I received some tough news from my pulmonologist last week. Dr. Wong showed me the CT scan taken in December, when I spent four nights in the hospital because of a large blood clot in my left lung. The blood thinners I had been taking since June, when the clots developed, had not worked in this one case, and the clot was so big, it was threatening the blood supply to the left lung. Just a trickle of blood was getting in.
After we looked at the scan, he said this is major. If the blood clot is not reduced through the use of the blood thinners during the next six weeks, he will refer me to the Mayo Clinic, where I will be evaluated and it is possible they will put my heart on a bypass machine, go into the lung and clean out the clot. The evaluation will tell Mayo whether my heart is likely to withstand the operation.
"This is major," the doctor said. "But you have been through major things before."
These are the times when the practice of centering is not just theory. This is when it either helps or it doesn't.
Usually, you get knocked off-balance and the centering happens as you rebalance.
So Nancy and I spent the weekend leading up to my 69th birthday on Monday rocked back on our heels like we had taken a sucker punch, trying to enjoy the time, realizing that every moment together is precious, and realizing that within a few months, I could be facing a situation that might mean I am gone forever.
Nancy didn't want to admit that was a possibility, but I have a need to look objectively at possibilities and be mentally prepared. So I knew what to do.
Calm the mind. Calm the body. Focus on the moment. Feel the breath. Put part of your mind on your Dan T'ien. Focus on what is happening right now and be mindful of what is around you. Be aware.
We had a good weekend. There might have even been more hugs than usual.
On Monday, when Nancy went to work and I was in my home office, I wanted to prepare myself mentally for that moment when I would say goodbye to Nancy and be wheeled down to the operating room, a place from which I might not return.
What would my final thoughts be as they turned on the propofol, in the seconds before lights out?
What would my final thoughts be to Nancy, other than "I love you?"
My mind went down that rabbit hole and I was there in the moment. I looked at Nancy and my eyes started watering.
"Was I kind enough?" I asked.
"Did I help other people enough?" I asked.
"Yes, Ken, you were kind," she would say. "Yes, you helped other people."
But the tears were running down my cheeks. My eyes were swimming and my head felt as if it were expanding.
I was struck by a realization.
"I could have done better."
It was a desperate feeling. I could have done better. Now there's no time to do better.
I came up out of the rabbit hole, still sitting in my office chair, wiping my eyes. It was surprising, actually, that as I played the moment out in my mind, the last things on my mind would not be about my career, or how much money I made, or what kind of house I lived in. Those are just the things none of us are remembered for.
How did I treat others? With kindness? With a helpful spirit? Was I selfish? Was it all about me? How would I be remembered? What would be my legacy?
So I sat there on my 69th birthday, shocked that I made it this far, especially considering the past 13 years, and hoping I will be here to celebrate my 70th, and also realizing that I just might have time left to be kind and to help others.
Sometimes, we give ourselves messages more valuable than any talk with a therapist. Since Monday, this has been on my mind. What can I do today to be kind to someone else -- to everyone else?
Self-defense skills are a lot of fun to practice, but I haven't needed them in real life since my last fight at age 18.
The philosophy of these arts, however, is useful every day as I connect with others and remain centered in a hectic, sometimes angry and always unpredictable world.
There is still time to practice gongfu, and I am practicing this week even with a huge frikkin' blood clot in my lung. I mean, why not? I am taking it a little easier, trying not to stress the lungs too much. I taught two classes the day before the CT scan, so the clot and I are peacefully coexisting at the moment.
For now, there is still time to get better at Yilu and Erlu, still time to teach and study. And still time to be kind and helpful.
I have more to do in whatever time I have left. It aint over 'til it's over.
--by Ken Gullette