Tag Archive: Life Lessons


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?

While not personally seeing the news clip, I read about Homeland Security Secretary Kirsten Nielsen testimony to Congress. Ms. Nielsen was unable to answer about the number of children detained at the southern U.S. border nor was she able to explain how many “special-interest aliens” are detained at the northern vs. the southern border. Nielsen was able to argue that children separated from parents are not held in “cages” – they’re detention spaces.

Nielsen: “Sir, we don’t use cages for children. In the border facilities that you’ve been to, they were not made to detain children. As the children are processed through, they are in some parts of those facilities. I’m being as clear as I can, sir.”

Thompson: “Yes or no, are we still putting children in cages?”

Nielsen: “To my knowledge, CBP never purposely put a child in a cage.”

Thompson: “Purposefully or whatever, are we putting children in cages? As of today?

Nielsen: “Children are processed at the border facility stations that you’ve been at –“

Thompson: “And I’ve seen the cages. I just want you to admit that the cages exist.”

————————————————————–

Bonnie: “Is it [cages] different from what you put dogs in?”

Nielsen: “Yes.”

Bonnie: “In what sense?”

Nielsen: “It’s larger.”

Since I did not see the whole hearing, I will not disparage Secretary Nielsen. However, George Orwell once said, “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Orwell’s statement seems to reflect the sign of the times. Through March 4, 2019, Trump has lied 9,014 through 773 days in office. Trump’s averaging nearly 22 false or misleading claims per day.

Society has gotten so accustomed to lying that they do so even when there’s no apparent purpose. And when their lies are easily disproven, they leave everyone scratching their heads. Over the years, I’ve worked with a number of such individuals. When I read of Secretary Nielsen’s testimony to Congress, I remembered one such lie during my days on Guam.

In 1979, our team was stationed on Anderson Air Force Base Guam. One Saturday, we were performing maintenance on our helicopter and required some basic screws. We went to base supply and found they were out of stock. On a whim, we went to the hardware store and found the same bolt and same packaging.

“Sold,” I said.

I was just about ready to install the bolt when a Jeep rolls to a stop. A supply contractor exits the vehicle, waving his hands over his head.

“Stop,” he yells.

“Why,” we asked.

“You have the wrong bolt.”

“What?”

“You,” pointing to the bolt in my hand, “have the wrong bolt.”

“What are you talking about? It’s the same bolt and same packaging.”

“Well,” he said rather factually. “What you have is a bolt. What the helicopter requires is a ‘Thermo-Dynamic Securing Unit.'”

“A What?” I gruffed.

“You need a ‘Thermo-Dynamic Securing Unit.’ You can’t use that.”

“Oh,” I said. “And would I be correct in presuming that these ‘Thermo-Dynamic Securing Units’ come from your company?”

“Yes.”

“And how much are they?”

“Oh, well …” he fumbled. “$250.00 apiece.”

In my years of living, I’ve had my share of lies, untruths and crimes of the heart. Seems like a long time ago, but as Bagger Vance might, “It was just a moment ago.” In finding the truth, I had to go through my own dirty dishes. There’s no dishwasher in the mind. No one was there to wash the dish piles of consciousness. There’s no reality-based TV show mental makeover that will re-veneer guilt. In the process, I became more accepting of myself and learned to be more open and flexible.

Unfortunately, many members of our current legislature have not found the legitimate way in truth. Kristen Nielsen’s lack of candor is a broader reflection of America. She will have to live with that. Unfortunately, we will as well.

Dots

Trudeau thought he could change the world. When Justin Trudeau was elected Canadian prime minister years ago, he became an instant international celebrity. The charismatic and photogenic politician made headlines for everything from his feminist views to his tattoos and past jobs — which include being a bungee-jumping coach.

Sounds like me. When I was young, I was convinced I would change the world. And I did. For few I met, I did change their world – completely. Some positively, some negatively.

Most days of my life, I merely explained ‘dots.’ Allow me to explain.

One day, a professor entered the classroom and asked his students to prepare for a surprise test. The professor handed out exams with the text facing down. Once handed out, he asked the students to turn the tests over. To everyone’s surprise, there were no questions – just a black dot in the center of the sheet of paper.

