For Marvin

“Nangamung-a.”

I asked my dad if he recalled what his father said to him before he left home to study in the city. He paused thoughtfully and then chuckling in sudden recognition and amusement repeated the saying: “Nangamung-a.”

“It is up to you.”

When he left home to study at Ateneo de Manila he felt very lonely and homesick. He is the oldest male out of the seven children his mother and father raised. I can imagine the pressure he may have felt to succeed and the world he dropped into was furthest from the insular comforts of where he came. Being a representative of his family with roots in the Ifugao tradition his kind were once looked upon as subhuman. It was a challenge he would be more than equal in overcoming; but not without trial.

He would tell me on more than one occasion about his struggle with self doubt. The most engaging to me was before he first took the bar examination. A fellow student was praying earnestly for assistance and success. In a moment of false pride and confidence he chided the schoolmate for his piety believing he would be better off studying than to place himself in supplication.

My dad did not pass the bar.

In his embarrassment and shame he confessed to a professor that he wanted to go home and that he did not want to go through the experience only to fail once again. The professor encouraged him to continue.

To try again.

How was he able to summon up the courage to face his adversity?

He studied harder. And, he prayed.

To me praying is not the use of words in order to request fulfilment for one’s desires or the mitigation or elimination of misfortune. It is the thoughtful contemplation of the soul, the communication with and resultant echo of wisdom.

I asked him about humility. He said humility is the act of putting oneself in the position “to understand” another. To go under and stand in the light of God. He looked at me his eyes bright. Tired and bright.

“Nangamung-a.”

His hearing is almost gone, but the same sentiment and loving kindness I could see his father conveyed to him was passed to me also before I married. It is a call to profound wisdom. A patience with oneself that is a touchstone to what I am convinced is a great Ifugao oral tradition.

“Nangamung-a,” my son.

(With corrections kindly provided by Dad)

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May I take your new old order?

On July 8, my wife and I attended the New Order concert at Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver. We were running late so we got to the venue in time to hear the intermission Big Ben bells chiming out the warning for patrons to get ourselves and our butts into our seats for the show. We were situated in one of the wings of the dress circle. Unlike the orchestra area of the theatre, there were no ushers to guide us to our seats. What I like about this area of the venue is that it is closer to the stage than many of the rows in the lower orchestra and provides by its size and situation a more intimate vantage point to enjoy a performance.

One caveat of this review is that I am not all too familiar with the discography of the band. Make that two bands. I did not even know they were an offshoot of the defunct Joy Division. My wife filled me in on those minutiae with her big eyes saying “Really?”. Yeah really. We grew up in the eighties and even though she first knew me as a boy who liked to listen to vinyl records, her look is not so surprising to me. It is one of her more recognizable attractions.

It was not long until the house lights dimmed and the synthesized strains of the opening to ‘Elegia’ filled the room. It sounded much like a mix of spaghetti western showdown music between Colonel Mortimer and Indio in ‘For A Few Dollars More’ or Tuco, Angel Eyes, and Blondie in ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’. I don’t know if the ghost of Ennio Morricone was in the house. If he was then he might have been screaming from the wings and not heard. I say filled the room and then some because the sound from the house pa monitors while quite pleasant from the dj onstage prior had now become a cacophony of high pitched bells and reverberating synthesized bass notes many of which bounced off the walls to an echoing effect of high intensity. I was reminded of how unintelligible and disappointing the sound was for Soundgarden at this very place, and even though the build up which went on for a couple of minutes was intriguing as an introduction in itself, it did not bode well for the rest of the evening.

The band entered to a welcoming roar and the members took their positions. There was an acoustic drum kit onstage and beside it a large chinese gong suspended on its own stand facing the audience. A la The Who. Another band member off to the right would later play on a set of electronic drum toms providing that now familiar sheet metal beat and trash can lid smash from their hits. The band launched into ‘Crystal’ with a screen above the stage providing the audience with a video of the song. It made me wonder what to centre my attention on; the video screen or the stage performance because the band was veiled in almost near darkness for much of their set. This disconnect between the band and the audience would permeate the evening. I looked around and apart from the people in the dance pit closest to the stage most were seated. It is this kind of audience ‘participation’ which I really think makes Vancouver such a letdown to attend concerts in oftentimes. An ‘entertain me’ centric town with so many content to tickle their smartphones during the show it makes the term ‘straight to DVD’ apropos. I mean what the hell do you pay your money to come out and see? A huge part of the live experience is the interaction between the audience and the band. Geez, go tap on your devices at the local big time hockey rink if you want that brand of quality entertainment.

