Surviving In This Very Moment…

My Personal Battle with Prostate Cancer … And Life!

Archive for the tag “Conditions and Diseases”

Thinking About the Other (Person)

On November 14, 2006, I wrote in my journal:

The trace is othered when the trace places the solitude of the self in contact with the knowledge of the other. The other does violence to the solitude of the self in the sense that the other creates a break, a tear in the condition of solitude, the only experience of the trace. The tear disrupts the hegemony of the self by offering up a knowledge that there is something external to the trace which is otherwise a self-contained existent.

Thinking About the Other (Person)

Thinking About the Other (Person)

The notion that the trace is a remembrance isolated, belonging only to the self, that is capable of being torn from the self by the appearance of the other is an important way of thinking of the difference between the encapsulation of the self in isolation and the efference of the self experiencing the other as other.

I cannot share the trace I have constructed from this very moment with any other human being. My trace belongs exclusively to me. To share trace as a record of a lived-experience is quite impossible for two important reasons. First, because trace is something akin to embedded memory and because memory is an unreliable source for recalling a past event in a lived-experience, whatever I share can only be something of a partial exposure of that lived experience. Memory tends to disgorge that which is unpleasant, uncomfortable, or is damaging to one’s projected image. Time softens memory so that we forget that which was forgettable and enhance that which can be recalled safely. Secondly, even if one could share a trace as a true recording, the time it would take to retell would be equal to the time it took to record the trace in the first instance. Reliving a lifetime would take a lifetime to retell.

Once the other tears the hegemony of the self by making itself present to the self, once the self becomes aware of the other as a fully formed existent, the potential for shared experience is open and on the table. This does not, however, include the idea that a shared trace is possible. No, even when two or more people experience the very same event, when they witness something, their individual perspective will not accommodate a shared trace. The event will be viewed from different perceptual points, even when the witnesses are standing right next to one another. Next to is not the same as the position of the self. In addition, cultural and linguistic differences will cause each self watching an event to see the event through a lens of cultural and linguistic taken-for-granteds that, while appearing to the individual as perfectly normal, will appear to the other as unusual, different, out of touch.

The truth of being-in-the-world is that we are all self and we are all other! The distinction is that each self is uniquely different from every other and each other is uniquely different from each isolated self. This, then, leaves open two distinct possibilities: first, that the self reduce the other to the same, that the self create categories or cubby-holes to effectively isolate the other as a stereotype, of belonging to a particular class (e.g., teachers, union members, thieves, blacks, Jews, Mexicans, and so on) in which a conversation about, say, teachers begins with “all” as in all teachers are (fill in the blank). Secondly, one may choose to look at the other as unique and embrace the differences that each and every other encountered brings to the social encounter. Rather than lumping into a hegemonic category, this approach embraces the diversity each of us brings to the encounter allowing one to take away something positive rather than encapsulate one’s taken-for-granteds about any single group as an excuse for hate, rage and violence.

So what, if anything, does this have to do with the fact that this blog is about my surviving prostate cancer in this very moment? Simply this, I have cancer but I am not governed by the fact that I contracted this disease. Oh at times I am absolutely required to respond to something or other because of the disease but I am not ruled by nor do I identify myself as only a cancer patient. Quite the contrary. I am more than my disease. In fact, I am made of many facets, each of which are part of my lived-experience. Only one small part of that lived-experience has anything to do with my personal struggle with disease. So, yes, sometimes I ramble on about things that interest me because it provides an opportunity for me to present myself to the other in such a way as to embrace the Levinasian fundamental ethical obligation without reservation. As a self I announce my responsibility through any number of means and then I wait to hear the demand of the other.

Simple Reflections Before the New Year

Simple Reflections Before the New Year

Simple Reflections Before the New Year

It is always important to reflect on the events of the past year, the traces of memory that make a life remembered. This past year has been a doozy with ups and downs that shake one to the core. Some of these events were anticipated while others were not. Some caused great pain while others inspired great joy. To say the least the peaks and valleys of 2012 felt a bit like being on a never ending roller coaster. I want to share the highlights.

