Doing my part

We are not a secret society. We are not affiliated with the Illuminati. We are not the Knights Templar. We can barely handle a take out order. But we are a fraternity that values faith, hope, and above all Charity. We vow to support one another in our lives and endeavors in an unparalleled commitment to each other. We are Freemasons, the oldest Fraternal Organization in the world.

My great uncle Cyrus was an esteemed Freemason. I rarely saw him when I was younger because he lived a good distance away. But I knew of his extreme generosity. I learned the full extent of this when I attended the reading of his Last Will and Testament. As the attorney read a laundry list of 5000 dollar donations to a series of hospitals, burn units, food pantries and schools I learned that those were his Masonic charities. It intrigued me how a man of meager means could be so generous. So I looked into Freemasonry. I concluded that someday I would pursue it.

It wasn’t until I was in my late forties that I acted on my desire to join.
My kids were older, my marriage wasn’t worth staying home for and perhaps most important, I had just received a life-saving kidney transplant from a co-worker and I wanted to pay it forward. I joined a lodge in my hometown in MA. I chose it because it was close to my current town and I knew many of the members.

It was a small but bustling group of guys and I immediately fit in. The only thing I had to do was reconcile my faith. Freemasonry demands that a man believes in a higher power. No denomination or names required, just no atheists. I came to the conclusion that no man can be arrogant enough to be absolutely sure that there is nothing up/out there and that was enough. Soon after I kneeled at the consecrated altar and took an obligation to simply be a better man.

I jumped in and was thrilled to endeavor in wholesome, charitable and community-oriented activities with some very good men. I got involved with the few skills I had. I cooked at all functions, I organized events and I called guys that hadn’t been in a while and personally asked them to come back. I joined the line of Officers and tried to be a leader as well. I became a popular, well-respected member. I made wonderful friendships that I never would have made had I not sought out this fraternity. It has changed my life in so many ways. It was where I belonged.

Unfortunately, I was a bit of a Pollyanna in one respect. I thought that ALL Freemasons were man of impeccable character. I soon learned how wrong I was. Most, a good 85% are indeed great men. But some are Masons for the wrong reasons, seeking social stature or just enjoy titles. My biggest disappointment was that politics exist within our walls as well because we are, after all, just mortal men.

Mortal men are capable of gossip, they lose interest, make promises they fail to keep, struggle with personality differences, grapple with resentment and grudges, and can be petty and unrelenting. It goes against everything we strive for but it happens, even in a room that is dedicated to be different than the world outside its walls. This has happened in my own lodge.

But in recent years, membership has fallen way off, attendance is down and we are in trouble.

I missed almost all of last year due to my move (I’m 100 miles away from the lodge now). I went a few times but I had to drop out of the officer line due to my health and distance and created a gap for them to fill. They couldn’t. The failure of others to step up and fill mine, and other vacancies in addition to failure to collect dues put our Lodge in Receivership. In essence, Grand Lodge has us on probation and we either get it together or we sell our building, lose our charter and merge with another lodge.

The brothers charged with handling our rebuilding/probation asked me if I would re-join the officer line. They felt that my presence would help to galvanize the membership. But it would not come without sacrifice. It would require me to drive to MA once a month for 10 months of the year. 200 miles round trip and I would have to find a place to sleep. Reluctantly, I agreed.

I decided that if my lodge needs me I will do my part. I will find a way to make a weekend out of it. My dialysis schedule actually permits it. I have it on Saturday and then have 2 days off. I can go down Sunday and see two of my kids on the way down. I can then stay at my buddy Jeff’s house Sunday night and see my other two kids on Monday. The meeting is Monday night and I can drive up after. It’s a commitment on my part but I’m willing to ake it because Freemasonry, and my lodge, means that much to me. Also, it does give me something to look forward to and plan for. That is something we Chronically Ill need to keep going.

