A Life Worth Living – Part 2

A Life Worth Living – Part 2

Just My Luck-Chapter 13-2: Enough vs. Never Enough

When did we lose our satisfaction and happiness with enough? When did unsatisfiable greed replace happiness as the primary motivation of life?

When Doris and I returned from eight years in Maine, we left the roughly 3,000 square-foot, brand new house we had mortgaged in 2007.  In 2015 we returned to Fairfield County CT and purchased a 1,350 square-foot condominium to call home.  Do the math.

A Dream Realized

From the moment we first saw it, we loved the house in Maine.  It was for me the realization of a dream I’d harbored on every commuter train ride back and forth to Manhattan for nearly 30 years.  It was quiet and secluded. The back deck overlooked our 250 feet of waterfront on Long Cove on Orr’s Island. I was able to fulfill the simple wish that articulated my dream, to be able to have my morning cup of coffee while looking at the water every day.

18 Heather Ln snow crp
Our Former Home – Orrs Island, Maine

We saw seals, egrets, blue heron, lots of fish and several kinds of ducks.  In our first week there, standing on the deck I used a pair of binoculars to follow an osprey that dove straight into the middle of the cove 100 feet in front of me.  When the bird surfaced it didn’t return to the sky, it used its wings like oars to row to the other side of the cove.  I was worried it had been hurt in its dramatic dive, but when it got the opposite shore, it emerged dragging a fish twice its size in its talons. Wow!  Too big to carry in flight, the osprey and its mate feasted on the fish on the rocky shore.

This was but the first, though most dramatic, of many successful osprey fishing expeditions we witnessed.  Nearly every time I took to the cove in my kayak the osprey would circle above me and call out their distinctive whistle.  I tried to mimic their signal in reply but could only master a poor imitation.  Nonetheless, they usually kept up their end of the conversation anyway.  Sometimes they would successfully dive bomb the cove with empty talons then surface and take flight with a fish in their grasp.  When they fished while I was there they always flew directly over me, showing me their prize.

kayak
Kayaking on Long Cove

One osprey couple returned to its nest atop a tall pine tree on our property every year.  They announced their arrival by circling  100 feet over our house and scolding us not to disturb their family.

I loved those birds.

Before our puppy, Charley, was big enough to be a threat, the neighborhood flock of 10 to 12 wild turkeys would strut around our property gobbling up the cracked corn I put out for them and the ticks the families of deer provided.  Sometimes they would sleep high in the tall evergreens that lined our driveway.  If you’ve never seen or heard a wild turkey take flight, you’ve missed something special.  They are the jumbo jets of the local aviary population on Orrs Island.  Once Charley was big enough to be reckoned with, we seldom saw the wild turkey spectacle.  He loved chasing them and they hated it.  Charley wouldn’t have a clue what to do with one if he caught one, but they didn’t know that.

A young friend in the final few hundred miles of a cross country auto trek stopped by to spend a few days with us.  He became very excited when we told him we had an American bald eagle in the neighborhood.  He told us he’d seen all the wildlife he’d hoped to on his trip, with the lone exception that he had never in his life seen an American eagle in the wild.

Later that very same day, he and I were swimming in the cove when I saw two osprey circling above us.

Hey Bob,” I called pointing to the sky, “see the osprey circling?  Watch this.”

Not quite on cue but shortly thereafter, the first feathered dive-bomber splashed into the cove maybe 40 yards from us.  It came up empty and returned to the sky.  A few moments later the second bird, its mate, made a stab at the same fish, but failed.

As the birds took up new circles over their prey, suddenly from left field came the bald eagle flying low and fast a few feet above the water’s surface.  Looking as if it was just sent from Central Casting to audition for a National Geographic special, he glided in low, raised his talons and neatly plucked the osprey-coveted fish from the water.  He then grabbed some altitude, and banked left for the tree line on the shore.

Bob & Boid 1
Bob and “Baldy”Looking for Turkey

Bob and I cheered as it flew over us with two osprey in hot pursuit.

The following Thanksgiving at his parents’ home, I gave Bob a statue of an American Bald Eagle to commemorate his first and only siting.

That place was just the paradise I needed to help me heal.