Okay enough of the rant. I got up out of my seat and began to dance because this is what I came for. What little I knew about the band was thrown aside, because when it comes to beats and energy it was obvious New Order was going to pump it out LOUD LOUD LOUD. It was kind of like being in LuV a Fair nightclub way back when only larger and this time everybody paid way more than cover to the bouncer to get in. We decided to continue to a stair landing nearest to our folding chairs and resume our gyrations there. The music bounced along and I got to enjoy my time dancing with the lovely creature in front of me and asking “What kind of bird…are you?” like Sam to Suzy in ‘Moonrise Kingdom’. I moved facing her, my back to the stage, and saw our shadows moving along the walls and shifting to the beats and the reflection of myriad lighting effects. I imagined us dancing together in our younger days, the look on her face of nervous embarrassment at my goofy smile while I gazed into her eyes in wonderment; how. Then to now. From that to the shadows on the wall and back to our present movements, similar and yet slower, much like the awkward movements of a first dance, now with the addition of aching joints.

A break in the action and frontman Bernard Sumner thanked Vancouver for coming out to the show, he then apologized for not arriving sooner saying “…it wasn’t our fault!” I am not sure if he was saying this because the demand was not sufficient enough to warrant playing at a venue like QE Theatre, or if he was referring to the value of the Canadian dollar for the past three decades. I say ‘frontman loosely because a lot of the bands’ music is more suited to the nightclub scene then live stage performance. No Roger Daltrey here. A large part of their stage presence is left to the listening and watching the visuals on the screen and the light show. Get it right and you have what could have been a live performance at a previous incarnation of the H.R. MacMillan Planetarium. Anything lacking in either area and you get what happened this night: disjointed unnecessary segues and awkward introductions to different songs, and intriguing visuals which for some reason were placed above the stage off centre and on a screen of a size more suited to a venue like The Centre in Vancouver, or even more encompassing; The Commodore Ballroom. Take for example ‘Your Silent Face’, where the scenes were close shots of city buildings and flashing, blurred, rapidly advancing bluuuue, greeeeeen, yelloooowww and RED lights which conveyed a feeling of constant rapidity in the day and night of a modern city. A bleakness and aloneness was conveyed punctuated by slow frames of text which called our attention to our complacency; that there is a movement to eliminate some unnamed affliction, or injustice and we should be moved to act. It ended with a website to go to: http://www.amfar.org.

I ducked out to get some water. Even though we were still relatively early into the show the bar was closed. Oh yeah it is a Vancouver civic theatre so no shock there. Oh well, my wife found a fountain so we both had our fill before heading back. It also gave my eardrums a break. I could feel them approaching the pain threshold. I quickly checked the merch booth for ear plugs. No such luck. The offerings were very sparse with a couple of t-shirt styles (one for Joy Division), and cds by the opening act held on by clips on the white metal screen fencing. The workers behind the table were speaking casually and what with the wares for sale it was not surprising they only directed ho-hum glances to a potential customer.

The lead up to ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ and instant familiarity with the tune got the crowd up for a while. By this time the audience in the balcony section were standing and dancing for the most part. It was good to see. I can’t say much more for the people in the Orchestra section below the majority of which stood around like a tree stand. With ‘True Faith’ we were definitely moving and the house was surfing along in a rare wave of tangible excitement 80’s style. The song was mysterious then and continues to hold up well as a truly iconic tune of the era.

By the time ‘Blue Monday’ rolled around I was getting bored. The visuals of a female left arm and hand slowly walking through tall grass during the golden hour seemed to signal what could have been the aching close of teenage years. The nostalgic goodbye however was more cold water in the face than a wish to return. My hands were over my ears and removing them lent a ‘wow-wow-wow’ sound effect to the proceedings. I wanted to leave but my wife was holding out for one more song. Mr. Sumner looked bored too; he leaned on his mic stand mid song and without an instrument in hand looked out on the crowd and performed a disaffected yawn. I laughed out loud. After all his mentions of “Vancouver” (which were more than a few) and the multiple times “beautiful city” was spewed, it was probably his most sincere moment of the night. As if to underline his teenage-like frustration he muscled in unceremoniously on the keyboardist who after a few seconds appeared to realize the tantrum he was in and stepped away leaving Mr. Sumner to take it out on the instrument. At the very end he held a cacophony of notes to ear shattering spikes. Huh. I guess it was our fault.

