Tag Archive: Spirituality


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~

I was several hours away from a small inter-department speech when it happened.  I wasn’t particularly stressed. The previous night, I had plenty of sleep and my morning was fine. As I started with agenda and opening remarks, I noticed the left side of my face became numb. I could speak, and though the audience never saw, I knew everything wasn’t quite right.

After the presentation, my spelling wasn’t right either. Words like ‘dream‘ were spelled ‘draem.’ ‘Acute‘ became ‘accute‘ and ‘slide deck‘ became ‘sldie feck.

Within an hour, everything returned to normal, as though nothing happened. I knew it wasn’t. I experienced a TIA, a transient ischemic attack, or mini-stroke.

The doctor knocked politely, opened the door, and sat in the standard hospital issued chair. From his look, we both knew his message would suck.

“So,” he started solemnly, “we ran a few tests. We concluded you encountered a mini-stroke.”

“Yeah, kind of figured” I nodded.

“What concerns us is that about 1 in 3 who experience a transient ischemic attack will eventually have a stroke, with about half occurring within a year after the initial attack. We’ve looked at your tests and reviewed your history and previous heart-related issues. We believe you’re more likely to be in that range.”

“Any idea how long I might have?”

“Good question. With proper medicine, a major change in diet, maybe minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or a couple of years.”

“Well,” I laughed. “That narrows it down.”

“We feel it’s going to happen. When? Well, we aren’t sure. Hopefully, we can get you to the years or beyond, but there’s no guarantee.”

I was discharged with medication and a batch of follow-up tests.

Stopped at the Apple store on my way home to pick up a replacement iPhone.

“Would you like Apple care+ or Apple Care+ with Theft and Loss?”

“Huh?” after snapping back from another place caught in random thoughts.

“Would you like Apple care+ or Apple Care+ with Theft and Loss? You know, AppleCare+ extends your warranty coverage from one year to two, and extends phone and chat support from 90 days to the full two years as well.”

Standing dazed for a moment, “No thanks,” I replied with a smile. “The phone will likely last longer than me.”

There are no warranties in life. And while the duration of my life is uncertain, I concluded during my meditation last night to come quietly into this “transition.”  Outside of wanting to take one last Alaskan cruise, I simply wish to feel the presence of loved ones.

I experienced a powerful out of body experience (OBE) during meditation last night. While I will detail that experience in a later post, I realize there is no possible way to escape death. Except for Enoch, No one ever has, not even Jesus, Buddha, etc. And, of the current world population of 5 billion-plus, almost none will be alive in 100 years. So, like others, I will welcome death upon arrival.

Yet, at this moment, my message is simple – it is possible to feel both the beauty of a loved one’s passing, knowing he or she is free from suffering while simultaneously experiencing the relative suffering of my loss. To do anything other than that is to by-pass my humanity in some essential way and listen to the wisdom inherent in God’s love.

I close with this, if my warranty doesn’t expire, I shall write again. But I shall double my effort to enjoy each minute of every single day. I believe we all need to do just that.

Peace …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blameless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interpreting God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve watched both the Smollett and Stone cases in the past several weeks. Both Smollett and Stone wish to position themselves as victims. Yet, neither are textbook victims. In Smollett’s case, police announced that the “Empire” actor is officially a suspect for filing a false police report in regards to his alleged attack in Chicago. And for Stone, he was kicking himself and apologized profusely for his shortcomings. “I am kicking myself over my stupidity,” Stone said, abandoning his infamous “never apologize” mantra and tough guy demeanor. Legal analyst Jack Quinn said, “… if stupidity were a crime, Roger would be in jail for the rest of his life. This was just monumentally dumb on his part.

In truth, both Stone and Smollett were incredibly stupid.

At the outset, I must confess that I have by no means claim perfection in my own life. As mentioned in previous posts, I am riddled with faults, and I further admit that I’ve critically hurt many friends. But I came from a perspective that’s been there and did it. But unlike Stone or Smollett, my work is done away from the public spotlight where I no longer have present ant false veneer.

