August 30, 2015

A Life of Second Helpings

Written 4 years ago, these thoughts jump out at me again, after a change-filled 2015 and a fresh start with this blog

Remember second helpings? When you were younger with a body that would allow you to eat almost anything without gaining an ounce, second helpings were probably quite common. The food was good, you still had room to squeeze in more, and the platter beckoned you to help yourself. You may have felt stuffed when you were finally done, but so what. Even cotton candy was on the menu. Life was good.

As we age weight seems to pile on with virtually no effort. We have learned that our body will gain pounds and inches just by thinking about food. Second helpings are a fond memory. We eventually learn to push back from the table.

What about in other things? Have you developed the habit of pushing back from the table of life? Do you "know" that certain things just aren't good for you, or probably not worth the effort? Instead of pounds are you afraid of changing?

If so, you are entirely normal and human. Certainly for me, I went through a period in my life where I became so comfortable with a certain pattern of existence I avoided all change. I wasn't particularly happy with the rut I had parked my life in but I was comfortable, and comfort tends to win. That is sad. When I think back to what could have been during those years, I wish for a magic wand that could give me a partial "do-over."

What was it that kept me living a life that was far less than it could have been? 

  • Fear of change and the risks involved
  • Fear of the unknown. I was doing OK with the known
  • My family seemed to be prospering. Why shake them up?
  • I had to act age-appropriate, didn't I? I had responsibilities
  • I had expenses. The cash flow had to be maintained
  • I knew how to do one thing. What else could I do?

It took a major jolt to my nice, safe, tidy, little world for me to understand I had been pushing back from the table of life for years. What happened? My business died. It faded away to nothing a good 10 years before it was supposed to. I was kicked out of my rut and into retirement before I was ready.

Guess what? I landed feet first with a burst of insight and and clarity that money and security and safeness had been hiding: I disliked what I had been doing and how I was spending my one and only life on earth. I had been avoiding life by pretending to live.

From that moment on, I wanted second helpings. I wanted to repair the damage to my marriage. I wanted friends. wanted to know God and deepen my spiritual side. I wanted to push myself. I wanted second helpings.

The last several years of retirement have been some of the most satisfying of my 62 years. It took a kick out the door of comfort, but I finally realized how much more I was capable of. The box I had drawn for myself was too small for the person inside. Most of the limits were self-imposed. I had become afraid of stretching myself.

Am I a wild and crazy guy? No. Am I likely to walk across Africa or live in a tent in Alaska during an Arctic winter just to prove I can do it? Not going to happen. How about a 100 mile bike ride? Nada. Will I surprise myself occasionally by tackling something new and different? Yes, though still not often enough. I am very much a work in progress.

I am willing to bet there are parts of your life that could use a shakeup. Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to think of a few ways you want to add a dash of change, a pinch of excitement, and a spoonful of risk to your satisfying journey. Come on, admit it, there are times when you really would love going back for second helpings. 

postscript: now 66 years old and just enduring a mild heart attack, these words couldn't be more appropriate to me today than when I wrote them in 2011.

August 25, 2015

The Stigma of Being Poor

Note: this is not my typical type of post. I hope you allow me to express a few strong opinions without tossing me in the trash!

While a youngster, growing up in solidly middle class suburban neighborhoods of Philadelphia and Boston, I had no contact with poor people. The homeless, those down on their luck, the ill or infirm, or those who just couldn't grab their share of the American dream for whatever reason, were not part of my life. 

Sure, I saw news stories on TV about their plight or heard sermons on Sunday morning about Jesus and the poor. I was aware I was economically blessed, but "out of sight, out of mind" was where I relegated that unpleasant fact of life.

Not a lot changed over the next four or five decades. Living in place like Scottsdale, or now, Chandler, Arizona, means my day-to-day existence is rarely touched by the economically poor. Folks on street corners with signs are there, but I just pass them by.

Recently, something has begun to change, for me, however. I am being "forced" to think about my reaction to the poor. My lifestyle and where I live are not why. Rather, the change is being caused by the downright hateful attitude I see toward those who are struggling economically. 

While certainly not restricted to this arena, political posturings seem to be the most obvious place to find people who blame the poor for their own misfortune, seek to make their hard life even more difficult, vilify their efforts to improve their position in life, and generally seem to wish the poor would either just disappear or die off and stop being so damn visible and needy. Sure, some of the poor are lazy and cause their own problems. But, that is not the majority...that is not even the minority, but a tiny sliver of folks.

As a Christian and someone whose spiritual life is at the core of my life, the reaction of some others of my faith also causes me distress. Sometimes, I am forced to conclude that these people have either never read the Bible, or have missed the point entirely. The disparaging comments for those less fortunate, the active dislike of people different from them, the hypocrisy of condemning one particular sin while conveniently overlooking their own shortcomings in the eyes of God.....makes me crazy.

In large part, I believe the negative reactions to those different from us comes from fear: fear that our way of life, our idea of the order of things, is changing without our permission, without our consent. Even though every moment of every day involves change, in this instance people are trying to hold onto a world that no longer exists.

