I Am Not Me Anymore, At Least I’m Not The Same Me I Was

vcxa8286To be full of strength and vigor one moment and virtually helpless the next, in the pink and pride of health one moment and a cripple the next, with all one’s powers and faculties one moment and without them the next – such a change, such suddenness, is difficult to comprehend, and the mind casts about for explanations. —  Oliver Sacks

 

One of the readers of these pages commented recently that I write a good deal about death. Strangely, a few weeks earlier a reader commented that she thought I wrote a lot about love. Everything is a matter of perspective based upon our experiences of the moment. To these readers I responded “I write about what I know about life and two of the strongest elements of my life are love and death.”

It has taken me two years to write about this experience. I do not know why as a day does not pass without my conscious remembrance, but until now, I have not written a single word about an event which completely changed my existence. The three things having the most influence upon my life have been my experiences, travel, and the people I meet along the way. On December 28, 2016, two years ago today, I had a heart attack, and everything in my life was suddenly and forever changed.

A heart attack is a scary, life threatening experience. I did not know if I would survive it. I believe remembering my EMT training and somehow getting a few aspirin into my body before I passed out on the bed saved my life, although I fumbled with the childproof cap for a few moments as my left arm was completely numb with pain. I was surprised when I regained consciousness as I saw death positioning himself to take my soul. The most frightening part was being alone and not having the mental or bodily control to call for help when it happened. I know exactly how my brother felt during his last moments of life when he recently died alone in his home of a heart attack. The police think he was trying to make it to the front door for help as he had his keys in his hand. I was doing everything I could to remain conscious that afternoon trying to get assistance. I had walked a bit farther than normal that day, nothing unusual. I thought I was just dehydrated until I stepped into my room and experienced that tightening in my chest. 

The attack itself was the most pain I had ever experienced. It was as if someone had put a 200 pound belt around my chest and tried to squeeze it into the last hole ten sizes smaller than my body. The pain through my left arm and my jaw was unbearable. I remembered thinking, “I know the symptoms, if it is my time, thank you for this life.” As I fell onto the bed, with my head almost drowning in sweat and waited to die, no position was comfortable and I could not speak to call for help. It was not possible to stand up. My entire body was overheating, bathed in perspiration, and in excruciating pain. I tried to focus my mind on the front door, perhaps I could make it, but I could no longer even move. The moment before I went unconscious from the pain I remember thinking, “I will go, but I am not ready yet.”

This all started around two o’clock in the afternoon. I regained consciousness around eight that evening. It was dark and I was not sure where I was until I was able to discern from the darkness my desk, my bed, my room, little by little coming back to me, or I was coming back to them. I do not know which. The pain was mostly gone. I could move my jaw and speak. The key indicator in knowing I was still alive was I had to pee. “I am still alive.” I said to no one or to anyone who might be listening. I did not expect to experience this life again.

I cannot change myself any more than I can pull myself up by my own bootstraps. Changes to ones self usually happen from outside the self primarily through experiences which the individual hopefully is prepared to handle. How can I change myself when I am asking that which I deem inadequate or in need of change, myself, to do the changing? To correct its own self? It is akin to asking Congress to police itself of its own corruption when corruption is its nature. An individual can only change himself through a lobotomy, death, a life altering, or other worldly experience. I am reminded of the Parable of the Scorpion and the Frog.

A  scorpion asks a frog to carry it across a river. The frog hesitates, afraid of being stung, but the scorpion argues that if it did so, they would both drown. Considering this, the frog agrees, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. When the frog asks the scorpion why, the scorpion replies that it was in its nature to do so.*

Our nature is who we are at the core of our being. I have had a number of life altering experiences. This life has taken me on many journeys, and I have come back, knock on wood, from each a changed person from the one who started the adventure. Each time I return with a larger spirit, with a greater capacity for love, for life, for the understanding and appreciation of my fellow man and woman, with an abundantly greater acceptance and love for myself. 

