Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

No Autopilot When Spiraling In


As we continue our corkscrew toward the ground, we took another turn today. My wife can no longer easily swallow, causing her to cough when taking medications. Because she is so short of breath, she cannot cough up that which she has aspirated and she begins wheezing which results in her vomiting. Because she is not eating, the only thing she vomits is green bile from her stomach. It is a vicious circle as we spiral in.

The kids are convinced now that something will happen the day I drive them back to college. Given how we have tightened the spiral, I’m not sure I disagree.

Looking outward from inside this corkscrew is disorienting. As soon as I am convinced that something has settled, the wings tilt inward still further and we spin that much faster toward the ground. But one can find focus in this spin. When I least expect it and am most ill prepared, the gravity and magnitude of the situation (essentially the finality of it all) clubs me with a mighty blow after which I find myself gasping for breath, crying and floating directionless in the air until the reality of current circumstances force me to see the spinning and rapidly approaching ground through the windscreen.

There is no peace when spiraling in. Life’s obligations and daily tasks still require our attention: the dog needs to be fed and given his meds, the laundry never stops, groceries still need to shopped for, bills still need to be paid, work still needs to be done. However, there is a certain feeling of mechanization about it all. We go through the motions of shopping, eating, dressing, sleeping, as we have all summer, but there is no soul in it. Put your seats in the upright and locked position, return your tray table to its stowed position, tighten your seatbelt tight and low around your waist. The captain has exited the aircraft and will not be returning. Cancer is now piloting the aircraft. Thank you for flying the terminally ill skies.

The insanity of the situation is that all but one of us will survive the inevitable crash. We will survive but in what condition? And as hard as this flight has been, I cannot imagine how we will carry on after we bore into the ground. And it is approaching ever faster and filling my field of view. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I cannot see it clearly, because of the blinding rage and constant tears.

Stage Whiplash


“There is not much sense in suffering, since drugs can be given for pain, itching, and other discomforts. The belief has long died that suffering here on earth will be rewarded in heaven. Suffering has lost its meaning.”                                                                                                                        Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

When Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote this in her groundbreaking 1969 book, On Death and Dying, she was, of course speaking of the patient, the person dying. In the book, she famously describes the “stages” the terminally ill patient goes through: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. The book was not meant to be considered a research study, a point she repeatedly makes. She also emphasizes that these stages may be skipped, occur concurrently or be returned to on the way to Acceptance. And yet we suffer. We all suffer.

As I watch my wife go through this process, I cannot help but realize how similar the process is for the caregiver, the family members, and the survivors. We, too, are passing back, through, over, and around these stages in our effort to understand what is happening to our loved one. My initial Denial and Anger had given way to Bargaining (“this is our new normal, we’ll take as much time as we can get”), when on any given day, I can slip easily into Depression and back to Anger only to wake up the next day after a dream in Denial. No seatbelt or ABS brake can prevent that whiplash.

I cannot imagine a day when I have reached Acceptance because Kübler-Ross also wrote:

 “The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”

Am I grieving already? Yes. Am I confusing the “stages” and grieving? Perhaps. All I know is that each day (and often times several times within a day) brings a new emotion for which I am unprepared, I thought I had made peace with, or I anticipated would bring me peace, only to find myself confused and lost again. And one of the worst emotions I carry is that I know that while I am suffering the whiplash of these stages, I am not the one dying, I am not the one suffering or actually going through Kübler-Ross’s stages of the terminally ill. As she also wrote, “Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death.” Suffering has lost its meaning because we all still suffer.

Aurora Verdict

Remembering the Victims

George Orwell, in Politics and the English Language, wrote that “Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” And so it is with the concept of the death penalty, for me. I realize this is a personal issue, not unlike abortion (ironic how much  the two have in common) and elicit powerful emotions on both sides of the debate.

Today, the jury in Colorado could not agree on a penalty for the shooter in the July 20, 2012, Aurora theater shooting which claimed the lives of Jonathon Blunk, age 26; AJ Boik, age 18; Jessie Childress, age 29; Gordon Cowden, age 51; Jessica Ghawi, age 24; John Larimer, age 27; Matt McQuinn, age 27; Micayla Medek, age 23; Veronica Moser-Sullivan, age 6; Alex Sullivan, age 27; Alexander Teves, age 24; and Rebecca Wingo, age 32 and injured another 70 resulting in a default penalty of life in custody without the possibility of parole. The toll might have been significantly higher had his 100 round drum magazine not jammed on his assault rifle or his boobie-trapped apartment detonated as planned.

