It was just after midnight when Ricardo brought the snacks consisting graham crackers, peanut butter, diet shasta, and a plastic sealed turkey and cheese on white (made by Goodyear). It was remarkably delicious, given it was the first thing I had to eat since breakfast; which comprised of powedered eggs, 1 slice of bread with butter and oatmeal (made by Elmer’s). Ricardo also brought pain meds, dilaudid to be specific. Before he arrived, I had spent 4 hours lying in my bed, helpless and hurting.
This was night 3 of what would end up as 7 nights, 9 days at the luxurious Baylor All Saints Hospital in Fort Worth. I think I managed to count every hole in the ceiling tiles and memorized every scratch in the floor. Your mind really starts to conspire against you when you are stuck in a 120 sq. ft. bare grey cold dark room with only the small light from beneath the door and muffled sounds of people passing by in the hallway outside to connect you to anyone or anything. I might as well have been in space, stuck in a capsule all by myself, but with HBO.
Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare
“This is Major Tom to Ground Control
I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today
Am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do”
During the worst of it, I would count down the minutes and seconds until I could hit that button and request more pain meds.
Dexamethasone, cipro, levaquin, vancomicin, Zofran, robaxin, lovenox, dilaudid, and norco were among the littany of drugs that passed through my veins during that horrific experience. I should own stock in pharmaceuticals. When you have become as familiar with hospitals as I have, you have to laugh at some of the operational policies or obstacles. For instance, Harris Methodist ER is dilaudid free. Upstairs in the hospital they are fentanyl free. I am allergic to morphine. It was a fun time educating the doctors on chronic pain management, especially when coupled with other serious health conditions that only exacerbate the pain while in hell (any hospital visit after the first 30 seconds).
If you want to know what moderate to severe chronic pain feels like, I always tell people to take their left hand and using your thumb and pointer finger, gently squeeze your neck just below the base of your skull. Good, now put just enough pressure on that grip so that your neck is depressed about 3/4 of an inch. Ok, next take your other hand and using the same fingers put roughly the same pressure on the front of your neck just below your jaw. Don’t squeeze so hard you choke yourself, stupid. Great! Now hold that position and amount of pressure for 6 years. During that time, you will need to once a day poke yourself in random places all over your body with a thumb tack. After the 3rd year, please increase that poke to at least 3 times a day with each episode lasting anywhere from 5 minutes to 5 hours. Remember, you must maintain the pressure on your neck. Yes, I know. Now your arms are burning and your hands are cramped and swollen. You begin developing trigger finger in every finger on both hands; surprisingly, not your thumbs. But now, both hands become unable to fully close or fully open. Sometimes you have to use one hand to pop open the fingers of your other hand because it is too painful to simply open your hand on its own.
Sometimes I wonder which came first, the depressed chicken or the chronically painful egg.
My body and mind have waged war against me for decades now. But in that darkest moment of isolation and pain, in that tiny cold and dark space, confined to my brick hospital bed, I began to think the only peace would be simply opening the IVs in my hands. I had one in each hand so I began considering which side would be more effective.
Ricardo may have saved my life that night. It wasn’t the pain meds or the rubber turkey sandwich. It was simply when he opened the door and let the light of the hallway into the room. It was simply Ricardo greeting me. I was nowhere near reality in that moment, just a surreal flight of agony, feeling the darkness overtaking the smallest little pixel of hope, of life. Hell, I wasn’t even the room.
It was the winter solstice of my soul and it was the moment I went numb. Then the door opened and a kind man came in to check on me, to help me. The following nights got progressively easier. They became more bearable. The overwhelming pain finally began to subside like a retreating tide. We weren’t meant to be alone. Isolation is the biggest threat to peace of body and soul. Take care of yourselves. Make your physical, mental, and spiritual well-being the absolute priority. If you don’t, you won’t be of much help to others. Peace in any form starts from within.
Peace is surprisingly difficult and dangerous to achieve. Perhaps that is why we have all developed a tolerance to the lack of it. That word, peace, means something unique for each of us. What does peace look like for you? How can you find it in your own life?
