A Different Kind of Pain & Loss – Part 2

A Different Kind of Pain & Loss – Part 2

Just My Luck – Chapter 12-2   

Our first year as an engaged couple was a real test for Carol and me. We were fairly young to be betrothed, she was 20 and I was all of 18. We were among the Baby Boomers spawned after the soldiers came home from fighting World War II. Our parents’ generation tended to marry young and so we saw nothing particularly unusual in our decision.

But there were different forces in play in their generation. Armed forces. Our parents generally had to grow up young because there was a World War impacting them all. Many boys of my father’s generation came to know military discipline and pride, learned how to be self-reliant and resourceful, valued the camaraderie and brotherhood of their units, and were battle tested before the war ended. They truly did leave home as boys and return as men. Their experience in the ultimate life and death theatre matured the soldiers and those awaiting their return in ways we could never know.

Carol and I were sad beyond belief that we were going to be separated at the end of our summer together. In September she was going to the main campus of UCONN for her last two years of college.  I was going to Virginia Tech for my first – a choice I’d made before Carol and I had “found” each other.

We wrote letters to each other just about every day, we spoke on the phone (unlike today long-distance calls were expensive) at least once a week and ultimately found ways to be able to spend at least a few days a month together. We thought we had it rough, but we had nowhere near the hard times survived by our parents.

A Different War

When I graduated high school in 1969 the United States was deeply embroiled in a skirmish in Southeast Asia called The Vietnam War.  If a healthy young man graduated from high school and couldn’t or didn’t choose to go to college, he would be available to be conscripted into the Army to fight in the jungles and rice paddies of that divided agrarian country. Those who enrolled in college fell under the protection of a “2-S Deferment.”

I needed to get and keep one of those.

That deferment became especially important when the Selective Service Department created a lottery to determine the order in which young men would be drafted.  If and when I’d be called upon to serve when my college days were over depended on my birthday and Lady Luck.

spun in a drum

On draft lottery day for those born in 1951 (me), 365 capsules, one for each day of the year, were spun-in-a-drum and randomly pulled one at a time. If my birthday was pulled as the 126th capsule or later, I’d be free of the draft.  If it was among the first 125 pulled, eventually I’d be in line for a free haircut from Uncle Sam.

My birthday was the 46th drawn.  I was prime meat.  Curse my luck.

My 2-S deferment was the sole barrier between me and the jungles and flying bullets of Vietnam.  I could not jeopardize it in any way at any time.

Feeling very unlucky over both the circumstances that were going to separate Carol and me and the uncertain jeopardy posed by my miniscule draft number, I didn’t realize the oblique dividend I’d received from a previous misfortune.  I my father had still been alive in 1969 he would have opposed my engagement to Carol and, worse, he and I would likely have strongly disagreed about his plan for me to “become a man” in the Army before going to college.  He would have held the purse strings on the tuition funvietnam002-lds he and my mother were saving for me and could very well have denied them to me, as would be his right.  Absent tuition I couldn’t have gone to college.  Absent college, I was #46 in a line of 125 at the Army induction center. After that I’d likely have won an all expenses paid 18 month sojourn to sunny Southeast Asia.

I can’t be certain this would have happened, but not many of Dad’s VFW contemporaries opposed the Vietnam War at that time.  It’s not hard to imagine he might have shared their point of view. Unquestionably and categorically, I’d have given my right arm to have my father alive, but I am thankful that he and I were spared what might have been a shattering disagreement.  Maybe when we are reunited one day I’ll find out what he might have done.  (Come to think about it, if I did give my right arm I’d flunk the Army physical, wouldn’t I.)

Also little did I know that ultimately my bad luck in the draft lottery would turn out to be meaningless.  By the time I graduated from college in 1973, the Selective Service draft had ended.  It turned out that my luck was bestowed on every draft-eligible body born in 1951 who had and kept a 2-S Deferment.

Hi. Nice to Meet You. I’m Engaged.

Whenever Carol and I were apart those three years, I was vigilant not to allow myself to get in any situation where I might be tempted to be unfaithful – and in that I’m not only including sexual faithfulness, but everything faithfulness (well, maybe I’d smile at a pretty girl, but that was it).  Not that I was in any serious danger of being seduced, but in any coed social situation I might fall into I made it a point early on to announce that I was engaged.

I found out fairly quickly at Virginia Tech that I did not want to be an engineer.

VPII wasn’t excited about the work and had difficulty in my Calculus and Drafting classes.  I only excelled at English Composition, which was the Achilles Heel of most engineering students.   My first semester grades were tepid at best, and I couldn’t run the risk of flunking out of college and into uniform.  So I changed my major to Philosophy (making me one of maybe four Philosophy majors on campus) and made plans to transfer to UCONN the following year.

As prudent insurance for a successful transfer, I applied to Central Connecticut State College as my safety transfer school.

UltimatelyUCONN, the year on the same campus Carol and I were anticipating was not to be.  Although UCONN responded favorably to my application, on-campus housing considerations prohibited second-year transfer students from attending the main campus in Storrs until their third year. I would have to go to the branch campus in Stamford for my sophomore year.

This would mean moving back home after having already made the “break.”  That regression was simply unacceptable. I would go back to Virginia Tech before returning to live under the overprotective roof of my very loving, demure and well-meaning mother.  I loved her dearly, but her mothering could be smothering.

Thank goodness for my safety school,” I thought. Then I got the letter from Central Connecticut State College flatly rejecting my transfer application.

I now had three choices:

  • living at home again,
  • returning to Virginia Tech, or
  • losing my 2-S Deferment.

The first and last of these were complete non-starters, so I resigned myself to another year of 800 miles of separation from Carol at Virginia Tech

Then the fickle Lady Luck smiled at me again.

Hi. Nice to Meet You. I’m Engaged

Two weeks after their rejection letter arrived, another envelope from Central Connecticut State College was in my mailbox.  Its message opened with, “Congratulations.”  They
reconsidered my transfer application; I was welcome to attend CCSC.

I was thrilled, amazed, ecstatic, but had to wonder, how’d that happen?  I learned the answer later that day.

After graduating high school in 1917, my maternal grandmother went to New Britain Normal School to learn to be a teacher. She graduated in 1919. (I have a beautiful 1919 photo of her looking out a large sun lit window and holding her degree scroll wrapped in a bow.  She was stunningly beautiful in that image.) Luckily for me, New Britain Normal eventually changed its name to Central Connecticut State College.  My grandmother, a 50-year annual alumnus donor to the school, penned a letter to the Alumni Office on my behalf.

God bless her.

Thanks to her I was in, Carol and I would be less than 50 miles apart, and my deferment was safe.

Just My Luck.

Hi. Nice to Meet You. I’m Engaged

My good fccscortune continued to warm my days as CCSC turned out to be a great place for me.  In short order I was involved in campus politics, the campus newspaper, a “humanist education support group,” and I created and presided over the Philosophy Club.  I carried a double major of English Secondary Education and Philosophy and earned good grades.  Because I was a transfer student, the calculation of my cumulative grade point average began anew; my not-so-stellar grades from Virginia Tech were not factored into my cumulative grade average, but they did count as credits toward graduation.

When my undergraduate days ended, I’d earned a cum laude designation, but truth be told, there should have been an asterisk next to that in the graduation ceremony’s program.

Hi. Nice to Meet You. I’m Engaged

Throughout my three years of classes, activities, and general life on campus, I continued informing people that I was engaged to be married soon.  I had a bunch of new friends and I was with Carol just about every weekend.

