Greetings my friend, and right off the bat, I would like to beg your pardon and request that we pretend that I am writing this essay specifically to you, dear reader, and for you, personally, because this is an epistolary appeal to your kindness... and, yes, I am trying to exploit either your love for me on a personal level or for your sympathy in general. I am that desperate, but then, I really have nothing to lose.
The past couple of months have been challenging for me. Ironically, right around Thanksgiving, I lost two close friends. Their respective terrestrial contracts expired about a week apart. As I was dealing with the emotional stress of my no longer being able to share any more terrestrial phenomena with two of my most cherished friends with whom I really enjoyed exploring the planet—two very different paths towards the same destination—I was suffering from what the ER doctor called "the mother of all UTIs."
Yes, I spent another eight hours in the Emergency Room. Hell, I'm still paying for the ER visit from 18 months ago when
personal terrestrial contract was almost terminated. Fortunately, or not, the contract remains extant and viable. Sadly, all of the accompanying emotional and physiological chaos swirled within me like the absurd kaleidoscopic abstruseness of the Beatles'
Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band
album, and I, for the first time in my life, had a serious conversation with Death. Our conversation wasn't nearly as nefarious as I had anticipated. Actually, it was
, which, incidentally, seems to be the theme of this month's solitary but lengthy essay.
The fact is that we are all destined to die.
Everybody knows it... but until one actually faces Death on its very specific terms, she is in denial about its ultimate unimpeachable authority. Fortunately, Death is so beyond the specious baubles that seems to motivate our terrestrial intentions with the sparkling temptations of an economic stream of consciousness that exploits our planet's natural resources as if they were inexhaustible. Death lauds the bull market's über-aggressive consumer mentality that is currently wreaking havoc on our planet. That's cool with me because I possess nothing. The only thing that Death can do for me, other than erase my memory to the indifference of illusory planetary dominance (as if the planet needs to authenticate humanity... how absurd)... the only thing that Death can do for me is to release me from the debts I've incurred because of my dependence of healthcare services.
I am in serious debt as an indentured servant to the for-profit healthcare system adopted by our nation's politics, and I'll be paying this debt long after I die. We, the citizens of these ridiculous incongruities, are responsible not only for my being alive but for my resulting lifestyle. Fortunately, I have a wonderful family (biological and secular) who have sacrificed so that I have had thirty-two years of a really powerful life; otherwise, I would've been incarcerated in a nursing home, and I believe with every fiber of my being that had that been my fate, I would have died a while back. And really, how bad would that have been?
What would the life of the people I've met be like had I died in that car accident back in 1986? Like with abortion, it is so easy to pound our chests with excessive pride that we
a life without worrying about how much a burden that life creates for the people inextricably linked to it. My story needs to be told because there are no stories about people like me who have been granted life by ineffable puissance, stories by others who have survived circumstances similar to mine. Either I am the most unique person ever, which I doubt, or
has buried similar stories, which is the obvious alternative answer.
Before I begin this monthly newsletter, I must apologize for its brevity... there is only one essay, but I've been reeling the past few months, and I'm not exactly sure how much to share with you. I feel that you have embraced my general vibe, but it's time I look objectively at my current terrestrial manifestation, well... as objectively as I can, which is impossible when contemplating the justification for my individual gift of Life.
First, however, I have to ask myself some really hard questions, the most humbling of which is whether or not I deserve to live or, more directly, what kind of life do I deserve as a citizen of the most powerful economic nation on the planet but as one solitary individual with zero physical attributes and who is so poor I can't even pay attention. I am, however, very rich in the number of people who love me and whom I love in return. I am then the richest man on the planet. Not even Death can alter that fact, which is somewhat comforting but for reasons I am unable to unequivocally articulate... or justify.
I am a member of a nearly insignificant faction of global citizenry who consumes many more resources than I have contributed to the common good. In our nation's current for-profit healthcare system, I pose a problem in that through no fault of my own, I became paralyzed at the tender age of twenty-two and have, for thirty-two years, been unable to perform rudimentary acts of daily living. Very simply: I will die unless someone helps me every single day for the rest of my life. The general consensus is that all life is worthy of living, but what kind of quality of life should I, or people like me, be allowed to pursue? And are some options simply unavailable? Options like singing jazz, or painting, or dancing? Should a chronic stutterer be allowed to pursue a career as a voice actor even when it is her passion? Or a basketball player allowed to play in a wheelchair? And who gets to decide what happiness can be pursued and which ones are simply restricted? And why?
Admittedly, I have outlived ALL expectations... ALL... EXPECTATIONS.
