The Living Years

I got a phone call Tuesday from my sister informing me that my father is on his deathbed. Stage 4 bone cancer. This on top of the dementia that has been eating away at his mind for the last several years. The last time I spoke to him it was a struggle to form a coherent sentence. He knew me, but could not tell me who my wife or kids were. That was a year or two ago, so I have no idea how far gone he is now.

Some of you may recall a song by Mike and the Mechanics from the early 90’s called “The Living Years”. The song is all about the distance and disagreement between a father and his son. The first verse says:

“Every generation blames the one before, And all of their frustrations come beating on your door.

I know that I’m a prisoner to all my father held so dear I know that I’m a hostage to all his hopes and fears I just wish I could’ve told him in the living years

Oh, crumpled bits of paper filled with imperfect thoughts,

Stilted conversations I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got

You say you just don’t see it he says it’s perfect sense , You just can’t get agreement in this present tense

We all talk a different language, talking in defense.”

 

That pretty well perfectly describes my relationship with my father. I did not listen to that song this morning on my drive in to work, but I heard it in my head nonetheless.

My father and I have been estranged for quite some time. So, as I type this post this morning I am not entirely sure how I feel about the news I have received. I guess, if I were a “normal” person I would have called in to work this morning, taken the rest of the week off, and rushed off to see him in his last moments. I didn’t do any of those things.

I did inform my manager of what was going on, simply because I am not sure how I am going to react. I wanted him to be prepared in case I abruptly left, or began sobbing uncontrollably, or something…

The thing is, I am as much a spectator in this situation as everyone else. I don’t know how I feel. I don’t know how I will feel. I have no idea how I will react when the anticipated passing of my father happens in what I assume will be the next few days. So I am, in many respects, watching a movie I’ve never seen before, and waiting to see what happens.

I think it’s entirely possible that when a new idea or concept strikes many of us we have a tendency to believe we have “discovered” something. Our epiphany is an epiphany for all mankind. I’m sure this is particularly true if we are considered (by ourselves or others) to be “smart”. But then you talk to someone else, or read something someone else wrote, and realize that there is nothing new under the sun.

Nevertheless, while exploring my thoughts and feelings on the matter I was struck by the notion that in the end our lives are really just a series of snippets in the memories of other people.

We are born, in many cases we procreate, and eventually we die. The circle of people who care about any of these things is relatively small. The number of lives most of us will touch is also relatively small. In the end, even if a whole lot of people know who we are, the people who actually feel our loss is a small subset of that number.

Who we were becomes a function of how we are recalled by those still living. Being forever silenced and unable to correct the record or defend ourselves, perception becomes reality. All the things we accomplished fade away. The awards and achievements, the degrees and certifications, all of the accumulated pieces of paper and plaques…all piled into a pine box alongside the husk of who we once were…and turned to ash and dust along with us.

All that remains are the smiles or frowns of those who knew us when, from time to time, we come to mind. The things we said or did traded in for the things people think we said or did. Nothing lasting, nothing permanent. In my case, having fathered two girls, not even my last name will carry on. All that will matter when all is said and done, is what those two girls think of me, when they think of me.

Lest I depart too sharply from my normal manner and thereby cause consternation amongst my friends, let me follow up by saying….I’ll be dead. So, in reality, I won’t know, or care, what anyone still alive thinks. It certainly does make for some interesting thoughts though…and no doubt quite a few tee-shirts and bumper stickers about how all that matters is how we treated others, etc.

Right now, in a house I’ve never seen, in a town I’ve never been to, surrounded by people I’ve never met…my father is dying.   When I imagined for a moment what going to his funeral might be like, and what I would say if I were asked to say something, I came to some conclusions. I guess it’s up to the reader to determine if those conclusions are sad, or insightful, profound, or ambivalent. I can’t rightly say.

For the record, and for those not familiar with the situation, I will briefly recap. My father left my mother in the most cowardly manner I could imagine. He was a pastor and he ran off with the church secretary. He married her shortly after his divorce from my mother went through because, as he explained to me at the time, they didn’t want to live in sin, “any longer than is absolutely necessary”.

