Life and Death: A Different Sort Of Birthday

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3408605763_92d0bc3049_b   5th of July, 2015. Before dawn. Most of the east coast is still sleeping.

In my typical fashion, I reach a lazy hand over the bedside table and smack the snooze button for the tenth time, annoyed at the damned ear-piercing alarm for performing the job I assigned to it. I finally muster the strength to drag my carcass out of bed to prep for another 12-hour round of mental taxation as an ER charge nurse.

Silence.

I live with my folks currently, so I take extra care not to disturb anyone as I do my morning routine. It’s a Sunday at that, so I won’t be crossing morning paths with my dad on our respective ways to work. I trudge down the hallway into the kitchen, scarf a few spoonfuls of Apple Jacks, down a glass of water, pop half a 5-Hour Energy (I know, I know; I’m an over-caffeinated work in progress), and quietly shut myself into the bathroom, still half asleep.

I kneel and turn the cold bath faucet on as part of my wakeup routine, to shock myself awake, and to tame my chaotic morning mane. A few seconds before plunging my head under the running water, I could swear I hear the muffled sound of my dad yelling in the next room. Weird. They usually sleep in on Sundays. I turn the water off and listen.

Silence.

We have this geriatric Rat terrier who, whilst in her prime, once tried to check out permanently via school bus tire. After miraculously sustaining zero injuries, the skid marks across her back faded, and she lived many more years. We’ve considered admitting her into a canine nursing home on account of her half dozen life-threatening diagnoses. Dear Lord, I thought, she’s finally hopped the twig to Abraham’s bosom.

I rise to make sure everything is OK. Of a sudden, before my hand reaches the door, it swings violently open, my dad gripping the knob with white knuckles, breathing heavily . . . focused . . . alarmed.

“Hey. Can you come check on your mom?”

My heart skips a beat as the adrenaline permeates. We rush to the bedroom, where I find her lying in bed, cold, listless, pale, sweating . . . and not breathing. I recognize the signs of cardiac failure immediately. I’m struck with a fear.

Stop. Breathe. Keep it together.

I collect my thoughts as my dad dials 911. He begins a series of trips in and out of the house, alternating between flagging down the ambulance and checking on his beloved wife.

“Hey mom! How you doing?” I shout in jovial terror, struggling to maintain my positivity as I put my fingertips to the side of her neck. I feel a very faint, very slow pulse. “Hey Mom!” I shout again.

She suddenly takes a shallow breathe, moans and whispers faintly, “I’m fine. I feel a little sick. Don’t call the ambulance.” Good. At least she’s herself. Even near death, she’s worried about stressing us.

Then she mumbles that she thinks she’s going to pass out. I watch the life slowly depart from her eyes. She stops breathing again. I instinctively look for the patient Code Cart which contains every life-saving medication known to man, shock pads, heart monitor, oxygen, compression board, intravenous setup. But alas, I’m not in the ER. All I have are my hands and my scrambled brain. I refocus and reach to lower her to the floor. I prepare to start compressions on my mom. Just before I lift her, she takes another shallow breath.

“Ugh. I feel just awful. I’ll be fine. Really. You don’t need to call anyone.”

I put a hand to her cheek and look into her heavy eyes. I take a deep breath and control a lingering tear as I pull it back together.

“Mom, I need you to trust me.”

She hesitates. I see irony in her eyes: This wonderful woman, to whom I’ve entrusted my life for so many years, now asked to place her life into my hands.

“OK, Tripp. I trust you.” Her lip quivers as she fights a tear, that dreadfully liberating release of control. Once more the life fades from her eyes. Once more I prepare for compressions. Once more she takes in a breath and comes back. We ride this roller coaster four to five times for what seems like an eternity.

My dad finally rushes in with the EMS crew. Mom seems to be returning to her senses, and is fully conversational by the time they lift her into the back of the ambulance. I step into the truck to tell her I love her and that she’s in good hands. The paramedic, a personal friend, runs a cardiac monitor strip and we both agree on the probable diagnosis.

We slam the back doors, the engine revs and they speed away as the day breaks, lights flashing. I trot back inside to help my dad get some things packed for a hospital stay. Of a sudden, the world stops as an hour of suppressed chaotic emotions surge to the conscious surface. We hug each other briefly, have a small meltdown, pull it back together and finish packing for a few romantic nights of white walls, sterile breezes, incessant beeping and waiting. Lots of waiting.

The cardiologists did stellar work on a heart so big that she probably feels guilty for “burdening her family” as she reads this post, as if she had any control over the electrical impulses of her own heart. There is no burden, only love. And we’re glad mom decided to stick around a while longer. Her recent birthday reignites my utmost gratitude for life.

Take heart my friends. We can live in fear of what we cannot change, or we can live with gratitude for what we would never change. Be bold. Seek to cherish your life and your loved ones, not out of fear of losing them, but out of simple love for every precious moment.

