Things I Learned from R. B. … September 13th, 2020

Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 32

After the party, the hospice asked us to stay away for a couple of days, to give R. B. a chance to recuperate, rest and regain some normalcy.

This was fine with me. Matter of fact, I think it was a full four days before I returned.

I caught him on a bad day.

He was feeling just sick enough to be upset and just unaware enough to not be able to respond to anyone.

It was very easy to forgive him—after all, he was dying.

The nurses and staff were patient and gentle. I don’t know where they mustered the courage to do that, but it gives me great hope for the human race when I realize there are actually people who will perform that function for a little more than minimum wage.

R. B. was so rattled and uncertain of himself that I felt it would be better to come back the next day and hopefully have a more fruitful conversation.

So I left and after I did, I related to my two sons what had happened. They, being who they are, made a decision to go and see R. B. that afternoon when, it turned out, he was more spry and aware.

They were also the last two people to see him alive.

When I came the next morning, R. B. had slipped into a coma. His heart was racing, his face was white, and perspiration was pouring off his brow. It appeared he was moments from dying.

Even though I supposedly had a good education and understood this to be an unavoidable part of his journey, I still found myself in disbelief—that this fifty-five-year-old man was leaving us.

It wasn’t sentimental—it was an eerie qualm

I stayed about an hour, watching the twitchings and observing nurses coming in and out, telling me that I should feel free to leave because it could be many hours, if not days.

Yet I had led myself to believe that I wanted to be there at the exact moment he passed on. But he wouldn’t know. Nor would the nurses or the doctor.

I said my last little speech right into his ear. “Thank you, R. B., for giving us experiences with you. I will keep on keeping you alive.”

I turned on my heel and walked away.

Later on that afternoon, R. B.’s brother, Johnny, called me and told me that his brother had passed on.

We made plans for a funeral the next day.

I sought greater depth of feeling—both from myself and those around me.

Maybe it was the fact that it was inevitable–that we knew it was coming.

Maybe it was the fact that many of us didn’t know R. B. as well as we thought we did.

Maybe it was because R. B. never took the time to get to know us.

Whatever the justification, I was not satisfied.

I wanted it to be more meaningful.

I determined to make sure the funeral was special.

Things I Learned from R. B. (September 6th, 2020)

Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 31

July 19th.

R. B.’s birthday.

It arrived with a horrific sense of timing. In the midst of his daily demise, how would it be possible to foster a celebration of his birth? Yet I was fully aware that R. B. knew it was his birthday. He didn’t need leave this planet feeling he was absent sentiment.

So I planned it.

I picked up pulled pork barbecue, which was his favorite, a chocolate cake with butter cream icing (which was my favorite) and got permission from the hospice to use the dining room for a private party of about twenty-five people. The facility also graciously offered kitchen facilities for our use.

I took the precaution of talking to each person attending about the nature of the situation. In our family, it is customary to give a verbal tribute to the person being honored at birthday celebrations, telling them how valuable and precious they had been during the year.

Trying to avoid awkwardness and also R. B.’s fatigue, I suggested that the guests share one sentence stating their favorite part of R. B.

Considering how bizarre the circumstances were, the party ended up being rather intimate, especially when one of the young children told R. B. that he was very sad that his friend was dying.

This was too much for R. B.

His eyes burst forth with tears, which had been held in reserve for some unpronounced occasion.

He wept.

He sobbed.

And through his tears he proclaimed, “I don’t want to die.”

The room was hushed—emotions thick with tenderness and pain. Nobody ate much of the barbecue. The cake was sampled. It seemed that the circle of souls who came to salute R. B. moved in closer and closer as the afternoon pressed on.

I guess if a man has to die and is granted a send-off, this could have been one of the better ones ever to be conceived.

After about an hour-and-a-half, one of the nurses arrived to take R. B. back to his room.

It was time for final thoughts. Something needed to be said.