When Carol graduated from UCONN at end of my sophomore year at CCSC, she started looking for gainful employment in our hometown to save money for our pending married life.  Her degree was in Child Development & Family Relations, a specialty field in the world of social work, but her first job after college was in a newly formed company, ADP, that provided computerized payroll services to small businesses.  Neither of us knew it, but she had landed on the ground floor of a high tech company that was destined to dominate its field.

Carol also took a weekend job as a housemother at a group home for troubled teen-aged girls.  The position added some funds to the coffers, but she primarily took the job to gain professional experience in her chosen field.   The weekend job also cut deeply into our together time.

Anxious to be married, we decided to be wed during the Christmas break before my last semester at CCSC.  That period would be mostly comprised of my off-campus student teaching.

Meanwhile, I was at CCSC in New Britain weekdays and with Carol in Stamford on weekends. Wedding plans began, invitations were ordered, the dress was purchased, etc. etc.

All was great.

Hi. Nice to Meet You. I’m Engaged

On a September day just a few months before I was to be married, I walked through the door of the campus newspaper office and saw at the other end of the room an especially attractive woman I’d never seen before.  I literally couldn’t keep from staring at her as she worked on whatever was in front of her, oblivious to my presence.

Len, our Arts Editor, was nearby at my end of the office so I sidled over to him and asked who she was.

“That’s Doris Plourde,” he said. “You don’t know her?”

“I’ve never seen her before,”  I replied, “but I know the name.  Hers is the only poetry you publish in our little paper that is better than mine, which you hardly ever publish.”

Len chuckled. ““You got that right. Her’s is worthy of publication; yours isn’t.  You want me to introduce you?”

“Yeah, why not?” I asked.

Doris was certainly not the first very attractive woman who had caught my eye after my proposal to Carol.  Never strongly tempted to venture into uncharted waters before though, somehow this was different.

Hi. Nice to Meet You.

Len, my “self,” and the rest of me walked to the other end of the room.

“Hi Doris, this is Jim.”

By the end of the day, I knew that at the very least, my wedding would need to be postponed.

Oh Lord, What Have I Done?

After more than three years of vigilant behavior, I shattered my commitment to Carol.  I created a situation that I never thought was possible.  I was deeply in love with two wonderful women at the same time.

God help us.

For months thereafter life was a chaotic three-ring circus filled with confusion, tears, joy, agony, happiness, disappointment, discovery, and misery for Carol, Doris and me.  But the guilt and schizophrenia was 100% mine.

Having created this mess, I knew I didn’t deserve the love of either of them.  I didn’t like who I’d become or how I was living.  They were unsure of me and with good reason. I was the culprit.  I knew that ultimately I would lose one, or both of them.  Yet still I was unable to sort out what to do.

It was Carol who finally called it all to a halt and told me she couldn’t take it anymore.  She removed the engagement ring from her finger, held it out and said, “Here, take it.  I don’t want to see you again. I need you out of my life.”

She was crying.  So was I.  She turned and left.

I had now either to chase after Carol or pledge my life to Doris.  It was only when I had no choice but to make a choice, that I did.   I’m not proud of leaving myself in that position.

Hi. Nice to Meet You. I’m Doris’s Husband

As of this writing Doris and I have been in love and married over 41 years, had two children who are now both happily married to wonderful spouses, and we have become grandparents.  Our marriage, like most, has had its peaks and valleys.  But over time the peaks have become taller and the valleys mostly have been dammed up to form lakes suitable for swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, water skiing, and skinny dipping.

Doris has taken care of me throughout my many maladies and I have similarly cared for her.  The direction of my life – my experiences, the family we created, many of the people I met and the friends I’ve made, the careers I’ve had, the places I’ve been, the good times and the not-so-good all hinged on our marriage.  I love and am proud of Doris and all that she has accomplished and all that our marriage has done and will continue to create.  I have loved, honored, cherished and even (at times) obeyed Doris every day since then.

Carol’s aunt was the school librarian at our alma mater, Stamford High School, when I returned there to teach.  Years later she told me that Carol had returned to school and earned her Ph.D.  She was also married, had a child and lived in New Jersey.  I was and am glad, she deserved that and more. 

True Commitment – A Core Value

By now, I imagine you know why Commitment became one of my unshakeable core values.  In my home, in my friendships, in my career, in my faith, I am loyal to my commitments and expect the same from others.  I cannot think of one friend who I can’t trust implicitly and who doesn’t know that s/he can trust me as well.  Many of these friends were part of my career, and many were lost to a horrible act of terrorism.  Any loss of people of integrity is a tragedy.

I have found that unreliable, duplicitous people generally make themselves known early, (see: “Trump, Donald”) and I have learned to avoid them if possible and to not trust them if they can’t be avoided.  My being honest and reliable when they are not can be  disadvantageous early on.  But liars and connivers typically expose themselves quickly.

Knowing who to trust, who not to trust, and why, I can swim in waters with the sharks safely if I have to.

But like an open sewer, I prefer not to deal with them at all, if it can be avoided.


©2016 James Ash


©2016 James Ash

A Different Kind of Pain & Loss – Part 1

A Different Kind of Pain & Loss – Part 1

Just My Luck  –  Chapter 12-1

Several years ago, my nephew Ted (not his real name) surprised me when he came to a local vintage car show where I had entered my treasured 1971 Volvo P1800.

Wait a minute!. What is this car doing here? Is this a blatant and inappropriate attempt to post pictures of this four-wheeled baby1971 p1800 red 15?

You bet it is!  The car show I entered this p1800 in, was in truth where my conversation with Ted took place, but the car isn’t important to the story.  I just wanted you to see this.

So anyway, do you like the car? 

Ostensibly he had come to admire my car, but his ulterior motive was to ask what advice, if any, I could offer him concerning marriage.

He and his girlfriend Kelly (not her real name either) met in college and continued to grow their relationship after graduation, so they knew one another as well as two people can without either being married or living as if married absent the formality.

After graduation from college, Ted asked if he could stay with Doris (my wife’s real name), and me for the time it took to leverage his new degree and internships into a job that would launch his career in advertising.  We put a check mark next to that objective six months later.  Job in hand, he immediately found and moved into his own apartment.  I assumed his haste was driven by the prospect that Kelly would be a frequent visitor there, if she didn’t move in with him full time.

We first met Kelly at Ted’s college graduation and were together with them as a pair a lots of times thereafter.  As we expected we were quite favorably impressed.  They made a “nice couple” in my humble opinion.

One day I was in the back seat of Ted’s car while he drove and Kelly sat beside him on our way somewhere.  I don’t recall where we were going, but I vividly remember that as we rode they invited me to join their conversation about what names they ought to consider for their as-yet-to-be-conceived kids.

Knowing they were already naming the anticipated fruit of their marriage, I was surprised when Ted told me that Kelly was making it plain that she wanted to get going down the aisle, but he was worried about marriage.

He asked what I thought about it all.

Me: “About you and Kelly, or about marriage in general?”

Ted:  “Both Uncle Jim”

Me: “Well, it doesn’t really matter what I think of her, but for the record I like her a ton.  What does matter obviously is how you feel about her and how she feels about you.  Since she seems anxious to marry you, I think we can safely bet that she loves you.  We know she’s not wanting to marry you for your money or good looks.”

Ted: Chuckles politely. “Yeah.  There’s no problem there at all.  We’d have been married already if she had things her way.”

Me: “You’re lucky that Kelly loves you. She’s smart, happy, responsible, funny, and not at all hard to look at.  So, how about you?  Do you love her?”