My mother is, as are we all, a flawed woman. But she continually and constantly pounded one refrain into my mind from the time I was old enough to speak. “I hate a liar”. That can be translated over to, “I hate a hypocrite”. I did see, and still see, my father as a hypocrite. I believe he violated sacred covenants, abandoned his flock, led people astray, and committed a whole host of other things that his faith deems “sins”. Nevertheless, he did them. And he did them for the most base of reasons. I have never truly found it in my heart to forgive that.

That fact is in and of itself intriguing to me. I know women whose fathers sexually molested them, and they have found it within themselves to forgive them and attempt to repair the relationship. My father broke a vow to a God I don’t quite believe in, and (to be fair) he also lied to me in the process. But these things seem so much smaller than the things other people are able to see their way past. So I have to consider for a moment, is the failing his, or mine?

Not that I bear him ill will, or walk around with anger in my heart. I just added him to my internal list of people I prefer not to associate with. What that translates to is, in the last 15 years I’ve seen him once and spoken to him by phone 3-4 times.

I guess in my dad’s case what angered me was that he set himself up as a leader and an emissary of God, and then fell on his face. And he didn’t stumble over some unusual set of circumstances or extraordinary moral conundrum. He was tripped up by the same shit he lectured me on.

He demonstrated conclusively (in my mind) that Jesus isn’t changing hearts. He tore apart his own family, and the family of the woman he committed adultery with, and then he shrugged and said, “God forgives me, if you don’t that’s your problem”.

And now he’s dying.

What would I say if I were asked to say something?

My father was not a great man. Some would tell you he was a good man, and I wouldn’t rise to oppose them, though I would disagree. In the end, he was a man. He had his flaws. He had his vices. He had his shortcomings and failures. I do not begrudge him any of these things. We all have things about ourselves we are less than proud of. But he lacked honor, and was therefore not someone I chose to spend time with.

My father paid his bills, fed his kids, and served his country. He spent 4 years in the Air Force and the rest of his working life at NSA. He taught college courses, coached tee-ball, baseball, and softball. (An interesting aside, my dad was tried out to play Catcher for the Baltimore Orioles way back in the day.)

He gave to me my love of reading, chess, and debate. He taught me to think. And when he was younger and in decent shape, the man could play baseball.

He participated in the rearing of two moderately successful children. His progeny is no burden on society.

I hear that in recent years he got involved with child welfare and became some sort of court appointed advocate.

That’s it. That’s all I know about the man.

I recall a few ridiculous things like the way he would stick his tongue in his cheek when he was angry. I remember a few times we almost came to blows during my teenage years. I remember he was a bit of a clown, and enjoyed being the center of attention…which I suppose is the unspoken reason he chose to go into the ministry.

Mainly, since I hung up the phone with my sister, I have been thinking about more abstract things.

I wonder if he’s scared. I wonder if he’s even cognizant of what is happening. I wonder if he’s looking forward to “going on to be with the Lord”. Or is it possible that now that the question is no longer rhetorical, he has his doubts?

I wonder who has come to see him. I wonder, when I am in his position, who will come to see me? I wonder if he wonders if I will come…or if he even remembers my name. If he does remember my name, and does hope that I will come, will the last thing he feels be profound sadness? Is that my fault? Does it matter?

Assuming he has anywhere near a firm grasp on reality, I wonder does he look back on his life with regret, or satisfaction? I wonder how I would answer that same question.

In the end I am simply writing this because I am experiencing an event I will only ever experience once. I am not looking for pity or condolences. My father has not been an integral part of my life for a very long time. I won’t miss him more the day after he’s gone than I did on any given day last month.

I’m simply thinking about things, and seeing them, in a light that only shines once. So I’m capturing my thoughts and passing them on.

Maybe I’m just creating a snippet in the memory of someone else…

Religion is a Farce

I awoke this morning to find two things.

1) Some moron in SC walked into a “predominantly black church” and opened fire.  The race industry got a new fundraising platform, black racists got a new cause du jour, and white people all over the country will have to say, “Some of my best friends are black” constantly for a week or so.

