“The cemeteries are full of indispensable people.”
A few years ago, I had an experience that resulted into the beginning of a memoir of sorts entitled Tink: An Epic. It started when I took a road trip to Los Angeles to visit my brother. I stayed in a hotel adjacent to the back of my brother’s apartment complex. One morning, I experienced an incident that prompted me to write the following:
Imagine a fish out of water. Now, imagine you are that fish. Panning out, you as fish are flopped on a king-size bed in a Comfort Inn on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood California. Less than ten feet away is a closed door. Less than 10 feet from that door is the locked hatchback of a 2007 Tangerine Pearl PT Cruiser Touring Edition with indestructible seats and a beige interior. It just barely registers on the LA auto cool scale. Behind the locked hatchback is an ocean of air consisting of an LV30 tank of liquid oxygen and four or five standard E-cylinders. You delude yourself that you have options. You can (a) flop off the bed, somehow open the door, flop to the back of the car, somehow unlock it, thrust a cannula up your nose and turn the liquid tank dial to 4. If that were really an option, you’d’ve already done it and not found yourself in this predicament. So, you move onto (b). You have enough consciousness left to know you still hold onto your cell phone, try John again? He said he kept his phone on vibrate, but maybe not at night. He hadn’t answered a minute ago. Option (c), then. 911. Option (b) one more time before consigning your fate to the municipality of LA. Send. Send. He answers! “Come!” . . . “Now.” And then the wait. Can you wait? Breathe. Breathe. But this atmosphere is only 7% oxygen. Not nearly enough for lungs reduced to 15% function, with airwaves full of mucous obstructions, inflamed by LA pollution, narrowed with panic. Breathe. The Calvary arrives. “Get [housekeeping] to open the door.” Success! No, unbelievably, inevitably, stupidly I’d flipped the hinged-lock over. I would have to move, after all. Lunge and the door opens. Somehow the car key gets handed off. Get a tank. Take off the paper wrapper covering the fittings. Regulator off the empty tank. Onto the new tank. Set it in. Turn it on. No! Precious molecules gushing out the sides. Unscrew, reset, screw. Turn. On. Click around to 4. Grab a cannula. Put in nose. Breathe. Breathe. 4 liters of 100 percent oxygen each minute. Yes. Gasp. “We did it!” Gasp. “You did it!” Praise. Praise for the brother, so often incapable of performing the most basic technical or mechanical task. “Never tell Darcy. You, we must never tell Darcy.”
And how, you may be wondering, did little fish find herself in such dire straits at the Comfort Inn that morning?
At that point, I realized I had the start of an epic. It began in medias res, and presented a question that would take some spacetime to explore and eventually answer.
On the drive out to L.A., I listened to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. I realize most of you probably know the process Kerouac went through to write his road trip experiences. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the story, in brief, he loaded a blank 120-foot roll of tracing paper into a typewriter set up in his Manhattan kitchen. Dubbed “The Scroll,” he sat and typed virtually nonstop for three weeks. The finished product was a single-spaced document without margins or paragraph breaks. [A tour of The Scroll in 2007 included a stop at the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe. I have no idea how I missed that.] Over the next few years, with a lot of help from his friends, the scroll became the novel On the Road.
I decided I would create a virtual scroll on my computer where I would record in no particular order the life experiences that had forged the bond among we few, we happy siblings, Big Brother John, Middle Me, and Baby Sister Mary Beth. I managed to write a few thousand words over the course of perhaps a month, and then an insidious event occurred that would sabotage almost everything in my life. I subscribed to World of Warcraft and became mired in the realms of Azeroth, et.al for years, yes, years. It has only been in the last few weeks that I have managed to abandon my beloved avatars. In large part, I credit George R.R. Martin’s saga The Song of Ice and Fire. I read all five volumes seriatim, only taking time to sleep and maintain my Facebook pages.
During those lost years, I had also forsaken my novel The First Voice. Sporadic attempts to make progress ended badly. I didn’t suffer from writer’s block. Instead, I realized I was a writer who hated to write. Moreover, I had so much other “stuff” floating around in my brain that I couldn’t stay focused on Voice. I returned to the notion of the virtual scroll. I decided to put the original project on hold and start a new scroll where I would empty my brain and make room for Voice. And so I purchased a “typewriter” in the form of an 11.6 inch MacBook Air that is dedicated almost exclusively to creating this new scroll. I loaded Word, opened a new document, chose – what else – the “American Typewriter” font, and here I am.
I envision this scroll to be a record of what has brought me to this point in the present in one multiverse, as opposed to what brought my brother and I to the earlier point described in the first scroll. [As an aside: recall that all points in a circle are equidistant from its center.]
For those of you who don’t know, my brother was brutally murdered in a road rage incident in L.A. in the early morning hours of November 23, 2008. I still haven’t reached a point where I can write about him. Shortly after his death, I did compose a Walking Raven post entitled Two Flutes and One to Wail for those of you who would like to know more.
At this juncture, I intend to focus on “stuff” that I will publish intermittently in the form of Walking Raven entries.
Long ago, I asked my buddy mjh to set up www.walkingraven.com. In part to jump-start a sustained effort to write Voice. I am hoping that writing this scroll will help me return to it, even though if I’ve learned anything from my Facebook experience, it is that attempts at “social-networking” serve more as reminders, we are all pretty much isolated voices crying in the wilderness.
previous post: Testimonial
During my visit to the transplant center last October, certain symptoms led my team to consider the possibility my new left lung might be in the early stages of my first bout of chronic rejection. Contemplation of my mortality kept me sleepless into the wee hours of the morning for many nights to come until I had my 2nd annual in-depth examination in December, and everything appeared to be as good as could be expected.
I have lived with thoughts of death for many years. My mother died of breast cancer when she was 42. I was 15. We three siblings were quick learners. Good or bad, I think each of us took away from her death a “why bother?” attitude. I finally lived beyond her death age. Maybe I was going to live for a while after all. Not very long thereafter, I was diagnosed with severe COPD.