One Big Empty Nest

The thing is, this was the largest house we had ever owned and, as empty-nesters we were the smallest family we’d ever been.  This wasn’t just  more than enough house for us, it was far too big for us.  Why did we buy it?  It was nearly everything we ever wanted in a home. But a great deal of what we wanted was tied to the full nest we once had.  We had bought for the want, not for the need.

When we returned to Connecticut, we weren’t the first of our acquaintances and friends to “downsize,” but we had to shed an amazing amount of stuff we’d acquired in four decades of marriage and for a too-big house, before we could fit into our new digs.

We are surprisingly comfortable and truly very happy in our 1,350 square feet.  We still have more than enough to be happy, but it was really good to drop a lot of the dead weight we had been essentially storing in plain sight .

There is no question that we still have more than enough.  But at least we now have a better idea about what enough is.

Enough

enough 2John C. Bogle, Founder and former CEO of the Vanguard Mutual Fund Group wrote a small book on that very topic.  Published in 2009, in the wake of the greed-incited debacle on Wall Street, his roughly 250-page book Enough. True Measures of Money, Business, and Life, told of values and life lessons that were the antithesis of the fraudulent financial feeding frenzy that ruined so many lives across America.

With no appreciation for the concept of Enough, many of the greedy creators of the debacle were ultimately given golden handshakes and forced into luxurious retirement. (SoMaster-Card-icon sad)

Petty crime doesn’t pay. Huge crimes of the wealthy fleecing the rest of us? – Priceless.

Vladimir would have enjoyed Mr. Bogle’s book.  In fact, he’d probably have sent it to a few folks.  In his opening chapter, Mr. Bogle reveals that he and his twin brother were born on May 8, 1929.  [5+8+1929= 1942= 16= 7th life of his soul]  Vlad would not have been surprised at that.

I read Mr. Bogle’s book while licking my wounds in the initial years of my time as a healing hermit in Maine.  Ironically, our move to Maine coincidentally happened a month before Lehman Brothers’ downfall knocked over the next domino in line and the ugly mortgage laden financial world collapsed before our eyes.

I never anticipated that my 401k would deflate so low so fast just as I began my retirement.  My plan to take some time for myself to heal from the still painful 9/11 experience was undermined somewhat by a new worry about how I was going to remain retired.  Like millions of others, I was among the victims of miserable, despicable, lecherous, insidious, money-grubbing, greedy, and ultimately valueless people.

To any and all greedy bankers, investment bankers, mortgage brokers, derivative creators, and other vermin who knowingly and purposely were complicit in the defrauding of investors and ultimately the fleecing of hard working American tax payers, I sincerely hope that you will ultimately get what you deserve. You may have bought your way out of justice here, but though I’d be pleased to escort you to it, I wouldn’t want to be on your deathbed. 

Finding Mr. Bogel’s book was a tonic for me. His perspective and his experience-earned wisdom were in stark contrast to the unscrupulous financiers who poisoned the well. He described a time when few sharks swam in the financial services waters, where the lifeblood of the economy was protected by the integrity of the professionals who took responsibility as stewards of other people’s financial interests.  This was followed by a chronicle of how greed insinuated its self, its hideous spirit, into the fabric of finance, corrupting it to its core.

The book’s Table of Contents is in itself a synopsis of Mr. Bogle’s excellent observations. Here are the 10 Chapter Titles of the three core segments of the book:

Money

Chapter 1       Too Much Cost  / Not Enough Value

Chapter 2       Too Much Speculation / Not Enough Investment

Chapter 3       Too Much Complexity / Not Enough Simplicity

 Business

Chapter 4       Too Much Counting / Not Enough Trust

Chapter 5       Too Much Business Conduct / Not Enough Professional Conduct

Chapter 6       Too Much Salesmanship / Not Enough Stewardship

Chapter 7       Too Much Management / Not Enough Leadership

Life

Chapter 8       Too Much Focus on Things / Not Enough Focus on Commitment

Chapter 9       Too Many 21st Century Values / Not Enough 18th Century Values

Chapter 10     Too Much “Success” / Not Enough Character

 

If you haven’t read Enough, I highly recommend it.