And yet, with all of that, I still do not feel that the death penalty would have been appropriate. For one thing, it triggers an immediate and almost mandatory appeal. Many of the objections rendered by the defense during the trial were simply for the record in order to reference for the appeal process. The thought of making the families go through another trial is sickening. While time may scab over some of our horrible memories, I do not believe in “closure” and I do not believe these scabbed over wounds can ever heal. The likelihood of an appeal for a penalty of life without parole is significantly reduced.

Furthermore, there is ultimately no “relief” in a lethal injection for the families. There would have been no pain during his execution, no agony, no prehistoric carnal retribution, if that’s what you were looking for. No eye for an eye. The people in the theater suffered, those that died suffered, those that were injured suffered. Those that were uninjured were terrified. No one there will ever be the same. Ever.

In fact, we treat the worst criminals better than we treat the terminally I’ll. The shooter would be given a gentle drug to put him to sleep and then another to stop his heart. As I type this, I am sitting at my desk watching my wife suffer the end effects of breast cancer as it seeks to conquer her lungs, liver, pancreas, abdominal wall, and probably brain. She struggles for each breath and there is nothing she can do about it. Where is her dignity? Where is her justice? Where is her gentle drug cocktail?

No, I do not believe in the death penalty. I believe this jury got the penalty correct. His penalty should match that of the survivors and remaining family members who have to carry on each day without their loved ones or with life-changing injuries or with the PTSD associated with that event three years ago. They too got life without parole. Orwell was right. You cannot make murder respectable.



Yesterday was the world’s first chance to see all of the major GOP candidates for president on the stage (at two different times due to the sheer number of them) respond to puff ball questions from Fox News anchors. It was as far from a debate as The Bachelor is from dating. In fact, it could probably be argued that The Bachelor is closer to an actual debate.

Donald Trump did what he does best, steamroll interviewers and responds in a way to puff himself up. Every other candidate did what typical politicians do: ignore the question and reply with canned responses that poll well but provide no actual insight or solutions.

It seemed to have been sponsored by Facebook (and looked like speed dating sponsored by Facebook), but given the number of candidates and the one minute response time it should have been sponsored by Twitter. The bumper sticker length responses would have fit perfectly into a tweet and the entire “debate” could have been held online, complete with hashtags: #fatpig, #siamesetwins, #obamaclintondoctrine, #God, #defundObamacare, #myparentswerepoor, #I’mmoreconservativethantheothers, etc., etc..

Perhaps the next “debate” will be sponsored by Joel Osteen or the NRA. Wouldn’t that be fun. Except then too, we would be bereft of insight and solutions.

A Vierordt Summer

7617471_sIn 1868, German physician Karl von Vierordt published a book on his experiments into the psychology of time perception. In it included what became known as Vierordt’s Law “a robust phenomenon in time estimation research that has been observed with different time estimation methods.” Essentially, it states that “short” amounts of time tend to be overestimated and “long” amounts of time tend to be underestimated. This has been the basis of our summer. The clock has barely moved while the calendar has flown.

The kids are heading back to college in 20 days. These interminable hours belie the fact that they have been home since mid-May and have known the awful fact that Lisa will no longer be fighting this awful disease. They are terrified to leave her knowing it may be the last time they ever see her. I tell them they must go, they cannot forestall their own futures, they must continue on their own paths. It is the truth. I also know that the routine of school, with friends around them, and classes to occupy their time will distract them from the cruelty the universe is throwing at them 150 miles away.

Sitting here day after day at my desk watching my wife slowly wither away in bed; watching my son and daughter sit with their mother doing the same as me is heartbreaking. No amount of preparation can prepare you for the monotony and sheer terror of watching someone, anyone, much less someone you love, slowly suffocate to death. Cancer is a suicidal disease bent on killing its host at the cost of its own existence. Watching it happen with no more arrows in the quiver is akin to watching Captain Smith walk into the wheelhouse of the Titanic, lock the doors and wait for the ship to sink. With no more options, one seeks the course of action with the most dignity. Don’t get me started on whether there should be better options for better dignity.