One thing is certain, our mother was seriously depressed, and we her children were too. I don’t exactly know when my brother started taking anti-depressants, but it changed his life and the lives of those around him. My brother suffered many symptoms of OCD. He was, well, rigid. Prozac made him much easier to live with. I can remember vividly the epiphanic moment when I realized just what an effect it had on him. It was during one of my visits to see him in Manhattan. We had left the apartment and were walking on 14th to the Subway station to catch a Westside train. At some point he looked down at his feet and realized he was not wearing the shoes he had planned to wear. I steeled myself, awaiting the temper tantrum that was sure to come as he turned us around and began stomping back to his apartment to retrieve the correct shoes. Imagine my surprise when he merely shrugged, remarked, “It’s a Prozac day,” and kept walking.
Shortly after I returned from Manhattan, I went to my doctor and obtained a prescription for Prozac. It’s hard to explain the difference antidepressants make. The change is relatively subtle. But one day, as a friend explained, you’ll be parked at a red light and out of the blue you’ll hear an inner voice remark, “I love my life.” And that’s exactly what happened. I realized that despite everything, I have had a most excellent life.
In other words, aside from that, for the most part, I’ve truly enjoyed the play.next post: Write My Novel — Please
previous post: Just in Time for the State of the Union
1:30 a.m., Sunday, September 08, 2002
I went to bed at around midnight, but I am having my second bout with anxiety in as many nights. Tonight I was able to nod off downstairs, but when I tried to return to bed upstairs, the churning of my stomach made it impossible to sleep. Anxiety. How to describe it? An intense sensation on the left side of my solar plexus. That is where I always feel anxious. On the left side of my gut. Like memory, it too is a ball. It is in constant motion. It pulses like a lighthouse beacon, on, off, on, off, on, off. “Beat” is wrong. “Pulse” is right.
I want to be asleep. My heart hurts. It is “pleuritic.” At some point when I threw up, I must have caused some bit of cartilage to pull away from the rib cage and from around my heart. I also think my heart is surrounded by a thick, sticky mucous. At least that’s what it feels like. It hurts. I cannot feel the beat. I only feel the pulse of anxiety. That pulse, not the other. So, the heartbeat is the pulse. But anxiety is a pulse, not a beat. The heartbeat is usually not intense enough to be a pulse. If it gets too bad, the heart pounds. Yes, “pounds” works for the pulsating anxiety, too. Pounding anxiety. So, I cannot feel my heart. I feel my anxiety.
What’s the worst that could happen? I am in no danger tonight of one of my fragile lungs popping and collapsing. I am only in danger of a sleepless night. And that not much of a danger. I have not had many sleepless nights, and never an involuntary one caused by anxiety.
Water drunk after chewing Winterfresh gum leaves an aftertaste like marzipan.
The anxiety may be abating. A game or two, and then to sleep, to dream, perchance to dream, aye there’s the rub. Hamlet didn’t want to lose himself either. I want to keep dreaming. But I also want to keep waking up.
p.s. Anxiety dissolves; anger dissipates.next post: Testimonial
previous post: Prednisone Rant, Sort of
Just wanted you to know I’ve been on prednisone for a few days now and ran out of my generic Paxil last week. Don’t worry, I’m just waiting on a refill of the Paxil. My ribs hurt. Either because I’ve been coughing so much, so hard, or my lungs are trying to expand out of my chest. And, I don’t mean to be a drama queen, but sometimes it gets a little scary. [Note: And I wasn’t being a drama queen; I spent the day after I wrote what you have just read at the emergency room on the urging of my wonderful Nurse Jane and the EMTs and orders of Dr. Bro relayed via Nurse David. A kick-ass steroid and a couple antibiotic IVs have hopefully gotten my infection under control, but the gang at Presbyterian gave me an open invitation to come back anytime this weekend should the need arise.] As a result, I’m a little cranky, and possibly a tiny bit manic. Something to keep in mind as you read the below.
Some of you know I’ve been spending the last couple weeks writing a post whose working title is “Mother of All Blog Entries” in between fighting my massive addiction to that massively multiplayer online game (“MMOG”) World of Warcraft (“WOW”)with The Burning Crusade extension — me and 10 to 11 million other monthly subscription players worldwide. (I used to have a postcard on my bulletin board that read “400,000 heroin addicts can’t be all wrong.” I suppose on some level that remains to be seen, but I’m more or less betting it doesn’t really matter one way or the other in the; i.e., my, “grand scheme of things.” [And for those of you who just rolled your eyes, clichÃ©s are hardwired into my DNA, so deal. Besides, when you think about it, they are an excellent “common-denominator” communication device even though I know many of you would begin that phrase with the word “lowest.” In this case, untrue. The qualifier “at the end of the day,” is the lowest common-denominator for communicating the particular sentiment expressed above. I suppose I could have said, “in the grand scheme of Indra’s Net.” Show of hands, how many of you have I lost with what some might consider an obscure reference? How many of you just think I’m being affected? How many prefer “in the long run?” Okay, enough.]
Yesterday, I had the following early morning Instant Message (“IM”) exchange with one of my most preferred human s (“ph”) who will know who s/he is when s/he reads it:
Me (6:41:58 AM): [M]aybe the Matrix [movie] is right. [W]e play video games to manufacture energy for [the inhabitants of] another universe and they decided to at least make it pleasant for us.
ph[d](6:42:51 AM): [O]r maybe you’re just using it to keep away from your own real feelings and to keep from interacting with other living human beings[.]
Me (6:43:28 AM): [N]o, [I]‘m following the natural law of physics. [A]ll things being equal, [an object will follow] the path of least resistance. . . .
Me (6:44:39 AM): [I]t’s easier to play WOW than read. [I]it’s easier to read than write.
Some of you may have had encountered me in the throes of my initial infatuation with WOW. I confess. I was rude. I kept playing while we talked, and for that I apologize. That said, the idea I am playing WOW to avoid feeling or interacting with other humans is, at least in my reality, (almost) ironic. “Almost,” because, as I stated in an earlier entry on this same subject, I am an off-the-chart introvert. See December 8, 2007 Entry. [And speaking of irony, I note I posted that entry on the third day of a prednisone burst.] Perhaps in the minds of those of you who read my earlier entry, you misunderstood me, thinking I meant I really didn’t want to talk to any of you. If so, that was a failure to communicate on my part. [And a “shout out” to another buddy who, after reading my earlier post was prompted to call me on Skype to have voice contact rather than send an email while traveling outside the country.] [See, I’m watching the Democratic Convention. A new meme, “shout out,” has gone national. Thanks, Barack.][Okay, show of hands, now how many of you have I lost? Screw it, I’m just going to write, and let the chips fall where they may.] [Oops, there I go again.]
