Despite all my rage… I was discharged from the hospital today. Including today, 9 days is a long time stuck in a 10 by 12 room where your only connection to, well, anyone is the call button. It changes your perspective on life. All of the sudden a cheap plastic remote becomes this mighty conduit.
I had 6 separate hospital stays last year. None were as challenging as this one. But, nevertheless, where there is darkness, fear, pain, and anger, there is also hope. I found a few meaningful elements to my journey in those little lonely moments, in the dark cold isolation of my hospital room; in the still.
I am still processing and look forward to sharing more about that. But for now, I am letting the anger and frustration out. And, there is plenty of frustration with facing what seems to be neverending health challenges that force me back into a 10 by 12 cage.
Makes me want to smash something. More to come, more peaceful thoughts. But for now…
My rage isn’t any less real. My fighting resolve is intact, still.
Next Saturday, August 22 will be one year to the day since I met a woman who changed my outlook on life. Her name was Holly, from Colorado. Her name came up earlier today in a conversation with my mother-in-law about some of the most interesting stories from my experiences driving Uber/Lyft.
Driving over the last 3 and a half years has given me so much inspiration and purpose. For those new to StreetLights, my name is Christopher Carlson. I have clinical/chronic depression. This is something I have dealt with all or most of my life but didn’t realize or understand it until a very dark rock bottom moment in December of 2017 that almost took my life. God intervened.
Since that moment of clarity I have chosen to share my experiences and my story because I know it helps others who suffer this lonely internal battle. My decision to be open and share my struggle has been validated more times than I can remember in the last few years. As a part of my own therapy but also as a sort of safe space for others, I have interacted with many incredible people through my 6,000 plus Uber/Lyft rides given. The other objective behind this blog and the stories I share is to promote kindness.
I haven’t driven Uber/Lyft since March 17th, due to Covid19. I am in the high risk pool and just can’t risk that much exposure. I have begun working full time in a position at Lowe’s which limits my exposure to the public and I really enjoy my work. But I truly miss driving and hope to someday feel safe enough to resume that inspiring activity, part-time.
As for now, like many of you, I have been anxious and angry. There are dark forces working in this world and the voices of fear and hate are very loud. Driving would often help me when I felt like I often do because it always helped restore my faith in humanity. Just a few riders is all it would take; sometimes just 1.
I don’t have that connection right now, so I thought I would look back to get some comfort and perspective. Holly’s story is a reminder that we can’t let the anger and fear of today overwhelm us and dictate our lives. I needed to regain that perspective. Holly has a simple life mantra. “Life is love. Anything else is a waste of time.” Here is her story…
StreetLights On a Saturday Night
People Profiles, Driving Away Depression
Holly From Green Mountain
I got the request in Grand Prairie. Uber XL. Thinking it would be a group of people and at 245am, most likely drunk and rowdy, I prepared myself for the worst. Shortly after I started working my way to the pickup address, I received a text from”H,” my rider. “Please come to the front office. I am in a wheelchair.” I was relieved it wasn’t a group of late night drinkers.
When I arrived at the semi-circle drive in front of the retirement home, two women were waving at me, smiling. Holly was my rider. She was in the wheelchair. Her 92 year old mother was standing with a walker. Holly had several bags and a small dog. I began to load the car as she said goodbye to her mother. There was some laughter mixed in with some emotion as I helped Holly into the front seat and loaded her wheel chair. As they made their final goodbyes I began to realize this was more than just, until the next time. Once the door was shut, Holly began fumbling for the window button. I hit mine as we slowly started to move. She waved to her mother again calling out to her. I stopped. But Holly said no, let’s go, and she burst into tears.
Holly regained her composure and apologized saying “It’s just tough. I am saying goodbye to my mother for the last time. She has congestive heart failure. In the morning she will be moved into a full care facility.”
Holly comes from a big family. She has 13 brothers. Not one of them have visited their mother in these final days. Here was Holly, with serious health issues herself, bound to a wheelchair, traveled from Colorado to see her mom.
Holly returned to what seemed to be her normal disposition, cheerful and positive. She was warm and friendly, even when she spoke of tough, even tragic experiences in her life. When you look into her eyes you can see this almost childlike joy.
Holly’s mother was given something called DES when she was pregnant with Holly.
Diethylstilbestrol (DES) is a synthetic form of the female hormone estrogen. It was prescribed to pregnant women between 1940 and 1971 to prevent miscarriage, premature labor, and related complications of pregnancy, incuding nausea. It was determined to cause cancer in the mother, the child and could even reach as far as a grandchild genetically. Holly is known as a DES daughter because she, like many women born from exposure, developed cancer or other significant health issues.
Holly fought cancer twice. The first time she was only 9. And then again, in her late 20s. She beat it both times. But the genetic abnormality remained.
Holly and Bill married young. Bill is a disabled Vietnam War Veteran. They had a baby boy. He had a rocky start and passed away at 15 months old.
Eventually they tried again and she gave birth to a little girl. Her daughter was healthy. She grew up, got married and began having kids of her own. That’s when the cancer finally showed up. Holly’s daughter had inoperable, terminal brain cancer. Holly said after the news, her daughter freaked out, dropped everything and left. She left her 3 children and her husband. Holly never heard from her again.
Now another predicament. By this time, Holly and Bill had significant health issues and couldn’t take on the kids. Her daughter’s husband was in a car accident and suffered traumatic brain damage. So he couldn’t be a father anymore. They were forced to turn to the state. All 3 children were put into different foster homes.