The professor, said, “Write what you see.”

With no exception, everyone defined the black dot. After all were read, the classroom silent, the professor started to explain:

“I’m not going to grade you. I wanted to give you something to think about. No one wrote about the white part of the paper. Everyone focuses on the black dot.”

The moral is that the same happens in our lives. Excluding those with PTSD or health issues, our lives can be a piece of paper to observe and enjoy. For years, I chose to focus mostly on one particular thing, event or period. I neglected my gifts, forgot the reasons to celebrate, abandoned renewal, tossed away friendship. By focusing only on the dot, I failed to see how little those events are when compared to everything else. These polluted my mind, took our eyes off my true calling, and neglected my true blessings.

Want to change the world, be like Flintoff.

John Paul Flintoff worked to help protect the environment and prevent global warming. He realized he could make an immediate difference by reaching out to his neighbors. Every year, he offered extra tomato seeds to neighbors. Doing so, Flintoff changed his slice of the world. You could too.

Want to change the world? Pay it forward.

From giving someone a smile to holding a door open for someone, doing chores for others, volunteering at a charity, or buying lunch for a friend, it doesn’t take a lot to make another’s day.

Want to change the world, come alive.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. (Howard Thurman).” Be authentic. Be true to yourself and everyone else.

When I first heard the following story, I didn’t feel like I changed anything. I was earning a paycheck, merely surviving. However, while consulting at a hospital on the west coast, I saw a senior woman sitting alone in the cafeteria at the same time each day.

One day, sipping coffee, I asked if she would like company.

I’ve seen you every day for the past several weeks. Do you work or volunteer here?

Heavens, no.” she chuckled. “I am visiting my husband.

Oh, I’m sorry” I replied.

No need,” she replied while raising a cup of tea to her lips. “My husband doesn’t remember me anymore.

Hmm,” I nodded sympathetically.

Straightening up, “My kids say, I shouldn’t make too many trips. Since he has Alzheimer’s and is declining.” Blowing softly across the cup, she pierced me with cat-like laser eyes, “But I remember him. So, I make the trip.

Enlightenment! She changed my world.

Go change the world, even if it is only one person at a time. The power comes from love.

CPACI didn’t want to ruin any mega-karma flowing my way. So, I wasn’t going to write about it. Then a Twitter writer wrote, “Can the flag sue for harassment?

When I heard of Trump’s speech at Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), I went to Youtube. “God Bless the USA” blasted over the speakers Trump stood next to an American flag and hugged it. Grinning and rocking the flag back and forth as idiots gave him a standing ovation.

It was a big hug to the American people. God bless president Trump,” a Twitter user gushed.

Then angel opined. Angel (@fun4u909) March 2, 2019, “Can the flag sue for harassment?

The two-hour speech rivaled some dictators.

This wasn’t the first time Trump embraced the American flag. In June 2018, Trump gave a speech before the National Federation of Independent Business, during which he discussed immigration at length, including his “zero tolerance” policy that separates families at the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump concluded his speech by praising small business hugged the flag as he walked off stage.

CNN Anchor Brooke Baldwin noted all the February headlines. Here’s the list.

Cohen Testifies; Roger Stone Gag Order; Summit Sequel; Klobuchar Enters Race; Sanders Enters; O’Rourke’s Road Trip; Green New Deal; State of The Union; Trade War; Venezuela Power Crisis; India and Pakistan; New UN Pick; Believing another Dictator; Whitaker Hearing; Barr Confirmed; R. Kelly Charged; Robert Kraft Charged; Jussie Mollet Charged; Massacre Plot; Presidential Emergency; States Sue Trump (Over Presidential Emergency Declaration); North Carolina New Election; McCabe Book Tour; RGB Returns; El Chapo Sentenced; Amazon Bolts from NY; Bezos Pictures; Virginia State Government Crisis; Trump vs California; ISIS Bride Returns; Pope’s Advisor Convicted; Congress Rebukes Trump; Omar Apology; Tax Cuts Cause US Debt to Skyrocket; and Lady Gaga and Cooper’s Academy Award Duet.

