Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It's Possible ~ Meet Kirby

Meet Kirby. He is a 5yr old Jack Russell, a stroke survivor, paralyzed from the mid-spine down. Two years of life in his wheelchair to date.

Lesson learned:
It's possible to do whatever you want when you do not know that you're lacking something.

Nobody told Kirby to lie down & die, so he didn’t.  Kirby is living his nature, which is to have fun and be a chick magnet for every girl walking by, including my 5yr old daughter. Joy is all this dog knows; he is beautiful in all his glory. This little dog is truly the meaning of the underdog; he is "Grace in action.”

For the next half hour I stood there watching Kirby and my daughter play. A conversation with Kirby’s owner told me that he “brings Kirby to the park to share the joy. No matter what adversity you may be facing Kirby teaches all of us to enjoy life.”

Kirby smacks you in the gut with reality. Life is good, if you want it to be good.

Over this past year on this journey of mine the universe (a.k.a God) keeps opening up doors to show me the way to possibilities. My part is to share them with you.

Think of me as your “Prophet of Possibilities” (haha)...a foreteller of what you can do. 

For a copy of the image above just follow this link (HERE)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

On Death & Dying

This is a bloody depressing post today, read at your own state of mind. For those interested I was in a good mood while writing this, go figure.

You have no control over your birth, but you can influence your death. 

Death is a universal shared fate.  It is the only thing in life that we can have mastery over.  Mastery seems like an odd choice of words. The unknown can stop our life at any moment, nonetheless, it's the wakeful life that we can have supreme guidance over. We are given a lifetime to get good at dying.
From every thought, action, reaction, every morsel of food we digest to how we move our body all impact the destiny of the unavoidable. Every breath and each heartbeat brings us closer to the eternal. Let us not waste life.

Do not give up on being human. This is the lesson learned.  This is the reoccurring thought that I live with. If I ever do get around to writing a book I think I would call it “Do Not Give Up On Being Human: The Sequel”. Much has been shared with me this year and the subject of living one's life needs to be pointed out to all reading. 

Collectively it looks as though living-a-life has been forgotten about or maybe it's just too much work.  We exist, sustained on the generation before us.  This (our) generation has bred disease. With all our technology the only thing that we will leave for the next generation is disease, plastic, debt and a raped planet. (Bloody depressing, I warned you.)

When you live with a disease the thought of dying looms everpresent. At times when the illness is stronger than the body, I lie in bed and think about how I will die.

Is this how I will lose my life? Lying in this bed for days on end, fatigued, short of breath, body full of torment, embarrassed to be seen, guilty for the pain that I see in the eyes of my loved ones?

Odd that the inhabitants of the world have division with each other.  When in the end we all share the soil.  Dust to dust, raise up into the clouds reincarnated as rain to fall back down to the soil.

At dark times I think what  my funeral may be like.  Family staring down on my corpse lying in a pine box. I hope they dress me in comfortable clothes. I do not want to be in the afterlife wearing a suit and tie.  T-shirt, loose pants and barefoot is how I wish to walk into the Promise Land. I can hear the mourner's voices peering down at me: he is no longer in pain, he is in a better place, he tried so hard, he is at peace.

Wrap my body in a sackcloth and lower me into the ground, place me under a tree. There is no better feeling than the comfort that the shade of a tree provides, whatever the temperature is I am always comfortable under the shade of a tree.  No embalming, especially no embalming fluid to line the inside of me. If you must preserve me fill me up with Scotch, coffee or red wine do it with something I love.  I have spent my life trying to keep my body clean of chemicals and toxins; do not fill me up with the poisons that I have spent a lifetime avoiding. No cemetery, no tombstone...let my decay feed the Earth. Compost is what I want to be.

Why is it that we can not place effort into our dying? It is the conceivable-unconceivable thought we all must come to terms with. 

Do not give up on being human...this year I was given intimate knowledge of rebirth without the need for the passing of my soul. A living death; I exhaled out my last breath and inhaled new life into the same body. A metamorphosis of sort.

The days since have been a life lead with the purpose of dying well. To remain alive on top of the soil with no regrets, enjoying the shade of the tree.

I think about the stories that will be shared with my daughter on my passing about how her Dad lived life, pushing himself in body, mind and spirit.  I can live with that being my legacy.  I feel as if I have done something purposefully with my life.  You the reader, the sharer of your stories with me have told me so.

Be alive; the body is meant to be in a state of creation and evolution at all times.  Take delight in the destination of dying well.  Die fully present with a smile of grace on your face.  This is how I will go out, with a smile of grace on my face. I will walk through the pearly gates of Heaven high-fiving Jesus as I walk by.

Do not give up on what it means to be human. From a person who thinks about death I have learned to live life. 

