Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Toe Tag

"All your life you had to stand in line
Still you're standing on your feet
All your choices made you change your mind
Now your calendar's complete
Don't wait for answers
Just take your chances
Don't ask me why"
(Don't Ask Me Why, Billy Joel 1980)

            In the early 1990s, my first partner and I lived atop a split home. The apartment above suited our lifestyle and was close to the college we attended. The lower part of the home was rented by an interesting family. Both parents had significant health issues including extreme obesity, diabetes and they smoked more than I did at the time. Their son was a nice boy, a teenager who, a few years later, ended up in much more trouble than it was worth. I believe he was incarcerated at a prison in eastern Ontario for several years. A heavy smoker myself, I enjoyed playing cards with them when my time allowed. We eventually became good friends and remained in contact after Doug and I left Sarnia, Ontario. For the entire time we lived there, they had major problems with maintaining wellness. Both suffered from disabilities due to their careless lifestyle. They seemed to have a conscious disregard for their health despite the severity of their conditions. After a few years, and graduation, we headed for Toronto, leaving our neighbours to their modus vivendi. I made an effort to stay in touch with them.
            After Doug passed away in 1995, the effort I made to keep in contact became a great challenge. Every time I called, one of them was in hospital. When I visited, you could see the effect that neglect was taking on their bodies. Eventually, one suffered a heart attack and one was diagnosed with the early stages of lung cancer. Each time I ventured back for another visit, I could picture the toe tags dangling from their appendages. Ignoring the factors that led to their fate was something they both seemed to excel at. When I spent time with them, we literally blew smoke in each other's faces. Their predicament had little to no effect on me. It was their problem and irrelevant to my internal state of ill repair. With ten years of puffing behind me then, I wish I had used their warning signs and been an example. If only I had quit smoking from the rear view. If only hindsight was my friend. I was a fool to think such things could never happen to someone like me. Twenty years later and they both rest peacefully. No matter the treatment they sought out, the damage had already been done. Continuing the status quo killed them both. A common grey stone is all they have left to share. Perhaps if they had listened to their doctors, made the appropriate changes, they might be here to tell me that they told me so. I suppose it's true that we often ignore the plight of others. We only notice the danger to ourselves. We don't acknowledge and learn from suffering as a consequence until it happens to us.
"You won't find me
Naked and cold justa sittin'
On the doctor's table
Waitin' to be told justa why
I'm no longer able
To feel my heart beatin'
Give me a good reason why!"
(Nah!, Shania Twain 2002)