In 1985 Holly and Bill, along with their daughter were living in Houston. There was a severe storm one day that had Holly concerned about the lightning. She called Bill on the phone and while expressing her concerns to him lightning struck the tree just outside the kitchen window. The strike went into the ground, splitting the tree, and found its way up the ground cable for the phone. And then, as Holly described it, the lights went out. She was cooked!
It took her over a year to learn to speak and walk again. That strike left her with a damaged nervous system, constant headaches, epileptic seizures, and a bone disorder that prevents calcium from being absorbed, making her bones weak and brittle. Calcium builds up on the outside of the bone. Apparently she has numerous surgeries to go in and essentially scrape it off. Holly jokes about a few other side effects, including a slightly tighter right side of her face that makes her look a bit like a pirate smiling. She said she can scratch her left shouldet and feel it in her right leg.
She underwent leg surgery not long ago where they used a cadaver bone for her right leg. It didn’t work, which is why she is curently in the wheelchair. Upon returning to Colorado, they will remove her leg below the knee. She joked about being mad at the doctors because she wanted to keep the leg, only to bury it. But they said no. I told her she should then at least ask for a core charge refund.
Holly’s little Terrier is named Christine. She is actually a service dog and lets Holly know when she is about to have a seizure.
Holly continued with her story. ” I am so grateful for little Christine, here. But I haven’t had a seizure in almost 2 years since we moved to Lakewood, Colorado and my doctor started me on CBD. My overall pain is lower. Apparently they fixed my voice too well, according to Bill because I won’t stop talking now.”
She had this childlike, innocent joy about her. All that pain. And her eyes are lit with joy and appreciation for life. She paused in her story long enough for me to ask how she copes. She smiled and said there are good days and bad days but everyday I am alive is a blessing.”
She commented on my music choice. Louis Armstrong and Elle Fitzgerald were singing a duet on my Spotify. What are some of your favorite music artists? I asked. She said she really liked John Denver.
Ohhhhh, like Rocky Mountain High?
She laughed a little and said ‘Well I like that song but it isn’t my favorite.”
“Annie’s song.” She said peacefully.
Her three grandchildren were found separate permanent homes. All three were adopted by wonderful families. Holly gets to communicate with all of them and occasionally gets to see them. They are all in Utah.
We got to Love field at 330 am. Nobody was there. But she insisted she would be fine to be dropped off. So, I unloaded her stuff onto a cart, got her situated in the wheel chair and we made our way into the terminal.
Holly you seem like such a happy person, I said. You have had a tough life.
Holly replied, “I have had a blessed life. I have been happily married for 39 years, traveled. I Live in a beautiful place by Green Mountain. Life has been good to me.”
I told her how much I appreciated her telling me her life journey. I told her I really admired her strength and resilience.
“You should visit Green Mountain. You should visit Colorado. You seem tired. It will rejuvenate you.” Holly said.
I told her now everytime I think of Colorado I will think of her….
With that pirate smile, hoppin’ around Green Mountain on one leg…
We both burst out laughing.
We hugged and said goodbye. I felt like I was saying goodbye to a dear friend. It was a strange moment as I walked away, while she sat with Christine and her luggage next to the check-in kiosk, smiling and waving me bye. She was happy. She was returning home to her steadfast companion of 39 years.
Oh Holly. You smile for me. I cry for you.
I played that song on the way home. I cried the whole way. I cried for Holly’s loss. I cried for the desperation I have felt. And, I cried for joy, because Holly reminded me that I am alive, still. She told me something else I am sure to never forget.
Life is love.
That’s it. Everything else is a waste of time.
Once again, God has given it. He sent a most interesting woman to deliver it. And, I have received it.
StreetLights On A Saturday Night: The Color Of Kindness
Kindness comes in all colors. Shouldn’t freedom, equality, and opportunity come in all colors too? It has been some time, March 17th actually, since I have given any Uber/Lyft rides. I miss meeting people in those rides and hearing their unique life journeys. That experience always helped restore my faith in humanity. With all that has happened and is happening in the world, that faith in people has been challenged again. More than any issue, and we have plenty to choose from, I am focused tonight on race. One of the benefits of being an Uber/Lyft driver is the diversity of my passengers. I often felt like the United Nations on wheels.
These last few years have been especially difficult for issues of race. We have seen much hate and fear. We have seen our own president spew hateful and racist language on an almost daily basis. Worse yet, black and brown people in this country have been marginalized and disadvantaged in ways we thought were being put behind us in the story of America.
A conversation, a true national dialogue is occurring and has been long overdue. We are in a unique moment for our nation. We, ALL OF US, need to use this moment for good, for progress. White people, we MUST work harder to understand the true racial inequities in this country. That means stepping outside of our belief system, our ideology. That means listening to black and brown perspective, learning black and brown history. It means honoring both the sacrifices of black and brown Americans, but also acknowledging current plight for people of color.
We cannot help or be a part of this conversation from our own white space. I am speaking now to my white friends and family who are outraged over people who kneel before the flag or protest systemic racism and police brutality.
That flag IS a symbol for our freedom, our national identity, 50 states united, and it IS something we honor as representing all those who have given their lives to defend it, to defend us. But when that freedom isn’t the same for all Americans, then the American flag isn’t living up to its promise. That means America isn’t living up to Its promise.
We cannot fly a flag that we hold so dear, because it represents free and equal Americans, if some of those whom we expect to honor it at ballgames and events don’t feel as free and equal as we do. Black and brown people love this country every bit as much as white people. I would argue they love it more because people of color have suffered so much more for the stars and stripes since before we even declared our independence.
We cannot continue to express outrage over flag kneeling, protesting and even the rioting (which is usually as diverse in the color of the agitators as the color of our citizens) and not continue the conversation as to why.