Let me ask a few questions. How many steel jobs were created in February? How many jobs were talked about during February? How many job bills were generated and passed by Congress during February? Anyone?

How many jobs lost? 25,000 if you count Amazon’s departure from New York. Wisconsin’s Foxconn deal is on shaky ground.

In June 2018, Trump claimed US Steel was going to build six new steel plants.  In 2017, there were only nine US steel plants in total. At the time of Trump’s claim, I believe US Steel owned four of those nine steel plants. Here’s the truth, no U.S. company has announced new steel plants.

Here’s the real news, our president announces the opening of new factories that major U.S. companies have not announced? Likewise, for February. Over 35 different news-breaking stories and all we get from Trump is a collapsed Korean Summit, claims that the Russia investigation is a hoax, and a flag hug. The tariffs and taxes Trump implemented have resulted in little to no benefit and colossal debt.

If I did that in my business, I’d be fired.

Watching Trump hugging the U.S. Flag at CAPC was cringeworthy. The President purposely intermingles faith with politics. However, no political system, no matter how idealistic, can bring about peace, prosperity and happiness as long as the people in the system are dominated by greed, hatred and delusion. But, as Trump said CPAC speech:

This is how I got elected …

Buddhists and other spiritual leaders have long known the inherent problems when intermingleing religion with politics. The basis of religion is morality, purity and faith. For politics? Power. In the course of history, religion has often been used to give legitimacy to those in power and their exercise of that power. Religion has also been used to justify wars and conquests, persecutions, atrocities, rebellions, destruction of works of art and culture.

When religion is used to pander to political whims, it has to forego its high moral ideals and becomes debased by political demands. At trhat point it’s nothing more that a s***show.

But maybe … just maybe … we can hug a flag, and everything will be okeydokey.

The Twitter writer was right, the flag should sue for harassment.

Freedom From TV

I gave up watching television, listening to news, expensive technology and eating any junk food this past week. This wasn’t a broader, well thought out decision saying, ‘I must abandon all for the sake of humanity.’ However, I will say that after just one week, I feel saner and probably more humane. I feel less anxious and my housemate, ‘Speakeasy,’ who never speaks (hence his name), sleeps better. It’s hard to know; he’s a cat. Sleeps when I’m there, sleeps when I’m not.

Allow me to explain.

Over the years, I’ve read various experts claiming to profess that abstinence is the key to happiness. Booze, sugar, smoking, caffeine, smartphones, tablets, sex, drugs, vaccines, UV, AV, DVDs and CDs must be eliminated. More than likely, toilet paper, toothpaste, and car wax are next.

As mentioned in a previous post, I confess that I have not achieved victory over all my attachments, as have enjoyed some immensely – with chocolate Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and a good, soft, warm raisin cookie being two of many.  All of these are attachments.

The word attachment has long been used by spiritual traditions to describe this process. It comes from the old French attaché, meaning “nailed to.” Attachment “nails” our desire to specific objects and creates addiction. In this light, we can see why traditional psychotherapy, which is based on the release of repression, has proven ineffective with addictions. It also shows why addiction is the most powerful psychic enemy of humanity’s desire for God.

Spiritually speaking, it has been said addiction, in its basic form, is just a deep-seated form of idolatry. These addictions become our false gods. These are what we worship, what we attend to, where we give our time and energy, instead of love. Addiction, then, displaces and supplants God’s love as the source and object of our deepest true desire. It is, as one modern spiritual writer has called it, a “counterfeit of religious presence.”

Not that I’ve covered all that gobbledygook, I’ll be honest, I love Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, but unless they are in a bowl next to me while watching a Cubs game, I’ve given neither time nor energy. But that’s not to excuse them either. Likewise, associating a warm, fresh baked raisin cookie to a golden calf … ah … appears to be a stretch. On the other hand, new cell phones, the flash of lights from a new computer, the bink, bop, boink as the hard drive carves out commands hooks me.