I’ve witnessed glimpses of myself in other events. For the most part, I ignored them. However, one such incident leaps that leaps to forefront involves an auto dealer’s son. It was late summer 1996, and I was invited to a dinner party by the owner of a car dealership. The owner’s dealership included Acura, Lexus, and BMW.

After mingling with guests I’ve never met, I walked to the back where several of the serving staff were taking a break. Chit-chatting back and forth, one server drew a breath from a cigarette and nodded toward a young man walking with a younger woman.

“Ah,” he said sarcastically, ” There goes Capt’n Cessna.”

“Who?” I responded

“Capt’n Cessna,” he pointed. “We’ve nicknamed Jason J., the dealer’s son, Capt’n Cessna.”

“Why?”

“Well,” said a server sitting on a swing. “He tried to make a BMW fly.”

“Oh,” I replied. “I heard about that. The brakes failed on his BMW and car got totaled.”

“Ah ha ha ha ha ha,” laughed everyone. “You don’t know s***.”

“Really?”

“Hey Jimmie,” the woman to the man next to me. “Tell him. You tell good.”

“See sir. Capt’n there,” he pointed, “wanted an Acura NSX for his birthday. But his father got him a BMW. So, one day, he gets this great idea to release the parking brake in hopes the car would roll and get damage so he could buy another car.”

“Didn’t quite work out that way, huh?”

“Nope. No sir,” said one server.

“He tried to blame it on bad brakes,” claimed Jimmie. “But the car creased in-between the street’s V-shaped storm drain, slid backward, completely straight, and rolled downhill. Police estimate the vehicle started going about 9 miles per hour, gained speed, and maximized at 40. It hit two garbage bins, clipped Ms. McGurdy’s summer azalea’s, pulverized a copy of the Morning Gazette into the pavement before losing its driver’s side mirror against the U.S. Post Office Mailbox before becoming forever immortalized into Morningside folklore.

Once the vehicle traveled past the road’s end, the BMW’s $20,000 value quickly plummeted. Any lingering thought that the street curb would reverse destiny was thwarted, as ‘bla-blup, bla-blup’ emanated from underneath, followed by a quick ‘phooom,’ and a brief second of silence. And there, against the backdrop of an early morning sun, the BMW momentarily floated, and in dawn’s silhouette, dove outward, toward the shore below.”

Everyone cracked up.

“Car buffs along Morningside Drive claim that was the greatest event ever to occur, even when comparing it to Danny Butterfield’s errant 4th of July bottle rocket landing in ol’ Quester’s Wagon Ride. Even today, during hot summer afternoon’s, ol’ folk sit, sip cool tea, and reminisce of the day when Capt’n there confirmed, without question, that BMWs don’t fly.”

In Buddhism, being truthful goes beyond merely not telling lies. It means speaking truthfully and honestly, yes. But it also means using speech to benefit others, and not to use it to help only ourselves — this is where Roger Stone and Jussie Smollett failed. Speech rooted in the poison of hate, greed, and ignorance is false speech. If your speech is designed to get something you want, or to hurt someone you don’t like, or to make you seem more important to others, it is false speech even if what you say is factual.

The tricky thing we must do is forgiveness. In the case of Stone and Smollet, when all is adjudicated, and sentences are over, we must forgive. However, many holy words one reads, or however many are spoken, what good will they do if we cannot act on upon them? Therefore, my friends, if we fail to forgive, then holding on to our anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you get burned.

Firgiveness is never easy. For Stone and Smollet, forgiveness will not be a single event. Rather, it will be a series of decisions repeated many times over.

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.

Belonging

Passing a nursing station, I overheard a nurse say, “He has no one.”

Who?” I inquired.

Startled, she turned, “Oh.” Quizzically, she perused up and down. Whatever she thought, I’m positive an old, bald, fat man was not expected. “Oh,” she murmured again. “409,” her shoulders shrugged. “The guy in 409 has no family. His time nears.”

