Pivotal Moments

October 11, 2010

In retrospect, we’ve all had pivotal moments. Like the time you proposed or graduated or it dawned upon you that circumstances have changed so thoroughly that your life has taken a new course.

For me, there was one of these moments at the end of a Baltimore, Maryland 9th grade after school junior varsity lacrosse team practice. An older, bigger, Norwegian-looking team captain run up to me and said, “Do you want to run a few extra laps around the field to keep in shape?”

I looked at him and wondered what planet from which he had arrived and said, “No” and began to walk into the locker room to change. I saw he had gathered about three others and his group began to jog around the perimeter of the lacrosse field as they slowly were rocking the hard rubber balls in the cradle of their sticks as they ran.

I could do this running while cradling the ball but was catching my breath from the practice that had just ended. I had gone out for the team pretty much because I thought lacrosse was cool but I was no athlete. Without motivation or any sense of wanting to develop my skill and meld that into a team contribution, I wouldn’t have made much of a team player. I would need to grow grew up considerably and come “dressed to play” or be willing to “give it 110%.” Which is why the coach came up to me on my way out and told me that he had to cut me from the team.

In that moment, when I did not have the gumption to stop and recognize that this was a pivotal moment, I simply said, “Oh.” After the coach gracefully rattled off a few apologetic sentences about only being allowed to have a certain number of players on the team, I walked off to the bus to home where I would put my lacrosse stick in the basement until it met its fate in a future garage sale. I somehow knew that the coach had asked this team captain to give me one last chance to show some potential for sportsmanship by seeing if I would take a few extra laps.

Had I recognized the pivotal moment and come of age, I would have said, “Coach, you know, I want to play on the team and if you give me one more chance, I’ll show you that I’m here to play – to give all of myself for the team and become your highest scoring forward on the team.”

So it was manifest destiny and I never entered into years of successful lacrosse playing, becoming MVP of my high school team. (The high school in Lancaster Pennsylvania, my family moved me to a year later, barely had a football team and definitely had never heard of lacrosse.) That moment in time didn’t morph into full scholarships for college lacrosse, All-American sports titles nor a lifetime of fame on professional lacrosse sports team. The Seattle Slashers. The Detroit Dominators. How my life would have been different.

Instead, I’m in the basement, scooping out three trays of kitty litter, using disposable latex gloves and my handy slotted stainless steel spoon that I got from a Dansk Factory Outlet in Niagara on the Lake, Canada. But there’s a connection to lacrosse that always comes to my mind during this task.

There are a few nanoseconds when you are digging through the mounds of litter, scooping and then slightly rocking the spoon to allow the litter to seep out the spoon’s holes until you drop the chunks into the garbage bag. There’s an art, if you will, to efficiently cleaning the litter box.

When you stop and think about it, how much is your life is diminished because you don’t play lacrosse? In contrast, how many of us in our culture scoop out cat litter? Have a group of respected business associates invited you to go out for a friendly game of lacrosse lately? Have relatives given you trash cans for your birthday with lacrosse sticks and helmets on the side? At your last family reunion, did you bring your lacrosse stick and one of those frightfully hard and heavy steel balls encased in hard rubber and a helmet with a metal wire cage to protect your face from a certain broken nose or a gouged eye socket in case one of your cousins wants to toss around a ball?

Because I got cut from the lacrosse team in 9th grade, I can now teach my patented technique of lacrosse-style-litter-cleaning in seminars at my new Alliteration Training Center. “ATC, Inc.” it would say on the natural wood sign, in a waspy-looking manicured artificial garden around it, out front of the spacious cul-de-sac of the training and retreat training center in the suburbs. It would actually be a franchise, duplicated all over the country.

Pivotal moments can happen by the litter box or anywhere because it is all connected. It’s a matter of being fully present in the moment – in the now. And in THIS moment, if you complete the enclosed application, you can transform our special low franchise fee of $500 into a multi-million dollar ATC training center of your own in your home town.Imagine coming into a trendy restaurant in your town and people turning and saying about you, “Here comes the ‘Scoopster.’ Who would have ever guessed that almost overnight, they’ve developed this fool-proof system for cleaning out the litter that everyone in town is using. I only wish I would have thought of it myself.”

So however the new year unfolds for you, know that the future awaits you with fabulous promise. Even the private act of scratching in unseemly places on your body can evolve into an enormously popular technique that will yield franchise fees and best-selling books. Runway models and TV talk show hosts will be doing it and paying you royalty fees for the privilege. It’s only a matter of being present in the moment and realizing that every moment is a pivotal moment because it is all connected. Pleasantries for your new year.

Holy Moments

(Written when I was Interim Executive Director of Canopy of Neighbors):


I work for an organization which enables seniors to remain in their homes or apartments as long as possible. We help them thrive and remain relatively independent – preventing them from having to go into an assisted-living institution.

It’s called Canopy of Neighbors.

We do this through a network of volunteers and groups which give their time to do the kinds of things you and I already do to help well-aged friends and loved ones. We give them rides to doctor’s or therapist appointments. Help them get their prescriptions. Sometimes we help them with confusing bank-account or bill-paying tasks. We flip their mattresses or set their clocks ahead or behind twice a year. We change a light bulb that is out of reach – anything to prevent them from stacking kitchen chairs and making a perilous climb and risking a fall.

We also enable them to come to free yoga classes and coffee gatherings where there are featured speakers on health and aging topics. There’s even a monthly luncheon at a local restaurant which offers a low-cost fee for everyone.

I spent a couple of hours this week talking with a couple in their 90s, answering their questions about joining the membership. They are impressed with Canopy. They live in a grand old home in a neighborhood where, in time, only the wealthiest could afford. Homes of doctors, senators and CEOs. Their home was full of life. Paintings filled their home, his paintings. Their furnishings reflected world travels and a lifelong engagement with their children, their careers and themselves. They even have a beautiful Australian border collie who has been part of their household for years.

As I summarized my organization’s services and patiently answered their questions, in my peripheral vision, I could see their daughter. She was in from out-of-town, looking a little frustrated. She’s been here before with them, I suspect. Their hesitancy. Their resistance to get involve with anyone outside of their family for their personal needs. And yet they knew they could use some assistance here and there.

I couldn’t help but think that they only reason they were a little hesitant to join is that it might imply an inability to be independent. Perhaps some giving up of control. Having ‘outsiders’ involved in potentially unknown changes in their lifestyle.

They are truly dear people. Talented and very intelligent. But my heart goes out to them because they seem so frail. He’s a retired but working artist, still holding an office with studio privileges in the local university. But his Parkinson’s is already affecting his mind-to-speech abilities. He drools as he tries to construct his sentences.

In another room, he’s got an unplugged collection of turntable, amp, radio, tuner unplugged and he hasn’t been able to reconnect them. It would take me or another volunteer probably half a day to rewire it. In other rooms, they say their computers are giving them problems and they claim not able to get back into using them. They can’t get their email working.

Her physical condition has left her barely able to move. She has had some disfiguring strokes and yet she is fully engaged in conversations. Reflective, insightful and empathetic toward others. But she says ‘I know we are vulnerable.’

I already know that whatever my organization can offer them, they will need more. Much more. They’ll soon have to contract with outside healthcare organizations for in-home nursing and home-care aids. How much longer can they remain in their lovely home? Who will take care of their dog?

They will be thinking their membership over and will let me know in their own time.

