December 23rd, 2021
Lately, there have been many sleepless nights. My family has endured some very difficult times over the last two years. As we try to process the heartache and sadness we have endured, it has left us anxious, angry, and at times, totally confused as to which is up and which is down. The streetlights have all gone out and our path is dark, full of terror.
I am right back where I started when I began this series, All My Empty Spaces. I am completely lost. And now, I will try to find what goes in the biggest empty space I have. No, not my brain. I can feel several of you making that sarcastic quip as you read this. Lovingly, of course. And I do appreciate it, more than any of you will ever know.
Nevertheless, it is love that has left me empty now; love that has crushed my spirit. It is love that has created the vacuum and the void which sucks in all this despair and pain. It is love of life that I have lost. It is love for each other that is all used up. So many other things, negative shit, have begun to fill that space. It becomes difficult to keep the demons from asserting control.
Stress is major contributor to heart attacks. It can increase your blood pressure and damage your arterial walls. Love lost or betrayed is stressful. So, the absence of that one ingredient, the most important ingredient of life, is deadly. A shortage of love can harm us all because we are all connected. I still don’t think everyone gets that.
Behold, there are only three things that will last: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love. —1 Corinthians 13:13
“Love alone is sufficient unto itself. It is its own end, its own merit, its own satisfaction. It seeks no cause beyond itself and needs no fruit outside of itself. Its fruit is its use. Love is our deepest identity and what we are created in and for.
January 15th, 2022
As I observe our society, I do see love. I see the goodness in people. But that has become less and less dominant. We have traded empathy for risk mitigation and policy. But we can’t even get that right. This world has become heartbreaking. Mostly because humans suck. The love is gone and we are comfortably numb.
We have made the message far more more important than the meaning, money more important than wealth of health or spirit. We try to impress people with loving words, meaningful words, like “love thy neighbor,” “reconcilliation,” and “be love.” But many of those who preach love are often nowhere to be found when love is actually needed. I am talking about the love that exists when we are uncomfortable, inconvenienced, or lied to. I am referring to the kind of love you give when it hasn’t been given to you. Love ain’t easy. It sure isn’t simple. But love is worth it, everytime.
So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from hell?
Blue skies from pain?
Can you tell a green field
From a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?
Did they get you to trade
Your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
Did you exchange
A walk-on part in the war
For a leading role in a cage?
We are all connected!! We were designed to help each other. We have intelligence and empathy. We were given a great and powerful abililty to think, rationalize, invent, innovate, and…
January 29th, 2022
The razor’s edge.
It happened again today. I was driving to the store and it came upon me suddenly. It hasn’t occurred in some time. But when it does, it always seems to be when I am driving, alone, with the music cranked up.
I stood on the razor’s edge and was one with the world. The experience always starts the same. My emotions begin to stir. The hair on my arms and neck begin to stand up. Goose bumps ensue. I start to see flashes of memories, good and bad, but almost always thoughts that I could never tap into otherwise. It all begins to coalesce into what I can only describe as energy streaming through me.
Its the million little memories, experiences, smells, sounds, and visual snapshots of places I have been that come crashing through me with little or no control of what or how fast. I see all the people who have been in my life. I see everyone and everything. It’s like tapping into a water main or touching an electric cable. In silence, it becomes painful and self destructive. Play the right song and it feels more like a superpower. After the intial impact of the everything energy stream, I can even hone in on certain events or people, or places I want to remember.
The first time I remember having one of these overwhelming rush experiences, I happened to be listening to Clair de Lune, by Debussy. I suppose it feels similar to a drug. But I have never taken a drug as powerful as the adrenaline and endorphin kick, maybe with a dopamine chaser for the memory access, that just seems to come from my own body. In that moment I can feel all the beauty and all the despair in the world, simultaneously.
My doctor seems to think it is an anxiety attack. I suppose that might be true. It does tend to happen when I am in a deeper state of depression but coming up. It has also occured a few times going down. Either way, I have come to embrace it because it really does open my memories in deep deep storage. It never lasts more than about 5 minutes. The intensity can often leave me exhausted and in tears immediately after the occurrence. Then, all the deep memories, save two or three, leave my consciousness and return to their memory archives.
