Tag Archive: Love


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?

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?

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.

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.

What Figaro Taught Me

Many years ago, I adopted Figaro, an orange tabby. It turns out Figaro may have been named after Mister Geppetto and Pinocchio’s cat. I speculate, for Figaro was Walt Disney’s favorite character in Pinocchio; he loved the kitten so much, he wanted Figaro to appear as much as possible. Once production on Pinocchio was complete, Figaro became Minnie Mouse’s pet.

In real life, Figaro and I had a great relationship. During the time Figaro allowed me to rent space in his pad, our one-bedroom apartment in downtown Chicago overlook a bank of elm trees. Ever dutiful, ‘Guard Cat,’ as nicknamed, was always on the prowl for stray birds wandering too far or those that dared to land on the adjoining window ledge. Sometimes, in the depth of REM sleep, one could find Figaro running through high timberlines, chasing fowl near or far. It was hard not to be fascinated by enjoyment.

Figaro was spoiled, and he knew it. However, I learned so about life from him.

Live in the Moment

Since his adoption, Figaro never had to worry about the past or future. Instead, he made my ‘present’ better.

Made His Own Toys

No entertainment is as good as our imagination. No cell phone, text, tweet, Nintendo game or John Madden, Version 12,216 can replace our own ability to find joy. I bought Figaro many toys. He ignored most of them. Instead, he made his toys. His favorite you make ask? Leftover plastic strips that held newspapers. He’d play with those things until they started to shred and were thrown away. I would acquire another, and the same process would repeat itself.

Rest

Figaro was rarely tired. He knew when to lie down and sleep. He never got burned out, never had a nervous breakdown, never had to use drugs or alcohol to make it through the day.

Love

True love came from sharing and caring. He wore his heart on his sleeve. Cheek rubs, belly rubs, purring and head bunting and other small things meant constant love and affection. Figaro lived and died by them.

He would also hang out. Friday and Saturday movie nights were not complete without Figaro. Each week, a few friends would gather and watch the latest movie. The night would neither start nor end without Figaro. Sometimes, it is merely the joy of sharing the same interest and passion.

Lifelong Learning

In days long gone, communities would have gathering places where children listened to older men and women as they told stories of life, of life’s challenges and the lessons that can be drawn from the edge of survival. People knew that sometimes our greatest lessons lay in our greatest pain. Figaro and I were lifelong buddies in learning.

For instance, one night, instead of dishwashing detergent, I mistakenly placed Spic and Span into the dishwasher. While the dishes were immensely cleaned, soap suds escaped the dishwasher and rolled throughout the kitchen floor. On hands and knees, mopping suds, up popped Figaro onto the dishwasher. His look said it all.

That was pretty stupid.”

Like a great Buddhist mentor, Figaro taught that life’s lessons involve working on our smallness, getting rid of our negativity and finding the best in ourselves and each other. These lessons are the windstorms of life and made us who we are. We are here to heal one another and ourselves. Not healing as in physical recovery, but a much more profound healing. The healing of our spirits, our souls.

Deep inside all of us, there is someone we were meant to be. And we can feel when we’re becoming that person. Unknown to me, Figaro pushed me to become better and knew when something was off. Consciously or not, we are all on a quest for answers, trying to learn the lessons of life. We grapple with fear and guilt. We search for meaning, love, and power. We try to understand fear, loss, and time. We seek to discover who we are and how we can become truly happy. Sometimes we look for these things in the faces of our loved ones, in religion, God, or other places where they reside. Too often, however, we search for them in money, status, the “perfect” job, or other places, only to find that these things lack the meaning we had hoped and even brought heartaches.

After all these years, I found these answers in my cat.

When life crashed in 2010, I had to relive lessons from a generation ago. During such time, one can think of inadequacies as terrible defects, if we want, and hate oneself. But we can also think of them affirmatively, as doorways through which the power of grace can enter our lives. When I returned to the times when Figaro roamed the rooms of my heart, I realized I no longer had to be perfect. Now, I’m authentic and live life profoundly.

Thanks, Figaro.

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

Visions and Visitors

It was nearly 5:36 PM. The sun had set in the western sky, and the temperature dropped almost 20 degrees from its 6:00 AM high. I sat to make a near nightly FaceTime call to my parents. I powered on my iPad, noticed only 38% battery life remaining.

Hi,” answered my mother.

“Hey, mom. How are you?”

“Dad is out walking Skip. But, listen,” she interrupted, “I have to tell you something.”

