We Interrupt This Broadcast…

A severe set of aspirational events prior to Christmas made my lungs burn and ache. The sensations were pretty similar to those I had had with aspirational pneumonia – not pleasant, by any stretch, but familiar territory – being brought out of a dead sleep into full wakefulness by the sensation of a bubble of acid descending rapidly into my lungs (no esophagus means zero heartburn, and zero warning time), followed immediately by my vaulting into a fully upright position as I try to expel the liquid, and any particulate matter, from my lungs as quickly and as violently as I can, and knowing that I have not succeeded completely by the bouts of frequent coughing that could last for hours – or days. I stubbornly held off going into see the local doctor (my regular doc is a 30 mile trip to Sioux Falls), but finally gave in to the urging of my wife, who could no longer cope with the frequency of either the coughing, or my complaining about it.

A couple of things made complying with her wishes a bit easier – I could see a doctor I knew here, and the pain in and around my chest was getting worse by the day. It also helped the motivation a bit when I went through three more such events in rapid succession two days before I could get in to see him. We sit, chat a bit about things we have in common, I get sent to X-Ray, come back and get a prescription for a pretty strong anti-biotic, chat some more, and go home. All’s well that ends well…

Except this time. I was coughing up blood, and a fair amount of it each time. My sides, under my arms, felt like every childhood bully was beating me with regularity, and that sensation was lasting longer than the coughing jags. My right hip started hurting badly when I coughed as well – as best as we have been able to put it together? Most – but by no means all – of that pain was likely caused by a pulled muscle from lifting Warren from the floor; three times since Christmas he has managed to lose his balance almost the same way toddlers seem to get knocked down by dust motes. When I coughed, there was something else in the hip that was hurting. The worst thing? This was still happening a week after the anti-biotic course was done and over with.

As things have a way of turning out in our lives together, I had to take Joy over to see our family doctor. She mentioned what was going on with me to him, and when she came back out I was told – in no uncertain terms – he said I was to call my pulmonologist, describe what was going on accurately, and make an appointment. I did it while I was sitting there beside her (she had two different visits in one sitting), and that appointment – along with a CT scan – were for Monday, January 26th (which was quick by local terms).

I think I knew it was not going to be good news, on some level; once you are moved from the category of cancer victim to cancer survivor, you have a far greater sensitivity to what’s going on with your body – and over the last few years there have been more than a few moments that I was half-prepared to hear that the disease had returned. Unexplained weight loss, or change in appetite? Been there, had those – all false alarms. Not this time.

There appears to be a rather enlarged lymph node[1] and some other surrounding tissue that was not in evidence in my last CT scan, nor would it have shown up in the chest X-Ray. There is a 2% chance it could be a bacterial infection that the previous antibiotic couldn’t touch, but the likely explanation is lung cancer. A bronchoscopy is scheduled for Tuesday, January 27th in the afternoon; results will not be available for two to three days.

My mom died of esophageal cancer when I was 26. My kid brother died of lung cancer before I was diagnosed with esophageal myself. It is a lot to take in, and the last thing in the world I am willing to do is to intellectualize this away. My chest still hurts. I am still spitting up blood, and my ribs still hurt as if Brian Cuddy was wailing on them with both fists while sitting on me.

breaking newsThis post? Mostly, I’m writing it for the folks I know who blog that do not go on Facebook or who I have not gotten in touch with yet one way or another – I contacted my family members first. The broadcast news only goes out after folks who needed – and have a right to know first were told. What next? We wait – but, while we wait, we remember that cancer is a diagnosis, not a destination. Christ is my destination – how I get there is in God’s hands, in His plans, and on His timetable.

Joy asked me, when we got home from the Mayo Clinic after the last time something this big happened in my life, what I wanted to do with my life. One of the things I wrote down was to write, another to travel, but the top of the list was to write. The biggest reason I could think of wanting to write was to give others hope – here has been my journey from the dark side of life towards the high country. Some of that is documented here, on the posts of the blog. Some of my best writing has been in email exchanges – private correspondence, as much as we consider anything private these days if it happens electronically – but the point of all my writing, whether private or public, was to move people who saw themselves the way I had seen myself for so long – to see that, regardless of their transgression or the seeming depths of the pit they felt their life was in, John Newton’s succinct message of the Gospel was as true for them as it has proven for me. The ground is level at the foot of the cross. If I, by my words and example, can move someone to live like they were dying, or to change that swear word forming to one that blesses another? Then count me among the blessed.

Almost as blessed as I am for having all of you as part of my life – this one here, a shield bearer, This woman beside me, my strength. That man? A standard bearer. That child? Gifted and talented and beautiful – not because she was sold a bill of goods but because her very life speaks these self-evident truths into visible life.

  1. [1] On the screen, which compresses everything down a bit? The node looked about as large as a quarter, and almost spherical.