Last night I was installed Senior Warden of my lodge. My next step is Master. At which time I will assume leadership of my beloved lodge. My first priority will be that my members always remember that they made a commitment to God, their brothers and themselves that they would strive to be better men. While this implicitly implies that they should work towards being better than their former selves, I also hope to inspire them to step up, to be accountable, to get involved and to not wait for others to do it.

That’s what the people outside our walls do, and we as Freemasons need to do better. I’m doing my part, some think I’m doing more than my part. Again, it means that much to me.

“Playing the card”

It is truly a great thing to meet a blogger that you become actual friends with outside of the blogosphere and its routine of merely reading, liking and commenting on posts. I have such a friendship and we had breakfast Sunday morning.

Much of the conversation revolved around our health. She is a recent Cancer patient, note that I did not say “Survivor” and she is well versed on my situation so it was to be expected that our health challenges would be a part of the conversation. After a hell of an ordeal, she looks great. Healthy, fit and her attitude and demeanor are positive. Me, I like to think that I am the same. I live my life in a way that I hope nobody will say “Hey, that guy looks sick.” It was like talking to a female version of me sitting across the table. Like I said, refreshing.

It’s something that I have blogged frequently about, the inevitable spiral of being chronically ill to the point where you become the “Sick person.” The unfortunate reality when the first thing someone says when they see you is to ask how you are feeling. It is not that it isn’t appreciated, it certainly is, but it tends to be your identity above all else that you are, offer, or aspire to be. It can become your identity. If you let it. She and I both refuse to let it.

But then the conversation went in a related but refreshing direction when she uttered a phrase that is not new or original, but timely as hell and needed to be said.

“Everyone has a card to play.”

It really struck a chord with me and we talked about it at length. The words “survivor”, “sufferer” are an extrapolation of the victimhood culture we live in. People fall back on identity to define themselves, inject their ordeals into unrelated conversations and situations to elicit a response, sympathetic of otherwise, or in the worst case scenario, to obtain an advantage or alter an outcome. My friend and I are both tired of it and refuse to “play our card”. We don’t care if you are a minority, a woman in a man’s world, Gay, trans, poor, or misunderstood. Don’t let victimhood be your defining trait. Just live your life.

Everyone has a burden to bear. That is the origin of the famous saying,
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
But the true warriors don’t announce their burden to the world, they generally go about their business the best they are able. Yet many insist on letting their burden define them.

As we wrapped up, we inadvertently revealed that we both derive great pleasure helping and supporting others It serves several purposes; It is our obligation as human beings to support each other, it takes your mind off of your own struggles, and most importantly, it reminds us that everyone has something to deal with.

Here’s to being strong. Here’s to taking advantage of opportunities and not problems. Here’s to standing tall. Here’s to the day when equality is assumed and not demanded. Here’s to the end of the victim mentality. We all have so much to offer the world if we shed those shackles.

Most of the bloggers I follow have some kind of Chronic Illness. NONE of them complain. They just want to be normal.

What is normal? I suppose that is a topic for another day.


Buzzcuts, beauty and BS

“Bill, I’ve got a woman on the phone and I really can’t figure out what she wants. Will you talk to her?”
“Sure, Kristen. Just give me 3 minutes to get back to my office and transfer it over. Got a name?”
“Harley.” Kristen smiled and walked back to her section of the office.
“I’m intrigued.” I called after her.
“Knew you would be” she replied. She had seen the entire shelf of miniature Harley Davidson models in my office.
I made my way back to my office to take the call.

She was a very sweet woman and I knew I liked her from the onset of the call. It soon became evident that Harley’s call was better suited for the Sales Department but I gladly gave her my time. Her need was simple, she needed information on a Handicapped Accessible vehicle for her adult daughter who was afflicted with Cerebral Palsy. She had heard from one of her friends that worked with us that we were a good finance company. The problem is that we don’t sell vehicles, we only finance the dealers who do.
She not only needed financing, she needed to find a vehicle as well.

I really couldn’t do anything for her but a little voice in my head was whispering to me that I needed to try. I took her information and told her that I would call her back. She was thankful for my time.

