A confession has to be part of your new life
I am a believer in synchronicity. I am convinced that external events happen in concert with internal “business” that begs attention. And, I believe, that these seemingly random, unplanned instructional happenings occur with an intuitive precision that defies the laws of chance.
I struggled with the writing of the first edition of this post in 2009; then after watching Elizabeth Edwards (RIP) on 60 Minutes talk about terminal illness I knew it was time, ready or not, to type a sort of confession. First, I will digress a bit (imagine that) and I will bring this tale full circle into 2011.
In high school I remember reading Carlos Castenada’s tales of enlightenment via teachings imparted by a Mexican Socerer named Don Juan. Castenda learned from his teacher, among other things, to live with death over his left shoulder and then passed on the message to us to “live life to its fullest” from one moment to the next. This thinking has helped drive me through enchanted landscapes on an amazing dialectical journey.
Anais Nin said, “People living deeply have no fear of death.” and Issac Asimov made it delightfully simple with: “If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster.” The choice is simple: celebrate life or accede to dying. I am becoming equipped to cast a cold eye on death.
I recently watched The King’s Speech and left the theater with two thoughts: “Colin Firth is a lock for a Golden Globe” and “What an inspirational film for those of us who battle maladies foisted on us by our minds or bodies.”
I have PTSD. It manifests itself in a public social shyness and awkwardness that most of you would not believe if you have only followed my online presence. I assure you that the latter is far more representative of my inner landscape than the former. Those of you who have traveled with me know that the outside seat in a cab or theater comforts me and that noise and crowds do distract, disturb, and disorient me–when I am not battling complete panic. It is an emotional stutter and my successes in the classroom, on the stage and in public lectures are always interrupted at some point by my trauma induced stammer. I admit to the same feelings of hopelessness, anger (often misdirected) and despair that plagued King George VI albeit, thankfully, the consequences of the symptoms of my malady have personal, not international ramifications.
it is hard for people to grasp or believe the magnitude of hard to see struggles. The VA has long denied my claims for service related treatment because I have intermittently been in positions of authority and difficult and demanding jobs. I think King George would have laughed at the notion that one’s station, or perception of one’s station, had anything to do with the magnitude or difficulty of an illness and its debilitating effects. If it were up to the VA I would have me completely surrender, opt for a lobotomy, eliminate any motivation or attempt to get better and reduce my IQ in order to prove my worthiness for disability related treatment. And I would have to be damned grateful for being rendered intellectually and vocationally impotent.
Too, my body’s immune system is too vigilant. My natural defenses have enlisted in a war against healthy tissue and I am an unwitting host of the conflict. Treatments to date have not been effective and it is likely that I will die, and much sooner than I had hoped, from some nameless autoimmune disease. It has already claimed a gall bladder, nearly killing me in the process, and is now in the late phases of damage to my liver. Tests this week show that my body continues its violent quarrels with itself after nearly four decades and shows signs of worsening. These last three years, fraught with rumor, deception, outright theft and relocations have done little to dissuade my immune system that its host is not a pathogen. Aches, pains, fatigue, irritability, loss of pigment (I am not moon-tanned, nor a Brit from an overcast village: I have vitiligo), and ennui dominate. And any effort by me to mediate these symptoms while in “normal” company is exhausting at best. Those of you who knew me as a professional athlete, army officer, outdoorsman, martial artist or animated professor may well not recognize me these days in person. The physical changes alone make isolation an attractive choice
Know this: I write this only to inform. I desire neither sympathy nor plaudits. It is just life and I will do the best I can with what I have been given. I am less than pleased most days with my performance, but I chalk that up to an artistic temperament rather than routine despair.
Some of you who know me well are aware that I taught Mind-Body Medicine long before it was fashionable. So, yes, I have been doing those things I should be doing to bring back health and homeostasis. But, sometimes a vessel is just flawed. Jim Fixx a celebrated runner/author died in mid-life of a heart attack owing to his genetic make-up. Many people wrongly viewed his passing as a case against the benefits of jogging. The opposite was true. And I am sure that, like his, my life has, and will be, prolonged by exercise, prayer, meditation and other interventions. But, the inevitable it is just that….
Not long before his death John Steinbeck drove his camper, Rocinante (named for Don Quixote’s horse), across America with his poodle Charley as his companion he penned a wonderful journal during the trip: Travels With Charlie. I have longed to for such a land voyage ever since…
So, rather than lament my fate I decided, while writing the first version of this story, to take on a new project: to travel to all 22 provinces in mainland China. I did pretty well and chronicled some of the stories on Facebook, Twitter and Asian Correspondent. I also tried to do as much social good as my mind and body would allow along the way. This last year I have been, save a required journey to the US to placate the VA yet again, I remained in relative seclusion with intermittent outings for pizza, a couple of TEDx events and dinner and conversation with friends and loved ones.
Andrew Young said, “It’s a blessing to die for a cause, because you can so easily die for nothing.” And while I am not so grandiose that I think I am creating a noble exit for myself, I do want this time to count for something more than a grand tour of the Middle Kingdom. Like Elizabeth Edwards I hope to be of service in the process of fulfilling a few dreams.
The new plans are these: Continue to develop two phone applications I have outlined over the last two years: one that will be of medical service to expats and another that will aid micro-entrepreneurs in economically disadvantaged areas. I intend to get in some semblance of shape again and also hope to gain a little color in my face (I am allowed a delusion or two)… I want to continue my travels and build cultural bridges–as health and comfort allow and I will chronicle my trials, travels and triumphs here. I also have two manuscripts longing for publication and I want to pursue independent, but directed studies in Tibetan and Mongolian culture (more on that later)….
And lastly I want to be a good friend to those I have come to love and admire and to to whom I owe great debts and eternal thanks: Roland Catellier, K, the Lason family, Xiaoli, Phoenix, Mengyuan, Qiwen, Hui Qing, Jianmei, Diane, David Feng, Rob, Richard, Pamala, Rick, Gypsydust, Duncan, Danny, Betsy, Michael, Peter, Matt, Gino, Cyrilla, Sandy, Jiaolei, JJ Ma, Paul, Janet, Cheryl, Tom S, and the many others who have been unconditionally caring, and patient…
I’ll leave for now, still reminded of Somerset Maugham who thought death to be a dull and dreary affair, advising you to have little to do with resignation. I will continue to blog about China, education, poetry, life on life’s terms and about those who have chosen to live it well.
And, when I am not stuttering, I promise to be typing as fast as I can…
2 responses so far