2) A friend posted a note supposedly written by a Christian telling a person with rainbow lighting in their yard that the “relentlessly gay” lights were a problem.  My friend and her friends expressed an appropriate amount of outrage at this slight.

I do not wish to focus on the deaths in SC or the bigotry in the note.  More than enough people will grasp at these obvious issues and write what they consider profound thoughts on those two matters.  They will publish these thoughts to the internet where it is at least possible that some temporary notice will be taken.  Their like minded friends will pat them on the back for bleating at the appropriate time and in the appropriate tone, and then all will go back to munching grass until something kills them.

No, what I wish to focus on is how incredulous I am at how incredulous other people are, and the abject failure of the Earth’s inhabitants to recognize facts displayed to them in living color and high definition on a daily basis.

First of all, people seem  unable to understand how religious people can be so intolerant.  This is perplexing to me.

Sure, you can pull out examples of good people from many, if not all, of the world’s religions.  But for every Mother Theresa or Billy Graham, there are hundreds, thousands, perhaps millions of bigoted, hateful, evil assholes perfectly willing to kill people in the name of God.  Religion has been responsible for more death, cruelty, and bigotry than any other factor in the history of the world.  In fact, more people have died at the hands of others because of who they believe or do not believe God is, than for any other reason.

So why on earth would any thinking, rational human being be surprised that a “Christian” would hate on someone because they are gay?  And why would those same people be unwilling to state publicly that if that gay man were living in Saudi Arabia or Iran he’d have gotten far more than an impolitely worded letter?

Religion does not exist to spread love.  I don’t care what your particular prophet says in your particular holy book.  The fact is, your God’s followers (no matter who your God is) hate someone, for something.  It’s the nature of the beast.  It’s the same formula that has been used in every arena since recorded time began.  Choose a group of people you wish to control.  Chose a different group of people to blame the first group of people’s problems on.  Propose to resolve the first group’s problems by persecuting the second group.  Viola!  Hitler, Stalin, Mao, The Pope, the leaders of every Islamic state… all guilty of the same damn thing.

A small group of people controls a large group of people.  This is true in religion as it is in politics.  It is the nature of men in power to seek more power, and the nature of followers to yield more power to leaders.  This is how the world works…wake up!

Worse than this however, is the complete idiocy that is “belief” in the first place.

Some guy stands in some desert talking on a Youtube video about how he and his fellows will destroy the west “God willing”…and then a missile turns him into debris.  Because his God is not stronger than the United States Air Force.  A bunch of people go in to a church to pray, a gunman enters and kills nine of them…because their God is not more powerful than a handgun.  Wake up!

You are walking around mumbling to invisible people.  In modern western culture we call that “mental illness”.

You are espousing the same beliefs you laugh at.  The ancient Greeks and Romans also believed in people in the sky that controlled everything.  You believe they were a bunch of ignorant dupes, espousing fairy tales and folklore.  But if you’re a Christian you walk around talking about a Jewish carpenter you’ve never met, from 2,000 years ago, based on a book you read.  And you think the people who do not believe in your invisible friend are the ones with a problem.

If you’re a Muslim of the extreme sort you believe that your prophet is so frail that he needs you to kill people who draw his likeness.  Yet you pray for a God to help you, when your God clearly needs you to help him.  This makes sense to someone?

The further back I step from these belief systems, the more clearly I see how foolish they are.

People all over the world are killing each other in the name of God, while useful idiots all over the world are calling for peace…in the name of God.  Meanwhile, those same useful idiots believe that those who actually practice the letter of the law with regard to their faith are “extremists” and the apostate masses are the “good (insert religion here)”.  So if you’re a Muslim who believes in Jihad, or a Christian who thinks God doesn’t like homosexuality, you’re a nut job.  Even though that’s what’s in the book.  But if you’re a wishy-washy, blow in the wind, go along-get along type of believer, then you’re a good example of what we should all be.

Let’s do what we should have done a long time ago.  Cast off the chains of fear and superstition.  Stop following the guidance of inaudible, invisible, make-believe friends, and start living in a logical, thoughtful manner.

