Tag Archive: Living Buddha


Five years ago, just before Thanksgiving, I had a colonoscopy.

For those unfamiliar with the procedure, a colonoscopy is a medical test that examines your colon for abnormalities and disease, mainly cancer. For new patients, a physician might show a color diagram of the colon. Such visuals are like AAA roadmaps that appear to go everywhere. Mine looks like the Louisville Kennedy Interchange, an intersection of Interstates 64, 65 and 71. Anything passing out of that whizzes past Lexington and jams up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The physician will state that a long flexible tube (colonoscope) is inserted into the rectum and the video camera allows clinicians to view the inside of the entire colon. Often, digital photographs are taken, none of which should be shared at family get-togethers.

I was amazed at the precision by which this procedure gets completed. Like flights landing and taking off from your local airport, patients are moved through the various stages: pre-op, operation, post-op, recovery, doctor’s summary, exit.

What most hate is preparation. It begins during the previous night and involves chugging a gallon size concoction that tastes similar to a dishrag and cat saliva. If you’re lucky, one might get a hint of strawberry. Most times, one is not so fortunate. Instructions forewarn said participant that ‘loose, watery bowel movements may result.’ May result? For me, ‘loose watery bowel movement‘ resembled ‘Old Faithful,’ with timely eruptions occurring every 20 minutes.

I overheard two clinicians saying they know of patients putting a shot or two of alcohol in the prep.

Damn,” I thought. “Why the hell didn’t I think of that?

Recovery resembles ‘America’s Got Talent.’ A group of clinicians gather around their scoreboard (x-rays and pictures), point, “Hmm” in unison and shake their heads. Awaiting my ‘Golden Buzzer’ or dreaded rejection, I overheard one patient-doctor conversation. The woman was given the sad news of a stage 3 tumor.

Hard to imagine: In less than a minute, someone went from Thanksgiving festivities to cancer patient.

In 2011, Vietnamese Buddhist monk William Tran went to the dentist for inflammation in his gums. Antibiotics did not help, and when the dentist saw him again, he was so concerned that he took Tran to the emergency room. There, Tran was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and told his disease might not be cured. Tran went from monk to a cancer patient.

Writing previously, my diagnosis never came via a patient-doctor visit. I read about it from the online patient portal.

“. . . tumor in 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.

I remember these stories as I learned of a friend who, in a matter of minutes, went from vibrant mother, wife, and business owner to cancer patient.

I am lucky. Years of work in the healthcare industry provided some tools to meet the requirements of my illness, its treatment, and when I could, the compassion to be patient with myself and others. In many ways, I revealed how I applied spirituality and or humor in many difficult situations. I always hope my experience would be of use to someone walking the same hallway.  As noted, I am not a spiritually mature person. As noted in my blog, I fail often but succeed as well.

My years in the healthcare industry has provided a general understanding of life and the body’s capability.

One such lesson: Spirituality, whether Buddhist, Christian or other, will neither prevent anything nor will it shield us from anything. Faith can soften the blow and open us to meet everything coming forth. A patient could spend the rest of their life thinking about treatment, without looking at the nature of their mortality and meaning in their life. Therefore, it is essential to have the courage to live a life true to yourself, not the life others expect. When people realize their life is almost over and look back, it is easy to see how many dreams go unfulfilled. Most have never honored even a quarter of their goals.

Remember to honor some dreams along the way. If not, from the very moment you lose that thing defined as ‘health,’ it’s too late. Health is a freedom seldom appreciated until no longer available.

Plowshares

When asked about my disease, my comparison is root rot. Yeah, true. Webster’s Dictionary will define root rot as a condition in which the roots of a plant begin to decay, but that’s where I’m at. My days are composed of overcoming various problems: stiffness, numb hands, dropping things, sporadic tremors, and so on. The latest issue is extreme neck numbness accompanied by full neck lock.

Several nights ago, while sitting in a comfortable chair watching the Cubs lose, I suddenly became unable to turn my neck. I quickly downed some essential medication. After an hour, little relief was achieved and grabbed my one form of ‘use at last resort’ medicine, a muscle relaxer, and pain blocker. By night’s close, I drifted off to beautiful sleep.

