The Great Divide

There is so much divisiveness in our country today.  Unfortunately, division has become a part of our society.  It hits us in the face constantly, and sometimes it can even be between us and people we love and otherwise respect. Passions arise over everything from politics, to birth control, and gun control. If we disagree with someone, not only do we see different sides of an issue, but sometimes we get angry and try to change the other persons beliefs.  Due to this divisiveness we seem to be losing respect for each other.  There has always been disagreement.  It is this loss of respect and anger for the other side that makes me most uncomfortable.  I think a big reason for this comes from above. Our president reflects anger all the time. He shows anger to reporters whenever they bring up something he doesn’t want to talk about.  He has called politicians who disagree with him ugly and disrespectful names.  Instead of respecting other opinions and other people, he gets angry at anyone who disagrees with him.  Agree or disagree with his policies, his reactions aren’t the epitome of decency.  Great leaders welcome those with different opinions so that the discussion might lead to a solution.  This type of politics leads to an uncomfortable divide in our country.  However, this is not what I am thinking about right now.

There is a difference of opinion today that has valid arguments for both sides.  It’s more important than whether to have more guns, or less guns.  It’s even more important than right to life choices.  The Great Divide is over what to do about our country’s reaction to the pandemic and the situation that we find ourselves in.  We all know the facts.  The deaths from this will exceed 100,000 people in a VERY short time.  How we became the largest victim in the world of the Coronavirus doesn’t really need to be discussed in this moment.  There will be time for that later.  Now we need answers.  The question really boils down to which do we value more, the economy or our citizens lives.  The facts are pretty clear.  If we don’t open up our economy soon there will be more and more damage and it will take a long time to recover. I understand when a person says that they need to work to pay all their bills.  Most working people are not at the risk that older people are.  But if we open up the economy, as we are doing right now in so many states, the death toll will continue to rise, and most of those people who die will be over age 60.  If we don’t open up the economy there could be economic damage that takes years to reverse.  If we do it too fast many of our loved ones will die.

What an insane choice!

As time goes on, and the death toll reacts the way the experts say it will the Great Divide will get bigger.  Already people are saying to older, and more vulnerable people, “If you are worried, stay inside!  It’s your choice, but I have to go to work.”  I get that.  I’m over age 60 and don’t have the financial worries you have, but on the other hand, you don’t have the life and death worries I have.  What a terrible position we find ourselves in.

One thing I hope for is decency and understanding.  This will end, eventually, with either a valid treatment, and/or a vaccine.  In the meantime, let’s find common ground and respect for both sides.  I think we are angry because of the situation we find ourselves in, and not because others disagree with us.  And please believe the scientists, and doctors who are experts in this field.  This is not the first time we have faced a horror such as this.  The experts know what to do.  They don’t deal in opinions.  They deal in facts.  We must reject political answers or self-serving politicians on both sides of the aisle. The experts are all in agreement on how to handle this dilemma.  Let’s be grateful that we have such renowned doctors and scientists and follow their intelligence.

Fear

The world is a scary place right now.  So much of what we take for granted has been disrupted.   Financially, more people are suffering than not.  People are unemployed at a rate that is unheard of since the Great Depression, and that time in history scarred an entire generation.  I remember speaking with my parents and grandparents about money and seeing how no matter how financially stable they were, they feared running out of money or spending too much.   It was the memories of their fear of not having enough to eat, to spend for necessities, or to care for their families during the Great Depression.  If they were working, they knew of ten people that were not working, and seeing them made them fearful.  Today, as in the past people are worried and they have no idea when this will get better.  However, this is not the worst problem.  It’s actually just a byproduct.

Millions of people are either sick or afraid of getting sick.  We are in the midst of a global pandemic.  A worldwide disease, for which we have no treatment, no vaccine, and no inherent defense.  In NY and most other cities, if you aren’t careful, you will get sick.  So we go to the store to buy food, a certain necessity, and everyone is wearing masks.  It’s actually the law!  Most people are wearing gloves.  This sight is surreal.  Previously it was unimaginable.  So many of us know of people that are infected with the virus and became very ill.  Some people know of those who died from the virus.  Those who died were people just like us, in age, and physical fitness.  This leads to fear of our vulnerability and a constant sense of danger.

