Janus Moments

Janus, according to ancient Roman mythology and religion, was a god with two faces. Purportedly, he could look toward the future as well as back to the past. When we think of him, we might think of someone who is “two-faced”, one who talks out of both sides of his mouth, one who cannot be trusted. We have many examples of people who behave in this way today. Just pick up a newspaper, sign on to your favorite news outlet, or turn on the television. Say one thing, act in the opposite way. Promise one thing, deliver another (or nothing at all). Smile at someone while stabbing them in the back. “Make something great again” by tearing it down. (that works well in medical school and boot camp, but other than that I’m not sure it’s a good way to run a railroad, if you get my drift)

Janus was a two faced god, for sure, but he was more than that. He was considered the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages and endings. I am so sick of seeing and hearing and experiencing modern people and circumstances that do little more than belittle, tear down, marginalize and destroy government, institutions, morals and other people. Could we not look at Janus as a chance for looking back at history, learning from it, and then facing the future with a bright optimism that fuels positive change and enlightenment and respect for others? How many Janus moments could we find, if we could but look for them actively?

  1. New relationships. We meet people all the time, in the stores we frequent, at our places of worship, at work, at school, at play. New relationships are just that-new. They are opportunities to show compassion and friendship to others, while receiving the same from them and learning new things from them as well. While we have many fine older relationships that span years and even decades, new ones offer us the opportunity to  expand our worldview, our reach and our circle of influence for the better.
  2. Online encounters. We sign onto Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, WeChat, and dozens of other on-line clearing houses for ideas, self-expression and commentary. We pick and choose who to associate with there just as we do IRL (in real life). We look, listen and learn. We comment about the things that we feel most strongly about. It is a slippery slope, social media. Why? Anonymity is one big reason. You can say anything to anybody with impunity, to a point. You can cut someone down, cut them off, and cut them out of the herd. You can spew racist commentary, spout your political views and wish someone a happy fifth birthday, all on the same medium. Is this not the perfect place to model behavior, good behavior for others? Yet, we look backwards to arguments and wars and disagreements from the past, fanning the flames of hate and unrest that we thought had long since died down to a heap of cold ashes. We spew vitriol. We curse others. We demean others for their customs, their dress, their sexual orientation, their religious beliefs. It seems that social media is rarely the bringer of good tidings and happiness, as least on the whole. Where better to turn things around and use this Janus moment to look forward, literally turning our backs on hate and racism and homophobia and discrimination and fear?
  3. Death and loss. I was reading several articles this past week about D Day and its aftermath. On June 6, 1944, more than 160,000 allied troops made a spectacular beach assault on the German defenses on the coast of France. The attack involved incredible planning, unbelievable numbers of planes, trucks, amphibious assault vehicles, and of course the soldiers themselves. Nine thousand allied soldiers were killed or wounded that bloody day, but their sacrifices allowed one hundred thousand more troops to begin the march inland that eventually lead to Hitler’s downfall and the salvation of Europe and democracy in the free world. We mourned their sacrifices and their loss this past week, as we do and as we should every year, but is this also a Janus moment? I believe what I am thinking about this was best said by General George S. Patton. “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”
  4. Aging: In another blog, I am writing out my feelings and coming to terms with Growing Older. Aging is that perfect mix of looking back and looking forward, never in equal parts. When we get up in the morning and have our increasing aches and pains and feel stiff and sore and tired, we look back at how young and spry we once were, and we grieve just a little. We have inevitably lost our physical youth. Ah, but what have we gained? As our physical bodies age and change, as they must, our minds are filled with memories and thoughts and ideas processed and lessons learned.  We have lived. No matter if our life spans ten years, fifty years or a hundred years, we have lived. That counts.
  5. Transitions. We all go through those times in life when things change. We graduate kindergarten and move to the first grade-real school! We finish high school and decide to go to college-or not. We get our first job and begin to pay our own way in the world. We pick a life partner. We have children. We lose a parent, We move to a new city. Transitions are those perfect Janus moments that let us say goodbye while looking ahead. We mourn the loss of certainty, yet we eagerly anticipate the joy of discovery. We are in one of those global times of transition in our country right now, on many levels. We are deciding who should be insured and have healthcare. We are deciding if women control their own bodies. We are deciding who can love who can marry. We are deciding how we fit into the world economy and the culture of man.

Like Janus, we look forward to these transitions as we walk through the gate of history. We anticipate the future. We want it to be bright for everyone.

Also like the god of doorways, passages and time, we look back at the past with some nostalgia, sense of sadness and loss. This is normal and should be embraced.

However, we turn our back on and ignore the lessons of the past, the signposts left by those who have gone before, at our peril.

 

 

Blackjack

It’s been twenty-one years. 

Twenty-one years since I looked at the x-rays, white as a blizzard.

…beep, beep, beep, beep…

Whiteout. 

Washed in the blood of the Lamb. 

