Return from Washington Adventist (7/12/2008)

I have have been thinking about posting this e-mail for a long time.   I sent it to family and friends back in 2008.  A few of you have seen it already, and may even remember it.  It is now a part of my life story and history.  More than ten years have passed since then, and I can now reflect on how this has effected the way I live and my outlook towards life.  Perhaps you will find something interesting.
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Dear Folks,

I am very happy to be back home this Saturday evening.  Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers. As many of you already know, the fact that I had to stay overnight at the hospital is an indication of the fact that they indeed found some blockage in the heart and some work had to be done. The news, in short, is that two stents were introduced into the arteries feeding the heart – one in the first obtuse marginal artery (OM1) which was about 95% blocked, and another on the Right Coronary Artery (RCA) which was about 70% blocked. A drug-eluting stent was used in each case to try to prevent the arteries from re-closing. I feel fine right now, but have to take it easy for the next few days so that the femoral artery through which they inserted the catheter can heal completely. My daily Asprin and Lipitor dosages going forward have been increased and I will probably have to continue to take this medication for life. I also have to take Plavix, an anticoagulant, for a year.  These are the consequences of heart disease. But I will be back to my activities as soon as I am given the green light. It would seem that I have been given an extension of sorts, and I should make the best use of the additional time. I feel fine.

You should probably not read past this point if all you wanted were the facts, and you are not interested in the gory details of the trip to the hospital. In fact you should not read past this point if you have a tendency to get distressed in general. An overnight stay in a hospital, as some of you know, makes you a humbler person. You are basically out of your comfort zone and for the most part you are dependent on others. It does not help that you wear a gown that is open at the back. If you happen to be connected to an IV line you also cannot move around easily without help. You depend on the nurses for almost everything. You could feel out of sorts even if you are physically OK.

The catheterization procedure itself went smoothly. It was interesting to be awake during the process and be aware of what was going on, feeling no pain, and hearing what sounded like distant conversations – with an occasional request from the doctor to hold my breath. He informed me of what he was going to do before he inserted the two stents. I was done with the procedure and back in the recovery area before noon. I had been given an anticoagulant drug at the completion of the procedure to prevent clots from forming around the stents. Because of this, in order to avoid issues with healing, they waited for a couple of hours before they pulled the sheath (from which the catheters had been inserted into the femoral artery) from the area of the groin. As soon as the sheath was removed from the groin, I had one of my famous fainting spells. I felt the coldness creep in and I told the nurse who was working on me that I was going to faint. As I got knocked out, I saw the guy reaching for the alarm button. Code blue!

Apparently, I flatlined, and the guy kept pounding on my chest while applying pressure to the wound to prevent bleeding. I am told that I was out for about 15 seconds, and when I came to it felt as if I was coming out of a dream. (No, I did not see a white light.) I think I shouted – Where am I?! I saw a bunch of anxious faces in front of me, and one woman was holding my hand in a very reassuring manner. But I recovered quickly after that. I asked for some food immediately because I knew that part of the problem was that I had not eaten since the previous day. (And according to Teresa I was apparently also not well hydrated during the procedure.) I have experienced fainting spells every once in an infrequent while since childhood, and now there is name for this. It is called vasovagal syncope. Look it up. It has to do with bad signals being sent to the heart due to a process with positive feedback within the body. I used to think of my experiences in childhood as some kind of weakness on my part that could be controlled mentally. It actually is something that has a physical origin.

Anyway, because of the drama I had created, I was placed in the Cardiac ICU for the night. I got personal attention, but I had a hard time sleeping, one of the reasons being that I had to lay my right foot out straight through the night. This morning I watched the daybreak out of the window of my room on the fifth floor – with the blues and the whites and the oranges lighting up the early morning sky. I felt things were going to be OK. I was feeling strong. I felt strong enough to sing to myself, but for some absurd reason, tears would come to my eyes. (I suppose “Bridge over troubled waters” is not the best song in these circumstances.) But I had a good breakfast and lunch before Teresa and Christina were able to rescue me and bring me home. The unfortunate episode and the helpless feeling that goes with staying in a hospital are quickly fading into memory. I am feeling great right now. Lets see what the next challenge is going to look like.

Once again, I am very, very, grateful to all of you for all your good wishes and for thinking about me. I am touched, in fact my brain may be a little fried from a lack of oxygen (only joking, OK!).