I didn’t give up technology because I was addicted. Rather, the desire to abandon television came as a result of being busy. The effect, however, was impressive. And I learned a few lessons along the way.

Creative Bursts of Energy

I didn’t have a love affair with TV, but I placed a lot of mental effort into television programs I watched. While meant to be entertainment, I realized how much of it isn’t. I used television to decompress. Thus, instead of being entertained, I re-purposed those hours toward creating something of value.

I also moved more. Instead of sitting, I walked. Humoring Speakeasy, I danced, read to him as he slept on my lap and played hide and seek with him. In return, he moved more, chased more and rested easier.

Relationships Are Important

Real relationships are more important than television. Life situations and people are overwhelmingly better. A lot of what we do is done because we’ve imitated TV. We unconsciously become our actors. You might socialize in person versus via Twitter or Facebook. You might able to eliminate the “text me before you call rule.”

Returning Time

I gained time and felt ridiculously wonderful. Cutting meaningless tasks meant empowering the meaningful.

Some countries are treating television and other handheld devices as a public health crisis. In the U.S., tech companies are developing code and apps to help limit screen use. Apple has developed Screen Time. With Screen Time, you can access real-time reports about how much time you spend on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, and set limits for what you want to manage. However, I presume that will wear off and slowly die.

During the week, I noticed other changes. Instead of junk food and soda, I opted for salads and tea. Coffee got cut. By the third day, I felt more awake and aware. I also put away the massive pseudo-6.4-inch cell phone/dinner platter and dropped back into a 5.8 iPhone. Again, this wasn’t a conscious effort, but something I did. Now, I look only at email, a few Internet searches, some quick news and listen to soft jazz.

What I’ve noticed these past several days is the number of people who walked past while texting. We don’t even look up anymore. Have we forgotten how to live life?

My phone does not cruise Facebook posts or other social media because I don’t have a personal account. I gave up such social media accounts because they were not satisfying. Buddha urged followers to live simply and rid themselves of luxury and attachments. I’ll admit, I still use cellphones and other computers, but I don’t use them for happiness and fulfillment. Fulfillment via cellphone is just an illusion.

So, make time. Get up and play. As the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson, wrote in the strip’s last panel,”Let’s go exploring.”

Speaking of play … Coming Speakeasy.

What Lucky Taught Me

“And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.”

~ Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories ~

Lucky was acquired. Living in Mendota Heights, MN during the winter of 1993, I noticed a 15 pound stray, orange long haired tabby. Of the few times was seen, he drank from standing pools of water on the street. Finally, on one ‘lucky night,’ I nabbed him. Capturing is misleading; he came willingly. I named him Lucky because it was pure luck we crossed paths.

Unlike ancient Egyptian pyramids, Lucky came with no ‘warning sign.’ Though I certainly could have used one, he had no user manual. And while I looked quite extensively, there was no ‘off’ button. For all the world’s Yang, you know, those loving, wholesome thoughts, Lucky received a double dose of Yin. To this day, I believe Lucky woke in the morning and ate nothing but a quarter slice of lemon. That was the high note, and it dwindled quickly thereon.

He was perpetually cranky. One might say Lucky was prejudice. But after having lived with him much of his life, I can honestly state Lucky was not prejudiced – he hated everyone. Almost equally. As one friend phrased it, “Those aren’t ears, they’re horns.

Still, Lucky taught me just as many lessons as Figaro.

Real Love Does Not Require Complete Understanding
We all want to be loved. Behind the grump, Lucky just wanted to be loved. On most days, his real personality came out, and he was often happy and affectionate. As Norman Maclean observed, I didn’t always understand him, but I loved him completely.

The Truth is Easier To With Those We Love
With little fear of repercussion, its easier to share the dark, deep troubles of those we love. Whatever life Lucky lived before me, maybe we drift more towards truth as we age because we realize “truth” is what cuts through the weighty, granite fortresses of life. As Maclean said, “But maybe what he likes is somebody trying to help him.” In truth, after all these years since he’s gone, I believe Lucky loved someone trying to help him, even if I couldn’t wholly cure whatever ill hurt him.