Portions of this post were written a year ago. Other portions, like this paragraph were/are being written tonight, Christmas eve, while I am sitting in the front balcony row of Broadway Baptist Church letting the music and the soothing energy wash away all the conflict within me. Right here, right now, I am at peace. I wasn’t looking forward to service. Too much anxiety and frustration dominated my mind. But this moment of peace is just enough to keep my emotional fits from hitting the proverbial shan. It wasn’t the Christmas miracle I have been waiting for, been hoping for. But, it was just enough grace to get me through the night. Not too much, not to little.
Its all connected. Love, hope, joy, peace, faith. Just like the little trains made of wooden letter blocks. It all goes together. I write these words often. I say them often. It’s a little practice in the power of positive affirmation. And, it works. Take a ride on the peace train and find all the warm and fuzzies as you gaze out at the changing scenery of life from your train window. Choo choo!
Now I’ve been happy lately
Thinking about the good things to come
And I believe it could be
Something good has begun
Oh, I’ve been smiling lately
Dreaming about the world as one
And I believe it could be
Someday it’s going to come’Cause I’m on the edge of darkness
There ride the Peace Train
Oh, Peace Train take this country
Come take me home again
I have a confession. I cry less than I used to. I have started filling the open spaces in me with anger, resentment, and even vengence. Crying has always been for sorrow or joy. I have had little room for either in an anger driven state of mind. I am trying so hard to change that. I am desperate to change that. It may be working. I am crying right now. For sorrow and for joy. I have tears today for peace. Peace for you. Peace for me. Peace for us. Peace for eternity.
As I sit here in the darkened sanctuary on this Christmas eve, I am finally talking to God. I am finally listening to God again. I am finally seeing his amazing grace again.
I am a pllot. Or at least I once was. I took my first flight lesson when I was 16. I had my commerical pilot’s license by the time I was 18. That experience gave me a few skills that have been very useful in all aspects of my life, including and especially managing my depression.
Aviation is loaded with acronyms. One of the most familiar to pilots is RTFM, which stands for read the fuckin’ manual. In other words, know your airplane and know the procedures.
Flying taught me how to proceduralize and troubleshoot my life. Needless to say, I have lots of lists. Flying taught me to remain cool under pressure. Flying brought me peace. It brought me closer to God and a much better view of this beautiful planet we share. It took me away from all the chaos and conflict down below. That’s a true realization. We desire peace but actively harm each other and destoy it.
Flying was one of the only times in my life where I found peace, both within and without, but always up high.
I sat upon the clouds watching the world, finding peace only where my demons could not reach.
Gods beautiful creation. Being up there, in the sky was the only time I ever felt I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
I felt complete and all my troubles were lost in the tiny objects below me.
Even after long and difficult flights when I was so tired my eyes burned, taxiing in after landing was always bittersweet.
Let me dance about the sky. Let me burst in and out of the clouds and rest ever so gently above them.
I still occasionally catch a scent that reminds me of the cockpit; the smell of electric devices in a small space, the combo of fuel, oil, carb heat and leather seats with wool covers.
These days you can’t ask to stick your head in the cockpit without getting someone nervous about your intentions. But if any pilot ever catches you taking in a deep breathe through the nose while even close to the controls, they won’t think it strange. Because they know, we know, it smells like home. That is, unless your copilot had Whataburger for lunch.
Flying never failed me, never let me down, ever. Not even that time I flew Robert J. in his Piper Archer to Cleveland, Tennessee, with him picking his nose the whole 7 hours and 52 minutes of flight time, breaking only for fuel in Pine Bluff. Rob was in the Christian music industry and going to Tennessee for a few months for work. He wanted to fly his own plane there but invited me to drop him and return his plane to Fort Worth. He wasn’t sure when or from where he would be heading home. I was solo for the flight back and loved every second of it.
Life is better with a soundtrack.