Having noticed seriousness to her look, “Ok,” I affirmed. Living with an 86-year-old dementia patient has its challenges, with trying to keep your sanity being challenge number 1.

“Last night dad and I decided to go to bed about 8:30 [PM]. After a few minutes, I couldn’t sleep, so I decided to go to my recliner and read. A few minutes later, Dad started talking.”

Wow,” I said, relieved upon hearing nothing major, for 86-year-old’s commonly talk in their sleep.

Wait,” she interrupted. “I heard a woman’s voice talking back.

What?” unsure what to say.

Yeah,” briefly pausing, “I got up, tried to sneak up to the open bedroom door, glanced just past the door. The talking stopped. There was no one there.

Hmm,” I breathed. “Amazing.”

Yes, but,” she interrupted again. “I went back to my recliner, started reading. Moments later, Dad started talking. And then, the woman’s voice returned. After some minutes, Dad said, ‘I love you.’ The woman’s voice replied, ‘I love you too.‘”


While it’s hard to confirm, I wonder if his mother visited my father.

After working in the hospital field for all these years, I know it’s not unusual for the dying to have visions of someone already passed. As David Kessler, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s longtime assistant noted, the dying are often visited by a mother or father. Kessler hypothesized parents die before their children to lead the way when it’s their child’s turn.

Comforting my mother, I noted such stories are common, meaning, a lot of people have such visions. In many ways, these visitors offer tremendous peace, not only for the patient but also for relatives. These helpers affirm another life beyond our earthly borders. In my industry, this stage or phase is called Nearing Death Awareness.

Nearing Death Awareness often includes visions of loved ones or spiritual beings, although they don’t necessarily signal death’s imminence. It’s a path, a path we cannot lead, but a path we can help them walk.

Between the fragile beauty of fire, water, air, and wind, there is no discord. Between the supple silence of life and death, there is only harmony — no two elements of nature conflict. In every loss, there is gain. And in every gain, there is a loss. When such visitors arrive at our door, we may lose this world yet gain a unity of love and spirit that flows throughout the universe. My father will become part of this beauty — a universe full of love, full of peace.

At the end what remains is not riches, not structures of stone but remembrances of those few people we joined in spirit.

In Memoriam: Tony

A former colleague called. My fingertips deeply massaged my forehead listening to the news streaming through the phone. Tony was dead.

Tony wasn’t a longtime friend. We never hiked nearby rivers on summer afternoons, traversed local cliffs or watched football on lazy Sunday afternoons. Not once did we grab a beer, eat lunch at a local pub, or shoot the sh** while sitting in bleachers as our favorite baseball teams lost for the umpteenth time.

Our relationship was, um, complicated.

An ash-burnt sky added to the misery. Rain pelted the windshield and my hands tensed when I gripped the wheel. Once off the elevator, the heavy wooden entry door swung inward, and I eased into the living room. I flung my laptop to the couch, caring neither if it landed adequately or not, powered up the stereo, and inserted the CD ‘Rent.’ An ice cube skidded across the floor after bouncing off my shoe. I stared momentarily before plopping the remainder into a quarter-sized glass. Southern Comfort oozed over the clear cubes of frozen water and a passing whiff of steam ascended then disappeared. Frozen in thought, I sat looking outward, unto the ceaseless rain. “Seasons of Love” echoed in the background.

I met Tony in February 2018. An accountant by trade, he spent several years in internal audit. He loved baseball, and dutifully charted his favorite team throughout each season. Pictures of his wife and kids dotted along desk shelves and stacks of audit samples sat on the floor in checkerboard format. By all accounts, he appeared happy.

I began a two-month company audit in February. To say the company had financial control issues would be an understatement. All-in-all, he knew the results wouldn’t be positive. The firm struggled, often chartering its boat to the prevailing wind of the day versus destination. And while that alone is a common mistake by most firms, Tony knew he would be under siege; he would be responsible; only he would be accountable.

Two-and-one-half months later, he died.

I learned of his death by coincidence, from a friend of a friend of a friend. I Googled his name plus the word ‘obituary.’ A summary of his life followed: “beloved husband … ; loving father of … ; dear brother of … ; brother-in-law, uncle, cousin, and friend: will be greatly missed—he already is!” The story of life – crammed into two paragraphs of an obituary page.

Hauntingly, I ask, “Had I known, could have I done anything?” More so, “Would I have done anything differently? Did I fail him, God or both?

Ethically, no. Spiritually? Most definitely.