But, what drives me even more 'round the bend, is not knowing what to do about it. Giving money to a charity for the homeless, volunteering at a local food bank, speaking up when someone makes a crude joke about a homeless family.....those are all well and good.

But, those actions don't do anything to halt the hate. They don't get people to look at the less fortunate as human beings, created in the image of God, every bit as precious in the eyes of the Creator, who deserve our love, respect, and all out efforts to ease their suffering and pain.

We can disagree with a choice they have made, or see how a series of decisions caused a problem. But, nowhere in the teachings of Jesus, or of simple human decency, can I find it is OK to treat them like disposable human beings, or to line our own pockets while pushing them even deeper into the muck. 

I am open to suggestions. I need to do something to help break the feeling in our society that those not like us are the enemy and that the poor are not our problem.

Believe it or not, this is part of a satisfying journey...the search for a purpose.

Note: A regular reader and e-mailer to me sent the following. I thought it would add to this post and give us all something to think about. The explanation of different types of poverty is helpful.

Thank you, Richard.

August 21, 2015

Life is What Happens While You Are Making Other Plans

Using a paraphrase of a John Lennon lyric, this post is about a life changed in an instant. If you read my last post you know I suffered a heart problem during a week's stay in Portland. I promised a closer look after I had a little time to process what had happened and what lay ahead. This was the picture that closed out a recap of that "vacation" post.

Arriving at Portland's Adventist Medical Center

The staff at the Radisson Airport Hotel, the EMT guys, and the firemen who responded was so efficient and calming. Neither Betty or I knew how serious this was going to be. With a pain level around an 8 (out of 10) and all the classic signs of a heart attack I could have been in real trouble. 

Within just a few minutes of giving me a nitroglycerin pill and several doses of aspirin, my pain noticeably decreased. However an EKG administered during the ride to the hospital did show some abnormalities so something was wrong.

By the time I arrived at the emergency room of the Adventist Medical Center my pain was much more tolerable, and the sweating and tingling had subsided. Another EKG showed a more normal heart pattern and my blood pressure and pulse were only slightly elevated. Even so, the ER doctor said I should spend the night for observation and more tests. Betty and I quickly agreed and off to a room I was sent. 

I am not sure why there are beds in hospital rooms, since no one is allowed to sleep. After being hooked up to all sorts of monitors, the nurses and technicians began a steady stream into my room for blood work, heart monitors, echocardiograms, and additional EKG looks. Every two hours, all night long, a knock on the door and an apologetic medical person came in to do whatever was required. 

By early morning, it had been determined that there were certain enzymes in my blood that indicated some damage had been done to the heart. Within short order a cardiologist came in and walked me through my options which were simple: do nothing and probably have a full blown heart attack on the flight home, take some pills, wait a few days and see what happened, or have an angiogram and take an up close and personal look at my heart.

After choosing option number three, I was whisked away to the operating room for the 35 minute procedure. The results were probably the best I could have hoped for under the circumstances: a very small branch off a main artery had been blocked, resulting in a little muscle damage. The blood vessel was too small for a stent and the option of open heart surgery wasn't a logical choice in this case. I had experienced the joy of angina. 

The doctor felt confident that a regimen of pills and diet changes would allow me to resume a normal life. While I was a candidate for more heart problems in the future, I could do a lot to control that outcome.

After the hole put in my femoral artery for the angiogram had healed enough and the pills had lowered my blood pressure and increased blood flow to the heart, he was supportive of me flying back to Phoenix. 

Here is the important part of this story: 

The Portland first responders were, literally, lifesavers. Those gentlemen took over when I needed someone to act quickly. They kept Betty as calm as possible, talking with her on the drive to the hospital to assure her of my care.

The doctors and staff at Adventist Medical Center earned my love and respect. Without exception they were caring and professional. I felt that each one I came in contact with really was doing everything possible to ease my concerns and help me heal.

Our dear friend, Beth, stepped up in a way that only someone who loves you would do. She became Betty's transportation to and from the hospital and her shoulder to cry on. She became the rock of confidence and steadiness that made this journey easier. As far as Betty and I are concerned, she is part of our family who we love deeply and know we could count on anytime, any place, for anything.

I became very much aware of how many people were worried about us and were praying for us. Members of our small group at church emailed and texted their support. Other friends found out about my problem on Facebook and left loving and supportive comments. Still others contacted me to ask if there was anything they could do.

Our two darlings daughters had their bags packed and were ready to board a flight to Portland within minutes of hearing of the situation. We had learned enough about my condition to tell them that wasn't needed and I would be home in a few days. Staying home also allowed them to console each other and keep the grandkids from worrying about Grandad.

And, oh my goodness, my amazing, incredibly strong wife, was my rock. She held me, supported me, loved, and made me completely confident that we would get through this together. I am so crazy in love with my wife of 39 years, I would need a new book to describe what she has meant in my life.