Ted: “Yes, I do.”

Me: “No hesitation there. Good.  And I see you have the ‘I do’ phrase memorized already.  So where’s the problem?”

Ted: “I’m just not sure…”

Me:Not sure if she loves you? Or that you love her?”

Ted: “No, not that.  We love each other.  But this is a big deal, getting married.  How can I be sure she’s the one?”Frog-Prince-04-03-11-400x400

Me: “If you’re looking for an iron-clad guarantee that she, or anyone else for that matter, is the one, I doubt you’ll ever get married.  I happen to know for a fact that there is no ‘one’ person that God created exclusively for you to love, honor and cherish.  Likewise God didn’t make you solely for her.  I mean, of all the billions of people alive today, you think there’s only one among them that you can love and who will love you as your wife?”

Ted: “Well, when you put it that way…”

Me: “Let me tell you, there are many women in this world who you could fall in love with and who would love you in return.  To have a good marriage you need to find a partner you love strongly enough, and who loves you strongly enough, to make a lifelong commitment to one another.  When you marry, you’re making a solemn promise not to allow yourself fall in love with someone else.  And yes, that is a big thing.

“You will be tempted, believe me, and it won’t always be easy.  So will she. The best antidote against temptation is for you and your wife to always keep your love for one another fresh and growing.  In the midst of career, kids, friendships, and a slew of other responsibilities, you have to invest the time and effort to continually grow your marriage love.  Absent that, there could well be holes in your lives that you might be tempted to fill elsewhere.  That would be tragic.

“So the question you have to ask yourself is this: are you confident that your love for Kelly is strong enough to help you resist testing the waters when an attractive woman inevitably shows interest in you, or when you find interest in her?  Don’t answer me, but if you can’t confidently answer “yes” to yourself, you should probably not marry until you can.”

Ted: “I see what you mean.”

Me: “Did you know that when I first met Doris I was not only engaged to be married to someone else but was only three months away from our wedding day?”

Ted: “No, really?”

A Guilty Lesson

I genuinely fell in love with a wonderful woman, two years my senior, at a very young age.   Surprisingly, she fell in love with me too. The marriage proposal I made, complete with the engagement ring, the day I graduated from high school was happily accepted.  Carol (not her real name) had just finished her sophomore year of college.   We’d known each other forgrad proposal several years through the church we attended and had been good friends for most of that time.  But when the good friends fell in love, we fell quickly and hard. (The photo is not of us by the way.)

A high school graduate for all of one day, I was admittedly quite young to be seriously proposing marriage.  But to this day I still contend I absolutely knew what I was doing.

Losing my father as I entered adolescence made me more serious and my observations and attitudes were tinged with a greater sense of responsibility than they’d have been otherwise. I matured more quickly than most of my peers, but I wasn’t actively conscious of it for some time.

At first I just knew I didn’t quite fit in.  I wasn’t an outcast by any means, but I wasn’t an insider either.  I naturally gravitated to people who weren’t among the many reckless, care-free, or self-absorbed of my classmates.  I had good friends who were generally intelligent, unpretentious, and honest folks.  Nearly all of them shared a wonderful sense of humor.  Our parents weren’t rich and none of us belonged to a country club, but we had a lot of good fun.

Sally (not her real name), one of the ‘popular’ girls in my classes, nicknamed me Charlie Brown after theCB popular Peanuts character.  More than once she loudly announced, “We’re having a party Charlie Brown, and you’re not invited.”  I doubt that she was aware that I had little interest in partying with many of the people in her circle.  I’ve never had much patience with folks who believe themselves to be among the “elite.” But, at the same time, she and I often enjoyed some good-natured banter. I surmised that she used Charlie Brown as a way of enjoying my company without endangering her high school social status.  I wasn’t embarrassed or offended at her announcement of my ostracism. I actually liked her and appreciated her attention.

I was deeply shaken and saddened a year after our graduation to learn that Sally had died in a freak accident at the Newport Jazz Festival.  Apparently she and some friends had camped out in their sleeping bags overnight in a parking lot.  Tragically, she was run over and killed by a guy racing through the lot in his Jeep.  I didn’t think then, nor do I think now that the reason she died then and there was because “it was her time.”  If her death wasn’t random, no one’s is.


Had we been relatively the same age, I’m sure Carol and I would have dated during our high school days, but social barriers back then generally kept sophomore boys from asking senior year girls for a date.  Carol was in the Class of 1967; I graduated in 1969.

It was enough that we were in the High School Fellowship together at our church.  We were casual friends in that group.  She was easy to talk with, happy and smart.  More importantly, she seemed to really appreciate my oft-times quirky sense of humor.

For Carol’s first two years of college she lived at home and attended the Stamford branch of the University of Connecticut.  While there, she worked at a pharmacy a block away from my high school and during my senior year I often stopped by to visit her.  I’m sure Carol could tell that I was becoming increasingly fond of her, but I held little hope for anything more than our casual friendship.  If our relationship was to become more than platonic, she’d need to make the first move.

Thanks to the excellent mail sorting equipment made by Pitney Bowes and likely designed in part by my father, the US Postal Service through rain, sleet, snow, etc. started delivering me Hallmark friendship greeting cards from Carol two or three times a week.  As unbelievable as it may have seemed, I eventually realized that Carol was sending me not just cards, but a message.

Thus emboldened, I worked up the courage to invite Carol to a concert at the high school presented by the a’cappella choir (in which I was a tenor), after which we could find a place to eat and spend some time together.  To my great relief and joy, she said yes.  That evening she sat in the audience with some mutual friends while the choir stood on risers on stage and sang the pieces listed in the concert program.

As we choir members donned our robes before taking the stage, a couple of my fellow singers commented that I looked especially happy that night.  I just smiled and said thanks.  When the stage curtains parted I searched for and found Carol in the audience.  We both smiled when our eyes met.  Throughout the concert, my eyes kept returning to Carol and hers to mine; our smiles never disappeared.

We went out for ice cream after the concert (hey, Charlie Brown couldn’t get served in a bar) and had a great time talking and laughing.  Later, parked in the small lot at the end of the driveway of her home, we kissed for the first time.

From that moment on, we were devoted to one another and enormously happy.

We spent every possible moment we could together for the next three years, and we both couldn’t wait to be married.  I don’t want to wax poetic here about those years, it would serve no purpose.  Suffice it to say at the time neither of us could conceive of being happier than when we were together.


(to be continued)

©2016 James Ash

1971 p1800 red 21

One more for good measure.  Yeah, it was an automatic, but I loved it anyway.

©2016 James Ash


Coronary Episode #2 – Part 2

Coronary Episode #2 – Part 2

Just My Luck – Chapter 11–2

I was disconcerted that for some six hours I was not self-aware.  My body was fully alive, but my “self” was AWOL.

Move over Buster Keaton

Just My Luck.  I had a coronary emergency and by a somewhat circuitous route Ibest hospitals award stumbled into one of the best cardiac hospital facilities in the country,  the Gagnon Cardiovascular Institute at Morristown Memorial Hospital.

My surgeon was not just an excellent practitioner of his valuable profession, he was a really nice and concerned fellow.  He explained to me that this time I was going to need a double by-pass.  He’d only performed a few thousand such surgeries so far, but he assured me he was really getting the hang of it of late.

I took him at his word.

Despite our lighthearted banter, I knew this was serious surgery.  I would not be up and around the following day as I had been years before with the angioplasty.  I was in much greater immediate danger than I’d been in during my original coronary event.  They were wasting no time, I was going to be opened up tomorrow.