Life: nothing special, only a gift given to all...do not squander this gift for as of tonight you have one less day to live.

Until then, I’ll wait and listen for the silence to come.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pittsburgh, PA Light Up Night November 18, 2011

Photo give away day
This photograph is licensed under a creative commons licensing: Please feel free to use and distribute the photography & artwork in accordance with the licensing....
Download full size photo (HERE)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Confession ~ Creative Nonfiction

People tell me their confessions. For my entire life for as long as I can remember people reveal their sins to me to release their souls from the burden of having to carry the weight of their transgressions.  Strangers, friends, associates, whomever needed a confidante for reasons unknown preferred me over a priest.

Being the keeper of other people's dark secrets is a painful weight. I walk with the sins of others on my back.  I often wonder if their sins manifest as disease in my body? A conversation of confession today, tomorrow my illness flares up. What am I supposed to do with their immorality?  I have no place to dispose it, I must absorb it into my own existence. 

The conversations always start out the same way.  I sit, smile, nod along and the dialogue always drifts toward their wrongdoings. I imagine this is what a life review must feel like. Releasing your demons without fear of retribution. To list the heartache that you have given rise to yourself and others without the damnation of Hell looming.

To this day I have no idea why people choose me to bare their souls to. They just do. They all say the same thing, “You listen so well, I do not feel as if you're judging me at all”.  I think to myself the exact same thing every time, “Usually, at the moment you feel relief for not being judged is the actual moment you should be judged."  But I never say it aloud. I keep the reoccurring thought to myself.  As always I just smile, nod and say thank you for sharing.  It’s not as if I do not care what they are saying, it is that I am so numb to the experience that I think the lack of expression on my face becomes a comfort to them.

I am what you would call a spiritual person, whatever that may mean. My life has been one of personal study and practice of the spiritual arts. Spiritual arts...I like that phrasing. I like to think of the mystical path in that way. Spirit and art our about surrendering to the unknown. Sex, drugs and exercise are also but that's another conversation.

Surrendering is akin to gardening; you must till the soil, plant seeds if you ever want to see what may arise. You must “do the work”.

Habitually people think of the divine world as a gift given to the chosen, similar to the way we think of how a composer perceives music. That the score appears whole, magically complete pulled out of nirvana and all the composer has to do is jot it down for others to perform. That is not at all how it happens. You must surrender to the muse, plant the garden, care for the plants to see what blossoms. Only then does the sacred appear.

This is what I have learned: to be heard, that is all people seem to want. Seven billion people on the planet and we all spend a lifetime searching for someone to listen to us. We are not seeking advice, consolation or penance, just simply a human eardrum to accept the vibration of our voice. 

This is what I must do; listen. I tried to avoid sitting in the confessional, yet this is my place to be.

The notion of sitting with the dying keeps ruminating in my head. The idea that my listening may be of help in releasing them to the next world.

To acquire a knowledge of life I feel as if I must sit with death. A great deal of wisdom and compassion must be present at the end, so I hope.

I am the gardener to surrender.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Eleven Women - Solo Exhibit

This past Friday night Rachel Ryan had a gallery opening "Eleven Women - Solo Exhibit". Elizabeth, I & even Ella made it out on opening night. Its was a good turn out, its always satisfying to support a local artist and the coffee and wine wasn't bad either.....

Monday, November 14, 2011

It’s Possible ~ Race Day Report

It’s Possible ~ Race Day Report

Awoke at 6:15am, turned on the coffee pot, showered, yoga, next I read some e-mails.

Check the temperature, it was currently 52 degrees at 7am, this changes how I need to dress.  I thought I would have been running in the mid-30’s for November in Pittsburgh. Run upstairs (trying not to wake the wife) and swap out shorts for pants and a bandana for a winter hat.

Poured myself a cup of coffee, filled up my travel mug for the drive out and fueled the body with a slice of peanut butter toast.  Pinned my race number to my shirt.  Wool toe-socks on, five-finger shoes on my feet and I’m out the door to run my first half marathon (or so I thought).

The morning air was warm and sweet with the last of the fragrance from leaves adding to the aroma. The morning twilight was starting to burn off, hints of pinks and purples lined the horizon.  The sky was filled with long drifts of white clouds splashed upon a canvas of blue (great day to take photos).  To my left hanging in the sky there was a full moon, sitting there in the empty space, no clouds to obstruct the view, only a rock in the sky to remind us that we all share this one planet. I often wonder if there were multiple moons in the atmosphere if that wold change our view on how we treat this planet. If we were to see three uninhabitable moons sitting there, corpses of dead planets, would that change us?

I arrive at North Park 15 minutes before race time, for a few moments I became fearful that I would be late because of morning park traffic caused by a duck crossings...ducks are not fast.  This then followed up by a herd of deer crossing the road.

