Humility’s gentle grace

My life—until recent years—mimics a pendulum’s widening arc of extremity, hinting only the slightest hesitation as the center oscillates past quiet with confounding predictability.

Recognizing prior patterns of hollow value does not magically charm foibles into fables, and perception alone only summons the rigid reward of hardened belief. Authentic humility’s hushed wisdom is what opens the door.

Tutoring conviction elicits the mind-as-tool prison, lending it unbalanced weight while ignoring the heart’s treasure of softening judgment. Humility’s charity balances both, vanquishing neither.

The metaphor is incomplete, as are all portraits of the soul, an entity aching to be seen, patiently awaiting the pendulum to swing toward humility’s gentle grace.

Coexisting realities

The deep brain stimulator surgically implanted in 2014 has served me well, but its effectiveness wanes each day. A persistent brain fog hounds me, often leaving imagination as my only reliable companion in adventures of memory.

Today, I traveled back four years to share the water—from the safety of an underwater cage—with Great White sharks. Rounding off each day of diving, an informal tutorial on the behavior of this apex predator would be held in the vessel’s common area.

When two Great Whites meet while hunting, the pair will swim alongside each other to determine which shark is longer, with the “winning” fish continuing to predate in the disputed waters. The smaller shark moves to other hunting grounds, bowing peacefully out of the contest.

But occasionally, the two fish skirmish for reasons unknown to me, leaving many Great Whites scarred from the violent encounters. These physical anomalies serve as the primary basis for identifying the approximately 400 Great Whites living seasonally in the waters off Guadalupe Island, Mexico.

While peaceful collaboration appears to be their initial conflict resolution strategy, bite scars lasting the animal’s lifetime leave the impression that violence is the sharks’ reaction of choice. It can seem that there are two valid, coexisting realities, and perhaps there are.

Allowing nature’s clarity to relax the mind enlivens the spirit. Breathe deeply while strolling in winding woods or swimming circles on a quiet ocean. Animate the soul with the possibility of eternal truth, intertwined in the mutuality of authentic witness, permitting the unseen to appear.

Returning to port

My hobbies and ten years in the navy reflect my attraction to the sea, an evolving self-discovery of conflicting visions.

Watching the sea’s delicate orchestra of peaceful violence fascinates and thrills, luring, tempting to risk venturing a stroke too far. Sensually appealing, the ocean seduces its prey with vast expanses of barren surface while creatures dare depth’s darkness in a flirt of imagination.

Accustomed to the push-pull delights of mimicking tide, the ocean’s stinging salt air fashions crashing waves of human indifference, pledging nothing more than a rough ride home. And we must all eventually go home.

Fortunate for many reasons, I was blessed to have grown up on the East Coast while living most of my life in the West. Imagining the sun’s arc as it tracks with life’s natural progression lends ordained splendor to the sequence: my life began with the sun erupting from the water. So, it will end setting over western seas, left and right brains finally harmonized in balance.

Appreciating that alignment will come, at least with death, eases nothing. On the contrary, it assures constant struggle until that first sip of hemlock from the trophy cup, perhaps finally content with the journey’s progress. Not that it matters, but I would have it no other way.

Courageous kindness

While The Lost Intruder was certainly about deep diving, Naval Aviation, and underwater exploration, these perspectives merely provided the framework for the book’s genuine aspiration: describing the re-discovery of my soul. Despite countless hours of reflection, however, the mechanisms at play behind the scenes during the 18-month search remain, for the most part, a comforting mystery to me. 

Intuitively, I knew to avoid gleaning from the experience inevitably incomplete, although important, interpretations of meaning—The Lost Intruder was only one segment of a very long journey. Instead, I relied on the calming conclusion that, without knowing exactly why, I could trust in the process of life.

Despite a frequently circuitous path forward since then, I still honestly believe that regardless of individual struggles, life really will turn out okay. Just writing that makes me smile. What, do you want to live forever?