I dedicated myself to spending as much available time at work to helping Harley and her family. I searched the websites of my dealer base for anything that remotely met her needs. Coming up empty, I searched outside my network. Everything I found was highly specialized conversion vans and they were over 30,000 dollars. Harley’s single mom budget was less than 10,000. The hydraulics alone on these vehicles were more than that.
The next option was full size vans, the ones that Municipal services used. There were an abundance of those, all higher mileage but meticulously maintained until they were retired. I found a reputable dealer and made the call.

Having negotiated a near wholesale price on a older, but very clean van I asked the dealer to stand by, that I would call him back as soon as I could. I called Harley and explained to her what I had come up with. It was not her first choice but recognized that it was all she could afford. I asked if she wanted to proceed. She did. I explained that she needed to file a credit report and an application. Once she did I would take it from there.

Everything checked out. Now the wheeling and dealing had begun. I had to coordinate with one of our registered dealers to buy the vehicle and then sell it to Harley. I jumped through hoops to get this done. But I did it.

Having never met Harley face to face, when the day came for her to pick up her vehicle I insisted that I be there. My manager and I drove to our retail store and waited for her to show up. Before long, a beat-up sedan pulled in. Harley stepped out and I immediately knew that she was named right. A short, strong woman built like a beautiful motorcycle. Big, beaming, ahem…headlights, a strong chassy and built for speed. She was beautiful. I watched her as she went to her trunk and took out a wheelchair, opened the rear door and lifted her adult disabled daughter out of the car unassisted. When she was done, and Breauna was secure in her chair, she stretched and winced. Her back was clearly killing her. She then turned and asked,
“Which one of you is Bill?”
I stepped forward and introduced myself. She threw her arms around me and thanked me for my efforts. Her smile could launch ships.

My manager and I made small talk with her for a bit. She then went in to sign the paperwork. Once she was done I showed her how to use the hydraulics for the lift. It became clear that it would be a process to get her daughter in and out with all of the steps involved in strapping her in but it was what she asked for.

After a few pics for the scrapbook, they drove off.

The next day, Harley called me in the office and asked me for my cell phone. I gave it to her. She called me that night. I learned her entire back story. Harley had been diagnosed with breast cancer 3 years earlier. Her headlights were not stock, they were surgical. She bounced back from that to suffer a back injury in a motorcycle accident. She still managed to carry her daughter unassisted for years. She wanted me to know everything about her and I gladly listened. We became FB friends that night and stayed in touch.

Last night Harley posted a picture on FB. Her head is shaved. Her trademark smile as broad as ever. She boldly announced to the world that she has cancer in three areas of her body and she asked for prayers.

I will gladly pray for her. She is always in my thoughts. She is an example of those times when a job can be a real vessel of positive change, to make a difference in someone’s life. But thoughts and prayers aren’t enough, I want real answers as to how this poor woman, despite her outward strength is forced to endure such physical and emotional trauma. It’s total bullshit to me.

God bless you, Harley. I’m still here for you. As you have been for me. You look beautiful in your buzzcut, because your beauty is beyond physical. It shines right from your gorgeous soul.


the strut

I’d lost my strut. My Foghorn Leghorn Strut. I had it for decades.

The origin of the Foghorn Strut goes all the way back to my supermarket days. A young and confident gym rat with a buzzcut, I was known for my strength and attitude. I could be seen carrying 2 50lb bags of dog food on each shoulder, pushing absurdly long rows of carriages and lifting the heaviest of boxes.

One day a new cashier, who I happened to be digging on, asked me if I knew how I looked when I walked. I told her no. She said that I was like a Rooster. Chest puffed out, shoulders back with a “don’t fuck with me look.” I laughed. After all, Foghorn Leghorn was my favorite cartoon character (alright a close tie with Bugs Bunny). The strut became a thing.