J.J. Abrams’ movies often have a trademark characteristic or style. He uses an emotional yet calm and soothing piece of music to score actions and images that are chaotic, even violent. While the imagery can hurt, and the intensity becomes almost unbearable to all senses but sound, its the music that carries us though. That is how I might define my life on certain days. The music carried me through the pain and destruction until, yes, finally, morning has truly broken and God has recreated the day. We are reborn each day. Maybe this day will be better. Maybe this day, those who wish harm to me and mine will relent, repent, and fucking relax. Maybe this day my hands won’t just hurt. Maybe this day my hands will hurt from healing.
“Say it’s here where our pieces fall in place
Any rain softly kisses us on the face
Anywhere means we’re running
We can sleep and see ’em coming
Where we drift and call it dreaming
We can weep and call it singingWhere we pray when our hearts are strong enough
We can bow, ’cause our music’s warmer than blood
Where we see enough to follow
We can hear when we are hollow
Where we keep the light we’re given
We can lose and call it livingWhere the sun isn’t only sinking fast
Every night knows how long it’s supposed to last
Where the time of our lives is all we have
And we get a chance to say
Before we ease away
For all the love you’ve left behind
You can have mine…“
December 25, 2021
I think it should be said that while those of us who believe in and follow Christ are celebrating these glorious pillars of God, hope, love, joy, and definitely peace on earth, it should be said that we must include everyone in that dream, not just, ESPECIALLY not just Christians. Otherwise peace truly is impossible.
Peace also means loving thy neighbor, even if they make false accusations against you. Even if they purposely hurt you. Even if they do harm to those you love. Even if they are booger eating morons with the IQ of an empty can of bean dip. Yep, I said it. Stupid hateful people need peace too. They need it especially. We don’t hurt each other instinctively. We just don’t. We are all completely connected. So, hurting each other only hurts us too. We must show kindness and sue for peace. Yes, we must be angry at times. We must fight harmful elements of this life. But the fight is always and only for the dream of peace.
So, kindness warriors. Walk softly, but carry a big stick. Practice a little kindness kung fu. And when your enemy is stopped, they are your enemy no more. They are your brother and sister, your mother, your daughter, your best friend. Just like that. Put down the staff and open your arms with love. It really can be that easy. Seriously. Stop the hate. Share. The. Love. Make. The. Peace. Fill the empty spaces not with those things I seem to be struggling with, but with warm and fuzzy, gooey, sappy, funny, extraordinary, love.
Let it fill you up. Let it drip onto your shoes. Its ok. I love the scene in Ghostbusters 2 when the guys convert their packs to spray that love stuff, positively charged emotional slime. Everybody at the end (spoiler alert) is hugging and saying I love you. Doesn’t that seem like a great plan? Doesn’t that seem like the right kind of Christmas miracle?
We can do better for each other.
I want thank you for all the lessons, love, and daily grace you have given me. I want to thank you for the incredible people you have put in my life;
My friends, my family, my children and my wife.
You showed me how to fight depression. You gave me a clear mission to help others, to be a light in the darkness.
Lord, from that moment under the streetlight across from my house, so many years ago, when I was just 12 years old but filled with so much curiosity, but also so much darkness and pain, from that moment you have continued to flicker that light to let me know you are there. I have never doubted your existence since then.
Perhaps I have questioned your motives from time to time. But to be fair, tell me one person who hasn’t. You are the boss, so what you say goes. You don’t have to explain yourself to me. I get that loud and clear, Dude. Is it ok if I call you Dude? It’s totally out of love and R.E.S.P.E.C.T.
Man, Aretha sure could drive home a message, don’t you think?
My soul is weary, Lord. I have no peace and my hope of finding it is waning.
“Speak, O Lord. Your servant is listening.”
Whether you are working toward world peace or the peace of reconcilliation, whether you are coming to terms with your past or looking for peace in your present, remember the peace process always and forever starts by making peace with yourself. So go easy, my friends. Breathe deeply and let it go. Be at peace within and you will come to peace without.
Be love. Be kind. We are all connected.
Life is better with a soundtrack
For a playlist of the music found in this post along with a few other songs I listened to while working on the writing, checkout this link to Spotify.