As if it is not enough to have to worry about finances, and health, we must also worry about the future and the actions taken to solve these problems.  We have elected officials, with a huge structure behind them to try to have a plan to solve these problems.  They (we) need to find a vaccine, and a treatment.  They need to deal with an overrun healthcare system.  They need to help mitigate the financial suffering of so many people and so many companies.

Now I am going to try to avoid politics at this point.

I think these problems we face are bipartisan issues, since the coronavirus strikes blindly at everyone.  We expect definitive action by our leaders.  We expect intelligent decisions by our leaders, because the decisions in this case must be led by science and medicine, firstly and then by sound economic principles.  Not getting into any specifics, I am fearful that this is not happening.  Not on the federal level and not on the local level.  We are the wealthiest country in the world, and yet our country is being devastated at a higher rate per capita than any other in the world.  That scares me.  On a bad day that steals hope from me.  That instills tremendous fear in me.

Usually when things are dark in my life I can find areas of strength to help me get through it.  I always feel that I can find a solution for a problem.  I always see the positive just over the horizon, even if it’s not evident at the time.  But this is different.  This is not a problem that affects only me, or my family, or my friends.  This problem is EVERYWHERE and affects EVERYONE.  It’s about survival on every level, personally and culturally.  Not knowing how we will all come out of this is scaring the shit out of me.  It’s these two layers of fear that make this time of our lives the greatest test of all.

So how are we doing so far?

As usual when things are toughest there are those who step up and with their actions, both protect us, and give us hope.  During 9-11 it was the first responders who showed us how to selflessly act during a crisis.  The police officers and fire fighters ran into damaged burning buildings to save others, never worrying about themselves.  Their ultimate sacrifice was viewed as sacred and allowed us to have hope for the future. A future that was unknown at the time.  Our leaders brought us all together, and with that solidarity we each found strength and hope. Today’s crisis is on such a larger scale, but as crises are, there are parallels.  We certainly have our heroes.  Our healthcare workers are saving us at rates unlike anything seen in generations.  In our country alone with over 1,000,000 sick, (and probably 10X that number if we had more robust testing) we have seen in just over one month over 50,000 deaths.  So many healthcare workers have given their lives for this cause.  They put themselves and their families at risk every single day.  We avoid going to the supermarket because we fear the coronavirus, and yet these healthcare workers, with just a mask and a gown go where they are sure the virus lurks.  They are our heroes during this time.  With their actions they give us hope for our society and ourselves that all will be okay.  Our first responders are heroes as well.  The police and fire fighters go to work every day to keep us safe.  Their infection rates have skyrocketed way past the average.  My own son sleeps out of the house every night so that he doesn’t put his family at risk.

So individuals have risen up to meet the challenge, and I have not heard one person talk politics while they were saving our lives.  I’m sure our heroes during this crisis are both Democrats and Republicans.  Some are Trump supporters and some not and when interviewed you would not know which is which.  But still our country is divided.  People stress differences rather than similarities, even though on any day we have more in common than not.  I think this will be a defining moment for us all.  As individuals we have risen to the occasion.  We are fighting tooth and nail to get through this.    What we have in common defines us, not our petty differences.

I am certainly still fearful how and when this will end, but I have hope.  I can get through this fear with the hope that we will rise as a culture past all our differences just as we are rising above this current threat.  I have hope that just as all the Republicans and Democrats cheer every night for the heroes among us at 7 pm, we will lose our petty antagonism and cling to the beauty that we all have in common…. our humanity.

Just Look in the Mirror

I’m wise to think that happiness comes from inside myself and not from outside.  Happiness, if we are fortunate enough to be happy, is part of who we are and not what we have now or might have in the future.  Looking to the future for our happiness makes happiness a very fleeting feeling, and what happens if we never get that “something to make me happy” thing?  Will I then be unhappy?  No, for me happiness is built inside me.  It’s part of who I am.  I realized this today when I was looking in the mirror.  I thought I looked terrible.  I was unhappy with how my hair looked although it was the same as it is every day.  I saw an unattractive guy looking back at me.  I was internally UNHAPPY.  But then I realized that yesterday I looked at the same guy in the mirror, at the same time of the day, and I was thinking that I was looking terrific.  I was happy to be the guy in the mirror on that day, unlike today where I was not too happy about being me.  It was at that moment I realized that the mirror saw me as exactly the same on both days.  My mood, and my attitude was the difference.  My happiness had nothing to do with how I looked.  It had nothing to do with anything on the outside but did have to do with everything on the inside.  If your happiness comes from outside yourself it can be lost, or taken away.  That seems like a precarious way to live.  If it emanates from within, it is mine, always mine, and I can have it for as long as I have my awareness.

