Is life fair?

For those of you who read my Friday blog, I have a confession to make. It was more or less motivated or should I say precipitated by my imminent appointment with my doctor.  The previous week Dr. Nunes, the urologist I was seeing did a biopsy (should I say 12 since that is how many samples she took) on my prostate. I was coming in on Friday to get the results.  Needless to say, I was preoccupied Friday morning with thoughts or worries of a negative diagnosis. Upon meeting with Dr. Nunes, I immediately asked “were the growths benign or malignant.”  I was told that it was not that simple. She explained that “my growths were indeed cancer” (BAD NEWS!) but that they were a “Gleason 6” (WHAT THE DEVIL DID THIS MEAN?) and there was still plenty of time to make a decision on how to proceed (That’s great, like two days or twenty years?).
Dr. Nunes then explained to me THE options. After hearing them, I asked her if there were not some other options like pills, drugs, herbs or spells that could make the cancer go away,  She was sad to inform me that “modern miracle medicine” was not that “modern” or at least that miraculous yet. The real options (which I shall not bore you with) all had potential side effects, not the least of which to my mind, was impotence.  You will understand that the worries for me about impotence were not so much for my sake, as it was for Karen.  How could I leave her frustrated night after night? J 
Anyway, my choice of action has been to wait and see.  I have been gratified since making this choice five short days ago now to find out the following:

  •       My potential life expectancy with surgery is still about 15 more years
  •       My life expectancy may depend on how long I wait
  •       I have the number one disease for men in the world
  •       There is no such thing as a Gleason Stage 6
  •       Prostate cancer is no big thing
So, getting back to my Friday blog, I was going to title it “Life’s Not Fair or Is It?  By sheer coincidence, that is the subject of the Men’s discussion group that I am moderating in Luck today. Every other Tuesday as many as 20 men get together in Luck, Wisconsin at the library to discuss issues ranging from Chaos theory to “Is life fair or not?” I referred to this issue in my Friday blog and somehow it seemed apropos to the meeting I was facing on Friday. Let me explain. I am a nice guy (at least nicer now then a few years ago). I pay my taxes. I kiss children. (Shame on W.C. Fields for saying that “Anyone who dislikes kids and dogs cannot be all bad.”) I love dogs!  I give to the poor and other assorted charities.  I slow my car to let old people cross the street.  I support the right or should I say left political candidates. I go to church (every other year) on Christmas and Easter.  I still work and pay taxes to help the younger generation with their social security burden for the older folks.  I am not even collecting Social Security yet.  So how could any God (assuming one exists, which I confess I do not) but if he/she did, how could she/he select me as a candidate for CANCER!  I’m one of the good guys.  I should mention that I am for gender equality, equal rights for minorities including gay marriage and if push comes to shove, I will take the Packers over the Vikings any day. 
Thus, we arrive at perhaps one of the most fundamental existential questions of all time.  Is life fair?  Many religious people, and some not so religious, link this question with their faith and hope in a just God.  I have heard it said many times “How could God let such a thing happen.” You may be familiar with the book “When bad things happen to Good People.”  If there a just God how could he or she let BAD things happen to us GOOD people?  I am marching off at 1PM today to find out what the men in the Luck discussion group think about this question. If you are an assiduous reader of my blog, you will already know what I think on this question. I am not going to contaminate anyone’s thoughts with my ideas at this time.  I will comment tomorrow more on the results from today’s discussion in Luck. For now, I will ask you to post your comments and ideas. 
The question for you today is simple: “Is life fair?”  

How much longer will it take?