The strut was always part of me. I went through life tall and proud. I might as well have had an actual chip on my shoulder with a sign I dare you to knock this off. It worked for me. More than one person said to me something along the lines of “when I first saw you I thought you were a jerk but you’re a nice guy.”

Thank you. I think.

Exercise was always a part of my life. Even before my transplant, when I was actually pretty sick, I was playing basketball with my teenagers and their friends, running trails and hiking, riding bikes and lifting weights. After my transplant, I jumped right back into all of it and made a recovery that amazed my doctors.

Then I got sick again. This time, exercise was not feasible. Excessive swelling, rampant blood pressure, massive weight gain and fatigue made merely functioning difficult.

Then I started dialysis and I resigned myself to being sick and weak. Goodbye Foghorn, I hope to see you again someday.

This week I reintroduced myself to Foggy. As I sat, post dialysis, tired and fatigued it occurred to me that there is nothing that says I can’t at least try to recover some of my former self. I decided to start working out again.

This week I have been walking on the treadmill, swinging my kettlebells, doing pushups and calisthenics and using my exercise bands for arm and shoulder exercises.

I feel great. My stamina is woeful, my strength is a joke. But each day is better than the last. Sure, my days of doing 50 pushups in one set, benching 405 and squatting 500 are over. I will likely never see those results again. But I can do something.

No one is going to look at me and say “Hey, that guy looks like he is on dialysis.”

Hopefully, someone will once again say “he walks like a Rooster.”

Welcome back, Foggy. I’ve missed you.

if you could turn back time

Today we turn back time, or turn forward, you get my point. Daylight Savings Time, a wonderful notion given us by Benjamin Franklin to make life and winter a bit more burdensome and confusing twice a year. You can quote me if you want to on Turn Back Time, even Cher it if you want. Sorry, that was bad. But so is she. Ah, I ramble.

Time travel has always fascinated me. If I owned a DeLorean I would use it from Time to Time (Bazinga). As I changed the clocks this morning, the notion again bounced around my tiny cerebellum. I was reminded of a very serious line from one of my favorite movies, Stephen King’s The Dead Zone. If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend it.

In the movie, a man, played by a young Christopher Walken, suffers a terrible car accident. Confined to a coma for years, when he comes out he finds that he has the ability to predict the future by merely holding the hand of a person. In particular, he could predict terrible events and ultimately alter the course of history through his gift.

His Doctor, a Holocaust survivor, recognizes the awesome power of his gift and asks him the pivotal question, one that has intrigued me since the day I saw the movie.
“Knowing what you know, do you think that if you could go back in time and alter history, would you?”

On September 28, 1919, Private Henry Tandey, a British soldier serving near the French Village of Marcoing encounters a wounded German Lance Corporal. His rifle aimed at the wounded soldier, Tandey chose to spare the young man’s life. He could not bring himself to shoot a wounded man. That German Soldier was named Adolf Hitler and he went on to become the third most murderous tyrant in recorded history. Had that soldier fired, Nazi Germany would have never existed. Do you think that Henry Tandey would want a re-do after that?

Hitler is but one example. There are so many.

So I ask you, on this lazy Sunday morning, if you could turn back time and reverse a major Historical event that forever impacted World History, or even a small one in your personal life, would you?

Keep in mind the Butterfly Effect as you ponder this. And that, in order to truly alter our/your world as we know it you may be required to murder someone. Could you do it?

Food for thought. I’m curious about your answers.

A sidearm of reality

Most weekdays at about 4:30 I can expect a call from my buddy and Masonic brother Jeff. He likes to call me on his ride home as he is stuck in traffic. It’s his time, no wife and small children demanding his attention and he chooses to call me. It is a special friendship, and due to his complete dedication to his family he doesn’t have many. This is not lost on me. The respect I have for him is immeasurable and his friendship will never be taken advantage of. It should also be noted that he is one of the few people that can say whatever he wants to me without fear of offending.

Yesterday, true to form I got his call. I was happy to hear from him.