  • The birth of my second grandson on March 22nd, Eddie is an absolute joy to behold.
  • The nomadic wanderings of my son who moved in with Susan and me in June for five months, a terrific re-connection.
  • The news from my orthopedic surgeon that I required a total left knee replacement which was then performed in late June–OUCH!
  • The diagnosis of prostate cancer, a very aggressive strain, in October, a diagnosis that put my existence on hold, forced me to face my own mortality and reflect on my own value as a human being in this world.

I want to expand one by one.

The Birth of My Grandson Eddie

Eddie

Eddie (Photo Credit: Roger Passman)

In March I called my sister to inform her that while she was always a great aunt, she was once again a Great Aunt. Eddie was born on March 22 in Madison, Wisconsin sometime before dawn. Mark, my son-in-law couldn’t wait till the sun came up to call and tell us that we were once again grandparents. Both Susan and I jumped from bed to the showers, dressed, grabbed a bite to eat and brewed some coffee to take along for the 1.5 hour drive to Madison.

Anticipation is an emotion I somehow learned to suppress simply because it makes for doing stupid things. I set the cruise control at precisely 5 mph over the posted speed limit and drove from our house to Madison, following Veronica’s (my gps) instructions to the hospital. We were the first of the grandparents to arrive.

There he was in all of his 4 to 5 hour glory all swaddled with a wool cap covering his head, eyes shut even while awake and cooing. He was smaller than I remembered babies to be but they say that memory is the first thing to go. His fingers and toes were intact, he squirmed and fidgeted, cried a little but mostly he slept. As the other two, yes two, sets of grandparents arrived (my ex and her husband and Mark’s parents) the hospital room got smaller and smaller. After about three hours with Becki (she sometimes goes by Leah but that is a very long story) Mark, Eddie and the rest of the family we decided to leave with a few pictures and a whole lot of joy. Pointing the car back to Gilberts, IL we made the return trip and were home for supper.

Watching Eddie grow and develop for the past nine months has been the joy of all joys. He responds, is getting his top two teeth (he already has his bottom two) and is generally in good health. Who could ask for more?

Re-Connecting with Ben

In December 2011, my firstborn decided to pick up stakes and move from Phoenix to Austin, TX. He is in the throes of a midlife crisis that is quite interesting to watch. The move to Austin was motivated by the fact that his girlfriend wanted to go there, his son Drew (my first grandson and a joy to watch grow into a young man; he is now 14 years old) moved to Albuquerque because his mother landed a terriffic new job and he felt that since he really had no ties to Phoenix, why not.

In late April or Early May his girlfriend moved out leaving him stranded in Austin without any close connections or ties to the city. Within a few weeks the girlfriend decided she wanted back in but by this time Ben decided that he would be best served if he moved back to Chicago, his home town. After some discussion, he and his girlfriend got back together and she agreed to accompany him to Chicago. This is the stuff of soap opera scripting, yes, and it only gets better.

Ben called and asked if they could stay with us. We have a spare room and so it was decided that this would be okay. Now the girlfriend had two kids and Ben had Drew for the summer so, literally five new human beings moved into our house just days prior to my knee replacement. Ouch. It was a madhouse for nearly two months when things calmed down a bit as the two girlfriend kids were shipped back to Phoenix. Then it was Ben, the girlfriend and Drew for a few more weeks. Drew went back to Albuquerque and the house settled down to Ben, his girlfriend, Susan and me. Phew!

In October Ben and his girlfriend moved into a small apartment in the city; Susan and I were finally back to some semblance of normal.

Then the hammer blow, the girlfriend decided she missed her kids too much to stay in Chicago with Ben and she up and moved back to Phoenix leaving much of her stuff in storage in my basement. Ben spent some time agonizing about his move to Austin and then to Chicago, over his relationship with the girlfriend which he finally decided was going nowhere, and the fact that his ex’s contract in Albuquerque was ending and she was moving back to Phoenix to her old job plus a plumb promotion so Drew would be back in Phoenix. Finally, he decided to move back to Phoenix (a place I think he never should have left in the first place) so he could be close to his son.