Looking at blood in all the wrong places. 

Twenty-one years and the image of my mother, sitting in the corner of the room. 

Resigned, not resolute.

…beep, beep, beep…

Limbo. 

Deal another card. 

…beep, beep…

The Decision.

Stop it all, all but the necessary (and what was necessary at that point anyway?).

Deal another card. 

It’s okay, Dad, you can go now. It’s okay.

Death is never okay. 

Deal another card.

…beep…

Is he here?

Is He here?

Is He in heaven?

Is he in heaven?

Do you want one more card?

Hit me

Nothing is permanent.

Time is precious.

Love means everything.

Blessed be the tie that binds, our hearts in Christian love.

When we asunder part, it gives us inward pain

But we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

Hit me.

…………..beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep…………………..

The house always wins.

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

So, Muhammad Ali died at age seventy four yesterday, after a thirty year struggle with Parkinson’s Disease. 

Who can forget “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”? 

Who can forget those iconic still photographs of him, poised above a fallen opponent, gloved fist locked in follow through, face set in stone, defiant, confident, supremely confident. 

The Greatest. 

He follows a long list of others into death, figures who peopled my childhood and teenaged world. People I looked up to, tried to emulate, some I never understood, some I knew were crazy, some who we all knew were superstars. 

Robin Williams, Glenn Frey, Prince, Ronald Reagan, David Bowie, on and on. Political figures, business men and women, pop stars, entertainers, scientists, soldiers, presidents. 

Some of us are entering that age where death is the gift that keeps on giving. We are not old ourselves yet, though we are certainly squarely middle-aged no matter how you define that phase of life. We are losing people, daily it seems, though we know that is not quite true. We are losing our icons, our heroes, our role models. 

I was at my allergist’s office this week for a routine follow up appointment for a mild chronic condition that I live with. 

“How’s it going?” he asked. 

“I’m 85-90% better,” I replied, smiling. 

“I want you at 100%,” he said. 

“That’s not possible and you know it. I’m happy with 90%” I said.

He sighed, recorded my responses on his record, then moved on.

“I can give you that TDAP shot today if you want,” he said.

“You don’t think I’ll have some God-awful reaction to it and die, do you?” I asked, only half kidding.

“Of course not. No worries. You can get it while you’re here. Done.” 

“Okay,” I said.

“Oh, have you had the Pneumovax?” he asked.

“No, I’ve been getting the flu shot for several years now, since I’m around patients all the time, but I haven’t had the pneumonia shot yet.”

“Well, you’re going to need that by about sixty, I think. And the shingles shot, definitely that one. Maybe that one can wait until you’re sixty-five, but you’ll want that one. And by seventy, you’ll need…” 

It hit me like a ton of bricks. 

“I don’t want to have this conversation,” I said, smiling wryly. 

He looked up.

“I don’t even feel like I’m fifty-eight almost fifty-nine, much less sixty or sixty five or seventy. I don’t want to think about that yet,” I said, knowing full well that I would have to, needed to if I was going to give myself the best shot I had to live to ninety and beyond.

“I know, I know,” he said, smiling back at me. “The brain never thinks that it’s aging, but the body feels it.” 

“Okay, give me the TDAP today, and the rest we’ll think about when it’s time,” I said. 

“Deal.”

We put off this dance with age as long as we can. Like Ali, we weave and bob and float and dance, thinking that if we never stand still, that if we keep moving that aging and death will never find us. They will always be one step behind us. 

Our brains, being the smartest part of us, the part that thinks and reasons and also tries to keep the worst news from us, because it loves the rest of us, of course, knows the truth. It knows that the little lapses in memory are normal but that they will get worse as we age. It knows that the aches and pains and twinges and stiffness are part of the package too, and that we cannot keep them away forever. It knows that a sixty year old only gets about 20% of the light to his retinas that a twenty year old gets. Our brain knows about cataracts and dry skin and thinning hair and loss of muscle mass and dismissed strength. It knows about loss of balance. It knows about falls. It knows. 

I have been writing and thinking a lot about death lately, and I apologize for that. You, my readers, probably come  here to read something funny, something enlightening, something that challenges you to think. I will write more of that, I promise. My little black Moleskine has pages of unwritten ideas yet to be tapped, so no worries there. 

However, as the icons of our childhood fade and join that long line of ancestors and historical figures who lead backward into history, we know that it is our responsibility to keep living. We have children and grandchildren whose childhoods are NOW. They are living their lives NOW. We are part of that. We are building, in partnership with those we love, memories that THEY will hold onto one day, long after we are gone. 

It is important for us to eat healthy, keep our weight down, keep our blood pressure under control, minimize our stress the best we can, exercise moderately, find hobbies that we really enjoy and DO them, engage in worthwhile work well done, see our doctors for regular checkups to catch treatable conditions early, and when issues or problems are found, address them head on and not be lulled into a false sense of security fueled by denial of reality.

