D Day + 1+ 51

My father died on D Day +1 + 51 years.

It was only fifty three days until he would have celebrated his sixty third birthday.

As many of you know, I have been thinking and writing about his death on and off for years, here and elsewhere. The thought that I might one day outlive my father has never been far from the front of my mind.

Well, tomorrow is the day. Today, September 2nd, is fifty three days from my sixty third birthday.

If I wake up tomorrow, as I certainly plan to do, I will have seen one more sunrise in my life than my father. I will have one more day to live, to love, to work, to play and to think about what is and what might have been, than he had.

What if today had been the last day of my life? I worked at home today seeing patients, as I have been doing for the last half year. I chatted with people by cell phone and on video calls, listening to them and trying to be helpful in the midst of the worst public heath crisis in a hundred years. I electronically prescribed medications that I sincerely hope will help alleviate suffering. I asked after one of my new employees to see how she was doing. At lunchtime I listened to a book about politics, as one does during a presidential election year. After work I took an intense forty five minute bike ride in my neighborhood and along the river with the heat index 106 degrees. I was hot, winded, and soaked at the end of it. It felt good. I felt alive. I missed my wife today, as I always do when she is away on work flights. She sent me a beautiful picture of Germany today, where the temperature and the pandemic are cooler than here in the US. I took delivery of a wonderful set of pastels that she wanted to order for her birthday, which is this Friday. (No, it is not a surprise. One of the pleasures of getting older and having most everything you need is that you can special order your gifts with no shame at all!) I smiled when I saw the box, anticipating the pure joy that these little sticks of color will give her when she holds them in her hand and applies the pigment to the special papers she will use in her art room upstairs.

Did I do enough today? Did I care enough today? Did I get outside my own head, lay aside my own anxieties and worries and needs enough to give of myself to others in a way that would have made my father proud today? Did I learn something new? Did I grow emotionally, spiritually? Did I question my own motives today, vowing to have purer ones if I am given one more tomorrow? Did I care for my physical health? Did I take care of myself in the same way that I am always asking my patients to take care of themselves?  Did I have a good day today, a day that could have been, that could be,  my last?

My wife is convinced and has ordained that I will live until I am  ninety six years old. The odds, not to mention my family genetics, do not support that wish I’m afraid, but I do love to hear her say it. I would love to live ten, twenty, even thirty more years if God grants me that special privilege. There is a lot I want to do. There is a lot I want to experience. There is a lot I want to learn.

Tomorrow, I will have lived one day longer than my father. An accomplishment? No, not at all. A gift. A true gift. A pleasure. A reminder that we are not promised one more day, but that we are allowed over and over again to take possession of that most precious of commodities and choose to use it in any way we wish. We are given the gift of time.

I will wake up tomorrow morning and rejoice in every small muscle twinge, every sleepy yawn, every hunger pang, every emotional surge, every cognitive challenge and every warm sunbeam that graces my aging face. I will rejoice in another day and the simple fact that it has been gifted to me.

Besides, what is my other option? If I die tonight and make it to heaven by morning, I would be greeted by my father, a man who preceded me in death by decades but who would be exactly my age. Somehow, I don’t think even God would find that amusing.

 

Death is nothing at all,
I have only slipped into the next room
I am I and you are you
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by my old familiar name,
Speak to me in the easy way which you always used
Put no difference in your tone,
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household world that it always was,
Let it be spoken without effect, without the trace of shadow on it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It it the same as it ever was, there is unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near,
Just around the corner.
All is well. ”

Henry Scott Holland

When It’s My Turn to Die

To every thing, turn, turn, turn,

There is a season, turn, turn, turn,

And a time for every purpose under heaven.          The Byrds

When it’s my turn to die, come see me.