Sincerely
kuria

Riding with Dan Q (1/30/3005)

It is not that I have run out of ideas, but I find myself recently unable to find some quiet time for the mind.  I have become quite distracted in recent days.   So, I am resorting to posting an old email that I had sent to family and friends a long time ago when I used to volunteer in the furniture program at our church.  We used to pick up furniture that people wanted to give away and deliver it to the homes of needy people.  I wrote the following.
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I am sorry folks, but I have gotten the bug! I cannot stop writing, even if there is not much to say. I wake up on the weekends with the neurons clicking in my brain, with phrases forming in the head that I want to put down. What is one supposed to do? The good thing is that you can always trash my e-mails, electronically speaking that is, if they are full of junk.

Woke up today, Sunday morning, to the white of winter and the sight of snow gently falling all around the house. Truth be told, my first instinct was that this whole winter business was getting old, it was getting to be a big pain in the rear rend – this was getting me down, making me sick (middle of last week), and also getting in the way of things that one wanted to do. I have not been able to run for three weekends already (but then again, what is three weekends in a year, or a year in a lifetime). Although one is missing the quietening and balancing effects of the outdoors, one will definitely survive, although in a crabbier mood than usual, with the crabbiness factor increasing exponentially as time passes. I was also supposed to go out to perform at a music show this afternoon – that’s right, innocent people were going to pay to hear me sing, and I was thinking of the pain of driving in these conditions. (That show has since been cancelled because of the weather.)

What then has changed my mood? I was looking out into the backyard through the patio doors, just watching the white stuff come down – it was a steady fall, not the big thick flakes that float around and make people go “Ooooh” and “Aaaah”! The snow was heavy and wet – it made the work of shoveling the driveway later more difficult. A white layer had formed on the branches of the trees and the nets that I have around the plants, and you could see that some of the smaller branches were bending over with the weight of the water. I caught sight of a squirrel scurrying across the snow – a black figure bouncing about on a pure white background. It was hopping along, occasionally stopping to look around, and then heading off in a new direction. Soon after, I saw another squirrel. It did not seem to mind the snow either. Then, there was the red breasted bird sitting on one of the leafless trees behind our property. Even though it was small, the bright red on the grey and white background could not be missed. As I became more aware, I noticed that there was another small bird with a head of black (black capped Chickadee???) on the tree just next to the house. Looking up into the sky I could sight a couple of birds headed southwest, gliding through the sky and through the falling snow (how does that feel, I wonder?). Life is still going on as usual all around us….

The next part of this e-mail is not meant for the faint of heart, or for the children who may be misled by the misdeeds of supposedly mature adults. Sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. This was one of these occasions!

I helped with the furniture program yesterday. Pat Byrnes sent me out with Dan Q., in Dan’s pickup truck. The mission was to pick up a sofa and a love seat. This was the first time I was meeting Dan Q. – a young white man, clean shaven and thin lipped, hair on the head completely shaved off, wearing wraparound sunglasses, and speaking with a strange accent that I could not place – looked tough! We arrive at this home and pick up a really nice sofa and love-seat set. These are loaded into the back of the open pickup truck, and we pull ropes over from one side to the other over the furniture to make sure everything is securely in place. The cushions are stuffed into crevices to make sure that they do not fly off, and the throws (smaller cushions that you throw over the sofa) have been secured in garbage bags which have been shoved under the ropes. Dan says that he will drive carefully. I did not realize then that “carefully” was a relative term. About half a mile into the trip back to the storage area, Dan informs me that one of the garbage bags has fallen off. Luckily there is no traffic since we have not hit the main road yet. I pop out of the passenger seat, run back, grab the bag, and stuff it back more securely into the back (or so I thought). Off we go once again. We are now on a busier road, Route 118, and Dan is driving “carefully” once again. As we pull up to the traffic light just after the Interstate 270 overpass, we hear desperate honking behind us. A van pulls up beside us – you lost one of your bags, we are informed by the driver. So Dan makes a U-turn (carefully!) at the light and we head back. There, in the middle of the busy road, on one of the lanes carrying traffic in the opposite direction, is our garbage bag. As we prepare to make the next U-turn to pick up the bag, I notice that our second bag is also on the road, further along the way. We have lost all our throws! It was just amazing that nobody had yet driven over the garbage bags. Further defensive (or perhaps, in the opinion of some people, offensive) moves are made. Dan pulls up in the middle of the road, and Mr. Joseph has to get out of the truck to pick up the bags. Timing was critical in these maneuvers, and Mr. Joseph performed admirably. The passenger door of the truck had to be pulled open with perfect timing to make sure that it was not taken apart by traffic in the next lane. Mr. Joseph proceeded quickly, and with surprising dexterity, to carry out his mission and make sure that both he and the garbage bags returned to the truck in one piece. The throws made it back to the storage center in the cab of the truck and on my lap – I would not have needed an air bag if Dan Q. had gotten us into a pickle (which would not have been surprising considering the way he was driving). That was my adventure for the day – risking life and limb for a noble cause!! Actually, I have spiced this write up a bit – the traffic was rather light and it was not really that dangerous. Do not worry…..