This is where white America is failing. We cannot be a contributing part of the conversation if our first comments are to express outrage and disappointment with how people choose to stand (or kneel) and be heard because they have and continue to suffer racial injustice, racial bias, police brutality, and feel marginalized under the banner that is supposed to symbolize equal freedom, justice, and opportunity.
My conservative friends and family continue to be unapologetic about being white and Christian and flag loving Americans. OK. You are in your white space and you refuse to give it up or step out of it. But why are you so offended by the idea that others, who don’t feel they have the same American promises as you should ask for it?
Show me a flag that truly represents a free and equal America, for people of all color, and I will show you a country free of protest.
We have a chance to change that. We, our generation, I mean those of us who are here now, we can and must find solutions together to end racism, racial inequalities and the gross imbalance of opportunity in this country (which goes well beyond race).
If you want to see an end to kneeling before the flag, to protests, to people feeling they must organize under a slogan that actually says black lives matter, yelling at them in outrage or condemnation about how, where, or when they should choose to be heard is not the answer. That is just white people living in their white space with their unempathetic white ideology.
White people, it is time to change the conversation. It is time we stopped requiring all these conditions of our brothers and sisters of color before they can stand and be heard. Moreover, we need to do more than just shut up and listen. For a brief moment after George Floyd was murdered it seemed like the whole nation was focused and listening. But that didn’t last more than a split second in our time and soon the familiar cacophony of racial division overtook the conversation again.
Even that moment fell short. More than just shutting up and listening, we need to understand. We need to engage. We need to recognize that to make this country live up to the ideals and promises, the freedoms we so greatly represent in our national identity, in our symbology, and in our flag, we must acknowledge that it will require white people to change. And therein lies the true issue at hand. We have a racial problem and it is white people who caused it, perpetuate it, and continually deny it. We need to acknowledge this. This is a difficult thing to do. But it is the kind thing to do and kindness comes in all colors. So life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness should come in all colors as well.
I want to add a few words to this conversation from the Christian perspective. Christ was an incredible teacher. He gave us a path to follow. But Jesus was also a very good listener. As Christians, as white Christians, it would behoove us to first listen, second acknowledge and respect our brothers and sisters of color. 3rd, only assume they love America too. Protests are the proof, not evidence to the contrary. 4th, with no caveats or criticisms, we need to ask how we can help. We need to be willing able to change our own beliefs, even just a little.
I began looking to the Bible for guidance on this. I believe I found it. Not surprisingly it all comes down to effective communication and not prejudging. Guess what, white America, we can do better. We must do better. We must be better listeners. We must find a way to get out of our own white spaces and stop first requiring others to come to us and act through our societal lense.
I found this excerpt as part of a story online about proverbs 18, written by:
Steve Watkins, Pastor
Trinity Bible Church
“Proverbs 18:2 says, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” The Hebrew word that is translated opinion in the ESV is leb – which simply means, “heart”, “mind”, or “the inner person.” In other words, verse 2 of Proverbs 18 ascribes to the fool the quality of neglecting and despising objective truth in favor of believing what he wants to believe. His opinion may or (most likely) may not be based on any kind of fact or evidence. More likely, the fool’s “opinion” is a conclusion that is convenient to his own inner, self-serving feelings and desires.”
Let us not make conclusions driven by our own selfish, prideful, and myopic sense of what we believe we deserve. Otherwise we won’t see past our own “needs” and “rights” to even imagine what others might be going through. How hurtful our selfish, prideful foolishness can be.
“Verse 13 of Proverbs 18 reinforces this wisdom and points to the damage it causes, saying, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” Jesus surely taught us, in the Sermon on the Mount, that the wisdom and Law of God’s righteousness applies not only to the outside of the cup of our lives, but most importantly, to the inside. Proverbs does not only condemn as foolishness the impulsive words that come out of our mouths, but first and foremost the impulsive conclusions of mind and heart that drive those words. The folly of verbalizing an answer before hearing comes from the inner arrogance of believing a conclusion before having all the facts, which is precisely the sin that verse 2 exposes. How often we give ourselves permission to do this! How often we elevate our own inner perceptions and instincts (formed by our own sinful tendencies toward self-justification) to the level of inerrancy, and then allow ourselves to form conclusions that become the basis for accusations that have no basis in fact, reality or truth.”
We said goodbye to John Lewis this week. He has been a true Kindness Warrior throughout his life. His kind and peaceful leadership came in all colors. He has given all of us a blueprint for peace and equality, as well as our marching orders to continue improving America and the promise of freedom and equality. Contrary to popular belief, kindness can be very difficult and challenging. But that kindness is forever remembered in living color. We are in a critical moment in our country. My prayer is that love and kindness should win the day…
For John, for allof us.
Peace be with you, Kindness Warriors. Keep the conversation going.
Checkout Byron Sanders
Byron Sanders is the President and CEO of Big Thought. He says he sees more people willing to engage than ever before and knows that real change and improvement can happen if we don’t shrink away from this moment. MORE: wfaa.com/equality Subscribe to WFAA: https://bit.ly/subscribetowfaa
I wrote this post below on March 4, 2019, not long after I had a heart attack and received 2 stents. I got a third a few months later. Now, as I write this update to the story, my father is in the hospital in Carson City. He and his wife live in Reno, but they chose the Carson hospital because they thought they would receive greater care for his heart issue. My dad is currently in his procedure now; Angiogram to see what is happening. I found it remarkable when Debby (my father’s wife) told me the Doc who is performing the procedure used to actually play backup guitar for Bob Seger. Well, there you have it. God’s grace through healing hands and, well, Rock-n-Roll!