Interconnection Means Sharing an Life’s Arc
The lake just off Concord Way was perched adjacent to my patio. Watching Lucky follow geese across the clear blue water reminds me that the arc of flowing water symbolizes the arc of life. Lucky and I were connected by that lake, and while living upon the shoreline, we etched deep patterns of life’s harmonic vitality into one another. I was amazed at how we lived through the seasons, and torrent weather with a philosophical exploration of a spiritual dimension. Through it, we believed in each other, because we lived in each other. He was an anchor for me, just as I was an anchor for him.

Relationships Require Work
Lucky and I worked hard at building trust. I didn’t know him; he didn’t know me. He didn’t choose to like me just because I was black or white. He didn’t care how tall I was, my education, my social status or wealth. We connected because we both chose to trust. As a result, our lives became an intimate story between souls. We shared something beautiful. And now that I think about it, it was always about love and relationship – about how we became brothers and formed one common bond. Even in death, his sense of self-transcendent interconnectedness still lives today.

I am humbled to have been a participant in his life. For all his gruff, Lucky still moves me in a positive, meaningful, and profound way. I’m moved to a different level each time I reflect on him and of our unspoken love.

God, I miss him. And it’s that level of love both Christ and Buddha would honor.

Thank you Lucky.

For the past several years, I used a Galaxy S8 Active. You know, it’s the phone you can drop from an airplane, hit and crush a car’s roof, land in the neighbor’s pool, pull it out, wipe it off and make a call. However, with my entire family possessing a hoard of iPhone’s, there I stood, an outsider looking in.

Longing for love and acceptance, I ventured into an Apple store in November 2018 and purchased an iPhone XS Max. Yeah … the ‘Max.’ The ultimate. The coup de grâce. It will be the phone I will die with, the phone that will outlive me, one that will let me enjoy my retirement looking for cheap buffets, and garage sales. I felt the slick golden beast in my hand and Apple’s seduction oozed through my body. Apple was subliminally saying; God has an Apple. He will even text you if you ‘BELIEVE.’

I believed. “Sold,” I said to the Apple Expert. I had to have it.

My first several connections with my mother via FaceTime were fantastic. Then I upgraded. 12.1.whatever. Then came 12.1.1.whatever. And more ‘whatevers’ after that. And for the last four months, FaceTime has been challenging. FaceTime with friends or family is perfect until the four to five-minute mark. After that, I get Apple’s equivalent to Microsoft’s Blue Screen of Death, “poor connection.” Regardless of effort, FaceTime would only recover if the phone was restarted and try again.

I turned to Mr. Genius. Mr. Genius called on my home phone and subliminally confirmed I was no smarter than the fish in my aquarium, “FaceTime error is a fairly simple error and fairly simple to correct.”

Before doing anything, he checked Apple’s System Status page to ensure FaceTime Servers were up and running. I presume if the servers weren’t up, he’d have a crisis and wouldn’t bother with an old, bald, fat, sixty-year-old from Washington.

Yup. Good,” he noted. “Let’s try restarting the device.”

Ok,” restarting.

Now, let’s test FaceTime.”

Five minutes passed, “Poor Connection.”

In the course of attempting to repair this, here’s a list of attempted steps Mr. Genius requested I perform, in order.

  • Run a speed test on my networks to ensure that they are reaching 5mbps or greater. If not, low data rates cause problems with FaceTime
  • Toggle Wi-Fi off and back on again
  • Connect to a 5 GHz Wi-Fi signal and not a 2.4 GHz or vice-versa
  • Turn Cellular Data Off
  • Toggle Airplane Mode on, wait 20-30 seconds and toggle Airplane Mode off–the quick method is via Control Center
  • Toggle FaceTime off and back on again, then sign in again
  • Change internet connection to cellular data by toggling off Wi-Fi
  • Turn off Wi-Fi Assist
  • Restart or reset my home router
  • Force the FaceTime app to close and launch again
  • Restart device and then force restart
  • Change DNS info, as may fix FaceTime connection issues
  • Set Date & Time to a time that is at least one year ahead and try again
  • Delete the FaceTime App and reinstall it via the App Store

Phillip Moffitt wrote that cultivating the two paramis (perfection and completeness) are found in patience and persistence are essential. The two go hand-in-hand.

