10.30.13

No Regrets

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:20 pm by Administrator

Allen Iverson is retiring today in Philadelphia. he told reporters that he had no regrets about the way he has lived, though he admitted that he’s made some mistakes along the way. when he steps onto the court tonight to ceremonially end his career where it began, he’ll be sure to get unequivocal love from all the fans. to put it simply, there was never another man who played the game quite like Iverson; and for all of his ups and downs, and for all of his inability to lead his teams to a championship, Philadelphia was lucky to have him.

i’ve written so much about iverson over the years that it’s hard for me to anticipate how this entry ought to read. i have always loved AI and felt connected to him, that much is easy to admit. we’re close in age, and we grew up in the same region. i followed him at Georgetown and judged him to be an attitude problem; i followed him to Philadelphia, where i grew fascinated with his game (and with the game of basketball, as a result). i went to dozens of his games, following his every move on and off the ball.

over the years of following him, i realized a lot of things about AI that seemed to go unnoticed by national sports reporters. AI was not a ball-hog; he just knew exactly what he wanted to do with the ball when he had it. his feel for the game was unequaled, and he was constantly aware of what was going on around him. he sensed his teammates’ spots and allowed them to work around him. no, AI was never good at adapting to the strengths of his coaches or teammates. but he was secure enough and flexible enough to let people really understand his approach to the game. role players like Eric Snow, George Lynch, Aaron McKie, and Matt Geiger never complained about playing with AI; they grew into better players during their years with him. they quietly and consistently followed him into battle, and all of them played their best basketball alongside of him.

of course i followed all the off-court news, and i studied him through those stories as well. as confident and courageous as he was on court, he always seemed strangely careless and even lost in real life. he’d leave his money and shoes lying around in other people’s homes; he’d forget about his children for days on end; he’d seem distant if not totally disconnected from other people in public places. a lot of sports writers tried to explain this contrast between his basketball and real-life personas, and they’d spin it as the product of a one-dimensional life. but allen’s life always struck me as something both private and rich. here was a young man who truly wanted and needed to be loved, who gave deeply and constantly of himself, and who found himself repeatedly injured by life, by basketball, and by the people who adored him.

AI doesn’t really open himself up in interviews, and the biographies i’ve read are full of the usual sorts of seemingly revealing details: how he grew up sleeping on other people’s couches, running around in the streets, fantasizing about playing the tough guy’s game (football). the conventional tale of allen iverson is that he had his run, and gambling and womanizing emptied him out, leaving him with nothing. they say that allen iverson, unlike michael jordan, is retiring at the very bottom of his life and career.

i’m not sure that i buy that story. i think of allen iverson the caricaturist—the quiet, artistic guy who saw things other people don’t see. we saw the magnificence of his game and dared to dream of the things he could accomplish. but allen saw something that none of us will ever understand—the way the game feels when you are fully in control of it. he’s drawn for us a picture of his life that looks exaggerated and disproportional in so many ways, but he knows, better than the rest of us, that it’s not for real. he’s playing the game of life to keep feeling that feeling. he’s looking for the game that will never give up on him.

you do your thing bubba chuck. we love the way you play the game.

10.29.13

the flowers

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:42 am by Administrator

about six months ago, i wrote about the flowers in my garden that died. it was a chaotic time; our ceiling had flooded, and we’d had to vacate our home to have all the internal plumbing redone. we’d moved out of our home for more than a week, and i’d forgotten to come back to water the plants. eight days without water in that unusually hot season was all it took to wither the flowers. i watered them dutifully for weeks before i finally gave up hope. the death of the flowers was, to me, a failing that touched upon many failings in my life.

six months later, i was watering the garden when i noticed a white flower in bloom, exactly where the previous flowers had died. days later, red and purple flowers were growing up around the white flower. i asked my wife if she’d planted new flowers to replace the old. no, she said. no one has planted any new flowers there.

the flowers live, i said to myself. and then, the voice in my mind: the flowers never died.

over the past week or so, i have thought much about my longstanding wish to write a story, and how this wish over the years has come to nothing. i recently listened to a kazuo ishiguro interview in which he claimed that the prime years of an author are before his 40th year; and if he writes nothing by then, it is unlikely that he’ll ever get around to it. i have begun to wonder if in fact my ambitions to be a writer have not only been futile but also undermining as well. have i been stunted in my personal development because of this vain and foolish wish to be something i can never become?

for months, the flowers were withered and seemingly departed. for months, i persisted in the daily discipline of watering that patch of soil, though nothing else was growing there. and all the while, i meditated on how neglect and iniquity had corrupted so many things in my life. i think i watered that ground because i could cry no tears for myself; it was my way of mourning.