As the volatile and hungry trading in mortgage clusters with bogus ratings was taking place, I would guess nearly every time the word “enough” was used on Wall Street it was paired with the word “never.”  I don’t believe the notion of enough has gained even a tiny foothold in the canyons of the Financial District in lower Manhattan and beyond since then.

Those who are unfamiliar with the concept of enough are missing something very important to their own selves/souls.  If we always strive for more money and possessions, there’s never enough.  When there is no end achieved, where does satisfaction come in?  What is important, the process or the objective?

Greed, the love of money, can never be satisfied.  Greed’s voracious appetite, like a hungry shark, can turn back on itself and consume itself until there is nothing left of genuine value in the person afflicted with the disease.

Self-Regulation of Financial Institutions (and Other Fairy Tales)

It is because of greed/never-enough/and the absence of integrity that financial institutions today cannot be trusted to self-regulate.  End of story.

Effective self-regulation was the safeguard that Reaganomics depended on to keep the economy fair for all.  It was to be the protector of the faucet that wselfRegulateas to trickle down economic largess to everybody!  Poor Ronnie. He was a genuine idealist. He made one mistake, albeit a really big one. He expected there’d always be integrity. In other words, he trusted the bastards.

Maybe in a Disney cartoon sharks can make an effort to deny their very nature [“Fish are not food”], but the expectation that Wall Street sharks would ever self-regulate to keep things fair proved, not at all surprisingly, to be absolutely ludicrous. Real self-regulation that champions fairness, responsibility, and enforcement requires huge amounts of a terribly scarce commodity in today’s financial community: Integrity.

Integrity in the financial markets is just a bad joke, laughed at by malignant narcissists who care nothing about anyone but themselves.

An entirely different commodity, Cash, funds finance regulations and regulators that turn a blind eye to deceit, opportunism, and god-damn greed.

Sorry to say, the legislators – the pilot fish for the sharks  – have the concentrated gall in the wake of this last disaster to continue to oppose the most common sense controls on the sharks’ feeding habits.

I wonder ,why?  Is someone else being fed at the same time? Naaaaaaah.  In America? Naaaaaah.

Take a look on-line at rate of increase in net worth of legislators in Washington who are the true power brokers.

https://ballotpedia.org/Changes_in_Net_Worth_of_U.S._Senators_and_Representatives_(Personal_Gain_Index)

Some brought their money with them but others made most of their fortunes on Capital Hill, in the White House, and I suspect even on the Supreme Court.  What are their salaries as public servants?  How much were they worth when they first arrived in Washington?  How does one account for the huge divide between then and now?

A Nasty Shameful Greedy Perversion of Justice

Insider trading?  Sure that’s some of it.  Congress made it legal for Congressmen, their aides, members of the administrative branch and others to do what any other American citizen would do some hard prison time for doing.   Insider information is confidential information about companies that, if known by the general public, would inflate or deflate that company’s stock prices.  It is illegal for anyone, except the self-serving polconflictiticians who cooked up and passed their law, to buy or sell stock in a company if they have insider information, until after that information has been made public.  Trading on insider information is like having the ability to read tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal’s stock price listings today.  It is a not so sophisticated way to steal money from investors who do not have the advantage of knowing what will happen tomorrow.  Making it legal for themselves gave these public servants the license to steal that money from investors without any punishment at all.

Isn’t it cute?  Can you imagine how embarrassing it must have been when law makers were exposed for making insider trading legal just for themselves. They were caught with their hands in the cookie jar.  So they proceeded to make a big splash about righting this heinous wrong.  They quickly passed legislation rescinding this insult to the integrity of Congress. There were some great photos of the president signing that bill.  End of story. Right?

Not so fast.  After enough time passed that the bombshell was defused, this same self-righteous Congress proceeded to very quietly de-fund the only data system that could track this complex nefarious activity.

So they stealthily gave themselves the right to steal, they boldly and loudly showed righteous indignation and revoked the right to steal, and then they stealthily hid all evidence of their stealing where no one could find it.  Will 60 Minutes please, please follow up on their story that first made the American Public aware of the criminals we call legislators?

Is it conceivable that some of these pillars of government are for all intents and purposes owned by big money?  Or are these legislators immune to temptation?  Not when they’re immune to the laws they pass.lobbyists

My, My.  How Neatly The System’s Been Rigged.

