Category Archives: Reason to Live

Some Working with Numbers…

Some work with numbers to prove why it’s a very good idea to wash hands and to keep a goodly distance from others… It starts out grim, with fatality statistics, but we can nevertheless find some hope in those numbers, so do bear with me.


CDC data for 2017 shows there were 2,813,503 deaths in the USA that year. The top ten causes were:

Heart disease: 647,457
Cancer: 599,108
Accidents (unintentional injuries): 169,936
Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 160,201
Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 146,383
Alzheimer’s disease: 121,404
Diabetes: 83,564
Influenza and pneumonia: 55,672
Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 50,633
Intentional self-harm (suicide): 47,173
A comment on “Influenza and pneumonia”. That’s a heavy emphasis on “and pneumonia”. When we look at the breakout of those numbers, just less than a fifth are influenza – about 10,500. The rest are “and pneumonia.” So when we talk about influenza’s mortality, it needs to be decoupled from “and pneumonia” to get a truer sense of influenza’s mortality.


Now take the number of deaths and divide by 365, one gets 7708. That’s about how many deaths per day we have normally in the USA. We had an additional 1000+ yesterday, a 13% increase over the normal rate.


When we divide 100,000 by 2,813,503, we get 0.0355, or 3.55%. That means, every 100,000 deaths is an increase of our annual mortality rate by 3.55%. Put another way, every 28,135 deaths is an increase in the USA’s annual mortality rate by 1%.


So, with a little back-of-the-hand math, a low-end death toll of 100,000 would make COVID-19 the 7th leading cause of death in the USA, ahead of diabetes. 200,000 COVID-19 fatalities would make it the 3rd leading cause of death in the USA. You can see a pretty close cluster between 3rd and 6th place, but it’s a big gap to reach cancer and heart disease. That being said, it’s not impossible if we don’t, all of us, take this pandemic seriously. Death tolls of 1-2,000,000 are possible if we do not wash hands constantly and keep our distance from others of at least 6ft / 2m.


Around 1,340,000 American soldiers died in combat, accident, or disease in all of our nation’s wars and conflicts. If we wash and distance, we need not face down that awful milestone.
We want to take pains to avoid being in the statistics for heart disease and cancers – we diet, we exercise, we change what we do to beat those diseases. It’s the same with COVID-19: change what you do, and you beat that disease. Don’t change, and you risk becoming a sad part of a larger statistic. The good news is that you *can* change.


Finally, remember that if you’re reading about these numbers, look at them as golf scores – we have to play this out over many days, weeks, and months, but if we come out with a low score, we do all right. Stay indoors, and you’ll come out all right, most likely.


I’ll close with a quote from Mel Brooks:”Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. Life is a play, and we’re unrehearsed!” Don’t feel bad if this caught you flat-footed. You’re reading this, so you can take control of your own health and breathing, even if other things are spinning around you. You can own this, you can command this aspect of your life.


Now I’ll really close with a quote from Mel Brooks’ good friend Carl Reiner: “I read the obituaries every morning. If I’m not in them, I have breakfast!”

Save Lives, Not Costs: A Christian Philosophy

I am heartened by leaders who talk about saving lives, regardless of cost.

I am dismayed by leaders who talk about saving costs, regardless of lives.

Christ taught that one cannot serve both God and mammon. Serving God means loving my neighbor as myself, healing the sick, and caring for the poor and needy. Serving mammon means putting matters of money and finance ahead of other concerns.

This is why I am dismayed by the leadership from President Trump and leading Republicans. Yes, they want to save lives. But they want to save hedge funds, stock dividends, and corporate earnings first. I will pass over their too-comfortable association with white supremacists and major polluters. I will pass over profiteering from tragedy. I will pass over separating children from parents in cruel applications of the law. When leaders speak of sacrificing the people to prop up the economy – and it is the poor people, the needy people who are sacrificed, not the rich, make no mistake there – they show that though they may draw near to God with their lips, they are far from Him in heart. They do not serve God. Their master is mammon, and their judgment awaits. They will have the world with all its power and fortune, but they lose their eternal lives in the transaction.