but a few days ago, the flowers awakened to life, as if from prolonged hibernation. they are beautiful, the way they bring color to everything around them. i believed that they were dead; but i realize now that it can be difficult to discern what is dead from what is dormant. i am reminded of yet another quote from Dune: Do not count a human dead until you’ve seen his body, says the Bene Gesserit Lady Fenring. And even then you can make a mistake.

i dreamt another story, even as i gazed upon the flowers that i was watering this morning. no man, however foolish or failed, can deny what he is

10.22.13

dune, death, and passion

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:25 pm by Administrator

it’s been a time of exhaustion and even despair for me, and my longing for comfort has led me to back to a story that has always held rich meaning for me. no, it isn’t the Bible that i’ve been reading in my spare moments; it’s Frank Herbert’s Dune.

my wife thought it grand hyperbole when i once declared Dune to be the most profound and enlightening text i have ever read. but i say this for good reason. Dune, in its own way, crystallizes what i believe to the very heart of the biblical narrative; it depicts a transcendent people, and it does so in a lyrical prose that i consider to be unrivaled in modern American literature. when i read Dune, i find myself absorbed in both its language and its insinuations. i am certain of it now, that this is my favorite book of all time.

what drives me back to Dune again and again is its brooding obsession with life’s hidden (if not inscrutable) meanings. within the mind of Paul Atreides is a constant frothing and agitation, as he battles to preserve himself—the quiet and known self—from the ravages of a chaotic and terribly expansive revelation of himself, reflected in the worship of his people. Paul is continually stretched if not torn by the relentless tension between his past and his partially revealed future, and in this tensile trajectory he finds himself excruciatingly drawn to a terrible thinness, lost even to self-consciousness. as Paul realizes what he is to become, he grieves what he becomes, even as he recognizes in himself the inexorable fulfillment of the great prophecies. Paul learns that nothing true about himself resides in what he was; rather, his identity was simply a tool for destiny, deceptive and even corrupt, and ultimately intended to be decimated for the transformation of his people.

Dune, in short, is about coming of age through the death of self. conventional wisdom is epitomized in the Bene Gesserit way, the achievement of consummate self-control, for the honing of perception. but the thesis of Dune stands in stark contrast: the passions of the self are not to be restrained but rather agitated and sharpened, to the eruption of self, ultimately for reconstitution into God consciousness.

for much of my life, i’ve sought to suppress passion. i’ve had much of it—too much, in my estimation. i have believed that spiritual good is epitomized in self-control, in the restraint of selfish passion for the sake of thoughtful, disciplined benevolence. but in the twenty-five years since i first understood sexual desire, i can say that the restraint of passion has only engendered frustration; where passion was not permitted to surface, it simply drove deeper, to grate upon my core. nothing good has come of my efforts to transcend the gom jabbar. the injustice and outrage of mortal misery cannot be relativized; either God is determined by it, or He is made irrelevant by it.

wisdom for me will not come from the tempering of my moods, or from the emptying of my life that some call demise. i think that these passions i house—this passion to win, that passion to be understood, this passion to be loved, and that passion to rule—were meant to grow and to stretch me, up through the point of climax and into my resurrection. though i feel like a victim of many desires, it is precisely for my pain and suffering that they rage within me. i was meant to be stretched by the tumult; i was meant to be stretched along that terrible trajectory between what i was and what i am meant to become. passion is not to be my enemy but my lifeblood, and by pressing me to the point of extinction, it is meant to drive that transformation by which i, the individual, become me, that drop in the sea of God consciousness.

i am reminded of this passage from Dune: Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic.

i read Dune, and i find a metaphor for the things fomenting within me. i feel the destruction of my kind, even of my own body, and yet i am reminded of new life yet to be revealed. there is, in this dry wasteland of the world, the promise of rain that will bring life to everything. and the thing that brings the rain is no logic or plan; it is the force of divine will, gathered over the millenia like stormclouds rolled upon themselves, over and over and over, raging with the pains and pressing hopes reaped from our histories. i remember that passion is what draws us to the fount of life. passion will be what transforms this planet into a verdant paradise for all time

10.09.13

when it rains

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:54 pm by Administrator

during my lunch break, i walked over to the target across the street to find a birthday card for my dad. i spent a lot of time leafing through the cards. i realized fairly quickly that most of the cards wouldn’t work for me. the funny ones won’t work. the sentimental cards definitely aren’t right. there was one card that i almost bought; it was very brief and to the point. it said something to the effect of “i know we don’t talk often, but i hope today’s a good day for you”. but i put it back down, because that one wasn’t right either. i couldn’t really articulate what i was looking for, but i knew what i wasn’t looking for. so, after about ten minutes, i gave up and walked out of the store.