# 67

Yesterday was #67.  My birthdays have come in all sizes and shapes.  One of my first, which I still have the video of, was in apartment 6J on Burnett Street.  It was the 1950’s and my parents had their friends and their friends’ kids there.  A party in our small apartment, with cake, birthday hats and what looks today like very odd clothing. (Do you remember that day, Lloyd?) I never imagined at that time what lay in store for me in those next 66 years.  While I try to live in the moment, when I do look back, I cannot believe the things I have done, been through, experienced, and felt.  I’ve loved, been loved, am still loved, and for this I am so grateful.  I share my life with Pat, someone who if I created the perfect person to be with would be her.  I share my life with children and grandchildren, who give me love and joy to the fullest measure, and who give me so much, that I only pray I can give back to them what they give to me.  And I share my life with friends, from all the corners of my life, who have seen me through trials and tribulations I never imagined I would go through, as well as sharing all the goodness my life has been.

For this I have the highest amount of gratitude.

A Beautiful Mind

I watched a movie last night called “A Beautiful Mind” starring Russel Crowe.  He played a math genius, John Nash, who was suffering from schizophrenia.  He would see people that didn’t exist and for much of his life he didn’t realize that these people, so important to him, actually were figments of his imagination.  Some were positive influences like a best friend named Charlie, and his adorable young niece, who John felt he had a close relationship with. They were supportive, and loving.  Another fictitious character was a CIA agent who pushed John in directions that made him act totally paranoid, and made it so he could not live a normal life.  How John Nash coped with his illness was what made this story so incredible and for me something I can relate to.

After a few years of John living his life with these false characters, his wife finally figured out that her brilliant husband was living in a world of his own.  He was not functioning properly, as a professor at Princeton, as a father or as a husband.  She had no choice but to have him institutionalized.  This took place in the late 1940’s and 1950’s, so part of his treatment was brain shocks and very mind-numbing medications.  After being released he no longer had the fantasies but was unable to function.  He went back to interacting with the fantasy people and acting as if they were real.  His wife realized that John needed to be reinstitutionalized, but instead of going back into the hospital and being committed probably for the rest of his life John had a better idea. He asked his wife if she would support him as he tries to live his life alongside these characters, who he knows to be fictitious, and would be there forever.   She agreed, and so he would live his daily life with these fantasy people trying to influence him, as they did in the past, but this time he would ignore them, hoping that as time went on, they would affect him less and less.

And that is exactly what happened.

They were always there, in his vision and in his mind.  Constantly speaking to him, they would implore him to react to them as if they were real.  But he was strong enough to ignore them.  He actually went so far as to tell each one goodbye, and then he never spoke to them again.  This worked.  He went back to teaching at Princeton and years later actually won a Nobel Prize for Economics.  While accepting the prize, he visualized these fictitious people sitting there, in the audience, but was able to ignore them, knowing they were not real.

After watching this film, and absorbing this true story of a man who lived with insanity every day, but whose mind was strong enough to ignore the negative, I realized that this is similar to something that I do.  I’ve learned a long time ago that my thoughts are not under my control.   Thoughts just pop up in our heads much like John Nash’s fantasies.  Our thoughts tell us we are not good enough, or successful enough, or make us worry about some future problem that might never happen.  Think of how often our mind has thoughts.  They never stop.  But if we realize that these thoughts are not real, not in this moment, then we can ignore the emotional reaction they elicit and not “feel” badly.  This is what I do every day to keep myself happy.  Not only to find my happiness, but to be able, as John Nash did, to control my negative reactions to things that are not real.  My reactions to thoughts which reflect the past or future, is truly a form of insanity.  Why do I suffer over and over again for things that might have happened to me decades ago?    An example might be that in a previous relationship someone did me wrong and it hurt me deeply.  When something occurs in my life similar to the past an emotional switch goes off, and I perceive in the present that this is happening again.   Then I feel the pain from the past.  As if today was the past and not the present.  But it’s not the past, and I am not the same person from the past who felt that way.   Yet the reaction is the same as when I first felt that pain years ago.  Meditation teaches me to be aware of my thoughts as they are nothing more than random thoughts, and not truths.

Much like John Nash, I can now be aware that while I cannot control my thoughts as they pop into my mind, I can control my reaction to them.