Fuck loving each other.  Man is not programmed to do that.  How about simply respecting each other, and acting like what we are.  A mammal.  Slightly more advanced than all the other mammals.  And instead of taking lessons from some bullshit holy book, take lessons from the world around us.

You don’t see too many dolphins persecuting each other over their religious beliefs…or killing each other for $10 for that matter.

For those inclined to pray for me, or try to “witness” to me, let me save you some trouble.  Don’t come to me with emotional stories full of personal experiences where your invisible friend made some difference in your life.  I have a Smith and Wesson .40 caliber pistol.  When you serve a God that can stop a bullet, I’ll hear you out.

The Diabetes Blog

It’s funny how you can wake up not feeling well one morning, and by the end of that day your entire life is different.  Mine will be forever divided into the period before my diabetes diagnosis and the rest of my life.

Today I go to my first counseling session to learn how to eat, test, etc.  But last night I got a call from the doctor’s office giving me some test results.  My A1C was 11 and some change.  Straight type 2 diabetes.

I wake up in the morning with a meter reading in the neighborhood of 250.  Yesterday, I took my meds and my levels dropped to 164.  I thought I was going to pass out.  “Low” blood sugar is considered anything below 70.  So…at more than double what is normally considered low I start experiencing the symptoms of hypoglycemia.

God only knows how much damage I’ve done to the various things that diabetes affects.  Vision, nerves, organs…  I have no idea how many years I may have taken off my life, or the consequences I will suffer going forward.  But the truth is, I have more immediate concerns.

250 feels normal to me.  Truthfully, it actually feels a little low.  So, I have no idea how I’m supposed to get down to 80-120.  I only know that I cannot remain sick, and weak, and unable to function.  So, I am hopeful that these medical people can help me get to the right place without feeling like I’m dying.  If they can’t…then I already know what I will do, having been well acquainted with myself for some time now.  I’ll “try to eat better”, and go back to normal living without the sodas and candy.

The biggest thing that this entire period of illness has made me aware of, is how much time and energy I’ve wasted on things that don’t matter.  It has made me cognizant of a fact we all mumble but perhaps don’t really think about.  That being, that tomorrow is promised to no one.  So, if I have to choose between living a shorter life that is more full, and living a long, empty, sick one…that choice is easy to make.

I am not going to let this condition become the focus of my life.  This is not going to turn in to “The Diabetes Blog”.

I am going to focus my life on friends and family.  I’m going to put making money in its’ proper place on my priority list.  I’m going to spend more time with my kids, and with my wife.  I’m going to call friends more often.  And I’m going to make sure that the people who are important in my life, know it.

Past that…screw it.  I grew up believing I’d die before I turned 21.  I’ve already been around twice as long as I expected to be.

So I will take the steps needed to reverse this condition…to a point.  But, I am not going to walk around feeling like I’m about to die every minute of every day so that some meter says what some person says it should say.  At the end of the day what truly matters is that I can move, and speak, and function.  You know… live.

The truth is we’re all dying.  We started dying the moment we were born.  So I think it’s more important how you live, than how long you live.

Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead

I watched the movie Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead recently.

I have watched a number of movies recently on the subject of health, healthy eating, medicine and the medical establishment, etc.  I guess, at the root of it, I am aware that I am not physically healthy, and I wanted to try to get some information to help me figure out why.  But, I also heard some things along the way that seem so terribly self-evident once someone says them.  Things that had never actually occurred to me prior to hearing them said.

For instance, what is the incentive from the medical practitioner’s perspective, to help me attain and maintain good health?

A doctor only makes money if I am sick.  A pharmacist only makes money if prescriptions are being filled.  Surgeons only make money if they are performing surgery.  Last but not least, drug companies do not make profits off of curing diseases, they make profits off of people taking the same medicines day after day for years, or preferably forever.  This was highlighted in a Frontline episode I watched last night on Netflix.

As an example, anti-biotics are a limited use medication.  By design they are meant to be taken for a short time.  As such, drug companies have by and large discontinued research in to anti-biotics, because they are not profitable.  Meanwhile, drug resistant bacteria are popping up all over the place.  (I suggest you click on some of these links, your life and the lives of your loved ones hang in the balance.)

