Following my bout with brain cancer, I reflected on my past. In this book (blog), I tried to weave inspiring and enjoyable stories to create a helpful approach towards living a balanced life. At times, it was me or others who lost and regained balance. Thus, I hope that each anecdote allows the reader to see life and love in an uplifting way.
Monday, April 2, 2012
I sincerely thank those whose stories I was fortunate to witness and share. Friends, family, strangers, and others — without “you,” my words would be empty. With “you,” my words have meaning and are filled with the many gifts you have given.
I also must thank my first editor, Seba Fuller, in addition to all those who purchased, read, and shared feedback on the early versions of this work. Without your support, this book might just be series of thoughts and feelings floating between my head and heart.
All thanks to our Creator, who makes these moments possible.
This feels kind of odd, because each morning for the last five years, I’ve written about how one can make efforts to live a “balanced life.” Yet for the last six weeks, I have not written in the mornings because I’ve “lost my balance.” One morning, I woke up, and I could only move forwards. If I attempted to go backwards, I was totally thrown off. Everything was spinning. I soon went to an emergency room, and they said it was “vertigo,” gave me a pill, and sent me to a specialist who shifted me around and said, “It will go away.” A few days later, I could not do anything to my left, let alone find the clarity to do my morning routine of yoga, meditation, and writing. At this point, something told me to visit a different emergency room, so (moving only forward and right) I went to Lenox Hill Hospital. I got there and spent most of that Friday getting MRIs, scans, and tests. At the end of the day, a pleasant, intelligent surgeon stood at my bedside. He showed me images and explained that they had found a brain tumor, and it needed to be removed as soon as possible because it was so close to my brain stem. Urgency mounted. So Sunday morning it was, and by that evening, the surgery was done, and I awoke. After surgery, I was moved to the intensive care unit, where all sorts of wires and tubes were protruding from my body, arms, and head, in addition to the incision that went from my neck to the middle of my head. I could not hold food down for days and could barely move or sleep. All I could do was lie in bed and breathe. Yet, breathing on my own felt like such a blessing, knowing so many others needed a machine to breathe. Meditating and praying became somewhat difficult, due to the fact that I was on heavy painkillers and had a hard time getting a hold of my mind. Still, I found the strength to laugh, thinking, “I don’t stop working, do I? Because this seems like a pretty good time to test one of my many theories on regaining one’s balance.” I think a question that runs constantly through the minds of people who get cancer is “Where did I go wrong?” In truth, it’s hard to pinpoint how anyone gets cancer, and I can only speak for myself, as my doctors and surgeons often drew the conclusion that my (cancerous) brain tumor probably developed at a very early age in my life. This explains why it is so rare for someone my age to develop this type of brain tumor. So, maybe instead of asking, “What did I do wrong?” I should ask, “What did I do right?” What did I do right to be living with cancer for, quite possibly, most of my life and not feel any of the effects of it until recently? Nobody seems to have the answer as to why cancer happens, and questions will continue to arise. One question I will never forget is one I asked when I was researching this book years ago. I asked many top cancer specialists, “Is it possible for a cancer cell to live in an environment consisting solely of oxygen?” The answer was unanimously “No.” So I will draw the conclusion myself. If one increases his or her flow of oxygen, he or she can decrease the chance of cancer. Next question: What increases the flow of oxygen? There seems to be countless things that can increase the flow of oxygen, yet the one answer I always end up with is love. It is love that makes friends, family, and even strangers reach out to help each other. I believe it is “love” that keeps me “Moving Forward.”
Every morning, I rise and feel that each day is a “gift,” a gift I have no choice but to share. It seems like it has been 40 years of trial and error for me, and any knowledge and/or wisdom I do have comes from these experiences of seeing myself and others lose and regain balance. If I’m given just a second more or sixty years, I shall continue to grow with my eventful education. After what has gone on during the last year, I wonder what my capabilities still are. Lately, it has been hard to know, because I seem to be dealing with a new side effect each day, and that’s my latest line of work. But I still sit here thinking, “I need a job.” I ask myself, “In what direction shall I go? What kind of experience do I have? What education or degrees do I carry?” Part of me feels as if I have been in school and doing internships my whole life. Looking back, these experiences were my real “education,” as I took test after test to reach some kind of “degree.” Well, if this is the case, perhaps my schooling has allowed me to acquire the following. I might say I have a “love degree.” I got this degree with a lifetime internship of falling in love with people, art, nature, humanity, and all creations. One skill that I did acquire throughout my studies and struggles has been the ability to find happiness, not only on the outside but through what I felt inside. This happiness came without conditions. It didn’t matter if I had money or not, a lover or not, and so on. I was just happy to be working toward my “degree.” I have a “family degree” as a son, brother, nephew, cousin, and uncle. I also have a major in being a single father and minors in healing from a broken marriage engagement and years of “baby mama drama.” I have dealt with some family conflicts and witnessed a 35-year marriage end in divorce. I learned some valuable lessons from two wonderful parents. They cared for me from the day I arrived, and I cared for them on the days before they left. Another degree I have is a “friendship degree.” Many times, I walked into the lives and homes of others, hearing the stories of a variety of people. They may have been sick, healthy, rich, poor, hate-filled, love-filled, young, old, or famous. I have witnessed people turn to addictions, some able to recover, while others took a different direction. As for my past homes, or shall I say “dorm rooms” in this analogy, I’ve had a large variety of roommates. Some were business people, artists, frat boys, athletes, people who were divorced seven times, people afraid to get into just one relationship, people with families, people without