Although I do not wish a repeat of my experience and I do not wish a heart attack on anyone, I think everyone should have a metaphorical heart attack. An experience that takes your everyday life to the edge. An experience that shakes the body and soul from the roots of your everyday existence to the stratosphere of what it means to be alive. Unfortunately most humans will reach death without ever having such an experience in life. I hope you are not one of them.

Following my heart attack, I was uncertain if I would make it to my seventieth birthday. I am now approaching my seventieth-first. Life is complicated. I had no say in my arrival to this life and will have little input if any over my departure. In between I dance with the joy of being alive with greater appreciation for this gift I have been given. This is my nature.

Everything means something until one is dying. In that moment books, movies, lovers, paintings, collections of anything; suddenly, they no longer matter. Their prior importance and place in my life instantly disappeared. Their roles did not diminish, understand, they completely disappeared as if they never existed or had any importance what so ever. I was that close to death.

Everything means absolutely nothing when the heart is a beat away from its last beat. Life becomes a pin pointed focus. I was ready for death then but now the only thing that matters for the rest of my life is that I am alive. Death will come. I know that. I was given an extension, not to change my life necessarily, but to embrace it with a greater capacity. 

I am not the same me anymore, at least I’m not the same me I was.

————————

*The Scorpion and the Frog*

The title “I Am Not Me Anymore, At Least I’m Not The Same Me I Was” is taken from the book Motorcycle Diaries. The words were spoken by Alberto Granado at the end of his journey around parts of South America with Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

 

This Hollow Emptiness In My Soul

FCF38573-2929-4C13-B491-12CD9E788FD0At a time like this I want to write
about the joy of your life and not my pain.
I want everyone to share your wisdom,
hear your laughter, know your devotion to Jehovah,
but all I feel is sorrow and devastation.
I want to share stories of our closeness,
the things that came between us and kept us apart.
The things that seemed like uncrossable chasms then,
disappear now in the light of your death.
I want everyone to know how hard you worked
to keep a solid roof over our heads, to feed us,
to care for us when no one was there to care for you.
I want the world to read the words you wrote to me
in the time of my deepest grief and despair.
How you helped me when I had no one else to turn to.
About all the times you held me and said to me
“everything will be okay,” and it always was.
Who will write to me now? Who will be there to shoulder
my tears, to bring calm to an aching heart? Who is left
to tell me they love me and mean it, like I know you did?
Who will I call when overwhelming grief and joy
bubbles up in the heart of this life you created?
You taught me from birth I was different from,
but not less than, equal to,
but not better than anyone else.
You raised me to be independent, even from you.
To make it on my own and I did and I will.
There is no one on this earth who can replace you.
There remains only this hollow emptiness in my soul.

 

Go Wild And Bloom!

B4C0A454-579E-47EC-B306-E76CD25BDF24The only thing I know for sure, absolutely without question, is that one day my physical body will cease to exist. I will die. It is a fate that awaits all living organisms at some point no matter how long science may extend our life span. It is one of only two traits common to all living organisms. The other is birth. Every living organism is borne into life, whether by cell division, duplication, or cell fertilization it does not matter. We come into life and we leave life. This is the process of existence.

Is there something between “the leaving and the coming?” An afterlife of some kind? Or is the process instantaneous? Our last breath in one life becomes the first of another. Or is this life now really all there is? I shared with you one after-life experience in Life’s Greatest Transition. Are there others?

From the view point of logic it would seem since the life experience of each organism is different, that the experience of death also might also be different for each organism. After the cessation of life from the physical entity do we continue to experience existence? I know the energy which is the core of this body continues based upon the laws of physics but does it experience its existence as me ever again?

As a philosopher, I have pondered the reason and my purpose for being here on this planet at this time ad infinitum. I don’t have an answer but I understand so much more. I believe my life is a gift but the magnitude of this gift is just beginning to be understood, appreciated, and accepted. We are each uniquely made. If we put our common features aside, there is no exact duplication of any life form as we know it—including clones. The chance that my exact combination of atoms will be duplicated again is unfathomable if not impossible. But in an infinite universe, is anything ever finite?