The surgeon explained what was to come.  He would need to break my sternum from top to bottom to gain access to my heart.  If all went well, I would awake with tubes sticking out of me and with a stapled-shut wound the length of my separated sternum.  (We didn’t discuss what might happen if things didn’t go well.)  The vein he’d use for the first by-pass was already available near the heart.  It was a vein that all humans have, but that have a purpose only in women.  For men, it was like a spare tire: there in case needed in an emergency.  He would need to harvest the vein for the second by-pass from my left leg, so I would have a wound to care for there too.  Both wounds would be vulnerable to post-operative infection.  The recovery would be weeks-long and uncomfortable.

Doris later told me that the nursing staff was willing to take bets that I wasn’t going to be able to attend my son’s wedding in Maui six weeks hence.

But at least I had insurance.

I had a lot to live for when I prayed for help before my first cardiac procedure.  Now I had a son-in-law, a soon to be daughter-in-law, and a beautiful grand daughter, not to mention even more great friends to add to the list.  So despite my rational doubt that God will sometimes intercede in the work of the Grim Reaper, my emotional side prayed long and hard for God’s help.

I guess it’s true: there are no unbelievers in a fox hole.


The following morning I was prepped for surgery, met the anesthesiologist who would assure I was asleep but not dead during the operation (another funny guy), and was transferred to a narrow, hi tech gurney.  The operating rooms were surrounded by a space where the players about to take the stage waited in the wings, sort of like the locker rooms at a sports arena.  Unmasked and ungloved they joked with one another as if I wasn’t even there.  I was glad to be an observer of their camaraderie, I could tell they were a real team.

The anesthesiologist arrived at my bedside and asked if I was ready. I had no choice so I was. He did the “count backwards from a hundred” thing though we both knew I’d not make it to 96.

In literally no time, and I mean no time, I was in the recovery room. It was all done. I woke and realized that I was no longer where I was when my countdown nearly reached 96.  It was as though I’d just “apperated” (a Harry Potter term) from the surgical bull pen directly to the recovery room in a flash.

No passing “Go” and no $200.

The only evidence that the continuum had been interrupted was that I didn’t continue the countdown to 95.  All that build up, the tension, the drama, the countdown at 97 – and now at 96 it’s all over?   Wait a minute, I missed the best part!  Replay the video.

What an anti-climax.

Where Did I Go?

My operation repaired my diseased heart once again, but in the process it raised some strange and troubling questions in my mind.  I’d been under general anesthesia before, but for much shorter periods.  Somehow this time it was very different.

This time my “me” fundamentally didn’t exist for six hours and for some strange reason, when I awoke I could feel the lingering absence of my “self” in my bones.  It wasn’t sleep.  I didn’t dream nor did I have the slightest cognition of any sensation whatsoever.

For six hours I was simply unaware that I had ceased to exist.  One cannot be much further gone than that.  For all intents and purposes, a time had just ended when there was no “me.”  When my awareness of self was gone, everything was gone.  It was as though a piece of my life had been surgically removed.

During those six hours of course, being aware of absolutely nothing, I wasn’t comfortable or uncomfortable. I was literally nothing.  It was only now that I had become aware again that I was disconcerted that for six hours I was not aware.  My body was fully alive, but my “self” was AWOL.

Was that a foretaste of death?  Is death really the door to nothingless? Or had my self/soul just gone dormant for a while?

My self did re-awaken, fully intact and ready to resume its existence from where it had last been.  The fact that it could and did re-awaken gave me comfort.  But I also realized that my belief in the immortality of the soul was likely too simple.  The soul may be immortal, but how that all works has to be more complicated than I can understand.  I simply don’t know how to account for the absence of my “self” for six hours. I have no idea if it existed then or where it may have gone.  I still believe that my soul is immortal, but this conundrum confirms that I don’t know that it is.

Faith is a belief in knowledge we don’t have.

Can you experience a temporary state of absence of being?  If so, how can you determine that you have?  I’m getting a headache.


Anesthesiologists must be wizards.

Another Difficult Road Back

The recovery period after my surgery was the most physically painful six weeks of my life.

I’ve never met a hospital bed that I liked.  They all must be designed by insurance companies to compel patients to make their hospitalizations as short as they can.  The first couple of days I was basically a biological bag of sore: uncomfortable, weak, and bored beyond endurance.  On day three I had my first taste of relief when the surgeon removed the draining tubes from my upper body.  It felt like a full quiver’s worth of iron spears was withdrawn from my chest.

The surgeon told me that all had gone well as planned and that I was lucky not to have had alinked sausage 2 heart attack beforehand.  He told me that the artery with the stents that were put in years earlier now resembled a length of linked sausages where the artery had collapsed in the spaces between the stents.  It was possible that it might have been a matter of a days or weeks before my emergency would have been far more serious.

Dumbstruck by dumb luck again.

Never able to find a comfortable position is a pitiable situation.  Not allowed to lift anything, including myself, meant that to sit up, lie down, roll over, and do other canine tricks, I required help.  Being helpless as a baby is definitely not conducive to the self esteem of anyone who has already graduated from infancy.

Hospital food can be good or bad, but it’s always just hospital food.  Morristown Hospital’s kitchen was better than most, but I wouldn’t choose to go out to eat there.  Daytime television was simply torturous, but you can only read so much when you’re under the weather.  There has to be some undiscovered law of physics that says over a prolonged period, time slows to a pace inversely proportional to the number of times you look at a clock (e.g. the more you look the slower it gets).

All in all, I was an impatient in-patient for ten days that felt like a baseball season.  Nonetheless, I was grateful to be alive and on the mend.

Despite my long hospitalization, when I was finally released I was still about as close to being an invalid as I’d ever been.  Weak and wobbly and in need of constant close attention, I returned to Lauren and Tim’s house where Doris and I were in residence for the duration of our condo renovations.

Being the superb friend that he is, Bob drove down from Connecticut just to drive me there from the hospital.  Doris, who had been at the hospital every day of my stay, led Bob and me along her now too familiar route between Morristown Hospital and Lauren & Tim’s home in Warren, NJ.

Tired and shaky, I made progress every day thereafter.  I had one major goal: I would be strong enough and healthy enough to be able to fly to Hawaii in the last week of February and stand on the beach to watch, with great pride and happiness, as my son, Tom, married the love of his life, Kathermmaui 2ine.

I heard through the grapevine that Katherine had told Tom that if I couldn’t make it to Hawaii, they should still go there to vacation but postpone the wedding and have it in New Hampshire when I could be there.  Knowing that a Maui beach wedding had long been Katherine’s dream, I doubled my resolve to be there.

It was a great wedding. I was elated to stand on the beach with whales breeching in the distance while Tom and Katherine exchanged the vows they authored.

What a special place Maui is.

What a blessing it was to be there.


Just My Luck.

Coincidentally, in my recovery from both of my “coronary events,” I had similar extra incentives to “get well soon.” Both of the motivations involved the opportunity to take long flights to attractive venues.  As mentioned here, in my most recent recovery the carrot-on-the-stick was flying to Maui for the wedding.  Not long after being released from my angioplasty procedure nearly a decade earlier, I was scheduled to fly to London with Bob for a meeting with our firm’s European maxresdefaultStrategic Account Managers.  I’d been advised by my cardiologist that I might want to call in as “still sick” for the trip.  I took a wait-and-see strategy and would make my go/no-go decision after taking my pulse a day or so before the trip. 