At dawn’s early light, I stumbled from the bed, showered, drank a cup of coffee, downed a batch of morning medications, dressed and reached for my Smith and Wesson 351PD.

Before this weapon, the only gun I ever owned was a Lone Ranger toy gun received from my Uncle at years for Christmas. Of course, I grew into a trained sniper and handled many weapons during my time in the military, yet I hadn’t owned a gun until 2017. Ownership came after being robbed while coming from a department store. And Smith and Wesson became my choice for personal protection. The 351 PD I carried provided me with a sense of security. With it, merely flashing the weapon to another would-be robber was all required to dispel an attack,

From there, I somehow acquired 8.

Strangely, in spite of everything, I could still shoot. My military instructors would be damn proud. I put in countless hours at the range, and in spite of my root rot, I could shoot nearly as good as some competitors.

Still groggy from the previous night’s medication, I flipped the cylinder open to ensure proper loading, spun the cylinder for the hell of it, handle in right-hand, barrel resting in my left, while and carefully checked the trigger.

The trigger slipped — a rookie mistake made by a professional.

Surprisingly, the. 22 caliber bullet provided little recoil. Amazingly, the bullet travel between my index finger and middle finger touched neither. Best I can tell, the shot angled through the drywall, wedging in a wall stud.

The explosion still resonates in my ear today. Suffice to say; it was huge. It was the first time I heard a weapon discharge so close to my ear. My ear still rings. That sound is forever etched in my mind. I’ll never forget it.

For the first time in my life, I understood the fear of gun violence; it’s sound and the fear of being shot. I could have been seriously wounded. Under different circumstances, I could have seriously injured a loved one or bystander.

The hundreds of hours spent in training is futile when one is slightly groggy. At that moment, I became a threat.

I was blinded to the real possibilities of killing someone. The idea to purchase the weapon was to feel safer. In a split second, I realized just how idyllic and self-delusional. I wasn’t warped by NRA, by some fancy salesman, by the notion of the second amendment. I had distorted by a belief that a weapon would make me safer.

I broke my honor, and the Buddhist precept of Ahimsa, do not harm. The real villain in this story is not the man who robbed me years ago. It’s was neither media nor gun rights advocates. The real villain was ignorance — my ignorance. I projected my fear unto a dreamlike state of peace that could never be created. Personal peace via a weapon cannot be attained.

Late afternoon, I gathered my weapons and handed them over for destruction.

I ended the fantasy.

————————

. . . and they shall beat their swords into plowshares . . .

Isaiah 2:4

being Too Late

My daily work commute lasts approximately 16 minutes – twenty-six minutes if I stop for coffee and drive against a headwind. This past Monday, was one such morning. Cruising eastward into the morning,’ I turned left and parked at my favorite coffee stop. my personal preference isn’t overly demanding. I don’t order McFluffies, McSwirlies, Starthick, Starlight, Frappy hats, Foamy moats or Starleft. It’s fairly simple–black.

A young woman in front was texting while simultaneously muttering.

Damn idiot,” shaking her head.

Rapid texting.

Oh my god!” she stomped. Yelling at the phone, “I can’t believe you graduated from college” while tossing three 12 ounce cans of ‘legalized speed’ (Red Bull) onto counter.

Ohhhhhhhhhh,” she groaned. “What a twit.”

Beep. Beep. Beep.

$8.73. Do you want a bag?

Momentarily stunned, she looked up, “Huh?

$8.73,” the cashier repeated.

F************k.”

Upon entering my floor, I looked through the office window onto a beautiful picture of the 8th floor parking garage. Not a single car. Like clockwork, Ed leaned into my office and greeted the office floor with his version of a doomsday clock.

“Four-hundred-nineteen-days until retirement!”

“Thanks for the update,” I waved, still looking at the garage.

“I’m telling you, ya’all be doomed when I’m gone.”

“Ok,” I waved.

Monday’s are hell. Ha.