For you see, there was a good friend of mine, a teacher, a mentor, who taught me much about people and mental health. He was a hearty type, a man who walked up and down the hill to work for years. He walked and worked and worked and walked and did this summer and winter and year in and year out. He diagnosed and read and learned and treated and taught and did this for many years. We laughed and waxed poetic and drank beer and discussed the meaning of life, as young people are want to do with their mentors, and I learned much at his feet, that man. He was around. I was around. We aged. I became a teacher and healer and mentor in my own right, and he still walked the hill up and down and up and down, until the time he didn’t. He became a case study himself, one with an illness, a terrible, awful, progressive debilitating illness that took away his walking and his standing and sitting and leaning and finally his talking too. Stripped it all away. I heard about him, though he was but a few miles away from me. I wanted to go see him, I really did. Those times that we talked about theory and motivation and symptomatology and drank beer and cracked jokes and laughed came to the surface of my brain like a great whale coming up for a glorious gulp of briny air, way out to sea. I did not go see him. I could not. I was afraid. Of what? His mortality. My mortality. Death in its second most personal form, when it takes someone you know or love. Knowing that when they go and you stay, you become them. You move up the ladder toward your own demise, closer to death than birth, rolling the dice every day. No excuses. There are none that hold water. I am ashamed. But, truth. I was afraid. I will feel guilty for letting my mentor down for the rest of my life.

So, when it’s my turn to die, come see me.

 

When it’s my turn to die, tell stories.

I love stories. You know that if you know me at all. I love to read them, I love to hear them, I love to write them and I love to tell them. Stories are life. If anything is worth anything, there is a story about it that deserves to be heard. Come into the room where I am, even if it is hard for you, come into the room on Sandburg’s little cat feet if you must, find a chair, sit knee to knee with the person there with you and tell stories. I will hear you, and I will be happier as I face death. You may not know that I hear you, I may not be able to physically show you that I hear you, but trust me, I will hear you. Tell stories of naughty things done, things left undone (yes, I am likely to still be an Episcopalian at the time of my demise) triumphs, tragedies, conquests and even failures that taught you a lesson (see paragraph one, above). Let my home-going be the homecoming for your focused thoughts about your own life and times, the things that make your story yours. It would make me so happy to know that the last things I heard, even if I was too far away from this physical world that I was not entirely aware of it, were the stories that were told by my friends and family in the room where they came to see me at the last.

When it’s my turn to die, tell stories.

 

When it’s my turn to die, be pragmatic.

Look, this is it, okay? This is what’s going to take me out of this world and allow me to discover the next. I may have seen it coming, I may not have. Either way, it’s time. I’m good with that and you should be too! I have had a fabulous life. I have had wonderful relationships, I have great children and grandchildren to leave in charge of things here, I have worked at jobs and vocations that I loved, I have traveled the world, I have climbed mountains and I have cheated death. (Just not this time.) Look at me over there, across the room. I am breathing hard, but after all, if I have been lucky, I  have taken more than seven hundred million breaths in my lifetime. What are sixteen more, a hundred more, five hundred more? My poor tired heart has beaten almost three billion times. It has loved fiercely, but it is ready to rest. Mourn for me, yes, please. Shed a few tears. Tell those stories. Reminisce. Celebrate my life and how it intersected with yours. But then, please, please be kind, and let me go. It’s time.

When it’s my turn to die, be pragmatic.

 

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Covidisms: Thoughts on Death

I did something last evening that I have never done before. I wrote a serious and heartfelt email to the New York Times and those who make the podcast The Daily, one of my favorite ways to start each day. This podcast has a way of finding and telling stories that get to the heart of what we are all experiencing in the midst of our lives, especially in these days of pandemic and racial strife and economic crisis. There have been many episodes of The Daily that have been poignant, thought provoking and moving, but two of the most recent ones from this past week hit me hard. I would like to share the end of the email that I wrote before I go further with this post:

The episode revisiting the situation in Bergamo, Italy, through the wise, thoughtful and emotional perspective of Dr. Fabiano Di Marco hit home. I lived in Italy for two years as a teen and my wife and I had planned a trip back to Rome and Florence in April, my first trip back to the country in fifty years. Of course, it did not happen. I felt a deep sense of sadness for the Italian people and the medical staff members who are trying to serve in the face of this pandemic.