They both have had me thinking, today, of how frail we humans are and temporariness of life. We can get to the point in life where we are blessed with good minds, more-than-adequate resources and all the time we need to pursue anything we’d like. Yet our bodies wear out, out of our control. There is no Toyota to replace parts, even beyond their usual warranty. Our bodies die out from under us. They slip away from us, as do many of our component parts. ‘Moth and rust doth corrupt.

So today, I’m mindful that being present with others, in the moment, is the only place where the meaning and authenticity in life resides for any of us. When I left them, I touched their shoulders and genuinely told them it was a pleasure being with them.

When I got home, I embraced my wife as if it was our anniversary and said I had a great day at work because there were holy moments. ♦

Hierarchical Thinking and The Myth of Redemptive Violence

April 13, 2011

Where did we get the idea that some people have more worth than others? The “we” in that sentence means you and me. For some reasons, you and I seem to believe that some people deserve more than others while others, conversely, deserve less.

Living in America, we acan’t excape the power of of capitalism over our thinking. Those who work harder and are more creative and innovative deserve rewards for their efforts beyond the medioachre. So we have “self-made men” who have “picked themselves up by their bootstraps and made something of themselves.” The assumption, here, is that those who haven’t received rewards for their efforts are medioachre, lazzy and less productive. “People who have made bad choices” in the words of one political executive in our region.

A close companion (and perhaps lover) to this simplistic, self-satisfied, judgmental and completely compassionless outlook on life of the mythic “American Dream” is Soocial Darwinism. This philosohy was brought to us in the mid 20th centry by Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner. Darwin’s insight in biological evolution through adaptation of species who were judged as more fit for their changing environment came to be applied to sociological points of view. The poor and the disadvantaged came to be judged as mal-adapters, unmotivated, lazy. The rich and prosperious came to be judged as better adapters, more evolved in society. Better.

So in various societies, particularly in the US, there are those who believe that there isn’t enough to go around and that it is up to the more evolved to preserve what they have, protecting their things from those who haven’t adapted and propered as well as they have. The other group of people seem to be those who believe that there are enough goods and services in the planet for all to not only survive but thrive. Karl Marx knew of this dicatomy in societies and warned that if the few affluent dictators with power and wealth oppressed the masses, there would be revolutions.

Unfortunately, accompanying this class warfare, there is the myth of redemptive violence. I quote a large section of Walter Wink, The Powers That Be because I believe you find it to be profound.

The Myth of Redemptive Violence

The story that the rulers of domination societies told each other and their subordinates is what we today might call the Myth of Redemptive Violence. It enshrines the belief that violence saves, that war brings peace, that might makes right. It is one of the oldest continuously repeated stories in the world.

“The belief that violence “saves” is so successful because it doesn’t seem to be mythic in the least. Violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It’s what works. It seems inevitable, the last and, often, the first resort in conflicts. If a god is what you turn to when all else fails, violence certainly functions as a god. What people overlook, then, is the religious character of violence. It demands from its devotees an absolute obedience unto-death.

This Myth of Redemptive Violence is the real myth of the modern world. It, and not Judaism or Christianity or Islam, is the dominant religion in our society today. I myself first became aware of it, oddly enough, by watching children’s cartoon shows. When my children were small, we let them log an unconscionable amount of television, and I became fascinated with the mythic structure of cartoons. This was in the 1960s, when the “death of God” theologians were being feted on talk shows, and secular humanity’s tolerance for religious myth and mystery were touted as having been exhausted. I distinctly remember hearing God’s death being announced on the morning news, and then seeing, in a cartoon show moments later, Hercules descending from heaven to earth, an incarnate god doing good to mortals. I began to examine the structure of other cartoons, and found the same pattern repeated endlessly: an indestructi­ble hero is doggedly opposed to an irreformable and. equally indestructible villain. Nothing can kill the hero, though for the first three-quarters of the comic strip or TV show he (rarely she) suffers grievously and appears hopelessly doomed, until, miraculously, the hero breaks free, vanquishes the villain, and restores order until the next episode. Nothing finally destroys the villain or prevents his or her reappearance, whether the villain is soundly trounced, jailed, drowned, or shot into outer space.

Thankfully, not all children’s programs feature explicit violence. But the vast majority perpetuate the mythic pattern of redemptive violence in all its brutality. Examples would include the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the X-Men, Transformers, the Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, Ice Man, the Superman family, Captain America, the Lone Ranger and Tonto, Batman and Robin, Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote, and Tom and Jerry (plus the Power Rangers, where real people act out cartoon characters). A variation on the classic theme is provided by hu­morous antiheroes, whose bumbling incompetence guarantees their victory despite themselves (Underdog, Super Chicken). Then there is a more recent twist, where an evil or failed indi­vidual is transformed by a technological accident into a mon­strous creature who—amazingly—does good (Spider-Man, The Hulk and She-Hulk, Ghost Rider). It is almost as if people no longer believe that heroes of sterling character can be produced by our society, and that goodness can transpire only by a freak of technology (such as electrocution or radioactive poisoning). In all these shows, however, the mythic structure is rigidly ad­hered to, no matter how cleverly or originally it is re-presented.

Few cartoons have run longer or been more influential than Popeye and Bluto. In a typical segment, Bluto abducts a scream­ing and kicking Olive Oil, Popeye’s girlfriend. When Popeye attempts to rescue her, the massive Bluto beats his diminutive opponent to a pulp, while Olive Oyl helplessly wrings her hands. At the last moment, as our hero oozes to the floor, and Bluto is trying, in effect, to rape Olive Oil, a can of spinach pops from Popeye’s pocket and spills into his mouth. Transformed by this gracious infusion of power, he easily demolishes the villain and rescues his beloved. The format never varies. Neither party ever gains any insight or learns from these encounters. They never sit down and discuss their differences. Repeated defeats do not teach Bluto to honor Olive Oil’s humanity and repeated pummelings do not teach Popeye to swallow his spinach before the fight.

Something about this mythic structure rang familiar. Suddenly I remembered: this cartoon pattern mirrored one of the oldest continually enacted myths in the world, the Babylonian creation story (the Enuma Elish) from around 1250 B.C.E. The merely finds evil already present and perpetuates it. Our origins are divine, to be sure, since we are made from a god, but from the blood of an assassinated god. We are the outcome of deicide.

Human beings are thus naturally incapable of peaceful coexistence. Order must continually be imposed upon us from on high: men over women, masters over slaves, priests over laity, aristocrats over peasants, rulers over people. Unquestioning obedience is the highest virtue, and order the highest religious value. Nor are we created to subdue the earth and have dominion over it as God’s regents; we exist but to serve as slaves of the gods and of their earthly regents. The tasks of humanity are to till the soil, to produce foods for sacrifice to the gods (represented by the king and the priestly caste), to build the sacred city Babylon, and to fight and, if necessary, die in the king’s wars.

Later, Marduk was fused with Tammuz, a god of vegetation whose death and resuscitation was enacted in the humiliation and revival of Marduk, an element that is preserved in cartoon shows by the initial defeat of the “good guy” and his eventual victory over evil, as it were, out of the very jaws of death. The only detail in our modern rendition that is different is that the enemy has generally ceased to be female.

As Marduk’s representative on earth, the king’s task is to subdue all those enemies who threaten the tranquility that he has established on behalf of the god. The whole cosmos is a state, and the god rules through the king. Politics arises within the divine sphere itself. Salvation is politics: the masses identify with the god of order against the god of chaos, and offer them­selves up for the Holy War that imposes order and rule on the peoples round about.

