Tag Archive: Living Buddha


After reading Rebecca Byerly’s piece in the New York Times, one cannot help but think of themself.

Isabella de la Houssaye and her daughter, Bella, struggled to breathe in the thin air of the high Andes as they trudged up a zigzag trail to the top of Aconcagua, the highest summit outside the Himalayas.

At an elevation of about 22,840 feet, it is often called “the roof of the Americas.” At this height, breathing is difficult and the risk of debilitating, even fatal, altitude sickness is a reality even for the strongest climbers.

Isabella has Stage 4 lung cancer, which makes breathing especially hard.

Houssaye made plans to go on adventures — maybe the final ones — with each of her children, ages 16 to 25. Climbing to “the roof of the Americas” with her daughter Bella was one of them.

I have to admit, Ms. Houssaye is both pretty damn strong and admirable. After my diagnosis, no such thoughts ever came to me. While it’s true I have no children; climbing mountains was never a personal forte. It’s not that I don’t have ‘desire,’ but I presume the term ‘desire‘ would be different for each person.

Several weeks prior, I Googled ‘things to do after a terminal diagnosis.’ Google retrieved an accouterment of suggested links, but each mostly centered upon either financial or ‘bucket list.’

Financially speaking, I both a will, and living will. Car paid? Check. Home paid? Check. Will updated? Check. Bucket list created? Check. Check. Check. And so on.

Moving to the bucket list, I compared mine to those found online. The first thought online writers conveyed was accountability. Meaning that If you made a bucket list goal public, theoretically others would hold you accountable. Should such accountability exist, one is much more likely to accomplish said goal(s).

Many writers start with travel. Visit Asia. Hmm, did that. Africa? Check. Australia? Check. Europe? Check. South America? Check. All 50 states in America? Check? Yosemite National Park? Check. North Pole (that’s North Pole, Alaska)? Check.

There are specific items such as Heli-Ski in Valdez, Alaska. Nope, no interest. Sell a House for a Profit? Check, been there, did that. Attend Coachella Music Festival? No interest. Experience Burning Man? No interest. Be an extra in a Hollywood movie? No interest. Whitewater rafting at Cherry Creek, California? No interest. Bench press 200 lbs? Been there, did that. Have coffee with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company? Did that (but had to listen to how wonderful he was in comparison to everyone else). Fly in a Fighter Jet? Did that. Parachuted? Yup. Spend a day shooting video with Peter McKinnon?

Who the heck is Peter McKinnon? … Sorry, I digressed.

So, did I learn anything of value? My one point of note came from Michael Riley’s 2017 column, 7 Life Lessons from the Movie “The Bucket List.

“Imagine you were told you had 6–12 months left to live,” he wrote. “Talk about terrifying. What would you do with your time left?”

Riley’s list included three that gave pause for thought.

  1. Death often comes out of nowhere.
  2. Find the joy in your life.
  3. Bring joy to other people’s lives.

In the movie “The Bucket List,” Carter tells Edward that when death occurs, the gods ask the person two questions: First, “Have you found joy in your life?” Second, “Has your life brought joy to others?” My experience with those dying suggest most neither remember the joy found in living nor the amount of joy brought to others.

Life isn’t meant to be all about me. Yes, my dreams and goals matter, but it’s really about my impact and legacy. How many people’s lives can I touch while I’m here? Likewise, how many people’s lives can you touch while you’re here? How can you be a role model for others?

Maybe therein lay the best to-do list for everyone. One To-do: What can I do with the remaining portion of my life that will bring joy to others?

‘All In’

According to Reuters, when choosing a flight, U.S. fliers apparently prefer ticket prices over air safety. In fact, recent safety issues of the Boeing 737 Max had had little impact. Only 3 percent said that aircraft or model was important when buying a plane ticket. In contrast, 57 percent said ticket price was critical.

