Tag Archive: Love


My Thanksgiving Letter

Dear Ms. K.:

Six years have passed since you left.

When we first met around 2001, we were strangers. And interestingly enough, at this moment, we remain strangers. I tend to believe you’re sitting or working in God’s house in another part of creation. The rest of us stay thinking about getting through the rest of the day, getting through life’s challenges.

For years, we had no contact. As a vagabond road warrior, consultant, and former serial asshole, I’ve never earned a CPA. My cellphone camera is used only for receipts. I am not sure if the ‘flash’ portion works. Old girlfriends and wives can attest I’ve disappeared from their lives shockingly fast, as I could barely commit to next week, let alone years.

You remained local, set sights on marriage, a home, and a career.

Reconnecting in August 2007, our friendship rekindled, occasionally sharing lunch, swapping stories, and distant lands traveled. 2010 found me flying further onward, in 2013, you left forever.

Strange how similar we are. Never saying a word, I wasn’t aware you had cancer. It’s the same tactic I use currently. Sharing a cancer diagnosis is exceptionally personal, and while I never felt close enough to be considered in your inner circle, looking back, I should have known. I should have recognized. You were thin, but I dismissed it. The eyes were hauntingly distant. Maybe you didn’t want me to feel sorry or change how I treat you. I remain unsure.

We met in life, but post-life remains real. Upon returning in 2014, our connection deepened. In some way, maybe we always had it, lose it, and find it. We remained connected and are ‘one’ in some strange, beautiful way.

I worry.

Six years past, I vaguely remember your laugh. And as much as I would love, I cannot feel the touch of your hand. I still don’t know anything about you or what God has you doing.

I know you’ve been working. You said as much. However, I don’t know if you are a writer, or if you’ll read books any me outdoors while overlooking the small park you’ve labored on. I must confess, as you sat atop the overlooking the park’s beauty, my scenery was you.

Still, all I have left of you are two pictures, a resume, and an obituary.

Yet, you’re special to me. I know you exist. You are my miracle.

You’re showing me how to find heart, and understand that the best miracle of miracles was making my heart beat.

I have no idea why you said you’d meet me. Sometimes I wonder if you’ll run out of patience with this ol’ man and run off to future endeavors. Yet, I believe you will be there.

I don’t understand our untouchable bond, so pardon my foolishness when we meet. The amount of love you have will stun me. You’ll flip my heart on its axis, and I’ll beg to be forgiven for ever doubting you’d meet me. As I wrote previously, living in solitude these years has allowed me to recognize my growth. I am deeply human, moral, and spiritual. And I know that for most pressing ethical questions, the spiritual and political often go hand in hand.

Recently, you told me not to give up. I concur. It’s never too late to be whoever you want to be. I have changed. In years past, the intimate side of my soul did not acquire essential skills of vulnerability, how to set boundaries, how to listen, and how to speak up. I learned the art of compromise and forgiveness but found many who couldn’t. I cultivated significant wisdom from failure, but much of it brewed little success.

Ms. K., those were weaknesses, but my promise is simple, don’t give up on me.

  • If one doesn’t knock, there will be no answers. Therefore, I will knock on your door.
  • If one hasn’t done anything, then don’t expect anything in return. Therefore, I will be the best I can be.
  • Standing in place will not gain a thing. So, I will continue to move toward your love.
  • If only true love can be embraced, I will embrace you for eternity.
  • Love continually renews and reunites. As such, I will grab your hand and renew it daily in the waters of your soul.
  • If God allows only ten minutes of agape love, then I will beg for millions within you.

If you wait, I long to be bound.

Happy Thanksgiving Ms. K. . . . God, I miss you.

~ W ~

I wrote the following letter reply to an email from mother. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, my father is entering the last years of his life. And while I have yet to inform my parents of my diagnosis, I wrote what I hope was a well thought response.

My mother’s letter is as follows.

I’ve been wanting to share with you something Dad said the other day.  I made a small Christmas wall hanging and said (to dad), “Let’s put it up because it’s so close to Christmas anyway and it won’t get wrinkled.” 

I wished Dad a merry Christmas. 

He replied, “Yes – for the next 2 Christmases.” 

“And many more,” I replied. 

“For the next 2 Christmases”. 

“And for many others after that?” 

“Oh yeah. Sure.” replied very offhandedly’

So, I’m wondering if that’s what just came to his mind or he knows something I don’t? Or, can he can sense something?