Walter Wink, The Powers That BeA Theology for a New Millennium, ISBN: 0-385-48752-5 (Galilee/Doubleday; New York; 1998) Pages 44-48.

That said, the folks who influence us from the Buddhist outlook on things, suggest that the first place of discerning mindfulness happens in our heads. Here are a few questions:

  1. What groups of people do we judge to be of less worth than us?
  2. What gives us (you and me) our worth?
  3. If our circumstances (yours or mine) changed because of war, disease, natural disasters or our own ineptitude, would our worth change in any way?
  4. Isn’t the worth we attribute to ourselves or others actually a value we have in our head?
  5. Who taught us that value system?
  6. What is the value system of your faith expression?
  7. What is the value system of the people who have and do nurture your life, somehow impacting on your current lifestyle, beliefs and activity?

Only you have answers for those seven questions. But here’s one last question for your consideration.

Life is pretty short. When you come to the end of your gig in, as Ira Glass terms it, “This American Life,” what affect will your existence had on people where you’ve been?

Try wrestling with these questions. We’d benefit from hearing from you because we are all in this together for what seems to be a very short time. We are open to learning.

Being Present in the Transitions

We do a lot of grasping throughout our lives  We like our stuff. We want to hold on to our things. We want to keep our activities and surroundings the same. We maintain the way we do things, the way we think and what we value. We go from day to day as if we will always have and control our life’s experiences. ‘To have and to hold to cherish’ suggest our wedding vows. “My Precious” said J. R. R. Tolkien’s character Gollum in  The Lord of the Rings.

But what is it that we hold on to? Pretty much everything. We prefer things around us to stay the way they are. We’re often ‘change-resistant.’ The way things are have become the way we do things around here. That goes for how we stack dishes in the cupboard, where we store things in the closet, the people we strangely judge as not as equal to us because of their differences. My gosh, we’ve put our socks in the same place in our dresser for years.

It’s probably why couples, at least in the first couple of years of marriage, fight over the way toothpaste tubes are squeezed, cars are parked in the garage and the lopsidedness of perception of household chore responsibilities. It is a miracle that two people can amiably negotiate the ordering of their household. Then there is the use of how we handle power. The extent that we can create an environment of fair and consensus-based decisions. If nobody ever modeled it or taught us or we never learned how to use our power and influence in decisions in an egalitarian way, we are doomed to a life of loneliness.

Not to mention that all this grasping and controlling, unfortunately, has a lot to do with how we measure our self-worth. We mysteriously think that if we have a lot of things or financial power, we are doing pretty well. House. Car. Gadgets. Job. Things, you know, <strong>my</strong> drill, <strong>my</strong> lawnmower, <strong>my</strong> position in the company. Keeping up with the Jones. Maintaining a lifestyle that approximates the TV and movie characters with whom we seem to identify.

This is immediately fertile ground for the topics related to personal growth and fulfillment. If we relentlessly strive to hold on to the way we do things and what we now possess, we don’t grow or mature. We wall ourselves into a nice little box. A person wrapped up in themselves makes for a pretty small package.

But our lives are full of transitions. Everything changes. This is why we cry at marker events like weddings, births, graduations and funerals. Things keep changing and the ceremonies frame the transitions to new changes.

There are few circumstances that bring us to face the temporariness of life more obvious than the first day of retirement or walking out of the courtroom after the divorce is finalized. This is because we’ve programmed ourselves to define who we are in our introductions. Like, Hello, my name is Bill and I am the Vice President at BigBox Corporation. Or Hi, I’m Sharon and I’m <strong>married</strong> <strong>to</strong> Bill and we have 2.3 children, we <strong>own</strong> a house in the burbs and I’m <strong>a member</strong> of the PTA and <strong>work</strong> as an investment broker for Too Big To Fail Bank, LLC.

We broadcast who we are by defining ourselves by what we do and with whom we are in relationship. Somehow, just us and our own interests, likes, passions and allergies and phobias aren’t enough. We even tend hold on to the things we don’t have but aspire to have or do. We spend years holding on to our careers (and roles) because we think that if we keep doing the same thing with ourselves, things won’t change. We won’t have to give up anything.

Career wise, we pursue excellence in what we do. We pursue further training. We try to meet company goals. We seek to excel and win the approval and admiration of those who are higher up on the corporate latter. Throughout our lives, we seek to hold on to our position, our title, our salary level. We pursue tenure as if craving for oxygen.

Frankly, there isn’t much in life that we don’t strive to keep the same. So unless we are creative artists and musicians seeking new venues and textures in our work or performances, we strive to keep things as they already are. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

This brings us to transitions.  There are changes foisted upon us or self-chosen migrations to different experiences we feel we must make. We resist change and frankly haven’t cultivated pursuing change in our lives in order to grow.

If we define our sense of who we are by what we do and with whom we are in relationship, when those things change, our life can seem to unravel – at least in our mind. Like it or not, despite our overwhelming predisposition to prefer things to stay the same, they don’t.

But what happens when the people who once related to us only by our position in the company are not there. The social circumstances, once resulting from relationships we had, may disappear. We’re now looking at different visual imagery throughout our day. Our daily communication with others has remarkably changed – maybe stopped in several ways. The phone. The emails. The conversations, the meetings, the written reports. Say, presentations, deadlines, calendar management. Social obligations.

  1. Who we are in the company has no significance (although who we are as a person is huge).
  2. What we do for an external group is no longer a valid means of weighing our self-worth.

The fact is, a corporate position, salary and power doesn’t add anything to our worth. (But note that nobody in America thinks this. That’s why we seem to be obsessed with holding on and adding to what we have and can control.)

The absolutely transforming thing you get when you are beyond your full-time career years or are experiencing less of a socially connected life is that you can come home to yourself – to be at home with yourself.

Come home? you ask as you fiddle through your now empty calendar on your smart phone in vain. Come home as if I’ve been away? you continue to muse. But where I have I been that I would come home?

Well, that’s the point. Where have we been all these years? Chances are that we’ve not been real present with our spouse or significant other. That’s because we’ve put so much more of ourselves in our careers because we thought that would bring ups more or ensure that we keep the level of money we needed to maintain control of our lives. More of what we like – what we’re used to. ‘Keeping things the way we like them.’

But sometimes at transitions, we find that we haven’t been very present in our lives to begin with. Some of us couldn’t be present in the moment with our spouse for the time it takes to eat a meal. We’d feel uncomfortable with moments of silence (as if is mandatory that one or the other of us has to be laying down a bed of words to dispel the silence).

Check this out. When you are in the room with your significant other for ten minutes, do you know how they feel? At the end of the day, if you were magically transported to a college classroom and you were asked to write an essay on what is most important to your spouse, how many sentences would you be able to scribble out?

Complicating almost any transition is our lives is that we haven’t been very present with ourselves, those closest people to us or even the transitions and changes themselves. How present are you with yourself, those around you and what is happening in your life in this very moment?

“Riley, do you love me? “Peg asked.

Riley responded: “Well I live here, don’t It?

Do you feel that who you are, without any career position or social relationship, is just as it (you) should be? Do you feel that if you suddenly found yourself living in a totally new context, that whoever you’d meet would find a good and worthwhile person in you? Do you feel that in whatever context you’d find yourself in, others would find you to be a worthwhile human being who positively contributes to their existence?

This is a far cry, another planet or cosmos if you will, from the daily striving to get, hold on to and protect what we have and have been for all our previous years. It’s an entirely different orientation to life.