New Order’s final song during their anticlimactic encore was the Joy Division standard bearer ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, the song my wife was waiting for. She turned to me and voiced her disappointment. She apologized as if I had been forced to attend for all her anticipation and excitement. Yet despite its short comings the show became a backdrop to the excitement and satisfaction of being with her at a concert she was up to seeing. I got to be a happy participant. As we exited I noticed many young concert goers rubbing their ears. The prophetic words of Prince way back during his Lovesexy tour still ring in mine: “Vancouver you got a long way to go!”

And I thought I was old.

My thanks go to the contributors at http://www.setlist.fm who posted the setlist for the show.

a thought

Would you rather:

                                                                                              corner

                                                                             the

                                                                    ound

                                                         r

                                                    a

Give it your best shot to look            

 

                                                           stance

or                                            a   d i

Do 0 and STARE from

The effort of Opening up. The effort of Slowing down…

I am pretty sure a common refrain with writing and doing many things in general is the expectant hope that an idea will manifest itself onto the page without work. To be honest the act of placing myself in this moment is work. So here I am: let’s do some work.

Last Friday I went to see The Milk Carton Kids at St. James Community Hall in Kitsilano. I was running late and I had no ticket. I was hoping there might be extras for sale at the door. I had not been to the area in a long while and I wanted to make the start of the show, so intuitively I parked at the first available spot about a block away from the venue. The sun was going down and the tree lined street rolled away to the vanishing point bordered by quaint houses, hidden driveways, and waist high fences. It is the kind of place I imagine someone with bohemian tendencies along with the good fortune of old money would occupy, and I must admit am a little envious of. I also imagine it to be an experience I missed out on growing up. The idea of living close to the city life of downtown Vancouver or being able to get up and walk to the ocean or the beach when you are in your twenties makes me wistful. So I approached the venue and saw the tour bus with its front windows shaded, the rest of the windows tinted to repel inward eyes. I saw Joey Ryan from the duo walking in conversation with another beside him. He was dressed in the same black suit he wore in their recent video recording of a live performance from Columbus, Ohio. He seemed to be making mental notes and he carried himself with the purposeful but relaxed stride of a man walking in enjoyment of a garden party or high school graduation. There was a hint of quiet awkwardness, a shyness hidden by a deep intellect and dry humour displayed in the duo’s recently filmed concert recording.  I wanted to say hi but did not want to interrupt. I continued to walk up the steps toward the entrance. After climbing the switchback set of stairs, I found there were two entrances.  To the right a sign indicated ‘Concert Entrance’. The left hand door was unknown. I felt uncomfortable with the possible rejection implied in my head by going to the obvious so I went left where in a foyer card tables were set up on the fringes of an inner entranceway covered with handmade table cloths, simple and functional.  Behind a table immediately beside the doorway a woman pointed out to a patron that the white charcoal on black cardstock sign neatly printed advertising a goodly selection of alcoholic beverages was false due to alcohol bylaws in effect for the sold out show. From this vantage point I quickly looked beyond where I stood and into the hall itself which appeared to be a decommissioned church. The inside was dimly lit, and the shadows of the attendees along with the din of conversation and the occasional blob of a shadow come out to take form in the light of the foyer the only indications that there was activity within. I liked it immediately.  I exited the way I came in and made my way to the other entrance.  I noticed a man holding a ticket.  