What a number of the contributors to these various shows I have watched have pointed out, and what struck me most, was that we eat all manner of junk, sit around doing nothing, abuse alcohol, smoke, etc., and then we get sick.  So we go to a doctor and he/she prescribes a medication.  Often these medications have side effects.  Many times the side effects are worse than the condition they are treating.  Often the side effects are treated with yet another medication.  Before you know it, you’re on 6 different pills.  When what you really need is a better diet and some form of exercise.

As I get older I am suffering the consequences of a life lived without concern for these things.  I am constantly tired.  I am overweight.  I struggle with things that used to come easily.  I have the “aches and pains” associated with “aging”.  The problem is, I think that as a society we simply accept these “aches and pains” as the natural course of events.  Many of us give no thought to the possibility of growing older without them.  I am officially removing myself from that group of people.

I think one of the things that is key to succeeding at anything is a realistic assessment of what you your abilities are.  One of the primary reasons people fail on diets is that they try to alter a lifestyle in 24 hours.  They remove things that are difficult to remove, like sugar and caffeine.  They stick with it for a little while until the discomfort overwhelms them, and then they give up.  I am not taking that approach.

The suggestion that hit home for me was to *add* things rather than remove them.  Eat better in stages and let the bad stuff fall away as you become accustomed to the good things.  Basically, to increase the percentage of food and drinks you consume that are adding enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and micro nutrients to your body.  Here are some of the simple things I have implemented over the past couple of days.

I now snack on carrots and celery sticks rather than chips.

Normally, if I were making burgers for dinner I would have 2.  Last night I made one burger on wheat bread, and a cup of kale replaced the second burger.

I drink…a lot.  I suspect I am diabetic, and my mouth is constantly dry.  But I have replaced soda and iced tea with water and 100% fruit juice.  As in, the orange juice bottle lists just one ingredient, orange juice.  I have also begun to experiment with juicing and the making of smoothies, but it’s going to be awhile before I find the right combinations.  In the meantime, I am eating things that aren’t as yummy to me in liquid form as they are in solid form.

I have decided that in the spring I am going to scale back the garden, but I am still going to grow some of my own fresh vegetables.  I have also talked with my wife and we are going to become regular customers of the local farmer’s market, which has been just down the street from me for years.

They say that real change is made when the pain of moving is exceeded by the pain of staying still.  I am at that point.

This will not be a fad or a phase.  I’m going to permanently alter what I eat and how much I eat.  Exercise is a bigger challenge, but I am in the process of figuring out how and what to fit in to my schedule.  With an eye towards what is actually attainable, and not what I can convince myself of for the short-term.

I encourage everyone to watch these films, consider your own health and lifestyle, and make positive changes in 2015.

I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.  But “weight loss” is not my goal.  Being healthy is my goal.  Weight loss will be a natural result of that.

If I Should Die Before I Wake

Every year a certain percentage of people undergo surgery and never wake up.  From the little reading I’ve done that number is small.  The likelihood of winning the lottery is small too, but every week someone does.

Yesterday, I was informed that I am going to need surgery to resolve the issues I have been having with my neck since September.  Interestingly, if the first doctor I went to see had correctly assessed the problem (a bulging disk in the C7 vertebrae) I could have had this surgery months ago and skipped the time and expense of physical therapy, steroid injections and multiple office visits.  When I finally sat down with the right doctor and explained the same thing I had been saying all along, he immediately pinpointed the problem.  But that’s not really what I am here to talk about…

I am an introspective person.  I am subject to emotion, and emotional outbursts, as are all other people.  But, if I have a chance to think through things I am generally able to overcome fear and anxiety, and a host of other emotional responses, through the application of logic and reason. However, I have to admit I spent some time tossing and turning last night.

I have spent a good bit of time analyzing myself over the last 24 hours.  I am clearly encouraged, perhaps even happy, about the thought that in the not too distant future this ordeal I have been going through since September will end.

Major events also have a way of creating a new beginning in some way, separating time in to the period before and after the event.  There is a glimmer of hope there.  There is the notion that perhaps there will be a new opportunity or environment, or a new path of some kind, waiting for me on the other side of this surgery/recovery. However, the simple truth is, when I think about the possibility of a new path, I must consider the path already traveled.  This is where I find myself this morning.