However, Southwest Airlines passengers expressed concerns on social media after confusion over on-board safety cards led passengers to think they were flying on a Boeing 737 Max. In reality, Southwest had already grounded all 737 Max airplane and stated the safety card used can be used for more than one plane model, adding that safety procedures for the 737 Max and 737-800 are identical.

In other words, up to the point of takeoff, people were more concerned about. Unfortunately folks, at that point, it’s too late. You’re ‘all in.’ You’ve succumbed to fate.

In American usage, the phrase “all in” began as a colloquial expression meaning to be in a bad spot—exhausted, worn out, and spent. In the game of poker, it refers to the moment when a player—whether out of bravado, recklessness, or desperation—bets all of his or her chips on a single hand. The all-in moment in poker is a thrilling win-or-lose-everything crisis of dramatic clarity: you’ve wagered all you’ve got, giving your fate over to the cards, and you can’t go back out again.

“Can you drive me to my car? It’s late and I parked in an unsafe area after dark.”

“Why didn’t you park in the parking garage across directly across the street?”

“Well, the garage costs $90.00 a month,” she paused.

“And you didn’t want to pay $90.00 a month?” I interjected, finishing the sentence.

“Correct.”

Knowing the position she has at the firm, I’m fairly confident her annual salary nears $120,000 annually. Roughly speaking, she bet her life on $1,200 savings, a smidgen less than 1% of her salary.

“So, you placed savings above safety?”

“Huh?” she quipped.

“You bet personal safety for less than 1% of your salary?”

“Hey, don’t jinx me,” she snapped. Continuing, “You’ll be responsible if I get hurt.”

“Yes, I will feel bad if you get injured. However, you went ‘all in,’ not me'”

History will tell you that going all in is often a spectacularly bad idea. In life though, it seems all good. In life we hope many of poker’s words and phrases bring forth a sense of romance and drama that break the normal mundane activities of life. in many cases, we simply want to up the ante.

In life, almost everything contains some level of risk; the key to success is to identify an appropriate risk tolerance and then manage the that tolerance. In some instances, this may mean avoidance of any loss is appropriate, but in others moderate losses may be tolerable. In my friend’s case, there’s appears to little reward in gaining less than 1% reward. Sure, should she live that same routine over a decade, the reward would equal nearly $12,000. Then again, a decade of wages would net $1,200,000. The risk reward remains at 1%.

Going ‘all in.’ Wagering everything for the 1% is why Vegas almost always wins.

Pretty stupid.

Many years ago, a young associate stood on a New York subway, awaiting a train that would take him near the river. It was nearing 5:38 PM and warmth from the Springtime sun lured him from the hotel for several hours of sightseeing. Unbeknownst to him, at that very moment, another man stood squished in an already overcrowded railway car. The repetitive back and forth motion of the train, side-to-side swagger, added to either bad meal, seasonal allergies or an oncoming cold as the trained hurled forward.

Just as ordained, the associate and the ill man met, albeit ever briefly. The transit line stopped in front of my coworker. The doors opened. The man inside threw-up outward toward the platform, hitting my associate chest high. Two seconds later, train doors closed and pulled away.

Turning around, “Why me?” he asked.

Welcome to New York,” an elderly man quipped.

So many things in my life were insignificant as they occurred. Most were overly dramatized, either by the people involved or indulgently over told throughout the years. The memories I’m absorbing from treatment may not be precious to others, but each encounter and quip offers more wisdom than the sum of all valuables in my home. I have learned memories are valuable.

And my current memories? They don’t consist of the tumor. It’s the smaller things like nausea.

After downing another round of medications, I remember my associate in New York. Side effects started 24 hours later. It was the first time I experienced such heavy nausea. If one could bargain with the ol’ ‘Lord of Nausea,’ I would schedule all this for Election Day 2020 to avoid having to decide the pending presidential election. But alas, the bugger arrived at 9:04 AM, just after starting speaking at an internal company meeting.

