White Hot Anger

One of the lessons of my meditation practice involves letting go of anger. Instead of embracing it,”I am angry,” you pull back and look at it “So that is anger,” and then try to let it go. This doesn’t always work for me, but it came in very handy a few weeks back.

President Obama was coming to town. I knew I wanted to hear him speak, but had not a clue how to go about when, where, or how  and details were not available. So I forgot about it. Then the day before, Phil casually mentioned that tickets were available through the University. Only he hadn’t thought to mention it to me till just then.

My anger flashed white hot. I can’t even remember when I was last that angry. I wanted to rant at him:

“Do you remember that last year I put in days and days and made hundreds and hundreds of phone calls to get this man re-elected, and it never occurred to you that I might like to see him in person?” That was the warmup to the unsaid vituperation.

Fortunately, I delivered a milder version, more bemused than furious, and when he told me there was a lottery and an hours-long wait on a security line, both my annoyance and enthusiasm cooled completely.

But my reaction had been so shockingly intense that I kept thinking about it.

And concluded that first, no matter how long or how well you know a person, you can’t know everything about them. And that includes yourself.

And second, we are inconsistent, even in our consistency. I usually mock the crowds who come out to see celebrities, or Popes, or royalty or Presidents. They are just people like us, right? So how was Phil to ever suspect that this one time I would care, and care so deeply? I didn’t even know myself.

The most useful result, however, was that tapping into what I had learned from Andy (my guru) of “Headspace.” And that was to take a minute and a step back. Look at the situation from a distance. Don’t leap into the fray, and don’t blurt out the first thing that crosses your fevered mind. Give yourself some space, and give the other person some as well.

Another practice is to ask oneself what you expect and hope to gain from the meditation, and later, what you expect others to gain from your meditation practice. In this case it was pretty clear that my being able to control that anger saved Phil (and I) a nasty confrontation.

These lessons probably sound obvious and trite, but the more I reflect on them, the more profound they seem. Anger, perhaps of all our emotions, brings on a hair-trigger response. And the regrets can last a lot longer. Taking a breath is well worth the time and the hurt not delivered does not have to be assuaged.

Things I Spied III: Books “11/22/63”

Sometimes I feel like Zelig. I was there at Woodstock, and across the street from the Twin Towers on 9/11. But the historical event that first shook and shaped my world was during my college years, when President Kennedy was assassinated. From this side of a lifetime, it was the first of many horrific events still to come. But from that side, it was the first time, for me, that the unthinkable could happen. And it set us down a road of increasingly unthinkable happenings.

But the thought has occasionally occurred to me-what if Oswald had been stopped? I will admit to many years of conspiracy theorizing, but at a fifty year remove, despite the incredible bungling on all sides that has now been revealed, I am left with the belief that it was just Lee Harvey Oswald who changed history. I am not the only one who has wondered how it might have been otherwise, however. Stephen King has put his doubts and suppositions into a gripping new novel, called “11/22/63.”

Stephen King? Surely not Stephen King! I loved his early books, “Carrie” and “Christine.” He even managed to make me afraid of that raging car. But then killer dogs and clowns turned me off, and I stopped being interested in his massive output and tomes.

Recently, however, I read and very much enjoyed “Duma Key,” and then “On Writing” which is his guide for writers, with an autobiography wrapped around it. My favorite rule was the one banning adverbs.

Today I am deeply, surprisingly, immersed in “11/22/63” in which the first person narrator travels through a time portal to prevent Oswald from killing President Kennedy. Time portal makes it sound like science fiction, but it is in fact a well-researched historical novel. Very well-researched. I lived through that time and was both gratified and appalled to be reminded of so many of the things I had forgotten.

Garterbelts, yes, and segregated toilets. Mmmm. And corsets and pillbox hats. Hats! And incredibly cheap prices and puritan attitudes.

Perhaps the best thing about this long, long book is the suspense King manages to build. I know that there cannot be a “successful” ending, first, because Oswald did kill Kennedy, and then, because this is a novel of fiction. And there are no time portals. But King has created a page-turner, nevertheless, and I have to go now and get back to my reading. Hope you will join me.

You Want Some Sugar With That?

Phil was briefly hospitalized following our recent ER adventure (Up All Night), so we had the opportunity of seeing into the belly of the beast of a large institution. The care from nurses, physicians assistants, nurse practitioners, doctors, technicians and staff was beyond reproach. Their attitude was upbeat, and caring, and helpful. Of course being wakened repeatedly from sleep for “your vitals,” that is, to see if you are still alive, has little charm, but is understandable.

But the one institutional mind quirk that befuddled us was the approach to food. I am not talking about the quality, though that varied widely, but about the composition of the meals and the nutritionist’s approach.

Because of a drug he was treated with a few weeks earlier, Phil had slipped into a diabetic state. By monitoring what he ate, and watching his blood sugar, he was able to get the blood glucose levels to just above normal. Watching what he ate meant severely reducing simple carbohydrates (the whit things like rice, flour, sugar) and eating complex carbs (brown rice, fruit, some whole wheat flour or pasta).

But here is a typical dinner:


And here some low carb muffins that he is not addicted to:


So he hasn’t been exactly suffering.

Enter the hospital breakfast: a heaping pile of pancakes, syrup, and apple sauce. And a nurse with a needle full of insulin. At first he complained that he was supposed to be getting the food for diabetics-only to find out that this was the diabetic diet!

Flashback to “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” with Phil as McMurphy and the dietician as Nurse Ratched:
“But I don’t want all those carbohydrates!”
“We count the carbohydrates for you. You get four to five each meal.”
“But then my sugar goes up!”
“And we give you insulin for that.”
“But I don’t want to be dependent on insulin, just cut out the carbs!”
“But you need carbohydrates for a well-rounded diet!”

After that I brought food in for him.

I have thought a lot about this, and, I will admit, have some understanding for their approach. The average diabetic is used to this regimen. Eat 4-5 carbs per meal (or more) and adjust sugar with insulin. A life with minimal carbs would be too hard.

Phil, of course, is a different breed of cat, which I knew from the day I met him. He had already dropped 20 pounds to keep a pre-diabetic tendency under control (it’s a family genetic thing), mainly through limiting carbs. The nutritionist override was not acceptable.

Fortunately, the stay was brief, so only a few trays of food were wasted. You can bring a man carbs, but he doesn’t have to eat them!