Find a parking spot and head down for the pre-race kick off rally. This is only my second time running a race, never before was I in this environment. The room was electric, high energy to say the least. All ages, all sizes and all types of crazies filled up the room.

The race director stands up on a table and goes over the race rules: be nice to other runners. That was it.  Then he goes on to talk about changing the course route, it will now be a 16 mile run, not 13. WHAT? I have never ran more than 13 miles in my life.  The crowd gives a grumble of disappointment, a few cheers but not many. Later towards the end of the race I would discover that the entire course would cover closer to 18 miles.

Mile 1 - 6
Shot gun start and we’re off.  I see a man wearing a race t-shirt from a 50 mile race. “OK”, I think to myself, “I will let the ponytail guy set the pace for me, I will gently follow his lead.” The race started with a long run up a hill (a foreshadow of what is to come). This would be the only time that I would be on pavement for any stretch of time. Atop of the hill we turn left and we are in the woods. This part of the race was great; the landscape was beautiful with genteel rolling hills and sun still on the horizon to our left. We ran verging on military in style: quiet and in a long line formation. We came out of the woods to the first aid station.  My time was 6 miles in 54 minutes, I was more than happy to say the least. Drank down a small glass of water and on to the next leg of the run.

Mile 7-11
This is where the pack of runners broke apart and I found myself running by myself. This felt like trail running: virtually alone in the woods with the soil under my feet and a still mind to guide me through the path. I could see runners in front of me in the distance and a few behind me but never would I pass or be passed for the entire route. This is the part of the trail that I knew from my days of hiking with my dog.  One of the longest hill climbs of the day would be during this section. As I approached the climb I could see a long line of runners walking the hill (“Thank God”, I think to myself because in no way did I want to attempt running that monster of a hill).  I did get the chance to have one conversation on the hill climb. It was with the 50 miler-ponytail-guy from the start of the race. He told me about how extremely difficult this course is and that he is using today as practice for future 50 miler (I would hear more conversations like this as the race went on). Atop of the hill the ponytail guy takes off and I am again by myself, just soil and thoughts to keep me company.

At the end of mile 11 my time was 1hour and 43 minutes. I jogged into the aid station. PB&J sandwiches, pretzels, chips, candy, different colored watery drinks...think of a 5-year old’s birthday party. They had it, I needed it. Downed a couple of drink, ate half of a PB&J and discovered how out of my element I was.

As I rest and eat and talk with the other runners, I start to question if I picked a race greater than my ability. I have a conversation with man training for his “next” Ironman competition, a retired Navy Seal and two others training for their next 100 mile race.  As for me, I am training for nothing; all the training I did was to get me to this point in the race.

I am flooded with feelings of insecurity about my abilities, but on the other hand a sensation of “Damn...I am hanging with a Navy Seal, an Ironman competitor and a couple of ultra distance runners.”  This would be the last time of the day that I would be with this group of people; I’m pretty sure they were home, showered and eating before I would even complete the race.  But hey, I hung with the those people for 11 miles. That felt great.

Mile 12-13 (13.1: the goal mile)
After leaving the aid station the trail was lined up with runners back into military formation.  This part of the trail was all about elevation: you were either going up a hill or coming down a hill.  The leaves that lined the ground became as slippery as ice with all the foot traffic pressing them into the ground. Footing became challenging.  Only once did I fall during the entire day and it was during this part. I was going down hill and luckily there was a tree to break my fall (ouch).

Mile 13 at 2 hours and 7 minutes.
I did it. I ran my first half marathon.  Alone in the woods with only a phone app to give me any sense of accomplishment.

Mile 14 to the Finish.
This is where things got painfully hard. Mentally I was done. Marathon goal reached...despite the rest of the miles to the end.

The terrain continued to be rough. Zig-zags of climbing hills. My phone battery went dead at mile 15, 2 hours and 33 minutes into the race.

At this point I have run two miles further than at any time before and was on my legs a half hour longer than ever before until now.

I ran up next to a lady all in black and she asked me how my toe-shoes were treating me. I told her good.  She politely asked me to pass her because she just ran a 50 mile race yesterday and she did not want to slow me down.  I smile at her and say “God Bless you for the motivation” and she tells me “It’s possible”.

On the next down hill I came out of the woods back to the the starting point.  My wife, daughter and father were there to cheer me on. “I did it”, the breathless words came out of my body. My father went to get me some fluids, my daughter played in the park and I looked into my wife's eyes.

“It’s possible” I think to myself. Nine months earlier my wife and I were trying to figure out life if I became immobile.  There I stood in pain, not from the disease but from the effort of living.  Having control over your pain, to know where it’s coming from, to know that you are stronger than disease is intoxicating.  Pain from effort feels so much better than pain from a transfixed, motionless state of mind due to some course of disease that you think you must follow.