Dear Mom:

I read your note with interest. I can attest to some extent of nature’s intuition. So, I will get to this upfront.

Every day in medicine, there are numerous examples of patients who know they are about to die, even if no one else does. They often have a feeling. And even though doctors don’t know how to explain it, the intuition is rarely taken seriously.

In hospital terms, when we talk about instinct, we usually speak about expert clinicians grasping diagnoses in ways that seem to defy rational explanation. Doctors appear to know almost intuitively which data to focus on and which to ignore. Of course, their decision-making is based on experience and deductive reasoning (and perhaps on evidence, too). Still, it seems almost mystical.

Personally, I have learned the years to take such intuitions seriously.

I can’t remember if I told you this or not. Instincts can be derived from other sources. In 2007, The New England Journal of Medicine had the story of a cat named Oscar who lives in a nursing home in Providence, R.I., and seems to have an uncanny sense for when elderly residents are about to die.

Oscar goes to the patient’s rooms, curls up beside the patient — even those residents for whom he has previously shown little interest — and purrs. Staff members learned that this is a telltale sign of impending death, as they’ve witnessed Oscar’s similar behavior in the deaths of at least 25 patients. “This is a cat that knows death,” one doctor said. “His instincts that a patient is about to die are often more acute than the instincts of medical professionals.”

There are, of course, other signs that can guide intuition. Natural aging is one. Or maybe it’s a combination of natural aging and the will (internal will) to remain meaningful. Then there’s Google.

If you’re after a bit of a break from worrying whether killer robots will murder us all, don’t worry: Google knows when we’re all going to die. Google’s Medical Brain AI team has been working on neural network software which can scan through a person’s electronic health records, pull together relevant information, and quite effectively determines how long that person will live.

Accuracy nears 96%.

It turns out Google is efficient at sorting through mountains of data, including scribbled notes on old charts, and turning them into useful predictions while also pointing out to healthcare practitioners where they’ve pulled the data.

Then there’s just plain age. Turns out, the older you get, the accuracy increases. Why? Because people get older and die.

In truth, if you create an algorithm that assesses patients against the mean average age of that person in the population, you reasonably accurately and quickly dial into an expected natural life. For instance, FlowingData website calculates that I have a 10% chance of dying in the next ten years and a 26% chance within 10 – 20 years. And if I input’s dad’s age, he has an 88% chance of dying between in the next several years.

My company has a similar AI program. I inputted dad’s age, some essential background information, recent medical trends, and the result nearly equals dad’s ‘intuition’ – meaning the AI estimated dad is likely to pass within two to two-and-one-half years, with a 47% chance likelihood of a circulatory issue (heart or lung).

People are amazed when I tell them fairly accurate things. It’s not magical. In truth, having been in the medical profession and installing all these systems, I know the statistics, even weird ones. For instance, I know that between 45–50, the relative majority of deaths are due to cancer. As cancer gradually declines in importance, circulatory diseases become the leading cause of deaths those between the ages of 75–80. Mental disorders (Alzheimer’s, dementia, etc.) and diseases of the nervous system are common causes of death after 80+ years of life.

Of course, dad knows none of this. He does, however, know his own body. He’s tired, and like many nearing a winter morn’, he may simply want to look moving forward.

Therefore, here’s my suggestion. Forget all the statistics, mind over matter, intuition, etc. Focus on trying to find a way to enjoy the time you have and what you have left. In a way, you are in an enviable position of knowing and experiencing “the ultimate relationship.”

And what’s that?” you ask.

The ultimate relationship we can have is with someone who is dying. This landscape of such a relationship is so varied and so vast that it not only renews, but you’ll discover a new level of intimacy never experienced. In this way, love will teach a certain sense of gratitude for what we have been given.

But … prepare for when the day comes … for it’s sooner than later.

Sitting in an airport lounge, I noticed a discarded newspaper from a Midwest town I frequently traveled. Thumbing through the newspaper, brought back memories. There was the usual discussions of flood aid, farming developments, local sports, and weather. However, one obituary leaped from the page. The announcement momentarily stunned me. Placing my hands on my knees for support, I inhaled deeply.

Terri, my former sister-in-law, passed at 66. Simply put, she was one of the finest people I ever met.

Long before becoming my sister-in-law, Terri graduated with a Master’s in Education and was a Special Education Teacher for nearly 40 years. Of course, she had children, grandchildren, and husband. None I ever met. As usual, I acquired a long list of customary excuses that mean little today: Too busy, never around, too tired or too far to make the trip back home. As such, these will mean little to those judging my life.