I find it truly amazing how the brain works. There are some people who can tap into deep or long-term memories on command. Not me. My access comes at random times and not focused, in the sense that the experience is more like an avalanche, whatever the way or reason for these events. I love it. I love it because it is a powerful life affirming experience. It’s like my brain is trying to counter the effects of my depression. But instead of a modest gain you might get from an anti-depressant medication, you get an effect similar to when an old oil rig would strike oil and it comes spewing out. Yep, this is how you rationalize a chemical imbalance which causes a mental disease or disorder. You call it a superpower.
This little superpower of mine clears the fog and darkness. It brings in the light and shows me the beauty of life. It shows me exactly what connects us all. It reveals to me the essential building blocks of any life, of all life.
And that’s how you find joy in depression.
Monday February 14, 2022. Just before midnight. Another near death experience.
I woke up because my tonsils were swollen and began blocking my airway. I was congested, so nose breathing was difficult too. I woke my wife, Mindy, and she drove me to the hospital. I felt like any second I would lose the ability to breathe and die. I couldn’t speak.
I found myself in that little ER space, an open ended 8′ by 8′ triage area with barely enough room for the bed and the monitor. I sat, focusing almost all my efforts on just trying to breath and not choke on my tonsils. One cough would blow them out and over my tongue completely closing off my airway. At one point in the chaos, I looked around and counted 10 people. 10 people in scrubs or doctor’s coats, all in or very close to that tiny little space where I sat, just trying to breathe. I began to disassociate with reality. The whole situation became surreal.
The ER Doc who was quarterbacking this event was pointing to various people and confirming things. At one point he completed his prelaunch check around the room, Go Flight! He then announced “I have the Propofol in my pocket!” He then turned to the intubation team and asked if they were ready with the ketamine. They had already hit me twice with epinephrine injections. No help. The anesthesiologist standing immediately to my right, really more like directly over me, looked at me and said “everything is gonna be alright.” But, she told me that I will be sedated for awhile as they try to get the swelling down and determine the cause. I could think of nothing but this Bob Marley song until the lights went out.
I had already been briefed on possible outcomes, including a tracheotomy. I was thinking in that moment, as the ER Doctor explained how that would work, about my oldest son, Jacob. He went through that after a rodeo event that caused facial injuries. He had to be trached for the surgical repair. I remember watching as he woke up and seeing this fear and panic start to set in as he became aware of his new temporary condition. He was so brave. He fought through the fear and discomfort to immediately begin learning how to breath from a tube in his throat.
As I thought about how scared I was, watching my son wake to this, I suddenly found peace. My son’s love brought it to me. I watched the 10 people around me, standing by to execute their mission and intubate me. In that moment, I found a calm place knowing, everything’s gonna be alright. There was a packed room of people ready to make sure of it and I am eternally thankful.
My next memory was waking up (a day and a half later) and being updated on my situation. Thanks for going first and shining the light, Jake. Your courage saved me in that moment.
Friday morning, February 18th, 2022
I sat outside on the porch, just in the shadow of the eave but close enough to feel the warmth of the sun on my toes. I didn’t have enough energy to move or do anything. Even the slightest position change spiked the already overwhelming pain and nausea.
My body was trying to die. I felt like it was on strike and ready to burn down the house; ready to permanently foreclose on my soul. My head was hot and hurting everywhere. I had this unrelenting tremor that was playing prestissimo to my heart’s presto fortè.
I was weary. I was ready to let it all just go if that was about to happen. Too tired. Too many of these traumatic experiences. I can’t go any further. I gave it my best shot. Or maybe it wasn’t even near my best. Maybe I have been coming up short all my life and it was time I realized that will always be the case, so long as I keep taking up oxygen.
Ego, a scoop of self-pity, another scoop of self-loathing, all with a bit of loveless whip cream topped with an angry little cherry. I quit. I will just sit here and have my little loser sadness sunday and wait for my ticket to be punched. Come get me God. I am ready to go. Please bring napkins.