Now I’ll admit, this is one heck of a way to out myself and my treatments to the entirety of the company. But I was exceedingly quick for ‘Mr. Nausea.’ I attributed my difficulties to allergies, to which, I’ve neither had nor taken medicine for. For a brief moment, I thought of hurling all over Alan. Alan was a prick from day one. So much so that I nearly called him Mr. Prick during a meeting. However, I lost my opportunity as everyone ditched the room, leaving me like a dead goldfish in a glass bowl.

After Mr. Nausea stopped, I defiantly walked to my desk. I expected a HAZMAT team but was greeted by Ms. Ginger C., former drill sergeant and reformed nurse, with lemon tea and orange wedges.

Picked them six months ago,” she pointed.

Sure there are still good?

Probably,” she noted. “But you look like shit anyway. What difference will it make?

Hard to argue logic, regardless of delivery. I downed the orange wedges.

If there’s one thing, I learned about life, that when S*** happens, it’s essential to develop one key skill: humor. It’s not that reasoning skills aren’t necessary. However, humor and humility will allow most to be successful in whatever situation encompasses us. And when dealing with Mr. Nausea, humor is critical.

In the movie Jack Reacher, Helen told Reacher he was wrong.

You were wrong about my father,” Helen stated.

Yeah, let’s not make a big thing of it.”

In Closing

I read a story of a fast-food employee near Houston who allegedly punched a co-worker after the coworker gave away the ending of Avengers: Endgame. MSNBC reported Justin Gregory Surface received an assault citation. Surface’s life got flushed for a spoiler easily read online.

Everyone gets shit in life. Most of it isn’t significant. There are so many other huge things coming down the pike. When S*** comes your way, take a breath. Try not to spend endless hours fumigating ‘why.’ Tumors are a big deal. Nausea? Not so much. So, when nausea visits again, I will channel Reacher.

Let’s not make a big thing of it.”

On December 22, 1944, at about 11:30 in the morning, a group of four German soldiers, waving two white flags, approached the American lines using the Arlon Road just south of Bastogne.

The Germans sent soldiers to take the American surrender. Awoken from a deep sleep, Brig. Gen. McAuliffe, said “Nuts!” The response was typed and delivered by Colonel Joseph Harper, commanding the 327th Glider Infantry, to the German delegation. It read accordingly:

December 22, 1944

To the German Commander,

NUTS!

The American Commander.

In March, I read of a Kaiser Permanente robot rolling into a patients room in the intensive care unit and telling an elderly patient by video he would likely die within days. In some ways, I felt more fortunate. Mine were posted on my EHR account. It was ‘transactional.’

A tumor in the neck measuring 4.1 x 2.3 in transaxial dimensions and 3.7 cm in height (1.6 inches x .9 inches x 1.4 inches), surrounding the spinal cord and C5-C6. Preliminary indication benign. Requires biopsy. Metastatic or secondary tumors may spread from another site. Delicate neural structures will complicate treatment, resulting in nerve compression, spinal deformation and compromised bone strength.

There’s good news and bad news. Good news: Highly likely the tumor is benign. Bad news: Tumor is the size of a walnut, surrounds the spinal cord and or nerves. Prognosis? Nuts.

Nuts!

Every day someone gets the news that a loved one has been diagnosed with a terminal disease. The shock, accompanied by a ferocious sense of foreboding and a powerful dose of premature grieving, can be overwhelming and paralyzing. However, my first inclination was not despair. The gnawing torment some experience never occurred. No nausea. No dread. No anxiety. Using the Kubler-Ross five stage model as a measuring stick, I leapfrogged denial, anger, bargaining, depression and landed on acceptance.

I’ve known since 2014 that my internal clock was running out. I cannot explain it. I instinctively knew death was nearing. My time working in hospitals reveals that even if loved ones refuse to discuss death, the patient knows it is coming. I just presumed it would have been quicker, for five years later, I’m still around. However, in the annals of life, 5 years ago is just a moment ago.

So, what’s next?” my boss asked.