A week before our scheduled flight to London, I received a notice from British Airways that Bob and I had both been “bumped up” at no additional cost from Business Class on a 747 to seats on the super-sonic Concorde for our flight to London.    My recovery immediately went super-sonic.  After a thorough stress test on the treadmill, my cardiologist decided not to advise against going.  In both cases, the final decision was mine.  In both cases I celebrated the end of my ordeal with a trans-oceanic flight.  In both cases I’d been warned that if something should happen while in flight, it could be several hours before I might receive proper attention.  In both cases the flights were uneventful.

  Just (More of) My Luck.

©2016 James Ash




Coronary Episode #2 – Part 1

Coronary Episode #2 – Part 1

Just My Luck – Chapter 11 – Part 1

Diagnosis: Acute Compound Frenzy

Late 2014 and the first half of 2015 turned out to be a very frenzied time for us.  Our daughter and son-in-law were formally introduced to new parenthood and settling in to new home ownership at the same time. Our son and his fiancée were married in on a beach in Hawaii and later purchased their first house as well.  Doris and I, having sold our home in Maine and found our next home in Connecticut, downsized our belongings, and re
-modeled every room in our new digs.  For much of that time she and I were nomads, bouncing from Maine to New Hampshire (where our son and daughter-in-law live) to Connecticut to New Jersey (where our daughter, son-in-law, and our first grand-baby live).

So no surprise, this was a multi-stress filled and tiring period in our lives.

Increasingly I found I was hard pressed to keep up with:Frenzy composite

  • driving miles and miles of road,
  • packing,
  • arranging the disposition to multiple venues of several rooms full of furniture and other contents,
  • loading and unloading heavy loads
  • coordinating the storage of our remaining belongings while our condo was being refurbished,
  • deciding on wall colors, carpeting, fixtures, appliances, etc.
  • working with our contractor on logistics,
  • scheduling when we had to be where,
  • unpacking,  and
  • … well, you get the picture.

Never ones who liked or were particularly good at multi-tasking, Doris and I were operating in a foreign environment of upheaval for the better part of a year.

I attributed a good portion of my rapidly advancing lethargy (now there’s an oxymoron) to having begun my sixth decade on the planet a few years before.  There was a time when Trip - u haulrenting a moving truck, loading it with furniture, driving it 400 miles, off loading it, and returning the truck was a chore, but one I could handle without much difficulty.

Not so between Christmas and New Years 2014/15.  The U-Haul run was my chore but I was “doggin’ it,” letting friends and relatives do much of my heavy lifting as we filled the 20-foot truck with “stuff” from our soon to be vacated house in Maine.  The load was destined for New Hampshire and New Jersey.  Even though I was working at less than half the pace and capacity of my helpful relatives and friends, I had to stop often and bend over just to catch my breath.  They noticed and told Doris they were worried.  I just felt guilty for not doing my part.

Something’s Wrong

Eventually, with little help from me, the job was done, but I was worried and then scared.  As much as I wanted to ignore it, I knew “in my heart” something was really wrong.

We were living with (freeloading on) our daughter & son-in-law in New Jersey after selling our Maine abode and while our condo in Connecticut was being renovated.  A few days into the new year, my stamina finally evaporated altogether.  Climbing the stairs just to go to bed was a serious chore.  Doris was deeply concerned that whatever was ailing me was serious.  She knew she’d had good reason when I finally asked her to call an ambulance.

The EMTs arrived with the wonderful combination of concern, caution, upbeat banter, professionalism and calming influence that they all seem to have.  They askeemt-worker-3-638d Doris and me the questions whose answers gave them a quick and fairly comprehensive assessment of
the situation.  They packaged me onto their gurney and into their ambulance and we headed to Overlook Hospital in nearby Summit, NJ.  In route they administered an EKG and sent my data on ahead to the Emergency Room.  I couldn’t help but think once again that my father never had the magical advantage of technology on his side like I did.

I was feeling pretty good when we arrived and thought that this may well have been a false alarm.  I had my second wind and tried to reassure Doris not to worry; all was well.

She wasn’t buying it, and neither was the Emergency Room doctor.

My family heart history and my own had preceded me.  This physician wasn’t about to let me out of her hospital until I’d been scanned from stem to stern.

So we waited.

There’s nothing quite like waiting in an Emergency Room.  All of them are built on time warps, where minutes are hours and people bustle all around you but none come to your bed to let you know what’s up. 

I grew my first beard in an Emergency Room.

There and Back Again

Judging by the number of people in that ER there must have been a full moon that night.  I was lucky to be inER Toon.jpg one of the small ER examination rooms.  Quite a few people were awaiting attention on beds in the hallways.  The scene reminded me of images of hospital wards in third world countries.  But any similarity between those facilities and this hospital’s facilities ended at the beds lined up along the walls.

Overbrook Hospital was staffed and equipped to provide world class medical care.  Lucky all of us.

Eventually an orderly came and rolled my bed out of the examination room and into the inner sanctum of the facility.  We arrived at the room where the oversized cat scan donut lived.  The orderly put me in line behind a few other occupied gurneys, nodded when I said “thanks,” and left.

When I had my turn and my test was done, a different orderly rolled me away.  When we reached a certain hallway, however, he parked my bed between two floor-to-ceiling curtains and was obviously about to leave me there.  “Where ya going?” I asked.  Smiling back at me, he told me not to worry, someone would be along soon to take me the rest of the way back to the ER.

Apparently, I was at some sort of transfer station.  This must have been a big hospital if they needed relay teams to move patients around.   I checked to see if I had some sort of tag on my toe saying “If lost, please return patient to…”

Occasionally a hospital worker pulling on his or her overcoat walked by in one direction.  Workers from the opposite direction were removing or carrying their overcoats.  Most were absorbed in the music or phone conversations connected to their ear buds. None of them bothered to look at me.

After what I guessed to be 10 minutes lying alone in my open-backed thin cotton smock, I wondered if anyone knew where I was. I resolved to try to flag down and ask the next hospital person going in either direction whether I’d been forgotten.  I tried, but none of them bothered to hear me either.

Then it dawned on me, I was in Overlook Hospital.  Now the name made sense.

Someone finally arrived to finish my journey back to the ER, where my former examination room was now someone else’s.

Doris sat on a folding chair against the wall in the hall where the second orderly had parallel parked me.  And so, we waited some more.  Actually, I took a healthy portion of comfort in the fact that no one was in a particular hurry to attend to me.  I was happy to be one of the crowd here, the crowd was okay.  If someone was running down the hall to get to me, I’d have been worried.

After another indeterminate time the ER physician came to talk with Doris and me.  The test results were in.  The enzyme test showed categorically that I did not (yet) have a heart attack, but the cat scan gave reason for real concern.  For the second time in my life, I had serious blockages in my heart. (It had to have been from the strict diet of unhealthy foods I indulged in despite Doris’s attempts to feed me good stuff.)

Overlook was one in a corporation of hospitals that each provided its own areas of specialty.  In this group, Morristown Hospital had the surgeons, physicians, nursing staff, equipment, and support personnel that specialized in coronary medicine.  I was told they also were likely to have available hospital rooms, so I had my second ambulance ride of the day.


©2016 James Ash


The Big C – Part 3

The Big C – Part 3

Just My Luck – Chapter 9 – Part 3

“Now, let’s focus on your prostate.”

Treatment Options

Day 1 + 3 Weeks + 3 Months + 1 Week + 1 Week + 1 Week

Dr. S. had visual aids that he’d obviously used many times in situations like mine. After all, the odds of contracting prostate cancer are not very slim.   Pays_to_Get_Checked_for_Prostate_Cancer

He prefaced his discussion with a pithy statement that was probably spoken thousands of times, but was new to me, “More men die with prostate cancer than from it.”    There was some real comfort in those words.