It turns out that Dan Q is an armed security guard. It is a job he was forced to take after he lost his original job with Verizon many years ago. He is trying to get top secret clearance so that he can get a better job in the government. He intends to complete his master’s degree along the way. He has ambitions. Meanwhile he is also investing in real estate and selling mortgages. He has formed a Limited Liability Company with his wife (now, where have I heard a similar story?). His father was a Chemical Engineer who worked for the government. Dan is from Eastern Maryland – hence his accent. He thinks that the war in Iraq is a big mistake. (There is still hope for America!) That is one more memorable person/character I have met through the furniture program. I do not know if I will get to ride with him again.

I should stop here. This has gotten longer than I wished it to be.

later
kuria

Cruelty and Injustice

Some of us have enough spare time on our hands to ruminate about what goes on around us in this world, sometimes without any “education” or any formal process that forms the basis for our lines of thinking.  I know it is a waste of time, but there is something intriguing about the search.  I have enough time on my hands that I even created this blog a few weeks ago musing about what it is all about.

But sometimes, when you see what is going on around you in the real world in real time, you can be shaken out of this somewhat disconnected and disjointed state of mind, the state of mind where you feel like generally talking about things in the abstract.  There is specificity. And your mind screams – really, is this what we are capable of?  Events that can evoke that kind of a response are happening all around us all the time. There are certain aspects of human reality, and of the nature of human unkindness, that make you want to scream – what is wrong with us?  Is it our true nature to be cruel and unjust?  Does it take a truly supreme effort for us to get away from our basic instincts?  I fear that this could be the real truth.

I do believe that if I were left to my own devices I would end up revealing the true nature of the cruelty that I myself am capable of.  I can sense it in myself, feel it lurking somewhere in the background. And I know that I have even revealed this innate element of my character to people who I have interacted with all my life.  Family, friends, relatives, and even other creatures of this earth (watch that mouse that you have trapped, or the cockroach that you have squashed, die!), have experienced it. A process of learning, forgiveness, and maybe even forgetting, can perhaps help deal with this state of being, especially as you age, but the process never ends, and some memories never go away.

But does one not have to at least try to learn that because of the nature of this society that we inhabit, because of the nature of this interconnected and interdependent world that we have built up, we need to at least try rise to a different level, and we need to work to uplift everybody around us, not just ourselves, in order to survive?  Could being good also not make you feel good?

I am in this frame of mind because of a story I read in the newspaper yesterday.  This is not an isolated story. Cruelty and injustice happens everywhere and everyday. Most of these stories do not affect us directly, but I tend to have a gut reaction and respond sometimes when hearing such stories.  Here is one such reaction I had in the past.  We can try to close our eyes because something does not affect us directly, but ultimately these things say a lot about us, and what we are willing to accept.

If you are inclined to follow the link I provided but are not inclined to read the entire article, the videos will provide you a shorter synopsis of what this particular story is all about.

The Words

The  year was 2014. I was on the towpath and approaching Fletcher’s Cove from the north.  I must have been on foot since I started biking once again only in 2016.  It must have been early morning since that is the time that I usually run.  Just south of Chain Bridge one comes upon Mile Marker 4 on the towpath, and shortly after that, a concrete spillway for the canal that allows overflow water to get to the river.  Then, further south, before Fletcher’s Cove itself, a truss bridge (that earlier used to carry the B&O Georgetown branch railroad line) carries the Capital Crescent trail (CCT) over the canal and the towpath.  On the side of the bridge for the CCT, just beside the trail, I saw the some graffiti with the following words:

“In the space between right and wrong is where I will find you.”

A very recent search reveals that the poet Rumi might have said something that seems somewhat similar, but not the same:

Somewhere beyond right and wrong, there is a garden. I will meet you there.

But, at that time, back in 2014, the original words I had read stayed with me.  I was trying to understand what it meant even as I ran.  Did it mean that nobody is perfect?  I am still not sure what exactly the words were meant to convey, but I would like to think of this message as a comment on the human condition.  I still think about it.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

The Sun Sets Upside Down In The Morning

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I woke up early today.  I had been planning to drive to Forest Park for an early morning run. I peered out between the blinds of the 7th floor apartment and noticed that the sun was beginning to rise on the other side of the Mississippi.  I reached for my camera.  Little did I realize that I would be looking at the sun temporarily setting upside down between the clouds!