We will all die, one day, somewhere, somehow, of something. That is inescapable. 

In the meantime, we are all here to live.

The lesson that Muhammad Ali brings to us today is not that he died, but that he lived, that he stood up for his ideals and convictions, that he pursued his goals passionately, that he strived to be the best, and that even after he was stricken with a life-long, devastating disease, he kept on being himself, The Greatest. 

We all have greatness in us.

How will others see the greatness in you today?

The Dash

Okay, so news flash.

We will all die.

Some sooner; some later.

This is always brought home to me when someone famous or notorious or personally connected to me or my family passes on.

But wait! This is not a sad post.

What do we do in the meantime? What do we do “with the dash”, the time allotted to us between the birthday and the date of death that will one day be inscribed on a headstone or crypt plaque or other signage for each and every one of us.

  1. Embrace every single day. Get up in the morning ready to live. Physically grab the twenty four hours ahead of you. Look at them as a palette of new paints, a dictionary full of words not yet used, a long list of notes that only need organization to make a symphony.
  2. Do something fun. Life is hard, it’s messy, it’s tricky, but there is a lot of joy out there. So many of us have lost the capacity to go after it, find it, search for it, feel it. Paint a picture. Ride a bike. Eat an ice cream cone.
  3. Simplify. Cut out the unnecessary, the trivial, the time wasters and the attention grabbers. Put the phone down and kiss your sweetheart like you mean it. Talk, Learn. Relate. Experience. Do one thing at a time.
  4. Make a difference in someone else’s life. Give money. Bake a cake. Give your time. Listen. No, you cannot change the whole world, but you can damn sure change the life of the person sitting right there in front of you, begging for your undivided attention.
  5. Stop worrying! Go back to sentence number two of this blog post. Things will happen when they happen. Some of them will be bad. The truth? You can’t make a single thing happen by worrying about it. It’s wasted effort, it’s wasted energy, and it’s just not productive. Clear your heart and your head for Number 1-4 above.

Have a great day!

F You

This is a reposting, with slight modifications, of a piece I did not quite four months ago after a tornado touched down just miles from my boyhood home in Georgia. With all the angst surrounding cancer and the destruction of prophylactic treatment, plus the devastating news of the deaths of more children in a monster tornado strike in Moore, Oklahoma, yesterday, I felt the need to repost it. Please bear with me. We’ll get back to the emergency department shortly. For now, let’s support those who labor in the hospitals of Oklahoma, saving lives, comforting families and putting a community back together one stitch at a time. Godspeed, Moore, Oklahoma. 

iStock_000003871461_Small

F4.
Incredibly strong tornado.
207-260 mph.
Strong frame houses lifted off foundations and carried considerable distances to disintegrate; automobile sized missiles fly through the air in excess of 100 meters; trees debarked; steel re-inforced concrete structures badly damaged.

Devastating damage.

We had a strong storm front come through the midwestern United States yesterday. In the center of the ragged slash of weather on a weather app was the hard, bright-red mark of destruction. Pretty on the screen, destructive on the ground.

Destroyer of worlds.

Reports began to trickle in from a small town in Oklahoma of a monster twister that had descended from the blackness of the cloud bank, a mile-wide kiss on the the ground, crossing the landscape and leveling buildings like they were made of children’s wooden blocks. Not quite an F-4, but terrifying nonetheless. Reports of multiple deaths began to trickle in. Many of the dead were children. Veteran reporters cried giving the details on the ground. It was an emotional nightmare for all.

When I see such destruction I think of my friends, family and aquaintences who struggle with cancer. My aunt who succumbed to ovarian cancer. My mother, who is a breast cancer survivor. My friend, who is more than five years past a diagnosis of testicular cancer. Another friend who lives with metastatic breast cancer. Like an F-4 monster, the disease drops unexpectedly from the sky. Pretty colored X-rays and scans reveal the destructive power underneath. Sirens go off. The mind screams take cover, take cover! The body sometimes is only grazed, shrapnel cutting but not killing. Other times, the impact is devastating. Nothing looks as it did before the storm. The landscape is flattened and only rubble is left.

Is there anything good about F-4s and cancer?

What an odd question, you think.

Not really.

These scourges, while leaving city blocks and body parts in absolute ruin, are often surgical in their devastation. That is, a few hundred yards away, or a few inches outside the margins, the sun is shining, the tissue is healthy and life goes on. Friends rush to help. Prayers go up. Communities, wonderful communities form. Support is not only offered but insisted upon. Rebuilding begins-immediately-in the aftermath of the siren’s wail and the surgeon’s knife.

When the horror and the shock and the denial and the anger and the tears and all of it subsides, victims become empowered survivors.

Strong!

The chorus goes up.

F you, tornadoes. We will rebuild.

F you, cancer. I am scarred, but alive.

We’re still here.

F you.