Know that there are a few Democrats who shame themselves with service to mammon and a few Republicans doing God’s work in saving lives without concern for the costs. But when considered as a whole, it is the Republican Party whose leadership on local, state, and national levels that has been brutal in its willingness to sacrifice the poor to save the rich. Shame on them for such practices and shame on any American who supports them.

So ends my Jeremiad. And, like Jeremiah, I expect that the targets of my criticism will denounce me and say that it is sinful to criticize the leaders of this proud nation, that they are doing nothing wrong, or not much wrong. Jeremiah had the destruction of Jerusalem as his justification and I fully expect the United States to have one of the highest per capita mortality rates from this pandemic as my justification. These are not happy things – would that men would change so that these things need not be the future.

I wish all good health and that your sorrows be swallowed up in joy. May we all ask of our leaders to remember that lives are more important than monies.

Life As I Know It

Life as I know it involves a number of complex bodily systems working together to provide a homeostasis. It involves joy and anguish, good times and bad. It involves the greedy affecting me and my family and friends with the consequences of their greed, and it involves the blessings of encounters with the kind, considerate, and compassionate.

Life as I know it continues as before. The furniture or schedule may be rearranged, but my complex bodily systems continue to provide homeostasis, allowing me to continue to experience the full range of life experiences. If I go to a war zone, I will keep my head down so that the snipers don’t shoot me. If I live where there is a pandemic, I keep my distance, so that the virus doesn’t infect me.

Let us be realistic: a cure will be found, a vaccine will be developed. A distribution method will be employed, people will get the vaccine – and people will refuse to be vaccinated, such is our world. That is at some point in the future. Until then, if we keep our physical distance, we do not become a link of disease transmission between the infected and the currently uninfected. We do not become the infected ourselves. The overall fatality rate is around 2-3%, but we know it is much higher for people whose complex biological systems have been weakened by cancers, diabetes, rheumatism, or other diseases and disorders… or the wear of age.

We also know that, in addition to the fatal cases, there are disease victims who face long-term symptoms as a result of their encounter with the disease. Most frequent is a permanent respiratory system problem. The disease passes, but the symptom does not for another 5-10% of victims.

We have questions about whether or not a person who survives an infection will be immune to a second infection or, if there is immunity, how long it lasts. We have questions if there is already a cure at hand – the answer there is simple, no. There is no vaccine.

Is there a drug already among us that will successfully control the symptoms? That is a dangerous question, as it presumes we would also know the correct dosage and timetable for the administration of that drug. Getting the correct compound to the correct patient at the correct time is the science of pharmacology. Do not second-guess it, especially if you haven’t been trained in that field. Until there is a properly-researched treatment, keep your head down where there are snipers and your distance where there are viruses.

If you are still reading this, your complex biological systems are providing you with homeostasis, and you experience both the storm and the calm: life as you know it continues as it always has thus far.

Los Héroes Mayores

In Mexico, there is a monument
Tall and proud
Six columns for six heroes
Who died rather than surrender
Los Niños Héroes

Niños because they were children
Still new to life
But they knew their moment of valiance
When it arrived.

In my neighborhood, in my city
I know people who are young no more
They are my elders,
Kind and gentle in their age
Beset with unseen enemies round about

Here is diabetes advancing
There is the stab of a stroke
Beyond is the cancer
Too close is the loss of balance
And the fall that comes after it

Legion is this army that advances
Veteran soldiers of disease and desuetude
Their allies may be contagious
But these soldiers can strike on their own
Such is their skill over the millennia

How do we choose to face them?
We cast about for our friends, our support
But they fall, too, to the relentless advance
Ultimately, we face them alone
We face the unseen enemies alone

We know not one of us gets out alive
We know not one of us escapes unscathed
There will be scars before we die
There will be nights of agony before we die
There will be all but death, ere we die

But life is no eruption of accidents
We chose to be here
We chose to make choices
We chose to face agonies and despairs
That we would know peace and joys

As long as we are rational,
As long as we can yet choose,
We choose how we face that unseen army alone
We choose how we come to terms with the victory of death
We choose how we endure the sting of the grave

I heard once the tale
Of a man, advanced in age,
Who knew he would die of stomach cancer
His son asked him what was the purpose of it
The elder replied, “The Lord needs valiant men.”