Before our friend Myra died, she and Darcy would periodically call each other and talk for seemingly hours. When asked later what they had talked about, Darcy would invariably answer, “Green grapes,” her metaphor for the everyday stuff, places gone and people seen. She came up with the expression after seeing the following New Yorker cartoon:
The caption reads: “On my way home today on the bus, a lone grape rolled down the aisle and came to rest near my feet. It was pale green and looked to be of the seedless variety.”
Unlike Darcy and Myra, I am Green grapes-impaired. When I was practicing law I consciously had to remind myself to begin a telephone conversation with “Hi, how are you? How are the spouse, pets, kids?” Often though, I would screw up and just dive right into the business at hand. I think I got better over the years, but if I’m in a social situation with a lot of people I don’t know, I still have trouble coming up with things to talk about. So, for me, food and the weather, not so much. Movies and books, better, much better. Discussions about a subject du jour, free will, predestination, the nature of karma, the Islamic version of the second coming of Christ, the meaning of life, the fear (or not) of death. Even better.
I’ll also confess to being empathy-impaired. I was fascinated to learn, well into my 20s, that some people, when they tell me, for example, “I have a headache,” don’t want to hear “Well, have you taken aspirin? Do you need to call the doctor?” More often than not, they don’t want the perceived problem solved, they just want me to acknowledge their pain or frustration or whatever. I still tend to miss those signals, but learning, and employing, the expression, “Poor, baby,” when I think of it has been invaluable.
For the record, though, I am still, and will always be, a recovering attorney. I do like to argue, and I like to win. Perhaps the least understood aspect of the practice of law is that law is based on the precept that one side wins and one side loses. Ultimately, a decision must be made. Good attorneys, and I was a good attorney, must find the winning argument, based on the facts and the law, no matter which side one takes. That’s why so many attorneys invariably preface any answer to a question with the infuriating quip, “It depends.” That’s because law, like physics, adheres to the special principle of relativity; i.e., before one can apply the law, one must create an inert situation by establishing the facts. Juries are known as fact-finders. Judges are the law-givers.
Here’s a classic law school illustration: 99 nuns swear under oath the light was red. A witness, known by the jury to have previously been incarcerated for committing perjury and to have been paid a large sum of money by the present defendant to testify the light was green, swears under oath the light was green. If the jury believes the perjurer, well, the light was green. And it’s the attorney who is charged with the task on behalf of his client, the defendant, to convince the jury to believe the perjurer. [Show of hands, how many of you have just thought, "If the gloves don't fit, you must acquit?"]
I hope the above somewhat explains the overzealousness I sometimes exhibit over something that really doesn’t matter, oh, let’s use “in the long run,” this time. On another day, I might agree with your position or decide it’s not worth fighting over. But for today, it’s the hunt. The smell of fear and blood. (My fear, my blood, too, remember.) So cut me a deal and don’t take things so personally, okay?
There are other times though I would like to have what could be characterized as a serious discussion. To experience the intimacy of communication and understanding. And it’s those times I regret my adversarial ways because well, these ways get in the way. Perhaps my major regret in this life is to have done (and still do) whatever it is that prevents this level of communication. So, there you have it.
I don’t get out much anymore and planned events get cancelled for health reasons as often, if not more often, as they happen, but if you’re ever in the neighborhood feel free to come on by. No pressure. Be it for green grapes, debate, or to climb into Kerouac’s bathtub (metaphorically speaking, and fully clothed, of course), you’ll be welcome. I’ll even try to remember my manners, and at some point ask if you want something to drink. But if you don’t want to wait for that to happen, please feel free to wander into the kitchen and help yourself.next post: Beware of Tricksters
previous post: Quiz
When at first I quit smoking, that is to say, when I first quit smoking. I did so with the assistance of the 21 mg NicoDermCQÂ® transdermal patch, one of which I wore 24/7. For weeks I had wild, vibrant nicotine dreams. Since I smoked until I had holes in my lungs where alveoli once existed (those little tiny cilia weren’t simply counterfeiting death), every few months I experience an exacerbatory episode that I treat with antibiotics and a prednisone burst. When this occurs, instead of nicotine dreams, I often awaken in the early morning hours and have wild, vibrant prednisone thoughts. Those of you who have perused this blog in the past may recall reading posts recorded even as these thoughts were occurring in my relative spacetime. This night, though, I managed to go back to sleep. (Actually I’m going on my third morning after the night thoughts before.) Thus I write this post, self-consciously, after the fact. How much of the original experience I decide to memorialize with my shame-monitor firmly in place remains to be seen.
Previous readers also know that I’m writing, in fits and starts, a novel entitled The First Voice. Yesterday marked another start. I’m presently writing Chapter 15 wherein I explain sapience, using, in part, the story of Adam and Eve. Wanting my account of the Edenic events accurately to reflect the episode as set forth in the Bible, specifically, Genesis, Chapter 3, verses 1 to 7, I reread said same. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) tells us Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because it was “good for food, and a delight for the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise.” Genesis 3:6. Sapient means “wise or learned.” So far, so good. When I read the second half of verse 6, however, my brain stopped. “[A]nd she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her. Id.(Emphasis added.) Huh? I said to myself. There it was, clear and unambiguous: Who was with her. Well, I admit it. Adam in attendance at the scene during the encounter with Satan was news to me. How had I missed it all this time? At first, I thought perhaps that part of the verse had been added to the NRSV in its attempt for better accuracy in the translation. But no. I checked the King James’ Version (KJV). There it was, Eve ate the fruit and then “gave also unto her husband with her.” Id. (KJV). I checked the wording in all the Biblical translations included in my 8.0.4 version of Quick Verse, my Travel-Size Edition of the Torah and Commentary, and David Rosenberg’s translation of The Book o f J, considered to be the origin of the Hebrew Bible. Only the Torah and a translation called The Message: the Bible in Contemporary Language leave room for a different interpretation of Adam’s whereabouts. These two versions provide that Eve ate and then also gave some of the fruit “to her husband, and he ate,” without specifying whether the two events occurred contemporaneously. What difference does it make? I leave that explanation to Elfredge, Johanna, and Michael in Chapter 15.