My faith in God and his plans for me left me with not one single second of doubt or fear. If He had plans for me to die from this, then I believed I would be in heaven and my family would be able to weather the storm. This was not a test of my faith, but a confirmation.

Betty and I know what this heart problem means for our future. We are facing a new approach to eating and exercise with excitement. We are planning vacations and trips with a new respect for what our bodies are telling us. We see this event has a force of positive change and reinvigoration for us.

I don't recommend a heart "event" for anyone. If I had been more attuned to what my body had been trying to tell me for the last few years I would have likely missed all the excitement. But, I can honestly say that, for me, I have come away a better person. I am surrounded by love from so many incredible people. My life is blessed by family and others beyond description. My faith is firm. 

Strange as it may seem, this experience became a very important part of my satisfying journey.

August 16, 2015

Friends, Fun, a Powerful Memory Relived, And Then....

One of our favorite cities is Portland, Oregon. As a cool escape from Phoenix in the summer it can't be beat. The downtown is vibrant, full of restaurants, bars, museums, parks, and interesting (weird?) people. The local neighborhoods don't have a big box store in sight, just endless mom and pop stores to fascinate and delight. The light rail system is efficient. Bikes are everywhere. The Willamette River through downtown is a refreshing sight for the eyes. And, we have dear friends that make every visit something special and a very important part of our satisfying journey.

Betty and I are back from a week in Oregon. A flight of less than 3 hours took us from 104 to 76 degrees. Our airport area hotel and rental car were waiting. Friends and things we wanted to do had our week packed full enough maybe we should have planned on two weeks.

Friday was spent visiting a place that is part of a very vivid memory from my past: Mount St. Helens. On the morning of May 18, 1980, a massive eruption tore almost 1500 feet from the top of the 9,600 foot mountain. Fifty seven people were killed, almost 300 homes vanished, 47 bridges, 15 miles of railway and almost 200 miles of roads were destroyed.

At the time of the explosion I was on a train that had just left Portland, on my way to Seattle for a business meeting. We had crossed into Washington State and were approaching the town of Kelso when the train abruptly stopped. We were told that a few miles ahead a bridge over the Toutle River was in danger of being sweep away by the huge rush of water, mud, trees, and volcanic flow pouring out of the mountain.

Less than 40 miles from the volcano, the air had become smoky, dusty, and dangerous to breathe. As passengers looked out the windows on the east side of the train, we could see a plume of smoke tens of thousands of feet in the air, and the first stages of destruction evident near the mountain. After a five hour delay the train was finally allowed to proceed to Seattle.

This was well before cell phones were available. My wife knew I was on a train and my approximate location on that May morning, but had no way to find out my condition. And, of course, I couldn't contact her either until arriving at the Amtrak station in Seattle later that day. When I  was finally able to reach her, the relief in her voice was evident. I was never so glad to be 5 hours late, instead of washed out to sea or buried under tons of mud by the eruption.

Today, the Volcano Visitors Center is a very well done reminder of what happened and why. Frankly, seeing the power of the event and how close I was to being very personally affected left me rather emotional and in awe.

Saturday we reconnected with the energizer couple, Mike and Tamara Reddy. In Portland as part of a two month RV trip, they had asked us to reserve a day for winery tours, a picnic lunch, and dinner in Dundee, and a day full of meaningful conversation, coffee, and great memories. We will see them again in January at the Palm Springs Film Festival, but meeting up with Mike and Tamara always guarantees a great time. 

Sunday, Betty and I visited Silver Falls State Park. About 90 minutes south of Portland, this park is home to 10 waterfalls and deep forest beauty. What a fabulous day spent enjoying cool sunshine and drop-dead scenery. The hike was a little tougher than we normally tackle, but all seemed fine. 

Monday, we ventured north into Washington State for a hike along Salmon Creek, then back to Oregon for a drive around the west side of Sauvie Island. I will admit I took a peek at the clothing optional beach on the island and quickly hurried back to the car.  Then, on to more normal activities with a stroll through the very busy Nob Hill section of Portland

Tuesday, our good friend, Beth, Betty, and I spent the afternoon at Oregon Garden. Enjoying amazing flowers and planting, seeing the only Frank Lloyd Wright designed house in the Pacific Northwest, and another perfect weather day allowed Betty to snap hundreds of stunning photos.

Then, everything changed.

As I was returning to the hotel, I began to feel a powerful band of pain clamp across my chest. I started to sweat. I felt nauseous.  My right arm started to tingle. By the time I made it to the hotel I could tell I was in trouble. I asked Betty to call 911. Within 10 minutes EMTs and firemen had swarmed into the hotel lobby. I was wired up for an EKG, given nitro pills, aspirin, and oxygen and rushed to a local hospital.

Yes, I had a coronary problem. Obviously, I survived but with a new lifestyle, medicine regimen, and diet ahead of me, plus an abrupt slap in the face from life. What started as a vacation ended up altering my life. 

Look for a post in a few days about my heart problem. Frankly, I need a little time to process what happened and share with you.