In the stillness…

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Be Still

There will always be that time when it seems like I can barely escape the shadows. When all else quietens, and the sound of my beating heart reverberates through the silence. It is in those times that I reminisce on the topsy turvy of the journey I call my life’s tale and find true beauty in the ashes.

From the plucky little chap in his bright shorts and shirt, tugging on the leash of my toy doggie; Snoopy. The world in all of its enormity, a conquest to be had with nothing looking remotely like an obstacle. I remember how much of a daredevil I was, mischief twinkling in my eyes with hands and feet that couldn’t stay still for long. Searching for and accepting the craziest dares, it looked like I was invisible but life is a mystery box and when jack pops up – it is either of two options, a heart attack or a rush of adrenaline. Regardless of how neatly life appeared, a neatly stacked line of dominoes, nothing really prepares you for the uncertainties.

Even through high school, when friends were made anew with a promise of always being there, life was like a walk in the amusement park with a pocketful of quarters. Never hungry or butt naked, every phase was a trail to attaining a milestone and life was truly beautiful. Sneaking through the pantry with mother’s catering books, whipping out pastries and trying out recipes, nothing could possibly have been better. However there’s always going to be that turn in the road, when visibility is so limited and despite how hard one tries, you cannot see beyond the turn. Stopping, getting down and re-evaluating is not always feasible especially when the thrill of the ride is euphoric.

I remember the concussion I suffered when in my haste (why I always ran is still unfathomable) I ran through the discus sector and got hit by the discus. I remember having my fair share of being picked on and childhood fights. I remember walking home in tattered clothes because my ‘experiment’ blew up in my face and gave me 2nd degree burns (earning the nickname Acidman). I remember being so sick only to find out I had weird allergies. I remember witnessing a nurturing home and loving relationship being torn apart by folly and the influence of wrong company. I remember my first automobile accident, tumbling over and over. I remember being shot at. I remember waking up one night unable to breathe, the race to the ER. I remember journeys to strange places and encounters best left unshared. …….but I survived because of God’s mercy and love.

I recall the university years, being the enigma to many even as I sought to stay true to myself. Plunging headfirst into as many events as I could, getting the down side of misplaced priorities when I chose to continue my internship despite the fact that lectures had commenced. Grateful for the fact that I could be the ear to those in need, a shoulder to cry on for the broken and the elixir for the depressed. Life was beautiful indeed and with the mixture of highs and low, exhilarating describes it best. Graduating from university and going off to the unknown, I knew I would survive because that was just who I was. A blend of healthy spiritual fundamentals and a healthy body, I blossomed within an awesome relationship with God. I was prepared for anything!

Commencing my work career, I thought I had it all planned out and even when I dropped the white collar job for a stint in the military, the confusions of many was the least of my worries. Parenthood was another season and as always I had it all planned out in my head. Setting up a trust for tuition, acquiring what I wanted, it was all going well but it’s in our nature to plan however it is God who decides. Knowing I had that relationship served as a buffer when things went south occasionally, however I had been raised to believe in myself and so I always did. Just when it seemed like I had it all together, life happened. Series of events that I never imagined started unfolding bringing to fore the idiom, ‘when it rains, it pours!’

The culmination of a life in tatters was in December 2011, all around me that carefully built life in heaps of wreckage and just like a skilled burglar, night had suddenly and swiftly crept up on me. Struggling with those fiercely entwining tendrils of darkness, it was a struggle to make head of it all. And each time, I chose to head for the light, the darkness just got longer. This was no medical condition, this was my life now, almost completely subjected to the dictates of the rare, incurable neurological condition termed dystonia. Then it hit me right in the gut; there were no voices lifted in celebration to be heard, no hand to lift me up, no strength to light a match. This was now my life, like a pariah condemned to dwell outside the city walls, isolation was a welcome thing. However, we are a result of our choices and so I learned to bargain with an adroitness I never knew existed. Learned to lace my own shoes with brow furrowed in pain, every little gesture a battle of wits, things previously taken for granted were now things I had to relearn. Circumventing steps to conserve my little energy, being the object of compassion either as I was wheeled in a chair or as I struggled to make my way home leaning heavily on my cane.

In the stillness, my eyes slowly adapted to the darkness and my ears became attuned to the groans of those fallen around me. This was my life but still there was a purpose to it and regardless of the absence of ‘friends’ or ‘family’, one truth stood out; this was my life and so every choice I made had to count. When the cold hands of depression sought to console me, I chose to shrug them off and in the stillness, I found hope that I hitherto believed was lost. I found friends who became brothers and I realized that purpose is not shaped by your experiences rather it is given more clarity during those experiences. Today, I am not just a survivor but I am a victor because even though I have been scorched by the flames, I am now stronger just by the process of walking through the raging flames.

