in mind.” He left without indicating what that ‘something else’ would be. Whatever it is, it will be His will, not mine.

Former world heavyweight boxing champ, Muhammad Ali, was known for often bragging, “I’m the greatest.” Just before take-off on an airline flight, the stewardess reminded Ali to fasten his seatbelt. “Superman don’t need no seatbelt,” Ali said. The stewardess retorted, “Superman don’t need no airplane, either.” Ali fastened his seatbelt. Likewise, I fastened mine.

A day prior to the election, a heating and air conditioning technician arrived to perform ‘the scheduled Fall furnace inspection,’ a preparation for winter. I always engage these technicians during the inspection process, often learning of who they are and obtaining perspectives of life one rarely gets. “If Nancy Pelosi were to show up here, I would immediately hang her for treason.” He blurted. “And Biden should be shot.” The technician’s stunning admission was brutally honest, ‘summary execution.’ Neither Biden nor Pelosi deserves trials, just termination. The conversation still haunts me post-election and reminds us just how fractured America has become.

Blue-collar workers (like him) were left behind. It is one reason the ‘blue wave’ frittered like a mild earthquake. The tsunami didn’t occur. Democrats entered the U.S. election hoping for a GOP repudiation, certain to be swept back into power. Instead, close to 50% of the electorate denied the “blue wave” and steadfast in fear and hatred. GOP rhetoric permeated America’s soul and what emerged is an underlying desire to kill anything opposing the President’s view. If you’re not with the president, then you must be terminated. Enemies must die. All naysayers must be excoriated. 

GOP success is especially amazing given that their entire platform for the next four years was ‘Trump. Whatever he wants.’  As such, half the electorate drank from the cup of venality, vulgarity, and racism. Mirroring Gordon Gekko, one might say, “Hatred is good.” Of course, the Senatorial GOP lied, cheated, and stole a Supreme Court nominee. They copied their strategy straight from hell and told their minions, “God calls us to lie, defame, and cheat.” Glen Cook noted that more evil gets done in the name of righteousness than any other way. Do we expect politicians (whether GOP or Democratic) to proclaim they perform evil deeds in the name of Satan? Of course not.

Any attempt to politically embrace America, both racially and ethnically, in an increasingly divided society is misplaced, viewed with suspicion. My heating and air conditioning technician heard the line “we’re all Americans message,” and saw his America had evaporated and rather than accept change, he prefers to destroy all he sees, even if that hatred destroys himself. Given the permission to hate, half of America’s electorate chose a kingdom of ‘swill’ and its scraps of waste for pig feed. America’s new reality will chain Democrats from lofty horizons. Subtly, Democrats failed to understand that their party no longer looks like white America.

Unlike Democratic party delegates, Americans of the ‘rust belt’ and ‘Bible belt’ are not too thin, too rich, and too sophisticated to care about the fate of Paris Hilton, the Kardashians, or the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. They align themselves to the Republican thunder that reverberates a repeated mantra, “We are tougher, meaner, stronger, better Americans than Democrats!” Clinton’s fabulous ‘Deplorables’ slur and subsequent approach to statesmanship, “Strength and wisdom are not opposing values,” was a hit among the like-minded, but it was never Texas bumper sticker material. We simply refuse to trust.

Trust leads to some form of expectation. Wherein, that leads to the presumption that some things remain static. The disappointment is that at some point, everything changes. The question both GOP and Democrats must answer is difficult. Can we really trust politicians to not act only in ways that please those who think like them when they ought to find middle ground solutions that unify the multiple threads of our country? I’d argue no. But we can trust in ourselves.

“To have confidence in ourselves is to have confidence we can control our response. This is trust. No matter what we can possibly do in this short and fleeting life, without trust we are stuck being the traffic cop, trying to make everything go our way, according to our one-sided and self-deluded views.” 

~ Shinge Roko Sherry Chayat Roshi ~

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.

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