Patience is the ability to abide by things the way they are. It allows you to tolerate failure, disappointment, defeat, unpleasantness, and confusion without giving up—both on the meditation cushion and in life. Persistence is the capacity of energetic resolve—the determination to hold steady to your intentions. Persistence brings into play the essential energy for directing your attention to what needs to be done right now. Deliberately placing attention on patience gives you the strength to cultivate patience; steady attention on being persistent will yield the energy to nurture new habits of mind.

I must admit, it was only through patience and persistence that I finally found an answer.

Hey, Mr. Genius. I found the soultion.

Great,” he paused. “What was it?

Well,” I stated. “You know that SIM Card in the iPhone?

Yeah?

I took it out and placed into my old Galaxy S8 Active. Works like a charm.

But sir, FaceTime does not operate on Android.”

Yup,” nodding to myself. “If they want me, they can call.”

Anxiety and the Power of Hope

Maybe if I fall in love with my anxiety, it will leave me too.”

~ Posted on August 7, 2017 ~

I have a friend who suffers from anxiety. She read an article where the author instructed the reader to list out all the things that provide worry. Her list consisted of one word: Everything. For some time, she’s felt an ‘overwhelming sense of doom.’ And true to its nature, fear of impending doom is a common anxiety symptom. It often precedes or accompanies panic and anxiety attacks – which she’s had.

Many experience anxiety’s intense feelings and sensations. They are especially powerful when they occur for no seemingly good reason. Consequently, many people react to these ‘out of the blue‘ feelings with fear, which only serves to inflame.

As an healthcare technology guru, I either know a lot of common medical statistics or know where to find them. So, trust me when I say that just by knowing someone’s age, gender, geographic location, and a few other items, I can look at current data and predict how one is likely die.

These calculations are neither unique nor have I written such programs. In fact, these calculators are fairly common. Google has a calculator. So do many insurance companies. One of the most insisightful ones for the average person can be found at FlowingData.

On a whim, I calculated mine. And theoretically, I have thirty more years of life. Really? Thirty? Jesussssss Chhhrrrriiissssst.

Sorry, God.

Truth be told, most of us will die of old age, not from some unexpected doom. Popular culture focuses on the most spectacular possibilities: think of the hurtling asteroid in the film Armageddon or the alien invasion of Independence Day.

Still, my chances dying from some unknown doom-like event stands at 3%. Let’s suppose I walk out the door tomorrow and got hit by an aircraft wheel that fell from the sky. Such an newsworthy event falls into the 3%. How about getting whacked in the head by a rock flung from a lawnmower three houses down? 3%. Wait? Wait? How about falling down a flight of stairs while carrying laundry and yelling at my brother’s kids? 3%.

While a dramatic end to humanity is possible, focusing on such scenarios means ignoring the most serious threat we face today: Stupidity.  And guess what? Those dying unexpectedly – from something like stupidity – hovers at 1%.

The following childhood story is just an example of one ‘stupidity‘ event, a 1 percenter.

During late spring, my father and I decided to rise near dawn and head to the waters of Senachwine Lake. Unfortunately for us, and everyone, else, the water was relatively quiet. For fisherman anchored 20 to 50 yards apart our biggest problem was the smell.

The fish smell. Your bait smells. And should you be fortunate enough to catch anything, your nets will smell (especially if you leave them in the sun). Your clothes will stink. Finally, and most incontrovertibly, I stunk.

A fisherman in a rowboat 25 yards to our left caught something huge. His fishing rod bent, swayed left, swayed right, and zigzagged under his boat. Onlookers were captured by the excitement. He fought hard. Exhausted, he finally hauled a two-foot Northern Pike onboard.

And then … he learned there’s more to fishing than catching fish.

While receiving congratulatory salutations from admirers, he reached to unhook his catch. Without warning he suddenly stood up, blood pouring from his finger. I estimate there was a five-second delay between bite, blood, and realization of said bite.