He approached me and asked if I would like to buy one. I quickly paid and thanked him, more surprised by the serendiptous immediacy of it than paying less than face value. When I entered, it was obvious that this was the business side of the function with stations for the ticket check, the membership table for the Rogue Folk Society which was sponsoring the show, and the merch tables. This business side however was more flea market than slick marketing and over priced everything everywhere you turn. The door person graciously pointed out the things I needed to know: You can sit anywhere there is a seat, the location of the restroom, where the food and drinks were being sold, but that there would be no alcohol sales allowed because the show is sold out (That’s So Vancouver).  I thanked her and made my way to the front of the house. It was there I found my seat at the very front among other empty seats to the right of the stage in behind a p.a. monitor and a 1970’s era floor fan on a chair a foot away in full blow, square shaped green and white plastic grill.  A single vintage looking metallic spider web mic with a gold centre stood blooming on a thin silvery stalk centre stage amid the thick velvet curtain backdrop.  A few overhead house lights illuminated the area around the microphone giving it an inviting glow. You could see the dust lines floating in and out of each beam of light disturbed from the vaulted ceiling above by the vibrations of the people below.  The arch of the entire ceiling which was ribboned from back to front north to south by strips of tightly fitted wood lent the building the smell of old wooden furniture.  The dimly lit balcony below it was framed by the light quickly fading within the windows behind the step riser pews.  It conveyed the feeling of being inside a capsized boat.  I said hello to two women who obviously came together.  I asked if any of the seats beside them were taken.  The woman closest to me acknowledged a polite no.  I asked if I could sit beside her and she agreed.  I took my place in a metal folding chair and while the fan hummed steadily in our faces she proceeded to ask me how I was familiar with the music of the band.  We exchanged our discoveries and for some odd reason, I assured her that despite my appearance  (dirty mac work shirt and jeans) I was too old to be reckless.   After which getting comfortable in my seat I noticed a beautiful single pink full on big ball peony standing, beaming in a clear glass vase.  I coveted it immediately. The emcee a stout bearded fellow in a t-shirt, suspenders and pork pie hat came out on stage to welcome everyone and apologize for the lack of spirits.  He said something to the effect that maybe the city politicians were concerned the combination of a sold out show and alcohol meant that we would not be able to hold each other up when we inevitably became piss drunk.  After regaling the audience with upcoming shows where spiked drinks would be available, he introduced Joey Ryan who in turn would introduce the opening artist Tom Brosseau.  For those unfamiliar with Joey he is an encyclopaedia of the mundane and archaic, however his delivery and timing is impeccable with a sharp wit that makes the altogether ordinary subjects of his humour curiously hilarious.  I can’t recall how he started off his introduction but he did say Tom was tall, blonde, skinny and a great musical artist.  Ha ha ha!  Well you had to be there.  On with the show… Tom Brosseau came out tall wearing a plain baby blue long sleeved poplin shirt and plain front logger jeans.  Dark brown boots completed his well travelled look.  He said hi, he said his name and that he would sing some songs and then he would have to leave.  His lyrics belied the resplendent and clear voice which rang out and placed sweetness beside darkness.  I was reminded of Harry Dean Stanton in ‘Cool Hand Luke’.  He sang of the heartache of an unrequited puppy love for his hard living twice married landlady in LA, dreams of sexual release unshared.  He closed with ‘Today Is A Bright New Day’, a breakup vignette recalling the experience of a small town boy coming home to a familiar DQ haunt he used to occupy with an old girlfriend who referenced the title like perfunctory howdies as a way of putting on a brave face melting away in his banana split.  Even though he stated between songs that his writing stems from true situations and that he often finds they take on a life of their own and the story gets crazy, it did not seem to slake the discomfort my seatmates had for his subjects.  Or was it distaste?  Everything he sang about was discordant to the environment I was in.  Clean cut people with clean cut houses, university students with money, loving cup competitors with conservative wanderlust.  It wasn’t to be Tom’s kind of folk party.  What caught me later as deja vu was a song he wrote about being taken by his mother to a department store five states away from home and with the promise of “I’ll be right back”, left to his own devices inside a large circular rack of dresses marked ‘CLEARANCE’ only to be discovered at closing time by a clerk.