Sometimes all one needs to do is stand next to our flag to be able to get away with almost anything.  All it takes is a great propaganda campaign guided by slick PR wonks, a stable of sugar-daddy-donors, and greed.  But the flags these politicians wrap themselves in have a strong scent of excrement when they take them off.

Let’s get back to basics:

Does money feed the soul/ self?  Or does the continual growth of one’s pile of money feed on one’s self?  Greed is a disease that attacks the soul.  At its worst, it’s heroin, crack cocaine, oxyconten, valium, and Johnny Walker Double Black all packed into one overdose.

Beware of this affliction.

The sign over the gate to Auschwitz  the Nazi extermination camp during World War II read “Work Will Make You Free.”  I would not be surprised to learn that the sign over the gate to one of Hell’s most populated neighborhoods says:

Never Enough.”

©2016 James Ash

 

 

A Life Worth Living – Part 1 – Values

A Life Worth Living – Part 1 – Values

Just My Luck – Chapter 13-1

mother TSomewhere between Mother Theresa and Donald Trump is a place where I’d like to live the rest of my life.  Like yours, my definition of a life worth living is strictly my own.  It is driven by my values –  the purposes and priorities that resonate with my self/soul.  A life worth living is a goal, an ideal, a standard that measures my progress, self-disciplines my actions, and helps me make choices – all to improve my self, to feed my soul.the trump et

Between the extremes of the self-sacrificial and the self-serving, my natural inclinations are far short of the saintliness of Theresa but are definitely considerably farther from the malignant narcissism of Trump.

Values

After each of my potentially life-ending experiences, I have revisited my values to evaluate their relevance and to amend them if needed.  Absent strong and defining principles, I would be worthless to myself and others.  I don’t want to die in that state.

I already wrote in my previous chapter about how much I’ve learned to value Commitment, so I’ll not repeat that here.

Pretty early in my life, I was taught in church that our purpose as people was to serve God.  Okay, got it. That’s good.  One thing though, how do I go about serving God?  What in the world does God need that _wsb_524x205_OK_GOD_Now_What+title+words+onlyI can do for Him or get for Him?  (Remember, this was in the 1950’s before we realized that God might be either gender or neither one.) Really, I want to help, I want to serve, but since God is the master of everything, what’s left for me to do?

Then it hit me, an epiphany, a good way to serve God would be by serving Her/His best creation in my neighborhood, my fellow man (in the gender inclusive sense).  That would satisfy the mission, I was sure.  And I’m still sure of that today.

So, the underlying purpose of my values has long been to help others.

I think it’s a fine value.  It pleases me and I think it pleases God.  It’s stood the test of time at the head of my list .  Coincidentally (or not) Doris also independently realized that her reason for being on the planet is to help people.  Frankly, she’s a lot better at it than I am, and always has been.  But I’ve learned quite a good deal from her.  You’ll see.

While trying to be helpful, I also try to be mindful of the corollary, do no harm.  I’ve found that tenet is often hard to follow unless I amend it to do no harm on purpose.  I always need to keep an eye out for those pesky unintended consequences.

Helping Others

My efforts at helping others are sincere; they’re not an obligation, but a choice I made that gives me great rewards.  Doris is more active in accomplishing this mission we share, but while she may see an opportunity to be helpful more readily than I, we often work together to pursue it.  I find some on my own as well, a trend that has increased with age.

Helping can take a staggering number of forms: donating money to charities, spending time with someone who is lonely or bereaved, change a flat tire, running errands for a shut-in, making a child laugh, returning a found object to whoever lost it (wallet perhaps), cheering for someone’s accomplishment, encouraging someone who is not self-confident, giving time and attention to someone else’s needs or problems, the list is huge.  And one doesn’t necessarily have to go out of his/her way to do it.  Create something good when you do anything.  Complimenting a co-worker on a job well done costs you nothing but rewards the recipient handsomely.  Telling an acquaintance he or she looks good in that outfit, or looks to have lost some weight, or is admired, or whatever.

In my undergraduate training to be an English Teacher, I was taught the basic psychological truth that positive feedback is a much stronger learning motivation than is negative feedback.  Building someone up yields greater returns than tearing them down.  A teacher, a boss, a parent, a priest, anyone in a leadership position can help make the lives of their students, employees, children, congregation members, constituents better simply by using positive rather than negative motivation.