For the “Big Bang” to have occurred energy had to be created from nothingness or it had to have always existed. Take either side, it doesn’t matter. An implosions of energy or “black hole” is energy turning in on itself, returning to the nothingness from which it came. Similar to the process we call life and death. All that we physically experience in any way is merely energy expressing itself as a manifestation. I am a finite physical expression of an infinite energy.

“I am a finite physical expression of an infinite energy.” This at a root level is truly who I am. Who you are. We will only be expressed in this form once. It is an invitation to grow in wisdom, to go wild, and bloom! I could hold out for some afterlife but without consciousness it would just be eternal existence without form. Energy. Think of it as the space between everything else. The darkness of outer space. It’s there but you can’t define it except in terms of its physical manifestations — stars, planets, etc. This is the nature of what we call death. Energy existing without consciousness of itself and without manifestation. Upon death the body which is the physical manifestation of your energy ceases to exist.

So this life is your chance to experience the full rich consciousness of your manifestation in a physical body. Let your senses run wild. Smell, taste, touch. Be a witness to as much of life as you can absorb. Learn to listen to the quiet and to see life’s energy in everything. Love with a full and open heart.

Do these things before you die. Before you are six feet under… before your manifestation is reduced to ashes in a burial urn… before your physical body can no longer support the energy that is your life. Although some do, most of us will not receive a second chance.

So, Go Wild and Bloom!
Press Start Now

O’ To Be Human

B4C0A454-579E-47EC-B306-E76CD25BDF24I am not sure if my being human was a choice, an accident, or predetermined by fate but I am grateful in either case for the gift of life in this human form. I needed these years and experiences to understand why I am here. As much as I identify with aspects of the spiritual, being here now, is in fact all about the body. I was given this body so I might experience the sensations, the senses absent in the spiritual. In pure spirit no separation exists, so senses are unnecessary.

With this body, I can touch. I can share its healing power when needed, its softness when desired. I can feel the wind, the warmth of the sun. I can outline my lover’s body, touch and be touched.

With this body, I can smell. The red flowers of the pepper tree, made more fragrant by the rain, its scent of concentrated pepper filling my nostrils. The rich steamy clouds of spice tea floating around my room.

With this body, I can taste life in every morsel of food. Its sweetness, its saltiness, its bitterness. Every bud is capable of a thousand different sensations. I sample as many as I can.

With this body, I can hear the cries of “justice for all.” I can hear the voice on the radio singing of a “brighter day.” My lover’s deep tones when the sex is “moan out loud good.”

With this body, I can see the colors of a rainbow, the “bone white full moon.” The faces of other life. I can witness the emotions of being human, the expressions of pain, sorrow, and joy.

Beyond this body exists the unifying gel of all life, energy. No senses exist and the only sensation, although the term is inadequate, is that of essence, although there is no consciousness of this sensation. There is no other to be sensed. There is no memory, or recanting of lifetimes. No knowledge of experience. No memory of having lived.

There are those who will be remembered because of their impact upon humankind. They will be read about in history books as leaders, tyrants, explorers, humanitarians, but gone are those who remember them as son, daughter, father, mother, or friend.

All sensation, all senses are lost in the body’s death. The energy of the body continues to exist, but without form, without an individual identity. Life is a celebration of having lived in this human form and mourned as an ending of that existence. Only those who remember me will know that I had ever lived. Only they can bare witness to whether or not I changed the world or had any impact at all.

