What I Learned About Life...
From Facing Down the Dragon

In a previous essay, I wrote about slaying a real dragon while I was riding around my neighborhood. While nearly all the medical people think that it was not a dragon that bit my nose but merely a dog, I want to move on to a more relevant discussion. What did this event teach me about life? While I still contend that it was a dragon, be that as it may, I learned something about life while being treated and recovering from my encounter with that deadly dragon.

Description: This is St. George slaying a dragon.

This is what I felt like facing down my dragon.

To put the dragon bit into perspective, I have danced with death twice already. I fell off a ladder causing a traumatic brain injury and had prostate cancer. Getting my nose bitten is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things that I have experienced in my long life. However, it was extremely interesting what I experienced emotionally due to dancing with the dragon while it bit me. It harkened back to the time seven years ago when I danced with death.

In my actual dances with death and the bite by the dragon, I had not done anything to cause any of those events. In spite of it, all three happened. We all think that we are the captains of our ship. If we work hard, we will succeed, which is true to some extent. Nonetheless, we will often experience occurrences that are not related at all to our activity or lack of it. Things often happen without any precursor.

In addition, I felt the similar uneasiness with the dragon chomping down on my nose as I did with the first two dances. Not only was I not in control of all aspects of my life, what control I did possess was severely limited. Much of the real time associated with the first two dances or addressing the bite on my nose was merely waiting until someone or thing from the outside dealt with my problems.

For example, I have had to deal with addressing prostate cancer for over a half dozen years. The surgeon at the University of Chicago Hospital who removed my prostate feared that it had gotten beyond the prostate. Therefore, I had to go back for PSA tests several times a year. After a couple years, the PSA number started to rise again, which meant that the cancer had gone beyond the prostate. My doctor gave me hormone therapy for a couple of months and then added radiation therapy along with the hormones for an additional couple of months.

After the radiation treatment, I had my PSA tested semi-annually for four years, in which I have been cancer free. My doctor now wants me to have my PSA tested annually. While I am relieved and delighted, I will have to have annual check-ups for at least another decade. Essentially, for nearly two decades, I am not directly in control of my medical future related to prostate cancer. Interestingly, I am editing the rough draft of this article while drinking my white chocolate mocha latte at the Starbucks at the café of the University of Chicago Hospital. It is my odd way of celebrating being cancer-free at least for the time being.

Regarding the dragon's chomping upon my nose, I went to the emergency room and was told to see another doctor the next day. When I dutifully saw the doctor the following day, I had to wait another day due to possible infection issues. I waited another day to get a dozen stitches, which were removed three days later. Nonetheless, bandage-like closures replaced the stitches for another three days. Then for the rest of the summer, I had to put sun block on the cuts to avoid further complications.

Another unnerving aspect was just how much sheer chance factors into life in general. Lurking in the corners of all of our lives is a great deal of unpredictability. We are not guaranteed much during life. Just ordinary accidents will occur. Often, they are related to someone or some other event totally unrelated to us. Accidents occur. It is emasculating to realize just how much of life is based upon the luck of the draw.

All those feelings from several years ago resurfaced while addressing the medical treatment in the aftermath of the battle with the dragon. Therefore, the relatively unimportant event of the dragon attacking my nose morphs together with the other two dances that were life threatening. While I waited to get my nose back into shape, I thought about the myriad of feelings rushing back into my conscious thought. After ordering another white chocolate mocha latte, I edited some of what I had learned with my two dances with death and slaying the dragon.

  1. Go with the flow, which is essentially the Taoist mindset. Laozi was said to have written the Tao Te Ching in the 6th century BCE. He taught that one needs to go with the flow or the way (tao) of the river rather than attempting the impossible of changing the natural order of the world.

Description: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fd/Laozi.jpg


  1. Another learning relates to humor. I am sorry that I had to slay the dragon, but there can be humor found in that event and actually most traumatic events in life. We need to look for the funny aspects in problematic issues that we face in life.


  1. Another learning has to do with life in general. Charles Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities. The opening paragraph is as follows...

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Description: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_2UbyQb8LCFk/TNehsioXLoI/AAAAAAAABP0/qcV8lB5s0rk/s1600/Dickens.jpg

Dickens and A Tale of Two Cities

However, in the best and worst of times, we can decide upon what aspect upon which we will focus. It is a simple choice. Find humor where most people will miss it.

  1. The next learning has to do with moving forward amid our transitory setbacks. Along with finding the humor in traumatic events, we need to move forward even with small steps but move. After spending about a month and a half in two hospitals after my fall, I returned home and knew that I had to get back to exercising, which is something that I routinely did for decades. Therefore, I went outside and walked down the driveway, which is not 25-feet in length. I had to stop and go back into the house. I was exhausted. However, the next day, I was able to walk down the street a couple of houses. In several weeks, I was biking around the entire subdivision. When the weather is nice, I will spend my 45-minutes of daily exercise in my kayak paddling around the lake behind my house.

    While I would not wish to go through prostate cancer, traumatic head injury, or facing down the dragon again, I would not erase any of those events from my life. It has made me come alive. Therefore, do not sit and complain. Act. Move. Get inspired. Confucius said, "It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop." Address the problem and move on.
  2. Realize that your greatest will be determined when facing difficulties. Greatness does not emerge from within you just because it is there...deep inside your gut. Name a great person, and you will have named a person facing severe problems. No one out there is great without major obstacles staring at the person. Great leaders have faced down dragons or they were not leaders.
  3. Be an example to others. Demonstrate that you have been there and understand what the other person is feeling and fearing. It is not an easy road to tighten your belt and face the world. Trust me. I know that. However, I know also that the alternative is far too costly not to face the events. Deal with them and move on.
  4. Over a half century ago, I memorized these lines from George Eliot's Silas Marner.

In old days there were angels who came and took men by the hand and led them away from the city of destruction. We see no white-winged angels now. But yet men are led away from threatening destruction: a hand is put into theirs, which leads them forth gently towards a calm and bright land, so that they look no more backward; and the hand may be a little child's.

Silas Marner was an old weaver who lived in Raveloe. He was just an old, lost recluse until Eppy came into his world. He took care of her, and, in that process, he became a new person. Therein lies an important lesson for each of us.

Description: http://petrascupboard.weebly.com/uploads/1/1/7/8/11787881/5998676_orig.jpg

Eppy, the hand of a little child

Eliot made this observation in 1861. A century later in 1961, I memorized that paragraph for Mrs. Davis. However, another half century later I finally understood Eliot's message. We find redemption in places where many never think to look. A child for whom he takes care of gives Silas Marner new life. In showing love for this innocent little child, this old man finds a reason to live.

Where we find our deliverance from the cities of threatening destruction might by a little child or some other person. Nonetheless, look and you will find. Trust me.

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