My failure is that I discovered only a handful knew anything about Tony. Like most, I reduced many of those around me to ‘just acquaintances’ – just another person, not someone special. And harder still is the fact I’ve used humor as a defensive weapon to remain emotionally detached from almost everyone. I’m unsure if Tony acted similarly. Yet, I feel profoundly connected.

In singing “Five hundred and twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes,” the cast of Rent asks listeners how to quantify the value of a year in human life. The song concludes with the most effective means – “measure in love.”

Love” was the spiritual connection missed. Love was the only connection that mattered. When physically alive, I could not feel or respond to his love. Now that he’s dead, only now do I realize the abundance and capability of the love he had. He was an untapped treasure I failed to grasp and call ‘friend.’

As daylight faded, I am reaffirmed by faith that all existence will fade into God’s love. And therein, will be Tony. A friend whose soul and memories will merge with the tapestry of life I continue to weave. As such, I am assured Tony’s death will not go in vain.

I will carry forward the lesson that relationships go through seasons and we all always be finding ourselves looking for signs of growth, signs of life and symptoms of renewal. “Eternal possibility,” a mentor once claimed. Tony helped bring an understanding of myself and allowed me to ponder the desire for a deeper understanding of others. As such, life is not measured in time alone, but in the moments spent with others. It’s about little moments in life; the coffee and the hugs; the tears and the laughter. Don’t remember a year as merely gone. Rather, remember each year for the time spent in the company of good friends that love you.

Measure your life in love.” Measure the people you love in love.

Without love, life is death.

Thank you, Tony, for sharing. Thank you for your life.

Devon Jackoniski, a physician assistant in orthopedics and daughter of former football player Tommy Nobis, wrote that gladiators fought with spears and swords while American football players use their heads as their principal weapon in combat. In ancient Rome, gladiators ultimately lost their lives in battle. Football players lose their minds and then, eventually, their lives.

My only experience with football was in high school, the military and college. And brief as my career was, I remember suffering only one concussion – that I can remember. Writing that gives me pause. However, any dreams of running the gridiron every Sunday was surrendered decades ago – not from a lack of physical endurance – but from an apparent lack of talent. By age twenty-five, repeated injuries of tendons in both knees relegated had me to spectator status.

On the other hand, my father played all kinds of sports well into his sixties. There was baseball, tag football, skiing, golf, and bowling. The near-daily ritual of sports was followed by alcohol. Sometimes, heavily.

I wonder if all that had an impact. As I care for my father, I watch his ability to remember such escapades has slowly degraded. Instead of sports, medical appointment reminders that blink on his iPad are forgotten within moments. And thanks to my mother’s aid, my father had successfully been able to fool many for years. Eventually, though, even my mother’s assistance was no longer viable.

My brother called to offer birthday wishes the other day. I confided that I wonder if my father lay dormant within me. While I have not lost the ability to remember where I live, what states visited, crimes investigated, or meals eaten, everything hurts – ankles, feet, knees, and back. My heart beats, then skips and once suffered a silent attack.

As such, tracking medications require an hour or more weekly. Since pain’s a significant part of life, I’ve entirely abandoned the five-second rule. Something drops, I query, ‘I wonder if there’s a two-day rule,” and schedule pickup during one of the two times each week I ease down on all fours, crawl throughout the rooms, and capture scattered Statins, Lisinopril, Inderal, pain medications, muscle relaxers, aspirin, and others objects. I’ve also snaggeded stray bottle caps, pens, paperclips, three-day-old broccoli, and other assorted vegetables.

Therefore, buying a Roomba vacuum cleaner may have merit. However, I remember reading of a man whose Roomba ran across a pile of fresh, soft dog doo-doo. The owner referred to it as “The Pooptastrophe, The Poohpocalypse or The Poppppening,” when hs Roomba spread dog poop over every conceivable surface within reach. Ugh, Roomba nixed.

Moving onto dogs, I considered a dog may have a certain sense of appreciation. However, walking said dog in subzero weather does not appear to have any beneficial merit – for me. Sure some whacked out ‘Paul Bunyan‘ type will tear longingly for the great outdoors, the fresh air, and the cold crisp snap of the early morn’.

Last Paul Bunyon I met once said, “Ah, Dog and man. Dog and man.”

He returned a week later with a torn rotator cuff from throughing too many axes into trees.

Nope. Nada. Not me,” I replied.