I doled out a usual quip, “Burning a hole through my deductible.”

What I really thought was “Relationships.”

Author Karen J. Warren wrote in 2016 that she was diagnosed with terminal illness. As she confronted the truth about her medical condition. She articulated the personal, philosophical, and medical issues when discussing end-of-life options. However, the following stays with me.

I knew that what gives my life meaning, what really matters to me, are relationships—relationships with myself, with other people, with animals, with the natural world. Creating or nurturing these relationships is what I value most.

The precious time I have left matters! I found myself asking, “Will doing this or saying that make a positive difference to my health or enhance my well-being?” For example, does it make a difference to me whether I participate in a research program, take an X-ray or have a mammogram? My guiding principle has been this: “If doing something makes a positive difference in my life or enhances my well-being, then do it; if it doesn’t, then don’t do it.”

So, nuts.

I will do something that many fail to do: Focus on things that will make a positive impact.

You should too.

Buddhism and Baseball

I wasn’t feeling well throughout the weekend, so I limited my activity. Fortunately, Saturday was a rainout. And although I did perform a lot of household chores, neck strain and pain limited my activity. Yesterday, was cold. Thus, I satyed quiet, stayed indoors, and completed taxes.

However, I did watch some of Major League Baseball’s opening day and weekend. Prior to the season, I had read several columnists claiming the Cubs would do no better than third in the NL Central. However, after watching the Cubs first three games, last or next to last might be apropos.

I will say it straight: It appears the 2018 Cubs got on the bus from Spring Training. They suck.

Yesterday, the Cubs started great, as they built up a 4-0 lead in the first four innings. The Rangers immediately erased that lead however, as Delino DeShields crushed a grand slam off Hammels in the bottom of the fourth, giving Texas a 5-4 lead. In the bottom of the 9th, Texas Ranger Gallo hit a double off the left field wall and after advance to third on a groundout. He scored Cubs Pedro Strop threw a wild pitch that bounced so high, it came down 47 minutes on Ms. Felcowitzh’s old Oldsmobile Wagon as she drove home from evening church.

I figured Pedro Strop got pitching advice from Carl Edwards Jr. or Yu Darvish. Darvish lit up the baseball diamond Saturday. In short, Darvish ended up throwing 75 pitches to retire eight batters, and had to be saved. According to Baseball Reference, Darvish is the fifth Cub starting pitcher to give up seven or more walks in a start, joining Tyler Chatwood, Carlos Zambrano, Jeff Samardzija, and Jake Arrieta. The Rangers’ first 10 batters of the game did not put the ball in play, which set a new record for the club.

Despite Darvish’s struggles, the Cubs led 6-5 going into the bottom of the eighth inning, when another pitcher remaking himself, Carl Edwards Jr., took over. Edwards subsequently gave up a single and a walk, before Gallo netted a three-run home run. It proved to be the game winner.

All of this was topped by Sunday’s Cardinals – Brewer game. In the first inning, Matt Carpenter doubled. Upon safely reaching second base, he stood, placed his left hand over his crotch, raised his right hand and wiggled his hips.

“What the hell was that?” I mumbled.

However, in the 7th, with two outs, Cardinals pitcher Miller got Travis Shaw to pop up into shallow left field for what should have been the final out of the inning. However, with the shift on, the ball managed to find a hole between Carpenter and Ozuna, enabling the Brewers to pull within 4-3. Yet Carpenter, for whatever reason, did not stand place his left hand over his crotch, raised his right hand and wiggle his hips.

A friend called five minutes later, “Why didn’t Carpenter dance?

“Maybe because there was no dollar bills?”

Eventually, the Brewers won in 9, sending the cards to a 1–3 start.

In Buddhism, there’s an endless cycle of suffering—we are always winning and losing the same game, somehow expecting to make progress. We spend part of our life trying to get it together, and the other part watching it fall apart. We don’t realize that if we try to gain something, we had better be ready to lose it. As soon as we have time—“I have a whole hour free”—we are losing it. We work hard to have a relationship, and then it breaks up. We come together for a holiday party, and then it’s over. We buy a new car, and the fender gets a dent.

