A Hobbit's brush with Death


“Well, what can I tell you? Life in the wide world goes on much as it has this past Age, full of its own comings and goings, scarcely aware of the existence of Hobbits, for which I am very thankful.”

Gandalf only said this in the movie version of Lord of the Rings, which for the purist like me, means he never said it at all.  But the quote applies to me in the last five days as much as any Hobbit in the Shire.  In my brush with Death, I found myself totally disconnected from the news cycle, not writing or reading anything.  And the world went on, scarcely aware of my absence.  And I am thankful of that.

Okay, it wasn’t a brush with Death, but it was—and is—a painful reminder of my physical imperfection, my aging body, and what I’ve been doing to it.  I got a reminder that trying to juggle twelve candles lit at both ends makes for a lot of hot wax and burns.  Last week, I was preparing for what I believed was a very important meeting on Thursday.  It was one of those “come to Jesus” meetings with a whole department, where I was trying to take them through a self-discovery journey.

I thought I could single-handedly solve some problems I felt were plaguing this particular group.  My job is stressful enough as it is.  And I still love to write.  I enjoy wading through the daily stuff in the world and sharing my pearls before you readers.  That is, when I am fortunate enough to produce a pearl.  The stresses of everything I believed I was carrying lowered my immunity enough to make me sick.  Not a heart attack, not a stroke, or some serious problem.  No, I got shingles.

On Thursday afternoon, I was in the middle of this important meeting, running a fever that felt like a solar flare.  I finished the meeting, trembling, got home (thankfully, home was 1/4 mile away from the meeting room), and crashed with a fever of almost 104.  A tepid bath and some Aleve got it down to around 102 but didn’t crack it.  My wife noticed a rash in a place my eyes don’t reach on my own body, and I noticed a slight burning sensation on the rash.  We made it to the med-stop just in time—to have the door locked in our faces.  It was the E.R. (six hours of waiting, no thank you), or wait until the morning.

Enough ibuprofen will bring almost any fever down, and finally got mine to break that night.  I saw my doctor Friday morning, who quickly told me it was shingles.  A prescription for acyclovir and steroid shot in the butt later, I was home.  I had no energy and was fighting the fever.  I had no appetite.  The rash spread quickly and covered most of both legs, and onto my belly.  I had trouble sleeping but was exhausted after even small tasks.  This is how I spent Labor Day weekend.

If I may sum up the experience:  slather your legs with liquid heat and poison ivy leaves, wrap in 12 grit sandpaper, cover with fiberglass insulation, over that add a layer of plastic wrap.  Run a marathon.

I’m still in some discomfort.  My legs have turned into swollen red elephant trunks, and I have cankles.  When I get up from a reclining position, some gremlin comes up behind me and sticks electric prods in both legs for about 30 seconds.  My activity level has increased from hibernating fat-tail dwarf lemur to three-toed sloth.  At least I’m writing again.  And the world still has its comings and goings.

Michael Sams was released by the St. Louis Rams, because this is news—that one of the lowest ranked draft picks was released, in the NFL.  No, that never happens, and it’s always news when it does.  I’m sure that Sam’s publicity agent is fighting off the reality-series producers and various other camp-followers seeking to cash in on his non-celebrity celebrity story.  Nothing to do with his sexual orientation though, nope.

And Jennifer Lawence, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Kate Upton have once again proven that there’s no such thing as a private nude photo shoot.  It’s very sad that this kind of stuff goes viral quicker than herpes zoster.  Our society is much, much, sicker than I.

And nobody condemns our sick society more than an even sicker one:  the Islamic State, who would end our sickness by beheading us all without remorse.  ISIS is immune from Obama’s #hashtag diplomacy, selective airstrikes, and weak alignments with nefarious dictators and America-haters whose survival instinct is stronger than their distaste for us.  What in the world are we doing helping Hizbollah?  Just because they’re fighting ISIS is no reason to help them.  There is in fact no reason that could ever justify us helping them.  Hizbollah is directly controlled by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, and would nuke Tel-Aviv in a heartbeat if they had the weapon.  I don’t care if we filter the money a thousand times through a thousand bankers, into Saudi hands.  We are complicit in this madness.

While this was going on, President Obama read his Presidential Teleprompter to deliver his Labor Day speech in front of an invited audience of 6,000 in Milwaukee, whose Brewers are a game out of first place in the NL Central, and falling precipitously as the Cardinals dominate.  (Brewer fans don’t complain: my Red Sox will have a new sponsor next year:  Viagra, since they have successfully gone from worst to first to worst and failed in an obvious way to “keep it up”.  I must be delirious.).  In defense of delirium, Obama wanted us to know that:

“So I just want everybody to understand, because you wouldn’t always know it by watching the news. By almost every measure, the American economy and American workers are better off than when I took office,” he said. “Construction is rebounding, energy and technology is booming, manufacturing is steadily creating jobs for the first time since the 1990s.”

Since I was busy deliquescing over the weekend, I didn’t watch the news.  But I wouldn’t know what Obama’s claiming by any measure regardless.  The Labor Participation Rate is below 63% for the 7th time in the last 12 months, and for 5 out of 7 months reported in 2014.  I don’t call it creating jobs when you’re taking a hundred jobs that were lost five years ago and adding back two.  There’s still 98 people not working, and 30 of them have stopped trying.  Lots of hope and change there.  But I’m not going to stress over it, because it will make my legs hurt more.

I missed a whole five days of news and stuff going on in the world, and the world never missed me.  I’ve missed a day at work (I’m sort-of working today from home) and the company is still there.  Nobody came in with a Kalashnikov and mowed down the staff.  Apparently I was not needed to single-handedly solve everyone’s problems for them.  Maybe a lot of that stress was self-induced.

What I did spend some time doing this weekend was getting more in touch with God.  I find that I like him, and he likes me.  He’s a good friend to hang around when you’re sick.  I can even blame him for my sickness and he doesn’t get all defensive.  He let me realize that He didn’t put the stress on me.  He didn’t tell me to go out and solve everyone’s problems.  He didn’t even tell me that they had problems.  Most of that was in my own mind.  Deuteronomy 6:5 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”  The more I waste my strength loving my own ability to solve problems, loving my own writing, or focusing on anything else except God, the more I invite my heart and soul to wander away.

I’m glad it took a brush with Death (second warning for exaggeration, next one gets a red card) to wake me up a bit.  The world’s comings and goings are scarcely aware of me, but God is very aware of me.  Stressing over how many shares or views I’m getting on my posts, or how my company is doing, or how much money is in the bank, or if my boys are doing well in school, will not solve much.  It will, however, give me shingles.


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