I am praying for good news. In the mean time, I am sharing this post again for Pop. He too, is tired and worn, but still running against the wind...
The Longest Trip.
Lord, I’m tired. I wonder, Lord, if you might give me shelter from the storm. The wind is blowing and I’m getting older. The wind is blowing and I am still running against it, as I have always done. But I’m tired and worn. I need some help. I need some hope. I just can’t shake this and I have lost a step or two…
Lately, I have been struggling. I have been questioning. I have been confused. There are days, more lately, where I find myself trying to reconcile God’s will with my own. I feel like I can’t find that balance. There is this nagging fear that I am failing, going nowhere, no matter how hard I try. There have been too many days where I forgot what it feels like, to feel good. Sometimes it feels like pushing on the ocean. Buts its just running against the wind, and I am not failing. And, I am not forsaken.
I haven’t written much lately. I haven’t found my voice again. At least until now. But this has taken me weeks to write. I have been in a bit of a fog, feeling weak, feeling like I have been knocked down and I am still coming to my senses. I feel incredibly mortal, fragile. And, that will pass. But nothing comes easy. There is a cost to everything.
We all struggle. If you look around and think about it, every person you know has struggles. That’s life. We all get knocked down. We all deal with difficult times. We are all still running against the wind. At least now that we’re older, we know we are stronger together. And, we are stronger through God’s grace.
Still, I am struggling.
Sunday, March 4th, 2019
Last night I picked up Steve and Susan from DFW airport. We hit it off before we got out of the terminal area. I am very glad too, because it was a 2 hour trip down just southwest of Waco. They live in McGregor, TX. I actually took them to the municipal airport where they have a hangar that keeps their 1961 Beechcraft Bonanza. Their car happened to be there as well.
Steve and I swapped flying stories. I have a little flight time in the same make and model as his Bonzana. Stock photo below.
They haven’t lived in Texas very long; less than a year. I asked Steve what brought him to Texas and he answered, Chip and Joanna Gaines. Seriously? I asked. Apparently, they watched the show Fixer Upper and decided Waco seemed like a nice place to live. It definitely has a lower cost of living than their previous home of 30 years, in Seattle.
Originally, they planned a retirement in the Caribbean, spending all their time on a catamaran. But their son was diagnosed with cancer. He is good now. But they say the next 5 years are the greatest risk of it returning. Steve and Susan decided to stay landside in case their son needed help. He lives in Houston.
So they came down and met the Gaineses. Joanna helped them find a house in McGregor. Their house in a Seattle suburb sold for $450 per square foot. Their new home in Texas cost $97 per sq. foot. They doubled the size for less money. Susan said they love being here and wish they had come to Texas 20 years ago.
As we continued to talk about aviation we started getting into the history of both our families. It turns out, Steve’s dad flew F4U-4 Corsairs in WWII. He was based in Guadalcanal, Henderson Field for a bit as well as the carriers, Lexington and Enterprise. While it was a completely different ship and in the 1970’s my father was an air traffic controller on the nuclear version of the Enterprise, CVN65. Besides the F4U-4 Corsair, Steve’s father also flew Wildcats and Bearcats off the deck of a carrier. My favorite aircraft of all time is the F4U corsair and it just happens to be Steve’s dad’s favorite as well. Especially since he flew them in combat, dogfighting Japanese Zeroes.
Dropping Steve and Susan off at McGregor airport was a real treat. It has been a while since I have been on an airfield. I enjoyed following the taxi lane to his hanger. It definitely brought back some memories.
Dropping them off completed the longest trip thus far in my 2 and a 1/2 years of driving Uber and Lyft. I think it was 123 miles. We had such a great time talking along the way, they offered to take me to dinner in Waco at their favorite burger place called Freddy’s. I had to gracefully decline and get back up to DFW. But it sure was a nice gesture. Steve and Susan, you guys are true kindness Warriors. Correction, Kindness Aviators!
Talking about our experience flying brought back so many memories. Thinking back on those days, I was so confident, so ambitious. I didn’t play by anyone elses rules. I thought I could do anything. But I was always running. I was running to or from something. Heartache, depression, loneliness, who knows exactly. But when I flew, I was at peace. Up there with the deep blue sky and the lofty clouds, I had no fears. My demons were left on the ground below. Up there it was just me and God.
Now, here I am, ragged and worn, still trying to re-engage. Still trying to find that place of grace that seems lost. I am running on fumes with no end in sight. But, I am still running.
Bob Seger was in town Saturday at the Ford Center in Frisco. I think his song, Against the Wind represents it best.
I know I am not alone. We are all struggling. We all keep running against the wind. It’s what we do. Sometimes, it’s all we can do.
Perfect weather as the sun sets here in Arlington, TX. Enjoying a relaxing evening. I do miss the road and the interesting stories from my riders. In the meantime, I have a few people to write about soon and there is this:
As I continue to sort through meaningful songs I always have a habit of going back to certain artists like Neil Young and Bob Dylan.
Neil Young wrote Helpless in 1969. This is one of those songs that really makes me delve deep into its meaning, or at least my interpretation of the song. I began to think of the helpless feeling one might have in isolation due to Covid19. In the song, Young refers to a town in North Ontario. It is pretty isolated up there. As one writer put it, when expressing his interpretation, “when you live in a town like that, you often feel helpless because you are. But there is beauty there like nowhere else. So when you are back to “civilization” you miss it.”