Let that sink in a bit. I have been a quadriplegic for over thirty-two years... totally paralyzed... totally dependent on somebody to assist me to live my life as best I can. It really didn't dawn on me how special my longevity has been until the summer of 2017 when I experienced renal sepsis and my family doctor asked me (in the Emergency Room of St. Francis Hospital in Columbus, GA—yes, my family doctor met me in the Emergency Room, and he asked me if I had all my terrestrial affairs in order. He then led my parents outside and asked them if they wanted to call in the family priest.)
Oddly, at the time, I never felt that my terrestrial existence was in any danger. It was just another hiccup in the road of life. I simply needed to overcome this minor inconvenience and then everything would return to normal. And it worked; however...
It took about a year to fully recover. Still, I am very fortunate in that I have two passions: singing and writing... But I really live to sing. I am unable to effectively articulate why... or how... but I am not living unless there is a song in my heart; in fact, during the most desperate few days of my renal sepsis wherein my life was in the most serious jeopardy, I felt no desire to sing anything for about three days. It was during this time that, in retrospect, Death seemed comforting. When the songs returned to my heart, I knew then that Death had once again been postponed.
I returned to singing almost immediately. I can't imagine that it's any secret that I participate in the jazz jam nearly every week at Eighth and Rail in Opelika, Alabama as hosted by the Jane Drake Band. Although I was weak, I gained strength every week; singing has been very effective in my ultimate recovery... still is.
It is also understood that I am really passionate about jazz. The true beauty about my passion for jazz, a beauty that may not be as easily recognized by the average fan, is that I have, somehow, earned the respect of some serious jazz musicians; some very serious musicians actually dig my meager contributions to the Jazzonian scene. I would list a few, but even the least accomplished of my jazz family is as important to me as the Grammy winners I've met and sang with... even more important because for these people, like it is with me, Jazz is more important than any singular musician; although, even the jazz musicians whose terrestrial terminations have been realized, still, enchantingly, supplement the harmony of the universe with extemporaneous spiritual musicology, and I can't tell you how much that geeks me.
Jazz is challenging. In fact, I think back on the brashness of my youth when I decided that I wanted to pursue jazz, and I am embarrassed by my nonchalance. However, I had potential that some of my friends recognized, so they helped guide my journey. Initially, I was just excited that these serious musicians allowed me to hang around them, but I listened and learned. It's taken me probably longer than most, but only about 18 months ago, I finally found my voice. That's right! My friend Jeff Smith introduced me to the structure of jazz in 1992, and I finally found my voice in the late summer of 2017. It's been an incredible journey, but I'm still eager to learn more.
I am now at the crossroad of my personal terrestrial journey, and I am not sure what to do; although, I am in a fairly unique situation in that if left alone, I die. It is that simple. I take many more resources than I've ever given; I am a victim of the for-profit healthcare system currently exploited by an idolatry for Capitalistic largess. The sad thing about my personal journey is that I tried desperately to embrace the fallacy of Capitalism as an equitable distribution of planetary resources; the system failed me... or maybe I failed the system, but at least I tried. I defy anybody to deny the fact that I, as a quadriplegic who has been unable to perform even the most rudimentary acts of daily living... for over thirty-two years (and counting)... have done more living than many, many other people would even consider. And, yes, I have remarkable friends and family who have sacrificed so that I have had the opportunities that I have. The question now is has it been worth it?
I could easily list my accomplishments, but there is no way that I would as eagerly and fastidiously list every time I showed my ass or did anything about which I am deeply ashamed, so that wouldn't be fair. The most objective thing I can admit to is that I have lived; I've had triumphs and defeats, the lowest was, more than likely, when I initially broke my neck; the most rewarding are the few very brief moments when I sang publicly with a small ensemble and the Universe, quite unexpectedly and for a nearly insignificant nanosecond of eternity, approached perfection... the nadir and apex of emotion. The remaining question is how many more resources am I allowed?
It is a rather humbling experience to finally understand the temporal nature of terrestrial life. It is a realization that youth rarely considers, unless the youngsters have deleterious congenital circumstances that exemplify the objective callousness of Death like a baby born with AIDS. It is callous, unmoved by emotion; it just is...
No one really knows when she will die. Some may understand that they've already lived more years than the amount of time allotted for their remaining personal terrestrial journeys, but few, if any, can tell you when they will expire. I am honestly hoping for five more years, which is still a decent amount of time, but the truth is inescapable: I have outlived ALL expectations. When I broke my neck in 1986, no one believed I would last as long as I have, and, to tell you the truth, I never thought of dying, but if I transition in my sleep tonight, no one would be surprised.