As implicit from the phrase, Dr. S. said that actively doing nothing was actually one treatment option to consider.  In effect we could leave the cancer alone and monitor whether its inevitable growth would be at an acceptably slow rate.

Immediately I considered actively doing nothing both moronic and oxymoronic.

He went on to describe basically three active and aggressive treatment options available (at that time).

  • Radiation treatment was a well proven regimen that bombarded the cancerous portion of the gland with radioactive particles, literally burning the cancer out. The object here was to slow or stop the spread of the disease.  There was some danger of irradiating some non-cancerous areas, but that was relatively small since their equipment was capable of near pinpoint accuracy.  There was also the danger that the treatment could fail to reach all of the cancerous tissue, again a small chance but a real one nonetheless.  Lastly, more than one treatment session would be required and I would likely feel sick after each one.
  • Radiation seeds were a more recent treatment option. Irradiated seeds would be strategically implanted in the cancerous area to continuously slow the disease. The seeds released the radiation slowly and so was a less radical treatment.  I had visions of glowing in the dark, which Dr. S. quickly dispelled.
  • The third option was the most aggressive: a prostatectomy, the surgical removal of the entire prostate gland. This was the most complete option, but it had some serious drawbacks to consider.

Anticipating what I was about to ask, Dr. S. added, “You can’t try radiation and, if it doesn’t work to your satisfaction, proceed to a prostatectomy.  The irradiated tissue can’t be cut as readily or accurately as we’d need.  Except for choosing to do nothing, once you begin a course of treatment, you have to stick with it.”

He explained that my age, which at the time was in the mid-50s, was near the borderline of advisability of radiation.  Slowing the growth was suggested for some men over 60 on the ‘die with it not from it’ premise.   If it’s probably not going to kill you before something else does, just slow the cancer down.  Men in their 70s or more might consider the wait and see route, depending on how far advanced that cancer already was.

Younger men might do well to consider the prostatectomy to remove the disease completely from the body.  But even they would have to work through some serious considerations. The prostate plays a key role in the reproductive system.  It produces the semen that nourishes and transports sperm cells.  The potential of naturally fathering another child drops to zero absent the prostate gland.

According to Dr.S., considering my age at the time, a good case could be made for any of the treatments a  He suggested that I might want to take a week or two to think about the choices and talk it over with Doris.

I told Dr. S. that I needed no time to think it over.  From the day he called me with the news of the biopsy, I had no question or hesitation about the treatment I wanted.  “Get that cancer out of me as soon as possible.”

I’d already had a vasectomy over a decade earlier, so my new fatherhood days were long behind me.  The do nothing option seemed too risky, especially considering my cancer had achieved Stage 3 without detection.  I had no idea how rapidly it may have grown and how quickly it might reach the point of no return.  Radiation treatments were interesting and probably okay, but after a week of testing and worry over whether it had spread, I didn’t want to give the cancer any opportunity to spread in the future.

I simply wanted to be cancer free.

Complex Riskstreatment risks

“Before you make your final decision, there are a couple of other risks you need to consider,” he said.  “First, as with any surgery, there is always a risk that something may go wrong when you’re opened up.  The risk of infections is typically at the top of that list.  In your individual case, the cancer area is very near some critical nerves that, if damaged, could leave you with some unattractive results.  There are no guarantees that any of these can be avoided, though we will take every precaution we can.

One of the nerves is crucial to bladder control, the other, if damaged, could leave you unable to have an erection.”

These were risks I’d never heard about. Both caught my attention.  “How likely are these nerves to be damaged?” I asked.

“Well,” he said, “the worst of the two, loss of bladder control, is less likely but a daunting possibility.  You really don’t want to live the rest of your life wet.  When we do a prostatectomy we have to cut the line from your bladder that passes urine through the prostate to your penis.  When the prostate gland is removed, we put some tubing in to re-connect the bladder to the penis and insert what’s called a Foley Catheter to connect your penis channel to a large external bag to collect your urine. 

“Immediately after the surgery you will be unable to control the flow of urine from your bladder to the collection bag.   It will fill gradually and it will need to be emptied a few times a day.  After a couple of weeks we will remove the catheter and if all has gone according to plan you will be able to urinate as usual.  If the system was inadvertently damaged, you may need to wear that bag for the rest of your life.”

“And the second one, no more erections?” I asked.

“Unfortunately,” he replied, “I’d put that more closer to a 50/50 chance in your case.  I’ll be cutting away cancerous tissue quite close to the critical nerve.  Bear that in mind when you make your decision.”

“My decision is still made,” I replied with no hesitation. “Get that cancer out of me.”


Day 1 + 3 Weeks + 3 Months + 1 Week + 1 Week + 1 Week+ 2 Weeks

My operation took place within a week of my birthday over 10 years ago now.  I have been cancer free ever since.


An Unlikely Gathering of Moving Parts

20+/- Weeks

Looking back at my over 20-week cancer saga, I see another improbable series of lucky Buster Keaton-like breaks that probably saved my life (e.g., bought me more time):

  • If a change in Aon’s employee benefits program hadn’t created a need for me to have a simple administrative form signed by my primary care physician, I would have blithely continued living without a medical practitioner in that role until some other pressing need might surface. Meanwhile, my already stage 3 of 5 prostate cancer would have continued to secretly grow in me.  By the time I might otherwise have been diagnosed, it might have been too late to deny the Grim Reaper his harvest.
  • If Dr. R. hadn’t decided to give up his primary care practice when he did, I would have brought him the form I needed signed and he’d have signed it. Case closed.  No question he would have suggested I think about having a check up soon, but left in my court to schedule the physical, it wouldn’t have been soon.
  • If Dr. R. and my Pulmonary Department Head friend hadn’t both recommended Dr. A. as my primary care physician, odds are I would have one of the “nine out of ten doctors” who would not have seen a need to ask for a second opinion about a minor coarse spot on my prostate gland.
  • Likewise, if Dr. A. had not been taking new patients at the time, again I might not have found another “one out of ten.”

I won’t include on my “if” list that it was crucial that Dr. A. insisted on my having a physical as a new patient of hers, and it was crucial that Dr. S. biopsied my prostate gland.  These were best practices, not lucky decisions.

Lastly, I was greatly relieved that I didn’t lose my bladder control.


Just My Luck.


©2016 James Ash



The Big C – Part 1

The Big C – Part 1

Just My Luck – Chapter 9-1



Several months after my September 2002 return to work in my 9/11 modified job at Aon, a change in our medical benefits required that a form be completed by each covered employee and signed by his or her “primary care” (PC) physician.

A fair request, only I didn’t have one at the time. Dr. K was continuing to help me with my PTSD, but she was a psychiatrist, not a PC doctor.

So, at long last, I had a bona fide excuse to enlist a new PC physician to my ever growing personal medical team.

A Fine Recommendation

For several years my prior PC physician had been Dr. R., the gastroenterologist who diagnosed and cured my ulcers during my Marsh days in the 1980s.  Not long after meeting for the first time, he and I were on a first name basis. He had a great sense of humor, and we had some friends in common, so I asked him if he’d take me on as a PC  patient back then.  He agreed.

While on disability leave from Aon related to 9/11, I received a letter from Dr. R. informing me that he was relinquishing his PC practice in order to dedicate all of his working hours to Gastroenterology.  He explained that researchers’ discoveries in his field of specialty, and new methods and pharmacological tools were advancing that science rapidly.  He had to keep pace with those developments so he unfortunately had no time for PC patients.