It’s not the money. It’s not the investments that may or may not be working for us while we’re sleeping. It’s not the house, the car, the boat, the property, the career. That’s because when all of the ownerships and responsibilities into which we’ve placed our energies are gone,  all we have left is ourselves. To whatever extent we’ve been able to be present in the lives of our most significant others, it comes down to< now. What we’re left with is just us. Can we even be present, in a comfortable and loving way, with ourselves?

You see, it comes down to this moment. Be present in the transitions. Our lives are full of them.

The good news is that you’ve got a wonderful and noble person along with you in all of these transitions and change – you.

As I Transition Out of Your Care

A letter to the staff of the Western New York Cancer Care Center

————————————–

Dear staff members,

Today is the last of my 45 treatments for prostate cancer. The Maker should have recalled these defective parts centuries ago but a successful class-action suit has yet to be achieved. One out of six males – one out of four on African American models.

Then there’s the design flaws. The main fluid draining conduit runs right through the middle of this walnut-shaped little part but integral to one of the higher orders of human experience. Location, location, location. If you get any swelling or irritation in this flawed part, you’re stuck with the ridiculous drama of having  to know the location of every public drainage facility for miles around. Clearly Google and all of silicone valley partners should have resolved this problem by now.

The same should be said of breast cancer and those who blithely and casually dismiss the worthiness of 99% of the rest of humanity who don’t measure up, in their judgment, to their station in life. Didn’t society move beyond the 19th century classicism portrayed in PBS’s “Upstairs Downstairs?”

But you work at Cancer Care of Western New York and you are doing significant things to resolve these parts of the problems. You serve on a team of gifted individuals who are successfully battling cancer.

Now all of us are compensated for what we do in our careers. No matter where we go, they’ve got to pay us to work there. What is different about what you do is that you are called to be present in healing encounters. Those of us who come through your doors come with some brokenness. We are in transition, having learned that something in our bodies is in need of repair. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or a combination of them all.

We come into your office, as you well know, with a the waterfront of fears, unknowns, anxieties and sometimes depression being expressed by all the personality types of humanity.

The cancer, with which we’ve been diagnosed, lingers on like a giant outdoor billboard plopped down on our front yard. It says YOU HAVE CANCER! To our dismay, the giant billboard also appears in our living rooms, kitchens, certainly our restrooms, our cars and at work. CANCER no less. . . . Me, <em>for cripes sake</em>.

So your patients are jumping in and out of all of Kubler-Ross’ s stages of <em>On Death and Dying</em>. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Regardless of our grasp on reality, everything is temporary. No matter how many years we’ve enjoyed the comfort of our personal lifestyle and all of its familiar coffee shops, dollar stores, local pubs, favorite shopping malls and TV shows, ‘we’re just a passin’ through.’ Everything changes.

As patients, we also carry into your office a real sense of loss. As we are jolted into realizing that we are in the ever-shortening last stage of our lifetimes, we sense that our lives are going to change. Our lives will never be the same as before.

What we all don’t immediately realize, after our biopsies, is that while you provide care and services for us, we become part of the Cancer Care of WNY team. The closer we follow the play book (the protocol advice of each module’s specialist), the smoother and more effective the results will be in bringing about our healing. But we’ve got to become team players ourselves.

In any spoken or printed words of what would help us, we are not quickly seeing all the work that has produced it. Unless we have benefitted from medical training, we don’t see the thousands of research and practice hours behind each aspect of treatment. We don’t know about the published and collegial-scrutinized research papers, the doctoral dissertations, the measured and evaluated clinical trials, the blind and double blind tests that thousands, before us, have undergone to determine the best courses of treatments. We don’t hear any of that but in a way, we trust that all of those things are behind everything we experience.

<strong>Trust.</strong> That’s something all of us patients cling to with a lot of motivation. Your white coats are actually not necessary. You’ve got 5 million dollar IMRT machines buzzing their merry way around our bodies like R2D2 on steroids. So we know your competence must precede your responsibilities amidst the mammoth financial investment in this life-sustaining infrastructure around you.

Hope is the holy grail of the healing process. Every one of us is looking for hooks on which to hang our hope for our futures.

By now, we know life will not be the same from this point on. Our frantic but unrealistic hope for lack of change always must yield to reality. “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” Reality always trumps and holds all winning cards. With whatever cards we hold, we optimistically call the other side of our transitions “the new normal.”

At Cancer Care of WNY, you are essentially working in a battle zone. You see a lot of suffering and pain. You see, on our faces, the fear, the pain, the depression. Sometimes the brokenness. You see some of us shuffling in and wonder how it is that we are still ambulatory. In nanoseconds, you can sadly see other eminent medical problems that will necessitate care in other clinics.

The other day, in the waiting area, an elderly woman was brought in for therapy in a wheelchair. Shortly after arriving, she began to cry. She was weeping from her unbearable pain. Whatever was the cause, the enormity of her internal pain could not remain silently contained in her frail body.

Fortunately, your staff colleagues rushed to her side and helped her into an examination room for immediate pain support.

Despite all the suffering you see in your patients, you stay focused and resilient. Your energy and fortitude in the midst of the suffering is remarkable. You are thoroughly professional and somehow you remain personable and caring.

But here is where you shine, not only here at the Cancer Care Center of WNY but on into your future.

Not only are your patients in the midst of transitions themselves, all of us experience transitions throughout life. You already have and will definitely undergo changes of your own. You’ll experience transitions in your relationships, in your careers. You’ll change your thinking on some of the things you once valued above all else. Some of the things you pursued will be left behind for other matters you will come to value as more important. As the old Simon and Garfunkel song said, “When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all.”

As much as we like to embrace our seemingly unchanging world, it changes and we simply can’t control most of it. As do those of us who are patients, you, will go through transitions in your life.

Most of us already have migrated through changes, however old we may be. But when you think back through your transitions, you know there were some difficult ones. But who were the people who helped you most during those transitions?

Significant others. It was a friend or relative who was particularly present in your life when things got out of hand and were most scary. They listened to you when you made no sense. They stayed with you to help you get more information. They were there for you to take in and absorb your frustration, your denial, anger, bargaining, depression and ultimately your acceptance of the way things landed. They were “your person” as the Christina and Meredith characters portray in ABC’s <em>Grey’s Anatomy</em>.

As the same time, that’s not what your job is at work. You have a very medical, technical or clinical responsibility. Certainly the pain and uncertainty you witness on a daily basis causes you to sometimes leave work with your batteries totally drained. You’ve undoubtedly experienced burnout. You may have seriously wondered if there is another line of work that would call forth from you yet untapped yearnings and dreams without leaving you emotionally shredded and run through the wringer.

I was a Protestant minister for fifteen years. I loved the work. The teaching, the counseling, the writing and the many opportunities to be creative were at the center of my academic, intellectual and emotional career life for 60 to 80 hours a week. But I was burned out. I had to get away from the endless hours amidst funerals, crisis counseling and the usual petty skirmishes over which color to paint the lavatories or whether investments on the youth groups should triumph over architectural repairs.

One year, I changed careers. I went into marketing, advertising, writing, technology and videography.

At first, people were utterly shocked that I’d make such a change. Early on, though, I discovered nothing had changed in me. I found the obvious truth that customers (seeking my marketing or technological support) needed the same focus and caring as those who were once my  parishioners. Obviously different contexts and delivery of services but the same focused listening and human caring is needed.

So how is that relevant to your truly brief daily interactions with those of us who are your patients?

It’s clear that your patient encounters are not lengthy sessions on helping us sort through the problems and hardships of our lives. Your job is to empower the therapy and to teach how how to make adjustments that support the therapeutic protocols for our healing.