“What’s your name?

“Tommy”

“Tommy, where’s your mommy?” ”

…I’ve haven’t seen her since”

End of song.  Awkward silence, before polite clapping.  Some with more foresight clapped and hollered enthusiastically.  I could taste the tension.  After the show I had the feeling I read about the song in a review somewhere.  I cannot place it but that ‘I could swear I was there’ veil hovered around me about it. Did I dream it?  He mentioned later his mom asking him why he wrote such dark sad songs.  Record scratch.  He sang a song he called ‘Goodbye Empire Builder’ about a train that travels across the USA.  I anticipated a train wreck which I did not want him to feel.  Awkward nervousness again this time for him on the stage.  Waiting for some relief even though his voice and his guitar playing were more than enough to solve that, it was like the ‘one of these things just doesn’t belong here’ tune from my childhood.  That feeling of not fitting in.  Between each song he would step aside toward a bouquet of peonies onstage bend his nose down and breathe in.  I know when I smell heady flowers I’m transported…

After a brief intermission The Milk Carton Kids entered the stage to a warm and enthusiastic welcome.  They launched into ‘Hope of A Lifetime’ their voices melding effortlessly, skilful and light were their hands on their chosen axes.  As they stood facing each other Kenneth’s guitar with a white kerchief tied nut side of the capo, and Joey Ryan straight faced his dark rimmed glasses nodding as they played, their musical connection made me nod in agreement also.  Experiencing music hitting a chord with an audience once is something special; when it is warm and familiar spanning the degrees of love and loss, of celebration and defeat, that shared recognition becomes magical.  However Joey Ryan has a way of bringing you out of that reverie with his matter of fact musings a gentle shaking of the shoulders as you lay as if to say hey it’s time to wake up and open your eyes a bit and adjust them to the waning light or the waning dark.  One of his nudges between songs consisted of an acknowledgement of the audience saying “You guys are the best crowd.  Better than last night’s crowd”.  He qualified it by saying he said pretty much the same thing to last night’s crowd because they had more likes for the show on Facebook.  It was refreshing to hear that acknowledgement as if to say thanks for showing up and listening to our music, and that they enjoy coming out to do what they do.  He later engaged in anti-hype by talking about the merchandise available for sale wryly joking about how they had to retire their previous t-shirt design because they figured that the money was to be made not in selling their music, but by selling t-shirts and tote bags, so that they went and hired a designer who he admitted made some beautiful designs for their new shirts.  However he failed to see what octopus and phases of the moon on the new shirts had to do with their music and that we could buy them if we like.  He then mentioned the dvd of their performance at the Lincoln Theatre in Columbus, Ohio and said it was rather expensive and you could watch it for free online, and that the set was pretty much the same as the DVD so that if you really wanted to you could just go home right now and watch that instead.

Songs such as ‘Michigan’ and ‘The Ash and Clay’ expanded the slow long lens look back, while Kenneth Pattengale showcased his fretboard virtuosity on ‘Girls Gather Round’ and ‘Honey, Honey’.  In introducing a song they had never played live before Joey requested no recording:  his reason being that “we don’t want to hear the first recording of this song to be from your shitty iPhone”. By the end of the evening I had purchased their back catalog on vinyl as well as their latest record ‘The Ash & Clay’.  Oh yeah I also picked up one of those moon phase shirts for my son.  I had to say no to the dvd and the tote bag even though it looked nice and like it could hold a few shirts and things.  You can watch the live performance of their appearance at Lincoln Theatre on YouTube:

Seeing Tom Brosseau at the merch table doing a meet and greet with a smattering of people was a continuance of the awkwardness I felt for him.  He smiled and said hi to me.  I returned his greeting but I did not continue his gaze.  It was an easy eager smile.  The smile of an artist who is open to all possibilities whose job it was not to shock but disturb.  I guess I am still dozing, lacking that particular courage to express my admiration for his courage to follow his muse.  As I made my way down the stairs I felt the yearning to go back and get the peony for my wife.  I wanted to put my nose into it, to gaze upon it and wear it because I could see in its beauty something that makes me smile.  I went back and asked for it.  So beautiful, I placed it in my shirt pocket.  It was the only place I could keep it safe and being a vessel for that flower made me feel special.  A woman remarked on how pretty the flower was saying I must have stolen it.  Being someone who my wife says has to get the last word in I stated that no I asked for it and smiled.  I left and as I crossed the street the tour bus loomed large blocking my view of oncoming traffic and out of place in the quiet neighbourhood.  There was only one more stop to make.  Cheesecake Etc. for a slice of plain with strawberry topping.  For someone special.

An open letter to my sister (brother number 2)

It was a pleasure to be with you and Marcus last night. I enjoyed not driving. I enjoyed sitting and listening to your newfound group and the things they felt were important to them. I enjoyed sitting at the restaurant tying a couple on and partaking of the different fare they served. New surroundings and being with people I am comfortable and relaxed with always make me smile.

Therein lies the truth of me. I have always been the type to be boisterous if you really know me. It is DNA material. The spirit that will leave this body to the earth when all is said and finished.

One of my early memories was of visiting our little catholic elementary school with mom. It was after I attended public school kindergarten where everyday I felt uneasy, scared to be away from home, remembering how I wanted to avoid sitting beside a kid who smelled like pee everyday. I remember being bullied in the play yard by some older boys. However when I went to the catholic school and the grade one portable which would eventually be my classroom I was welcomed by the students there. Especially the girls who cooed and were excited to see me and show me around. I remember being in the coat room and being led into the classroom while mom spoke with the nun running the show. For the first time I felt accepted, and excited to be with strangers my age who were excited to meet me.

That didn’t last very long. I realize now that first day was the best it was going to get as far as school was concerned. Any school for that matter. The teacher was not experienced in teaching children. She was there to keep order and to bring education to those she could handle. Those who were not ready were kept in the back corners of the room. I won’t say it was out and out discrimination, but being a person of colour I found myself sitting along with a couple of first nations boys in the ‘not to be heard from’ corner. I spent a lot of my time looking at the little yellow bird the teacher/nun kept in a cage beside her desk. I also was exposed to more bullying and me being the smallest and non white it was easy to single me out.

Now it wasn’t all crappy. I found a way to exist in relative safety through sports. I was quite athletic then and I was good at playing and doing things with relative ease.