What’s interesting is that just like baseball, life is really about the competition within ourselves. We rise to our own challenge. As I watched this weekend’s MLB games, I thought about all the things I did to get to this point, through snow and rain, heat and cold, management failure and my own.

When my time ends, maybe God will ask who won. Should He, I will say, “No one and everyone.”

I had a followup appointment with my physician yesterday. Having worked in the medical industry since 2006, I envisioned the nurse who performed intake returned to the Nurse’s Station saying, “He’s still alive.”

In many hospitals, nurses usually have ongoing office pools for all sorts of weird things: football, baseball, NCAA Basketball Tournaments, the length of Nicholas Cage’s marriages, the number of months between McDreamy’s, and ETOH. In medical terms, ETOH is alcohol. All alcohol has an Oxygen (O) and Hydrogen (H) molecule (thus the OH at the end of the term “ETOH.”) In other words, I’ve seen medical clinicians bet on the intoxication level of DUI’s dropped at the door.  So, I just presumed they wagered whether I would return, and if so, what condition.

Yet, I survived.

My physician eased through the door. A tall Ukrainian woman with a beautiful personality and general concern for her patients. I envied her – not from the aspect of pure beauty alone, but her ability to ease through doors. She moved effortlessly, glided past chairs and bed posts. Seamlessly pushed her coat aside, she sat in the chair next to me.

“I’m glad to see you.”

“Me too,” I replied with a smile.

“Well, any changes from the visit?” she queried.

“No,” I noted while briefly looking down.

“Meaning, you still feel like shit?” she smiled.

“Oh yeah,” I smiled back.

“Well, I got you an MRI appointment in this century,” she laughed. “Either someone found another MRI facility or (winking silently), they no longer require one. Thus, they slipped your name in for the end of April.”

“You mean, April 2019?”

“Yeah.”

“Wow. I feel special.”

“Whatever happened, I think you’ve stabilized. But remember, you’ve been diagnosed as a walking time bomb. So, don’t do anything stupid until we get some better ‘Art Work (imaging photos).’”

“So, no scaling cliffs, paragliding or alligator wrestling.”

“Hmm,” rolling her eyes, “alligator wrestling is ok.” A brief pause. “I will do the best I can for you. We all will.”

A brief tear of honesty dribbled the length of my cheek. “Dang dry eye,” brushing it aside.

“A nursing aid will come in and get you out of here, with a request to draw some blood and get you back in next week.”

“See if you can find my odds for next week. Maybe I’ll buy a square.”

She laughed, “Be nice to her.”

The nursing entered with a cart. I contained my paperwork, one needle and vial.

“Ok.” She started. “Which arm?”

“For what?”

“For your Zoster (shingles) vaccine.”

“What for?”

“Our computer says you need the vaccine.”

“Well, I find it humorous, that I could die at any moment while as computer simultaneously says I need a vaccine.”

“At least you won’t die from Zoster.”

“You’re teasing right?”

“Nope. You’re not leaving until you get this vaccine.”

“Frriiiscncddfkw, ffrrrummmp, frump,” I mumbled.

“Oh,” and the computer says your BMI is too high. You need to get some exercise.”

“I can barely walk 60 yards without pain now. Can I take up jogging?”

Realizing the unforced error, “Sorry, just reading the printout.”

“Frriiiscncddfkw, ffrrrummmp, frump,” I mumbled.

Just prior to walking out, the receptionist yelled.

“Hey. You’re at 93–1.”

Smiling back, “I’ll take a square.”

March 2nd, I wrote I had dropped television for the week. The decision was neither part of lent nor some broader mantra. and there was no oracle declaration from above commanding, “thou shalt abandon thy television.” I only got busy and didn’t watch. I have to say, thirteen days later, I am still going.