I understood completely, filed his letter in my overflowing circular file, and proceeded with my life once again without the benefit of a PC doctor.  I figured when, if ever, I needed one, I’d find one.  Until then, I too was too busy to worry about primary medical care issues.

 Day 1

I now had a need.  Though it was administrative, it was imminent .

I contacted Dr. R. to ask his suggestion of a really good PC physician for me.  With no hesitation he suggested Dr. Pamela A., who practiced Internal Medicine and was a partner of his in a local medical group.  The head of the Pulmonary Department of our local hospital was also a friend, so I called him to ask if he knew Dr. A. and if so, what he thought of her work.  He was very complimentary about her medical skills and echoed Dr. R.’s high recommendation.

Day 1 + 3 Weeks

Pleased by my friends’ advice, I contacted Dr. A.’s office, described my situation and need, and made an appointment to meet. A few weeks later, at our meet and greet, Dr. A. agreed to be my PC physician and signed my form.

Another administrative assignment dutifully fulfilled.

As I was leaving, Dr. A.asked me to make an appointment for a physical exam, which was her normal procedure when taking on new patients.   Down the hall, the keeper of her appointment book said Dr. A didn’t have an available suitable time slot for the physical until three months out.  Feeling in good health, I saw no problem with that.  I had what I needed for now, so I took the offer and asked the scheduler if she would give me a reminder call a week before the appointment.

She did.

A Second Opinion

Day 1 + 3 Weeks + 3 Months

Fast forward three months.  The physical exam was pretty much routine.  Dr. A. took my blood pressure, listened to my heart and lungs, prodded and poked me and told me the results of the blood work would be sent to me, etc., etc.  But just as I was leaving  she asked me if I had a Urologist.  (This was the second time in two visits she waited for me to think our business was done and then laid a surprise next step on me as I headed for the door. I made a mental note that she probably saves the worst news for last.)

I replied, “Yes, I’ve been a patient of Dr. S”

“The reason I ask is that I’d like you to make an appointment to see him.  It’s probably nothing, but I felt a roughness in an area on your prostate gland and I’d like his opinion on it.  As I say, it’s most likely nothing to worry about; your PSA is only at 1.2 and that’s a good sign.  I just want to make sure that everything is O.K.”

I was impressed with her concern and took comfort in her opinion that she just wanted to confirm that things were fine.  I had no idea what a PSA was, but since it was fine I felt no need to find out.


The Chain saw Memory

Day 1 + 3 Weeks + 3 Months + 1 Week

A week later I was in Dr. S’s office for the first time in 10 years.  A couple of months after the birth of our second child, Tom, in February 1983, I went to Dr. S. for a vasectomy.  It’s not because Tom had cured us of wanting more children, I just didn’t want to have to save for more than two college tuitions.  In that context the vasectomy was a fabulous bargain, and I like bargains.

I asked Dr. S. if he remembered me and he said he didn’t but given a guess he’d say I must have been one of his many vasectomy patients.

“Yes, I was.” I said. “Maybe you’ll remember this.   When I came in for the procedure you were expanding your offices here.  There were construction workers banging nails into lumber all around the place.  Your procedure room was at the back of the building on this floor. Outside the closed window shade the framing was being built to extend the back of the building out another 15 feet or so behind that room.”

Dr. S. nodded to confirm his memory of that construction job.

“I was on the table in your procedure room, exposed where necessary, and you and your nurse assistant were gowned, masked and gloved ready to start the operation.   Just a heartbeat after you called for the scalpel, a construction worker right outside the window shouted, chainsaw_clown_by_barbwire1-d3bt0b7Hey Joe, Where do ya want me to cut this thing off,’ and started up and revved up his chain saw.”

A huge smile broke out on Dr. S as I completed our anecdote, “I started making a ‘T’ with my hands like a basketball player would and shouted, ‘Whoa!!  Time out doc!  Time out!’  All three of us laughed uncontrollably for a good five minutes.”

“That was you?!” he said laughing once again.  “You don’t know how many times I’ve told that story.”

“Probably about as many times as I have.” I responded.

Sometimes it’s good to have something to be remembered by.

Nine Out of Ten Doctors…

Dr. S did the same examination of my prostate as had Dr. A and took an ultrasound image of the gland.  After these chores were done he told me, “You know, nine out of ten doctors would not have thought this serious enough for a second opinion, but it does feel a bit granular in some spots so she was right to have me check this out.”  He showed me the ultra sound image. “See these little white spots?”

I did.

“That’s what she and I felt,” he continued.  “They’re most likely calcium deposits, nothing to worry about.  But let’s biopsy them just to make sure.”

He did.



(to be continued)


©2016 James Ash


Survivor’s Guilt

Survivor’s Guilt

Just My Luck  – Chapter 7

Why some survive and others don’t becomes very large in the aftermath of tragedy. The most difficult questions that drove my PTSD and held my mind captive for several months after 9/11 were: why was I spared when so many who were more deserving perished? What distinguished me from those who didn’t make it out?  Does God intercede in what happens to us at pivotal times of our lives?  Might we actually have “guardian angels” protecting us when we can’t protect ourselves?

 After considerable thought about the central [Why me?] question, I arrived right where I started, which is the only possible answer: nothing, good or bad, distinguished me as more worthy or less worthy of survival that day.  A very large number of brave and heroic people on the New York City payroll were certainly more worthy.  Among the civilians like me, some very noble, humble, caring, giving, and trustworthy people were removed from this world that day as were some conniving, selfish, even sadistic folks.  Both extremes were among those who died and those who escaped death.

Likewise, the young, those in middle age, and others about to enter a well-deserved and long anticipated retirement were among both the living and the dead.  Tuesday, 9/11/01 was the first day in a new job for some who died and some brand new employees in the World Trade Center survived.  Entrepreneurs and long entrenched executives, custodians, military troops, mechanics, all manner of civilians and of course many police, fire, EMS personnel were at the WTC and Pentagon. Some running out and others running into the burning buildings.  All categories professional, religious, physically fit, handicapped, married, divorced, widowed, heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual and trans gender, tall, short , athletic, uncoordinated, you name it were and were not among the survivors.

In the alphabet soup, every letter was in both the soup pot and the bowl.

God did not choose who would live and who would die, actively sorting our souls by any conceivable set of criteria.

Likewise, the idea that one’s survival was deserved is absolutely ludicrous simply because its corollary would be that others didn’t deserve.  NO ONE deserved to die that day.

Random luck was the unbiased and uncaring arbiter of all who lived and died.dice_by_thamyris71

Random, Not Planned

Like so much of our world, the casualties were random.

God did not plan before, during or after the event who was to die and who was to escape.  God didn’t write the passenger manifests for the four airliners that were hijacked.  No one on any of those planes survived the day.  God didn’t manipulate the lives of the thousands of people who worked in the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, deciding who would be where when the disaster struck.  God didn’t choose the time the planes took off, or their routes, or their speed so that they would crash into the towers or the Pentagon at the precise moment necessary to have let specific people escape and to take all who were pre-destined to die.

My understanding of God includes no arbitrary favoritism or abandonment.

For me, there is no getting away from the fundamental premises that the events of 9/11 were initiated by free will and resulted in random consequences. I cannot even begin to imagine a God’s Plan that removed me from harm while taking so many good and valuable people.  And I cannot simply attribute my escape from death to a plan whose inherent injustice can only be explained away as simply “a mystery.”

