And I Listened.
I wish to begin this essay, which is from my heart and is a part of who I am, with a confession. I'm not always neat and orderly, even though just under the surface, I want things organized. Due to that drive to get things organized, I was putting away some of my Christmas ornaments that had been sitting on a shelf in my home office since the beginning of the New Year.
I have some Li Bien ornaments, which are made in China. The artisan paints lovely pictures from inside a glass ornament. I have more than a dozen of them, which I have collected over the years. I love them so much that each year, I will buy one for myself, my three children, my three grandchildren, and a number of close friends. Consequently, I have purchased over a hundred and fifty of the Li Bien ornaments over time. I hope that recipients of the ornaments love them half as much as I do.
The Li Bien ornaments are a part of what I call my treasures. I decided that it would be safer to store them in the cabinet. Therefore, after teaching an online class late one evening a couple weeks ago, I moved them from a shelf in my office to my cabinet.
That was when it happened. As I was carefully placing each of the boxes containing an ornament into the cabinet, the newest one, which I bought last year for myself, several family members, and friends, started to talk to me. Initially, I could not understand what the ornament was saying. Each of the Li Bien decorations comes in a padded box with a little closure on each box. However, I never use the closure since the paddled box protects the ornament inside. I opened the lid and pulled out the glass angel from the Christmas of 2015.
The angel ornament inquired about how I was feeling, which seemed a strange question. My reply was a non-committal okay. The angel pressed her question. "You seem to have a kind of bi-polar attitude about life. The other ornaments and I have watched you for months. You are either what you call driven or in an indecisive mood."
Well, that was a kind of abrupt and to the point comment. I paused and thought before responding. I am driven. After watching Randy Pausch's Last Lecture, I get the issue of the brevity of life. I have done the dance with death twice. Trust me, I am aware of my mortality. Therefore, I am driven. I don't wish to sit and pout about problems. My time is limited, and I realize it. Therefore, I act.
The angel's rebuttal was a very non-angelic reply. "Some people are walking around with full use of their bodies, and they're more paralyzed than I am."
I knew that the angel was quoting Christopher Reeve's comment that I used in a recent essay. The angel was attempting to be more than just funny. The ornament wanted to signal me that she and the other ornaments understand me. Then the angel asked in a Rogerian manner, "Would you like to talk about it?"
I responded that I would be willing to discuss my being driven, to which the angel seized the initiative. "It seems that you are driven...very driven. However, on the flipside of your determination, you seem kind of lost and don't seem to know what to do. Is that correct?"
I replied that I am driven and have been for all my adult life, starting back in the 60s during the civil rights movement. However, my drive has increased a great deal since dancing with death in the last few years. I expressed to the ornament that I truly get my mortality, not just in my head but in my gut.
The angel replied, "Well, we are happy for you about successfully doing the dances as you call them. Nonetheless, why not just relax and enjoy life as long as you have it?"
I again attempted to explain that I have loads of windmills with which to joist in the time that I have left. The windmills motivate me. Before the angel could reply, I continued on about my quests, which can be grouped into two general categories: personal and professional.
The angel's retort was, "We know; you see yourself as Don Quixote. In fact, you have written dozens of essays about joisting with your personal and professional windmills. We have seen you writing late at night as you work your way through life as a 21st century errant-knight."
I agreed and want to get all my windmills in order. I did the dances, and it changed me in a most positive manner. I told the angel that I know that my time is limited, and I am not going to waste it.
"Can you give me some of your windmill quests? What are some unresolved personal and professional windmills?"
I responded by mentioning Randy Pausch and his suggestion about using your time in life wisely. He said to address issues that need resolution. We won't live indefinitely. Therefore, act now. I told the angel that I want to return to places overseas where I have traveled in the past half-century. I want to help out some people financially that I have met.
The angel asked a question about which she was aware of what my answer would be. "Why don't you pick out a place and go now?"
I told the angel it was a question of money. While I have enough money to get by, I need more if I am going to return to Myanmar, which is the first place on my quest list. Therefore, I am looking for an additional job. I told the angel that I had written to an import/export company several years ago.
The angel asked, "And?"
I responded that, after no response from the company, I happened to talk informally with a representative of the company. He was willing to help me and met with the board of directors. They finally said that they would talk to me.
The angel again asked, "And?"
I met with the board, told them about Myanmar and my love for that country and its people. I would love to be the liaison between the company and Myanmar. I told them about being driven due to having done the dance. The dances awakened me to being more productive in life. I wanted to help this country as it emerged into the 21st century.
Additionally, Myanmar has done the dance for over six decades and their company has also. I have the intellectual and experiential expertise to help both the company and that country to revitalize themselves. It would be a win/win for the country, the company, and me.
Before the angel asked again, I told the angel that the board would get back to me. That was over a year ago and the board never even called to tell me thanks, but no thanks. Nothing. The company is dying on the vine, and they know it. However, they are so used to being in their corporate ICU and won't get help. I have watched this company dying for decades. Nonetheless, no one acts. While they go through senseless activity, they know they don't have time to sit and do essentially nothing. However, that is precisely what they are doing. They have rattled me. I expected far more from them.
"What are you going to do?"
I told the angel that my friend, who works for the company, has tried to help me but to no avail. I like and respect him, but he hasn't been able to change the board's corporate lethargy.
Additionally, I told the angel that I heard from some manager of the company that I needed to take a required seminar relating to import/export issues. I took a week long course, which cost me about a thousand dollars for material about which I was well aware. I sent the manager my certificate of completion. Months later, some administrative assistant emailed me about whether I had taken the seminar. That rattled me. So I merely forwarded my email with the certificate that I sent the manager. I added again that the company is dying on the vine.
The angel inquired, "Has anyone on the board of the company contacted you at all?"