I was also excited by acting in the Christmas performances each year. One year in particular stands out not for the actual night of the performance, but for the dress rehearsal the week before. I was one of the wise men. On the other hand you could say I was the only wise ass cracking fool there. During the practices on stage leading up to the rehearsal I was ad libbing my lines and changing it up. For instance I was supposed to announce that we were led by a star to the east and in my exuberance I made like I was unsure as I was pointing and so turned with my arm out and spun around like a compass needle. I was pleased with the laughs I was getting from my class mates and even my teacher.

So it was quite a shock when I did the same thing in dress rehearsal. The kids in the school audience were laughing, but in the wings my teacher was shouting at me to stop. She was enraged. As I came off the stage she yelled down at me and I felt like a balloon being taken down from the wall and stomped on. I left the school and went home crying.

We have all been through similar situations in our lives. I too have doled out cruelty, misunderstanding, mean spiritedness, cynicism but also love and understanding, responsibility and non-judgment. If you are looking for me to condemn life’s punishments and cruel lessons then I will leave that to someone else. Betty said to me this morning something she learned in this week’s yoga class. To paraphrase: “Don’t take anything for granted. Be grateful for everything. If you can be grateful, it is much harder to be bitter about anything”. I was not at class this week but she shared with me the stretches she remembered as I sat on a mat and did them in our home.

I am grateful for you reminding me about the yoga classes in our community on the day that they were beginning. The lessons are helping me very much. I am grateful that I am able to attend such classes with the help of your nephew who is able to baby sit his siblings while we are away. I am grateful for the rediscovered movement in my body, the feeling of being able to concentrate on me and what matters in my life. I am touched by the generosity of others, the people in our community and in different parts of the world who have reached out with no thought other than to help.

If you think that I am loud in public because I am sad, angry, bitter then ask your brothers. I am pretty sure they have seen me loud and angry. What you saw is not it in the least. They know the difference I am sure as you would also if you think about it.

I am excited by the smile of life. The beaming joy from the freedom of expression to be myself. It is the release of tears flowing endlessly down mountain falls, a call to movement and stillness. When I am not, I feel trapped, alone, shackled by my body. I cry out and there is only my own echo.

If love is an illusion that makes life bearable then I crave it. If I am an illusion and all is an illusion then I must be love. I must therefore be here for a reason. Because I chose to be here. To be reminded of what love is and what it is not. And that when all is said and finished, love is. And love is not.

All that is best, and all that is shit,

love your brother

P.S. When you were up on stage I noticed your husband out of his comfort zone. Standing there for you and for him. And I could see what matters. I am proud of you both.

 

Reminds me of the Alan Watts  videos:

https://www.apple.com/ca/your-verse/

This has come to it

It.

Presented like the head of John the Baptist on a silver platter.

The thoracic surgeon Doctor B—- asked me a few questions:

Are you a smoker?

“Socially.  Not since my twenties.”

What do you do for work?

“I’m a janitor.”

When did you start noticing pain in your chest?

“I don’t know.  Probably six to eight months ago.”

Incredulous look on Doctor B—‘s face. 😐

The dance around the feasting chamber was not quite complete.  Not yet.

He continued:

“You have a mass on your lung and it is spreading around your sternum.

I hope it’s a lymphoma.

If it’s something else that would not be so good.

Either way I want to find out what it is.

I’m going to get you in for a CT guided biopsy.  Hopefully we can get enough of a sample to find out what we’re dealing with”.

He was not prepared to mention anything more, but between the lines it was breathing, moving the veil of the confessional slowly.

And then he was gone to see his next patient.  He is a very busy man.

The CT biopsy was not successful in getting a meaningful sample for diagnosis.  The radiologist wanted to err on the side of safety.  He would get one sample.  Usually he took three.  He was not comfortable poking around any further just above my heart.  “It was starting to bleed he said, its very vascular and that makes it more complicated”.

I felt I was back at the beginning.  I felt defeated.  More waiting.  At my next visit with Doctor Bond he said he wanted to do a cervical mediastinoscopy.  He wanted to go in with a scope just above my collarbone to get the tissue samples.  He would be performing the surgery.