Ruts are difficult to get your wagon out of on a good day. The longer you travel in that rut, the deeper it gets. Add dark and stormy weather, and that is it. Yer done!
I have come to greatly dislike the phrase “God never gives you more than you can handle.” What a complete load of bullshit! I have had more than I can handle for awhile now. If this is God only giving me what I can handle, perhaps God needs an anger management class or maybe some angels doing an intervention.
God walks with us. God is love. But God doesn’t give us bad stuff to deal with. God doesn’t control our every move. People are quite often stupid and sinful. God doesn’t direct or inspire us to be stupid and sinful. That’s totally on us. So when bad things happen, it isn’t because God is allowing it to happen. It isnt because God will limit the amount of pain and destruction that might fall upon us to “what we can handle.” God also gave us a brain, a soul and a heart of love. One other thing, he gives us his amazing grace, everyday, every minute. No, grace doesn’t mean God will save you from disease or violence. What it does mean is God gives us love. Love that sparks life within each of us and for all of us. Love inspires us. Love compels us to live, to get up. Love is how we are all connected. Love is why, when our wagon is stuck in a rut, in a rainstorm, at night, we help each other get out of that rut.
Sitting on my porch in misery, In that tiny little moment, I found myself, again, in a surreal state. I became dissociated with my body. I began to notice the different birds. I saw a cardinal in the tree farthest from me. Eight turkey vultures flew high overhead circling and looking for their next meal. Two sparrows would land in a high branch and then jet off. This happened several times while I silently sat in my chair. They were clearly building a nest.
I could hear the distinct sound of a Big Wheel, the next street over, being ridden by a child while his grandmother and father conversed. The grandmother would occasionally warn the new racer to be careful and slow down. A couple of squirrels debated which neighboring roof was better to bask in the sun. I could hear a radio filtering music between the houses and over my fence, perhaps from an open garage.
There was an occasional motorcycle or sport car zooming down through traffic on 303 just south of my subdivision. I saw planes overhead. There was a Cessna 172 and much higher, a Boeing 777 turning final into DFW Airport. We must be in north flow, I thought. As miserable as I was, that brought me peace. It gave me a brief moment to appreciate the simplest blessing there is, to be alive.
It’s a wonderful life.
So long as we can be loving to each other and ourselves, it’s a wonderful life. Being present and focused on the now is so very important for all of us. Too often, we get wrapped up in the past, or what is to come, and we fail to be present.
Pause for a moment. Hey, take an hour. It doesn’t matter so long as you pause and notice the life and love all around you. There is no guarantee of tomorrow, so share that love while you can.
You can only control so much. What do you do with the empty space where you would otherwise assert control? The common phrase is leave it in God’s hands. Or leave it up to the universe. Or, for some of you, just say to heck with it. Whatever happens, happens.
Having gone through the experience of standing at the precipice more than a few times now, I can firmly say this,
There is always potential, as in electricity. It can be in life altering moments, death, love, joy, pain, or it can simply be deciding what to watch on Netflix. There is always, always that potential for your will to meet God’s will. When the connection is made, well, that’s grace. It is always there. We just need to open our hearts to it. It will always be given. Not almost or too much. Just enough. Don’t overthink it. You will blow a gasket.
Just know, if you want or need God’s grace, it is always there. Just allow it. Just close the circuit. That doesn’t mean God will take away your disease, or end the violence, or bring justice. But it does mean he is with you no matter what. So keep living. Keep getting up. And if one day, your ticket is punched, God will be right there with you offering the comfort of his grace. And, if needed, napkins. Same goes for L.O.V.E. because that is what we are made of.
Be love. Be kind. We are all connected. Life is better with a soundtrack.
O.k. What’s next?
Here is a link to the Spotify playlist created for this final post in my series, All My Empty Spaces. Peace be with you.
#kindness #purposefulkindness #drivingawaydepression #WhatAWonderfulWorld #hope #peace #joy #love #streetlights #grace #TheKindnessClub #lifeisbetterwithasoundtrack #weareallconnected #findingjoy
Feature image credit, Fariedesign