Your presence in the tasks at hand is the same as how you and I relate to a neighbor when we’re handing them a poorly aimed newspaper. It is the same when we exchange a few words with our mail carrier or a clerk at the store. We’re looking them in the eye and relating to them in an unconditionally accepting and open way. We are taking them fully in, in the moment, however brief the exchange may be.

Your patient encounters all seem to transpire in brief moments. It’s not the duration of the exchange. <em>It’s about how present you are in those moments</em>, even though there are many moments and many of us patients who interact with you throughout the day.

It can, and should, become routine because of the limitations on time and the narrow focus of your work. But the magic ingredient in every one of your patient encounters is you.

The magic that is taking place is in your extending of yourself. Your non-verbal communication. Your tone. Your full presence in those moments, as short as they may be.

In each of these moments, you have been genuine and friendly. It’s when you are being kind and patient with the guy who feels woefully inadequate because he doesn’t think he’ll be able to retain the water he consumed in order to suspend his bladder up out of the way of the soon-to-be radiated prostate. It has been years since he was frantically waiving his hand in second grade to get the teacher’s permission to go to the rest room. The feelings are still the same.

In each of your patient encounter moments, you are being flexible and open for any question that might come your way. When you use your energy and focus beyond your job task to be responsive in these moments, <strong>you are being truly present in the moments</strong> in this transition period of your patients. You’re putting your personality and humanness into the mundane acts. That makes our experience here, with your team, transformative and healing.

The way you are responding in these moments makes us feel that we are not just in a drive-through medical center, ordering up a cancer cure to go.

Instead, we feel that we are fortunate to be a part of a greater team that is committed to our personal healing. It makes us feel more whole, even though the hand we were dealt is not optimal. You make us remember that however brief the moments we are with you, we are part of something that is much bigger and more embracing than the smaller concerns that are just contained in ourselves. You are making us feel, and reminding us always, that we are all intricately connected to and part of the wonderful human race. <strong>You are doing this with your presence</strong>.

That’s what I want to thank you for. For what you do, I am grateful. But for who you are and have been, in the 45 days of treatments, for your personal presence in this segment of this transition for me, <em>thank you</em>.

 

Cerish the abilities you possess and are using in this current career. They are embodied in in your DNA. And nobody, no transition, no circumstance, can ever take away from you the unique aspects of who you are.

Thank you for your presence. I’m sure that many others will feel the same gratitude from your presence in the years to come – wherever you choose to live and work. It is in being mindful of this sense of presence, that you possess, that you will find the meaning of your life. Cherish it.

Aquarius, Please Bear With Us

 

<h1>How To Manage Hydration During Prostate Cancer Radiation Therapy</h1>

“Are you ready?” every one of us hears in the waiting room of the prostate radiation treatment center. “Do you feel the urge?” the nurses frequently ask, trying to sound sympathetic but within earshot of everyone in the waiting room. And when these guys are older and their hearing is failing, these beleaguered medical professionals have to repeat themselves even louder. Then it sounds like an exasperated parent dealing with their three year old who is in-between meltdowns with an eminent bladder accident.

“Are you ready?” even the receptionist asks the guy standing before her who is leaning against her sign-in counter, with his eyes nervously darting back and forth from her face to the therapy room door beyond.

That’s what we are all reduced to in the mandatory task of keeping our bladder filled with water in order to tighten it up with water in order to keep it from sagging down over the prostate during the radiation delivery.

We never saw that coming and there aren’t even Cliff’s Notes or “Hydration Preparation for Dummies.” Since grade school when we were frantically waiving our hand, trying to get our teacher’s attention for permission to pee, it has always been the same. Through the years, we’ve rarely got caught short, having to urinate but having no place to go. Whenever we felt the call, we just went to the nearest restroom. Like our ‘videos on demand,’ we are used to urination upon demand.

Now, having been told to drink one-and-a-half 25 ounce plastic containers of water one hour before your therapy, it seems like a setup for failure. Through the years, we have had no practice in ‘holding it.’ We’ve always just gone when we’ve had to go. That’s why every building structure in our society invests in ample restroom facilities. ‘When you to to do, you got to go.’

So suddenly, within one week’s time of being told that you’ve got a diagnosis of prostate cancer, you’ve got to learn how, for the first time in your life, to make yourself have a full bladder and not urinate through your pants and look like a complete idiot. Every guy going through radiation therapy for prostate cancer finds himself in this predicament. You’ve got to do this for the initial cat scan and MRI alignment of the radiation equipment. You’ve got to do this every day for each of the ensuing 45 days of treatment. Every day! Rain or shine, snow or hail.

So this is a new experience for us with no prior training. We essentially have one week from the diagnosis to the initial equipment setup to get this right.

On the day of diagnosis, we’re told, by a cheerful and well-experienced nurse practitioner, that “my guys drink one-and-a-half these containers one hour before treatment; . . . you want to feel the urge before you go into treatment.”

As you hear her refer to “my guys” it sounds endearing. It sounds somewhat comforting, like a nurturing hen gently but confidently gathering her chicks under her protective wings. And when you’re getting used to your new cancer diagnosis, perhaps even “intermediate” or “advanced” cancer diagnosis, you’ll take all the nurturing that’s available.

But that’s essentially it in terms of instruction. Having heard the level of fluid you’re supposed to down, you want to be like the rest of “her guys” so you put that in your daily check list. But you have no idea what it means “feel the urge” other than feeling the need to urinate.

The first time you try it, you discover there is a range of “feeling the urge” from ‘Oh my gosh, I better be near a bathroom’ to ‘Holy shit, how am I supposed to not wet myself in front of all these people?’

This is totally new ground. You wonder if they did this to prisoners of war to break them down. No matter how accomplished you’ve been in your career; no matter how close you are and have been to your friends and loved ones, you are now forced to be in a miserable and potentially socially embarrassing circumstance seemingly beyond your control. <em>Make yourself have to pee but you can’t and you’ll have to wait!</em>

One thing that lurks in the back of your mind is if you don’t have enough water suspending your bladder up away from your prostate, the radiation could burn your bladder if it didn’t have enough water and sagged down in the way of the radiation beams aimed at your prostate.

Actually, this fear is unfounded, I’m told by Chris, the radiation technician. “We can see how full your bladder is as we begin and we simply wouldn’t do it if you were not hydrated. We’d make you go out and drink some water in the waiting room so you’re always safe.” (Which happened to me at my 3<sup>rd</sup> treatment.) But more on that in a minute.

Having to drink more water before therapy begins apparently happens so frequently, that they’ve got a water cooler in every waiting area. We are the water bearers – this is the age of Aquarius – at least for next several weeks.

This, of course, is better this than a slow and miserable death, some years later, by prostate cancer that has metastasized to your vital organs – right when you were starting to enjoy your relationships, your life, dance at your kid’s weddings and attend your grandchildren’s graduations.

So what are the tricks to “mastering” your bladder control for the sake of your radiation therapy?

If you ever participated in a competitive sport, you’re in luck. You had to do a lot of things to make the team and thrive on the team. You had to:

  • Get in shape and exercise
  •  Pay attention to your diet
  •  Practice, practice, practice
  •  Keep it constantly in your head that you can’t do it alone but are on a team that functions interdependently

Here are some straight-forward bits of advice that embody the above four tips.