Screaming and stomping ensued. With the realization his catch had yet to die, he reached to his waist, pulled a revolver.

The fisherman emptied all the bullets and said fish went from Pike to sashimi in seconds. However … while sufficiently eliminating the threat, he created a secondary problem.

As a fountain of water arose from inside the boat, the fisherman realized the boat was sinking. Screaming in pain, holding an empty revolver, with newly homemade sashimi, and sinking boat, he concluded only one option – jump. Thus … while sufficiently eliminating the self-sacraficing act of going down with the ship, he created a tertiary problem – contamination of an open wound.

The fisherman was rescued, but the finger was lost.

Reflecting upon fear and the thought of impending doom, minus stupidity noted above, none one is more likely than another to suffer a doom-like demise. After exhausting all available false repositories of fear, it is possible to turn to God with a true sense of who we are, with an integrity that is both humble and confident, with a dignity that knows itself because it has met its limits.

In his book The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology, Jack Kornfield, quote from Buddha’s own diary:

“How would it be if in the dark of the month, with no moon, I were to enter the most strange and frightening places, near tombs and in the thick of the forest, that I might come to understand fear and terror? And doing so, a wild animal would approach, or the wind rustles the leaves, and I would think, “Perhaps the fear and terror now come.” And being resolved to dispel the hold of that fear and terror, I remained in whatever posture it arose, sitting or standing, walking or lying down. I did not change until I had faced that fear and terror in that very posture until I was free of its hold upon me … And having this thought, I did so. By meeting the fear and terror, I became free.”

In the battle of dispair, hope can sometimes appear elusive. Yet, even in pain it comes. It is there, irrevocably. And like freedom, hope is a child of grace, and grace cannot be stopped. I refer to Saint Paul, a man who, I am convinced, understood such pain: “Hope will not be denied, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts.

Remember to help everyone for it is only through facing fear together that we all become free.

Peace

Heirs of Our Actions

What distinguishes humans from other species is our inherent ability to examine our character, to decide how to view ourselves and our situations, and to control our effectiveness. To be effective one must be proactive. Reactive people take a passive stance — they believe that the world is happening to them. “That’s just the way I am.”

Yet sometimes, fate intercedes.

The ‘average joe‘ calls it ‘Karma.’

Thirty years ago, I visited a major shopping mall in Schaumburg, Illinois a few days past Thanksgiving. Being just at the start of the Christmas season, the mall was crowded, and I parked quite a distance from the store.

Walking down a parking row toward the store I came upon an older woman in Cadillac waiting patiently for an owner to enter her vehicle back up and leave. With blinker on, she just started rolling forward when a younger driver in a Honda CRX skidded into the parking space.

Flummoxed, the elderly lady rolled down the window, “Young man. Didn’t you see I was waiting for that spot?”

With a sneering laugh and the flick of his wrist, he waved, “Well, that’s what it’s like to be young and quick.”

He turned and continued walking. Fifteen seconds later, there was such a loud crash that nearby shoppers stopped in their tracks and looked. The young man turned, mouth agape and noticed his Honda CRX was completely smashed.

Running to the Cadillac, he screamed, “What did you do?”

The woman calmly rolled down her window. “Young man,” she lectured with a twist of her finger. “That’s what you do when you’re old and rich.”

For a Buddhist, Karma is the law of moral causation and is a fundamental doctrine in Buddhism. This belief was prevalent in India before the advent of the Buddha. Nevertheless, it was the Buddha who explained and formulated this doctrine in the complete form in which we have it today.

The Buddha once explained:

All living beings have actions (Karma) as their own, their inheritance, their congenital cause, their kinsman, their refuge. It is Karma that differentiates beings into low and high states.”

In our world, proactive people recognize they can choose how to respond to a given stimulus or situation.

Hence, the significance of the Buddha’s statement is that “We are the heirs of our actions.”

I close with the following story.

When a bug crawled across his desk, an adult education teacher gave an impromptu lesson in safety. The teacher had an unusual paperweight: a 40-mm shell he found when hunting. Using opaque reasoning, he assumed the ordinance had to be ‘inert.’