It is in the stillness that you learn some of the hardest lessons, letting go of pride and ambition whilst embracing compassion and aspiration. It is in the stillness that I have learned that my life is not dictated by the size of material wealth but by the riches of intangible values. It is in the stillness, empathy assumes meaning and pain can be shared. I have known abundance and lack, however I have also learned that contentment is wanting what you have, kindness is giving when all else is screaming, ‘save for the rainy day’. It is in the stillness that I have learned that it is better standing in the rain with a friend or someone in need than struggling not to get wet beneath a poncho. In the stillness, I have learned what true strength is, what trusting God means and what living actually means.

Sticks, stones and words will hurt but the resilience of the human spirit is so much more greater. That is what will define you when all else has gone silent. That is what nothing can take away from you except you choose to let it go. It is all about the stillness….

עד ניפגש שוב, תן אהבה שלו למלא ולשמור אותך!

Adios!

The Flip Side…..

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Age, my dad once said(still hear him) is a matter of the mind. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. Now that I’m on the back end of my race, I appreciate the wisdom within those words however reality bites just when you think you are all alone. It’s the wee hours of my birthday and it’s quite surreal because the silence of the night can either be unnerving or welcome. For me, it has always been the latter and the ticking of the clock reminds me that time inevitably continues its passage and with its passage comes the realization that being alone is not always dreary or boring. I do apologize for the long break however writing without a suitable device can be a turn-off.

I have absolutely no regrets because every time life tries to make me accede to regrets, I choose instead to see a learning point. My life sometimes feels like a hospital corridor, busy during the day and as the day winds down so does the traffic till eventually it is just devoid of human presence. The flip side is not the predictability but rather the incongruous relationship between the interaction that occurs during the day and the silence of the night to muse over. So much to muse about and quite a lot probably still left to do however I’ve learned that life is best lived when you acknowledge that all we have is a collection of moments. Some seized hurriedly, others like the fermenting of wine gradually but surely assuming shape and content.

Contentment is one of those words that should not be used lightly because you can put up a facade resembling it and yet without an iota of doubt, you know that much effort can be applied to things that really do not matter. The worst thing a man can do to himself is convince himself fo believe in a made-up lie. Does the sun cast its warmth and glow on a select few? Do the stars twinkle for just a select few? No, it is our choices in response to the fluid constants of life that determines how much we are committed to being purposeful. Does time and the light of day wait for the man who slumbers all day? Undeniably, he who chooses to toil at night most likely has his own reasons.

I am thankful for the lives I’ve been blessed to encounter. Grateful for the opportunity to empathize with those who continuously battle the demon hordes of sickness, pain and death. To every season, there is always the start and the finish. Where you decide to stack your chips is a choice you have to make yourself otherwise you face an absolutely horrifying life of trying unsuccessfully to make sense of the choices you inadvertently allowed others make for you. I made my own choices and true, not all were right however I did it my own way. There is truly beauty in brokenness and as long as I put the brokenness in retrospect, I can focus on the beauty.

For me, this is a new year and today as always, I reassess and reevaluate, not for lack of activities but rather to ensure that I am still aligned with my identity and purpose. I know that there can be no darkness without light, so I choose to look for the light even when the darkness threatens to overwhelm me. It will never be about how far but rather how well and with that in mind, I choose to wear myself out as against rusting out. No man, to the best of my puny knowledge, has had it all nicely put together like a rubic cube. Regardless of the roughness or smoothness of my path, I choose to make it a path well walked and with every new day, I choose not to give up. And when those times come again when I’m all alone (because they must surely come), I can encourage myself by saying, “I did it my own way!”

Adios!

Lasso’ing Sleep…..

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Lassoing Sleep

There will be always those days when it seems like this journey will overwhelm and crush me and in those times, knowing that there are people who are going through similar trials is always a much needed boost. In the last 8 weeks, I have been divinely privileged to have become a member of so many support groups, and just the realization that you can be yourself amongst others without the looks of derision, pity or disgust is quite profound. Acknowledging that for every thinly concealed nonchalance, there is a friend who knows what you are going through. And when you see a request for prayers from a new friend, it is not a gesture for fame or recognition, but a sincere request from someone who is going through torrid times.   With the medical capes of Lupus, Fibromyalgia, Dystonia, MS, Parkinson’s Disease and similar villains associated with the neurological system casting shadows, you can truly appreciate the warmth associated with being in a group of defiant individuals.

One of the support groups I belong to is aptly named ‘PD Night Owls’ because there is one common denominator with all these vicious medical conditions and that is the inability of the body to get its much needed rest. In addition to the ravages being wrecked on my body as a whole and the adverse influence it can have on my social life and activities, I still have to confront those little horrors that come with such conditions. Just like the mythical Peter Pan, I will claim my own shadow someday, (because the shadows of these villains just seek to further highlight mine) even if it requires patience, endurance and skilled needle work. As a child, one of my fond memories is darting around with friends trying to escape been tagged or trying to tag someone else depending on what your role in the game was. With the passage of time however, all the fun associated with that game is stored away as cherished memories even as I attempt to dole out some much needed discipline to a little rascal termed ‘Insomnia‘. The futility of playing that game in present times is more than just age-inappropriate, rather it is one where the odds are so unfairly stacked against me that it would be foolhardy to even contemplate it.