While it’s taken years and may take many more to fully comprehend the ultimate value of The Lost Intruder’s chapter of my life, thorny insinuations of higher purpose have mostly been put to rest by a realization of practical magnitude. There is no higher meaning than to love without judgment or reservation in recognition of collective beauty, life’s sincerest identity. It’s that simple.

A gentle humility lies within us all, ready to be put into everyday service by an individual’s courageous kindness. Maybe deep down, that will make you smile; I hope so.

Strength happens

Flying home after a visit with my son in South Carolina last week, I pondered how life had changed in just the past year. In addition to a longtime grounding from flying, there was now no more diving, severely limited driving, no more talks or presentations, and even negotiating the doldrums of air travel solo had become problematic. Parkinson’s previously gradual backsliding has noticeably accelerated, leading me to question the viability of an unvital life.

My primary reason for continuing to endure life’s now often tediously boring bell jar is my children. As long as they remain solidly in my identity, then, perhaps, I might fashion a degree of guidance for them. Besides, even though I will never witness how things turn out—no one ever does, as the “end” tends to usher in the “new” just as quickly—my curiosity remains strong. I do enjoy watching the impermanence of life’s stage.

Two sayings come to mind. I’ve always appreciated Frederick Nietzsche’s writing but had considered one of his most famous pieces trite. “That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” reverberates with careless meaning, a strength-for-strength’s sake, might-makes-right dead-end deal.

“Shit happens” (author unknown) was more my style with its shared blessing of tacit acceptance.

The mind’s realization that “life is as life is” offers little comfort to depleting animation. To recognize the same from the heart, however, is to surrender to agape’s warm embrace, to welcome the falling tears of gentle reserve. Departing the bastion of reason for environs of infinite universality, the distance between the two perspectives, it seems, is only to be bridged—at least by me—through patient persistence, and then only temporarily.

My goal? Fortitude through patience and unflappable calm in the face of shit happening: what could go wrong? Surely nothing that the occasional smile can’t remedy…😊

A tired man’s dream

Courage without reward, no emerging rainbow sharpens life’s cloud, seeking peace while guts roil in the tempestuous agony of forgotten. Bereft banality of belief or transparency of purpose, the surrounding sin feeds greed’s eager deity by crying out for the impossibility of elusive satiation. The Stoic advances, tramping silently, shielded by veiled surrender, sculpting a vision of anima creo.

On parenting: the rare mercy of vague memory

There are no perfect parents. Parenting is an impossible task lasting as long as you breathe life completed on someone else’s timeline; a thankless job with all the world acting as critics. How you were raised is your only practical guide, comparing decisions made thirty, forty, fifty years ago that were so different in context that any similarities undoubtedly reside as coincidences of a vivid imagination.

There are few consistencies, zero really, although the exhausted parent’s mind desperately searches for warm corroboration even as the heart screams out in warning. “Yes” is almost always the wrong answer.

Saying “no” to your child is impossibly difficult. The parent enters the compact—whether made with a two or a twenty-year-old—trusting only intuition and meager experience to lead to an answer that might be understood in time but will more likely be used to lash out in an outgrown tantrum of protest.

Saying yes, particularly as money is concerned, is the easiest chore imaginable, ironically leaving the parent stewing in an unresolved doubt that will likely require future intervention to correct.

The only simple part of being a parent is expressing the unconditional love that comes with the job: honest and authentic, life-long love that transcends the most-thorny of conflicts or hate-filled words.

As parents age, life displays rare mercy through vague memory: the happy times are remembered while far more difficult ones slowly recede from reality. At least if one is fortunate enough to live that long.

Above all, parenting is about living your own life with all the mistakes and heartache that this world brings. To watch an adult son or daughter make a questionable decision is right up there with saying “no,” the awful nexus of dream versus nightmare for all involved.