Sleep used to be easy. I could roll over, shut off the world and be out in a minute, and wake up in the morning (if not refreshed) ready to go. Now sleep is like a cruel joke. I am exhausted from running all of the errands of the day, worrying about Lisa and the kids and watching a clock that does not move but terrified of a calendar that will not stop because I know that each day that passes brings me closer to a day I know is coming and one I dare not consider. Lisa does not sleep well now. She wakes me because she cannot breathe well. I give her meds and turn up the oxygen concentrator. I rub her back, hoping she will calm down, that her heart rate will return to “normal” and her body will be lulled into a false belief that it is generating enough oxygen to fuel the system. If I’m successful I’m awake. My mind goes to dark places so I read. It usually takes a good hour to flush the dark thoughts in order for me to attempt sleep again. Sometimes this happens two or three times a night. The clock stands still. The calendar whirls.

Vierordt had no idea how easy his experimentation could have been had he simply gone to any intensive care unit at any hospital and found the waiting room and talked to the family members and friends of the terminally I’ll patients. They would have told him how long minutes last and how quickly weeks fly.

Stupidity Fatigue

Head in HandsThere is a saying in the lottery industry when the public will not purchase tickets for a seemingly high jackpot called “jackpot fatigue.” It is caused by the ever increasing and ever publicized jackpots always available to the public. The public has seen it all before and heard it all before and nothing new can be said about the jackpot total to get them to the convenience store to purchase a ticket. It’s all been done before.

I find myself suffering a similar kind of fate lately regarding the public at large. Events that used to anger me now no longer pique my interest or at least no longer send me to my computer and my Twitter feed where I would once fire off a pithy comment. Twitter especially has become the bastion of trolls ready to engage in bumper sticker based retorts and troglodyte tantrums rather than the necessary thought out debates. It is the AM radio of the internet.

I feel guilty for abandoning those things about which I am still passionately concerned: gun violence prevention, women’s rights, protecting my children from all manner of political stupidity, animal welfare, etc., etc, but I know that there are still those out there whom I trust to carry the ball downfield while I suffer this miasmatic ennui. I still read and I still write, just not at the same temperature as before.

Right now there are about 300 GOP candidates running for president, so there is still time for me to come out of this spin and focus the laser. Right now the moms and dads of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America are meeting in Minneapolis to discuss next steps. In another universe, a universe where I wasn’t working with hospice to care for my dying wife, I would have joined them to learn what I could do to better fight gun violence in blood soaked America. But that is not the universe in which I currently reside. I do not make excuses, but only present facts. I am tired, physically and mentally.

I am tired of the stupidity of the southern white male with his pickup truck emblazoned with hunting decals and NRA stickers, tired of the stupidity of religious hypocrites festooned with Christian stickers on their cars and quick to criticize anyone not their mirror image. I am tired of the stupidity of the 300 GOP candidates running for president who are fighting for air time by reaching for the lowest common denominator in their demographic and ultimately the shallowest of the public gene pool. I am tired of cancer and the stupidity of its suicidal march toward the murder of its host. I am tired of the stupidity. I am suffering from stupidity fatigue.



My heart aches for my country. My heart aches for my world. Most importantly, my heart aches for my children. I fear, more than at any time in my lifetime that we are slipping ever closer to both civil war and world war.

As demographic changes overwhelm the status quo and economic “norms” succumb to new paradigms, the old majorities cling to their crumbling precipice and make preposterous threats to those “below” them until a boiling point is reached and the pressure cooker explodes. Every year we see dynamic shifts in socioeconomic or civil right standards that only a few short years before seemed impossible. Consider gay marriage or the removal of the confederate flag from the state house in South Carolina. Now consider a woman president or gun legislation. One seems a fait accompli while the other still engenders violent arguments on both sides of the struggle. And while the former still garners consternation from a small quarter of the public, it is the latter that causes me the most consternation. Because while the flag came down in South Carolina, and it seemed to be common sense, there is a deep seated racist backlash, coupled with a gun culture which has already lent itself to secession once, where I fear a second civil war may erupt. There has already been talk from politicians, politicians running for high national office (Rick Perry) regarding secession. This talk and the armament that these people hold is disturbing to say the least. And there is nothing well regulated about this militia.