Anyone can build others up. My sage mentor Vladimir one day tolwaiterd me, “When I retire, I want to become a waiter.”

“A waiter? Really?” I replied.  “Now why would you want to become a waiter ?

I will never forget his answer.

“Because a waiter always has the opportunity to make someone’s day better.”

Knowing him, working for him, working with him, made my life considerably better.  He too valued doing good for others and I was a beneficiary of his help. He encouraged me to believe in my talents and look for opportunities to learn. He predicted that I could go far, and inspired me simply by telling me so.  He was my boss, but he offered me his friendship.  Never since have I known such a human being.

The opposite is also true.  The worst way to motivate someone is in the negative.

The guy who initially introduced me to Vlad by arranging my job interview, later told me that my mentor was doing me no favors in over-complimenting my work.  He warned that when I eventually worked for someone else, I would find it hard to find a cheer leader to replace him.  In short, I was being spoiled by Vladimir and one day I would have a rude awakening when he was no longer there to stand between me and the sharks in the tank.

Put another way his message was, “don’t get a swelled head from his flattery, you’re not that good.”

He was a little right and he was a lot wrong.

Vlad died in 1990 and I did indeed miss his encouragement.  As I mourned his loss (my loss), I was his successor in the office.  I was more than a little daunted by the size of the shoes I was to fill, but he prepared me well.  He helped me believe in myself and recognize my strengths and weaknesses. Armed with this, I took those strengths and minimized those weaknesses further than I ever thought possible.

I am ever thankful that he was my mentor and I miss him still.

Smilingsmiling-dog-moose

I like smiling.  I especially like smiling at strangers and the smiles that precede a good laugh with a friend.  A warm smile is a cost efficient way to brighten a day.

Occasionally, it can be difficult in some venues, but generally making eye contact, smiling and nodding the head once in silent greeting brings a smile in return.  It’s a small, momentary connection between two people who may have never seen one another before and are unlikely to see each other again, but it is not meaningless.  If I am a tenth-of-a-degree warmer for the experience and so is the other person, it’s a fine use of the time and energy it takes to smile.

I don’t smile at everyone I see, but when the thought hits me I smile readily.  Just the act of smiling can improve your day.  Smiling works on you like the salt, pepper, thyme, or other favorite spices work on your food.  Smiling makes your time more interesting, enjoyable, and flavorful.   The fact that a smile has no calories or carcinogens is a fine bonus.

When I smile at physically “attractive” women, I wonder if they assume I am coming on to them.  Truthfully, sometimes I wonder if I am, but I’m always satisfied and happy to be one of two smiles passing.

The best fun is smiling sincerely at people who least expect it, like Vladimir the waiter would have.

I like to think that I am an indiscriminant smiler.

Competition vs. Congeniality

When I returned from my hermit-hiding place in Maine to the suburb of New York City where I spent most of my life, I brought with me a new and fresh perspective from which to view my home environment.  With the exception of my first year of college at Virginia Tech, Connecticut had been my home state for my entire life before we moved to Maine.   I really needed that change of venue to experience a different worldview.   I was a different self when we returned.

Both places have their attractions and their “unattractions” (my newly invented word), but I quickly realized that many of the differences between them is a product of their contrasting population densities and their proximity (or lack thereof) to a major city.

Of all the differences I observed, the one I find most striking is thedriving competitionjpg highly competitive nature of many in suburbia versus the more relaxed and congenial aspect of rural Maine.  This contrast is especially stark when dealing with strangers in a situation where one’s anonymity is assured, e.g., driving a car.

In Fairfield County, Connecticut and other outlying suburban areas of New York City driving long ago devolved to an intense competitive sport.  Many drivers either believe that they have an inherent right or obligation to be ahead of anyone in front of them, or believe that they have a moral duty not to let the self-entitled jerk behind them get in front of them. (I tended more toward being the latter of these two sociopathic deviants.)

Put these two particular classes of drivers on the same road at the same time and you will create the perfect medium for road rage.   It is also hazardous to those with heart disease and/or ulcers.