This blog entry is about my realization last night (x3) that when I first finally read the last half of Genesis, Chapter 3, Verse 6, I really, really wanted to talk to someone about my discovery and its implications. I ran it by my friends and family, most of whom agreed that yes, how interesting. They too had missed that the Bible put Adam at the scene, but nobody much shared my enthusiasm – well enthusiasm is somewhat understated, make that my shock and awe. In researching and writing Voice, I have had several similar moments of illumination over the years. Indeed, much in my life causes such moments. And when they happen, half-formed thoughts shoot around in my brain. More often than not, these thoughts remain incomplete, elusive. Some may make it as far as a cryptic note in a computer file entitled “Writing Ideas” — my current enigma being , “I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today (Faustian overtones).” No idea. Zip. Zero. Zilch. I’ve parlayed other thoughts into blog entries. But most fall back into the depths of the collective unconsciousness. It’s simply not worth the effort to articulate them to/for myself.
I may think, therefore I am, but I articulate because you am. See March 16, 2006 Post. At least I endeavor to articulate; i.e., express thoughts, ideas, or feelings coherently. I endeavor to articulate these thoughts because, like it or not, I need, I want, to communicate with you, my fellow human beings. There, I said it. I am not, after all, a rock. Queue Sounds of Silence, Track 11. Whether the preceding few sentences (and the next few anticipated sentences) make it into the blog remains to be seen, as I can feel my heart rate increase and the shame-flush spread. I am a card carrying, off-the-chart introvert, and these cravings I’ve been experiencing over the last few years for what I will call meaningful communication, in any of its many forms, are rather disconcerting, and frustrating. I recognize some of the frustrating part is a byproduct of my illness. I read somewhere that emphysema is called the “sitting disease” because exertion of almost any sort, well, just takes the wind right out of ya’. It’s damn hard for me to get to the coffee these days, much less out the door. Moreover, especially this time of year, germs are not my friends, so limiting live contact is wise. Besides, cravings aside, I really am an off-the-chart introvert. If I really think about it, I (mostly) do “want to be alone,” so I suppose I may be venturing into the area of “be careful for that which you wish.”
Notwithstanding, each of us may be here for different reasons, but I believe one of, perhaps even, the core reasons we are here in the human realm is to take time to engage in meaningful communication, verbal and nonverbal, with one another. Obviously, there are degrees of interaction ranging from the txt msg: “how ru?/Good u?” to On the Road’s Dean Moriarty a/k/a Neal Cassady sit ting in the bathtub with Sal a/k/a Jack knee to knee and eye to eye and talking until there isn’t anything left to say, in a word, grokking, to borrow a term from Stranger in a Strange Land.
So when does communication make the change from the quantitative state of cleaning out the email box while listening to the now elderly remaining parental unit advise as to the weather conditions, food consumed during the week, and which second cousin twice removed finally crossed BifrÃ¶st to the qualitative state of a meaningful exchange of ideas and emotions between two or more human beings?
My Buddhist buddies use a couple terms that speak to this question. They talk about being “mindful” and living with “intention.” To me, “mindful” means keeping my mind in the present instead of letting it think about past events or plan future ones. My concept of living with intention may be a bit simplistic, but essentially, it means paying attention to what I am doing at any given moment. My friends and family often remind me it is good if I can remember to drive with intention. Clients or witnesses being prepped for depositions are admonished to “answer the question that is asked,” rather than respond as if they were asked the question they, in their eminent wisdom and with their uncanny telepathic ability, just know opposing counsel really meant to ask them. Simple experiment: Ask folks, “do you have a watch?” and see how many respond “yes,” or “no,” as opposed to those who tell you what time it is.
By extension, to answer the question, one must hear the question. Accordingly, and as important, if not more important, one must listen mindfully and with intention. Meaningful communication is a two-way street (or in a group, a multi-lane freeway). Why should I expect my friends and family listen to my subject du jour if I fail to accord them the same honor? And here, three nights ago, to bring this full circle, my prednisone charged brain reminded me, I have been remiss. How many times has someone tried to speak to me about a subject, and I have either taken steps to peremptorily dismiss it and move onto my preferred agenda, or locked onto a buzz word and used the time the other continues to speak to formulate a response that will take the subject in my preferred direction? Well, no more. I will endeavor hence forward to remain mindful and listen to you with intention.next post: Happy Bloomsday
previous post: Jesus Camp
The other night, I watched the documentary, Jesus Camp. Doing so prompted me to rework a letter I sent to one of my relatives a while back into this blog post, as follows:
My emphysema has progressed to a point where I pretty much spend my time hanging out in an area of the house I have dubbed “Walking Raven Central.” See November 23, 2005 Post. At present, my lung function is somewhere in the neighborhood of 14%. I’ve probably been in what used to be called “end-stage” emphysema (lung function below 30%) for nearly 10 years, and I’ve come across at least one site that puts the 10 year mortality rate for folks with my numbers at 95%, so I guess I truly am lucky to be alive. My primary goal in life is to avoid germs, as it’s possible the next full blown “exacerbation” (translate, upper respiratory infection) or, for that matter, a little tiny mucus “plug” — I just flashed on Gilda Radner as Rosanna Dana Dana — in the wrong place will kill me. I have been cleared for a bilateral sequential lung transplant (one surgery, one donor, two lungs) at the University of Minnesota/Fairview, but that comes with it own fairly dismal set of statistics. Even so, I hope to be around a few more years.
These days I get up somewhere around 7:00. Since 9-11, I’ve made it a point to catch the news first thing to see if there’s anything terribly amiss with the world. When I turn on the TV, I start out at Channel 2 (FOX), when, more often than not, I’m just in time to catch the segment of the 700 Club where Pat Robertson (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) holds hands with a female prayer partner as the two of them with closed eyes and bowed heads take turns identifying various members of the viewing audience who are experiencing instantaneous, and what I’ve heard at least one of them refer to as “supernatural,” healing as a direct result of the prayers being offered by the two of them.