And so he took the final charge in his hospital bed
Without flinching, he did his last duty
He accepted his lot and dug into his soul
Finding the eternal courage to become one of
Los Héroes Mayores

Mayores because they are elders
Experienced in life
But they knew their moment of valiance
When it arrived.

Green Beneath the Snow

The Chinese are right
About white
Being the color of death
It is pale, it is calm, it is pure stillness
White is the color of death

We do not speak enough about death
Less so than even sex, or madness, I warrant
And so we fear all the things we speak nothing of
For it is in speaking that we learn
It is in learning that we understand
It is in understanding that we come to terms
To peace
To forgive, as the French say

The snowscape in the first dawn after an evening shower
Before track or foot or car crosses it
We step out into it
Maybe laugh at our footprints made in the snow
It is cold, yes.
But it is quieter more than it is cold.
It is still, peaceful, quiet, and cold
It is the land of death, and we do not truly fear it

The caribou do not fear the land of death
They teach us as they eat
There is green beneath the snow
There is green beneath the snow

We talk much of spring, but we forget
Often
To remember that spring only follows winter
We forget
Often
That the green beneath the snow gives us spring
That the New Englander was right,
In strange aeons, even death dies

That stillness and quiet of a cold snowscape
We find peace in it
So it is in restful death
In death, we have a Sabbath, if we choose
A rest from our labors
A shelter from our cares
We make the choice to rest in death here in life
Failing to make that choice, then death is not stillness and quiet

Death can be the color of storms
Violent and lashing, alternating despairing rain and terrifying lightning
Thunder roaring and booming
Tornadoes lurk in the murk
Ready to spin and to smash and to make all in their paths
One with the Destroyer

Why would anyone choose a storm for death instead of a snowscape?
It is because they fear it, and they do not learn how to master it.
It is because they have pride, and they do not learn how to love one another.
They forget what the Jew taught us: Love God with all your might, mind and strength
And love your neighbor as you love yourself

Death is a hilltop in West Texas
Where the American taught us
Medicine is to be found
Where
Eagles circle above

Stillness and peace are there, as well, as the sun sets
And I hear nothing but the whispers of the spirits
Where the distance between their lips and my ears
Is made shorter in the peace and the stillness
Is made shorter in the wings of the eagle

Death is a moment in a hospital
Where a loved one nods and says, “It is time.”
Even then, as the frantic business of emergency rooms
Pours through the halls and intercoms
The loved one has a peaceful, if painful moment

What of those who choose death over life?
Do they find peaceful snows or hilltops?
Or raging storms of hellscape punishments?
My thought is this: if madness takes one to death,
It is no worse than cancer or heart attack or stroke:
The peace is in the person’s true choices
But if pride takes one to death,
If one cries out like the Roman about what a treasure is lost in one’s death,
The storm awaits.

Is there life after death?
The Austrian was right to reject that question.
We die, no question of that
And then the mortality ends.
The body dies, the spirit endures on
If there is resurrection or reincarnation,
None of those
None of those
Will extend this mortality one instant
Before birth
Or after death
But the spirit
The spirit does not draw breath, so it knows not mortality
I have spoken with the unborn and the deceased

How to speak with the dead and unborn?
Be someone the dead and unborn want to speak with
Be someone the dead and unborn are able to speak with

The dead wait for us
Those at peace are patient
Those in storms wait with agonies
But they all wait
We are all in between birth and death
The great movement of mortality
Pressing forward
The line of time
Forcing the direction,
Determining the destination

Death is the phone call too early in the morning
The news delivered only when we are sitting
The tragedy, the agony, the sudden cold emptiness
The tears that exhaust the eyes
The mournful haunting of memory ever after
Until we ourselves join with the dead

Death is the moment the body
No longer sustains the motion of the spirit
The spirit then departs
That which lacks integrity sufficient for
Breath of life