It was only after diagnosis did I understand our obsession with career became clear. Nearing retirement, we wonder: How will this place operate without me? Some will have been here thirty-plus years. Others, under five. Me? I’ve been here 13 months. We overestimate criticality: They can’t possibly be able to survive without my expertise?

But after months of no emails or phone calls begging one to return, all us must accept the fact that the world moves on. We are no longer needed.

Here’s the truth: all of us are stuck in a circle of re-birth. not only in this life, buy probably our next as well. If you’re unhappy before retirement, it’s likely you’ll be unhappy after retirement. Same thought holds true for many things in life. If you’re unhappy before marriage, it’s likely you’ll be unhappy after marriage. If you’re unhappy before divorce, it’s likely you’ll be unhappy after divorce. If you’re unhappy before accepting a particular job, it’s likely you’ll be unhappy after accepting said position.

There’s no utopia. Thus, as a personal advice, I’d say do whatever it is that makes you happy. A lot of people take jobs because they pay well. While salary is a factor in any position, the problem is that you will spend more time at work than you do with family, So what you do will become a key driver of happiness. Goods of the soul are far more important than goods of the world.

Do you know the worst two words I ever heard? Too late.

I was ‘too late’ for many things of life. You don’t have to be.

And the good old days
They say they’re gone.
Only wise men
And some new born fools
Say they know what’s going on.
But I sometimes think the difference is
Just in how I think and see
And the only changes going on
Are going on in me.

~ Changes, 1973, Harry Chapin ~

In my younger days as a consultant, I would charge off into the world, serving as one of the few ‘hired guns’ that would bail clients out of sticky situations, regardless of whether the client was good or bad. As my former boss would say, “Some of our best clients are our worst clients.” I never overthought it. I would show up, work hard. Sometimes, I didn’t know the endgame. Other times, I did.

Life was a constant ever cyclical season of waves. Like a weather-beaten sea captain, I never gave fear center stage. In the still of the night some years ago, I silently confided: I never feared the surface, but I thought long and hard of the devil underneath. Storms would come, toss the boat, bang your insides, and then … calm.

And just as the Buddha predicted, everything changed. From top consultant, no tumor, to patient … Patient ID: H78 . . . blah, blah . . .blah, blah, blah.

In the 90 days since, there are times when I’ve felt very voiceless. Pre-tumor, my weapons of choice, i.e., my medical knowledge and knowledge of the medical proved defenseless against my body. Now, doctors and nurses play high-stakes chess within the confines of my bones as I remain simply a witness.

There are some positives. I’ve had the opportunity to revisit and evaluate several facets of my life. There are all the usual priorities one normally debates: family, careers and other relationships. For me, I was able to look past the disease itself and found transforming truths. First, never take life for granted. Second, love better. Third, I don’t know all the answers. Fourth, there’s significant joy in learning to let go.

I wish to focus on the fourth, letting go, for a moment. It’s hard to believe my blog has lasted over seven years. To date, I’ve listed over 600 blog posts. Throughout my last seven years, I’ve focused on making amends. A May 2012 blog post recorded:

“. . . success of one’s faith might be found in the value of your morals and the willingness to make amends, even when that test may be so brutally honest and painful. I will say this up front; my Atonement List has twenty-six (26) severely painful situations requiring amends, including:

    • The Catholic Church, for all my mortal sins;
    • The only love of my life ~ for whom God called us and I broke your trust;
    • Former boss for violating my position;
    • Financial mistakes; and
    • Mother and Father, for not being the son you could honor.

Twenty-six (26). That’s quite a list–almost one for every year I have roamed the corporate world. I felt an obligation to honor the Atonement List. I researched and contacted all of the people I could. In some cases, the outcome was exceedingly painful. Seven (7) of the twenty-six (26) refused my amends, including the Catholic Church and my love. Eleven (11) forgave me. Four (4) couldn’t be located and four (4) others are a work in progress.

Those numbers haven’t changed in seven years. The only thing that changed, was me.

I told my case manager this past Thursday that I awoke earlier this week and found myself forgiven–the deck was cleared–my sins forgiven. I told her, it was not a ‘faith,’ but rather a ‘knowing.’ I simply knew it. My life is nearing a plateau, maybe its crescendo. And I believe that’s it, some ‘thing’ is coming.