            When my alarm went off at 5:00 AM, I could not have cared less about my heart condition. I just wanted to ignore it all and return to my sleeping. I never imagined that getting up so early on a Monday morning could be so tough. This was just another reminder of growing older. It would not have been a problem for me at thirty. Tougher still was deciding that I would go. By 7:00 AM, I was dropped off at St. Mary's Hospital (Kitchener, Ontario) and I wandered up to the second floor Cardiology department. The delay in the waiting room was short and semi-sweet. The more I sat there, the greater the temptation was to leave. I thought I could easily just forget it and simply pretend that nothing was the matter, but I could not ignore reality. The chest pains that started at the end of the previous year had faded. There was little left for concern. The beta blocker I was prescribed seemed to do the trick. I had waited almost four months for the Angiogram and decided to maintain the course and make damn sure. I was shuffled quickly into a change room and told to strip. One thin gown and an ugly thinner robe were the only company my socks had for the rest of the day there. Despite the occasional scuff or bruise that led me to the emergency room, I had not been admitted into a medical hospital since way back in the later 1970s. The place smelled exactly the same as any hospital did in my childhood.
            If I had known they were going to administer drugs, I would have brought my own. What they gave me was mild to say the least. When they wheeled me into the operating room, I felt like I was part of the opening credits from the television program Six Feet Under. I wiggled my lower digits to confirm I was still alive and looked for the toe tag. I couldn't spot one anywhere. Of course, I had already been prepped, then hooked up to the ECG machine and those damn sticky pads. Next came the clippers. Apparently, my cardiologist only works from the groin area. I got trimmed right down to an itch. With no food or water for the past twelve hours, I sat parched and my lips started to crack. As the 9:00 AM hour approached, one of the gentlemen ahead of me decided to have his heart attack right there in the bed beside me. This in no way made me feel comfortable with the care from those nurses. I told myself I would be lucky to survive. I was pensive, but that in no way made my thoughts less silly. An hour later, I was wheeled into surgery and flipped onto a rather large metal slab. Whatever narcotic they fed me through the IV catheter in my left arm did little to quell my anxiety. When the procedure began, I asked if I could watch on the monitors. I didn't realize that my cardiologist was already deep inside of a vein. My heart beat in rapid rhythm as I watched it from my vantage point. I have to admit it was a little surreal. It was actually kind of cool to see it pulse the blood through me. The thin black wire suddenly appeared and wiggled like a tadpole in a rapidly evaporating pool of liquid. Suddenly, a spray of dark ink filled the cavity, there was a pause and then another spurt from the siphon. It took less than fifteen minutes to determine if I was already dead or not. 
            When I started smoking at age eighteen, I had no idea it would carry over as one of my greatest regrets. Perhaps the idea of sucking on death was apropos back when I was untreated for my Bi-Polar disorder, but the addiction did not go away with proper care and treatment. I had spent the last ten years of my life trying desperately to quit by the time I turned fifty. With that birthday long gone and well over a year since my last cigarette, I am no longer desperate. The occasional cheat got me through the first six months but my health propelled me through the next half dozen. I have become a non-smoker but I am not an anti-smoker. I am not about to turn on my one time compatriots. I hate it when some well meaning anti-whatever acts like their experience is the only one that matters. I refuse to allow the social disdain towards smoking to turn me into one of the annoying martyrs that to this day still drive me crazy. Really, how hard is it to just mind your own business? It's not really my place if smokers are in their rights to do so. Not one of those in your face critics ever made me smoke less. If anything, it made me blow smoke in their face while they blew smoke out of their ass.
            It was less than a half an hour when the cardiologist returned with the results of the Angiogram. It was not my lungs, as I had suspected, from years of huffing and puffing. It was, in fact, my heart. With a main artery blocked completely, and some residue damage from smoking, I was disappointed but in no way was I surprised. The surprise came when I was told the medication I was already on would be enough for now. The future of my heart would be left up to me. If I continued to exercise, made adjustments to my diet and never smoked ever again, I could lead a healthy and long life. Surgery was unnecessary but always available if the problem evolved into something more severe. At least it wasn't cancer. Without the smoking, there wasn't a whole lot that needed to be changed. I was already taking the beta blocker. I already exercised regularly, I eat no fast food, little meat, and my weight is steady to falling. I have one glass of alcohol a year. All my levels are consistent and rarely fluctuate. Considering the forty plus cigarettes I inhaled each day for thirty years, or one thousand and sixty weeks, or ten thousand nine hundred and twenty days, for over half my life, I came out better than one should have expected. My lungs are black but repairing themselves as I speak. I have no chest pain or breathing issues. I have much lung butter to spare. I feel good. I hate using the term, but I am a 'lucky man.' It could have been so much worse considering my family history of heart disease and stroke. The worst part is trying to get rid of the blockage without surgery. I am attempting several holistic solutions. No matter what might happen or not, I am constantly aware that I have no one to blame for any compromise made to my health through smoking. Doing so was the chance I was willing to take all those years ago. Smoking is the chance I no longer am willing to embrace. Although I still miss it, my lesson has been learned. You always have to pay the price, but you have no one to blame but yourself. 

"So I took the road less traveled by
And I barely made it out alive
Through the darkness somehow I survived
Tough love
 I knew it from the start
Deep down in the depth
Of my rebel heart
(Rebel Heart, Madonna 2015)

             I am not invincible. I am not some immortal character from some childhood conclusion in my mind. I may have spent my life thus far hoping that these things were true, but I obviously knew they were false all along. I am not the Highlander, or Gilgamesh or even some form of a Superman. My mortal frame (and all the guts contained within it) is as human and as frail as anyone else's on this planet. There is no escaping this truth no matter how much I don't want to hear it. Still, I have spent most of my life soaring above the ailments that seem to attack me on occasion. Thus far, nothing has kept me down. Perhaps the idea that I was impervious to harm was the wrong way to look at things. Maybe in some strange sense I do have an innate ability to pick myself up and carry on. Most certainly, if my past is any indication, I always manage to rise again. My physical struggles with a chemical imbalance, smoking and genetic predispositions like Diabetes, have done more than taught me how to survive. I'm not some warrior but I have finagled past them, always ready to fight the good fight. In light of my recent heart problems, I have certainly realized there are consequences to ignoring your health, regardless of how much you justify or isolate them on an intellectual level. Apparently, being some Megus was nothing but a figment of my overwhelming ego and imagination. I recognized long ago, one day I am going to die. This fact is not lost on me. It would appear, in my case at any rate, that I am the greatest determiner of just how and when and why that event will happen. I am confident that I shall do my best.