Perhaps it can be used as a feeling of despair that you cannot help, but there is still this image,
“Blue, blue windows behind the stars, Yellow moon on the rise, Big birds flying across the sky,”
Isolation is tough. I got to see some familiar faces tonight that I have seen in months. It was brief but meaningful nonetheless. This song has always been a favorite of mine. I would play it when I felt alone, sitting in my little apartment.
But here is the thing, the silver lining if you will.
Even in times of sadness, despair, helplessness, there is beauty and grace.
Check in on someone this weekend. Reach out. There are many forms of isolation and many who feel helpless don’t know how to reach out.
Anyway, it is Friday. Have a great weekend everyone!
Be love. Be kind. We are all connected.
Life is better with a soundtrack.
This version of Neil Young’s Helpless by Buffy Sainte-Marie is pow wow werful!
I was recently reminded that “attitude is everything.”
I don’t know about everything, but it is definitely an important element in all things.
You are more likely to accomplish your goals and overcome your obstacles if you tell yourself that you can. My mom, Gretchen and one of my closest friends, Michelle are firm believers in the power of positive affirmations. With all that we are facing in the world right now, many of us fall into lonely and dark holes of depression and anxiety. When we aren’t feeling anger, we are overwhelmed with sadness.
For those who may be feeling lost, broken, or in a fog all alone, I see you. I know that space you are in. I have been there many times. Reach out to me. My hand is right here. You are not alone. I know your pain.
Finding the right attitude can be so very difficult when all you want to do is escape all the negativity and go back to bed.
Well, it is time to take inventory and open up your tool box. If you are suffering or overwhelmed, or depressed, grab a pen and some paper(or whatever your equivalent is). Find a safe, clutter free space. By safe I mean a place that doesn’t create more stress or distraction. The dining room table is one of mine. So is the garage now that I have had time to organize it. #Covid19silverlining Bed is NOT a safe space.
Get to that space, take a few calming deep breaths and start making an inventory list of positive things and people in your life. Nothing negative. List your peeps. This could include your pastor, your mom or even the cashier who always greets you with a smile down at Racetrac or 7-eleven. No matter how insignificant little details might be, if they are positive, put it in your inventory.
Some of my list includes my wife, Mindy, my kids, my mom, dad, weekly breakfast with my friend John, all my friends and also trees, cloudy skies, cool breezes, flying, driving, walking, church, etc. Your positive inventory should include people, places, things, but also actions.
Once you have a decent list (20-30 items), read it back to yourself, aloud. If you do this enough, and sometimes it takes two or three readings, one of those items will create a spark, a small glimmer in your dark hole.
Then the really hard part, get up and get out! Put that list in your mental toolbox. Positive affirmations are also tools. So is therapy, medication, exercise, friendship, and one incredibly powerful tool called kindness. Being kind (as I know all your kindness Warriors are) is a way to recharge your batteries. Kindness creates a flame to light your way out. I find it wonderfully ironic that God made us to help heal ourselves by helping others.
Attitude will definitely help get you going. It will keep you in the game. It will create hope. Remember this, change all of your “have to’s” in your life like paying bill’s, going to work, mowing the yard, etc. to “get to’s.” I get to go to work. I get to make the car payment. I even get to clean up dog poop. I get to do these things because I have a house, a dog, a car. Many have nothing. Attitude – positive – can do – thankful – kind.
I missed #TBT yesterday so here is a little song about attitude from one of my favorite musicians, Eric Clapton.
It’s In The Way You Use It.
This weekend I hope you find the right attitude to spread some kindness and positive vibes! You will make others happy and you will find joy in it too.
The sun came up today, as it did yesterday and will again tomorrow. We have faith in that. It is a reliable constant that has never failed us. It’s Sunday in DFW. It is getting hot. As I sit here in my car, I notice the life around me. Lots of cars on the road. A nearly full city bus just drove by. There are several cars in the drive thru at Jack in the Box and Panda Express. Bees are circling the trash can in the parking lot where I am waiting. I am enjoying the bright sun, the blue sky and the scattered clouds, always a beautiful palette. There is something captivating about the sky and clouds. I bet I have taken a thousand pictures or more of the sky. The sky is both a constant and ever changing at the same time.
With the exception of a select few talented and dare I say lucky space travelers, we can always count on the sky over us, along with the sun and moon and the stars.
As I sit here appreciating the clouds and the bees and all these other little details around me that seem normal, peaceful, and ordinary, I see a man on the bridge that crosses the highway. He seems ancient, just skin and bone. His skin is darkened by all the sun his face has seen. His back is bowed and he moves ever so slowly but seemingly so deliberate, as if he had a mission that has taken his whole life and he was nearing the end. This man, the man on the bridge, the bridge man is wearing a paper surgical mask and holding a sign that says Peace and God Bless You on a torn piece of cardboard.
I wonder what Bridge Man sees when he looks around. I wonder if he appreciates the sky and the bees and the seemingly normal things around both of us. I wonder how different his perspective is from my own about the same surroundings. I wonder what he thinks about the troubled times we live in. He obviously knows about the pandemic. Does he know about the civil unrest? Does he care? He appears homeless and destitute. I think if I was in his shoes the world wouldn’t matter so much as what I would do for my next meal and where I might sleep tonight.
Does Bridge Man have any family or friends? How did he get here? Does he have a mental health issue? Is he struggling with alcohol or drug abuse? I watched as bridge man slowly disappeared beyond the apex of the bridge.