He “knew” that what he was seeing, and feeling was not real so he ignored them and it didn’t affect him as much anymore.  Meditation teaches me to be mindful (aware) of my thoughts, and to realize the untrue nature of the thoughts and the emotional reaction that might follow.  Now, for the most part, I am spared a negative emotional reaction that might make me upset, anxious, and unhappy.

I have learned from all this that the beauty of our minds is not that we have thoughts, which so often are negative, continuous, and ego driven.  The beauty is that we can be aware of all this happening, and this awareness will allow us to ignore the false, the negative, and the ego driven part of our mind which is truly NOT who we are.  What is left is love, gratitude, and compassion.   This is what makes our mind beautiful.

The Eulogy Never Given

My Unnatural Life with my Mother

I once listened to a meditation where the leader was saying that we should find that warm, comfortable, safe place you have stored in your memory.   The place where you felt you were good, loved, safe and felt the warmth of the light.  He gave suggestions about where to find this in our past and the first suggestion was to think of your mother, and what she gave to you.  It’s reflective of the natural course of events that a mother will unconditionally love their child, give warmth, love, support, safety and strength to their child.  However, the words of this meditation leader didn’t resonate with me.  He was not speaking of my mother, or my relationship with her.

For as long as I can remember I was anxious, and worried about pleasing my mother.  As a child I always believed that her happiness was my responsibility.  I needed to please her all the time.  To do or act the way she thought I should.  I never saw her as an ally or asset.  I never got strength from her. She was never someone to turn to when I had one of the many normal problems of a child growing up.  My father felt this way as well.  He was dedicated to making my mother happy.  I had no allies.  I only had myself.  For others in my family it was much worse.  One of my brothers was tormented by my mom.  He was unable to make her happy or give her what she needed so she was more negative towards him than to me.  I realized something was missing in my life during my middle years and got help.  With great therapists I figured it all out and this led to self-awareness that has made me someone who is able to give love.  I’m still a loner on many levels, but I enjoy close relationships with family, and friends, and most importantly with myself.

We all learn how to BE from our parents and mostly our mothers.  I am okay today because of my mother, but not because she taught me to be this way but because I learned from her what not to do in relationships, and how not to act to my family and friends.  In a Buddhist group that I attended one time I asked, “How can I get along with people in my life that hurt me?”  The teacher said that I should thank them for the lessons I am learning from them such as how to tolerate pain from others and realize through the pain I’m feeling from them that I am learning how not to act to others.  This great lesson helped me get along with my mother for the rest of her life.  Because of how my mother treated me and as I watched, how she treated the others in my life, I was able to learn from her how not to be, and I became a better father, husband, brother and friend.

In this unnatural way of growing up, with the pain I have felt through the years from my mother, and as I watched her hurt so many people close to me, and as she goes towards her final resting place, I can say thank you mom for making me the man I am today.  It’s an unnatural path to take in finding gratitude for my mother.

I write this to myself to help me find closure and with the idea that this is something she will never know or could ever understand.

Realization

I’m sitting here listening to the shallow rhythmic breathing of my mom. We are waiting for the ambulance to come to take her home. That realization has the ring of going home to Portofino Place but also of going to her eternal home. Very soon my mom will be going home.

This kind of understanding took a while to sink in. She came to the hospital 2 weeks ago and we never thought the end was so close. We never had a reason to think that. But now finally it is sinking in. When the gastro doctor said she cannot eat anymore without a feeding tube the truth didn’t sink in.  When her team of doctors said that I need to speak with the hospice team it didn’t sink in.  When I asked the doctor what she can eat when she gets home, he said anything she wants. It doesn’t matter he told me. Just let her be comfortable and as happy as possible. For some reason it just sunk in.  She hasn’t stopped sleeping since I got here. When she wakes up for a few seconds it’s unclear what she is saying.  Reality has sunk in.

I’m sad that soon I won’t have a parent. Even her being the protagonist she always was, it will be odd to live in a world without her.  She was the protagonist of so many people. I think Ron will miss her the most. She beat him up daily and yet he is taking it the hardest since his life will change the most.