I was trying to come up with a spirited closing for the event when Lily, my granddaughter, piped up with some wonderful four-year-old wisdom. “See you tomorrow,” she said with the cheeriest voice I’ve ever heard.

Everyone applauded, laughed and clapped some more as R. B. made his exit from the room.

As he was leaving, I thought to myself that I was probably the world’s greatest hypocrite.

For I certainly did not honor this fellow. He had been cruel to me—perhaps treacherous. What did I think I was achieving by hosting a party for my enemy?

As I was standing there, staring off in the distance, one of the guests came up and hugged my back. She leaned up and whispered in my ear, “Congratulations. You gave him what he needed.”

Exactly. She was right.

It wasn’t about me.

Of course.

It wasn’t about me.

 

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Things I Learned from R. B. (August 30th, 2020)

Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 30

I seized on a space of silence to attempt to calm my troubled mind.

I reflected back on the early morning phone call from Johnny, when he explained, in a fevered huff, that he had been arrested and was in jail, requiring bail.

From his disjointed explanation, I was able to comprehend that he had gone to a local mall to window shop and was “suddenly overtaken” with an obsession to steal a woman’s purse. Unsuccessful at obtaining it, he had been detained and now needed me to come and pay him out of his travail.

Mentally, I was halfway down the hall of my home, keys in one hand and wallet in the other, when my spirit tackled me and forced me to reconsider.

I heard a voice in my ear whisper, “This is not your business. Call Johnny’s family.”

So I did.

I telephoned one of his brothers in Rhode Island, who sheepishly took responsibility, not seeming to be surprised.

I went back to sleep and awoke the next morning, refreshed. I had a lovely day until just shortly after lunch.

Another call from Johnny, requesting that I meet him at the hospice. He was trying to talk to R. B. about some necessary business matters and had hit numerous snags.

I kept waiting for that sweet spirit-voice from the night before, to whisper in my ear, freeing me of responsibility.

But this time I was on my own.

I agreed to come. When I arrived, I was surprised to discover all sorts of paperwork laid out on R. B.’s bed and the two brothers embroiled in a nasty conflict.

Johnny explained that the government was asking R. B. to take some of the thousands of dollars he had in the bank, which had been given to him as disability, and spend it in a productive way, or they would stop issuing checks in his direction.

I felt like someone had punched me in the gut.

For a solid year, I had been paying R. B.’s rent, utilities and groceries. Now I was discovering that he had sought assistance from the government, received it, and had so much money in the bank that they were requesting that he disperse it or lose his supplemental income.

I stared at the two brothers. It had not occurred to either one of them that I had been suspended in a spider web of their lies—cheated out of money that R. B. did not need.

My instinct was to turn on my heel and leave. Or maybe I could join the screaming match they had begun, adding in my own lamentations.

But then I looked at the thief and the skeleton sitting in front of me. My responsibility in this matter was not going to last much longer.

Yet five years from this moment, the only thing I would have left was my dignity and the memory of how I conducted myself.

So I tried to be helpful.

It seemed the best way for R. B. to keep the government money flowing into his coffers was to buy a grave plot in Gallatin, Tennessee, which was permissible to do and would lessen his bank balance.

Also, there was a huge argument about R. B.’s car.

Johnny wanted it, and R. B. was digging in his heels, refusing to release it.

It was pathetic—this crippled, hurting and broken man quibbling over an old car.

At length I proclaimed, “Tell you what, R. B. Give Johnny your car. And then, when you get out of the hospital here, I promise you that as a celebration, I will buy you a brand-new car.”

He should have seen through the offer.

He should have realized his situation.

But instead, his eyes lit up with glee.

He stuck out a bony hand to shake mine, confirming the arrangement. It was just a goddamn ugly meeting.

The final piece of wacky meaninglessness was when Johnny took out a book he had purchased about heaven, written by Billy Graham, and began to read passages aloud to R. B., whose eyes welled with tears.

I suppose there was nothing wrong with it. Some people would suggest that it was therapeutic or great ministry.