The man I was waiting for finally made it out to the car. His name is John. I met John recently at a new job and got to know him a bit. It turns out, John is a two-time felon who has only been out of his 2nd prison term for a few months. He lives in a sort of halfway house for men. I have been there and it is really quite nice. It is a two-story house with lots of shade and a pool in the back. So, John has a place to stay as he tries to get his life together. But he doesn’t have a car and he has a limited education. John is taking courses to become a HVAC technician. A few weeks after I met him, the new company I work for let him go because he didn’t clear the background check. He is now working at Jack in the Box. John is a little rough around the edges. He has had a hard life. He has even been shot twice in the face so he has a few mangled teeth. I give John a ride to class on Mondays and occasionally a ride home from work. It seemed like the least I could do. Once you are down, it’s very hard to get back up. John is trying.
With all the protests, I was reminded of an interaction with one of my riders last fall. I think it was shortly after Atatiana Jefferson was killed. It was raining, late on a Saturday night and I was picking up someone named Henry. All of the sudden the back door of my car opened and in flew someone from the rain with his hoody tightly pulled around his head. The second he got the door closed he ripped the hoody back, threw his hands up, and with a big disarming smile said “Hands up. Don’t shoot.” There was nothing remarkable enough about the trip for me to write about Henry at the time. At least I didn’t think so then. But I remembered him because of the way he made his entrance to the car and we did have a short conversation about race, white privilege, and both wondered if it would ever get better. I remember asking him that question. His answer was, “Only if we keep the conversation going and not the bullets.”
I miss those little interactions with my passengers. No matter how terrible the world seemed on the news, I could always get in my car, flip on the Uber/Lyft apps and meet new people who never failed to restore my faith in humanity.
What do these stories say about our society? How many homeless before we change the way we provide for our citizenry? How can someone truly get a second chance in a society that is already almost impossible for poor people who haven’t committed any crimes? How many black lives must be lost before we truly address police brutality and systemic racism? Could we finally be ALL in to address the racial injustices of our beloved America?
I certainly don’t have the answers. In my life journey, I have learned this much:
There is Grace in everything.
Each of those men reminded me about what matters in life and how I wish to live it. We are all connected in this world. Many of us fall through the cracks of society, become invisible. But those lost to the shadows have needs, feel love and sorrow.
We turn away from them daily, often without even thinking about it. Those of us who make mistakes and pay for those mistakes according to our justice system never stop paying for them in our society.
Maybe now, with this perfect storm of a pandemic, a racist and corrupt president exacerbating societal fault lines, and finally, white America is finally listening and learning just how many black lives died through police brutality and how very different our worlds are traveling down the same street. Maybe now we can truly change. Maybe now is the time we have all been waiting for. I am not foolish enough to think we will achieve world peace and equality tomorrow but maybe we can finally move our country toward a more perfect union.
As dark and frightening as the world may seem, it is easy to lose sight of God’s loving hands. We see less clearly with so much darkness in the world. I see way too many fellow Christians supporting and defending, vehemently defending rhetoric and actions that are anything but Christlike. When in truth, we should be setting a higher example and lighting the path to peace and justice and belonging; like Streetlights on a Saturday night, guiding us home. This battle for what many are calling the soul of our nation often pushes my anger in the direction of hate. Thinking of those 3 men, how could I be so vain and self-righteous?
And that is what reminded me once again, that there is grace in everything, everywhere. And through God’s grace we shall prevail.
Grace is all around us. It becomes harder to see and feel, to witness, when we carry hate and anger and fear in our hearts. But, nevertheless, it is there, grace. When we open our hearts and our eyes to see it, to feel it, to witness it we will know God’s love.
This is a daily gift from God. Imagine a set of rose colored eye glasses that have a unique power to see beautiful surroundings that are otherwise invisible. The surroundings are always there but without those glasses you cannot see how incredibly beautiful your surroundings truly are. Faith, love, and kindness are the filters through which we can truly see, feel, and witness the beauty of God’s grace.
I see it all the time now. Although, it took me more than forty years to find my rose-colored glasses and I still misplace them from time to time. Lately, I seem to forget them more often. We are in challenging times that can leave us all in a state of anger, hopelessness, fear, and despair. Lately I seem to get sidetracked and off message.
There are definitely things to be angry about. There is nothing wrong with anger. There are many wrongs that need to be righted. With all that this nation and the world is dealing with, it is easy to become the very thing we are fighting against, hate.
I have been listening to songs from the sixties and early seventies. I have been listening to the lyrics of songs like Blowin’ In The Wind, For What It’s Worth, and Change Is Gonna Come; songs written 50 and 60 years ago but seem like they could have been written yesterday. One of my favorite songwriters is Neil Young. I have always loved his song Heart Of Gold. I read the lyrics again, like one might read the Bible, searching for a deeper meaning, a lesson. I found one. It is this,
On this often difficult and sometimes painful journey of life, we all find ourselves searching for a heart of gold. I think what those lyrics mean for me is an internal quest. Perhaps that is what Young meant too. Of my attempts and my own failings, I am constantly looking for that heart of gold within me. Life continues to challenge that quest. Life can make me cynical and angry, sad and hopeless. But If I keep searching for goodness and purpose within my own heart, God will take care of the rest.
I wonder if Bridge Man, John, and Henry are looking for their heart of gold. How about you?
This post is from June 9th, 2018. So, my friends, it fails to account for the crazy shit we are dealing with today. Now more than ever, we must be kinder to each other. We must make kindness a conscious effort with every interaction. We are all connected…
Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. These are just two of the most recent names, two people, two extraordinary people who made contributions to our society, our world. In the last 3 days almost 400 more people in this country have taken their own lives.
According to the American Foundation For Suicide Prevention, afsp.org, about 45,000 Americans die from suicide a year (2016 data). Far too many other people continue on a path of self-destruction from depression because their disease remains undiagnosed, untreated. They are lost at sea in their own body and mind. This is not a character flaw. This is a REAL DISEASE.