One particular show was especially poignant for me. At one point with eyes closed, Robertson declared that someone out there suffering from emphysema had just coughed and been miraculously healed. Sadly — although I suppose some would say understandably — I was not the recipient of God’s grace. Just to make sure, though, I took a walk to the refrigerator to refill my coffee cup and returned to my chair. Nope. It still took several minutes to recover and regulate my breathing. So now I get to await the day when I tune in to find Mr. Robertson sitting with the individual who claims s/he had been the individual suffering from emphysema and had been the target of God’s grace, compliments of Mr. Robertson and the power of prayer.
If so, s/he had been misdiagnosed in the first place. Emphysema is a progressive disease for which there is no cure. My alveoli have died. I literally have holes in my lungs where the alveoli used to be, and there is no way that they will ever regenerate. Nothing will make my condition better. I will only continue to deteriorate. The only treatment (except for a procedure called lung volume reduction surgery for which I am not a candidate) is a lung transplant. Otherwise, one day I will lapse into respiratory failure and die.
There is some promise that if scientists are permitted to conduct stem cell research with a sufficient number of diverse samples that they could learn how to grow new lungs for me using my own stem cells and so take away the risk of rejection of the donor lungs or even perhaps repair the ones I have now simply by injecting cells into my lungs and letting them take off. I think we all have a pretty good idea of where Mr. Robertson and his followers stand on this subject.
But enough about that. Today I mostly want to address this issue of Faith Healing. Let me see if I’ve got it right. God has the power, through Jesus, to heal any and all. I won’t be healed because I don’t happen to believe that it’s true. And in order to be healed an individual has to have faith at least “the size of a mustard seed,” which, as we all know from listening to any number of Sunday sermons on the subject, is not very much faith at all. Matthew 17:20. My faith, if only I had it, could “make me whole.” Matthew 9:22. I just need to believe. Mathew 9:29. Oh, but wait! Jesus heals the Centurion’s servant (Matthew 8) (another favorite Sunday sermon topic) because of the Centurion’s faith. So, even if I don’t have sufficient faith, if somebody else out there has enough faith, well, that works too.
So, what is wrong with this picture? Let me tell you. I know any number of people whose faith greatly exceeds the size of a mustard seed. And I can think of no reason any one of them would refuse to ask God to heal me. In fact, I know of several who are doing just that. (And please, if you’re reading this, don’t stop. Positive energy released into the universe is positive energy released into the universe.) Well then, what about me might trump their faith such that God says “No” to any prayers for my healing?
We all know God works in mysterious ways, so I suppose He could be punishing me for desecrating my body (His temple) by smoking all those years. But if that’s the case, why heal some ex-smokers and not others? Perhaps He’s testing me. Like Job. Well, if you want to play the Job-card to explain why bad things happen to good people (because on balance, I’m good people) – at least put it in context.
Right there in black and white the Bible tells us the suffering of Job resulted from a wager between God and Satan. Job 1, 2. In brief, God sees Satan walking around heaven and says, “Hey, where ya’ been?” And Satan answers he’s been hanging out on earth. So God asks him if he happened to see his good and faithful servant Job. And Satan says, “Sure God, I’ve seen him, and of course he’s good and faithful, he doesn’t have a care in the world. But I bet if enough misery and grief were heaped upon him, he would curse you to thy face.” And God says to Satan, “You’re on!” And then God doesn’t even have the decency to administer this test of faith himself. Instead he tells Satan he can do anything he wants to shake Job’s faith, except to kill him. That does not, however, preclude Satan from killing Job’s seven sons and three daughters all in a day’s time – well, they were mere chattel anyway and easily replaced once the testing was over and the wager won.
Come to think of it though, I guess I would prefer to tell a kid (just like the kid I was once upon a time) that it’s on account of a bet between God and Satan that her mother had to endure the agonizing ordeal of breast cancer and death at the age of 42. I sure wouldn’t want to be the one to tell her it’s because, well, unfortunately, she lacks, and all those around her also lack, faith the size of a mustard seed. But you don’t even have to tell her. She can read. She listens to the sermons on Sunday morning. She knows what she has to do. And so she prays desperately night after night asking God to recognize her complete faith in His power to heal and to make her mother whole again. But to no avail. She is not worthy. Come on, cut her a break. (By the by, I have since had occasion to come to terms with these issues and no longer believe my lack of faith killed my Momma, but it was tough going there for awhile. Oh, and for the record, I don’t blame God for Mother’s death or my emphysema, either. Things just happen.)
I’m not writing to suggest that people forsake their belief in God or Jesus or any Higher Power of their choosing — though maybe I am asking them maybe to entertain the possibility that God isn’t quite so “hands on,” and it really might be up to us to accept more responsibility for our lives and actions.
Maybe it’s time to start rethinking things and shift the focus from magical thinking to a more active approach. Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12. Think about it. What if we really all did collectively as a human race one day start loving one another? Actively loving one another. Then it wouldn’t be a matter of tithing (especially tithing motivated by the belief that if we do it will inure to our benefit and we will be rewarded tenfold). We all might just decide to sell all that we have and head for Darfur or the barrio or the homeless shelter or wherever else of our choosing. Not to bring faith to the unbelievers so when they die they can go to heaven, but rather to provide food, clothing, and shelter, and then education, and then everything else. We’d stop using Jesus’ line “the poor will always be among us” to appease our consciences for having failed to do this already. (Even the devil can quote scripture . . .). We’d stop blowing each other up for the glory of God or Allah. Maybe we’d even stop destroying the planet and thereby avoid becoming just one more evolutionary anomaly on the spacetime continuum.
What’s sad is that here’s where I, and most everyone else it seems, lack faith even the size of a mustard seed. We refuse to believe we could really make this happen, and so we do nothing, or we do just enough so we can sleep at night. So there you have it. Maybe it’s time we all of us in this world simply agree to disagree about the stuff that ultimately doesn’t matter and get on with the business of humanity. Because if we did, why just
Imagine.next post: Three Days After the Night Before
previous post: Chaos Theory: A Message from the Universe
Eight years ago, a woman who I know only as Mia’s Mother moved to a cattle ranch in Maxwell, New Mexico. She had four kids back then. Two are now in college and two are still in high school. Two years ago, she had Mia. Mia was a surprise. Mia weighed 2 pounds when she was born. Her mother told me she was going to name her “Gabriella,” but that was too big a name for such a tiny baby. Mia has hydrocephalus. This Sunday found her in the emergency room at Presbyterian Hospital because the shunt that had been inserted in her brain was causing problems. She had only been discharged from Presbyterian 2 days ago after having just spent 33 days in the pediatric unit.