So, he’s alone?

Yes.

No one?

Nada.”

May I sit with him?”

Her eyebrow raised slightly, “Sure.

I sat with him until near dawn, sometimes in silence, sometimes lightly speaking, letting him know he was not alone. He whispered, “Why?

Standing to stretch my back, I glanced out to the street below. Raindrops angled across the window pane. My breath echoed against the glass as colorful hues light refracted through the early morn by drops darting downward.

Know what?” I said. “Earth is old. The sun is old. But do you know what may be even older than both? Water. It’s a mystery how the world became awash in it. Maybe water originated on our planet from cosmic ice specks. Some claim distant meteorites or comets as they bombarded the earth.

A slight momentary silent filled the room.

Kaboom” and “Smash,” I reemphasized.

A slight smile, “Ha,” he whispered.

The most accurate answer is: I don’t know ‘why?‘ My limited theological training offers little in any way to account for the unexplainable. And after all these years of walking with Christ, then Buddha, questions linger. Regardless of belief, the world reminds me death is not the end, that we carry forward in the glow of love.

Turning from the morning rain, I sat near, “Are you close?

Leaning in, he whispered, “I come and go.”

There was nothing I wanted more than to bring out a suitcase full of proof, saying, “See? You can be confident.” But there is no absolute proof. Heck, some days I have trouble even convincing myself. There’s just us. Instead, I stayed.

In the small moments of life, a bridge of faith is lived in-between the “back and forth” by both believer and witness. God’s faith glides in between moments life and for whatever reason, which remains foreign to most, joins our world through others, and through us.

Glancing at the man, I stroked the soft fragile gray hair, mirrored his peaceful rhythmic breath, and saw myself. While there are stories of miraculous interventions, lightning-bolt moments, and sudden cures, more often than not, in the final moment, the God of unconditional love will arrive in human form – just like his Son.

I whispered, “The ‘Kaboom and the ‘Smash’ were for you. In those very moments He created you. He loved you then. He loves you now. That same love is here for you. The same air that Christ breathed, you breathed. His breath is in you. His love encompasses you just as he encompasses me. And as your friend, I am with you always and will remember you always.

His lips quivered lightly. A tear dotted his eye. I cupped his hand to my heart. He never spoke again.


The real beauty of Christian and Buddhist faith is that faith is lived and experienced moments. As such, in a time of need, God comes to us in physical vessels, where love and grace join to feel His spiritual presence.

Through all my years working in healthcare, I could never explain “why.” Even if I could, it wouldn’t have brought anyone back. Still, even in my own days of difficulty, many have reached out to me to let me know that I was not alone. They were the presence of God to me. They held me up to, guided me to return to this world, brought me back and consoled me. Suffering isolates us. Loving presence brings us back, makes us belong.

Make someone your life know he or she belongs.

covingtonOn January 18, 2019, Covington Catholic High School faced heavy backlash after a group of predominantly white students was filmed harassing and insulting Native Americans participating in an Indigenous Peoples’ March in Washington, D.C. The students were visiting to participate in the simultaneous anti-abortion March for Life, which attracts many Catholic groups. Many of the students wore “Make America Great Again” hats.

In one of several videos of the incident, a student wearing a Covington Catholic sweatshirt is seen smirking and blocking the path of Nathan Phillips, an Omaha elder and Vietnam War veteran who was playing a ceremonial drum. The students reportedly chanted “build that wall“, while others stood in a circle nearby and chanted “CovCath is the best.”

There’s several ironies. First, all of this comes days before Dr. Martin Luther King Day. Second, students attending the anti-abortion March for Life seem to subversively claim, “We march for life, but we impugn the life of anyone notwhite.”

Go figure.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote:

I’m concerned about a better World. I’m concerned about justice; I’m concerned about brotherhood and sisterhood; I’m concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate through violence. Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.