“So tell me, what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

— Mary Oliver

If I Should Die, Before I Wake

B4C0A454-579E-47EC-B306-E76CD25BDF24Each day, we wake slightly altered, and the person we were yesterday is dead. So why, one could say, be afraid of death, when death comes all the time? — John Updike

I am more conscious of death’s inevitability as I age. Knowing death can come for me at any time, I live my life more fully now. I don’t have a checkoff sheet or bucket list to complete. I live it, everyday. The things I want to do, I do. The places I want to see, I visit. The men and women I love, I love as best I know how. I like to think the friends I leave behind understand the part we each played in the life of the other. It is my hope you are living your life to its full potential and you hold joy filled memories of the times we shared. It has never been my nature to stick around, go back, or keep in touch after I leave a place or a chapter in life. We are all but actors in the other’s dream and I am merely your understudy. You are the star. Remember that!

Henry Miller said:

“The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.”

This is how I live my life. This is how I want to die. So Death! Do not sneak up upon me in my sleep. I want to see the end you say awaits this life. I want to look into your eyes from the eyes of one who is aware. I want to live life right up to the very moment my essence seeps out from this body and greets you, face to face, soul to lifeless soul.

Life, Death, And Creativity

B4C0A454-579E-47EC-B306-E76CD25BDF24I do not know if creative people have a more difficult life because of the stress of the creative process or we just hear about the tragedy of their lives more often because they are in the public’s eye. When I think of creative people like Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Winehouse, Robin Williams, etc., I have to wonder if and how their lives are any more difficult than that of any other creative individuals, and yet we lose so much creative genius through substance abuse or suicides: Hemingway, Joplin, David Foster Wallace. What does creative genius do to one’s self image, one’s self esteem, so that individual has no other option than to destroy or end his/her life?

Perhaps living a creative life forces one to burn out faster. I mean how much can one person create? My friend Arne Nybak painted almost every day up until his death at 89. Without any judgement, I partially understand cases like Robin Williams. If I were in a situation where I could no longer do what I love, I might consider suicide a viable option. When Arne knew he would no longer be able to go to his studio and paint, he willed himself to die. I suppose I will never know unless I am in that situation. I believe I would chose death over being a continued burden to a loved one or to myself, but do I really know that?

When AIDS reached the shores of America in the 1980’s, we lost a large portion of our nation’s creative genius. I have a friend who at that time was a member of the Gay Men’s Choir in San Francisco. He tells the story of how the choir had to disband practices because at each practice they learned of another member’s death or infection with the disease. The emotional stress became too much to bear. He channelled his creativity into his business, but many could not find other creative outlets and their lives ended all too soon.

The truth is one does not know what he will do in a given situation until one is in it. Nothing really prepares us for life except living it day by day, situation by situation.

Thinking about things is what the philosopher in me does. When I have nothing to say through writing, I read. I do not pressure myself to write and I do not call it writer’s block (a negative term I do not use). It is just a pause in the creative process of writing, a time to breathe or take a break and do something else. I think society places too heavy a burden upon the backs of creative individuals but we also do it to ourselves in attempting to meet the needs of that society and often the needs of our own drive. Although it might lead to recognition, creativity is not about fame. Fame is so fleeting. Creativity is not. Our creative endeavors should not be driven by a greedy public’s demands. We are not only as good as our last studio album, or our last art showing, or our last book. There is nothing wrong with placing all of our creative energy into one project, one book, or one song. Creativity is not a production line.

In order for the creative process to not destroy the creator, we must control its place in our lives and not have it or society’s demand for more control us.

Take Me Death

FCF38573-2929-4C13-B491-12CD9E788FD0Like a ghost from times passed
You creep up silently behind me.
Unwilling to confront me eye to eye.
You remain hidden in my blind spot.
Then you tap me on my shoulder
And quickly disappear back into your hell,
As I turn around to find no one is there.
Why do you play this game of cat and mouse?
What joy you must receive from my torment.
What satisfaction from my suffering of fate.
My body aches with pain and loss and yet…
You do not take me from my earthly misery,
but only add to my forsakenness.
Are you waiting for me to fall asleep, you coward…
to enter my life in the form of a dream?
A nightmare, from which I shall not awaken?