This Sunday also found me in the ER where I had been transported by ambulance due to an exacerbatory episode from which I had been unable to recover without some extra help. If you’ve read any of my other blog entries, especially those that will be gathered together if you click on the COPD category link, then you know I suffer from emphysema.
Presbyterian’s ER consists of a series of draped cubicles. My cubicle was next to Mia’s. Sunday is not the greatest time to go to an ER if you are suffering from a condition that will require admittance to the hospital. Few patients go home on Sunday, so usually there are not a whole lot of beds available. I had been told to look forward to a long wait. Mia had to wait awhile, too. I was just lying there resting when Mia’s Mother started singing “Little Rabbit Foo Foo” to her. Long about the third verse, I joined in by singing out softly, “Little Rabbit Foo Foo.” Mia heard me and gasped in surprise. Her mother asked her, “Did that person hear us? Shall we say, Hello?” And so the cubicle curtain parted and there was the cutest little kid with her mother.
We exchanged pleasantries and diagnoses. I explained about the emphysema and told her I’d been cleared for a lung transplant. Turns out Mia’s Mother had also had emphysema and had undergone a bilateral sequential lung transplant 6 years ago at Barnes in St. Louis. I asked her how old her mother was, and she said, I think, 58. I asked if she’d been a smoker, and she said yes. I said I had too, but they figured my particular brand of COPD must have some as-yet-undiscovered hereditary component since it presented in my 40s instead of my 70s. She said her mother had been told the same thing.
Mia’s Mother went on to tell me that by the time her mother got the transplant her lung function had dropped to 8% and she was virtually bedridden on 4 liters of oxygen. Even so, she’d been out of bed the day after the surgery. I asked how her mother had been doing since the transplant. She told me that in the past six years her mother had gone through two bouts with rejection, but with an adjustment to her meds she had recovered nicely. Otherwise she had hardly been sick.
Before we had time for much more conversation, they came to take Mia to her room. We said our “nice meeting you, good to talk to you” farewells, and off they went.next post: Jesus Camp
previous post: Air Hunger and the big I AM
“It’s a hell of a thing,” I think to myself as I turn to Darcy at the end of the day and state, matter-of-factly, and, if I do say so myself, with some poignancy, “I’m glad I didn’t die today,” and she, who was there for the worst of it, replies “I’m glad you didn’t either.” Yes, once again it’s exacerbation time at Walking Raven Central. And once again I managed to stop just short of taking that existential leap of, or perhaps in this case to, the absurd. And as I touched down on solid ground (metaphorically speaking, of course), I just want you to know that I thought of you, Gentle Readers. At the moment however, what it was I thought escapes me. And so you will have to wait until the next time (if there is a next time) for me to tell you what I learned about the great beyond — though I confess I didn’t see a white light, just Tinky Winky purple (which, according to Darcy, was about the color of my face at the time). Maybe that’s because, technically, exacerbatory episodes (now that’s a hell of a euphemism) fail to qualify as “near death experiences” in that the heart never really stops, though at times one has a fleeting moment of panic that it might explode. A lot of terms describe what happens, dyspnea, cyanosis, hypoxia, but the phrase that best fits for me goes back to our good old anglo-saxon roots — air hunger. When it’s at its worst, the only thing that will prevent an episode from occurring is to keep from moving around too much or too quickly, and forget about bending over. [I’m much better now. What a difference a few days (and a couple hundred milligrams of prednisone) makes.]
And now an abrupt change of subject. The First Voice, in part, will feature the God who calls himself YHWH [××”×™×”] translated as I AM. As explained by the Jewish historical society of Greater New Haven:
“YHVH” is a name that is usually translated as “LORD.” It is used approximately 7000 times in the Bible (Tanach), more than any other name for God. It is also referred to as the “Tetragrammaton” which means “The Four Letters” because it comes from four Hebrew letters: Yud, Hay, Vav, Hay. It is generally believed that these four letters represent the tenses of the Hebrew word for to be. That is, HVH (Hovah)=to be, HYH (Hayah)=was, and YHYH (Yi-yeh)=will be.
This is the special memorial-name that God revealed to Moses at the burning bush. “And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM; and He said, thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, I AM has sent me to you… this is My eternal name, and this is how I am to be recalled for all generations” (Exodus 3:14-15). Actually, the phrase in Hebrew is “eh-yeh asher eh-yeh.” The word “eh-yeh” being the first person future form of “hovah” (to be). A better English translation would really be, “I will be who (or what or that) I will be.” Even though the name YHVH appears earlier in Genesis 2, God didn’t reveal Himself as YHVH until Exodus 3 in conjunction with the creation of Israel.
Because this name comes from the Hebrew verb which means “to be.” YHVH emphasizes God’s absolute being. He is the source of all being, all reality, and all existence. He has being inherent in Himself. Everything else derives its being from Him. YHVH denotes God’s complete transcendence in time. He is beyond His creation. He is without beginning and without end because He always is.
Although some pronounce YHVH as Jehovah, this is probably not correct since the vowel points that define the pronunciation (not added to the Bible until the early Middle Ages) are from the substitute word Adonai. Another, often used English transliteration is Yaweh, which seems to be more correct, but the consensus among rabbinic scholars is that we no longer know the proper pronunciation. The Jewish people stopped saying the Name by the third century C.E. out of fear of violating the commandment “You shall not take the name of YHVH your God in vain” (Exodus 20:7). According to the rabbis, the Tetragrammaton may not be pronounced under any circumstances. The word, Adonai, which simply means my Master or my Lord, is spoken in place of YHVH during prayer, otherwise, it is simply uttered as “HaShem,” The Name.
As I’ve alluded to in past entries, one objective I have in writing The First Voice is to expose the Tetragrammaton for the misanthropic deity I perceive Him to be . See, e.g. September 13, 2005 Post. I set forth the above today in the hope it may help those of you who may be unfamiliar with this aspect of Judaism better to appreciate the irony of the experience I had shortly after the worst of it. I was lying on the sofa trying not to move too much or too quickly when somewhere from the back of my mind came the thought, “Be still and know that I AM.”next post: Back Back Story: Johanna
previous post: Another year, and . . .