And I feel that something’s coming, and it’s not just in the wind.
It’s more than just tomorrow, it’s more than where we’ve been,
It offers me a promise, it’s telling me “Begin”,
It’s something worth believing in.
~ Remember When the Music, 1980, Harry Chapin ~

‘Begin.’

Striding from building to building can bring unexpected moments. Friday was no exception. In the burning afternoon heat, I stumbled over to a concrete beach and sat. I gazed up toward blazing blue backdrop and unto the white-hot orb piercing through my eyebrows.

Briefing supporting my upper body, my arms gripped my knees. I peered down, peered upward toward the heavens, and peered down for a long moment. A deep sigh breathed back into my face as it succumbed to breeze pushing against my face.

Arching left. “Crack. Pow. Bang,” echoed from my spine. Arching right, fared better. Only, “Crack and bang.”

A few may have presumed I derived some benefit from the afternoon heat. Indirectly, that would be true. Truthfully, I stopped because I had to. I couldn’t walk further.  I simply couldn’t move. Looking between my feet, I reflected upon what Tiger Woods said after his round at the British Open.

“I’m going to take a couple of weeks off and get ready for the play-offs,” he said. “After that, have a break. I just want to go home.” Exhaustion dripped from every word.

And to Tiger, I can concur. There are many days when I simply want to go home.

Pain has been my companion for four decades. When I was 20, didn’t think about it. In my thirties, pushed past it. In my forties, roughed it out. And in the last decade, maybe I’ll succumb to it.

Every person must deal with their own moment. There are those moments when we’re fable to do with natural God given talent. And then there’s what we our body to endure. Former NFL pro-bowler Chris Carter said “My mind was mentally sharp, but I couldn’t get my body to respond to what I thought.

In the movie ‘For Love of the Game,’ Vin Scully had the best quote on aging.

After 19 years in the big leagues, 40 year old Billy Chapel has trudged to the mound for over 4000 innings. But tonight, he’s pitching against time, he’s pitching against the future, against age, against ending. Tonight, he will make the fateful walk to the loneliest spot in the world, the pitching mound at Yankee Stadium, to push the sun back into the sky and give us one more day of summer.

After nearly forty years of travel, bad hotels, cheap bad food and long nights, I looked up into the afternoon sun . . . my body said ‘enough.

Like Tiger, “I just want to go home.

~ In a time of domestic crisis, men of goodwill and generosity should be able to unite regardless of party or politics. ~

John F. Kennedy

The president wants four young U.S. congresswomen of color to go back to the countries from which they came. It doesn’t matter if they were born in the U.S. or whether they’re United States citizens. Just shut up. Sit down. Or go. Get out.

The love-it-or-leave-it sentiment is xenophobia at its worst. Such vulgarity originated as far back as the 1600s. Still yet, in 1798, our country allowed for the deportation of noncitizens who were considered dangerous, from hostile nations or dared to criticize the federal government.

Unfortunately, such xenophobia remains alive and well. Trump wants anyone different to shut up and be thankful they’re allowed to stay, even if constituents elected them. He communicated this message by relentlessly and culminated with a despicable attack on Ilhan Omar. In defending Trump, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway claimed that the “Squad” represented a “dark underbelly in this country” and that “We are tired of some of these women palling around with terrorists.”

As of this post, no evidence clarifies what the ‘dark underbelly‘ is or that any congressional member palled around with terrorists. But my guess? Conway conjured it up on the fly (i.e., at the moment).

Esquire writer Jack Holmes notes that Trump’s essential message is that America is the government of white people, by white people, for white people. Everyone else? Be happy you’re here.

REPORTER: Does it concern you that many people saw that tweet as racist and that white nationalist groups are finding common cause with you on that point?

TRUMP: It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me.

CBS’ Ed O’Keefe spoke to several Trump supporters on Monday who agree.