Internationally, antisemitism, always the go-to for the disgruntled, has been resurrected in many parts of the world. And this at a time when more countries than ever have a nuclear capability. Greece’s insolvency threatens the Euro and the financial stability of the European community while Germany is left holding the financial burden. Japan has converted to an offensive capability for the first time since World War II and Russia is pushing everyone’s buttons to see just how far they can go before someone pushes back, going so far as to fly bombers off the coast of California. We’ve essentially already acted as a modern day Neville Chamberlain and conceded Crimea to Russia as a modern day Sudetenland minus the Munich Agreement by not challenging Putin. Of course, then some other country will “send troops into Russia forcing Putin to respond.” Or perhaps we’ll just skip the pretense and a President Cruz or Bush or Huckabee or some other hawk will preemptively bomb Russia leading to a retaliatory nuclear attack ending in our nuclear response and earth’s ultimate destruction. Boom boom, bang bang, lie down, you’re dead.

What ever happened to debate? To discussion? To negotiation? Why cannot today’s majority see the writing on the wall and accept that tomorrow will be different? Why cannot we accept that change is inevitable? That we must accept change or perish?  Of course, if we could do that, none of these issues would be issues. Climate change would be the fact that it is we would be well underway in dealing with it instead of holding snowballs in the well of the United States Senate as if weather and climate were interchangeable terms. Gun violence prevention would be common sense rather than code words for confiscation from the paranoid few who control the political elite, racism would be an anachronism left to the dustbin of history instead of the last vestige of dominance for whites watching their majority slip into fear of retribution.

I fear for my country. I fear for my world. I fear for my children. Tell me I’m wrong.

The Rose

DSC_0062_-_CopyOscar Wilde wrote, “A flower blossoms for its own joy,” and while he is one of my favorite authors, I disagree with this quote. Flowers can neither enjoy their own fragrance nor know their own beauty or the joy they bring to others.

As one last outing, Lisa wanted to go to the nursery to see the roses on Sunday. She had not been out of bed in almost two months, so the procedure we went through to get her there, with the wheelchair and oxygen tank stuffed into the car on a 90+ degree Texas summer day was daunting for me and the kids, it was punishing for Lisa. We had traveled no more than half a mile before she vomited all of the pain medication pills I had given her not ten minutes before. And yet she would not allow me to turn around. We were going to see the roses.

Of course, anyone who knows Lisa knows how much she loves her garden and her flowers, especially her roses. She researched and selected each one, labeled them with brass tags and spent countless hours pruning and tending to them. Like the rose in Antoine de Saint- Exupéry’s The Little Prince, she loved each of them because of their pure beauty and the work she had put in each of them.

As I pushed her wheelchair through the rough, rocky terrain (and pulled the oxygen tank behind me) she stopped me to read about the varieties of roses and admired their beauty (as if she was looking to fill a hole in the garden). It was then that it dawned on me that she is just like a rose. There is no better description or personification in nature than the rose. She is a rose.

She is brutally honest and unflaggingly faithful. She reminds me of the quote from Alphonse Karr, who wrote, “Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses,” and the quote from Anne Brontë, who wrote, “He who dares not grasp the thorn should never crave the rose.” Having her in my life has brought me thorns and flowers, but I would never have traded the former for the latter because one without the other would destroy the rose that she is.

Even now, after being brutalized by cancer and chemo, she can be seen in the poem of Robert Frost

“The rain to the wind said,

‘You push and I’ll pelt.’

They so smote the garden bed.

That the flowers actually knelt,

And lay lodged — though not dead.

I know how the flowers felt.”

And yet, while the rose is fading, she does not know her own beauty or the joy she brings to others, she is loved. She is a rose. She is my rose.