There is no greater hardship than watching a child suffer. There is no greater parental responsibility than letting a grown child go. The enlightened freedom from this strongest of life’s attachments can be unbearably painful, an acute act of overlooked love dancing amid drama’s lengthening shadows into perpetuity.

The alchemy of kindness

Recently, an event has tested my faith in compassion, empathy, and kindness as tools of reconciliation and healing. I will not go into details other than to say that it is perhaps the greatest challenge of my life, with impossibly high stakes.

Like most people, my initial reaction during particularly trying times runs to the “reaction” emotions of anger, fear, and despair as I struggle to control the hamster wheel looping of negative narrative possibilities that try to run 24/7 in my brain.

It is difficult beyond description to maintain detached responsiveness when 59-years of society’s encouraged inculturation of reaction acts as a well-intentioned centurion, guarding the higher functions of my mind in nature’s misguided physicality of instinct.

But being a higher primate comes with advantages as well as challenges, with the ability to reference experience perhaps our most valuable tools. I know that now more than ever is the perfect time for kindness.

Counter to what my “fight or flight” physical body tells me, deep in my soul, I know that the only available extrication from the spiraling horrors of impotent agony is to act counter to conventional wisdom, to operate opposite to what society urges as a “normal” response. The hell with normal.

So, I go downstairs to my weapon of compassion, my writing, fully aware that I am but one among billions struggling to survive life’s trials of omission. Being kind in the face of mortal attack offers the highest alchemical reaction, that of human empathy.

Today, with renewed emphasis of will, I will seek to help those encountering life’s brutal countenance of reason, soul quickened to the task of providing comfort to the faceless troubled reaction to existential pain.

Fortuitous circumstance–a PD update

Before my deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery in 2014, despite significantly increased Parkinson’s symptoms, I was overall happy and at peace with life. I also had a deep-seated conviction that DBS would change everything, including my sense of spiritual well-being. Physical happiness trumped spiritual well-being, at least at this early stage, however. It was reassuring to know that DBS offered a relatively good chance of substantially improving my daily life, if only temporarily,

Now, seven years later, it is clear that Parkinson’s has overcome much of the positive influence of DBS, and monthly—if not weekly—disease progression is becoming more evident. The network of DBS brain wires still helps reduce some symptoms, and those symptoms that have returned are not identical to those experienced pre-DBS. Notably, DBS is still effective in mitigating the worst of my painful right-side dystonia.

On the other side of the ledger, my speech is arguably worse than before brain surgery. Unintelligible slurring is becoming more common by mid-morning, a challenging symptom to predict. I had forgotten the mini nightmare of a sound mind trapped in a body that could only produce the appearance of severe degradation. The required increase in my daily intake of Levodopa, which acts as artificial dopamine for a Parkinson’s patient, allows me to move but also causes the wild flailing and uncontrollable, painful writhing of dyskinesia.

Mornings are now the only reliable time for me to drive safely. My activities are limited by early afternoon to reading or watching movies for the most part, usually while fighting to break out of frustrating brain fog. By mid-afternoon, disease-induced fatigue, exacerbated by the morning battles and medication side effects, is overwhelming.

It is here when I am at my physically weakest and unable to think clearly, when anxiety’s gnawing horror rears up in psychological surprise attacks, that my situation borders on the untenable. It is disconcerting not being able to access the comfort of a deep breath. Having accepted the disease’s eventual outcome without reservation, it is the road getting there that can appear impossibly daunting.

Inevitably, when this happens—which is at least once most days—I remind myself to walk outside, to stare at a flower or spider web or the cloud-filled sky, in frightened silence until I can replenish that foundational part of me, the essence of my being, my soul. 

A foolishly giddy smile invariably crosses my lips when this happens as I revel in the cosmic joke, an improbable artifact of life’s guileless beauty. Unadorned by the brutal conveyances that surround, I reach a moment of surrender, laugh as my chest finally fills with breath, and marvel at life’s great circle of fortuitous circumstance, grateful for the day.