Over the course of the next few days leading up to the surgery:  More blood to give.  A meeting with the anaesthetist.  He was reassuring.  A meeting with the nurse to go over the procedure and my prep responsibilities.  She wished me good luck.  The day of I was nervous.  I had nothing to eat after midnight earlier.  I had come into the surgical waiting area a couple of hours before the scheduled time as required by the hospital.  I saw people who had recently come out of surgery.  An older woman kitty corner to my bed broke down shortly before her scheduled surgery time.  She sobbed in her nurse’s shoulder saying her husband was home sick and she was having second thoughts about having her procedure done.  The nurse was very understanding and reassured her that it would not be a problem to cancel the surgery and that she could come back once she felt better.  The woman was very concerned the doctor who was scheduled to do it would be angry with her.  “Oh no no no, he would not be angry at all, the nurse soothed, He wants you to be comfortable with having it done.  It’s elective.  It’s not urgent.”  The doctor would later visit her with similar reassurance.  He gently said “You have a lot going on right now.  Your husband needs you, and your surgery can wait.  You may feel pain, from time to time but it is not damaging your organs.  Once you feel ready, let us know and we will do the procedure.”

My scheduled time came and went.  I missed my dad and my brother who had left me a couple of hours earlier.  I thought about being under anaesthesia.  I hadn’t gone under since I was a child.  It made me nervous.  I repeated a mantra my sister gave my dad when he got sick:  “I am getting better everyday and in every way”, and “All is well”.  In that time I resolved that it was my job to get myself calm and ready for the anaesthesia, after that it was out of my hands.  That and some deep breathing helped piece out the waiting and calm me down.

I briefly met with the anaesthetist and the operating room nurse prior to the surgery.  Once I was wheeled in to the operating room I was introduced quickly to two more nurses who were there to assist with the procedure.  “Okay said the anaesthetist, let’s place you on this table here.  I am now going to hook you up to the anaesthetic, you should slowly feel the effects once I let you know it is going in.  Doctor Bond was not around.  “Ready?  I nodded.  Okay here comes the anaesthetic”…

I woke up back at the surgical daycare room.  My throat was scratchy and sore from the breathing tube that was inserted while I was out.  I was very groggy, but still lucid enough to be able to handle simple questions and instructions.  There was a leaden feeling to everything going on around and inside my head.  Morphine.  Doctor Bond quickly came to my bedside:

“Hi Doctor B—”

“Hi.  Well it’s cancerous, now we just need to know what type.”

“Okay, thanks doctor.”

And then he was gone once more.

My brother and my dad came by shortly thereafter.  A nurse prepped me on what to do and not do for the next 48 hours after I was discharged.  It was the same nurse who gave me hug and an “I love you from your wife” before I went in to the operating room.  She hugged me close as I sat up in the bed and whispered softly the instructions I was to follow.  Her voice was soothing and it helped me remember the things I needed to know.  With that she wished me luck and to take care.

************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

So that was sometime in April…

To come up to speed I went into May and another biopsy.  Just to make sure.  I was introduced to an oncologgist, another thoracic surgeon, a counsellor, a doctor who took a bone marrow sample, many nurses in the chemotherapy delivery area, blood tests, x-rays, steroids, chemo.  I think that is most of it.  There’s lots of information, lots of contradictory opinion, get well wishes, a raft of things unknown, not a lot of time to sift through information:  just do the treatments.  I no longer have a lot of patience to ponder people’s feelings.  It has come to a throwing off of the unnecessary and getting on with my life.  In my moments of weakness I have become angry, felt unworthy, briefly turned to religion but woke up to my truth.  I listened to a radio program yesterday that discussed the process of coping.  One of the persons being interviewed stated one of the first questions people ask themselves when confronted with a life altering situation or condition is “Why me?”.

In this instance I can honestly say I have never asked that question.  There has been no need.

It has come to this

Since my previous entry to this blog I have become or had to become aware of the precious undertaking of time on this earth.  Moreover, I have become more keenly aware that there are events and forces of ones making and being centre stage to that presses one to acknowledge why he arrives at the moment he is experiencing.

For the past few weeks I have been living with the spectre of the unknown knocking plaintively at my doorstep.  It all started with feeling faint and the uncomfortable recognition that my body was not working the way I wanted; no demanded it perform day after day.  My heart was racing, fast.  I sat down knowing I needed to but not wanting to.  My heart was pounding so fast it was shaking my entire body to its frenetic beat.

I called my wife and told her “I don’t feel good”.  She suggested I go straight to the emergency area of the local hospital in the community I worked.  It felt good to hear her voice.  I knew I had to gather myself, and call it.  “We have to go”, I said to my work crew.  At first they were not sure what was going on.  I had always maintained a go go go pace.  When they saw how pale my face was they realized it and I was serious.

I drove them home.  By breathing deeply and focusing on the task I calmed myself enough to do this.  Driving and a fast heart rate I wouldn’t recommend to anyone, but I wanted to make sure my workers were safely home by my hand.  After which I parked outside the hospital and went to the emergency area.