But it left me cold.

I excused myself and made my way out the door.

As I shuffled down the hallway, looking at other human souls who were hanging in the balance, I realized that a hospice is no place to come if you’re searching for hope.

Things I Learned from R. B. … August 23rd, 2020

Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 29

While I was waiting for a member of R. B.’s family to arrive, to assist in care and making decisions, I made a practice of visiting him once a day.

It was not easy.

He had convinced himself that I had placed him in this institution, and that it was I, and I alone, who had the power to release him.

The spread of the cancer had left him weak, sallow and embittered. It was difficult to ascertain what parts of his actions were real, what parts were brought on by drug interactions, and what portions that were conjured from the horrors of the disease itself.

“I thought you’d die first,” he said to me.

It became a recurring theme.

He looked at me and then at himself, and wondered why, with all of my obesity, I was still living and he, who was slender, was on the verge of demise.

He wanted to blame God.

But mostly he wanted to blame me.

Even though he felt that I had been generous to him, he insisted that I had withheld just enough to keep him from true success and happiness. He lamented following me all over the country and spoke disparagingly of our adventures.

I started to wonder why I was putting myself through this daily bombardment of accusations. But deep in my soul, however, I knew that at this present moment, I was all R. B. had.

However, it was a little too much for the other members of my family. To their credit, many of them were able to set aside some time to visit R. B. and listen to his ramblings, but no one was willing to take on the daily duty.

About a week after we put him into the lovely hospice, it was decided by the federal government that R. B. did not qualify for this particular home, so he was moved to a less expensive one down the road.

It had less of everything.

Even less hope.

R. B. was about ready to explode with anger—when family showed up from Rhode Island. It was just his younger brother, Johnny. Johnny was quite different from R. B. Johnny was glib, filled with stories, and fancied himself to be humorous. Johnny was curious.

R. B. was glad to see him, but Johnny did little to bolster the dying man’s will to live.

He joked about death.

He joked about how cheap R. B. was.

He even joked about the fact that he had pulled the short straw with their family—which was the only reason he had made the journey.

He did it all in a spirit of jest, and R. B. seemed to laugh along. Matter of fact, the arrival of Johnny was the best thing that had happened to R. B. for several months.

I stood back at a distance and remained supportive. Johnny jumped in, took over R. B.’s finances, living quarters and car. I was a trifle uncomfortable with some of it, but then rebuked myself since it really wasn’t my business.

Everything seemed to be going along pretty well until late one night, when I got a phone call from Johnny.

G-Poppers … February 9th, 2018

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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Be smooth.

G-Pop says this is the opposite of being rough. For some reason rough, tough, overbearing, pushy and unyielding have been deemed virtues in this day and age.

But keep in mind, it is the nature of our species that once vanquished, to return for a rematch with vengeance. ven though everybody knows this–from the kindergarten student to the aging soul in hospice–we still believe that if we do not carry some “punch” with our ideas, nothing will ever get accomplished.

So basically, when there are problems–a hint of difficulty–people fall into three categories of idealism:

1. “It’ll be all right.”

In other words, either God, karma, their talent or just the sheer brute power of the undertaking will push through, take over, and control the day.

2. “We can work it out as we go.”

No, we can’t. What would make us think we’d be more prepared to handle difficulty while rushed, frantic and trapped than we are sitting around sipping tea and eating chicken wings?

3. “If it’s meant to be, it will work.”

Really? G-Pop can tell you right now that most of the beautiful things in this world struggled to gain air. They were rejected simply because someone had cornered the market on a way to subjugate others, and a smooth plan needed to be devised to sidestep the insanity.

So what is the definition of being smooth?

“I will do my planning in the front–because in the middle, what is required is my patience, which is the force that helps me achieve my goal.”

Even though our society speaks of peaceful coexistence, we simultaneously divide into camps and hurl rocks at one another.

Be smooth.