The reality is far more than just mental health contributes to suicide. In a nation as wealthy as ours, too many still don’t have access to affordable and proper healthcare. There are too many poor who are struggling. Economic crisis is a major contributor to depression.
But we also still have a stigma with depression. I have been suicidal two times in my life. I can say for my own experience, even though I had many people who loved me and cared for me even though I loved and cared for others, I was alone. I was confused. I was sad. I was filled with guilt and shame. I felt defective. And, I couldn’t see a clear path back to “normal.” Whatever that is…
Through the grace of God, I had angels who entered my life, I had circumstances that kept me from dying at those two critical moments in my life. But I still went on dealing with depression without truly understanding what was happening to me. More on me another time.
There are going to be about 123 suicides today according to statistics for 2016. Not to be pessimistic but given the current state of our country, I think that number is higher.
My love goes out to all who struggle with this disease.
I ask each of you to REALLY consider depression and think about the people in your life. Do any of them show signs of depression? Do you feel you might be dealing with depression?
This is a treatable, controllable disease or illness. And in truth there is some hope. The more we learn about genetic depression, the more medical researchers hypothesize that the same gene that causes depression also inspires creativity. When you think about it, for a great many of our artists, musicians, designers, actors who have fallen by their own hand, this is a rational argument. So, this means we can become better at treating depression.
In the mean time, be kind my friends. Slow down! Be kind to yourself. We are all in this together!
Shine your light brightly so people like Kate and Anthony might find their way out of the darkness and sorrow before its too late.
Under the clouds it looks like 830pm. Gray. Storm’s rollin’ in. Behind the wheel again. Feels good. Haven’t driven since before the stent went in. Just a short trip. Just down the road. It’s nice to be on the move again.
I can’t recall precisely when the word entropy entered my brain, but being back in the hospital had me thinking about it more. I am feeling extremely mortal, worn. I have been thinking about its meaning for several days now.
Entropy is a scientific term. There are a few ways to use the word in a scientific context, but one way to define entropy in layman’s terms is this: It is the tendency for energy to spread out. It is the idea that everything in the universe decays as energy is used or transferred. We are part of that process. We enter this world and grow into adults and then old age; all part of a process that offers less and less ordered energy until we die and become dust. All the while, entropy increasing until all in the universe is nothing. Oh yeah, so one of the scientific laws of energy, of entropy is that it is irreversible. Meaning, entropy is ever increasing.
For example, an egg is boiled. That energy is converted and gone through heat. But we can’t unboil the egg. The theory is that everything in the universe eventually transfers its energy to the great collective until there is no difference in energy anywhere and therefore nothing. For the record, that’s a long way off. So don’t worry about the planet disintegrating while you are on the morning commute.
The term was invented by a German physicist named Rudolf Clausius in 1850 to describe the amount of heat that must be put into a closed system (an engine) to bring it to a given state. This was during the industrial age. Our internal engines aren’t any different. Over a period of time, they decay, become less efficient. I don’t want to die. But I know I am mortal. And so far as I can tell, no one has figured out how to stop it.
We waste so much of our limited time as ordered energy (human beings) thinking about the past or the future. We waste so much time lamenting the insignificant. From the moment we arrive we are slowly using up our life energy and slowly unravelling. Disease may take us down. Like Clausius and his engine, we occasionally get a replacement part or we just add some hardware, like a stent, or dentures. These modifications may improve our ability to function, but entropy never stops. We continue to transfer our life energy back to the collective, bit by bit, until we are dust.
But this mortality becomes precious. If we were immortal, would we find joy? Knowing we have a limited time makes each moment count. Or at least it should.
Because we believe in more than just scientific theory. Because life is beautiful. Because our essence is to live. This time, this tiny portion of infinite time is important. We, our bodies, our engines, begin to decline from the moment we are born.
This year brings us a number of reminders that nothing on this earth lasts forever. We watched in sorrow as an iconic and beautiful cathedral fell, consumed by fire. But, if you bothered to notice, no one has expressed a loss of faith in God. Entropy, decay, death are all things we can’t escape. Neither can a beautiful structure, even if made with loving hands of a faithful people.
As we get older and closer to that moment when our life energy is scattered back into the collective universe, we often begin to feel less useful, without purpose. We often ask why, when we see a friend or colleague reduced to confusion and unable to care for himself because that well-ordered energy is scattering and the commands of the mind no longer hold sway over the action of the body. Entropy. I can tell you from personal experience that health issues which come earlier than one would expect in life do cause some anguish, anxiety, and depression.
On the other hand, much of what I feel I have to offer in service of God and humanity comes from the struggle, not the easy parts of life. When we teach our children, do we not use all of our personal experiences, both good and bad as a guide to help them grow and live to find hope, peace, love, and joy?
Scientifically, we understand entropy in a measurable dynamic. Philosophically, this becomes more intangible. I am a firm believer that science and God are not exclusive or contradictory to one another. But this slow unraveling, this entropy, is absolutely designed by God. It gives us time. Not eternity, but time. It allows us to struggle so that we may know the beauty of life. Entropy, thus gives us consequential action and thought, free will.
“Another interesting aspect of entropy is that it makes the process of becoming, gradual and rather controlled. If entropy had different nature, the universe might be too unbalanced or violent to sustain life: without the energy transmutating gradually into heat, life and death would become abruptly polar events.”
Now this last little part is a quote from an anonymous nihilist who is also quoted above, mixed with my own core belief in God. So I am not using quotation marks. But a portion of it is not my own. I just swapped out a few words here and there for my personal cosmos cooking.