Thank you, mom. I love you dearly.

Image by J E Smith at https://www.flickr.com/photos/statusfrustration/3408605763

 

Taking A Cold, Hard Beating In Life

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Photo Credit: M&R Glasgow Link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/glasgows/2200685325/in/photolist-4mt65r-ekrgJt-a6vJdG-5FH4VD-uF9ih-8XjWpc-rG1Ab2-rzxLc5-waqrBf-v1cxSC-u87vbu-tnA3Gy-wnFUzk-qMamXQ-qTnkp1-tFD3rq-7UTZAg-7Fk5f2-hMPcyx-dQCf9W-wTyKP-bWiVm2-72FndA-cJWEi-6dS18j-kja511-jAnYzN-p8LucZ-8txYwK-cE5u1w-63Sp2P-ku75L6-bwDfTi-csKbXb-cB5abE-4RGYkK-63WCb7-762KYT-7v33Ly-762Jb8-4AE4Gy-766Fij-5x79sv-6KiwBU-63WCmE-5TGymf-4LHZv2-5HyVxA-63WC27-63WC6j  The last nine months or so have delivered a few harsh blows in life, the latest of which has left me reeling with fear, and the blast radius has affected some of those closest to me. It happens to us all. I’ve put a lot of time and work into transforming my once permanently cynical mentality. But none of us is immune to a breakdown from time to time. The last few days, I’ve found myself uncharacteristically asking which day will be the one where I finally throw in the towel. A small but significant memory has begun to show up for me repeatedly, no doubt a result of this damned positive brain training I’ve been practicing the last few years.

I’ve dabbled in several martial arts forms over the years, including Aikido, Hapkido, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, Jeet Kune Do, and Kempo Karate. A few years back, I entered Faglier’s Kempo Karate in Augusta, GA, home of some of the biggest badasses of the CSRA. I’m proud to say I’ve trained on the same mat as local MMA champs Jason Faglier (Sr.), Jason Faglier (Jr.), and Alex Faglier. Until that time, I had mostly trained in controlled application of joint locks, chokes, throws and takedowns. Faglier’s was the first dojo I had visited where they routinely practiced full contact sparring, and anyone could try it.

I appreciated this new opportunity, figuring if I was ever to gain real confidence in a street fight situation, I should probably learn to take a punch and give one back. So I dove in head first as usual. I picked one of the biggest, baddest mofos in the dojo and asked him to spar with me after class. Go big or go home, right? His name was Matt. He was an advanced brown belt, MMA and competition experienced, and he also happened to outweigh me by around 80 pounds of solid power. He cheerfully obliged. Come to think of it, perhaps that should have worried me.

Anyway, we chomped down on our mouth pieces, gloved up, and stepped onto the mat for three rounds. Around, oh, fifteen to twenty seconds into Round 1, I was gasping for air like a chain-smoking asthmatic. I was in pretty considerable shape at the time, but let me tell you something: Being winded in the gym with a jump rope is one thing; it’s another thing altogether when you add The Iceman, delivering shots to your rib cage like a jackhammer to a Popsicle stick birdhouse. I dropped my gloves to insinuate I was done. He swiftly replied by delivering a solid right cross to my jaw. It’s hazy, but as best I recall, I believe I momentarily saw a grinning purple unicorn wearing gold clogs, a Black and Mild clinched between his teeth, tap dancing on Matt’s left shoulder.

I shook my head and regained my focus. “Never let your guard down,” Matt said in a lowered voice with a piercing stare. “Never give up.” It was obvious I was going three rounds with him whether I felt like it or not. Round 2: Shot to the nose. Dazed. Another shot to the jaw. Dizzy. Shot to the solar plexus. I was fighting the urge to yark. Round 3: By this point I was secretly just hoping for a knockout blow to put me out of my misery. I was struggling to keep my gloves up. But every time I would drop my guard, he would deliver another shot to my face. “Stay with me. I know you’re tired, but you can’t quit. Come on, man, stay with me. Stay with me.

After three eternities, the Round 3 bell rang, and I realized I was still alive. I had survived three rounds with one of the best fighters in the dojo. He grinned with spirit, slapped me on the shoulder, and told me I’d done well. And he reiterated, “Never, ever, EVER give up.” We bowed and exited the mat. I could only assume what he meant by “I’d done well” was that I hadn’t vomited, had a seizure, pissed myself, or offered up the ghost. He had pushed me WELL past my level of comfort. But he had ignited a fire deep within me to push on, despite several very convincing urges by my mind to throw in the towel. See the first paragraph. Sound familiar?