Today’s episode about the grief felt by little Tilly for her grandfather hit me even harder. I am a grandfather of six kids, five in Chattanooga and one in Denver. I have not been able to see them for what feels like years, except by FaceTime calls. We are planning a driving trip out to Denver and back in late September, because I am not excited about getting back on planes, but we need to reconnect with our family and friends in other parts of the country. Hearing Tilly talk about her grandfather, coupled with the recent losses of one of our long time mental health center employees and another counselor whose clinic I used to consult with, made me very much aware that I could be that grandfather or that employee who contracts this virus and does not make it through the ordeal.

Your stories are powerful. For someone like me, who tries very hard to deal with the emotions by blogging, journaling, taking long hard bike rides or keeping up with the political craziness all around us, they force us to stop, to listen, and most of all, to feel. Ironic, isn’t it, that a psychiatrist would have a hard time feeling. Of course, the feelings are there, and when they are released by storytelling  and powerful emotions that you bring to life, the intensity of it all is almost too much to bear. It is so necessary though, and I know that full well.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, for getting the information out there, for telling the stories in such compelling ways, and for making us think, process, and feel. Yours is one of the first podcasts I listen to every day, and the ideas that come from it are some of the last ones I think about when I go to sleep at night. I appreciate what each one of you do. Please keep up the excellent work, knowing that we hear it, and we need it.

I wanted to express my thanks to the makers of this show because they provide a way for me to stay in touch with some very profound feelings during this time that I had simply rather not have. I feel frustration, I feel anger, I feel loss and grief, I feel elation, I feel dullness and boredom, I feel indignation, I feel sorrow, I feel pity, and I feel fear.

As I have mentioned in blog posts earlier this year and in followups afterwards, I will be sixty three years old on October 24th this year, God willing. At that point, I will have lived longer than my father, who died suddenly at age sixty two of a devastating brain aneurysm and cranial bleed. I never had much doubt that I would easily reach that point and that age, given the fact that I try to eat right, I exercise, I am trying to keep my weight and blood sugar and cholesterol and blood pressure down. All the right things that one must do to live a long life, barring catastrophe. I have been holding my figurative breath all the same, knowing that when I reach that milestone I will have a good cry, say a few words of thanks to my dad that I hope he can hear and go about the task of living productively until my sixty fourth birthday.

All of that held true until March of this year. Until the coronavirus upended all our lives, changed our daily routines, changed how and where we work, who we see, how we eat, how we travel, how we worship and how we connect with others. I have done what you have done, tried my best to make good decisions, protect myself and my wife from harm, continued my work to care for my patients the best I can given the circumstances, and kept my cool, for the most part. We have personally been so very blessedly insulated from the ravages of this plague. As far as I know, no one in my family has contracted this virus, no one I work with has had it, and only a few of my patients have, most of them doing well in spite of having the illness.

In the last couple of months, one of our long term mental health center employees, someone who was there when I started working in the center almost twenty nine years ago, contracted the virus and died. He left behind a wife and young son. A pharmacist friend of mine, who visited our offices every month to inspect our medication areas before her retirement, has just been released after a ten day stay with COVID-19. A counselor who once had a family clinic that I did medical consultation with in the early nineties recently contracted the virus, got very ill very fast, refused to be placed on a ventilator, and died quickly of COVID-19. The disease is starting to hit home.

I grieve these losses and setbacks for various reasons. I feel so badly for the families and loved ones of those who pass on. I rejoice over the victories of those who get infected but make it, all the while fretting over what long term consequences they may have to endure. I am sad that when someone like my counselor friend dies, not only because her life was most likely cut significantly short due to this illness, but because her death reminds me starkly that mine is coming too. She and I shared a slice of time, a set of circumstances, a place to talk and work, and a shared cause of promoting good mental health for the people we treated almost three decades ago. I sincerely hope that the work we have done together and that I continue to do goes on, but I am made painfully aware that we will not. We will end.

I do not fear death so much as I am not ready for it. Like everyone else, I am sure in my own feeble mind that this illness, this worst illness of its kind in the last hundred years, is not going to be the way that I will leave this life. It is not aiming for me. I will live a long life and become a grump old man who still likes to read and write and fish and take pictures and take walks by the river. Or will I? The uncertainty of these times is the biggest stress of all.