How much longer?  How much longer? How much longer will it take?  From the point of view of the person waiting, longer can seem forever. From the point of view of one trying to get ready, longer may seem like a very short time. We say the movie was very long, the speech was very long; the job took a long time to get done. What this means is that we were not really excited about the time we had to wait.  Long is not a very precise word, but it generally denotes a length of time that is greater than we expected or more time than we wanted to spend.  When we are bored, time seems very long indeed.
In men speak, “how much longer” might be translated as “would you please hurry up, I would like to leave now.”  In women speak; the answer might be “I still need to get ready, would you please stop rushing me.”  If men and women have different language and thought patterns, do we differ in our conceptions of time and our methods for handling time?  To some extent, there may be differences due to culture and social influences.  However, I think the concept of long is more related to expectations and where expectations differ by culture then long will have a different meaning regardless of gender. 
I was once told that Asians think in centuries, Europeans think in decades and Americans think in weeks. If you don’t agree about this, think of how obsessed American business is with the quarterly report and end of month figures, not to mention the daily stock market prices. Americans are very pragmatic, but we typically have a very short time horizon. Our conception of long is very short compared to other cultures.  Hence, we think of a long war as anything over four years, where many cultures would think of a long war as lasting decades if not centuries. Think of the European wars than went on for over a hundred years.  Rome was in a perpetual state of warfare for many centuries. 
How long is long for you? How long is long for your spouse or partner?  Do you think gender plays a role in defining long?  Does it vary depending on who is waiting and who is not?  What role does patience play in waiting?  What role does respect play? Do you hesitate to start things because they will “take too long?”  What if you had more tolerance for “long” in your life?  

It’s Time to Go!

It’s Time to Go!  A brief play in one act by John Persico Jr.
The Time:     Today
The Setting:  My living room
Characters:  John the blogger
                      Charon:  The boatman who carries souls from this world to the next
John:  Sitting peacefully in his living room reading a book.  Suddenly, a strange looking man appears:
John:  “Who are you?”
Charon:  “It’s time to go!”
John:  “Go where?”
Charon:  “You will find out when you get there.”
John:  “What if I don’t want to go?”
Charon:  “You don’t really have a choice.”
John:  “Can you tell me where I am going?”
Charon: “No”
John:  “Am I going to heaven or hell?”
Charon:  “I don’t make that decision.”
John:  “I am very sorry but I am not ready to go.”
Charon:  “That is what they all say.”
John:  “Look, I have really just started to enjoy life.  I am due to collect Social Security in September and things would really be good then.  Couldn’t we postpone this trip for a few years?” 
Charon:  “No”
John:  “What about the chance to say goodbye to some loved ones and people I have not seen for several years, would a few days make any difference?” 
Charon:  “It is too late for that.”
John:  “I don’t think this is very fair. I have been leading a good life. I give to charity. I have been helping other people and I am finally in that part of my life where I am beginning to hope that I can make a difference in this world.  Couldn’t I get some sort of a delay?” 
Charon:  “No”
John:  “What about trading me for someone else? There are a lot of people who this world would not miss.  Why not take one of them?”
Charon:  “Would you want me to take your wife Karen instead?” 
John:  “No, of course not!”
Charon:  “Then please come along. It’s time to go.”
John: “Look, what if I made a deal with the devil to buy my soul?  Is that a possibility?”
Charon:  “No”
Charon:  “It’s time to go.” 
John:  “I really don’t want to go.  Could I have a few hours to say goodbye to Karen and Jeanine and a few of my close friends.”
Charon:  “No”
John:  “There were many times in my life when you could have taken me and I would not have cared. Now just when I am really starting to enjoy life, you come along and say it’s time to go.  It’s not fair.”
Charon:  “I seem to recall you telling your kids and students that life was not fair.”
John:  “Well, maybe I have changed my mind.”
Charon:  “Why are you making my job harder? It’s time to go.”
John:  “Sorry, but you are a real stubborn SOB! Is there no deal we can make?”
Charon: “No”
John:  “What about one last meal?”
Charon:  “No”
John:  “How about a last minute speech”

Charon:  “No, it’s time to go”
John:  “Still does not seem fair.”
John:  Fades away in the distance with Charon the boatman
When it’s your time to go, will you be ready and willing?  What if your time was today?  

What lessons can we get from studying sand?