I read a brief story this morning about a kid with terminal cancer, with a week to live, whose wish was to meet Eminem before he died.  And I wondered for a moment, if I knew the end was nigh, what would I do with my remaining time?  Of even greater importance, what have I done with the time already passed?

I also began to recognize the fact that there was a bit of trepidation in my heart regarding this surgery, and I began to ponder why that was. I have said all of my life that I am not afraid to die.  Many men make this boast.  Some of them even prove it.  But I am not a hero, or a daredevil.  I am not prone to death-defying acts of craziness like say, Evil Knieval.  In fact, I tend to go out of my way to avoid potentially dangerous or life altering situations.

But at the end of the day I lean towards the belief that we live, we die, and that’s it.  Last night however, when faced with a day and a time when I knew for sure someone was going to stick something in my arm; and I was going to fall asleep; and there was a chance (albeit small) that I would never regain consciousness; that (for reasons I am attempting to ascertain) was cause for concern.

So, in keeping with my manner of thinking and living I began to ponder what the source of that concern was.  Let us say for a moment that I lay down on that operating table, the room goes dark, and the light never comes back on.  From a practical standpoint, I’d never know the difference.  There would be no pain or fear.  There would be no audience or tearful loved ones.  I would simply close my eyes and never reopen them.

So what’s scary about that?

I can think of no end more peaceful or more bearable than that one.  So why does it trouble me?

I think the answer lies in the thoughts I have been expressing about my life for the past several years.  Stop and ask yourself for a moment why being lost scares you.  You could have a full gas tank, plenty of money, food, water, what have you.  But, if you are driving through the city in the middle of the night, or hiking some trail, or strolling through the forest, and you suddenly realize you do not know where you are, most people have a bit of a panic attack at that point.  Why?

It’s hard to explain what I’m thinking at the moment, perhaps because I lack sufficient vocabulary.  But I believe the fear may have less to do with any danger, real or imagined; and more to do with being disconnected from the people in our lives.

In my case for example, the thoughts that go through my mind are of my daughters hanging out with friends when their cell phones ring and my wife informs them that I am gone.  How would that impact them?  Will they go forward in their lives knowing how much they were loved?  Will they recall the wisdom and encouragement I tried to pass on?  Will I live forever in the hearts and minds of my children, or fade away as time and circumstance conspire to remove all thought and evidence of my existence?

Is this not the crux of the fear in the lost scenario?  It is one thing for the news to report that there was an accident on the train; or that you died of a heart attack while coaching little league.  It’s an entirely different thing for the story to be, “Mr. Johnson pulled out of the driveway one Friday morning 18 years ago, and has never been seen or heard from since”.

On an intellectual level I understand that dead is dead.  But perhaps “missing” and “dead” are not the same thing.  Perhaps an opportunity to “get your affairs in order” is different from simply vanishing.  Perhaps time to look your wife and kids in the eye and say, “You’re the meaning in my life and what makes it worth living”, is different from simply falling asleep and never reawakening.

There are a lot of things I wish I had the time to say.  There are a lot of days I wish I could have spent just sitting next to my daughters in the living room, chatting about nothing.  There are a lot of missed opportunities to laugh, and cry, and smile.  There are a lot of moments spent with my wife arguing about pointless bullshit.There have been a lot of wasted moments over the 44 years I’ve been here.

Yes, I am going to take the time to hug my kids, kiss my wife, and tell them they are important to me over the next couple of weeks.  Yes, I am going to lay down on that table, fall asleep, wake back up, and come home.  Yes, I’m going to continue to be a terrible pain in someone’s ass for many more years to come.

But, I think I’m going to try to put these moments of introspection to use.  I think I’m going to try to more carefully weigh the words I say and the things I do.  I’m going to try to find more time for living, and spend less time just going through the motions.  I am going to try to do all these things, and fail.

But perhaps what will be different is, I will try again.

And I’m going to try to form more and stronger connections with people around me.

Because the truth is you can know exactly where you are, and still be lost.