I was working at home while recovering from pneumonia. I took a phone call from Vikki’s doctor. They asked me to have her call and make an appointment to “discuss her mammogram results”.
That led to a biopsy then another wait for results, and then another call like the first one.
“The doctor wants you to come in…”
The biopsy was malignant.
We spent our time in family phone calls and frantic online research for information about likely outcomes and odds of survival.
We were sent to an appointment with a cancer surgeon. The waiting rooms had people who were a lot sicker than Vikki. It was hard to keep the dread from seeping into our hearts.
Before long there was an operation. The surgeon came to me in the waiting room and reassured me like they always do.
“She did great.” As if my wife had done anything other than lay there drugged unconscious and continue breathing.
“I think she’ll be fine, but we need to see the lab results from the tissue I removed.”
Yet another wait for the results – and this time they were good ones.
Then we had follow-up meetings with radiation and chemotherapy doctors. They both said that as long as she had mammograms every six months and an MRI once a year, she could get along without further treatment.
Now it’s over and we can get on with our lives. But we’ve been changed by this experience. And by the memories of not-so-lucky people in those waiting rooms.
An older man with his wife clutching his arm, making explanations to the nurses about how his week had gone while he held a handkerchief to his mouth and stared at nothing.
A middle-aged woman with a scarf covering her baldness, accompanied by a teenaged daughter who was texting on her cell phone while they waited.
A little boy in a wheel chair being loved and coddled by the nurses while his mother looked on, smiling through teary eyes.
We’ve had to consider what we might do if this had been really bad news and how our lives would change if that were so. And how one of us will one day have to go on alone.
Life is different for us now. We are even more appreciative of each other than before (if that were possible). And we are more respectful of our bodies and our health and spiritual habits.
We’re paying a lot more attention to prayer and meditation, and are re-thinking our diets and life-styles. We went on a 5-day cleansing fast to mark the change in our way of living.
Vikki has begun training for a 60 mile Breast Cancer 3-Day Walk For The Cure, and has raised several thousand dollars in pledges.
I’ve begun to reflect on some of the larger issues of life. Being in my late sixties, I’ve had to take a good look at aging and mortality, whatever became of my hair, and what happened to my smoothly moving knee and hip joints?
Vikki and I have talked about this and I want to share our thinking with you. The twin message of my pneumonia and then Vikki’s cancer has helped us to focus our thinking about how to live this phase of life.
Yeah, we call them “messages”. It doesn’t seem very smart to call these events “bad luck”.
We believe that it’s a good idea to take WHATEVER comes at you in this life, and treat it as some sort of scripture in code. It’s up to each of us to figure out what there is to be learned, and how it can be made to benefit us and to enrich our lives and the lives around us.
I’m beginning to think that the advantage of age over youth is hidden in that thought. The offset for the losses of youthfulness is the grace and wisdom of age.
But it MUST BE EARNED. Youth is a gift, designed primarily to encourage reproduction. But the advantages of aging are not a gift.
The benefits are there but we must work for them. We must be constantly asking ourselves, “What’s the meaning of this? How can this be useful and uplifting?”
Those of us who accept the job of earning the power and resilience of the knowledge of our lives get to reproduce even in old age.
We can create offspring in a larger sense than just biological. We can provoke and inspire others who follow us in life’s path, sharing our insights and reassuring them that life CAN get better as we get age. We can be examples.
We can demonstrate our courage and generosity, patience and humor, faith — and always, our growing ability to love.
It’s the only way that getting older is any more rewarding than just beating the grim reaper for another day. And I personally think that life is designed to get better and better until our time is over.
How about you?
Here’s a way you can win your own personal “revolution”.
I had a client recently who complained about not feeling like he was “his own person.”
“It’s like I live my whole life for others, and I never really feel worthy.”
Pretty funny, since he an attorney, partner in a large firm employing a couple hundred lawyers.
“So how do you act at work?” I asked.
“Oh, then I’m being the Guy in Charge, so that’s a no-brainer,” he answered. “It’s when I stop to think about where my life is going that I come up blank.”
I realized that I had heard this story dozens of times in the years I’ve been working with high-powered clients. Most of them were so busy getting through school and being “super-stars” that they never really found out what it was like to just be themselves.
Then again, I’ve also heard the same thing from working moms, cab drivers and waitresses, and unemployed veterans.
Hmmm. Something important here.
All of these good people, no matter what walk of life they were in, have come up missing in the “independence”
Forty years ago there was an amazing British television series, called “The Prisoner.” It was about a man, a former secret agent, who was imprisoned in a resort village by an anonymous government that wanted him to become a number.
“I am not a number,” he would shout in the opening of each episode, “I am a Free Man!” It was an interesting series, exploring the mindset of a person who, although his body was imprisoned, remained free in his mind.
And now today, even in a relatively free country, there seem to be a lot of people who don’t feel particularly “free”.