This life may be burdened with death and suffering in struggle, but without it there wouldn’t be anything to live or dream for. As Nietzsche put it, “it is only up to us to overcome this, what we call the tragedy of mortal life, and re-write our roles in the cosmic play. While the invisible strings of statistics will always be pulling our actions in the large scale, it can never put the lines in our mouths. That we must do ourselves.”
God doesn’t take away people we love. God doesn’t make bad things happen to good people. And, I might add, there are always people worse off than us. God gives us free will and a limited amount of time to use that will. Let us not waste that time. Let us instead, since we are all in this life together, use our will, our strengths, and even our weaknesses for the betterment of humanity. That is the way to life everlasting. That is God’s will. And, that is the only true antithesis to entropy.
See? Science and religion fusion. Boom.
“Life is the noble process which turns suffering into excellence.”
We cannot forsake grief. Instead we must embrace it and allow it to remind us we are alive.
“You should know compared to people on a global scale our kind has had it relatively easy. And here with you there’s always something to look forward to. Our angry heart beats relatively easy.” Jason Isbell
We have been sheltering in place, with a few store runs here and there, since March 18th. Like many of you, I was anxious. How would we pay the bills? What will happen with the kids and school? Just how bad will it get? And, for me, I wondered how will this affect my mental health? I am someone who has battled clinical depression all my life. Most of that time, I was not fully aware of my disease. In December of 2017, that changed. Since then, I have been on a journey to reclaim my life and to share my struggle so that it might be a light for others who are lost in the dark fog.
It hasn’t been an easy path. I have learned to control (mostly) my depression and anxiety. I have also learned that even knowing isn’t always a solution, but it certainly is better than being forever lost at sea. I often refer to my toolbox when talking about depression. By that, I mean the number of ways I control and counter it. Medicine, therapy, walking, meditating, writing, nature, routines, etc. are all tools in the toolbox. Checklists are also very useful.
So, there we were, on the first day of our shelter-in-place journey. To my surprise, I transitioned quite well. I became less anxious and my mood was generally positive all day long. Time spent with family has been wonderful. We played games, watched some movies together. We have worked in the yard together. The kids lost interest in that activity after day 1, but it was great while it lasted. I think if I push, I can get them back out there. I have also been organizing my garage. Clutter is always bad. Finding a place for everything and creating a few clear surfaces is therapy in and of itself. It is great to get rid of things you don’t need. So long, extra set of washing machine hoses. Good riddance, box of old cables and wires. I found one bag that was filled with more bags. I am pretty sure it has been tucked away in a drawer since 1997.
The first few weeks of shelter-in-place was like stepping from a surreal environment that went by so fast, most of it was blurry, to a much more real, vivid life of color and beauty, I was off the hamster wheel and free to look around; free to enjoy the simpler things in life.
I was looking at all the life
There were plants and birds and rocks and things
I was all of the sudden on a whole new path. I was on a respite from the grind and I was noticing all the wonder around me. The grass became greener. The sun and sky felt like battery chargers for my soul. I was now traveling along a path devoid of stress and anxiety; a path with far less distractions. I got away from all the chaos and the noise. But I had no idea where this path would lead me. As the song says,
I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain
New routines began to form. Some good, some bad. But I wasn’t really paying attention. I was living in the moment and happy. So, I was complacent and unaware. Last week, I began to slide. Unknowingly, my demons were catching up to me. Life started getting foggy. I have been so tired and achy these last few days. I have started losing interest in all of the wonderful elements of life. This morning I woke up feeling like I needed to go right back to bed. I scrolled Facebook for a few moments with no real interest. I looked outside and didn’t see my new little realm, but instead, I saw heat and discomfort and unbearable brightness. I didn’t have much to say to anyone and after forcing myself to take care of a couple of “to do’s,” I found my way back to bed. It seems depression had found me again.
After two days in the desert sun
My skin began to turn red
After three days in the desert fun
I was looking at a river bed
And the story it told of a river that flowed
Made me sad to think it was dead
You see I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain
The difference between now and two years ago is, I caught it. Something actually triggered in me yesterday when I was in the car with Mindy and the girls. This song came on and got me reflecting a bit. It took me until late today to really catch it, but catch it I did! There are many times when I am “melancholy” but aware. This is now one of those times. I can’t really change the way I feel, but now I can utilize those tools I was talking about to keep this low from turning into something more powerful and destructive. Until my brain stops forcing me to sorrow, I will ride it out. I will stay the course and slowly my path will become clear again. The fog will lift and I will sense the wonder of life again.
We still don’t know what is next with this Covid 19 business. I still don’t know where this new path is taking me, still no name for this horse. But I do know everything will be alright.
After nine days I let the horse run free
‘Cause the desert had turned to sea
There were plants and birds and rocks and things
there was sand and hills and rings
The ocean is a desert with it’s life underground
And a perfect disguise above
Under the cities lies a heart made of ground
But the humans will give no love
You see I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain
Where are you on your journey? Are you in the desert or in the rain? Mental health is tricky. Depression and anxiety are insidious. Covid19 has shaken the rhythm of all our lives. Here are a few tools to give yourself a mental checkup and boost.
Take a moment and rate your emotional state. Think about how you feel and how you have felt recently. Make yourself aware. If you are feeling low or foggy, change your routine, use a daily checklist, and find a way to talk about it. The buddy system works! Anyone who might struggle with depression should have someone, friend, family member, therapist, doctor to communicate with every week. Taking inventory and talking about how you feel on a regular basis helps empower you to become aware of and control the destructive forces of depression.