anyone, some desperately searching for love, and others who have all the love they need. Hey, wait second! I did get one of those “school degrees.” I studied in Los Angles, London, and finished at NYU. But these “school degrees” did not come easily for me, because my whole life, I have had a “learning disability/dyslexia.” But I refused to let this stop me from getting an education. I went on to make some films, documentaries, television commercials, videos, and I also wrote a few screenplays and a book or two. I’ve also acquired an “employment degree.” Along the way, I picked up a few jobs to support myself. To name a few, I spent four years as a janitor, six months as a bike messenger, two years as a store manger, four years working in bars and restaurants, two years as a photo investigator, two years as a hustler (majoring in crime and dishonesty), three months restoring pianos, seven years as a carpenter, and seven years as a street vendor. For 10 years, I was a video director, spending evenings in front of 20,000 people, meeting energetic fans, well-known entertainers, powerful politicians, and successful business people. I also had a job running art studios, arranging exhibits, and managing a storefront gallery. But the longest job I had and still have is as an artist, laboring with and loving photography, painting, and writing. How does “society degree” sound? I guess that term will work for now. My education kind of started with an 18-year internship in being an Italian kid growing up in a town where, for the most part, one was either Jewish or African American. Over the years, I have seen a society that keeps changing. It used to take time in order to communicate to a person of choice, but now we have the technology to reach whomever you want in a split second. I’ve witnessed a time when we had very few computers and no digital media to current times and a world full of these things. I have seen the birth and development of hip-hop culture and its effect on our society. I have also seen a fearful society. I experienced the aftermath of living just a few blocks away from bombs in the London Underground, the riots in Los Angeles, and the World Trade Center attacks in New York City. I might phrase another degree I have as a “community degree.” I have seen New York City’s youth grow up in public schools, community centers, parks, housing projects, group homes, or just on my block. Speaking of my block, I have seen my Harlem neighborhood go from crack houses to health food stores to corporate developments. I have also found homes for neighborhood stray dogs, as well as rescuing and raising my own. And for four years, I’ve seen society in an inner-city children’s hospital I visited each week. I could not have done any of this without a “health degree.” I’ve studied and practiced different philosophies of healthy living. I’ve had a wide range of majors and minors. Some are cooking, and some are understanding both the physical and mental sides of various activities like yoga, basketball, and many others. I got these “degrees” because I wanted to maintain a healthy and happy life. I guess I must also add that I have a degree as a “cancer survivor,” a challenge that has blessed me with the daily opportunity to better understand my mind, body, and spirit in ways I never imagined. So, perhaps the above equals one “degree.” It is just a “degree in living.” It is the same degree we all have, but with different majors. Looking back at my own majors and minors, whether I passed or failed was not always important. What I learned was more important and how I used it in the next courses I took. What is my next course? Or job? And what industry might I be going in to? It feels like I’m heading toward the “service industry.” But who am I serving? And what am I working towards? I suppose I will be serving anyone who is willing to read what I have written or maybe even anyone who might be willing to test one of my theories. As for what I’m working towards? If I or anyone else ever gets there, we can call it a “master’s degree of life.”
Thus far, each of the “degrees of living” that I worked towards tested my honesty, decision-making, and my ability to change. These little confrontations seem to be similar to the occurrences of others, yet many feel they have failed, while others feel they have passed with flying colors. Some people in my life have been the teachers, and many have been fellow students. Regardless of who was taking the tests, one common denominator has always seemed to surface. Most of this lies in our ability to see (S.E.E.). Our vision is the most powerful tool we can utilize to learn from all of life’s little tests and confrontations. I often ask myself, “How should I handle these little tests? (A) Grade or judge them and say I passed or I failed, or (B) Share what I have learned in hopes of making the next test easier to take. I think I will choose “B” and do my best to share my approaches toward using our “tool of vision.” I am not sure of the exact situation, but I started to look at vision like a tool. I saw this “tool of vision” to be no different than any other tool that makes our lives easier and more efficient. The better shape this tool is in, the more enhanced our ability to see is (S.E.E.). Some seem to be masters with it, while others need to repair, sharpen, and clean their tools to ensure that they are in proper working order.
My goal is to see myself and others living a healthier, happier life. On the road to this goal, I feel it is important to both focus and broaden our definitions of three main areas that strengthen our vision — “sleep,” “eat,” and “exercise,” equaling S.E.E. Sleeping is the energy your mind, body, and spirit rest. Eating is the energy your body, mind, and spirit receive. Exercising is the energy your body, mind, and spirit gives. So, to access my own tool of vision, I had to come up with a plan to ask myself the right questions in order to understand the energy I was resting, receiving, and giving. I call them the Eighteen Elements of Vision. -------------SLEEP,EAT,EXERCISE --- MIND,BODY,SPIRIT-------------- Who,What,Where,When,Why & How --- See,Hear,Smell,Taste,Touch & Sixth Sense. From this list, I was able to cross-reference any of the elements and create a question that would give me better awareness on states of happiness or suffering in my past, present, or future directions. I would usually start with understanding the energy and grouping it into the basic elements of Sleep (resting energy), Eat (receiving energy), or Exercise (giving energy). Then, I could go into further detail as to which of my senses was affected. This might seem to be an overly analytical process, but often, to grasp what causes our happiness and sufferings, it takes this kind of self-reflection. As a result, our realizations will sharpen our vision and our ability to be reasonable with our future circumstances.