In watching this pandemic and how it is affecting all of us, I am reminded of a few basic things that we must attend to each and every day, as if it was going to be our last. Things that tend to shine through and demand our attention when someone dies and passes on, leaving their legacies.

  1. Relationships are important. Make them. Enjoy them. Nurture them. Attend to them. Water them like flowers in your summer garden and watch them bloom and dazzle with bright color.
  2. Find something that you are passionate about, and throw yourself at it with fury. Write. Paint. Play music. Heal. Preach. Teach. Mentor. Parent.
  3. Put others above yourself. Whether this viral illness is your ticket off this planet or something else gets you down the road, you will inevitably leave others behind. They, like little Tilly on The Daily podcast, will remember you. They will remember what you said, what you did, what you taught them, but most importantly, how you made them feel.
  4. As the recently departed John Lewis of Georgia said, get into trouble. Get into good trouble. Do the right thing because it IS the right thing. Do not waiver in your resolve to do this, because it is important.
  5. Know above all else that your reason for being here on this earth is not to glorify yourself, embellish yourself, surround yourself with riches and accolades and awards, and make yourself the center of the universe. (You are most assuredly not.) Your mission, your assignment, your reason for being is to do all you can, everything you can, in every way you can, with everything you have at your disposal, to make the lives of those around you, those less fortunate, those who are downtrodden and oppressed and neglected and forgotten, those who the world despises, BETTER. You have the power and the obligation to do that. If you do, if you truly do, then at the appointed hour you can meet death, smile, close your eyes and know that your time here has been well spent.

Stay safe, do the right thing, and live long, friends.

D Day +1 +1

D Day has come and gone once again, and we have remembered. It is a time to look forward as well as backward, as I wrote about this morning on my other blog, Musings.

I have another personal anniversary that I do not celebrate every year, but I do pause to remember and honor. My father died one year and one day after the fiftieth anniversary of D Day. Now, you might think this is an odd way to remember the date of your father’s death, but I love history, and the two just sort of go hand in hand for me.

My dad was sixty two when he died of a sudden cerebral aneurysm. He would have been sixty three on July 30th, had he lived. As I have previously written, I will celebrate my sixty second birthday this October 24th. Lord willing.

This year will prove to be a challenging one for me emotionally. It is hard to explain what it feels like to outlive one’s parent. (Again, I am being very optimistic and taking liberties here, assuming that I will!) I remember vividly seeing my grandmother sitting down at the funeral home at my dad’s service, making the statement that it was very unnatural to outlive one’s own child. There is a natural order to the world and to the greater universe that we all take for granted. You are born, you live, you may be blessed with children and grandchildren, you teach them to care for themselves and the planet, and then one day you make your exit in good time, as it should be. None of us, so far, has escaped that ultimate fate.

I fully expected to see my parents live to ripe old ages, well into their nineties and beyond. My mother is still working on that, thank God. She will be eighty four next month, and she is a young octogenarian at that! My father’s fate was different. He was cut down by a physical abnormality that no one saw coming, at a very early age. He had just retired, was trying to do other things to stay active and busy and was trying to find a “new groove”. It was not fair, of course, but what about life is, really?

I am happy, busy, working, writing, reading, hiking, traveling, driving, visiting with family and friends, planning vacations (Japan in October!) and assuming that life will go on, if not forever, then for a few decades to come. My wife adamantly and confidently predicts, no, commands, that I will live until I am ninety six. She also commands that she will exit this life first, but I think we both know that the odds of that are slim to none. I am reminded of that scene in the John Adams miniseries when President Adams is at his wife’s bedside in her last moments. “I can’t believe I am going first”, she says, resigned to the fact that she will leave her husband, who loved her dearly, behind.

I do not want to merely be somber and sad as I think on these things in this space in the coming year. No, I am realistic as I grow older, but I am also wishing with all my might that I might have the thirty four more years that my dear wife promises me (maybe she has God’s ear or some other inside track not known to me?) so that I can love her, my children and grandchildren and this life that I have been blessed with with all my heart and soul and mind and body.

Yes, that is the goal, my friends.

To live long, if that is possible.

To live and love well, as long as one is given to do so.

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. 

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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.