             I am not afraid to die. I never  have been. It was always the method of my future  destruction that left me with much trepidation. Isn't that ironic? To this point, the secret of my survival is not only acceptance of my situation but learning from my mistakes and correcting them. If you change nothing then nothing will change. After all, everything in life is a result of the choices you have made. If you want a different outcome, you have to make a different choice.

"Say goodbye to yesterday
 Nothing standing in my way
 Never was a guarantee
 In my heart I know
 There's got to be
 Gonna take some time
 I'm on the mend
 I'm healing
 Starting over at the end and feeling
 Stronger than I've ever been
 I'm healing"
(Healing, Michael English w/ Wynonna 1994)


Tuesday, January 5, 2016


"Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Luke 12:33-34, NIV)

             I pride myself on being a rather jovial person. Despite the life I have lived, the one thing you can count on from me is my sense of humor. I love to laugh. I use this tool in almost everything throughout my life. I use it as a means to help me survive. It's like I intercept some universal comedy signal and then channel the smartass that comes to me. It seems almost a physical force that I tap into, a base feeling I try to embrace. I don't know why this personality trait has lingered. Most days I have little reason to laugh, let alone take the time for jocularity and the art of being jolly. It's like a sense of something greater than myself flows through me and brings me to this state. It's always been there. When I was a boy, I was the class clown and the devilish sibling. No matter what happens, no matter the lot, I have always been able to use it not only as an escape but quite often as a weapon against tragedy itself. The best way to combat sorrow is through a good pun. I cannot do it all alone. Without the state of jest that finds me wanting, I don't believe I would ever laugh again. It comes and it goes just like the wind. I can feel it. Making other people laugh and feel comfortable is one thing but to disport myself is a delight I always attempt to meet. I amuse me. I am always laughing on the inside. I am a funny guy, ask anyone who knows me. If they say otherwise, then they need to burn the bug up their ass.
            I don't always experience this otherworldly force just through a veil of laughter. Sometimes it overwhelms me for no reason at all. On occasion, I find myself floating on the universe, with access to anything or anyone. If you focus, you can discover it there, always waiting, all encompassing. While there is often a physical response during the merge, the primary benefits of this encounter are far more intellectual and spiritual. Once when I was at my rope's end, I thought I actually was part of the universe. Of course, in afterthought, I chastised myself for being foolish. The truth is we are all part of the universe, a collective of the entire cosmos. All the stardust, the gases, the matter, it's all just one giant entity unto itself. The universe breathes and forms and lives. Great spiritual teachers have told mankind for eons that we could find our place in the scheme of things by realizing we are the scheme of things. So too just as there is a universal body, there is also a universal mind. A collective of all the knowledge, all the wisdom, all the answers. Capturing yourself within it can be a most rewarding yet completely frightening experience. You have to dive into that place blindfolded with your arms tied.

"For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." (Romans 14:17, NIV)


             I am not alone. For centuries, men much greater than me have instituted the idea of a force beyond matter and time. It is a collective of all the data from throughout all of this reality. Every idea, every sensory experience, every act of thinking exists in The Akashic Record, thought to be "a library of light wherein one can access all information." It is from here that modern New Age thinking claims that our "reality is a consciousness hologram." This collective denotes the "matrix of consciousness programs that create our reality within that hologram." All existence flows within the matrix. It is mystical, philosophical, and religious. Also called the astral plane, this "life force" is accessible to us humans just as it is to every other being and creature throughout all the realities, even beyond the universe and all it entails. It is reality, a "permanency of records" available to all who would become aware. This literal "non-physical plane of existence" is available, manifesting as "an objective, intellectually comprehensible spiritual world accessible to direct experience through inner development." Once you have accessed The Akashic Record, you can discover "hidden knowledge or wisdom that offers the individual enlightenment and salvation." This cumulative knowledge is "encoded in the aether," and has "existed since the beginning of The Creation and even before."
            The term Akashic Record  comes from the Sanskrit word akasha, meaning "sky" or "aether." The phrase first appeared in the late 1800s, although the idea of a collective mind or soul goes far back in human history. Akashic historians claim that the ancient Egyptians, the Mayan, Druids and even early Christians once used this resource. Nostradamus claimed that he had gained access to the Universal Mind or Collective Consciousness "using methods derived from the Greek oracles." Each soul, every living entity has been recorded "since time began." Every moment of existence has been stored, hard-drived, catalogued, and once a being has "attuned oneself properly" you can stream ("mindstream") the astral plane. Whether called jiva (Hinduism), atma (Buddhism), or even the Holy Spirit (Christianity), it requires a discipline which trains one to distinguish between actual encounters and any artificial "astral pictures created by imagination and keen desire." In modern schools, the concept is most closely associated with Theosophy and the New Age movement. 

"Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire." (Revelation 20:15, NIV)

            I'm not much for new age thinking. I figure if the traditions of Christian theology no longer serve me then something else can hardly fill that space. I suppose I am, in a simple sense, loyal to Jesus. After all, if I can no longer believe in the tenets of my birth faith, how can I rationally believe anything else that is set on a metaphysical, mythical or supernatural strata? I doubt very highly that the Christ was born to a virgin so how can I logically believe in anything else that is purported in the same vein? Even I don't believe that Jesus was God so I find it hard to imagine the validity of anything else that claims to be or comes from that source. While I believe that the Judeo-Christian scriptures reveal the character of God from a specific place in time, written by men in that place in time, I do not hold them as dogmatically certain. When people in this modern era claim  to have experienced UFOs or angels or demons, I give each encounter the very same credence. If my faith is questionable then so too are other expressions. If I doubt very highly that Jesus actually walked on water, why the hell would I believe that some Indo-Asian from Timbuktu could do the very same thing?
            The only thing we can know for certain is our experiences. What we believe is measured by the interpretations each of us make through those experiences. The truth is I question everything, especially if it stands as improvable or anthropomorphic in its nature. I can only know what I have come to know. It seems almost everyone grasps at strange straws when it comes to the metaphysical. Rather than being concerned with practical applications, mankind tends to focus primarily on varying theories and odd hypotheses, without material form or substance. Our ideas regarding God are highly abstract and overtly theoretical. When a person rejects one theocracy for a weirder and even more incredulous spiritual theory, it's like they have jumped from the frying pan into the fire. There is an elderly woman I know who refuses to concede that the tenets of the Christian faith might be valid because they are so unbelievable and obtuse. In the same breath, she has given herself to the very New Age doctrine of angels being aliens from another world. She will fight to have her truth heard and accepted. She believes that our DNA was tampered with thousands of years ago. She believes that those aliens come and go from the planet, considered angels by the vast majority of religious thinkers. She gives weight to RaĆ«lism (a UFO religion founded in 1974) and discards her birth faith because it seems unrealistic, fictitious and absurd.

 "Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever " (Daniel 12:3, NIV)


            Was the xenoglossy the Apostles encountered on the day of Pentecost actually the third person of Yahweh, taking possession of their intellect, or was it something else? When Edgar Cayce revealed the future, was he releasing the untapped energies of his mind or was he accessing a universal well of information? When New Age gurus talk about floating libraries of knowledge and truth, are they really describing heaven, as they claim to be, or are they tuning in to a frequency that contains much more? What about our dreams? Are they simply the unexpressed subconscious taking a relative form or are we journeying into something much more than what we believe them to be? Is past life regression a valid state or are we getting signals from a collective source? Is the past life review that NDEers undergo at the end of the tunnel our God letting us in on the joke or is it less an undertaking and more a stepping stone? What about genius and invention? When Srinivasa Ramanujan, an Indian mathematician who made "made extraordinary contributions to mathematical analysis, number theory, infinite series and continued fractions" credited the Hindu goddess Mahalakshmi of Namakkal with his brilliance, was his epiphany divine or derived? Where do we go when we astral project? What is really on the other side? There are so many questions, it's hard to keep up. I have found myself using my mind to consider each question carefully.
            It can be ridiculous to expect proof where there is none. After all, that's what Faith is for. To be honest, when it comes to God, there isn't much that I am sure of. I look for answers but I only find more questions. It would be nice to have some ethereal spring of information that I can tap into and use as my own. I know that I have had moments of such joy in my life that I felt I could reach out and touch God. There is a constant flow of laughter that trickles through my heart. I have encountered such magical things. I have always believed that such moments were divine in nature. They are the closest thing I have to proof. Perhaps the gifts of heaven mentioned in The Bible and other religious sources have more creditable substance than gold streets and diamond walls. In the end, it's really all just guesswork. If nothing else, I am consistent. Until something actually is proven to me, I will not be good to go.

“No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived
the things God has prepared for those who love him."
(1 Corinthians 2:7-9, NIV)