Return to Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania

The last time I came to Ohiopyle was in 2016, during the epic KVIITM75 bike ride from Pittsburgh to the Washington DC area.  We had arrived at Ohiopyle on the second day of the ride, just in time for a late lunch stop and a detour to visit Fallingwater, the famous Frank Lloyd Wright built home.  We had arrived in town with little time to spare, and somewhat tired from the ride from Perryopolis earlier in the day.  We had picked up lunch from a restaurant near the place where we were to catch the shuttle to Fallingwater, and had decided to ride our bikes to the Ohiopyle waterfall to consume the food.  Alas, we never found the waterfall, having misunderstood directions provided to us, and having taken a path into the woods instead of into town.

But I was determined to return to Ohiopyle some day, not necessarily to look for the waterfall, but to explore the beautiful state park nearby.  The attraction of Fallingwater was actually what eventually led us to make the trip back to Ohiopyle last week.  We entered the town on a road that actually went past a busy part of town (nowhere near the trail we had biked on), and there on our left, beside the parking lot, were the waterfalls!  We spent some time walking through town before and after lunch.  Here are some pictures.

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Ohiopyle Waterfall on the Youghioheny river
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Ohiopyle Waterfall
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The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) bike trail bridge in the distance
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Walking through town
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The GAP bridge over the Youghiogheny
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View of bridge from town

The B&O and the Western Maryland railroad lines used to run through Ohiopyle on the two sides of the Youghiogheny river.  The Western Maryland line has been converted to the Great Allegheny Passage.  The old B&O line is now a CSX mainline connecting the eastern seaboard to the rest of the country.  Ohiopyle is now a holiday spot with a focus on watersports and place for bike riders on the GAP to rest.  The Ohiopyle State Park is on the other side of the bridge!

We are Very Hungry

I was doing at task at Manna that I usually do not.  I had been avoiding it for a while.  Because none of the other “regulars” had shown up, I was the only volunteer left to do it.  Basically, the task involved greeting the customers when they came in to pick up their food, checking their identification, ticking their names off a list, and getting signatures.  It sounds simple, but it was the small variations in the type of folks who come to pick up food that I was not used to.  People can pick up food for others if they have their IDs, case workers can pick up food for their clients with their own IDs, organizations can pick up food for a larger number of clients, etc..  I was simply being lazy and trying to avoid having to remember what needed to be done in each case.

In any case, it was time for me to bite the bullet and learn the process a little better since there was nobody else there to step in. Things went nicely, and it was actually nice to talk to some of the clients, beyond the conversations that one might have with them when actually delivering food to their vehicles.

I was taking care of stuff when I heard voices emanating from the window where clients go to talk to the Manna staff when needed.  In the background I could hear somebody talking about not having food, and about her child not having gone to school that day because she was being bullied, and about travails related a job situation.  The staff member (a person who must have a good heart, and who will remain anonymous for this blog) was asking questions.  Usually, the people who receive food on a particular day are on a printed list that is prepared from information collected ahead of time.   But an exception was made based on information provided.  The staff member went through the required process as an urgent matter.

The lady who had been talking to the staff member was now a client and was being allowed to pick up food the same day.  She walked up to me with her daughter and presented me with a tiny piece of paper.  On it was the information that I would normally have found on the printed sheets for the clients.  I improvised and wrote the name at the bottom of the printed list, checked ID, and got the required signature.  While this was happening, the lady mentioned that they had no food at home and that they were very hungry.  I was struck by a sense of urgency by the statement even though the lady was speaking in a calm manner.

We were giving out one piece of pastry to the customers that day, but I said that they could take two if they wanted.  The daughter addressed me politely – “Sir, can I take this one”.  I said “sure’, but then noticed that mom had already taken two pastries.  I pointed this out and the mother and daughter decided on which pastry that was already in their hands they were going to put back.  It was an “Oliver Twist” moment.  Meanwhile, I began to feel like a jerk.  Why should I be limiting food to hungry people?  Anyway, the clients were being allowed unlimited amounts of bread that day (because we had a lot of bread, and bread goes bad quickly) and I made sure to emphasize that fact while they were picking through the bread available on the rack.  The mother and daughter left with their food (which also included a closed box of dry food, some meat, and an open box of perishables, including fruits, vegetables and prepared foods). I was left thinking about how they would feel once they got some food in their stomachs.

While volunteering, there are occasional incidents that challenge me mentally and take me outside my comfort zone.  Some of them are good for me, and that is perhaps one of the points of the exercise.