I replied that that no one has.
The angel was somewhat sympathetic to my plight. "I know you are driven; their indifference must surely hurt you personally."
I replied that my two dances were great blessings for me. I know that I'm not immortal; I know that in my gut. I need to address the hauntings.
"What is it that hurts?"
I said that doing the dances sensitizes one to act. However, a large part of my hurt and desperation is in not helping some friends in Myanmar. That rattles me. Additionally, I am driven about leaving a legacy. I don't want to be remembered as a failure or someone who was indifferent to the needs of the world.
"I can hear that in your voice."
I continued my explanation by expressing to the angel that dancing with death enables a person to realize the limits of life. I get that reality from both the traumatic brain injury and prostate cancer. I am alive, healthy, and enjoy every moment of my life. However, truly living, in large part, is experienced by helping others.
I said to the angel that therein lies the rub. I am acting, involved, and trying to get more income so as to facilitate returning to Myanmar. I want to interview Aung San Suu Kyi, also called the Lady. I have wanted to interview her for years. However, if it were a choice between interviewing the Lady or helping some people in Myanmar, I know which I would choose.
My talking with the Lady won't help her. I would enjoy and benefit from talking with her. Aung San Suu Kyi is the greatest woman in the world when it comes to fighting for human rights. She is in a class by herself. However, I'd give up that quest in a nanosecond if I could help some families in Myanmar.
The board of directors of that import/export company are fully aware of my feelings. I left that board meeting dejected. I know they won't move even as they are dying on the vine themselves. At the end of the meeting over a year ago, the chairperson of the board said that they would look into hiring me as a liaison between them and Myanmar.
I added to my comment to the angel that when I was in ICU, I didn't know why I was there, but I knew that I wanted to get out of my captivity. So I acted. I pulled out my drainage tube in my head and the IVs in my arms in an attempt to free myself. Bear in mind, I had a traumatic brain injury, but I still had the desire to get out of my captivity. Yet, this corporation is in their version of an ICU. Nevertheless, they are just lying there...doing nothing. At least, I acted. While I didn't know where I was, I wanted out so that I could live. But alas, the company, which is in ICU, will die a peaceful death of indifference.
"You are really rattled, as you say, about this, aren't you?"
I didn't say anything. Partly, I was angry, and, partly, I didn't have an alternate idea. What could have been a win/win for the company, Myanmar, and me was now a lose/lose situation for all involved. I was angry, upset, and mad. I added that this experience was what I call a haunting. It haunts me to resolve it.
The angel paused for a moment. She probably wanted to give me time to pull myself together emotionally while she did the same thing. Finally, she slowly began again. "You expressed some issues that were personal. Are you up to talking about them or would you like to wait until some other time?"
I told the angel that I need to get my personal hauntings out. I went on about Randy Pausch's Last Lecture. He wants us to express appreciation to people. If you have done the dance, you will understand that drive. I don't want to leave this world without thanking people for enabling me to become who I am. I want them to know about what I learned from them.
"So Randy Pausch really influenced you; didn't he?"
I replied that Randy Pausch had. I told the angel about Bud Oakford and Louie Palmer who both had a transformative effect upon me. Bud ran a candy store in Merchantville, NJ. Just before Christmas, Bud hired me to help him in the store. I put pretzels on a conveyor belt that coated them with chocolate.
The angel asked, "How old were you?"
I replied that I was nine years old. Bud apparently saw something in me that caused him to believe that I could handle the coating machine. At the time, I wasn't aware of what Bud did for me. I just relished working in a candy store. Years later, I got Bud's message.
The other transformative person in my life was Professor Louie Palmer. He also saw something in me. Muskingum College had a 10-hour required class that was taken in either your junior or senior year. It was called The Arts. I took it in my junior year and got a B. Nevertheless, Louie saw something in me and asked whether I wanted to be his teaching assistant during my senior year. I taught a handful of subsections weekly and wrote and graded the midterms and finals for both semesters. I got Louie's message right away. I'm still teaching at 73.
I told the angel that in both situations, I wanted to express my appreciation to Bud and Louie. I acted. I took Bud, his wife, and four children out for lunch. And over his objection, I gave a little speech about how much I appreciated what he did for me. However, Louie had died a year or so before I was able to get together with him. I don't want that to happen with the others from whom I have benefitted.
Well, I am working on it. Some of the people, I can't seem to reach. However, I have spoken to others or I have written articles about them.
The angel kind of laughed and said, "You do seem driven about dotting your i's and crossing your t's."
I have always been driven, but having done the dances, my drive is on steroids. I don't want to miss touching bases with those that have helped me as I have traveled down the yellow brick road of life.
Interestingly, the angel quoted something that I wrote that Maude Adams said, "Sometimes I think the only real satisfaction in life is failure, failure in your endeavor to do your best."
I agreed. Failure is a painful experience. However, it is far more painful if you merely sit in the corner and pout. Again, get up and act.
It seemed like the angel and I were finally on a roll. She next mentioned Teddy Roosevelt's Man in the Arena. In fact, she quoted the paragraph.
The angel concluded by reinforcing Roosevelt by saying, "Dare greatly." Then the angel said one other thing. "You also always quote Randy Pausch who said, 'We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.' Don't forget that. That also can be your legacy."
I promised the angel that I will play my hand well and that it will be one of my legacies.
Visit the On Seeing the Light page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Connecting the Dots page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Darkest Before Dawn page to read more about this topic.
Visit the The Last Lecture page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Dancing with Death page to read more about this topic.
Visit the My Hauntings page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Talking with Objects page to read more about this topic.
Visit the "Don Quixote" page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Man in the Arena page to read more about this topic.
Visit The Mentors and Me page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Best and Worst of Times page to read more about this topic.