To speak of the “sands of time” provokes an image of shifting sands and dunes with the grains of sand being blown helter skelter.  The shape of sand dunes is constantly changing and taking on new forms. Sand seems so weak and has such a lack of substance.  We warn people not to build their house on sand.  Sand is not a good foundation.   Our lives and efforts can be like this sand. Think about how brief our lives and accomplishments are particularly when measured against the human races time line of progress.  It is very interesting that some achievements of humankind are still studied and talked about (for instance, the steam engine and polio vaccine) while the vast multitude of human efforts are long forgotten.  
What makes some deeds and inventions so important and worthwhile that they will last as long as the sands continue to blow and shift?  You are likely to say “well, they made a big impact on the human race or they made an important contribution to progress.”  If so, were these events just random or were they as predetermined as evolution seems to be?  There are many people who believe life is predestined and that all the patterns of life are predetermined.  My best friend keeps telling me that “choice is an illusion.”  I argue that while the system and government we live in has a major impact on our choices, we can still make choices that change things.  He denies that we change anything and insists we are simply part of the overall flow in life and that my so-called choices are really myths that I believe in. 
So looking back at history, did we really choose these epochal events that changed humanity, or did the events choose us? Did Socrates, Jesus and Abraham Lincoln really have a choice in their lives or where they simply under influences they had no control over?  If we could go back and change things in the past, would our lives be any different today?   If we could go back and reorder events, which ones would we redo or leave out? What if we had not invented the atom bomb? What if the very possibility of the atom bomb and relativity never existed? What if Einstein had never been born?  How would the sands of time have been different? Alternatively, would the inevitable blowing and shifting still have caused the same patterns? Would we still have had Hitler and Stalin?  Would someone else had invented the atom bomb and plunged us into another Cold War?  
What choices that you make today will affect your life tomorrow and the day after?  What accomplishments or efforts of your life will fit into the progress of the human race? What achievements or goals are you striving for that will be remembered in the sands of time?  Are they worth the effort? 

Can we change our destiny?

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow; a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.” (Macbeth, V, v, 19, Shakespeare)
The above passage is perhaps the most famous speech in literature, spoken by Macbeth after learning of his wife’s suicide.  Why does this macabre and depressing analysis of life hold so much meaning for us? Is it because, like Macbeth, we sometimes feel a powerlessness and futility to life?  What is our “recorded time?”  Is this the time we are destined to live? Do you believe the time and date of your death is fixed? 
I think it might be inevitable to believe that we are fixed by fate and that life is controlled by forces and events beyond our power to influence. Nevertheless, we see countless examples of people who have changed the world for the better by denying the concept of predestination and fate.  Macbeth brought his own destiny upon him by his greed and avarice.  We go through life making choices and these choices decide what we will become.  We are more than candles and poor players upon a stage.  We may not quite be Nietzsche’s Superman, but we are a great deal more than fools and idiots. We are not all powerful but neither are we powerless.
I am always reminded of the serenity prayer: Please help me to know the difference between those things I can change and those things I cannot.  This is one example of pure wisdom. We can change some things and we cannot change others. What will you become if you do not try? What can you change today in your life?  What needs to be changed that you have felt powerless to change? What destiny are you following that is painful?  Who can you find that could help you change?  There is always someone out there who can and will help you?  Do you need to find that person today? 

What day is it today?