It’s G-Pop’s piece of advice for today.

Don’t leave your planning room until you’re really excited that your plan can be achieved without you losing sight of your purpose.

 

 

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Pretend–October 31, 2011

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Dressing up in costumed apparel of a character of our choice, often with frightening possibilities. No, I’m not talking about the US Congress. Of course, I mean Halloween.  Halloween is today, and for me, a time when I enjoy the festivities of those around me, although I don’t participate to any great degree. It’s not that I’m a nudge or have some theological opposition to the holiday–because quite honestly, bizarre outfits are common in our day and age and you don’t have to go any further than organized religion if you want to see the devil at work.

No, it’s not about religious reasons or even not wanting to don myself in ghoulish garments.  It’s just that I don’t like to pretend. It is my great lamentation about our society–that dissatisfaction with our present circumstances causes us to contend that something else would be better than what we have and that we have some sort of God-given birthright to have more than we currently possess.

It’s more or less the “American Idol” philosophy of talent: “I don’t have to be that good; I just have to be able to dress up like someone who is good–look the part.”  All I need is to have a dream, be dissatisfied with my present life, want better circumstances for my family and arrogantly demand that someone make me famous so I can haul in the loot.

We have become a generation of pretenders. There’s nothing wrong with doing that on October 31st.  It’s kind of fun. But when the desire to acquire a position we have not earned permeates the other three-hundred-sixty-four days of the year, it is not only boring, but eventually becomes ridiculous in its unrighteousness.

I ate lunch with a man and woman yesterday who might have every reason in the world to pretend.  He was a graduate of Yale Theological Seminary–and I’m not talking about the people who make the locks.  These are high-falutin’ theologians who just might think they created God. She had a Master’s Degree and every reason to be proud of her status and position. Yet they found themselves in a little town in South Carolina, serving a small church and working in a hospice, respectively. You might think they would be disgruntled, dissatisfied or feel cheated that their education and status had been placed in such miniscule confines.–because after all, that’s what we love to do.  We love to classify jobs and positions in America according to status instead of productivity. Dare I say the average worker at a McDonald’s on the dinner shift actually is much more efficient and energetic than a CEO at a large company? But we don’t honor work; we give respect to position and the trappings of affluence.

We pretend. We pretend that money makes us happy. We pretend that people who make large sums of cash are actually more important than those who don’t. We pretend there’s a color barrier so we don’t have to interact with a racial mixture which just might cause us to expand our thinking. We pretend.

Not so with my two luncheon companions. He extolled the joy of pastoring a congregation filled with emerging people who are growing in their understanding of one another and trying to become more spiritually and culturally diverse. She rejoiced in the opportunity to aid those about to cross over the great divide between this plane of existence and the next, sharing that she felt purpose and value in performing her task.

Yes, America loves to pretend. It is a country that believes that we bring what we dream while disdaining where we are to get help to achieve our goals so that we might truly, in the end, possess more.

It is the opposite of what really makes people happy.  Actually, the way to be happy is found in the lifestyle of my two new friends from South Carolina.  And here it is: bring what you’ve learned to the place where you are to help who you can, to give yourself the purpose you desire.

That’s it.

So please … go! Dress up! Rejoice!  Bob for apples (if people still do that). Drink some punch.  Trick or treat.  Scare yourself and everyone else to death. Have the time of your life.

But get up tomorrow and do yourself a big favor and stoppretending. Life is not what we want. It is wanting the life that is already here.  Who knows?  Maybe that is just another way of pretending. But it is a way of doing so that doesn’t require that you to imitate anyone else … or scare the world around you.

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Here comes Christmas! For your listening pleasure, below is Manger Medley, Jonathan’s arrangement of Away in the Manger, which closes with him singing his gorgeous song, Messiah.  Looking forward to the holidays with you!

Jonathan sings “Let”

Jonathan Sings “Spent This Time”

Jonathan and his partner, Janet Clazzy, play “The Call”

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