We talked about the usual stuff, his family, his job, the state of our Masonic Lodge. He never fails to prod me about my health, knowing that I usually sugar coat it he pushes me until I tell him the truth. I’m not sure why I try. Yesterday, the conversation took an unusual twist.

“So, you mentioned that you bought a new 9mm last month. Tell me about that” he said.
“Not much to tell, bud. I found a good deal and I bought it”, I replied.
“Do you carry it?”
“Of course.”

The silence on the other end was deafening. Finally, he spoke.

“I was going to save this for a face to face, but I need to get this out”, he said.
“Get what out?”, I asked him.
“Why? There, I said it.”
“Because I can, I suppose. My father always carried. I believe in the Second Amendment. I like to be prepared to defend myself or be a good Samaritan. I feel very comfortable with it strapped to my waist. And before you say it, I’m not looking for trouble.”
“Listen”, he said. “I’m all for it, the whole Second Amendment thing. The protection of life and property, I get it. But you’re…”
“I’m what?”
“You’re different.”
“How am I different?”
“People in your situation are prone to Depression. I read up on your condition and there is a very high suicide rate in CKD patients and dialysis patients in particular. I’m worried that you might use the 9mm and take my buddy away.”

I thought for a moment. I couldn’t argue with his facts or begrudge him his motives. He is a great friend.

“Jeff, you know me as well if not better than anyone, but when have you ever seen me exhibit signs of depression?”
“Truthfully, I haven’t. But I can’t believe that you haven’t with all of the shit that you’ve been through. And I know you lie to me a lot when I ask you how you are.”

He had me there. Guilty as charged. My entire family accuses me of the same thing. And they all think that I must be depressed. But I’m not a Theater-trained actor, I wear my heart on my sleeve and I’m a terrible liar. Yet they, and now Jeff don’t believe that I’m fine.

I explained to Jeff that I’m fine. He apologized for speculating as to my mental health. I assured him that it was fine, that his reasons were admirable, and thanked him for his concern.

After we hung up, I thought a little deeper on it.

I have lied to a lot of people about my health, not to worry them or out of a desire to just be treated normal, not as the “sick guy.” But I never lie to myself. I am not depressed.

My Doctor’s, my family, the nurses at my clinic constantly ask how my mental state is. It’s no big secret that patients like me get angry. Angry with life, with God. One guy committed suicide last month. He left a suicide note that simply read “I cant take the pain anymore.” It’s a real thing.

But not me. I am the anomaly. I am the happy patient. The jokester. The guy that plans for his next good day instead of living for treatment days. I really feel ok most of the time and most importantly I still find JOY in life.

I have a wonderful family. I get along famously with my ex-wife. My relationship with my children is tremendous. My oldest daughter tells me she loves me almost every day by phone or text. My oldest boy trusts and confides in me all the time. When he had food poisoning on Monday, he called me at 6:30 AM because I was the first person he thought to call. My youngest boy both admires and respects me and looks forward to opportunities to just sit and talk. My youngest daughter, she adores me. She tells anyone that will listen that I am her best friend. My mother, she welcomed me into her home at the lowest point in my life and has made me her first priority. All of these things equal one big conclusion.

These people are my reason for living.

If I was to die of natural causes, something I work hard at trying to avoid, they would be sad. If I committed suicide they would be devastated. Bottom line, I recognize the lure of suicide but I could never willingly cause pain to the ones I love. It’s selfish. And that is not me.

So where does the gun fit into all of this? Does anyone think that I didn’t think about the suicide thing when I decided to purchase it? I thought long and hard and I decided that it wasn’t an issue. Because I’m secure enough to know that I’m not at risk. I am a perpetually positive person with things that I want to do and places I want to go. There are weddings I want to go to and future grandchildren I look forward to bouncing on my knee.

The gun is just what it is. Protection. A sense of security. A manifestation of a Constitutional right. And maybe, just maybe, it is a reality check. Knowing that I can end it any time can keep me on the right path and in some morbid way, remind me to look at what I have to live for.

We all need something like that in our lives.