When was the last time you asked the question or wondered what day it was?  It’s kind of a weird but in a way fun experience to totally lose track of the day it is.  For a minute, it is like “who am I and where am I.”  You feel disoriented and like you are out of sync with reality.  I would bet that for many of you, the last time this happened was when you were on vacation.  Many of us put our schedules away when we go on a vacation and we lose track of time.  It is a very exhilarating experience and one that is all too soon over.  For a brief instant, we are truly living in the moment and not worried about tomorrow and the problems of the future. The present has become sufficient unto itself.  
Sometimes you can lose track of the day for a longer period of time that just a few brief moments. I have been up to the Boundary Waters canoeing on three different occasions.  There was no email, cell phones, TV or newspapers where I went.  It took about three days and all of a sudden, I realized that I was not sure what day it was anymore.  Was today Sunday or Wednesday?  There was nothing in the trees or waters or sky that shouted out “Hey stupid, its 2 PM on Tuesday 2012 the month of May.”  No cosmic clocks, no beeping cell phone, no one saying “it’s time to get up, it’s time to go to school, it’s time to go to work, it’s time to go home.”  Each moment was the only time that existed.   It was either time to paddle, to eat, to camp, to fish or to portage.  One step at a time, one paddle at a time that was all it took to get through the day.  No one telling you, “it’s time to go.”  We paddled, swam, and ate just when we felt like it. 
Anyone writing a blog on time is someone whom you should suspect of either being a recovering “Time- aholic” or someone who needs to recover from being a “time-aholic.”  A time-aholic is someone who is addicted to time.  They must be on time, up on time, down on time, right on time, aware of the time, ready to go on time, there on time, done on time, start on time, know the time and of course never without the time.  They are so concerned with time that it governs their whole life. Like an addict on crack or some other drug, they can’t live without time and they mark the time between their fixes.  The time fix is getting done on time or starting on time.  A high awaits the time-aholic when they are rewarded with a new schedule or a new time goal.  Schedules and commitments are like a pure drug for the time junkie.  What would life be without time?  What would life be without goals and deadlines? 
How interesting that while I confess, I probably have been and maybe still am a time-aholic, I would guess this fits many of my readers as well.  It is interesting to speculate on whether this addiction stops when you retire.  If you think it does, you should read my blog on retirement.  I note that most retired people I know are now busier than when they are working.  The addiction does not quit just because you go on vacation or even when you retire.  The addiction is something that you must kick like you would any other bad habit. Many retirees simply adopt a new set of habits to slake their time addiction. Instead of running to work each day, they run to the golf course, or run to their bridge club or some other scheduled activity.  Try kicking a fixed schedule and see how long you can go without a time deadline or a scheduled appointment?  If you are like me, it might be a day or two and then you will need your fix.  “Oh, for a good appointment or someplace I need to be on time.” 
Being a time-aholic is perhaps a rather harmless addiction, but perhaps not.  Maybe we would all be happier without so much time in our lives.  We long for retirement and perhaps it is because we need to get off the clock.  We would like to kick the habit and we think that retirement will allow us to do this.  We delude ourselves into forgetting the real reason that we are addicted in the first place.  Ask yourself this question: “What is the essence of any addiction.”   I believe that if you can honestly answer this question, you would find the answer (as with any drug addiction), is that we would rather not live with ourselves as we are, so we substitute other things to fill our lives up with.  We do drugs or “time” to take our minds off of the present reality.  We don’t want to know who we are.  The addiction with time prevents us from really knowing ourselves since we are so busy with external stuff that we don’t have to just ever take the time to look inside. We don’t take the time to live with ourselves in the present (My apologies to those of you who meditate).  
How many schedules, meetings or appointments are you running off to today?  Do you feel better surrounded by appointments and deadlines? What does it take for you to get off the clock? When was the last time you forgot what day it was?  What was that like for you?  What if you spent one day a week without any appointments or time demands?  Is it possible?  Do you ever meditate?   

A Time of Happiness

It is a time of happiness.  After thinking about times of sorrow, it seems right that we should reflect on the times of happiness in our lives.  It is easy to forget the times of happiness when we are feeling pain or sorrow. As in the sorrows in our life, most of the things that bring us the greatest happiness have to do with people.  Money, possessions, material goods and things never bring true happiness. 
Karen and I have gone on many trips over the years to other countries. We have been to over 33 countries and almost all of the US and Canada.  On several of these trips (but not all) we have been fortunate to make friends with people. Sometimes, it has been with local people we met accidently and other times it was with people we stayed with or did some business with on our trip.  Without a doubt, the trips where we met people have been our most fun, memorable and happiest trips. Sartre is reputed to have written that: “Hell is other people.” Perhaps this is true at times but it is even truer that “Happiness is other people.” People bring us the joy and pleasure in our lives.  People create the warmth and empathy that validate our existence and our undertakings. Things and objects do not validate or create warmth or support. When you are down or feeling depressed, you cannot talk to your car or boat or house. When you want to feel recognized for something you have accomplished, your things will not provide such recognition.
Whether it is your family, your children, your spouse or your friends, there is hardly a day that goes by when you are not thinking about them, playing with them or working with them in some way.  All of these interactions are what life is really about.  It is not about richness in things, it is about richness in people.  The time that we spend with people brings happiness and joy to our lives. True, people can disappoint, hurt and disrespect you, but eventually you move on and look for new relationships or you try to rebuild and make your old relationships better.  The time that you spend building relationships with people will be rewarded many times over. Would we spend so much time on relationships if people truly were hell? 
Think about all the happiness in your life today.  Think about your past happiness.  Who has helped to bring joy to your life? What relationships do you need to spend more time on?  What relationships need to be changed?  Spending time on relationships will be the most valuable time you can ever spend. 

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