about ten seconds after i walked out into the street, a downpour just started out of nowhere. it doesn’t rain often in L.A., but here and there the clouds just let loose, and it’s a big scene. all around me people were laughing, yelling, and scattering, but i just walked the two blocks back to my clinic, literally soaking it in. it was a good, hard, cold rain, like any Fall rainstorm ought to be. it was a silent rainfall, no thunder or lightning, just steady and hard, like good catharsis. it made me think about the places where i grew up; it made me think of Fall trees, and rain water pushing orange and red leaves into the gutter. it made me miss places that i haven’t seen in a long time.

lately i’ve been missing a lot of my wife’s family gatherings. it’s been bad timing mostly; i’ve been busy. but i can tell that her family is wondering why i’m not there. standing in the rain, i thought about the family gatherings i used to enjoy when i grew up. i remembered summers in West Haverstraw, running through Grandma Pep’s rickety old house; i remembered the smell of cigarettes, the sound of laughter over the constant background noise of kids and televisions. family was plain and simple back then; it was people who didn’t care what i did or who i became. it was people who just wanted me to know that they loved me no matter what.

when it rains, and it doesn’t rain very often, i let it soak through my clothes, i let it soak me to the bones. even when i cannot cry, i let rivers flow down my face, and it feels just the same to me. it’s that good feeling, and it reminds me that most of the stuff that bothers me doesn’t matter really. it just doesn’t matter at all

10.01.13

why i keep at it

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:13 am by Administrator

this entry is for me, more than for anyone else. because when it comes to the question of why i do this—seeing patients—no one asks it more than i do. and no one really knows that answer, except for me.

clinical work is very very hard for me. it’s not hard because of the intellectual complexity of medical decision-making. it’s hard because of how emotionally exhausting it is. ramming through 18-25 patients a day, all of whom have chronic illnesses, the majority of whom have a serious mental illness as well, is exhausting. and unless you’re in primary care, you don’t understand what i’m talking about. no one knows America like a general practitioner; and no one knows the underbelly of America better than an HIV doctor in an inner city. there are days when i go home and i throw my pillow against every wall of my bedroom at least half a dozen times until i am too spent to be angry anymore. i drink alcohol to survive; i dread my monday mornings; and then i go to work, and i live the misery of my patients. my wife has asked me repeatedly to consider resigning. i’ve come very close, many times.

but today, i remembered why i stick with it, not just with medicine but with this particular job. a patient that i saw a few days ago ended up in the hospital yesterday with a very severe pneumonia. i saw him and examined him forty eight hours before he landed in the ER, and according to my judgment he didn’t have a pneumonia. it’s quite possible that i could have prevented the progression of his illness, but based on my exam and the way he looked, i went another way. i gave him a call today while he was lying in his hospital bed, breathing supplemental oxygen and feeling extraordinarily crappy, and i apologized to him for missing the diagnosis. even more than that, i just felt terrible for him. and as odd as it sounds, my patient was giving me reassurance. don’t worry about it, this stuff happens, he said.

i don’t know why exactly, but the conversation made me realize something that was personally important to me. my patient could have been mad at me; but instead he was allowing me to be wrong, and he was asking me to continue helping him. to me, this felt like extraordinary grace. and i think that this attitude of grace was a profound reminder to me that every patient that i see is giving me grace of a kind. they are choosing to believe in me and in my skills, to the point that they are willing to entrust their physical health to my judgment and mine alone. it’s really rare when they ask for a second opinion, even when big things are at stake. this is how much my relationship with them really matters.

my job hurts me. sometimes, i feel that my job breaks my heart. but here and there, i recognize that underneath all my angry, sad, and frustrated feelings, there is a real and very deep realization that for a short time in my life i will be privileged to receive this kind of faith from people and to respond to it with service and love. i am humbled by that; and it makes me want to be better at what i do. it makes me want to be worthy of their faith in me. that’s not a job; that’s a calling.

today, as with all of my work days, i am tired. i am so tired that the prospect of coming back tomorrow sucks the life out of my bones. honestly, i don’t know how much longer i can continue this kind of a life. but i do know this: this kind of grace makes life worth living, it dignifies my best efforts, and it gives me the courage from day to day to overcome my own weaknesses. i’m thankful for it; and my prayer is that for as long as i’m called to do this, i will never stop seeing the beauty of what i am doing for my people