A mystery is ultimately of small use in assuaging Survivor’s Guilt.

Many well meaning and sympathetic people have told me, “God must have some special plans for you.” If I was spared from the horrible fate that so many of my colleagues met in order that I might fulfill some Godly mission, it must really be a super-important one.  I can only pray that I will be up to the enormity of the task when it comes.

No, I appreciate the sentiment but I don’t believe God had any hand whatsoever in the terrorists’ decisions to hijack the planes and fly them into the buildings or the ground. Neither did God determine who among the day’s victims was to die and who was to live.  God did not consult some carefully crafted Plan Book to make sure that people with important roles in some miracles or some special services yet to come, got to live another day.


“All right everybody, please take note:  George is scheduled to dissuade a lovely, misguided, would-be home wrecker from a life of prostitution in the big city in… let’s see now… Ah, here it is, in 2021.  For her sake, he’s got to stay alive at least until then.

 Do whatever you have to do, Clarence.”

I think God has special hopes for us all.  We are free, not destined, to please or disappoint.

No doubt I am on the lookout for opportunities to make a positive difference in situations that might require my attention.  I certainly accept that I still have unfinished business in God’s world.  What I can’t accept is that this separated me from those would die.

Not one person who died on 9/11 didn’t have important unfinished business.  How many parents of new born, young, adolescent, or older daughters and sons died when I did not?  Newlyweds or newly betrothed?  How many happily or unhappily unmarried people?  Civic Leaders?  Military  members?  Religious Leaders? Grandparents?  Students?  Scout Leaders?  EVERYONE living has important unfinished business.

Mine had no priority over anyone else’s.

Obviously most, if not all,, of us die with important unfinished business.  Here’s the core lesson: it would be nice and tidy if we could all complete our missions before we die, but there’s never enough TIME.

Did God or His/Her Angels Intercede?

This is a much harder question for me than the God’s Plan theory or the Important Plans Awaiting notion, simply because I have had such astounding luck at several key moments in my life.  God may not have a “plan” but might God choose to nudge something or protect someone in order to change the course of a life from time to time?

What might trigger such an intercession?

I will explain in a later chapter in greater detail my understanding of my self, my soul, and my spirit, which are all one and the same.  I believe in the power of spirit and believe that the power of many souls can be harnessed in combined prayers of supplication. The  I have seen it happen and I  have felt God’s spirit in me and others.  It’s too rare, but wonderful, a stupendous gift.  This is what I believe may at times result in an intercession.

How does it happen?

The first time I ever considered that an angel or other force may have interceded on my behalf was when I was driving southbound on CT Route 7, a heavily traveled two-lane road several years ago. I was alone in my little 1988 Mazda 323.  I can’t remember exactly when this happened, but it was certainly before either of my children had left the nest.   In other words, I still had some very important unfinished business.

I was approaching a traffic light where a similar road, Route 35 emptied onto Route 7 from my right.  About 100 yards before the light, my southbound side of the road widened into two lanes, the right lane for turning onto 35 and the left to continue down 7.  As I approached the green traffic signal at speed in my left lane a large heavy pick-up truck with a raised chassis in the northbound single lane suddenly jumped into my lane to pass the car in front of it at high speed.  In an instant, we were mere seconds away from a head on collision, one I would surely lose, badly.  The next moment I found myself in the right turn lane as the tall pick up sped past me less than a yard away in the lane that I somehow vacated.

I didn’t remember doing anything to juke my car into the right lane.  The only activity in my brain was the phrase ‘Oh shit!’  There was no time left to react, but there I was.

Looking back on the incident I realized how tremendously lucky I had been.  Somehow, my body responded to the immanent danger before my mind did.  How did that happen?  I still wonder.

Furthermore, I was in some heavy traffic. I was very fortunate that there was no car beside me in the right lane when my body put my car there.  If I had taken the time to check my side view mirror, which I didn’t, I simply would not have moved aside in time to avoid the head on collision.

My pulse was shuddering and I was short of breath when I cleared the intersection and pulled into the parking lot of a small row of stores.  I shut down the engine and sat stunned at what had just taken place.  I hadn’t had time even to feel fear as those seconds passed.  Now I was shaking.

That’s when I first wondered if I had a Guardian Angel.

Is Luck Distributed by Angels?

Some, maybe not all, coincidences could well be caused by intercessions.

Occasionally we hear of instances when twins separated at birth, or long lost friends, or birth mothers and the children they put up for adoption are reunited by an improbable series of events.

Could it be that a Guardian Angel whispered the notion of a lottery ticket in my ear on 9/11?   I simply don’t know.

The idea that an angel may have delivered my whim conjures up all the “Why Me” complications that the God’s Plan theory has.  Why intercede for me and not for any who died?  I am certain that others deserved an Angel more than I did.  Okay, an intercession is not necessarily part of a mysterious plan, but it is a mysterious event.  Is it possible that God isn’t responsibClarence 3le for all that happens, but He/She does on occasion tweak the course of events?

Were it not for what happened on Route 7, I would dismiss the Guardian Angel on 9/11 intercession idea completely.  But, while it still makes little sense to me, I need to leave room for the possibility that God does sometimes intercede, and be content with that for now.

I will never claim to know all.

God’s Design

While I cannot subscribe to the theory that God micro-manages all that we do (and therefor all that we are) in a Master Plan, I do believe that the universe, including us, is God’s Design.  The distinction between God’s Design and God’s Plan is the difference between the blue prints for a highway from here to Albuquerque with six lanes divided by a median and guard rails, drainage, shoulders, on/off ramps, etc. versus the timing and managing all of the myriad interactions that will happen on the road to Albuquerque among all the cars, trucks, motor cycles buses, emergency vehicles, snow plows and those who drive them.  The design defines what’s possible and so confines the randomness to that space.

The road is always designed for intrinsically good and valuable purposes; there are no evil elements intended in the design.  The drivers on the road, however, can use or abuse the road for good, bad, or benign purposes. When the road is used to get an injured person to a hospital in an ambulance, it is good.   But when the road is used as a get-away route for a pedophile, it is not.  The Design, the primary intention, the hope, is well defined. Who is driving, where they’re going and why is all random.

Like a child’s toy top, God sent the world spinning.  It’s anybody’s guess where it will go from there.

Seeing a great deal of randomness operating in all lives, I have come to think that randomness is probably a key component of God’s Great Design.  The free will granted to all of us enables – no requires – us to make choices as we deal with randomness.  How and why we make those choices define in large measure who each of us really is.  Our free will is itself a major contributor to the randomness in our lives.

Luck, random dumb luck, is also baked into God’s Design.  God does not intercede to reward or punish the person who puts his last ten chips on number 21 at the roulette table.  Other than the fact that God’s design includes the concept of numbers (one of God’s really cool creations), God has nothing to do with the outcome either way of the gambler’s bet.  The gambler owes neither his thanks nor his blame to God if number 21 comes up or not.  But if and when God did intercede in events on someone’s behalf, wouldn’t the guise of luck/coincidence be a good vehicle to mask it?

In God’s design, we are made mortal and often unpredictable.  We have been born into a world that includes countless ways for humans to live and to die.  That we will die is certain; when, where and how each of us will die is unknown even to God and is, therefore, random.  When, where and how we live determines if we live a life worth living.

I believe that while God does not inflict death and seldom, if ever, deflects death, God grieves with those who grieve and welcomes the souls of the departed with love.

And the self lives on.

guard angel cartoon




© 2016 James Ash