The Law of Large Numbers

In Maine we lived in Cumberland County where in 2016 the population is just shy of 285,500 residents who inhabit 1,217 square miles along the coast.   I have returned now to Fairfield County, which has nearly 940,000 residents living in an area of 837 square miles.  The population densities per square mile in the two counties then are:

  • Cumberland, ME     234 souls
  • Fairfield, CT 1,123 souls

If the number of asshole drivers is 1% of the total population in each of these areas, you are almost five times more likely to have to deal with one of these idiots while driving to or from work in CT than in ME.  Given that more than 125,000 Fairfield County warriors commute to New York City to work at some fairly competitive jobs, and many other highly competitive jobs have migrated to suburbia, the actual percentage of the population made up by competitive drivers in the CT county is likely inherently higher than in Maine.

Conservatively then, let’s assume that 2% of the population in Fairfield County pretend to be Dale Earnhardt Jr. (or Mrs, Jr., ladies can be like this too) when they drive.  If the one asshole per 100 drivers rate in Maine holds steady, you are 10 times more likely to feel like you inadvertently drove onto the Daytona Speedway while in Fairfield County than in Cumberland County.

The reason for including these calculations here is that when I moved to Maine, I made a concerted, conscious effort to lose my own experienced and well-honed asshole driving style.

The Little Old Ladies from Passadumkeag

The Beach Boys never sang about them, but these little old ladies, and others like them, are a force in Maine.  In terms of residents, Maine is the “oldest” state in the Union, so it’s logical that it has proportionately more “elderly” people driving on its roads than does any other state.

These folks are typically cautious and more deliberate in what they do and how they drive.  Accordingly, I needed to learn patience behind the steering wheel.  At first whenever I felt old lady drives 2like shouting in frustration, I had to talk to myself down off the cliff to remember my goal.  “Imagine that’s Mom driving that car.”  That got my attention and before long I actually became a naturally patient driver.  I even smiled while I drove.

While Maine may not have as many assholes on the road, they have their share.  When they popped up in my rearview mirror I learned to wave them on and silently wish them well.

I congratulated myself to the changes I was making until I began to realize that I was actually on the cusp of becoming another senior citizen in the census poll with highest state average age in the country.  Maybe along with my intent to change my driving style, I was naturally becoming one of the typically cautious and more deliberate drivers.  If so, that was okay.  It was a positive change no matter why.

Back to the Demolition Derby

Having:

  • returned to the land of late-model, expensive, foreign-made sedans, cross-overs, SUVs, and sports cars,
  • driven by masters of the universe
  • who live in huge houses and
  • drive aggressively because
  • they can,

(please allow me a deep breath before I continue this run-on sentence)

  • my patience is wearing thin again.

My self-esteem is once again being challenged by the bold arrogance of some drivers here.  I’d left them, they hadn’t left me. In short, now that I’m back in Fairfield County I am starting to revert into an asshole driver.

Just last week a guy in Nissan sedan decided to jump the line of cars in front of him waiting at a red light.  Our lane was clearly marked for those who were going to go straight.  He chose to leave the back of our line (where I had been one stop-go cycle earlier) into the left turn only lane and pulled up next to my car. His intent was pretty obvious. He wasn’t in the wrong lane by mistake, he just believed that he deserved to be ahead of all the fools who comply with the proscribed traffic patterns.

Directly across the intersection from the guy’s car was the left turn only lane for cars coming toward us.  The Nissan and I were both second in our respective lines so he was right beside my car. When the light turned green he rode the bumper of the car in front of him that was also jumping our line.   Their lane’s first car barely gained our lane in front of our first car, but our first car yielded no room for the Nissan to pass.  Now it was up to me to preserve the honor of our lane by denying the lane jumper his objective. So I did.  When the Nissan asshole began to turn I, the Ford Escape asshole, ignored it and blew past him as did several cars behind me.  We left the Nissan stuck nose-to-nose with the cars in the turning lane from the other direction.  They were not happy with him for blocking their ability to turn.

Mine was a fine piece of competitive defensive asshole driving.  I scolded myself and grinned.