Admittedly, it didn't take long for me to realize that I had been given an opportunity to experience life differently from most people when I broke my neck. The fact that I don't feel pain has been mostly a boon. In retrospect, my not being influenced by importunate satyric satiety allowed me to observe intimacy from a more distant prerogative than as a means of assuaging lustful urges, which I've observed in many relationships... people are so afraid of being alone that they allow themselves to be monogamously lonely while being surrounded by a spouse and children. I have been simultaneously blessed and cursed to realize that an intimate relationship with me is not practical... for my potential partner.
I remember a PSA on television from the 80s in which a child dreams of being a track star as an adolescent is running away from a policeman. The next child muses about becoming a dancer as the screen portrays a young woman's dancing to pharmaceutically enhanced music. Then an adult opines that no child ever dreams of being a drug addict. This is how I've felt about my wanting a relationship with someone special: Nobody dreams of marrying a man who can't even wipe his own ass.
Yet, I still believed that I possessed enough positive energy to overcome my decrepit physicality. I figured that other quads had found love; why couldn't I? Right? I also knew enough to not look for it. If love was going to happen, it would happen in its own sweet, leisurely manner, nonchalant. So I decided to take the advise that I was taught at the Shepherd Center where I rehabbed after the accident that morphed me into an amorphous quadriplegic: Because of my paralysis, some doors were permanently shut. My obligation was to find the open windows and explore their possibilities. There seemed to be no other choice, well... other than to die... but that simply sounds like not wanting to try, and the challenge, at the time, seemed like an opportunity, so I chose to live... and I have, but I want to continue simply because I have finally discovered my voice, and I'd like to share my swan song with the people who have come to depend on it.
I believe that, barring something unexpected, I have about five years max left to effectively sing my swan song. Up until now, I have mostly depended on my parents to help me do the things I do, but they are slowing down. They are, after all, septuagenarians.
Before I continue, I need to laud my parents and my family for the sacrifices they've made for me, especially my mother, who is the greatest nurse and mother on the planet bar none. In my thirty-two years of paralysis, I have never had a decubitus ulcer on my backside. Never! Ask any healthcare specialist just how common "bed sores" are for quadriplegics. And thanks mostly to my mother, the closest I ever came was when my air cushion went flat, the cushion that I sit on. But we took extra precautions and stopped the ulcer from developing... 32 years! Zero bedsores!
My mother is a South Carolinian woman who has the southern genteel charm and strength that is admired by kith and kin while they belittle her southern vernacular as backwoods rhetoric behind her back. Fortunately, she doesn't allow such myopic ignorance to negatively affect her positive energy. She has valid proof of her expertise as a mother, a wife, and a nurse... with glowing results. Something some of her detractors tacitly covet.
It has been a humbling experience watching my parents in their approaching deaths. In a way it's comforting to witness the inevitable conclusions of their lives. My parents are a beautiful couple; they always compliment each other, sometimes harmonically, at other times with cacophonous dizziness, always with passion and a reassurance that when the dust settles that even if nothing else is standing, they will be embracing each other.
So, what's next?
As previously delineated, I live to sing... singing is the reason that I am alive today; it is my therapy and without it, I will die. It's that simple. Unfortunately, I can only think of two ways that I can continue to sing but with either way, I need money, and I have none. I had to get rid of all my savings, including my 401k plan in order to receive Hospice care, which helps my parents immeasurably. I took out a loan to help my brother build a house for his wife and family, for me (with a roll-in shower and other amenities for my paralysis), for our parents, and his in-laws. It will be like the Waltons; unfortunately, I have debts that need to be paid before I die. I'm also on a waiting list for Medicaid and Meals on Wheels, but I will probably not receive them in my remaining years, so I'm going to start a public funding campaign and ask for a smackload of money, which I will use to overpay people to help take care of me and to pay off my debts, especially to my lawyer who has silently never billed me for his services. He's not a wealthy man, and he deserves his remuneration. If I can only pay off one debt, it would be his because he seems like a very decent man.
I have everything I need to live out my remaining years, but if I go into a nursing home, I will not last very long. It's just the way it is. As a for-profit institution, any nursing home will provide me with the things I need at the most cost effective price; many short cuts will be taken as can be justified by an accountant, not a nurse. It is, after all, a business and I, a mere financial opportunity perfect for exploitation by an indifferent society. Obviously, I am overweight from sucking too eagerly on the government's most nourishing teat. I be done wo'e that nipple out!
And I still want mo'.