After the race, I’m home laying on the sofa, my wife comes downstairs to share an e-mail with me that we received. The e-mail is from a woman in the medical industry who is taking care of a Multiple Sclerosis patient. She shares with us the condition of her patient’s progression. Not good.  Then she goes on to share with us that she has been reading my writings to her patient and the improvement that is starting to blossom in her. She is starting to stand on her own and exercise. This brought tears to our eyes. My wife cried as she read this to me.  All we could think was thank God that my condition has never progressed that far, and thank God that my story, my words, were a source of inspiration to her.

To end my race day with such a message of hope was a remarkable moment for both me and my wife.
That is the goal of running: not the miles or time but the awareness of possibilities that live in all of you.

This is what I want to share…..It’s possible….whatever you want is possible.  Living with a disease is nothing special. Do not give your body, mind and soul to something that is not special.  Live your life with the heart of a servant with the strength of fighter….


Next race Thanksgiving morning.  


Friday, November 11, 2011

22.5K & Guthy-Jackson Charitable Foundation

I will be running 1/2 marathon (22.5K) this Sunday to raise money for the Guthy-Jackson Charitable Foundation for NMO (Devic's disease). Please spread the word.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Steroids, Fog, Little People & a 22K

Six years ago I sat on the sofa alone with chemicals being dump into to my body.  A needle stuck into my vein, a tube sending clear fluid into my body, a bag of steroids hung atop a stand next to me letting gravity do its work. This ritual was repeated twice a day for a seven day stretch at a time.  What do I do while this outer-body experience slowly takes over my consciousness? I read a novel by Murakami, “Kafka on the Shore”.  Murakami writes in a subtle and surreal style that blends mundane and fantasy into a single thread; they are the perfect words to explain the altering experience of having chemicals shift your waking reality.

Over the next years the on-again-off-again experience of having mass doses of steroids dumped into my body would occur, almost seasonally it would seem. I would read a Murakami every time.  As the interior of my body would go on an unwanted journey I would give my mind a welcome journey of reading a book.  It was a simple recipe for getting through steroids: drink lots of miso soup, hold 25 minutes of meditation while laying flat on my bed and a Murakami novel to surrender my thoughts to. This became my cocktail of choice to survive the subtle and surreal madness of steroids.

After I finished the complete works of Murakami I decided “that’s it”, no more steroids for me. As a matter of fact, no more daily injections of anything. I even placed the Tylenol back on the shelf.  Bring on an attack, bring on an exacerbation; I will go solo fighting this disease.   No more chemicals, no more medicine. Just a glass of Scotch now and then to keep the demons at bay.

Then it happened. The attack.  Friday night at 1:55am, fast asleep, little people climb inside of me. Down my throat, they pass my heart to settle inside the middle of my spine.  They pull out a taser, the kind police use at riots to shock the unruly into submission. The little people start zapping and shocking my spine with large amounts of electricity. I convulse, I clinch all the muscles in my body at once, I flop around back and forth thinking of the image of a man in the electric chair. It’s like that but I’m lying in bed flat on my back. This goes on for three minutes, then the little people stop.  I lay there, breathless, scared, aware of the pummeled totality of my insides. I can feel not only my heartbeat but the entireness of my heat. I can feel the the complete circumference of my heart, I can feel the whole of my lungs, I am aware of all the organs in my chest, they all sit there as if they were placed there as foreign objects.

I wait for the little people to start attacking again, they do not, thankfully. It’s been months since the last attack and this assault was stronger than the previous ones.  At 2:55am I notice the clock. All quiet. The little people must have left. My breath slowly shallows and I drift off to sleep.

I awake at 7am. Zombie mode: not alive, not dead enough, have enough strength to drink coffee and stare out the window at the fallen leaves that cover the lawn.

Two day later I leave my house to go for a run, the little people have not returned in 48hrs. This is a good thing. I get out of my car and step onto the path.  I take the photo above and think to myself,  “Running into the fog is the perfect metaphor for living a life with a disease. I’m either running into the fog or out of the fog; either way I keep running.”

This Sunday I will run a 22k trail race to help raise awareness/funds for Neuromyelitis Optica (Devices) Spectrum Disease.

Started reading a new Murakami novel “1Q84”

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Current Reading: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
Current Music: Live at Hollywood High by Elvis Costello
Mood: Thankful
Sounds: Quite house
Smells: Cold morning air
Temperature:46 degrees
Thoughts: There is no violence in math.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pitsburgh Night Skyline

Click on photo to enlarge to see the detail in the skyline, not to often that you see stars in a Pittsburgh sky.