How about you? Do you feel like you need to be more “your own person?”
A feeling of independence is an attitude, and attitudes are a matter of choice.
The choice may be unconscious like most of our choices. But if you find an attitude may be important it can be created. When you want to do that, all you need is a method.
Here are a couple of small thought processes that will make a quick difference in your degree of personal independence:
1) Your self-image — building one that strengthens you
Find some time when you can be undisturbed. Relax. Look inside yourself to see what comes up when you consider yourself.
Is it a picture? Is it realistic? Is it flattering or negative? What do you see in your mind’s eye? Is there any
kind of commentary running in the background, whispering into your ear? Is it flattering or a teardown?
If you become aware of any negative commentary about yourself, why don’t you consider changing it? I mean, how much fun do you have if you are allowing some old tape in your head to brainwash you and make you feel bad about yourself? So argue with it, and in your own voice make a commentary about your good points. By the way, whose voice is it??
When you think of your visual image, consider this — what image of you would a person that loved you see when thinking of you? How would that picture differ from the one you’re seeing now? If a person that loved you sees you as a better self than you do, how about adopting their picture? It would be an inspiration to be better, and what harm could that do?
When you get a picture of yourself that makes you feel good, enrich the image, make the colors brighter, and perhaps turn it into a 3-D movie.
2) Your “other-image” — creating one that frees you from over-concern with the opinions of other people
Your “other-image” is what I call the image you have inside your head whenever you think of someone else. When you think of someone else, someone who has an influence with you, what kind of image do you see?
I know it’ll be different, from person to person. Whether you’re talking about a lover, parent, friend, or child the image will be different.
If you look at the images of two or three people whose opinion you value — whose opinion might even change a decision of yours — if you look at their images you will probably find some visual quality that’s common. The images might all have the same expression, or give you the same feeling, or be equally bright or in the same location (where you look to see the imaginary image in your mind).
Anyway, make up a sample of a typical other-image (sort of an average of all the people whose opinion might influence you.) Notice the character of these “other-images,” and see if they make you feel too dependent or smaller than you really are.
Then switch to your “adjusted” self-image, which you fine-tuned in exercise number one. Adjust it a little further if you need to strengthen the loving kindness that is the way you want to look at your self-image.
Then switch back to your “other-image”, and make sure it is smaller and further away than your self-image.
Switch back and forth, making the adjustments in each image till they both feel fine and comfortable to you. You need to keep checking the feelings triggered in you by each image. Keep switching until the images don’t need any more changes made.
SECRET OF SUCCESS
The way to make this work is to allow your imagination time to really SEE these images. That’s how the effect will take place. It’s not enough to say to yourself, “Oh, I see what he’s talking about.” Actually DOING it is the only way to make these kinds of changes. If you take a few minutes you’ll see for yourself.
Take your time. Get it right.
And when you’re done, you might be surprised to find yourself feeling less concerned about opinions others might have regarding your choices and decisions.
3) Dealing with boundaries — expanding your sense of personal freedom
While sitting still, close your eyes and feel the space around you. Notice how much space you enclose in your personal boundary. It may be very close to your clothing, or it may be a few inches to a few feet beyond the boundaries of your physical body. Just notice where the edge is at the moment.
Now, just for fun, change it so that your “personal space” includes the entire room you are sitting in. Notice any changes in your feeling that may follow. Take your time.
Now enlarge it, so that you include the entire building you are sitting in. Of course, your point of view enlarges with it — so now you know what to do when I ask that you see what it feels like to enlarge your space again, so that you encompass the entire block where you are sitting. If you are in the country, imagine that your personal space includes the entire parcel of land you are on.
Once again enlarge your boundaries, so that you include the whole county, then the whole state or province you are in, with all the birds, animals, people and everything in it.
Now enlarge your personal space so that you encompass the entire planet Earth. Again, notice how it feels to have the whole planet within your personal space.
Okay, now gradually shrink it back down, stopping whenever you wish, until the edge of your personal bubble is now somewhere more comfortable and natural feeling.
Interesting feeling, isn’t it? Now, just for curiosity, check how your adjusted self-image looks. Does it feel any different than it did before the boundary experiment? And your other-image. Are the people in the image perhaps smaller or farther away?
Enjoy these, and feel free to teach them to others if you like. We can’t have too much independence.
I’ve been traveling a lot this year. For instance, I haven’t been home for a complete week since July.
That means that for the last five months I’ve seen lots of hotel rooms, restaurants and airports.
And here’s the thing. After a while, even a life of constant shifting and change becomes ordinary. Even though I was almost never in the same hotel, restaurant or airport for more than a day or so, I got used to certain things.
Like for instance, the paper towel dispensers in the men’s rooms.
At home, when I wash my hands I reach over to my left and there’s a clean hand towel, nicely folded on the towel bar by my loving wife.