  • “I know some people don’t like his tweets and they think he’s crass. I — that’s why I voted for him,” said retired businesswoman Mary Lou Kohlhofer.
  • Nancy Schneider even went so far as to echo the sentiment in President Trump’s tweets, saying, “If you think you have it better in your — where you came from or how they did things there, go back where you came from.”
  • Doug Thomas, said, “It’s unfortunate he had to do it the way he had to do it . . . It’s really the only way he can to get this country back.”

My first response to Mr. Thomas? Get the country back? From what and who took it? What exactly did Trump reclaim? Steel jobs? No. Companies returning to the U.S.? Nada. Foxconn’s building the ‘. . . the 8th wonder of the world?’ Hmm, nope.

Foxconn is just a tall tale – very tall. If actress Clara Peller were alive, even she might say, “Where’s the beef?” In June 2018, Trump joined Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Foxconn chairman Terry Gou in announcing Foxconn’s plan to bring 13,000 new jobs. With the stroke of a shovel, Trump declared manufacturing was back, and that Wisconsin’s Foxconn plant would be the “eighth wonder of the world.” In the year since, Gou resigned to pursue, and lose, the candidacy for President of Taiwan. A Mt. Pleasant, Wisconsin neighborhood got demolished. And there’s neither a plant nor jobs. Just destruction.

Conservative commentator George Will eloquently summarized Trump’s reign with a candid and stark assessment.

“I believe that what this president has done to our culture, to our civic discourse … you cannot unring these bells and you cannot unsay what he has said, and you cannot change that he has now in a very short time made it seem normal for schoolboy taunts and obvious lies to be spun out in a constant stream. I think this will do more lasting damage than Richard Nixon’s surreptitious burglaries did.”

” . . . Presidential norms and the idea of “being presidential” is a meaningless construct. And a lot more “lessons” that will be destructive to the way in which people run for president and act once they get elected.”

Regardless of religion, whether Christian, Buddhist, or Atheism, we must respond to suffering from loving-kindness, wisdom, calm minds, and courage. We should hear the cries of those who suffer and of our most vulnerable. The lineage of one’s non-whiteness, privilege, or citizenship must not be the sole determiner of human’ worth.’ Instead, we must unite with those who hear cries from the wilderness and become a collective force for transformation and love.

In the film Thirteen Days, the character Kenny O’Donnell quoted, “If the sun comes up tomorrow, it is only because of men of goodwill. That is all there is between the devil and us.” From all evidence presented, unless we change our mindset, the devil will be around for quite some time.

Alignment

The President sparked an uproar this past weekend by tweeting unnamed progressive congresswomen “. . . who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe,” should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came.

Trump did not specify the lawmakers, but the interpretation appears to have been Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.). All four are U.S. citizens. Only Omar, who was born in Somalia, came to the U.S. as a refugee.

Why does Trump do this stuff? Well, he knows ‘pretty’ and ‘fun’ doesn’t get headlines like fury and outrage. Trump proclaims that he alone is the conservative protector, and regardless of toxicity, he continually forges an ideological fortress of hatred that disembowels others while remaining unscathed by life’s vicissitudes. Asserting the right to engage in public displays of racism without it being called out for what it is. As Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent noted, “A crucial ingredient here is Trump’s declaration of the ability to flaunt his racism with impunity.”

Trump continually asserts that nonwhites born in America, but has ethnic roots in another country, is in some sense, not a real American. Therefore, they are suspect. What I am ashamed of is how the logic works. It’s not because we are no longer offended by any religious or moral sensibility, but that American’s succumbed to tools birthed in propaganda and a Twitter account. Just like any other rube, we let ourselves be taken in. We chewed on it; bathed in it; and swallowed it whole.

We’ve normalized hatred.

Consider Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of President Donald Trump’s staunchest allies on Capitol Hill. Graham declined to condemn the President over racist tweets.

We all know that AOC and this crowd are a bunch of communists. They hate Israel. They hate our own country. They’re calling the guards along our border — Border Patrol agents — concentration camp guards. They accuse people who support Israel of doing it for the Benjamins. They’re anti-Semitic. They’re anti-America.”

On Fox News’s Sunday Morning Futures, Graham normalized dehumanization, saying:

I don’t care if they (asylum seekers) have to stay in these facilities for 400 days. We’re not going to let those men go that I saw.”