As far as I knew, Terri was not a trailblazer. She didn’t transform the world, solve cancer, or establish peace between fickle and difficult leaders. Rather, she chose to trailblaze in her small sector of the world. She was an educator, a restaurant owner, and a friend. And by using such skills, her life of service expertly navigated the hearts of many, often acquiring deep respect from those within the working class.

The Terri I knew was a humble woman, born in humble origins, and lived in service. She based her life on ideas, ideals, works of charity, and caring for those who suffered. I believe the positions she held allowed her to expand the life and shape the viewpoints of those she touched. And while quickly noticing the flaws of others, deep down, Terri recognized most of us were just one flaw away from those who suffer greatly.

She could see strength and weakness. If need be, she weaponized her humanity and forced movement. I remember such a time when she interjected herself into my life as I was dealing with a spouse in a coma, and exhibited a sense of human decency when others could not. She was my inner voice during those long seemingly endless days.

In many ways, it wasn’t her fight. That said, she refused to allow any opportunity to surrender. When I thought I had enough, she somehow knew to call. “I’m not asking you to win. Just do another day. If you want to quit, call me tomorrow.” Of course, when I called ‘tomorrow,’ she requested another day. Then another. And another.

Her family knew her as a person with spunk. She was funny, wise, and smart. And borrowing from writer Beverly Willett, she recognized my worth and helped me realize it too.

I don’t care how Terri died or the cause. I only care about her legacy. For me, Terri’s friendship came at a crucial period in my life and rested in her ability to see through my pain and extract the goodness. She forced me to believe in something more profound and allowed me the ability to face one more day.

Her friendship is a model I only wish to become. And to you Terri, wherever you are, your spirit will remain in my heart forever.

And that my friends are Terri’s final lessons: See beyond the pain and extract the goodness.

Acts of Love

I have been off the blog for several weeks, as my body has had a rough go of it lately. Waking up, getting up, grasping things, and getting to work has been challenging. And, in the course of this disease, I realize, that maybe, just maybe, the probability of living beyond two years dwindles daily.

If Nate Silver (fivethirtyeight.com) were tracking me, my polling would probably be approximately 16%. It’s a reality willingly accepted. “Distinguishing the signal from the noise requires both scientific knowledge and self-knowledge,” Silver said. I tend to be pragmatic. Most simply, one intuitively or inherently knows.

Even though sick, I can still manage a good movie. My last adventure took three days. Avengers: Endgame. My summary comes from Tony Stark, “Everything is going to work out exactly the way it’s supposed to.” Even the best things come to an end. Whether you want to call it ‘life cycle’ or the ‘circle of life,’ everything will eventually come to an end.

I offer something more powerful: belief. Believe in yourself, even in failure. At some point in our lives, all have failed. And in failure’s wake, it seems impossible to get back up. But if you push yourself a little harder and get back up to fight back, it will be worth it.

There is something else: love. Love is vital. Love for family, love for a teammate, yearning for a cause/purpose, or love of life. Unless you have passion and belief for something/someone, you can not rise. It’s not that holds us back. Instead, it provides the foundation to rise above the fall; it generates the energy to dive to any lengths. It heals you. It keeps you going. It gives purpose.

Lastly, in the end, some things are meant to happen. A lot of times, we wish to jump to the past and think of the things that we should change or undo. My tumor, and ultimately, my death is meant to happen. Many in my position, want to peel back life and reboot it. Eventually, whether life, God, or whatever eternal wisdom there makes everyone realize that it was supposed to be.

Instead of thinking over the past, we should put thoughts and energy into things that can be changed – those that are more worthy. In the movie, The American President, the president (Michael Douglas) was speaking about an upcoming political battle and said they should “Fight the fights they can win.” His top aide (Martin Sheen) countered by saying, “Fight the fights that need fighting.

No greater love is forged than for fighting those worth the fight.

The characters Black Widow and Hawkeye may not have seemed all that significant, but in the end, when life or death depended upon their decisions, they were only concerned for what is best for the other. In that brief moment of screen time, all of us might better understand the depth of Christ’s love. Just as Hawkeye fought for Black Widow, Black Widow fought for Hawkeye. The fight sequence is symbolic. Just like Christ, it is rare to see someone fight you so you can live a better life.

I have no idea how many days I have left. I feel this world is closing fast. Each day awake, I will try to find someone that I can fight for, in that they, can live a better life.

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

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