Of course, there’s another option. A friend suggested a cat. While a cat seemed like a viable option, I had been there, done that. Back in 96′, I adopted a cat named ‘Cleo,’ short for Cleopatra. Apparently, Cleo’s previous owner was under some illusion that Cleo had somehow inherited Egyptian royalty. While Cleo loved to eat fallen broccoli from the floor, on most days, she was more a sovereign state with a tail than royalty.

The whole cat thing ended when I reflected back to my first heart attack. I was cleaning Cleo’s litter box when the heart event occurred. Being awash in sudden and crushing pain gave way, not to the thought of survival, but to whether some paramedic would find me face-planted in ‘Tidy Cats’ Free and Clean. I rolled to the right reflecting upon the Chicago Tribune headlines, ‘Owner Found Dead, Face-First in Liter Box.”

Circling around, being a Buddhist means enjoying my father and the time remaining. Even now, as I write, one can find my father in his favorite chair, either watching old ‘Gunsmoke‘ episodes or the saguaro cactus adjacent to the living room window. Sometimes, he fiddles endlessly with old broken computers. “Hoping to fix this,” he nods. Sure, it’s mindless activity. And he may be lost, but the action itself makes him feel un-lost.

Devon Jackoniski lost her father to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), caused by a career doing the thing he loved. My father doesn’t have CTE. He lost to age. The sad truth is that CTE, dementia and Alzhimers are not treated exceptionally well by current medical technology. Thus, people like Ms. Jackoniski, my mother, my brother and I are unknownly bonded in the same fight – the fight for quality care. It’s a battle mercilessly  fought, but never won.

I know my father’s genes swirl within me. I will ride such genetic markers to the ground. I don’t think about it, the good or bad. Yet some days, the similarities are astonishing, with humor being one.

One day, not long ago, I made a statement about not remembering where I put something. My father looked up and asked if I needed one of his pills.

Pass the pill, Dad. Pass the pill.

Dang. Dropped it.

Hey, Dad. Is there a two-day rule?

The Power of Love

Remember when I said you never know what tomorrow will bring? Or as Tom Hanks charater in cast away said:

“… keep breathing because tomorrow the sun will rise, and you never know what the tide will bring.”


Bob Boilen of National Public Radio wrote this piece.

The story of Bernie and the Believers is the most powerful I’ve ever come across at the Tiny Desk. It’s about a beautiful act of compassion that ultimately led to this performance, and left me and my coworkers in tears.

I discovered the music of Bernie Dalton among the thousands of Tiny Desk Contest entries we received earlier this year. The band’s singer, Essence Goldman, had submitted the entry and shared Bernie’s story. You can hear her tell it in her own words at the Tiny Desk (and I choke up every time I hear it) but she said that a few years ago, Bernie — a father, a songwriter and a musician in his mid-forties, and an avid surfer with a day job as a pool cleaner — answered an ad Essence Goldman posted offering voice lessons. In addition to being a singer, she was a performer trying to manage her own career as a single mom, and Bernie was trying to improve his talents.

Bernie drove 90-minutes from Santa Cruz to San Francisco, eagerly showing up early to his voice lessons with Essence. But not long after they started working together, Bernie lost his voice. They didn’t think much of a it at first, but then things got worse. He had trouble swallowing and eating. Essence encouraged Bernie to see a doctor and after some tests Bernie Dalton was diagnosed with bulbar-onset ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. He began to lose the use of his hands and, along with it, the ability to play guitar.

With a prognosis of only one-to-three years left to live, Essence offered to raise money so that Bernie and his daughter could travel together. But what Bernie wanted more than anything was to make a record. So he asked Essence to not just be his voice teacher, but his voice. From there, they got to business. Essence pulled together a team of producers, engineers and musicians, while Bernie guided the creative direction through gestures and a dry-erase board. They wrote and recorded a new song every day. Their first single, “Unusual Boy,” was the one they included in their 2018 Tiny Desk Contest entry.

Now Bernie’s friends have gathered here in Washington, D.C. to perform his songs. All the while, Bernie watched and listened from his hospital bed on the West coast, communicating with us in a live video feed through his eye-gaze device. What you are about to witness is the ultimate act of love: Essence sacrificing her own musical ambitions to fulfill the dreams of Bernie Dalton. Through tragedy there was beauty.

I don’t know Bernie or Ms. Goldman, but after watching this, I believe they are worth helping. If you can, watch the entire piece. Ms. Essence Goldman told the story at the 9:02 minute mark.

Here are the key links:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPQsEoYHekg

Band Page: https://www.bernieandthebelievers.com

To bring Bernie: https://www.gofundme.com/sendberniehome

This group of talent artists understand the power of love. Beautiful.

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