A broader question is, who will ultimately become more powerful? The current GOP administration? Independents? Progressives? As a country, are we to be ruled by the dogma of the ultra-wealthy privileged few or will we toward systemic reform thinkers?

Those in Trump’s orbit would note I lack neither the ruthless business savvy nor charismatic leadership style to overturn anything but the book on my table. For the most part, I remain anonymous, devoid of collaborators, and free from interference as possible. I command my own time; have a regular job; don’t have a vast retirement plan; live alone, and my credit rating is above average. I’ve abandoned any notion of family, having a family or children. And, I accept the fact I will die sometime within the next several years. Alone. Good. I’m OK with it.

The more substantial threat to the establishment lay in future leaders. Like AOC, Omar, Tlaib, and Pressley, these young leaders want to create their own platform and their voice. I don’t believe there’s any internal notion of being movie stars. However, they use the same Social Media platforms that propel hate to drive voices of compassion. As such, these voices will neither accept complacency nor complicity, and the current rule of “ruin everything” will not unify future generations.

I may not necessarily believe entirely in the political theology brought forth by AOC, Omar, Tlaib, and Pressley. But I admire their willingness to tackle far deeper problems: the fundamental evasion of heart that permeates much of life. The world needs these leaders. The world needs your leadership too.

A person could easily say that like Christ, Buddha was one of the most influential and prominent leaders in history. He created one of the most significant, most well-known religions in the world today. And unlike many of the leaders throughout the dawn of humanity, he did it without hatred or violence. What AOC and others represent is purpose: purpose of ending suffering. Not just for themselves, but everyone.

Authentic leadership comes from deep confidence and understanding of life that enables us to align our compass to a humanistic direction without departing from our humanity. When we fail to follow our calling and vocation, and instead, focus on the most unimportant and trivial, our conscience warns that something’s not right and corrective measures and proactive actions are required. Therefore, we must initiate a conscious effort to dedicate enough time, focus, and energies on positive, meaningful activities and align ourselves to commandments found in the Beatitudes, located in the compassion of Buddha, and bless us with true peace, joy, and fulfillment. These are the values that help us be “human” in a godly sense.

In a real sense, our life is about love–it’s the compass of compassion God requires us to align.

It had been nearly a month before Ms. J. called. Truthfully, having been ticked off that none of the key people I told of my tumor had reached out to me in more than a month, I became frustrated and purposely hadn’t answered her repeated calls for several days. And I get it. Cancer is a word no one wants to hear, especially when it’s so personal.

For those I’ve told, I’m positive my tumor diagnosis created some ripple effect—including my brother, close friends, and business associates. As a result, each will attempt to come to terms with the diagnosis, determine how they’ll interact. Still, even though a tumor entered my life, I presumed I remained the same person as before. Of course there was ‘me‘ before cancer. And surely, there’s the ‘me‘ post tumor. Yet, I kind of thought both were one and the same.

Finally answering the phone, and after some small talk, Ms. J. came to the point.

“You’re too cynical about this. You’re too pessimistic.”

Ms. J.’s comment stuck with me for the past week.

All of my life, people have cried on my shoulder about ‘this,’ ‘that,’ other ‘another.’ I accepted it all. Listened and labored. Inspite of it all, my body will continue to have bad days, but the ‘me‘ inside, refuses. I keep chugging along. I’ve neither called to cry, vent nor endlessly whine of life’s travails. Instead, like thousands of others diagnosed with critical illnesses, I live, work, and continue to do the things that bring joy.

And herein lay the lesson. I’ve learned that nothing happens overnight. The process I am moving through, powers me into self-appreciation, self-knowledge and self-love, and shifts my self-awareness to empowerment. From a Buddhist persepctive, maybe Ms. J. failed to understand my strength. A quote from the television series Kung Fu explains it this way.

The body’s outer strength is self-evident: it fades with age and succumbs to sickness. Then there is personal ch’i, the inner strength. Everyone possesses it. But it is much more difficult to develop. Inner strength will last through every trial and tribulation; through every season; through old age and beyond.