I truly don’t want to return to the ‘me’ that I’d worked so hard to abandon in Maine, but I have a natural aversion to letting other assholes take advantage of this asshole.  If I choose to let them have their little victories, I’d just like them to know that I could have denied them their ego rushes if I wanted to.  Short of installing a public address system in my car, I haven’t figured out how to do that.

I guess I havintelpost121126_assholebook_250.jpge to be content with knowing that myself.  Who cares what they think?

My goal is that next time I’m in that situation I want to let the jerk have the lane and not care.  I just don’t know if I have it in me to be that mature yet.

For an in-depth philosophical analysis of, and suggestions on how to manage, these types of folks, I highly recommend the work of Aaron James in his book, Assholes. *A Theory

Generosity

I always considered myself to be as generous as the next guy (I could have taught a graduate level course in Comparative Generosity), and I’m sure I was about as average as one could be.  I only learned about true generosity and the real joys of giving from my wife.  Having been a lifelong practitioner of giving, Doris is an accomplished expert.

Breaking me in, she started small.  “Is that all you’re leaving for the tip?

For the past 45 years I’ve witnessed the pure joy she gets from giving to un-expectant people: family, friends, and strangers.  Gradually at first, and then more readily, I’ve come to share that joy.

As my fingers have been dancing on my keyboard, I literally just overheard Doris speaking on the phone in the next room to someone named Doug who must have been working in some retail outlet’s call center.  In signing off the call she said, “I want to thank you Doug for all the help you’ve given me this morning.  You were really great and I want you to know I really appreciate it.”  Now, what did that cost her?  How do you think Doug felt about her compliment?  How often do you think Doug gets compliments like this?   The neat thing for me is that when deserved I too now make a point of speaking person to person to a Doug and expressing genuine gratitude.  I picked that up from Doris.

She is prone at times to go even another step beyond.  On the phone, in a restaurant, in a Lowes or a Home Depot for that matter, she asks a worker who has been very helpful to her, “Who is your Manager?”  It’s actually funny, but also a bit sad, that most times the person she wants to praise to his/her manager, is visibly shaken and fearful of that question until Doris follows on with, “I want to tell the manager what a  fine job you did for us.”  Likewise, when the summoned manager arrives, it’s usually like a student called to the Principal’s office.  The relief on the manager’s face when Doris delivers her message of gratitude then becomes a broad smile.

I dare anyone to walk away from that encounter in a bad mood.

Giving is now a very soul-satisfying endeavor for me. The joy (I know I am repeating that word, but it has no peer, joy is felt in the soul) of giving reaches my core. The happy surprise of the recipients of unexpected generosity is literally priceless.  Just the message that someone cares can be a gift that reaches the soul.

So I believe generosity is a fundamental method of communicating soul-to-soul.  When someone says, “I’m truly touched by your generosity,” it’s the soul that has been “touched.”  Touching and being touched that deeply can be so exquisite it can bring tears.

Like many, many people, we support what we consider to be worthwhile causes and organizations with donations of money, goods and services.  That is always good for our souls.  But we also enjoy helping people in need who we meet or hear about.  Most often the help we give is provided anonymously – somehow that makes the experience more joyful for us.

I’m still a novice compared to my wife, but I get to share in the wonderfulness of her giving.  I offer but one more recent instance that captures the essence of what she sometimes does with our resources.

We recently had a mid-afternoon lunch at a local diner.  The nearby high school had obviously finished another day of classes; several well-mannered students occupied tables at the far end of the diner.  While we enjoyed our meals the kids left sporadically in small groups and drove away.  Those at the largest table were the last to leave.  A few minutes later we heard their waitress moan, “Oh no.  They stiffed me again.”  The kids had paid their bill but left no tip.  In the exchange between the waitress and the owner of the diner at the cash register, we learned their check had come to about $100.  The waitress was more saddened than angry about the situation.

We finished our meals, left our usual tip on the table, and approached the owner at his pay counter to settle our check.  Before leaving, Doris reached into her wallet and handed the man a $20 bill and said, “We overheard what happened.  After we leave, please give this to the waitress.”  He smiled warmly and said “Thank you, I certainly will.”

We had a very nice drive home.

Sometimes the giving that’s not tax deductible is the best.

 

©2016 James Ash

 

 

 

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.

Carol

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.

weinerjan1

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.

AEMT_image

©2016 James Ash