So here it is: my life is on trail. What happens next will be revealed in time. Either way, starting next year, I will do a podcast, possibly on facebook live. I want to explore the nefarious for-profit healthcare system and how it restricts the possibilities for people like me who are not able to live alone. I want to explore music, poetry, peace, philosophy, and anything else that strikes my fancy. I will sing, tell jokes, and read essays, and I will ask other people what they think. It will not be a professional video, but it will be sincere. It'll be a visual record of my last years of life as a quadriplegic. I will also sing publicly as long as I can. I receive much needed strength from my Jazzonian family.
I am a simple man, and by that I intend to connote that—as a result of my paralysis and the very fact that I am unmotivated by the pleasing tactility of sensorial perceptions—I live mostly in my mind. I am unencumbered from the salient urges of bodily pleasures simply because my body is not stimulated by carnal urges that consume the motivations of the lives of people who measure success by the number of orgasms experienced within a time frame that, after the dust settles, is really an insignificant when juxtaposed against Eternity. Again, I live mostly in my mind, so I have everything I need to make me very content if I am allowed to sing and write, and when it comes right down to it, I can (and I do) both activities in my mind. I don't understand how specious baubles can make anyone experience joy, and yet...
I still believe in Love.
I am a quinquagenarian who has had only two intimate relationships that lasted, at most, one full year apiece; I am he for whom no one has even dreamed about proclaiming eternal love to the Universe... as one does when one marries. Even if you are divorced, you, at least once, honestly believed that you had found the perfect person with whom to share your life... get it? I have never felt that sensation, to be, even for one brief yet eternal moment, the epicenter of somebody else's consciousness... you were, at that moment in time, the most special person in the Universe; the entire day belonged to you... and your partner... two... as one... magical... enchanting... music in the buzzing electric drone of the crowd's din just before the ceremony officially begins... that solemn moment... and I imagine it to be the driving force of your life... it simply must be one of your most cherished memories.
I have never felt that special.
I am the most pessimistic person on the planet about most marriages as merely convenient arrangements between two people, stoic contracts of monogamy that ameliorate the stresses that irrevocably accompany life; I believe that nearly all religious institutions manipulate their respective flocks for specious baubles by justifying their congregations' temporal rejection of pledged moral obligations; I, a retro hippie who digs civil war in its literal sense; I am he who digs cacophonous harmony, pellucid umbrage, frozen fire, and ineffable eternal dichotomies; I, an unread poet, a mute singer, a deaf active listener of the limited sound waves that my corporeal machine can decipher, the blind artist searching for answers to unknowable riddles; I, a curious boy wondering why the terrestrial milieu—that is currently incarcerating all of my terrestrial intentions—works the way it does; I am he who hears the sweet melodies of extinct songbirds who harbingered dirges for our planet's destruction long before I callously and tacitly allowed my species' destruction; I, who have a snowball's chance in hell of ever finding a soulmate; I am he who plangently decries the very idea of a soulmate (a romantic fantasy for whom I secretly and desperately yearn) as an illusory emotional crutch for people who are unable to accept that fact that Heaven on Earth is impossible; I, the curmudgeon that I mocked as a child when told that I was not allowed into a certain fenced-in plot of land because a fruit tree somehow magically "belonged" to a single person even when its fruits lie rotting on the ground. I still strongly believe that I will find that feeling of being the center of someone else's universe; I still believe in love... or I will die believing that I will find my soulmate who will profess to the Universe that I am the most important part of her quintessence as I suspire with a river of salty brine flowing from my grateful eyes until it tickles my lips and tongue with primordial oceanic intrigue...
This is my destiny unless I simply pass uneventfully into the night and the ensuing rush of frenetic activity quickens as housekeepers prepare the sterile nondescript nursing home bed for its next "saved" life.
Peace Through Music
 It is a shame I have to add this footnote, but I must publicly acknowledge the unintentional "irony" of the fact that I reproach the man's individual right to "own" a tree while begging for my individual right to live when I am unable to keep myself alive. I did this intentionally. It is, after all, intended to explore the theme of Individual rights versus communal obligations.
A nonchalant person is not likely to become warm or heated about anything, a fact that is underscored by the etymology of the word
the first part of the word, is easy to spot as a familiar negative prefix; since this word was formed in Old French, we have
the Old French descendant of Latin
The second element,
is the Old French present participle of the verb
meaning “to be concerned.” This in turn came from the Latin word
which from its concrete sense “to be hot or warm” developed the figurative sense “to be roused or fired with hope, zeal, or anger.” Obviously the Old French verb
has lost some of the warmth of Latin
but then, the nonchalant person has little warmth or concern. The word
is first recorded in English before 1734, although French
a derivative of French
seems to have entered English first. English
is first recorded in 1678.