During all this time we had a chance to talk, share ideas, ask for and provide advice and generally have a powerfully good time. I will miss his leaving at the end of January but I am also quite pleased that he may have stopped his nomadic ways. I can’t wait to see what develops in the coming year.

Knee Replacement

Then there were the low points. In late April or early May I slipped and suddenly was unable to place any weight on my left knee. Susan was meeting me for lunch that very day; rather than lunch we went to the emergency room where they put me in a brace and told me to make an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon.

I met the orthopedist a couple of days later and he told me I had three choices: First, I could do nothing and suffer, second, I could try injecting the knee with a substitute cartilage that, if it works, will provide relief for six to nine months and could be repeated until it no longer worked, or third, I could opt for a total knee replacement.” I opted for the second choice. Unfortunately it didn’t work.

I believe suffering is reserved for martyrs or saviors so I opted to undergo a total knee replacement. Being no stranger to orthopedic surgery (I have had two total hip replacements and a laminectomy) I thought that I was aware of the recovery period and what I could expect during recovery. The doc told me that knees are more difficult than hips or back surgery so in my mind I compensated for that as I prepared for surgery.

Oh man was I disappointed. Waking from surgery I was in the worst pain I could have ever imagined. Thoughts ran through my head that were as mild as “Why did I ever agree to this?” to “I want to die right now!” In the past I never needed heavy duty pain relief. I recognized the pain as bone trauma and that it would get better over the course of six to eight weeks. But with this knee surgery I was pushing the button on the morphine (or whatever drug was in there) machine as often as I could. The pain was unbearable most of the time.

The morning of the second day, the physical therapist walked into the room and said, “Time for your morning walk, ready?” I was in a fog, but I knew that if I did what I was told that I would get better faster. So with much help I got out of bed to begin my first walk post surgery. Offered a walker or crutches I chose the crutches but I couldn’t find balance that first time so a walker it was. I made it about twenty steps out of my room before I needed to stop. Finally, turning around I slowly walked back to the room where I was ready for bed. No such luck. It was time to learn how to sit in a chair, go to the bathroom and get back into bed with some help.

The afternoon walk was actually a bit easier and I pushed myself to walk to the nurses station. This time the crutches worked, I found balance and they made the walking easier. The next day I was walking up and down stairs, learning how to get in and out of a car and walking longer distances with the aid of crutches. But the constant pain was still there. We tried many drug combinations to help relieve the pain and finally decided that, in spite of my history, Norco in combination with Tramadol would be a reasonable choice. I went home with that cocktail the morning of the third day post-surgery.

I started out patient physical therapy two weeks post surgery (for the first two weeks a home-bound physical therapist visited me 3 times a week); for the next three months I dutifully went to PT and while I could see results in flexibility the pain would simply not go away. I couldn’t sleep well because the pain was agonizing. Drugs helped but couldn’t provide enough relief to make me happy I did this surgery.

One morning in mid-September, I woke up and noticed that my knee, while stiff and a bit swollen, didn’t hurt. It was as if some switch was turned off. I stopped taking the Norco which led to withdrawal symptoms for ten days but that was a small price to pay.

I continued with PT until mid-October and today, six months post surgery, all seems okay with the knee. While I think I have some fluid on my knee, it doesn’t bother me too much, other than making standing for long periods of time difficult. I see my orthopedic surgeon on January 4th so I’ll know more then.

Prostate Cancer

Then there was the kick in the head. In September I saw my internist for what amounted to an annual physical. He was quite concerned that I had a PSA of 23. Wow, so was I. He told me to see my urologist as soon as possible to track down the cause of this spike in PSA. Getting in to see the urologist has always been a difficult thing. Waiting two to three months was not unusual. When I called for an appointment I mentioned that my PSA spiked to 23 and the appointment person said, “Oh, then I can squeeze you in next week, would that be soon enough?” I responded in the affirmative and the appointment was made.

During the week prior to the appointment, I began to puzzle with my own mortality. What would be my contribution to this world? I didn’t much worry about what the transition to death might be like other than it is a deeply personal transition that only I could make, there are no substitutions possible.