Whatever shape you are in is what you’ve got. Remember, you have a matter of days from the time you’re diagnosed until you’ve got to get used to having enough water in your bladder to push it up out of the way of the instrumentation. But regardless of your physical condition, at least start walking. Get your muscles and body, in general, to the point of having oxygen and blood going through it to get as good a circulation as possible. You already know you should have been doing this for years but start now if you haven’t already. It makes a difference on a number of levels. Our bodies are complex chemical and nutritional exchanges, all of which helps every bodily, emotional and intellectual function that makes up who we are.

You already know what irritates your bladder – coffee and any drink that has caffeine. There’s caffeine in chocolate. Immediately eliminate all of them from your diet (at least until after you’re cancer-free). Get a grip and take aspirin if you get caffeine-withdrawal headaches but discipline yourself to do it. It makes a huge difference in helping you go through this therapy.

The practice part of it has to start immediately. Being told to drink 1.5 bottles of water one hour before therapy is almost no help unless you put yourself on a timed schedule and record how many oz. you drink; what time you drank it, what time you first realized you felt you have to urinate and at what time you could no longer hold it. That’s three points in time.

You almost have to do this once a day as an experiment because you can’t really do this two or three times in one day. You’ll be hydrated from your first try and any time you try it later that day will not be helpful in your calculations. It will probably take you 4 or 5 days to figure out how long it takes you to feel your bladder full, how many ounces it takes and how long you can hold it until you must relieve yourself.

This obviously takes a disciplined focus and commitment to learning how your body handles water. Each of us are different and it has to do with our level of exercise, when we drink the water, our weight and our level of anxiety.

For my particular body weighing in at around 170, it took me 7 days to find out that if I drank 28 ounces of water, in 40 minutes it would trickle down and my bladder would feel full and I could hold it for another 30 minutes.

The Breakthrough Fact About Hydration

One time early in my therapy, I was waiting for my turn and I absolutely couldn’t hold it any longer and went into the restroom and let out what I thought was most all of my bladder. I fully expected they’d tell me to go back out to the waiting room and drink 3 cups of water and wait for about 15 minutes. But they didn’t.

They had me come in and get on the table and they could see how much water was in me with their imagery equipment. It was enough, even though I thought I had urinated out everything that was in my bladder.

“It’s because you were hydrated enough. And don’t forget, it takes a while for what you drink to make its way down to your bladder.”

“You were hydrated enough” was the pivotal phrase that turned everything around for me. This is because at the beginning, all I thought was involved was drinking a certain number of ounces of water so many minutes before the therapy. Instead, it’s about hydration. It’s about getting your body hydrated, having enough fluid running throughout your system so that when you begin drinking your water at a certain time (before the therapy), you will not be starting from zero hydration.

That’s why they say that most of the time, guys come in there on Mondays, after a weekend of not drinking their usual daily fluid for therapy, they are less hydrated than the rest of week when they’ve been consciously drinking for their therapy sessions. Mondays see the most incidences of patients being sent back out to the waiting room to drink more water.

So how to you maintain hydration? In your experimentation, drink other fluids earlier in the day before you drink your water before therapy. You might ordinarily have a protein-blueberry shake at breakfast. You might have a glass of water or green tea with you your eggs or cereal. Whatever you drink at the start of the day, keep doing it and also practice drinking your pre-therapy container of water.

Ideally, by the time you go in for your first session where they calibrate the radiation machine, you should have a pretty decent sense that when they do it, you will be in the zone where your bladder has a lot of water in it but you’re not going crazy trying to hold it. You should be hydrated and that you could hold it another ten minutes or so.

And suppose you can’t? Suppose you have to urinate and you just do?

No problem. If you’ve been drinking fluids throughout the day, you’re already hydrated. IT ALL DOESN’T ONLY DEPEND ON THE WATER YOU DRANK IN THE LAST HOUR TO FILL YOUR BLADDER.

This was startling new information to me that I didn’t get when I was initially told to drink so many ounces of water so minutes before the therapy. After a while, I confidently urinated right before my therapy time and because I was hydrated enough, it was usually determined that I had enough water in my bladder for the treatments.

But I got to this point only with help from the radiation technology team. If you are not hydrated enough, they’ll send you out for a few drinks of water and a few minutes wait. But in the process of experimenting, perhaps by the 2<sup>nd</sup> or third treatment, you’ll learn exactly how much water (or liquid) before treatment you’ll need and the timing. Learning to fine-tune this process truly takes a team effort. It is a training task that you, primarily, have to do yourself but you have to have the radiation technicians helping you make those final adjustments.

That’s why I’ve used the sports analogy. Most all of it is on you to get in shape and discipline and do what you have to do in order to get hydrated and be in touch with your own bladder. But you need the team around you to make it happen.

Receiving Useless Catalogues?

In our apartment complex, here in Los Angeles, the US Mail delivery person uses an industrial pile-driver to get our mail jammed into our mailboxes. This, of course, is extremely efficient because any junk mail that comes in our direction can be efficiently inserted in our mailbox.

I’m not sure how they get the apparatus in proximity to our condo mailbox area but it apparently works.

This mail delivery methodology, however, makes it difficult to get our mail out of our mailbox. Neighboring tenants would try to retrieve their mail before work, straining with their feet against the wall while pulling, with all their might, to get their wads of mail.

It’s good cardiovascular exercise but there is some risk to it. It also steers us toward unproductive emotional states if we are wearing less-than-sensible shoes in our striving to meet the LA fashion bar for our climb up the career ladder. This is true, no matter how many meditation and self-fulfillment CDs we play on our way to work. It is also why people angrily honk their car horn more in LA. It’s because they tried to get their mail before they got into their cars to go to work.

There are so many magazines pulverized into our mailboxes that to retrieve our mail, we all chipped in and hired a local Emergency Medical Technician to use “The Jaws of Life” to retrieve our mail. You know, those giant cable cutters that you see in movies, used by (unjustly incarcerated) prisoners to cut through razor wire fences to escape.

The guy we hire uses the giant extractors to pry out our shredded magazines piece by piece.

Our neighbor and friend Elizabeth told us about an alternative to getting so many unwanted magazines jammed into our mailbox. It is:

https://www.catalogchoice.org

Once you create an account and verify your email, sign in and do a search of the name of the catalogue company. Click on the name of the magazine you do not want. The tool will ask you to create a mailing name and address that is on the label of the magazine you received. While your address name varies because of titles or different uses of initials, for each magazine, you input how they input your mailing information on the label.

Obviously, sooner or later, you’ll won’t have to create new name versions. Most of these magazines and direct mailers buy your information from the same sources.

You next type in your customer number (or Code) and also your “Key Code” (if those numbers appear on your label.) You don’t have to have every bit of information but just input what appears on that particular label. If you have more than one mailing address, you can add the additional one(s). For any of this address label information, you can just add alternatives to match various information appearing on the labels. In the future, any information you have added to your account will appear as options in dropdown choices for each field. In time, the more labels you input (to eliminate unwanted mailings), the less typing you have to do for each label. The same goes for other members of your household who get unwanted catalogues.

In our household, there are two of us but we have about six or more name combinations because of the varying forms of names, titles and initials that have appeared on the mailing labels. You can even tell bulk mailers to stop delivering magazines for people who used to live in your living space.

When you have completed tying the information on the received mailing label, click on the “Confirm” button (at the bottom of the page) and in about 5 seconds, it gives you a “Success” indication that the magazine has been advised to remove you from their mailing list.

In my last visit to the website, I eliminated 10 magazines in just a few minutes.