And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to humankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate. […] and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love. And the beautiful thing is that we aren’t moving wrong when we do it, because John was right, God is love. He who hates does not know God, but he who loves has the key that unlocks the door to the meaning of ultimate reality.

Love is ultimately the only answer to humankind’s problems. Unfortunately, love requires effort.

Freedom is not given to us by anyone; we have to cultivate it ourselves. It is a daily practice.

~ Thich Nhat Hanh ~

Flipping through channels late afternoon, I caught the ending scene of Cast Away.

Cast Away tells the story of a FedEx executive who must transform himself physically and emotionally to survive a plane crash and being washed upon a deserted island. In the years of survival, he saves one Federal Express package.

The ending sequence finds Chuck delivering that package to Ms. Bettina Peterson (played by the late Lari White).  In the end Chuck stands at an intersection – of his life. With map in hand, Chuck must decide which direction the rest of his life will travel and has no idea where the roads will lead. A woman who stops and gives directions is the addressee of the package just delivered.

Like Chuck at the film’s beginning, My life was mapped. I had places to go, people to see, work to do, limited time to spend on anything. Yeah, I was very good at my job.

Everything crashed in April 2010. The identity I created died. Meaning, I crashed. Lost job. Lost love. Lost home. Lost reputation.

Like Chuck, I was limited to few choices. I adapted and survived. My first six weeks comprised of long walks and filing unemployment. I was 50. And the chances for good employment like the one I was fired from would not come again.

May 2010 was filled with day-after-day of job applications. I was completing my customary job application quota when I clicked on a Career Builder ad for a job in Albany, New York. I sent my completed resume, printed the receipt, attached the acknowledgement for unemployment compensation evidence. Then, I moved on.

After working several gigs just to bring in a paycheck, I realized I had so soured my life in the city that it would be unlikely to get any decent job offer. Strangely enough, Albany called. A few interviews later, I landed in Albany, NY with two suit cases and a heart of hope. I found a small apartment in Cohoes, NY, adjacent to the banks of the Hudson River.

Metaphorically speaking, my world was exactly like Chuck Noland as Albany would become my small island. Prior to landing on my island, I painstakingly created an identity, but I didn’t live it. I called myself a chameleon, for I embellished so much I could easily adapt and fit in almost any situation.

That’s a key statement. I lived a created identity and remained unable to fully understand just how lucky I was.

In the end, God’s quest for accountability and the events of prior months broke me from my obdurate foolishness. My overall lack of concern for the threats to my life and to those I loved were disastrous.

As such, when walking along the Hudson River at night, each river tide brought peace and tranquility. Even though I lost Karen (Noland’s Kelly), I remain grateful that she remained in my heart – at every step in New York.

Eight years later, I’m an experienced valuing person. I learned to appreciate life and others. Decreased workload allowed me to think about other people and respect them for who they are. God had to cast away Chuck (to throw) Noland (no land). I, wandered and moved onward, albeit slower and hard.

As a Buddhist, I want to say to everyone experiencing deep anguish, it’s normal to consider quitting. Don’t. When we are in the midst of a season of suffering our decision is either to lay down and quit or to keep breathing and trust God will bring what we need during life’s tide.  For me it has brought real peace to my soul.

My dream job before 2010 was illusion.

Last year, The New York Times (NYT) chose Jada Yuan from 13,000 applicants to travel as a journalist to go to each and every place on the NYT’s 52 Places to Go in 2018. In her January 4th, NYT article 1 Woman, 12 Months, 52 Places, Jada Yuan summarized lessons learned. The key lesson applies to everyone.

“Trust in myself, trust in the fundamental goodness of people, trust that as a traveler, I could watch my back without walling myself off from experiences,“ and that “… the center of my life isn’t there [New York City] for me anymore. It’s with me and it’s mobile.

Same lessons applies for me. Of all my experiences since 2010, I too have learned to trust myself – that the center of my life isn’t in any one particular place. It’s within me and within my ability to love.

Given the fact that on any given day I could die, someone asked how I keep going. I remember Chuck Noland:

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

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