American Exceptionalism

The World According to Americans

We’ve got guns, but no responsibility

We’ve got ammo, but no control of our passion

We’ve got guns, but lack basic civility

We’ve got ammo, but no room for compassion

We’ve got flags, but no discretion

We’ve got crosses, but no love

We’ve got flags, but talk of secession

We’ve got crosses, but demean from above

No chance of sovereignty

Just tragedy

No common sense

Just build a fence

No Atlas Shrugged

Just criminally drugged

No coverage for influenza

Just a pass for affluenza

We’ve got technology, but no one talks on the phone

We’ve got politics, but no debate

We’ve got technology, but kill with a drone

We’ve got politics, but filled with hate

We’ve got movies, but can’t sit still

We’ve got schools, but no teachers

We’ve got movies, but men come to kill

We’ve got schools, but arm the preachers

No chance of sovereignty

Just tragedy

No common sense

Just build a fence

No Atlas Shrugged

Just criminally drugged

No coverage for influenza

Just a pass for affluenza

We’ve got a choice, but no commitment

We’ve got a mirror, but no reflection

We’ve got a choice, but no development

We’ve got a mirror, but no direction

We’ve got Rush, but no hurry

We’ve got Trump, but immigrant spite

We’ve got Rush, but do not worry

We’ve got Trump, and we’re all white

We’ve got AM radio, but only racist static

We’ve got Fox News, but only destruction

We’ve got AM Radio, but only listened to by the fanatic

We’ve got Fox News, but only obstruction

No chance of sovereignty

Just tragedy

No common sense

Just build a fence

No Atlas Shrugged

Just criminally drugged

No coverage for influenza

Just a pass for affluenza

What have we done, St. Ronnie what have we done?

What are we doing, Huckabee what are we doing?

What will we do, Cruz when will we have fun?

Where is American exceptionalism going?

Missionary to Mars

Revelations III

We are now less than forty days and forty nights away from the recently discovered and highly anticipated colonization of Mars. We have all read the incredible story of how a vocal portion of our nation is planning an unprecedented mission to Mars with the hope of creating, in the tradition of New England, New Mexico, New London, and New York, a New America. When questioned by this writer, one traveler said that Mars was chosen because it is the “red” planet, and should, therefore, be absent of any blue “libtards” and purple “homo sapiens” (presumably referencing homosexuals). 

The taxpayer funded and privately financed program is using untested, massive rocket ships to transport over 60 million Americans to this New America. The list of private financiers is as eclectic as it is determined, bringing the likes of Joel Osteen and Michael Bloomberg together, and while the former is determined to make sure he has a seat on the first ship to leave (Moses I), the latter is determined to make sure the former succeeds. Indeed, some financiers remaining on earth have picked up the tab for the previously despised (by passengers) FEMA to set up camps in “red” states to assist the secessionists in packing.

The ships, each named after either a character in the Bible or a chapter in the book will each carry passengers, food, essential equipment and “old” America’s 300,000,000 guns. In fact, in a strange demand by all passengers, despite their overwhelmingly homogenous nature (white, heterosexual, Christian, and obese) passengers have insisted that they be allowed to openly carry their individual firearms, even if they have 20 or 30 of them each.

The long journey will be catered by Papa Johns and payment will be in the form of the new country’s newly minted currency. Each bill of the “old” America has been re-crafted in the manner agreed upon by the passengers. For example, the $1 bill will carry the likeness of Jesus while the $5 has picture of Jefferson Davis, the $10 has a picture of “Saint” Reagan, and the $20 bill has a controversial picture of Ayn Rand. It is controversial, not because she is not a patron saint of the travelers, but rather that she is a woman. Another seemingly controversial, but agreed upon fact is that each ship will carry only enough fuel for a one-way trip.

Another honor to Rand is the fact that the ships are being built out of a new metal called Reardon Steel, after one of the characters on the new country’s mandatory reading list, “Atlas Shrugged.” The ships will be launched from a spaceport nearing completion in Texas. Due to the complexity of the boarding requirements, the organization Farmer’s Only is being contracted to confirm seating arrangements and offering to group men with eager women wearing cowboy boots for the long journey through, as one traveler said between chewing tobacco spit “city slicker-less space.” Ships Revelations I and Song of Solomon III will be housed entirely of young, unwed men and women (including Bristol Palin), leaving many unfilled seats for the expected arrival of “miracle space babies” along the way.

Once the final ship has left the Texas spaceport, leaving Texas essentially devoid of humans, the United States has said it has plans to develop Texas into a wildlife preserve and wind farm, rendering Texas, once the mecca of oil production capable of providing wind energy for the entire country. To make way for the wildlife preserve and wind farm, residents of Austin, the sole “blue” dot in an otherwise blood red state will be relocated to New Austin in the former Orlando, Florida area.

While this writer does not intend on joining the space secessionists, he wishes them well on their long journey to, as one traveler said, Jacob’s ladder.


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