When I saw my urologist he drew blood for another PSA (the result was 26) but when he did a prostate exam he felt nothing out of the ordinary. Several years ago I had a spike in PSA which required three needle biopsy procedures of my prostate, all of which were negative. BPH was the diagnosis which led to a procedure called a Trans Urethral Resection of the Prostate (TURP) and the biopsy of the tissue removed was negative for cancer. I vowed that I would never do another needle biopsy again, however, now I had to rescind that vow because of the unusual set of circumstances.

The biopsy was scheduled for the following week (in the past I had to wait two to three months to be inserted into the schedule). When the results came back he called me to tell me, “You have cancer of the prostate.” We set up an appointment for the following week to meet and discuss options. This diagnosis was like being kicked in the head by a mule.

We met and the facts were laid out in front of me. I had a cancer of the prostate with a Gleason score of 8 (4+4) with a PSA of 23 (my internist did a second PSA which came back with a score of 21) so the average of 23 appeared to be the best working number. This meant that I had a very aggressive cancer and that metastasis had to be ruled out or identified. This meant a bone scan and a CAT scan. Both of these turned out negative, but the CAT scan was inconclusive due to interference from my hip replacements and back surgery so the lymph nodes in the groin could not be clearly ruled out.

Surgery appeared to be the best course of treatment. A biopsy of the lymph nodes along with the prostate post surgery would find the lymph nodes clean and the prostate 35% involved with the tumor almost at the margins of the prostate but it does seem that the disease was entirely contained within the prostate.

So what does all this mean. For now, I am a prostate cancer survivor but even this is tentative. Some cells may have escaped prior to surgery or even during surgery and are just waiting to settle in to wreak havoc. For the next year I will have my PSA checked every three months and once a year thereafter for the remainder of my life. It is as if I have cancer rather than I am a cancer survivor and that cancer is just waiting around like a monkey on my back.

So there you have it. Some highs, a bit of drama, pain and suffering, and finally hope. What a year this has been!

Back Home After The Doctors Visit

Back Home After The Doctors Visit

Back Home After The Doctors Visit

Making an appointment with one’s urologist on his last day in this office was more interesting than I had ever imagined. For the first time in my memory I was buzzed back to the examining room on time. The efficiency of the staff was at its best. I first was visited by a resident who laid the groundwork for the ultimate visit from my urologist. Blood was drawn, fluid samples left and then some genuine time spent talking about how normal my recovery was up to this very moment. Absolutely nothing unexpected, unheard of, abnormal, or even slightly out of the ordinary. Good news once again. I’ll wait for the PSA results which are expected to be significantly lower than they were before this whole cancer thing began, maybe even undetectable but who knows. More than likely, given the time frame of four-weeks since surgery, a number slightly under 2 can be expected. Four weeks from now, however, a PSA of around 0.1 would be more like expectations. We’ll see. For the moment, however, everything looks quite positive.

As Guy Clark (a Texas singer-songwriter) once wrote,

Nothing lasts forever
Say the old men in the shipyards
Turning trees into shrimp-boats
Hell, I guess they ought to know.

Clark’s words have often been of great comfort to me. Change is a constant; randomness in this world is the grease that lubricates the entire machine. Accept that and the very idea of turning trees into shrimp-boats is something one must not only expect but accept as a rule of living in this world.

In my mind the universe is a very large random number generator, run by probabilities, predictable to a fault but not to the detail of any single individual actor in the play. If something can happen, if something is possible, no matter how small the probability, it will happen. You can absolutely count on that. It may not happen to you but if it is within the realm of possibility it will happen to someone or something. One cannot live in fear of the possible. That is a waste of one’s time and effort and gets you absolutely nowhere other than, just perhaps, causing significant stress, a factor which could actually trigger the unwanted. No, the only rational place to be emotionally is to be in this very moment, a time in which we deposit traces of an existential life and think about our own potential future by creating goals, hopes, and dreams.