Catalogchoice.org is a non-profit organization and lets you use their service for free. You can contribute to it using their donation button. Check it out. Save the Postal Service person from having to drive their big pile driver stuffing rig to your mailbox to deliver your mail. Best of all, you can dress for success as if today you’ll be discovered by a Hollywood Talent Agent. You’ll even be able to check your mail on the way.

Worst Practices

Joseph still hasn’t shown up.

“Of course” says the pageant director flippantly. “Gabriel? Where’s Gabriel?” she calls to the back of the church over her shoulder. “Gabriel” she musically calls again as if she’s calling her child for only the second time for dinner.

“Oh” Gabriel says from the back of the church as he stumbles hurriedly down the aisle.

“I was showing her how to keep her ribbon on” he explains with more earnestness than the task would normally command.

The director comically tilts her head sideways and says “Ya? . . . ya?” as if to mock him for his failure to be up with the other angels who are, at this point, rolling on the stage floor with the shepherds who are supposed to be asleep on the hillside but have somehow missed their morning dose of Ritalin.®

As speakers number 4 and 5 rapidly mumble through their lines, it’s clear that once again, nobody in the church will hear anyone say anything from the front. The fact is, they’ll be cute and it won’t matter. It’s the doing of the pageant that makes Christmas.

Joseph is still not here and a couple of the angels are missing in action. How many had to show for the original nativity scene? Did God have to have a last minute rehearsal and sit them all down, barking out, “Now during this scene, you can’t talk to the person next to you. And don’t pick your nose. And if see any Gameboys® I’m going to take them away from you and you won’t get them back. So take that back to your parents or you’ll never see it again.”

The director rattles through the order of events once again, obviously confident that their photographic little minds will methodologically and nimbly string the coming sequences of pageant segments together with the precision of Microsoft’s latest video editing program.

The mid-teen Joseph slowly waltzes down the aisle. “Joseph is finally here” the director says with some relief. “We’re glad you made it” she says, softening even more. Perhaps her real life experience of the male absence or unreliability has taught her to work with what she’s got.

Suppose the original Joseph hadn’t shown up and Mary would have to go through the birth alone in the stable? Who would have wiped off the cow drool ? Would she have screamed at the weird little drummer boy to go practice anywhere but in the stable – “like go play in the DMZ of the West Bank or something!” she could have blurted out.

OK, so no little drummer preadolescent or any a-rump-pa-pa-dums in the original production. They should really make this last minute pageant rehearsal THE pageant. Most of the parents are here anyway and the director’s expectation that this production will be anything other than what it is now (only without her prompting everything and everyone across and off the stage at the right time) is the most spectacular act of faith in the history of Christendom. “Come see a faith that can move mountains” the bulletin board outside of the church should say. People ought to get out of their beds and come here to see the futility of this rehearsal.

The children are herded back to the Sunday School classrooms to change. We expect more of the same to happen only back out of sight. But we know that with the addition of costumes, the in-the-wings nervousness of their peers and a sanctuary packed with their family clan and a host of unknown adults grinning, the volume of their spoken lines will dive down to zero, the prompters’ shouted whispers will be even more embarrassing and the pauses before the hoped-for movements of groups of bathrobed or haloed children will seem painfully strained.

So when central characters didn’t enter stage right in the original production, what did the Almighty do? Whisper little prompts in their hearts? Did Joseph suddenly snap to attention out of a distracted moment and say “Oh yea” after hearing an inner prompt just before lurching over to stand by his wife who had creatively used the cow’s manger for a cradle?

How much stage whispering did the Cosmic Producer of this first nativity have to do to remind Joe and Mary that these overworked and rambunctious contracted sheepherders are supposed to be crashing their barn encampment in the middle of the night and just after the baby finally got to sleep?

“Mary, stop breast-feeding – there’s a bunch of guys coming in here!” Joe probably said.

And later on, not long after their boy would ace His bar mitzvah at the temple and be offered an internship as the youngest teaching assistant in the history of the temple’s education department – why did Joseph disappear?

Did all the pressures of being the parent of a miracle worker itinerary charismatic religious guru and countercultural icon drive him to drink?

Maybe Joe had a gambling problem and when the young Jesus started turning angry bully’s thrown rocks into birds before they hit their victim, Joe started making bets. “I bet you my boy can out-argue a member of the Supreme Court” he’d wager and win several hundred shekels. Maybe Joe, one day, got a little cocky and bet the whole wad and lost to some pretty heavy hitters and ended up at the bottom of Lake Galilee wearing clay overshoes.

Whatever happened to Joe must have been a major embarrassment to the Apostolic Fathers for them not to even mention him after a certain point. Maybe Joe got Alzheimer’s and the gospel writers couldn’t figure out why Jesus, Who could raise the dead, couldn’t or wouldn’t bring clarity of mind to His mom’s husband.

But with all the botched lines, absences, miscues and frankly inappropriate behaviors, there was a first nativity scene with inattentive and clueless characters.

“You work with what you’ve got” the Almighty must have mumbled to Self after every scene in the Messiah’s life.

Just before the pageant starts, the Reverend comes to the podium and announces to the congregants that “whoever has come in a blue Ford with a license plate that starts with NAZ has left their lights on.”

This brings predictable and comfortable laughter among the assembly. With all of our life’s struggles and our obvious failure to be the next Dali Lama of our own faith expression, church is the one place where we can forget to turn off our car lights. Perhaps all of life is like one large Christmas pageant through which we stumble, forgetful of our parts or relevance to some unknown overriding theme.

The pastor flees the podium, just after expressing gratitude to all the children and the beleaguered director for what they are about to present.

As narrator number 1 begins to mumble through her hurried description of the scene (with the Gameboy® in his bathrobe pocket), I think I hear something. It’s a voice but is it behind me? Perhaps a child speaking to their parent?

No, it’s internal. It’s within me. It’s like a quiet thought that suddenly comes to you like an almost forgotten matter that comes to you in a special and spiritually profound moment.

And the voice within me says, as if it’s my  clue to the meaning of my life today and forever,  “ . . . and don’t pick your nose.”

The Mystery of the Healer’s Cloisonné

In the fifteenth century during the reign of Jingtai in the Ming Dynasty, there was a powerful sorcerer named Ling. He lived alone in the mountains and generally spent little time with the
villagers to keep his powers hidden. He would travel into the village only to purchase food and supplies but while being friendly to those he met, few knew much about him other than knowing him as a quiet old man from the hills.

It was rumored once, that a band of thieves had followed the old man up into the hills to rob him but mysteriously, they were never seen in that region again. In truth, Ling was mindful of the rogues in pursuit of him and turned himself into a tiger and put an end to their intended treachery.

One of Ling’s favorite pastimes was to disguise himself as a pauper and make his way, unknown, into the village. Because of his extraordinary powers, he would be able to join in public gatherings unnoticed. Because of his mastery of the art of disguises, Ling could even engage in conversations and become familiar with individuals and their circumstances.

One day, Ling came across the town healer, a  woman who had trained in the arts of physical healing. He saw that she regularly worked with the village folk, binding their wounds and applying her medicines. Ling was impressed by the young woman’s compassion for those whom she ministered and wondered how he could quietly aid her in her efforts.

He first thought that he would give her wealth. He thought that if she could build a healing facility, renown in the region for its work of healing, she would accomplish much. He next reasoned that the young healer would do well to have a cadre of disciples, followers who would enable her to provide healing for more people.

In the end, though, Ling saw that the young woman was so motivated with compassion for those she healed that he felt she needed none of these things. He decided that he would simply give her a charm that would only enhance the magic she already possessed.