My thoughts go back to the death of my father, being in the hospital and having so little to do with the decisions and I think I was detached from the emotional pain of it. I am thinking of that a lot the last few days. I wonder why it was like that. Dad had Harriet to make the decisions.  No one ever asked me what I thought. Now I, being the healthcare proxy, am asked so many questions and yet for some reason I know to confer with my brothers and with Ron to keep them involved. It’s not because I need their input but because they need to have input. I get it. With my mom’s impending end upon us, this will be a time we all remember as a time of sadness, of course, but also of having so much support while being part of a large family. Positivism came from that because we all went through this together.

I suppose the reality of mom’s condition is written all over my face.  Dr. Cheuk just came into the room to sit with me and talk. She gave words of encouragement and deep respect for our family. She told me that mom’s kidney creatine level is higher than it should be so she can’t take the blood thinner for the blood clot she has in her leg. She asked if that’s okay. Another decision. She asked when she gets home and gets sick will we be bringing her to the hospital.  Another decision.  The doctors at Huntington Hospital are extremely caring. She just sat quietly with me for quite a few minutes, silently, and then slowly stood up.  We hugged, I thanked her, and she left.   I will always appreciate those moments with Dr. Cheuk.

This realization is clear.  The end is approaching.

The Greatest Moment of My Life

I’M NOT THE SAME PERSON I USED TO BE, OR EVEN THE PERSON I ALWAYS HOPED TO BE.

I’M NOT AS STRONG, OR AGILE, OR QUICK WITTED; NOR ACCOMPLISHED AS I HOPED TO BE.

AND I DON’T HAVE THE SAME PHYSICAL PRESENCE THAT I ONCE HAD.

BUT YOU’LL HEAR NO COMPLAINTS FROM ME.

AND THAT’S BECAUSE I LIVE IN THE MOMENT.

AND I’VE NEVER HAD A MOMENT AS WONDERFUL AS THIS ONE.

I HAVE NO FEAR.  NO UNREALIZED GOALS.  I’VE BEEN MORE THAN FORTUNATE.

I MIGHT NOT BE AS SHARP AS I USED TO BE.  MY MEMORY NOT AS CLEAR AS IT USED TO BE.

BUT MY UNDERSTANDING IS SO FAR GREATER THAN IT EVER WAS OR I EVER HOPED IT WOULD BE.

CLOUDY OR SUNNY, THE LIGHT SHINES BRIGHTER EVER DAY.

THERE’S NOTHING I NEED.  NOTHING I WANT.

THIS MOMENT, AS THE ONE BEFORE IT AND THE NEXT ONE FOLLOWING IS THE GREATEST MOMENT OF MY LIFE.

Serenity

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Strength to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

 

The Serenity Prayer was written by an American theologist, Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr and then made famous by Alcoholics Anonymous, and other self-help groups many years ago.  The poignancy of its simple message makes it a mantra for many of those in recovery and helps when things feel tough and out of control.  It’s the strength to draw upon when strength is needed.  It’s the understanding they receive when they don’t know why things are so difficult.  It’s a great perspective to use when change is needed but so difficult to achieve.

The discovery of this simple prayer has changed my life.

Serenity is defined as the state of being calm or serene.  It’s the state of being that I ascribe to as often as possible.  For me, happiness lives in that state of being.  It is in the moment that you feel that way.  If you are calm or just plain happy, it can only be NOW that you feel that way.  The future hasn’t come yet and the past is behind us.  So, if I can feel serenity and I am living in the moment, then for me that is the clearest perspective I can have.

So why do I find these simple words so powerful?

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”  I say this to myself, repeatedly, when I am full of anxiety, and suffering emotionally over something that is beyond my control.  Too often I get an automatic negative emotional response to something happening to me.  I never decided to let it bother me.  It just comes over me like a wave, and for that moment encompasses me.  I find this line, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, is a prayer unto itself.  We all need to accept the things we cannot change.  These are the things that by their nature have nothing to do with us.  They come from outside ourselves. I don’t use God as the focus, but solely myself.  I ask myself to accept the things I cannot change.  However, if praying to God works then that’s great.  I get relief from most negative emotional states by just saying these words.

The rest of the Serenity Prayer leads me on a path to make the changes in my life which I desire.  Unless you are living a perfect life, a person needs change to make improvements.  It takes courage to make changes.  Courage to change the things I can, reminds me to look within myself for the courage, and gives me the understanding that it might not be easy but it is doable.  It is easy to leave things as they are.  Working towards change gives me the hope that one day I will get to where I want to be.

I know that if I can develop the wisdom to know the difference between what I can and cannot change then I will be happy.