As the bug crawled across his desk, one would presume the teacher would use a flyswatter. Nope. Instead, he lifted his ‘inert’ artillery shell and slammed it onto the insect. 

The impact set-off the primer.

The resulting explosion caused burns and shrapnel lacerations on his hand, forearm, and torso. Fortunately, no one else was hurt. To the teacher’s consolation, the bug was killed.

So, was that an act of God, fate or karma?

How about inheritance?

As a young twenty-year-old fresh out of college the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), was my go-to ride. Whether by bus or rapid transit, my typical work route from the city’s north side to downtown was approximately 40 minutes. During my years as a commuter, it wasn’t out the ordinary to encounter drunks, beggars, dirty jokes, fights, thefts, robberies, drug sales, arrests and several dozen claiming to be Christ, Buddha, the Archangel Michael or superhero. I’ve seen bus drivers stop mid-route, leave the bus, get coffee, newspapers, and grab lunch. All the while, riders remained frozen in time and space, on the bus.

By the time I received a living wage, I had an established proof positive test for anyone claiming to be a deity. If (fill in the blank) ______ (God, Deity, Superhero) can fix the CTA ‘s Red Line, said ______ (God, Deity, Superhero) would have established a new church by ride’s end. Thus far, the challenge remains just that – a challenge.

One ride remains memorable.

It was late fall, and the sun began setting early. As usual, riders piled on near downtown, often mashed against one another, holding anything within reach. Rounding a corner near Sheridan Road, the train suddenly stopped and leaned right. The doors suddenly opened and one rider lost his balance and began drifting outward, sixty feet from the ground. Just before becoming flightless, three passengers reached out and pulled the man back.

Are you all right?” asked a woman.

Jesus Christ,” replied the man. “Thanks.

Damn, that was close,” said another.

Yeah,” the young man smiled. “I saw an attorney down there holding a business card.

Laughter swallowed the nearly fatal horror.

Why me?” muttered the man as the train started.

No one can ascertain why this world is destined for so much pain. At some point in time, all of us will ask, “Why me?” And truthfully, the whole dialogue about Adam and Eve, the great apple (i.e., fruit from the tree of knowledge) seems like a used car salesperson selling an Edsel. God promised a time when ‘evil’ will be defeated. Unfortunately, it’s not going to happen today or tomorrow.

Other religions teach that evil is a force outside ourselves which seduces us into sin. This force is sometimes thought to be generated by Satan or various demons. Thus, the faithful are encouraged to seek strength outside themselves to fight evil, by looking to God. I take a more nuanced approach to Buddha’s teaching:

“By oneself, indeed, is evil done; by oneself is one defiled. By oneself is evil left undone; by oneself, indeed, is one purified. Purity and impurity depend on oneself. No one purifies another.”

Buddhism teaches us that evil is something we create, not something we are or some outside force that infects.

My ‘why me’ point came after a back injury. Strapped to a body board, I underwent various medical tests, poking, prodding and other indignities of the medical world. Why? In essence, to keep me from having to ask that question for the remainder of life. After a year of therapy, I was able to walk. Eventually, I ran. And now, later in life, I return to pain. The cycle of my life nears its end.

Fortunately, the sum of those I know does not experience trials experienced in my life. Every life has a story receives their form of tests, moments marked by pain, loss, and sorrow. What connects us to god is our humanity. Jesus, suffered, and died. Near death, Jesus offered a question, “My God, my God? Why have you forsaken me?” Jesus question, much like our own, is not a sign of faithlessness. Instead, the problem comes from the soul of humanity. And that humanity is like a version of iMessage.

Working in hospitals, I’ve seen a lifetime of pain. But I’ve seen enough of life to know that where there are scars, there’s love and compassion. It’s the same love and compassion that reached for the man in the rain. It’s the same love of clinicians that restored me.

Nothing in this world brings us closer to ‘why’ – I stopped asking decades ago. Instead, I ask what do I choose to love and how can I positively impact others?  Now that I reflect upon it, that might be my own personal ‘why.’

%d bloggers like this: