Archive for July, 2012

LOOKING FOR ANSWERS

July 27, 2012

A couple of days ago my analytical tendencies were aroused by reading a recently published blog posing some deep questions revolving around the purpose and meanings underlying institutionalized religious activity; in this case the reference was to the current Islamic Ramadan period of daily fasting. The author accepted the premise that during this time, the fasting is an activity that directs the participant’s focus toward the underlying tenets of the religion, and can be considered an “annual renewal” of allegiance to the faith (These are my words and interpretations, not those of the author—they may be inaccurate but can serve my purpose as a springboard toward a more comprehensive thought).

At the same time, the author suggested that the individual may also look back upon secular events from the past year, and evaluate his or her own responses to them in terms of “right and wrong” drawn from the Q’uran and its associated premises, and hopefully make a personal commitment “to do better”. Obviously this is extremely more complicated, meaningful, and formalized than a mere New Year’s Resolution and, being based on the degree of an individual’s faith, provides a stronger chance for successful improvement. By the demands of the fasting activity, the individual is able to more easily “shut out” the outer world in order to spend time and energy inside the mind, and to dwell upon his or her own patterns of thought and action. A major point the author raised is that we have our daily routine and patterns that we follow, and periodically something occurs, either minor or major, to which we have to adjust.  In these “unforeseen events” we find the material to use in judging our own responses and often we may make an inaccurate assessment of the situation as it unfolds.

Here are a few examples, some from my own experience, both small and large. Examples include activities, relationships, and health issues; none of these were consciously sought but each required some kind of response as they occurred.

Years ago, when I considered myself to be a good golfer, I was playing a nine-hole round. After parring the first hole, I scored a double bogey (2 over par) on the second hole. Ordinarily, that event occurring early in a round sentenced the player to a bad total score and usually established a bit of discouragement almost at the outset. Little did I suspect that as the round continued, I was to achieve the best score I have ever shot for 9 holes, a 32, which included at least one eagle (2 under par) and 3 birdies (each one 1 under par)! The point is, we often don’t know or even have an inkling of what comes next, but that we shouldn’t overreact either positively or negatively until we understand the complete picture.

Recently, someone close to me was led by a doctor to believe that he has a terminal disease, and he began to generate thoughts toward what to do before leaving this life—-disposing of possessions, saying goodbyes to family and friends, rushing to archive the many thoughts he has which might be of use to others, etc. To this point, he had plans for as many as 20 years in the future, and has been pursuing an active existence both physically and mentally even though he is in his eighth decade. Suddenly all those plans were to be cast aside, and a new, less attractive course needed to be plotted and one which has a greater sense of urgency. However, now there is nothing but confusion—the doctors are now saying that those early pronouncements were about the “possibility” of the existence of some form of terminal illness, not its actual presence, and further tests needed to be made. Subsequently, the first series of tests revealed that none of the first three diseases were in fact present, and that “further testing” has to be conducted. The point of this is that we shouldn’t plan until we have good data, but at the same time we need to make sure we can acquire good data. This is true not only in our personal lives but also as we pursue our professions and careers. It is the core of good decision-making, even to the extent of interpersonal relationships in which we are often making judgments about other persons. The old saying, “Judge not thy brother until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins” is a quaint way of cautioning against jumping to conclusions.

Last fall, I was reacquainted with my “sixth grade girlfriend”. We had been part of a peer group that went to a local roller skating rink, and skated as a hand-holding couple (I recall asking my mom why holding hands with a girl felt so much better than doing so with a guy). We did not remain as “an item” through the next two grades, and I moved away to another part of the metropolis. I was invited recently to attend a reunion of persons with whom I had attended junior high, and discovered that “my girlfriend” was retired and living reasonably close to where my wife and I live. I contacted her and made an arrangement to meet her for lunch one day, and we spent a pleasant few hours talking about what we had done in the 60 years since. She devoted lots of time to volunteer work at the Denver Museum of Natural History, and was a member of several hiking clubs that even travel overseas to pursue their hobby. But unfortunately, several weeks ago she disappeared while on a hike with her club, having declared that she was going to try a different route down the mountain. In spite of two weeks of professional searching, no trace of her has yet been found. I’m sure that this was not something she had planned, and probably for which she may have been ill-equipped to address. This is one of those major events that occur outside of our usual comfort zone, and test our abilities to adjust.

Finally, a story in sort of “parable form”. An older man was hiking along a trail in the mountains, absorbing the sounds and sights of nature’s beautiful bounty, when he happened upon a junction where another trail joined his. As he proceeded onward, he met a young woman who had been on the other trail, and for a short while they strolled along together, enjoying briefly the companionship of enjoying an experience with another. Together, they happened upon a small grove of beautiful flowers and they paused momentarily to sample the colors and scents, and to exclaim, each in their own way, the joy that is given to each of us if we only stop to see and reflect. The path once again diverged, and each chose to go a different direction, but each of them had been changed, if only a tiny bit, retaining a morsel of shared pleasure within their minds to provide a welcome nuance to their future thoughts. This was a small event which “just happened”, but which became a treasured memory for reflection.

So, what is the underlying theme posed by these examples? It is that “Things Happen”, and we hopefully have the personal tools to deal with them. And do we have a strong personal code that provides us guidance toward resolving these issues? This takes us back to the beginning questions, do our solutions derive from the institutional structures, from our own perceived values, or a combination of both? In times of stress, individuals need to have time to dwell only inside their own head, to shut aside outside distractions in order to arrive at solutions commensurate with assimilated personal standards.

As a former school principal, I found that as crises sometimes occurred hard on each other’s heels, I needed to have some “alone time” in order to carefully consider decisions bearing on successful solutions to the issues.  These were times for reflecting upon occurring events, daily happenings crying for resolution. Perhaps the personal reflection within the Ramadan experience is the same thing, but looking at the long term and multiple events instead of the current happenings. I personally enjoy retreating to within my own mind, where I can create worlds and thoughts perhaps more satisfying than acknowledging my surroundings. That raises the questions, “which is the real Reality, the inner workings of my mind or the world outside?” I’ve often wondered and sometimes asked bicycle riders, “When you’re on those long cross-country trips, what do you think about, hour after hour?” Are you “inside your mind” and semi-oblivious to the outside, or are you totally conscious of your surroundings?’ “Do you work on resolving personal issues?” I know I couldn’t go on one of those trips, the physical demand would be the easy part.

To summarize this rambling discourse, each of us needs personal time for reflection, a time to recharge and resolve, and to eliminate the stress which intrudes on our daily routines and course of living. Our release may come from a formal activity such as a religious exercise, or we may generate it from within ourselves through some version of personal meditation. Grant that each of us can learn to access  some form of this as a tool for better living.

Always Be Happy!   Enjoy the Flowers!

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DIALOG CONTINUES

July 24, 2012

Well, my friend is still resident in Limbo and no, that’s not a small Wyoming town. If you read the last installment, the neurologist had told him that it is either  CIDP or Multiple Myeloma, and he needed to get a bone marrow biopsy to get us further along. That was done last Thursday, in Billings, and so far no results have been offered. However, that doctor (a “2 for 1” oncologist/haemotologist) said that if the results showed myeloma, and would be known by Friday, he would call. So far, he hasn’t called.

A new fact came to light today, when the family doctor reaffirmed that what they are doing is casting about trying to eliminate all the nasty diseases that cause neuropathy, that other than accepting the fact that there really is neuropathy in the legs and feet, the cause needs to be determined so that treatment may begin. In the meantime, the Billings doc said he doesn’t suspect myeloma, even before seeing the results of the biopsy; rather, he wants to investigate two other culprits, amyloidosis and multiclonal gammopathy, both of which have something to do with the body’s ability to regulate the use and creation of protein. If unchecked, the protein can attack various organs, either systemically or it may pick one or two. So, more tests are being done including the ever-popular 24-hour urine collection. And so it goes, another week to wait and hope.

In the meantime, my friend is still losing a bit of weight, down to 188 lbs. this morning. And generally feels weak whenever there’s work to be done, and even some entertainment at times. At the same time, another close friend had a kidney removed yesterday, having been diagnosed with kidney cancer. For him, this comes a few years after a five way heart bypass, and he’s still relatively young. As one of my colleagues commented, “Even those wiry types have problems, it’s not just the obese”.

On the good side of life, my wife will be bringing our two young grandsons for a week-long visit, on her way back from some AdvancEd training in Georgia. As I only get to see them a couple of times a year, this falls into the category of An Event. At ages 6 and 10, they are fun! Last year, we climbed the mesa which looms over the town; played golf, went to the dinosaur dig, swam in the mineral pools and used the tubular slides, and a host of other activities. The evening trips to Dairyland for ice cream, and a game or two of miniature golf rounded out that week.

We continue to struggle, as does most of the country, with the unusual high temperatures day after day, with no rain for weeks. Tonight looks promising in that area, and I even think I can hear thunder as I write.

I hope all my Islamic friends are holding up well as they cleanse their minds and bodies during this year’s Ramadan. I read a few articles about the effects of fasting, and some recommendations about halal-based nutrition which provide a sound basis for healthy living. One of the interesting points is that many Muslims “overindulge” after sunset, and instead of being able to maintain a healthy status, tend to gain weight in spite of the fasting! The articles were extremely well-written and provide excellent insight into a different perspective on life in general. The author of one of the articles I strongly admire for how she applies the depth of her faith to her daily living, and converts that faith into a dynamic contribution to her fellow beings. In fact, I may begin to indulge in Halal, except of course when it comes to pork. I really like a good ham sandwich, bacon, and an occasional roast. I think this is one area where they need to modernize the basics of their rituals!

Always Be Happy!

THE WAITING GAME

July 14, 2012

Once again, my friend and I continued our dialogs having new information to consider. He met with his family physician, who reviewed the preliminary results of the spinal tap and the blood test panel. Everything looked okay except for a large “spike” in the graph for albumen/protein. The doctor explained that is sort of a “marker” for a person having some variety of auto-immune disease, but not which one. However, the lab report indicated that if desired, an electrophoresis  breakdown could be used with the original sample, to provide a more definitive analysis.

My friend contacted the neurologist’s PA, suggesting that this further analysis might be well to do this week so that when the neurologist returns from his vacation next week, there would be no delay in waiting again for a lab result. He told me that the PA had emailed him that it had been ordered. The preliminary report also indicated that the test for lupus was negative. The appointment with the neurologist is set for Monday, the 16th.

This waiting was likened to that of a person sent to prison for a crime he did not commit, and waiting to hear if his sentence is to be commuted, if  a life sentence is being imposed, is there a death penalty? (Fortunately, the current Governor of Texas is not a player in this scenario). Being a proactive person, he wants to be able to plan, to plan for SOMETHING. The “Not Knowing” is eating away at his comfort zone. And two of his close friends are going through their own versions of Hell, one who goes on to kidney dialysis in another month or so, and the other who found out Friday that he has kidney cancer, with the offending organ to be removed sometime soon. But at least, they KNOW.

I personally recall reading a book, “Anatomy of an Illness”, written by Norman Cousins, former editor of the Saturday Review of Literature. I had lunch with Mr. Cousins back in 1964, before he was saddled with some type of cancer; his book documented how he used intense involvement in humor to successfully conquer the disease. It would be highly informative to explore the internal thoughts and ramblings of a person dealing with the prospect of imminent death; I sometimes wonder if Alzheimer’s and dementia are Nature’s way of preparing the individual for the finality of passing to the next stage. Many of them, I’m told, are no longer aware of what is happening, and thus are not burdened by the fear of the unknown. As for me, if I were to be faced with the prospect,  I don’t think I’m ready to go, there’s too much to be done.

Always Be Hopeful                                         Temper Our Yin

A NEW PERSPECTIVE (Immortality 2)

July 4, 2012

My friend and I resumed our conversations, having had a few days in between to contemplate things, and to have some more tests done. He informed me that a very, very complete blood panel was run on Monday morning, and his family physician had sought out whatever results were immediately available, and said that so far, everything was good.

There needs to be some comment about that physician. Both of us have known him for years, and he is one of a rare breed—totally thorough and patient oriented; in fact, he had a falling out with some former colleagues, all younger, partially due to what he describes as their focus on earning money and not on patients.  And both of us had recently resumed using his services, each of us having been working in other communities for several years. We are indeed fortunate to have him available and hope that he is able to continue treating people, not patients. His advanced age and multiple infirmities don’t seem to slow him down, as well as his commitment to the community of the state as a whole through his connections with the University and politically.

Back to the discussions. My friend said that the doctor admonished him for being negative, conjuring up final scenarios when a diagnosis has yet to be rendered. His reply to that was that the neurologist and his PA had both implied some tragic ending waiting in the wings, without being specific. This local doctor, actually the one who had referred my friend to the neurologist, gave him more information along with the scolding, and brightened up the day! I also entered into the attitude adjustment; I quoted to him some words from an Islamic friend of mine, taken from the Q’uran, and emphasizing a positive approach to dealing with the issues. And here is where the “new perspective” enters the picture.

The doctor asked my friend if he knew why there had been a spinal tap ordered for this morning; Friend said he thought it was to determine the kind of auto-immune condition in order for it to be treated. The doctor said that was partially correct; the actual intent was to test for Multiple Sclerosis as all the symptoms he has are classic examples of that disease. Friend’s first response to learning that he is saddled with a disease potentially terminal, after leading an active, healthy, and not-yet-complete life was a big shock. Now, there appeared a great sense of relief, knowing that he has accepted the fact that he does have some kind of condition and that if it is MS, that is one that not only is usually not fatal, but more often than not allows a person to lead a fairly normal life of travel, sports, and all the other activities one would want. I noted the new perspective—one of hoping for a disease of choice! Both of us know many people having MS, and have functioned normally for many years.

So, for my Friend, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. It may be permanent, transitory, or even (perish the thought) be the headlight of a locomotive rushing toward him. He will find out in a week or so the source of that light, and be given the tools to deal with it. And, as my Islamic colleague would indicate, he has at least been given the gift of Time.

Always Be Happy!                         Triumph Over Worry!

WHAT HAPPENED TO MY IMMORTALITY?

July 2, 2012

Recently, a friend close to me was informed that he has a disease which, after some interval of time, is labeled “terminal”. He needed to talk, so we initiated a series of conversations from which a number of observations emerged, as well as raising a host of questions to be answered. As might be expected, topics included faith, family, and future, and he used another “f-word” to describe his perceptions relative to the state of affairs surrounding each of these.

We looked at the steps in the grieving process, whereby disbelief is followed by anger, sadness, and final acceptance, and we discovered that he is somewhere among all of these, varying even hourly as he seeks to find out information from the medical community bearing upon his longevity. Being a proactive person, he is attempting to initiate contacts and referrals to facilities dealing specially with his condition, rather than awaiting his doctor’s return from vacation in two weeks to look at treatment options. He began this new week with a huge smorgasbord of a blood panel, and will follow up tomorrow with a spinal tap seeking to determine the particular kind of auto-immune disease with which he has been saddled. With that knowledge, there is a chance that some modulation may be available to prolong his earthbound activity. His first thought about that was to see if the disease’s severity could be delayed until the Chicago Cubs win the World Series, but was told that would involve Divine Intervention or at least services of a priest. Maybe until the Broncos win another Super Bowl?  In any event, the “not knowing” what can be done is of extreme frustration to him, especially since his performance profile labels him as analytical in the extreme.

As children, we never consider death; when we are teenagers or young adults, we tend to regard ourselves as Immortal relative to our life on earth. What rational adults perceive as “risk taking” is not even a descriptor considered by youth, although my friend was always cautious throughout his growing years, certainly not one leading a wild existence. But even as adults, we usually don’t allow recognition of our mortality to enter into our priorities; we go about our lives with little thought given to the fact that “Yes, we all have to go sometime.” Hence, he raised the question used as the title of this essay, “What Happened to My Immortality”?

Our conversations strayed into thoughts of Faith and the Afterlife; I was able to make the point that Faith, as well as the act itself of Dying, is a personal thing.  Within that Faith is the personal concept of “What Happens Next”, the Heaven and the Hell along with all the roadside stops in between. I personally believe in some kind of life force which I share with all things which have lived , are living now, and will live in the future, and that we are all part of a Supreme Something that we don’t understand, and that created our Universe for a Purpose yet Unknown. I explained that I believe that when our physical self dies, that life force is still there, still part of that Whole. I want my physical body to go back into its basic components, the ashes of cremation spread about for continued use for new life on this planet.

He decided to give all of that some thought, realizing that any acceptance must be something generated from within himself and not something imposed by either me or some other entity such as an organized religion. I’ve often wondered myself how devout many of us are as True Believers; I’ve watched the rituals of Communion, the masses of Muslims at prayer, and all those similar actions and speculated about how many were merely going through the motions to satisfy some social expectation and not really be “committed”. We did recognize that for those who truly believe, they are able to find real relief within their faith from the trials and tribulations of human existence. I referred him to a poem, “The Harbormaster”, which I had written to express that thought.

We even spent some energy wondering why there even are “organized religions”, where people seem satisfied with the status quo and  become a social “herd”. By doing so, it relieves the pressure of having to make decisions, so they can turn their attention to other things. The same is true of any large grouping requiring a personal commitment to an idea, a concept, or a belief. The depth of that commitment is another question. Social activists, on the other hand, are those who don’t follow the herd, and while that’s the major source of social change, it’s balanced by that herd complacency which provides the balance in society. We can’t have everyone being an activist; I believe that borders on anarchy.

We went on to discuss life in general, realizing that the sadness in the grief lies in not being able to experience all the good things that are on “his plate”—watching grandkids grow and mature, seeing his own kids married and successful, more world travel—things that may be sequentially snatched away as he loses the ability to drive, to walk, to write, and even to talk. How he comes to terms with all this is still “unwritten”; he is thankful that there appears to still be Time to address all those new thoughts and questions. Perhaps somewhere in there are some really good answers.

Always Be Hopeful!                                                                                                                                        Thankful For You!