Over various seasons of lent, I noticed most sacrifices never make it longer than a few days. Part of me wanted to make some significant sacrifice this year, but I didn’t. I never promised to give up meat. I did not abandon whiskey. Chocolate remains an active part of my day. I wanted to give up laundry this year but would run out of underwear. And having a colleague discuss AOC and the New Green Deal, I then thought of recycling my underwear but decided against it. (Ok. That was a joke.)

I confess, the only thing I ever gave up was the ‘self-imposed sacrifice.’ Others, not so much. One person gave up her diet after realizing she texted for the number of calories in Holy Communion. Announcements did in another, especially after realizing that the announcements were longer than Communion.

When I gave up television, some personal sacrifices occurred as a byproduct. First, I gave up Trump. From February 24th, I haven’t had to see ‘wonder boy’ hugging a flag; no more hearing, ‘…. like you’ve never seen before;’ or ‘… like the world’s never seen been.’ No more signing Bibles, throwing paper towels to homeless people after a hurricane or hearing that Mexico will pay for a wall no one wants. There was also no ‘covfefe,’ no Putin, no receitals of Kim-Jong love letters to Trump’s.

Giving up Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN meant no longer cowering under the kitchen table waiting ‘Rocketman’ to destroy America. I was able to discard my binoculars and found South American invaders hadn’t overrun the country; the war on Christmas remained a war for the stupid; the 157 Democratic contenders running for the 2020 presidency don’t require my attention; and believing fossil fuels is nature’s form of renewable energy (promoted by a Fox News contributor) because those very fossil fuels were once dinosaurs is damn stupid.

Now I realize ‘Morning Joe‘ has transformed into ‘Morning Skype,’ as Joe and Mika ‘phone it in.’ More MSNBC hosts are off more days of the week than some of the best unions in the country, and CNN has become one elongated episode of ‘Crossfire,’ where ten minutes of real news is supplanted with forty minutes of Democratic and Republican spokespeople yelling at each other. News hosts used to present factual news and analysis; now it’s GMO – genetically modified outrageousness. Yelling has replaced anything of value.

Cable advertising and drugs beleaguer me. If it seems as if you are seeing more prescription drug ads on TV these days, you are not mistaken. According to Kaiser Health News, the pharmaceutical industry has substantially boosted its spending on direct to consumer advertising in the last five years. Last year it was estimated at over $6 billion.

I don’t miss commercials of Cialis for erectile dysfunction and BPH (benign prostate hypertrophy), Otezla for plaque psoriasis, Xeljanz XR for rheumatoid arthritis, Eliquis for atrial fibrillation (Afib) and stroke prevention, Namzaric for Alzheimer’s disease, Trulicity for diabetes and Humira for rheumatoid arthritis what these neglects to say, that without prescription benefits, these medications can cost a fortune. For instance, without assistance, Humira costs approximately $6,600 monthly. Lyrica, a drug treating fibromyalgia, is around $650, an increase of 163 percent since 2012.

Like many Americans, I found myself needing television nearly every day to feel okay. I found myself needlessly watching it, even though I knew all the storylines. An otherwise good life was hurt by lost sleep, health, energy, creativity, clarity, and connection to others. A Netflix survey found 73 percent reported positive feelings associated with binge-watching. But if you spent last weekend binge-watching a season of your favorite show, you may have seen yourself feeling exhausted by the end of it — and downright depressed. That was me.

Thich Nhat Hanh, the well-known Vietnamese monk, said, “It is not so important whether you walk on water or walk in space. The true miracle is to walk on earth.” It’s true. In other words, becoming a kind human being is probably the greatest miracle we can perform. For me, television prevented me from joining others.

After 17 days without television, the real miracle is becoming a kinder human being and engaging with those I love.