Every visit to the dojo after that I would step onto the mat with him again. I took beating after beating . . . at first. But then something began to happen. After several weeks, I discovered I could take several hard hits in succession without losing focus. I could swiftly respond with my own flurry of strikes and maintain my defensive guard. I could anticipate an incoming strike based on his body movements. I could spot holes in my opponent’s defenses. And I could make it all three rounds and still have the stamina to go three more.

Some blows in life can leave you in such a state of shock and dismay that you’d swear you could hear the gentle whisper of Death offering sweet (albeit false) relief. Whenever I take a crushing blow in life, or several crushing blows in succession, as seems to have been the case these last several months, when the panic sets in, when I feel like I might puke or pass out from the sheer stress of it all, I start recalling those same sensations as I went head to head with Matt. In my mind’s eye, I can see and hear him, voice lowered, determined stare, urging me to press on, to never give up, to stay with him, even as he beat the shit out of me, because he saw something within me that I didn’t see within myself, and he knew he would be doing me a great disservice by letting me throw in the towel.

I can still feel those body and head shots like torpedoes, rattling my chest and brain, leaving me dizzy and gasping for air, not unlike the aftermath of some of life’s atomic bombs, but slowly etching a permanent message onto my heart and soul: that though I may feel pain, guilt, fear, panic, anger, sadness, frustration, hopelessness, and a whole host of other vivid human emotions at any given time, and though they may FEEL very real, even debilitating, at the end of the day, when it’s all said and done, at my core, I’m still a fucking gladiator.  See Two Breakthroughs, Part 2 of 2: Fearless

For what they’ve taught me, I’d like to acknowledge my friends at Faglier’s Kempo Karate for being a part of my mental and physical training. You can find them here for more details.

If I took pictures of every injury I’d sustained in martial arts, I’d have a small bible. Here are a few minor injuries:

After Percocet. Broken and dislocated.

Head contusion. Bow staff to the temple.

A Prelude

It is early October of 2012. I am lying alone on the floor of my bedroom for the fourth consecutive day with thoughts of suicide becoming more frequent, Fleet Foxes’ “Helplessness Blues” album blaring into my ears (“Helplessness Blues” is a phenomenal album, by the way, regardless of whether or not I choose to contemplate suicide while I’m listening to it). I am exhausted. The lifelong pendulum swing between exhilaration and depression, between laughter and anxiety, between peace and hopelessness, has finally brought me to this place.

After a decade of total independence, I’m forced to move into my parents’ home for financial reasons; I have finally graduated nursing school, only to flunk the nursing board exam, which shoots down any chances of regaining independence in the near future; my kids are slated to move to the opposite side of the country with my ex-wife and her new husband, a recent sickening reminder of the still-lingering fallout from my unexpected divorce two years ago; and child support and medical expenses aren’t taking a vacation while I dance in the vicinity of complete psychosis. I look into the future, where I routinely go to find possibilities for happiness, and see nothing. For the first time in my life, I have officially thrown in the towel. I’m through with trying, through with caring, through with dreaming. I’m done. I’ve resolved to stay here until I grow some balls and figure out how to end it.

I envision a probable end to this way of being as the orneriest old codger in the nursing home, giving royal hell to every nurse, clerk, aid and co-inhabitant on the premises, infamous for my ability to rabbit kick, scream obscenities, and fling creamed corn at the nurse who is trying her damnedest to administer the last in a series of sedatives, which two doses before would have put a full-grown wildebeest into a coma. And in this rigid state of bitterness would I spend my last days, with still-burning anger at my ex-wife for deserting me, at my kids for whatever path they chose that wasn’t the path I imagined for them, at my parents for whatever I decided they did wrong in raising me, at the bill collectors for tirelessly demanding back the debts I chose to incur, at my nurses, at the world, at God, at myself, and so on, and so on.

My friends, the probable future has changed. Those who have known me in the before and in the after will tell you I am unrecognizable. Those who have only known me in the after routinely make the assumption that I’m naturally this upbeat about life, which I find slightly amusing. In fact, I’m quite naturally inclined to hate my life and to live with regret, a condition of chronic dissatisfaction as manifested by my dropping out of (and reentering) college four times, moving ten times, and changing jobs over twenty times by my thirtieth birthday. The majority of my days have been spent as a victim of circumstance. This victim’s identity would breed a fatalistic mentality early in life, and I would begin to routinely interpret all life experiences as hopeless dead ends and traps. But like a great cosmic puzzle coming perfectly together, this was to be a prelude to several particular events which have served to permanently reshape my way of being, with a life-altering transformation beginning somewhere around 2012.

I am creating the possibility of using this blog as a vehicle to share, freely and openly, the events and resulting insights that have brought me to this place in life. Dear friends, when you find yourself within a realm of such peace and joy, which your former self would have considered utterly impossible, you want nothing more than to give it away, to be a privileged witness of that kind of transformation within the life of a fellow human being. It is for that reason that I created The Impossibility Movement.

To vitality, my friends.