Even with a plate already over laden with all these nasty medical challenges,  insomnia finds a way of converting itself into a sauce that trickles through, further tainting the package with extra foul taste. Ideally, life is a series of decisions and choices and so instead of partaking in an unfair game, I choose to witness the birth of every new day. Again perspective plays a significant role, because perspective is a result of a choice being expressed and so I do not detest the approaching darkness of twilight signifying the end of a day or envy the stillness of the dawning that marks the beginning of a new day. Instead I count myself blessed that I am able to witness the birth of every new day, that is a choice I make, instead of devoting energy towards battling a foe that acts as the reconnaissance agent of a massive horde. I have learned that it is better to study your foe(s) for any signs or weakness and when you do find one, not to let a moment pass by without any action from me. Alternatively, I re-access my armoury, evaluate my relationships/allies and utilize what I have even if it requires a little bit of tweaking.

Most battles are won through the application of wisdom rather than just sheer brawn, and so instead of engaging with insomnia every day, I have learned ways to circumvent participating in a seriously skewed game. It is no longer rocket science that the body as a dynamic system requires a minimum of 8 hours of sleep to enable it reset and be ready for the next day. In recognition of that, what do you do to a body that is thoroughly exhausted and in need of sleep? When the habits inculcated in earlier years of running around in a Ferris wheel, have now turned around to nip you in the derrière. I try to lighten the situation by explaining that the brain is such an amazing creation, and so like a commander in charge on the battle field (safe and secure in the skull); it is still strategising, processing, sending out signals and assigning tasks to a neurological system that is almost buckling beneath the onslaught of neurological disorders. And in a bid to prevent a total collapse of this structure I call my body, I must find a way of reining in this magnificent commander lest in its efficiency, it pushes the body way past its limit.

A warrior in the heat of battle is confronted with two choices; live or die, and inadvertently the choice for life must be backed by commensurate actions or else death would gladly swoop in, ever ready like the vulture circling above patiently waiting for road kill. There is always the option of taking a short cut but again the ignorant will find that short cuts are never the fastest or the safest, and so we realize that depending solely on medication usually has a predictable route. With every dose, the body responds by building a resistance to that dose with time, and so we increase the dosage or switch medication. However, just like the fool belatedly realizes the folly of his ways, more often we belatedly realize the folly of borrowing an hour or two from Sleep time in order to accommodate that last meeting, finish up that work task that could not be left in the office or just tidy up that little assignment that is tied to a deadline that is usually unfeasible. There is no reward that can be obtained from cutting off your nose to enhance the beauty of your face, because if we do not adequately cater to the needs of our bodies, someday just like the Merchant of Venice, that pound of flesh must be required as payback. Contentment is not weakness, it will always be at conflict with the inordinate ambitions that characterize today’s world but it is an inseparable companion in the pursuit of noble aspirations.

Just like the daily battle with insomnia, there is the constant need to keep that tricky balance between living healthy and taking proper care of the body. For me, that balance is key because any slight external influence will not only destroy the balance but the chronic pain associated with daily living would assume proportions frightening to even conceive. You do not have to be sick to appreciate health, and so the same scenario plays out in lives everywhere: feign wisdom and take from tomorrow to assuage today’s needs. Most of us are undeniably guilty of that crime and inevitably the pretentious wisdom we applied will someday be revealed in all its entirety as sheer folly.  For every ill-advised action we take today, there will be the corresponding consequences tomorrow and it is not foolishness to be different. Sometimes we are placed in situations that did not require any input from us but to triumph in those circumstances, we need not embark on actions that are immediately associated with thought process of a child. There has to be an acknowledgement of what is real to enable us choose what we know the finality to be.

There is still time each day for that last valiant charge, a charge that has its distinct base in an unflinching faith in a Sovereign God and Commander. A charge that is not dictated by the size of this ragtag army but rather dictated by the promise of a sure victory ahead. And so, I will emerge from the trench – besmirched with dried mud, eyes red-rimmed, joints aching and clad in what barely amounts to a decent garment. With all the air in my tired lungs, my bugle will ring out across the mountains for just one final time today, notes marking the last valiant charge. Conveying in very clear notes to the foes arrayed all around that there will be no conceding victory today, there will be no terms of surrender and even if I have to be borne on my shield; I will seize that victory that is sure. There will be no ambiguity in my proclamation, ‘dystonia, there is no victory for you today and though you rave and rant as much as you want, there is no victory today, tomorrow or for as long as the battle rages.’

A charge more valiant than yesterday’s, my colors loftily raised in victory, a determination in the cadence of marching feet, there will be a prisoner of war but rest assured that it will not be from my ranks.

For just as your ranks ripple with number, and your fancy capes adorn you, so will they disperse in defeat, heads bowed in defeat, victory snatched.

To friends and allies alike, there is yet hope renewed and though the war be far from over, our anthem booms loud and clear, there is no giving up – not today, not tomorrow for as surely as the sun rises from the East, none will fall by the way because we depend not on the strength of men.

עד שנפגשנו שוב, אולי התענוגות שלו להיות העונג שלך לעשות

Adios!