Elaine Howley wrote that our culture reveres positive thinking. But for patients undergoing cancer treatment, the pressure to always look on the bright side can be isolating. Having worked and lived within the medical community for the past decade, I know positive thoughts have little to do with neither survival nor outcome.

So, screw the bright side. When a person’s life took a hard left turn, maybe…just maybe…they want someone to acknowledge them, while simultaneously acknowledging that their body does indeed have shitty days.

Like many in life, maybe we all need to listen more. Several months ago, I told four of my closest friends some horrifying news about my health. Yeah, it’s crappy. But what else was I saying? Am I blunt and painfully realistic? Am I too cheerful and downplaying the seriousness? Am I avoiding giving details?

If you’re a friend to someone in need, follow your friend’s lead. If that person is optimistic, be optimistic. Should that person be down, console. Do not propose one look solely on the bright side. I will not positively embrace the tumor in my neck. I will, however, embrace life.

And that attitude comes from ch’i—my ch’i.

Treatment began early May. Two months later, I’m amazed at how much my life is tethered to technology.

For many, the smartphone is a magic wand that summons carry-out, pays for gasoline, can connect friends, track flights, make reservations and even order from the great big box store in the sky. With the exception of a few moments in my writings, I’ve focused on just how much this technology can destroy a life. Via some weird purchasing smartphone app, one could buy something from another country, make an ill-advised comment or get trolled, or get a ton of botnet emails on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. I’ve retrieved the weather, texted a friend and checked the latest Chicago Cubs score.

Yet, it can be a lifesaver. September 14th, Siri was able to send a personal distress call. At 2:36 AM, I returned to life. My first comment was to apologize for not having this event at 2:36 PM.

In his article, In The Land Where the Internet Ends, New York Times writer Pagan Kennedy details how he drove down a back road in West Virginia and into a parallel reality. After passing Spruce Mountain, his phone lost service and remained comatose for days.

“I came in hopes of finding a certain kind of wildness and solitude. I live in Massachusetts, and I often disappear into the forests and rivers to clear my head. I’ve always loved the moment when the bars on my phone disappear. When I’m out of range entirely, floating along in a kayak, time grows elastic. I stare down into that other kingdom below me, at the minnows darting through the duckweed, and feel deeply free — no one’s watching; no one knows where I am.”

Like Kennedy, I so desperately wish to pull my phone out and hurl the damn things into the air. Yet, I cannot. My life is attached to the technology, intertwined by a host of technology genius, smartwatch, smartphone, and body. The aforementioned technology lives for me. As long as I live, it lives. Dare I pass, someone will wipe its system and become another person’s dread or wonder. Smart technology tracks everything–blood pressure, pulse, calories, exercise, sleep patterns, medications, and weight. I can communicate with my physicians, request medications, receive test results, schedule appointments, track both mood and thoughts. And, at the slightest miscue, it can notify emergency contacts and I might be afforded the opportunity to return.

Medical beeps and buzzes intricately denote bodily vital signs. And in that, I’ve noticed amazing things. For instance, April 25, on the day I learned of my tumor, my ‘Beats Per Minute” was 96. Two months later, after treatment, 66. Yet, this capability and inevitably only deepens the profound mystery of my own identity. I took birth in human form. Therefore, what force gave life? What forces allowed others the ability to create the technology that measures and assists this form (body)? And regardless of the answer, the world’s great spiritual teachings repeat I am not who I thought I was.

But does that mean there is no self or a search for true self? Or, is ‘self’ different? These are hard questions to answer. Technology can measure bleeps and blips, but identity, friendship, love and ultimately, humanity remains elusive to the critical eye. As such, the technology enhances my humanness, and the soul God hath given this vessel (me). I appreciate the fact that the best things humans enjoy (being human) is the same thing that will destroy my time here. Yet, the knowledge that I’m fully alive and awake is wondrous.

In being overly holy and righteous, we discard the wonder of humanity, of being created in the image of something beautiful and miraculous. I don’t believe such deep levels of righteousness is what God intended.