Well, it’s four in the morning, the [beginning, now the] end of [November] again. See February 11, 2005 Post. It’s been a year, and once again this insidious, sinister, dangerous, subtle, menacing disease has blossomed into a significant exacerbation. Significant as in it has nearly my full attention. Whether it becomes a major exacerbation; i.e., requiring hospitalization and beyond, remains to be seen. I am doing everything within my power to avoid such an eventuality, of course.
A year ago, I had just returned from a weeks-long road trip that had taken me from the beginning of the Mother Road (Route 66) in downtown Chicago back to home, which is a couple blocks off the Mother Road in Albuquerque, New Mexico. (I turn off at the El Vado Motel, which sits at the foot of a bridge that takes drivers across the Rio Grande to Grants, Gallup and onto to Arizona and California.)
Starting in September 2004, I managed to rock along through the holidays and into 2005 with a course of antibiotics here and a prednisone burst there. On March 1, 2005 though, I experienced for the first time ever a major exacerbation of my COPD, although Encarta uses acerbation as the medical term of art, identifying it as a late 20th century “back-formation from exacerbation.” (And so the word-sleuthing begins.) Back-formation has two definitions, it is either a “process of word formation in which a new word is coined by removing a real or imagined affix from an existing word,” or a “new word formed by affix removal;” i.e., a word formed by a back-formation, for example, “greed” from “greedy,” or “televise” from “television.” Linguists call “a form added to the beginning, middle, or end of another word that creates a derivative word or inflection” an affix. And I think I’ll stop with that, as it appears the first definition of “back-formation” obtains in this case — though I’ve not requested my medical records to ascertain if the medical profession in Albuquerque has caught up with late 20th century form of the word or not.
The point is, I acerbated (oops, can’t use that term, it hasn’t yet caught up with the late 20th century, as its present definitions only include “to annoy or irritate somebody,” or “to make something taste bitter,” and I was more than annoyed or irritated, I was scared sh — well, you know– and, as yet, no bitterness, well, maybe a little) . . . The point is I exacerbated all the way to a 911 transport to the emergency room, where, during the Keystone Coppedness (yup, new phrase for the consideration of dictionary writers everywhere) of it all, the true meaning of “Do Not Resuscitate” (“DNR”) came crashing into my consciousness as I squeak-screamed with what was then nearly my last breath, “No!” (A good chance of coming back again with faculties relatively intact makes the option worth a try in my book. So charge up them paddles, and CLEAR!) The next day, I exacerbated into a 10-day hospital stay. During those days, I did little else than sleep, eat, and nebulize. Back at the farm, a few necessities were moved from upstairs to downstairs (the bed, my chair, a lamp and side table). The week I returned home, I bought a Playstation 2 (hereinafter PS2) for downstairs in case I couldn’t get to my X-box upstairs. My brother moved in to keep an eye on me during the day while Darcy was away in Santa Fe. I still climbed the stairs for baths and X-box live sessions. Home life, after a fashion, resumed.
Early summer of 2005 found me in good enough health to blow up to Iowa and Minnesota for a family reunion. Shortly thereafter, Brother John moved to LA. As the holidays approach, I continue to deplete and replenish my reading list. I found my voice composing the August and September blog entries. As I marshal research for my novel, I endeavor to post at least one “serious” blog entry a week, health permitting. I became disenchanted with the PS2, so the X-box has moved downstairs with a temporary 25’ foot cable connection as I eagerly await the debut of the 360 on November 22, 2005 [Update: Mr. Gates has seriously pissed me off with what I have to believe is a planned shortage of units, but I still plan to get one eventually as it really is the only game in town (pun intended?) (Not sure)] I climb the stairs for baths. My lair/aerie has become little more than a storeroom for my many wonderful things. My sister is here now, but our planned road trip to visit the brother in LA and complete my tour of Route 66 – I understand the Mother Road ends just feet from the Pacific at the Santa Monica pier — went by the wayside in the face of a minor ascerbation early in September. We’ll be lucky to make it to Mora, New Mexico to see the alpacas at Victory Ranch in the next few days. The alpacas live 3000 feet higher than I’m supposed to go, but I’ll stay in the car, hooked up to the baby oxygen tank, if necessary. [Update: We made it to the alpacas and they are quite wonderful.]
And what do my early morning, prednisone musings tell me a year later? I’m not afraid of Death (Proper n.) – ‘cuz there ain’t no such entity. I’m not afraid to die (infinitive). I realized awhile back (with some relief) that dying will just happen, and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. The fear I experienced around the DNR episode stemmed from the fear that I might die. To me/for me, there’s a qualitative difference between the use of the infinitive of the verb “to die” and the use of the same verb with the modal auxiliary “might.” [I have just learned that “might” is a modal auxiliary verb, and that we use “modal” auxiliaries to express a grammatical mood such as possibility or necessity. And that so works for me, because the only thing I can really say about] [t]he difference between “to die” and “might die” is that it feels different saying one or the other. I’ve spent the better part of a week now trying to translate that difference into words so I could pass it along to you all in this post, but without success. For the time being anyway, I’ve decided just to leave it where Jesus (or Buddha or Vishnu or the Goddess) flung it and move on. As it is, so it shall be.
For the most part I have dealt with my past – although I would still like to locate and reconnect with my good friend JB n/k/a JM (you know who you are). My future is as many days as I have, all of which tend to be fairly repetitive at present. My existence on the material plane has narrowed significantly. I run my traps (errands) of an afternoon every other week. Otherwise, I am an off-the-chart introvert who learned long ago the fine art of hanging out. Accordingly, I am perfectly content here at Walking Raven Central.
Having a future of pretty much same ol’, same ol’ punctuated by an outing here or there, has led to what I find to be a wonderful shift in perception. I have become, as my friend Susan explains, mindful. My days and nights flow one into the other. I have taken to getting up early in the morning, and, if necessary napping during the day. I rarely think beyond the moment, although every once in a while I look over the books on my reading list and sigh at the thought I may not get to them all. This blog (and the novel) is a very present thing. The novel will either happen or not.