The waiting room was full, I took a number and waited to be called.  Fortunately this was not too long.  I gave my information.  I was fitted with a wristband and asked to wait some more.  I knew they would be watching me to make sure nothing further occurred to my condition.  I was concerned but I knew there was nothing else I could do.   I wanted to get to the bottom of it.

A nurse hooked me up to a heart monitor.  She looked at me and said:  “You can stop running now”.  I replied that what she said meant more to me than she knew.  I won’t go into too many specifics;  I was given tests.   I waited and listened to the gurgling and coughing of another patient much worse off in another bed.  Someone came over and said he needed to take some blood.  I pointed to the unused IV tap a nurse had placed in my arm hours earlier saying “Wouldn’t it be easier to use this?”  He smiled and without missing a beat said “Where would the fun be in that?”  We both had a laugh and then he did his thing and left.  There would be a lot of the waiting inherent in a emergency area pushed to and sometimes past the limit of its resources.  This is not a political statement.  It’s just the way it is and commonly encountered in any human society. Poised to wait.

I stayed for dinner.  I was hungry and I enjoyed being catered to, a sensation that felt foreign to me.  It just was not something I was used to once my wife and I started our family.  If only the electrodes and beeps and painful moans and fluorescent lights were absent, it would be just like I made a reservation.  I guess I did in a way.

I spoke with the doctors who were primarily concerned with my heart function.  I was asked various questions regarding family history, smoking, drinking etc.  The cardiologist then pronounced that I shouldn’t be too concerned since this was the first time it ever happened to me.  He gave some of examples of treating it on my own if it ever happened again, and to come back if it went beyond once in a blue moon.  With that I was free to go.  Gathering my clothes and belongings I was relieved but still unsure.  The wound I had suffered was still fresh.  I knew something about me was different, and the inkling of tumultuous change reverberated in my skull, and in my heart.  I didn’t need to be told twice that my body was saying something.  It took that faint moment to realize that I wouldn’t be able to keep the pace I had been pushing myself for years.  It was also a check down that I was fooling myself into thinking I would be able to continue for another ten years.  Ten years?!  Really I thought that, even though I knew I wasn’t treating my body very gently.  I chose to try and gut it out like I always had.  Like I always treated long term situations.  Choosing to endure, to persevere.  Admirable, but ridonkulous.

It would be a few days of moving slower in my work, being careful, discovering how unnecessary many of my actions and worries over the years regarding my work were.  That people had long ago came to  appreciate the work I did for them and they were quite happy even if I had an off day.  I realized the work was secondary and the relationships I developed with my clients was even more important to them.  They felt more secure in their building, more happy in the places they lived, more looking forward to the enjoyment of their homes.

It was during the weekend following my emergency room visit that the attending physician called me on my cell phone.  He asked how I was doing and if I had any further incidents regarding my heart to which I replied in the negative.  He said he saw my x-ray films which were taken because I was complaining of pain in my chest.  “I saw a small spot of pneumonia on your left lung, he said. I want to a run a CT scan of your chest”.  I discussed the phone call with my wife and because of her work experience thought it odd.  She felt I was in good care but a tinge of concern coloured her “Hmm”.

As I lay in the scanner I held my breath on command and felt the warmth of the dye being injected into my system, I tried to control the swimming concern in my mind of the lack of control over things in my body which were occurring without my confident permission.  More tests would follow and at first I had been anxious to figure out the results of each one hanging on the words of the doctors, my wife, in order to find a way to touch bottom so that I could swim back to the surface.  The waiting at first exasperating has now been replaced by a quiet plodding, the rollercoaster dips and valleys have been smoothed to a track which allows me to look up awhile suspended at a plateaued crest; an island amidst the pit of the swirling chaos below…

“You have a mass over your left lung and the concern is it’s starting to wrap around your sternum”, our family doctor said to me.  Mass?…  I could not make the connection.  I was still too young.  Too ignorant.  Still innocent.  He continued:  “I want you to see a thoracic specialist”  More befuddlement for me.  Fortunately my wife Betty was there to be the experienced ear, to ask the specific questions that needed to be asked:

“Is it metastasizing?”

No.

“What about pleural effusion?”

There is some fluid.

“How large is the mass?”

Approximately 3.5 by 1.5 cm

 

These questions did not mean anything to me.  They just sounded ominous.  Like I said ignorant.  Ignorant of my family history.  Even ignorant of my recent (two years ago) family history.

He recommended the name of a thoracic surgeon, Betty wanted someone she was more familiar with.  We decided to try the latter first.

We later found out he was going away.  So we went with the former.  Life is a curve made of straight lines…

That was February.