Like Thoreau, I too sometimes awake in the night and think of possibilities. I can catch an echo of the great exchange of love between humanity and eternal life. We have the ability to create an original work of art. This creation (body) does not originate from the bleeps and blips. I was not generated based upon programming. The technology connects my body to the world helps me understand and appreciate my humanity. And if I am strong enough to look beyond my own selfishness, maybe I can understand a small nugget of the divine–how spirit could become flesh. It’s not by luck. Maybe, rather, divine.

“I try to make sense of things. Which is why, I guess, I believe in destiny. There must be a reason that I am as I am. There must be.” ~Bicentennial Man~

Mike, a retired Air Force veteran, is a tall, leaner man. As an Air Force colonel, hundreds entrusted him to lead the squadron. In retirement, he entered the private sector and leveraged his military leadership for a second paycheck.

As one manager noted, Mike lived to work, often working 60 hours a week.

He cared little for the everyday emotional needs of those he led. His job was to lead. When a sympathetic word of support was required, he delivered it with a dry statement and a faceless smile. It was as if he read it from a book, similar to a bad actor reading dryly from a script.

Life changes.

Mike called me to his office and shut the door after entering. Considering the fact Mike has spoken maybe 15 minutes in the past 18 months, I expected some sort of downsizing. I know personally that a cancer diagnosis can affect a person’s work life to different degrees. Your decisions about working during and after cancer treatment depend on your financial resources, the type of work you do, and the demands of your treatment and recovery. Many people are able to continue working during cancer treatment. Others leave their jobs and then return after active cancer treatment ends. As a result, I tend to always tend to expect the worst.

“My wife has cancer,” Mike said dejectedly.

“I am so sorry.” After a long pause, “What stage?”

“Four.”

He got up from his chair, walked to the window and looked at the rain streaking across the glass. He quivered.

“I am unsure of what to do. The military benefits are insane. I can’t afford the time it takes to fight for referrals, or wait the three months until there is an opening at the specialist, or wait the six months to get my wife a referral at an outside clinic. They tell me I am required to make a co-payment, which is part of the deductible and that I would have to pay the remaining balance if the charges exceed the amount if the care provider is not part of the program. So much god damned paperwork.”

A small part of me wanted to say, “Dude. Welcome to the working world.” I didn’t. However, Mike isn’t alone.

In the road ahead, Mike will face insurmountable “insurance issues,” clerical errors, and times he will have no clue what to do. There will be urgencies. There will be applications for time off under the Family Medical Leave Act, but no salary. There may be a lost promotion, lost position or reassignment. And there will be pharmacuetical challanges.

A cancer patient I met was prescribed a critical self-injected medication to be taken at home. Prior authorization was received. However, the pharmacy handling the case refused to allow the physician’s practice pharmacy to fill the script. So, they forwarded it to the benefit mandated pharmacy. Unfortunately, the mandated pharmacy could not fill the prescription, and without informing the patient or his doctor, they outsourced the prescription to yet another pharmacy.

Then there will be the lies. When hitting the fork in the road, both doctor and loved ones will be forced to make a decision worthy of the Greek heroine Antigone.

Should the patient’s best interest be paramount or the requirements of the system?

Ethical issues are rarely cut and dry because you’ve got competing interests. No cargiver gets up in the morning and says, ‘I’m going to lie to people today.’ It’s more about saying, ‘How do I balance my obligation to be truthful with the desire to be compassionate.'”

Lastly, the hours. Like me, Mike will find endless hours of sitting still while emotions rage. Just as his wife’s body will clamor for relief, the mind will torture in a myriad of ways. Just like Richard Brown character from The Hours:

But I still have to face the hours, don’t I? I mean, the hours after… and the hours after that…

And just like millions before us, Mike will have to learn to be there for it all — to attend to the sensations, recognizing at that moment, as painful or imperfect or frustrating as it was, that this is the actual texture and content of life.

Life’s always changing.

To experience change — to noticed that nothing ever stayed the same — to know these thoughts, emotions, and sensations as the incessant flow of phenomena.

It is the nature of all things that take form to dissolve again.” — the Buddha

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