Haven’t seen much of those hand towels this last season or so.
Nope, what I’ve seen instead is a bunch of these black plastic contraptions on the wall by the sink that dispense paper towels. Some of them have a little seeing eye in the front, and when you wave your wet hands around, flipping water all over the place, they burp out a stingy little towel.
So you have to wave your hands several times to get enough towels to dry your hands.
And it takes the towel gadget a few seconds to realize that you want another little piece of towel, and a while later it finally gives you one. And by then your hands are mostly dry anyway.
Or there’s a button on the front or on the side.
Which is usually messy because everyone with wet hands has had to press this same button.
So I’m in this men’s room – I don’t even remember whether it was an airport or a restaurant – but I was at the sink with wet hands, already irritated by the machine I was gonna have to plead with to get my hands dried off.
I wave around, and nothing happens.
Maybe it didn’t see my hands.
I wave them closer. Nothing. Then I wave them under the front of the place where the towels come out. Still nothing. So I wave my hands right in front of the damn thing. Nothing.
Grrr. IS IT BLIND???
Okay. I see a little silver round thing on the side. Could be a button. I push it.
Nope. It was a rivet.
I look over the box carefully, and push on a plate with the trademark and another thing that turns out to be another rivet. Nothing.
So then, being a hotshot engineer and an experienced traveler, I examine the slot where the towels come out. Maybe I can just pull one out even if the machine’s broken.
I see the edge of a towel sticking out. I pull it, and it pops right out! Wow! So I pull out another one. And another one!
It works! Just like the old-fashioned towel dispensers of the good old days.
Turns out that’s just exactly what it was. An old-fashioned towel gadget that just looked like one of the new ones.
No buttons. No seeing eye. Just a slot where you reach out and pull out a paper towel, or a bunch of them if you want.
Sometimes, you should just look at things with “new eyes.”
And that seems especially true when you go into a situation thinking that you already know how things are.
So take care and keep exploring your world — with new eyes.
You never know what you’ll stumble across.
I have an asparagus fern named Lazarus.
Why did I name him Lazarus? I’ll tell you why.
I named him Lazarus because when I first got him for my batchelor apartment I was sometimes a neglectful caretaker.
I got the plant so there would be something alive in my apartment besides me. It came in a small green plastic pot about the size of a coffee mug and cost two dollars. It was a little green living thing and it kept me a kind of quiet company.
But, I was freshly separated from my wife and I used my apartment mostly as a place to grab a shower and change clothes. So this new little fern got overlooked, sometimes for days at a time.
Sometimes even longer…
Then one day I’d notice that I had a pot in my kitchen window full of dried brown sticks with a little bit of green still showing. I’d panic and water it and give it some plant food and do a little wishing that it wouldn’t die.
And amazingly, it would come back.
In a week or so there would be small tender green shoots with little soft needles on them, and with some (almost) regular watering the fern would gradually fill out.
Then I would cut the dead stalks out and it would become lush and beautiful.
Till a couple of months later when I would take off for a long weekend followed by some busy weeks at home, and more neglect. The thing is, giving Lazarus regular timely attention would only have taken a few minutes a week.
But I would forget, then I would notice that the fern was dead (except for maybe one or two green branches) and I would water it and feed it and pray a little and it would come back.
That’s why I called him Lazarus. Because he kept coming back from the dead just like the guy in the bible.
Lazarus, The Fern That Wouldn’t Die.
Lazarus has been with me for thirty four years, most of my adult lifetime.
This plant has been my mostly green companion through marriages, businesses and many adventures, good times and not-so-good times. He has been moved from house to house and city to mountains and back again.
He spent about ten years in the ground at one house, but for the last fifteen years he’s lived in a pot. Actually a series of pots, each one a little larger.
Now he is about to outgrow a pot that is two feet in diameter and about as high, and his whole setup weighs about forty pounds.
I have to prune his dead stalks at least once a year now. He (and I) have a little age on us, but we’ve been companions together for a long long time.
We’ve just moved him to a new home, in the high desert east of the Sierra Mountains. I watered Lazarus today out on our front porch, where he is adjusting to the hot summer days and the freezing autumn nights, and preparing for the coming winter snow. I don’t know if I’ll need to move him indoors or not. I figure he’ll let me know.
In the three and a half decades that this fern has been with me I’ve been through many of life’s changes — parenthood and loss of my own parents, changes in mates and friends and jobs, and the seasons of a lifetime.
At this point you may be wondering, why am I taking my time (and yours) to tell you about a geriatric house plant?
See, Lazarus isn’t a redwood tree that will live for centuries and neither am I. We’re not gonna be here that long. So it’s important to notice the elements that surround us in life and take what learning is offered.
I’m telling you about Lazarus because I’ve learned something precious from him.