Blameless

The decision from federal judge T.S. Ellis in Virginia comes less than a week before Manafort’s second sentencing hearing in another case in Washington, D.C., district court. Both cases were brought on charges lodged by special counsel Robert Mueller in his ongoing probe of Russia’s election meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

Manafort is expected to serve only 38 more months of the 47-month sentence because of time he has already spent incarcerated. In addition to the sentence, Ellis ordered Manafort to pay a $50,000 fine, the lowest fine provided for by guidelines that recommended a fine between $50,000 and $24 million.

Before delivering his sentence, Ellis said Manafort had “been a good friend to others, a generous person” and added, “He has lived an otherwise blameless life.”

A “… blameless life?” Franklin Foer of The Atlantic documented Manafort’s blameless life. Here’s a sample:

  • In an otherwise blameless life, he worked to keep arms flowing to the Angolan generalissimo Jonas Savimbi, a monstrous leader bankrolled by the apartheid government in South Africa. While Manafort helped portray his client as an anti-communist “freedom fighter,” Savimbi’s army planted millions of land mines in peasant fields, resulting in 15,000 amputees. In an otherwise blameless life, he spent a decade as the chief political adviser to a clique of former gangsters in Ukraine. This clique hoped to capture control of the state so that it could enrich itself with government contracts and privatization agreements. This was a group closely allied with the Kremlin, and Manafort masterminded its rise to power—thereby enabling Ukraine’s slide into Vladimir Putin’s orbit.
  • In an otherwise blameless life, Manafort came to adopt the lifestyle and corrupt practices of his Ukrainian clients as his own.
  • In an otherwise blameless life, he produced a public-relations campaign to convince Washington that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was acting within his democratic rights and duties when he imprisoned his most compelling rival for power.

So, what is a blameless life? I can only think of a few, two: Christ and Enoch. We’re all pretty familiar with Christ, but Enoch? Enoch who?

Enoch’s life was formally introducted while attending an ethic’s seminar some 30 years ago. His life is not widely discussed, and the Bible does not devote a lot of space to him. About the only biblical information we have on Enoch’s life is found in four sentences from Genesis, 5:21-24.

When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. And after he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived 365 years. Enoch walked with God; then he was no more because God took him away.

My spin is that Enoch walked a blameless – meaning he consistently lived in the present moment, completely aware of God’s presence and that his fellowship with God and others was built through faith and love. For Enoch, blameless living was the business of a lifetime, not the performance of an hour. In other words, walking with God is not going to church every Sunday from 10:30 AM to Noon. Faith exercised once a week for an hour or so, and it is not a good walk!

Biblically speaking, the term “walk” is used when dealing with ordinary, day-to-day life. In the Old Testament, we read of one’s “rising and sitting down,” two of the most natural things people do every day. As Buddhist, I might ask, “Can two people walk together going in opposite directions?” Instead, there’s a sense of common direction, common purpose, and common interests. When I rise in the morning, do I walk in love? When I lay in the evening, do I sleep in love?

As Chuck Swindoll once said, “Faith is not a leap in the dark; it is a walk in the light.”

An author noted great works did not mark Enoch’s life; he merely lived in God’s presence. And apparently, God enjoyed the relationship so much that He took Enoch, uninterrupted, into eternal fellowship. Sadly, our lives resemble roller coaster rides than walks. We rise and plunge as emotions vacillate, we collapse from physical, spiritual, and mental exhaustion, only to rise and go back into the fray. We can, like Enoch, learn to walk with Him.

The life that pleases God is one of faith walking—not running faster than a speeding bullet or leaping tall buildings with a single bound. We don’t need to have great faith; we need to have faith in a great God.

Manafort never lived a blameless life. He lived in pride. Contempt. Arrogance. Self-exaltation. It’s a version of life we must learn to never live.

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.

Interpreting God

I was dining one night when I overheard two people discussing the best way to interpret God. After a brief pause, one said, “Maybe there’s an app?