And so, on this the Thanksgiving Eve, I am grateful to be here, and in case you’re wondering:
next post: Air Hunger and the big I AM
previous post: Message to my Loyal Readers
Hail and well met to those of you who may have wandered by to see if there’s anything new this week. Alas, no. I’ve been feeling a bit puny for a couple weeks and haven’t had the energy to put together much in the way of posts. It’s just as well, given the metaphoric orange barrels dotting the site during the transition to the new publishing application. My beloved blogmeister, mjh, is in the midst of implementing my blog happiness list. I’m quite pleased.
In the meantime, thought you might be interested to know, I heard from a fellow at Dell yesterday, name Michael – well not THAT Michael, but we had a nice chat anyway. See October 4, 2005 Post. He’s going to make sure my account gets properly credited, and he’s sending me a system battery. I’m not sure if I’ll get charged for the battery, but shipping will be free. I’ll keep you posted on any further developments. (Pun intended.)next post: Works for Me
previous post: We Interrupt This Blog . . .
The reason my blog has remained unposted for such a long while (except for the toss-off playoff bit) cannot be totally attributed to my unrequited love for nicotine. Before I launched this blog, I made a promise to myself that I would post what I wrote, shame-based life be damned. I kept my promise with the playoff entry — mostly because God told me if I didn’t post it the Vikings would most certainly lose. (Okay, I’m lying.) Although its continued existence on the site registers pretty high on the shame meter, thus far I’ve resisted the urge to sneak into the Movable Type application and delete the entry. (Besides, God told me if I did spacetime would be rearranged to nullify the victory.) (Okay, lying again.) Today, I keep my promise with respect to an entry I began early in November and tinkered with again later in the month. That clears out the backlog, and I’ll move on from there.
It’s 4 in the morning,
the end of December . . . Leonard Cohen
Well, actually the beginning of November. 4 in the morning is about right. 4:15 to be exact. At least that’s what time it was when I first sat down to write this entry. The 4 is right if we’re talking what day it is, though. I’m awake, prednisone. It’s been a rough couple of days, and I woke up with the words “memento mori” resounding through the inner reaches of my skull that sits in the center of the infinity that exists when I close my eyes. (I kind of get the existence of various infinities, and I like the idea of one with me as its center.) For those of you who don’t already know, Memento Mori is the title of a book by Muriel Spark. (How, if at all, is the meaning changed if I simply saywrite [M]emento Mori is a book by Muriel Spark?) Rhetorical question, at least for me today. Maybe I’ll answer it some other time. You all are, of course, free to answer it if you’d like. It’s probably revisionist history, but in my reality, Momemto Mori was the last book my mother read before she died of breast cancer in February 1970 at the age of 42. I was 15. Even if it wasn’t the last book she read, she certainly read it in the last year of her life. Not too long ago, I picked up a used copy of Momemto Mori somewhere in remembrance of Mom. Thank you Mother for imbuing me with a keen sense of irony — and for yet another “magical thinking” opportunity. I’ve just this very moment decided I might never get around to reading that book — I’ll just leave it as the final entry on my reading list. So many books . . .
As I write this, It is 6:11 a.m. and counting in “real” timespace (snicker) on Sunday, November 21, 2004. I have made some minor revisions to the above, but instead of integrating these present comments with the above, I leave them here. I was, once again, awakened by mortality about an hour ago. When I finally declared my disability, I did so, in part, because, I found I needed a good deal more sleep than usual to feel relatively good and stay relatively healthy. By not having to work, I gained an extra half-life or so in dog years. So now, when I wake up way early (for me), I view it as a gift of timespace, even if it means a nap later, because sometimes I don’t take one.next post: Message to my Loyal Readers
previous post: Untwining the Inextricable
When I asked Mr. Edgewise to set up this blog, I did so with the expectation I would post an entry every week (or so). After all, I have the time to write. I also have plenty to “say.” Even if I don’t sit down with any specific expectations, all I have to do is start typing and something generally comes to mind. For instance, I just had the urge to explore the nature of the meaning of the term “say.” BRB. Okay, according to the Microsoft Encarta Dictionary, the use of the term “say” in connection with a written form of expression generally indicates the writing “conveys information” — more specifically, “substantial or significant” information. Otherwise, what’s written might be described as really not “saying” much of anything. Along the same lines, why do we say we can “hear” ourselves think?
That said (as my intent was to convey something), I’ve been asking myself, why has it been nearly two weeks, three, a month, now two months since last I posted a blog entry? And then I “heard” a voice inside my head say, “you don’t smoke anymore.” I used to smoke. A lot. I quit (for the most part) on Monday, October 21, 1996 at 10:21 a.m. I quit because I couldn’t breathe. For those of you who don’t already know, I have since been diagnosed with severe COPD — classic panlobular emphysema to be exact. In other words, as a practical matter, smoking is simply no longer an option.
If I still could sit here in front of my monitor and keyboard and suck down one Lucky Strike after another, the words would come, not in fits and starts, but in a steady, unbroken stream. And after the flood of words, there would be uninterrupted hours crafting each paragraph, sentence, phrase, and word choice — rebuilding the thoughts on the other side of consciousness. These days, I’m lucky to sustain, contain for more than a few sentences before I become distracted, restless. And then I have to stop, because well, my head might explode. Sometimes I get back to it in an hour, sometimes days, sometimes never.
Science tells us that nicotine enables users to focus — that is, until nicotine is withheld. Then focus immediately shifts to discerning when the next opportunity to feed those receptors might arise. And a voice I equate with Audrey II’s voice in Little Shop of Horrors emanates from those receptors. It begins with a barely audible whisper and builds to a resounding, reverberating “FEED ME!” And it’s not just the nicotine. It’s the smoke filling the lungs, riding through the central nervous system and binding, at last, with those wide-mouthed famished, voracious receptors. And those receptors, once opened never close. Mostly these days, they’re rather peckish, unless and until I sit down to write. Consequences.
Maybe this knowing will enable me better to keep the nicotine demons at bay. If not, well, Ritilin anyone? Or better yet — would someone please perfect virtual smoking.next post: It Isn’t Whether You Win or Lose, It’s . . .
previous post: Happy Bloomsday