Hard Topics

There are few topics I approach with more trepidation than this one, in part because it is still a minefield loaded with fear bombs and attack-mode mentality in our on-line/all the time world, and in part because other writers like Deidra Riggs are addressing the issues surrounding race relations in America in far better, more eloquent manner. In so many ways, I would have loved to have left the topic alone, reasoning that if I cannot bring light or calm to bear on a subject where there is already so much heat and unreasoning anger, then I should perhaps remain silent – but three things forced me to reconsider my position, and those form the reason for this uncomfortable post. Like Deidra, I will have to set up the back story first, else you may not understand some things, but even some of the explanations may not help in understanding…

The Back Story

The family I was born into in 1953’s North Hollywood, California, was decidedly working-class, and a part of the post-WWII construction boom. We moved coast to coast as Dad went where the work was, finally settling at the beginning of the 1960’s in Massachusetts. A Roman Catholic family, we settled into a solidly Irish-Catholic neighborhood (the exceptions being the houses on either side of us – to our left were a family of Congregationalists, and I cannot say with any degree of certainty what the childless couple to our left had as a faith tradition); the rest of the street was, east and west, folks who looked similar to us, and prayed at St. Cecelia’s.

We watched the world enter our house explosively through the nightly film footage and the commentaries of Walter Cronkhite, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, and a host of others. We were stunned into silence as we heard about four girls being blown up in an Alabama church, and again as President Kennedy was assassinated – and the decade only got crazier from there. What could be worse than America’s  history of race relations in the 1960’s? My ignorance and naïveté were not so much willful as much as they were a by-product of growing up in the family sized insane asylum that parental alcoholism makes; in a town, and at a time where ethnic meant Italian or Puerto Rican, and not having seen any black people in real life until 1966 or so, when the Mims family moved into town, it was somewhat understandable if you didn’t know what the broader world looked like – you were trying to keep from getting killed at home.

Nonetheless, racial prejudice was a part of the mixture being poured into us. One conversation I had with my mother not long before I ran away from home by joining the Navy during Vietnam stood out; I was told, quite bluntly, that “…I could marry a dago, a spic, or a wop, and that I could even marry an Asian or a Jew, but if I ever married a n*****, I would be disowned – don’t even think of coming home.” There were other words – far too many instances to count – where this ethnicity or that racial group was labeled as lazy. Shiftless. Irresponsible. As steadily as an acid eats away tissue, as constantly as erosion eats away a shoreline, these were part of the background chatter.

Broken ChainsI cannot tell you when I first bought into the stuff I had been sold; more properly, I can’t say when I started imitating a parrot and thinking/saying the same things I had heard. I can say it lasted a number of years, and those years were not ones I am proud of at all. Coincidentally or not, they roughly correspond to the years of my active addiction – I say roughly because ignorance sets down deep tap roots, and it took a while before I was even clear-headed enough to consider in how many dimensions my thinking was screwed up and how poor my understanding was. A lot of septic, toxic stuff started going away when I first got sober, but I consider the deepest, hardest work that which has only happened over the last fifteen years or so, which, though it does not coincide with my first spiritual experience, is none the less a solid part of the spiritual awakening requisite for leading a God-oriented life, one that is still ongoing. Call it a slow wake-up without a snooze button. Such chains as remain shackled on my heart and mind are not those of racial prejudice; indeed, any of them that get exposed get snapped almost audibly to me.

 The Current Story

So, why tell you any of this? Why touch on it at all?

Earlier, I had said that there were three things that caused this post to be written. The first was the post Deidra wrote; a line she penned spoke perfectly into the space – “Not perfect. No one is trying to infuse this with anything more than what it is and was.” This was the positive side of the equation. It isn’t guilt, or shame causing me to speak to the issue – rather, it is similar to what I do in the 12 Step rooms by sharing my experiences, strengths, and hopes with others in order that they may see themselves in another and see that they, too, have amazing grace available – that real recovery is possible. Absolution has been given, and I have been forgiven.

The second thing – the part that, as another friend rightly noted, had lit a fire in me? A fellow I once played music with back in Virginia put up a post a few days ago on Facebook; had he put it up under his own name as a byline, I might never have noticed it, but he put it up under his bi-vocational byline as a minister. In it, he complained at length about how he didn’t believe in or understand how “white privilege” had played any part in his life. One commenter responded with this was just talk from “idiot progressive America haters”, and as the pile-on started, I responded to the original post:

“We never had to worry about whether or not we would be lynched for looking at a woman the wrong way – and we are both old enough to remember when that was still happening – ditto ‘separate but equal’, ditto ‘Jim Crow’. Preach the Gospel of Christ – which is color and status blind – not the politics of division wrapped around a cross, please.”

I finally posted the following on my own timeline, which was modified only slightly from the response to the follow-up post by the same guy:

“Christianity demands our best thinking – not our knee-jerk worst – especially where we can be seen by others outside of the church. Talking about ill-considered topics neither advances the cause of Christ, nor does it compel men to consider how to apply ‘treat others as you would be treated – regardless of how they, in fact, treat you’ – and that, if you like or dislike, is part of the responsibility we have when we speak up as Christians on social media. Something about there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free comes to mind here…”

The third thing? In the time we have been back here living with and caring for Warren, and attending the little church we have been, I have been witness to acts of great moral courage from people older than me – folks who have thrown off decades of silence about the kinds of abuse they have suffered, and who have chosen to not let it define their present any longer. These are people I am proud to call not only friend, but brothers and sisters in Christ.

I may not be the best person to speak on race relationships in America, but I can no longer sit by and say nothing, as that would set me up to be complicit in the next attack wave, or help someone else sow another mine field of hatred by remaining silent.