Since Ling secretly had access to almost infinite amounts of wealth, he hired the very Emperor’s copper smith and the Empress’ personal artisan to fashion a small cloisonné bead
to embody his magic. The one possessing the cloisonné would be able to place their hand on another person and understand the cause of their inner pain, feeling the malaise of the inner tissue and the tension of the bodily torrents that caused
the patient’s discomfort. It took the artisans almost a year to create the intricate cloisonné but when it was completed, the sorcerer was pleased.

When Ling had imparted his sorcery to the tiny multi-colored orb, he enveloped himself in the disguise of a poor beggar and made his way into the village to meet the healer. He approached her and asked if she would treat his infirmed ankle for the old sorcerer suffered from arthritis.

Overlooking the beggar’s poverty, she immediately bathed his arthritic angle and wrapped it in a cloth with soothing salve. She next, very patiently, showed him how to exercise his ankle in ways that would keep it more agile.

“I have not money with me to give you,” Ling said in his crackly voice. “But I wish to give you this small orb” he said, removing his hand from his cloak and handing her the piece. “It will give
you, and whoever possesses it, an increase of awareness of your patient’s ailments. Use this power to heal and you will find blessing. But if you use it for personal gain, it will bring you sorrow. The choice will always be yours. When the time comes, pass it on to only those who are wise enough to use it for healing.”

Ling bowed to the young healer and left her presence, not to return to that village again.

The young healer found that when she had the orb in her possession, she was able to sense the inner pain in her patient’s limbs. To her amazement, she was able to see what inwardly troubled their minds. This intimate knowledge
enabled her to bring powerful healing to all who sought her healing skills. Hundreds came to this healer because of her mastery in understanding their aches and pains. But the young healer never forgot the strange man in rags who had given her the magic orb.

Through the months and years, this village healer became renowned for her healing powers but she remembered the words of the aged beggar. She regularly shunned praise and quietly went about, using her healing arts in ways that did not bring attention to her. All who knew her, loved her and she lived out her years with grace and reverence for those she served.

When the healer had become advanced in years and knew that her energies would soon not allow her to work as much as she had, she knew it was time to pass the small cloisonné orb on to another healer. She knew there was no other healer in the village and at first, became quite worried that the powerful cloisonné would be lost or fall into the hands of unscrupulous individuals. She was afraid that it would be used by some to manipulate others because of the knowledge it
gives the bearer of another’s need.

The now aged healer decided to seek the beggar who had
given her the cloisonné so many years ago. Through time, she had come to realize that the man must have been a powerful sorcerer. Not knowing if he was alive or dead, she went off into the hills in search of him, hoping he could help her pass the small orb on to a worthy individual.

Once up in the hill country, the healer came across a small cottage near the edge of the forest. It was a humble but well-cared-for thatched roof dwelling and obviously enjoyed by its owners. After she knocked on the door, the door opened and she found that the little one room home was empty except for a chair and a table with writing parchment upon it.

Feeling that no one was there or was likely to come back, the old healer sat down and began writing her story of the cloisonné and how she came upon it. She wrote of its powers and spoke of her hope that it would find its way into the hands of only those who truly wanted to bring healing and health to others.

As the aged healer finished her chronicles of the small but powerful orb, she looked over to the fireplace in the room which she had not noticed when she had entered hours before. To her astonishment, there was a fire gently burning,
emitting warmth to the small cottage, yet there seemed to be no one around.

Fearing that she may have been intruding on someone’s home, she stood to leave but jumped back with a cry when she saw there was the old man in a chair, smiling. It was the same man she had met years ago who had given her the orb.

“I’m sorry to frighten you” said Ling with a warm smile, “but I didn’t want to disturb you in your journaling.

“Thank you for the use of this cloisonné” she said gratefully. I didn’t know if you were still alive so I wanted to tell its story and then pass it on before my time on earth had come to an end.”

The old wizard slowly stood from his chair in the corner of the room and suddenly the healer found that the small cottage had disappeared and they were standing in the midst of the forest. The cloisonné and her completed parchment were in her hand.

As the two figures walked out of the forest and into the village, she spoke of the many individuals she had healed and of her gratitude for the orb’s enhancement of her healing arts.
When it was time for Ling to go on his separate way, he bid farewell to the aged healer, assuring her that she would find the next bearer of the orb. In the next village, she found another young healer and shared with him the story of the orb
and entrusted it to him.

And so it has gone through the many generations of this cloisonné that you now hold in your hand. This small orb was passed on and used by those of us whose life is that of being a healer. Because we have cherished its power to enhance
one’s perception and because all of us have respected the blessing it bestows on its owner, for the last ten generations we have made sure it would only come to the hands of those
committed, in their heart, to heal.

This cloisonné has come to you. It is given to you because you walk the path of the heart. With all of our blessings, each embodied in the accompanying blessing beads, we convey to you the best of our hopes and dreams. May this small orb, and its accompanying beads of blessings, bring you the peace you deserve as you birth your little one. In all that you do in your healing works ahead and all that your child will become, we know that the world will experience extraordinary healing. The world is already better for your presence.

United Express

Welcome aboard United Express, owned and operated by a  spun-off subsidiary called Chautauqua Airlines and the Republic of China.

Our United Express flights are designed for the efficient delivery of you and the hundreds of other United’s frequently
stranded passengers. You will be pleased to know that our high standards require us, by law, to get you within 700 miles of your intended destination within the mandated four-day deadline before providing alternate transportation through another, more reliable, airline.

We are also proud to use these Express flights for training our new pilots and flight attendants – some of whom will successfully graduate and move on to better paying careers
with other airlines. Our motto Is: “You’re in God’s hands so don’t worry!”

Once we reach cruising altitude, in about two hours, the captain will turn off the seatbelt and non-smoking signs. Both signs are backwardly illuminated by the same light bulb. That’s why they’re both either on or off. If your signs never go off, you won’t be allowed to smoke and you must keep your
seatbelt on for the entire flight.

United Express prides itself on its progressive stance opposing the supposed “medical experts” who deny the health benefits of smoking. For those of you whose no smoking and seatbelt lights do eventually turn off, at that time you may feel free to get up and limp around the cabin until the blood begins to circulate in your lower extremities. Because of the narrowness of the aisle, please restrict thoroughfare to one person at a time, yielding to flight attendants and the emergency medical personnel who are also suffering from motion discomfort.

The captain would like to remind you that anyone caught by our potty surveillance cameras, in the act of dismantling the lavatory smoke detectors, will be immediately bound and gagged and stowed in the unpressurized luggage compartment. Perpetrators will be sentenced to three consecutive life prison terms in the Republic of China.
Those caught tempering with the overhead electrical fans, lights or chair armrests will have their electrical tool boxes confiscated by Federal Marshals, identifiable by their single
earphone with the pale tan spiraling wire (trailing from their ear). Dismantlers will be handcuffed for the remainder of the trip with a hood over their head and then executed upon
landing.

In our final descent, once the captain has turned on the no smoking and seatbelt lights, you have five seconds to comply before a series of aerial barrel rolls and abrupt assents.
This flight is part of a Cleveland air show (which is detailed in the fine print on the back flap of your luggage folder). For an English translation of these stipulations, please call our toll-free automated customer service line in Bombay.

Meanwhile, sit back, try to stretch your feet out (as fully as they’ll extend) and enjoy your flight with us. But don’t dismantle any of the other electrical devices on this aircraft
under penalty of Federal Law!