The lesson that Lazarus has taught me (and perhaps you too) is that where there is attention there is life. And where there is neglect things begin to die.
What is not attended to in our lives will shrivel up. These things might be relationships, plants, projects, or our own personal growth practices.
And yet, even when something has been neglected almost too long, there is hope that with attention you may encourage it to come back into bloom.
I’ve learned from Lazarus never to give up on something because it may be “too late to do anything”.
I’ve learned that there is a divine spark of life that comes from somewhere outside of us. And it’s in us too. It just needs a touch of acceptance, of attention. Valuable things in our lives have a will to live, to forgive neglect and to grow new shoots, new ideas and inspirations.
I invite you to think about it. Might there be something like Lazarus in your life that could use a little fresh attention? Only takes a few minutes a week to save something and maybe enrich your own life.
Here’s a tip you can learn from a client of mine without going through his pain. Or mine.
Let’s call him “Mike”.
Mike had a deal go sour and it ended up in arbitration. They came up with a settlement that they both signed but the other guy wasn’t keeping up his side.
Mike and the other guy had been old friends.
Their kids went to school together and their wives were on the same charities.
So they saw each other regularly at charity events and school functions. Mike was pretty ticked off, and wanted to blast his former friend at one of these gatherings.
And that reminded me of an experience I had back when I was running a manufacturing plant. Well, actually it was a hassle but now that I look back on it I can see it as a useful lesson.
And maybe it’ll be useful to you also.
It can show you a way to deal with difficult people, and a way not to.
Back to when I ran a small high tech company.
A man contacted us and said he had a new idea for a product that we might be interested in making. He wanted to meet me to discuss it.
I agreed to the meeting.
Since we would be discussing his idea and perhaps some of our trade secrets in manufacturing I sent him our standard non-disclosure agreement.
This agreement allows two people to share secrets, but prevents either side from using them apart from the other party. It’s to stop one side from “going around” the other.
He refused our form and sent us his form instead.
Our attorneys took a look at his form and wouldn’t let me sign it.
They warned me that it contained so many “bear traps” and setups for penalty that it would be dangerous to even talk with this guy if I signed his form.
I wrote to him explaining this. I said that I would be happy to meet with him under reasonable protections, but that his form would penalize me even for using information after the meeting that was common knowledge.
So we didn’t have the meeting. I wished him well and forgot about him.
Later at a trade show, while I was discussing our products with a customer, this guy showed up and made a nuisance of himself. He claimed — loudly — that we tried to rip him off for his idea.
I got hot under the collar, told him in front of my customer that he was “full of it,” and sent him away.
Although I was in the right, my hot reaction chilled my customer. It probably cost me much of the business I might have done with this guy.
I warned my client Mike about my experience.
I told Mike that even though the guy told lies about me at that trade show, my hot-tempered response when I blasted him back had turned off the customer who witnessed my outburst and it cost me a profitable relationship.
What I wished I had said at that trade show was this:
“Hey, I’m sorry you’re disappointed that we didn’t do business – so am I. My lawyers wouldn’t let me sign the agreement that you sent me, and you didn’t want to sign the more conventional agreement that we sent you. So we didn’t meet and no one got hurt. I know that you and I had a disagreement and I apologize for my part in it. I respect you, and would like it if we can part as friends so maybe we’ll get a chance to work together in the future.”
That would have worked out a lot better than my blast did.
And the customer that I had been talking to might have thought, “Wow, Tom’s a reasonable guy even when there’s a disagreement. Sounds like I could work with him.”
In any event, I’ve learned that a sincere “I’m sorry things didn’t work out” isn’t the same as taking the blame for something. It shows respect for the other person’s discomfort and its not focused on conflict or making someone wrong.
So I told Mike this story from my own past and he did what I wished I had done.
The next time Mike saw his old friend he took this attitude. He told him that he was sorry they were in disagreement. He said he would like to work things out to both of their satisfaction, since they had been friends and were in the same community.
Mike concluded with, “Just because we can’t do business together doesn’t mean we can’t be good friends and neighbors, does it?”
A friend of mine who was at the charity lunch where this took place told me what happened next.
“The other guy’s face got red,” he told me. “He shook Mike’s hand and thanked him for his courtesy, and said that his wife and Mike’s wife had wanted them to get together before this, and that now he would do so gladly.”
“It’s funny,” my friend said to me. “Mike was the one who apologized, but he seemed to come out of it as the winner to those of us who saw it.”
So consider expressing your regrets sometimes, NOT because you were at fault, but just to recognize that the other party may have some regrets also.
By being honest about your regrets you may open up space for another relationship, if not with that person then perhaps with another who sees how generous you can be.
Here’s the big lesson. There are three phrases that only confident people will use freely.
“Please. Thank you. I’m sorry it didn’t work out.”
Consider where these expressions of respect for others would be appropriate for you. They soften relationships.