Reflecting on my youth, I first read the Bible cover-to-cover at age 18. Having no theological training, many of the thou’s, tho’s, thus’, thereby, shalt’s, coulda’s, shoulda’s, woulda’s were way over my head. It was a weird feeling. I could take apart an M-16, clean it, and reassemble it in 20 minutes, but somehow, Biblical verbiage escaped me.

The Bible was never read in my home. As a kid, English was the only chosen language. One semester, I was registered in a French class. Any hopes for entering the diplomatic corps were dashed on the blackboard as I could barely comprehend Merci (thank you) or S’il Vous Plaît (please). I once said Merci to my father. The look on his face was priceless. To him, French was best left in school, and generally, everything outside our home and conversations of Coors beer barely registered. Foreign films, short documentaries and other attempts to introduce any ‘refinement‘ were quickly forgotten, mostly within minutes.

I was so inept at Biblical reading that I was convinced, that after prayer, God would respond, but respond in Tongues. Damn, then I would have to find someone who could understand Tongues. How would an 18 year find such a person? Place a classified ‘Help Wanted’ ad?

18-year-old, first-time bible reader, received a message from God. Unfortunately, the message is in Tongues. Need interpreter. Will pay, but can’t pay much.”

Comprehension was always a challenge. I have to admit; I learned conversational Spanish. However, even conversational Spanish had difficulties. On a fraud investigation in Southern Chile, my driver asked if I wanted to go to the cocina (kitchen). I laughed heartily. “Knowing he did not understand English, I replied, “It’s 10:30 PM. What the hell do I want to go to a ‘casino’ for?” Wasn’t until I repeated the story to a coworker in Atlanta that I learned my error.

There were many times I thought God must believe I’m incompetent. This personal level of insecurity dates back to 1999 when I worked with a colleague who spoke 12 languages and could easily skip, with ease, between dialects. He smoothly transitioned from Arabic to Darija, to French, then Hindi, Bengal, Spanish and so on. Elderly Egyptians recount how in Alexandria, in the early 20th century, they would switch between Arabic, French, English, Italian, and Greek, depending on what they were doing and whom they were addressing.

For some time, I remained rudderless. While able to speak to God, I often did not hear the response. In truth, none of us who commit to prayer and the spiritual life enjoy those periods during which prayer, liturgy, or spiritual reading seem dry or dull. But such moments are necessary—or so it would seem—for God permits them. It turns out I wasn’t alone.

St. John of the Cross wrote of “the dark night of the soul.” So did Mother Teresa. And Terese of Avila discussed “the period of aridity.” It’s typical for the religious life, to be plunged into not knowing. I don’t lead an overtly religious life. However, what most are looking for: some way to let real life, with the pain, not blow us apart. And in the wake of such great forces, many quit.

Then again, how many times do both the prayee and responder misinterpret the message?

A rather old-fashioned lady was planning several weeks of vacation in Florida. Being quite elegant, she wanted to ensure the campground was adequately equipped with “toilet” facilities. Feeling too dignified to write the word “toilet,” she thought of an old fashioned term “Bathroom Commode,” and abbreviated it as “B.C..” Her letter included the request, “Does the campground have its own ‘B.C’?”

Upon receipt, the owner couldn’t understand what ‘B.C.’ meant. He came to the conclusion she was asking about the Baptist Church. So, he responded:

“Dear Madam: I regret the delay in answering your letter very much, but I take pleasure in informing you that the “B.C.” is located nine miles north and is capable of seating 250 people at one time.

As a Buddhist, I learned every person has a personal language which provides a unique prism through which to interpret God’s wisdom and experience. We’re not in the position, as human beings, to figure out the mind of God. It is our shared humanity and fellowship with other humans. I now believe God communicates not with mere words alone, but through culture, shared experience, laughter, tears, music, books, blogs, and joy.

It’s important to realize God shares our condition of humanity. God became one of us and poured himself into our human experience so that we are never alone, so that God is with us even into the worst of times, even when we do not know it. God is there. God will equip you with what you need when you need it.

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