Death is neither success nor failure
It is neither good nor bad
It is inevitable, it is inescapable
It is foreordained, it is neither reward nor punishment
It is promised to us all
There is no need to hasten the day of its arrival
Be patient and enter the quiet of the wintry dawn, perhaps
Life is not a measure of how much we suffer
It is a measure of how much we love
It is a measure of how much we serve
And those who love and serve will know peace and calm
And those who love and serve not will know storm and stress

The Siberians are many: one of their tribes
Teaches we walk backwards into the future
We see only the past clearly
The future behind our backs as we walk backwards
We walk backwards towards death

Death is a Japanese garden
As winter rain falls
A spring awaits
But now, a peaceful rest

Is there a different form of life after death?
Ah, such is the stuff of what prophets speak
Which ones to heed?
If you love and serve, you will know
If you try to save your life, you will lose it
If you give freely, you will live as life should be lived
The breathless sleep but an interval between mortality
And that different form of life that perhaps comes to us
Love and serve, that is the key
Love and serve, you will be free to dream in the breathless sleep
Love and serve, and you will have peace before you have joy
Love and serve, and you will discover
Green beneath the snow

Another Trip Around the Sun

Well, as we make ready to change calendars, it’s good to take stock of the year behind us. Hopefully, you’ve got some time off to sit, think, reflect, and count blessings and other small victories of the past year. No worry for anything that might overshadow – we’re all overshadowed by things bigger than any of us. But, the shadow often breaks for a moment and some light lands on us, be it a friendly smile, a kind word, or a good friend. And the light lands on us whether we give or receive of those things.

For me, it’s Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. It’s a grand thank-you to all the people on this forum for being a friend to me. A friend is not someone who agrees all the time. A friend is quite often someone that will never see eye-to-eye with you on some things, but is in full agreement that friendship is much, much more than that. Friendship is in sharing difficult news, it’s in providing a listening ear – or listening eye, if you’re online, and it’s in seeking out someone to share a laugh with you.

Thank you friends, and may we be together come the next time we collectively observe another trip around the sun.

2019-11-11 As a Cold Front Approaches

The sun yields the floor to the clouds
Temperature falls, wind and drizzle
Remind the nose and ears there are seasons other than summer
The hemisphere tilts towards winter, towards snow,
Towards a quiet, dark blanket
Towards a stillness of thought

Time for a song to play while stepping on the damp leaves underfoot
A song about thinking about the year rolling to a close
A song about the life to spring forth in the future from the descending quiet
A quiet song, with motion underneath it all
A stirring beneath the bark as the hemisphere has its afternoon nap

It’s raining a little, so why not cry a few tears of thanksgiving?
Why not smile beneath the scarf?
Why not oil the heart with gratitude as the cheeks get wet?
It is cold, but I have warmth
I have love
I have forgiveness
I have hope
These are worth tears, worth the thanksgiving
These are worth a humble accounting
Here as the hemisphere spins ’round a darkened pole
There is a light within, sustaining

The cold outside is part of life
Therefore, I am thankful for that cold, that pain
Life is life
The lichen under the rock
The bear in the cave
The frog in the mud
Time for that song, the damp leaves song
The thankful song
The quiet, peaceful, grateful song.

Saturday Morning Music

Sometimes, my wife sleeps in on Saturday mornings. I know that she can have trouble sleeping some nights, so I like to do quiet things that allow her to keep sleeping. This is one of those times.

Today, I’ve got my headphones on and I’m playing through songs that remind me of her. It’s not hard to do, since just about any love song can make me think of her, even if the words have nothing to do with our situation. It’s the passion in the music, I guess.

But I do love her. I woke this morning and gave thanks for a catalog of wonderment she’s brought to my life, and I know it’s not a complete list.

I’m going to listen to another song, and she’ll be in it, smiling back at me between the notes.

Spirituality and Suffering

As I read more about Rabbi Kalonymous Shapira, who served as a rabbi in the Warsaw Ghetto during the years of Nazi occupation, “The Years of Wrath”, I arrive at his thoughts regarding the connections between spirituality and suffering. This is a man who was forced to experience not just a depth of human suffering, but, as he put it, a depth within a depth. I would do well to pay close attention to what he has to teach.

To begin with, he makes the connection between hearing or reading about suffering and actually experiencing it. The two are completely different. This I know from my own experience, so I know that the kinds of suffering I have not endured are academic only to me. Nevertheless, those who endure those sufferings can describe methods they used to cope with it. Should I face that suffering, I can rely upon their teaching in order to pass through it myself, with my soul and identity intact.

I know this because of how I used those methods and teachings to help me through my times of deep loss and crisis. When Rabbi Shapira speaks about areas of his sufferings in common with my experience and how he worked through them, I find that what worked for me also worked for him. So, when he speaks of areas where I do not have common experience with him, I trust in what worked for him. Heaven forbid, should I have to endure such things as he did, I will strive to endure them in the way he endured them.

While there are discussions about how sufferings can make us more spiritual once we have finished with that suffering and can reflect upon it, a sort of reflection upon answered prayers and tiny miracles, what do we do when our prayers for deliverance are answered with deeper suffering, the depth within the depth? What do we do when we think we can go no further, and then the road before us appears to be longer than we think we can survive? What do we do, to put it in raw setting, when we find ourselves in the Warsaw Ghetto on the eve of its liquidation, after having passed through plagues of Typhus, starvation on rations of a hundred calories a day, brutal murders in plain sight, horrors of the unrestrained and unfiltered brutality and hatred expressed by the Nazis? What do we do?

Rabbi Shapira’s answer is that we not consider the worldly end of the suffering. He turned to the martyrdom of Akiva, which happened in the Roman persecutions after the Bar Kochba revolt: Akiva said that he had always been willing to give his life for God – why should he turn away when that moment actually arrives?

More than that, Rabbi Shapira wrestled with questions about the existence of evil. While some have felt that evil is incompatible with the idea of a just and loving God, or even a God at all, Rabbi Shapira passed through that very evil and was able to state that evil did not matter. There is still a God, and it matters not what choices others may have made: those choices and their horrific impact do not negate or invalidate the existence of God. Nor do they invalidate the existence of a just and loving God. He is who he is, and we await the day of His judgment.

Rabbi Shapira taught that as persecution deepens, we must ourselves deepen our study and commitment to God. He noted that such deepening of study and commitment was next to impossible, especially as the repeated atrocities numbed the soul. It was to fight against that numbness that he encouraged the study and the commitment. Who is left to save if the body has become just a shell for the inner organs, the spirit within having perished from the psychic battering of repeated, unrelenting horrors?

No, we read more, we pray more, we make our observances more. We must fight that darkness that seeks to encompass us, in our depths within our depths. Even if we know we are to go to our deaths, we go to our death with our soul intact.

Will I go through such things as Rabbi Shapira endured? Maybe. I’m a member of a religious minority in a nation flirting with fascism. Such things could come to pass, where I cry out for rescue and deliverance, only to be faced with depth within depth of suffering. But if I can cry out from a depth, I can cry out from the depths, but I must prepare myself now, that I might have the spirituality developed in a time of peace to draw upon during years of wrath.

Spirituality does not end suffering. It does not mitigate the pain. It can, in fact, sharpen the pain and make us more aware of what we are enduring. But it does give us a path to draw ourselves up to face that suffering with dignity and faith. It gives us the ability to be patient and long-suffering. It gives us the ability to see to the eventual end of that suffering, even if it is in a day that comes after our own physical death. As long as we go to our death with our spirits still alive in faith, we are victorious over that suffering.

I believe in God, and I trust Him to be just and loving. I have had too many spiritual experiences in my life to believe otherwise. Yes, I have lost a son in a senseless tragedy. But my faith teaches me where he is, who he is with, and how to get there. Why should I refrain from finding joy in God’s mercy, even when I endure such a depth? Even so, if I am plunged into a depth within a depth, why should I be any less of a man than Rabbi Shapira or even Akiva? Their example, their wisdom, and their teaching, may that all be part of my life and how I endure all things.