Wasting time on the what could be, the what might be, the otherwise than what is wanted, the worst possible outcome without accepting what could be, what might be, the otherwise that what we want, or the worst possible outcome opens the door to negative energy and outcomes to occur. By accepting the worst, the otherwise, the could be, the door is open for us to work positively toward a more positive outcome.

Let me give you an example. After a radical resection of the prostate, even with nerve saving techniques and the steadiest of surgical hands, it is quite likely that one will suffer from some form of urinary incontinence. I know this for an absolute fact. The truth is that it is possible for this condition to be permanent, the worst possible outcome I can think of; the otherwise of desired outcomes. That being said, if this were true in my case, that the worst outcome possible were to occur I would not allow that to interfere with my zest for living. I have accepted that possibility. It would be something I would simply have to get used to. But I am doing everything humanly possible to assure that this outcome doesn’t occur. I do pelvic floor exercises on a regular basis. I left the urology clinic with a new, quite difficult, pelvic floor exercise that I do twice a day, morning and evening. This combination is expected to produce results sometime in the next 11 months, yes 11 months; I have already experienced some positive signs from just doing the pelvic exercises regularly.

So there you have it, accept the worst, work toward the best; it is a combination guaranteed to provide one with a serenity beyond one’s wildest dreams.

Off to the Doctor

Off to the Doctor

Off to the Doctor

Today I have my post-surgical check and I say goodbye to my urologist (he is moving on and will hook me up with one of his partners) but the day is bittersweet. I have so many questions about this recovery and the two side effects that leave me helpless and I will have to break in a new urologist along the way. While my urologist will answer my questions he will not be the one to treat the issues; he will be gone, replaced by a doctor I don’t know who potentially will treat the issues and side effects that present themselves.

Trust is the issue here. Over the years I have built up a trust with my doctor that is hard to set aside. His advice has always been sound and it has always been provided with a smile and care. Unlike most surgeons, his first course of action is to treat medically leaving the knife as a last resort. He always took the time to explain the options, the pros and cons of each, make suggestions but he left the final decision to me. His demeanor always took on the posture of a caring physician first and a surgeon second. Not only that, I genuinely like him. So where does that leave me?

A new urologist, no matter how well trained or capable he might be, will present himself to me without the advantage of trust. He will have to build that trust a visit at a time. That is no easy task, especially after so good a relationship as I have with the present one.

My task in all this is to remain open. In this case I am the other calling to the new urologist to take charge, to be available, to care for my welfare without reservation (I cannot say without reciprocation because he is paid a handsome fee to care for me). It is funny how roles switch from self to other depending on circumstances. While my call is a call for care, a call that says I trust you, it is also a call of caution because, while I want to trust, I cannot until it is earned.

This day I confront the disquiet of change. What I do know is that life will go on because the crux of this very moment is change.

Beyond My Wildest Dreams

Beyond My Wildest Dreams

Beyond My Wildest Dreams

In October of this year, right after I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, I started this blog as an exercise in thinking about life and my struggle with this potentially deadly disease. I was (and still am) writing for myself yet I am also writing with the idea that perhaps, just perhaps, by my writing I will be available for anyone struggling as I am with their own disease. As of this morning I have recorded over 1,500 visitors to this site; something I never expected or anticipated. Sure, I had a boost in visitors from WordPress when the blog was selected for their Freshly Pressed page and I am grateful for that but it doesn’t explain the fact that so many others follow, comment or like this blog. It provides energy for me to continue to be present for readers no matter what their struggle for as long as I can.

Regular readers may have noticed that I am now using a single graphic, a stylized portrait of me painted on a brick wall. I have a particular fondness for functionalist imagery, stripped to its bare bones while still representing something in the world. I tag the image with the title of the post and let it be.

On another note, as I am writing this I am in some significant pain. Four months prior to my cancer diagnosis I had a total knee replacement in my left knee. I regained almost complete mobility in the knee through hard work and physical therapy. Since my prostatectomy I have been unable to do the exercises that are necessary to keep the knee functional due to the potential strain and weight limitations for lifting resulting on both stiffness and pain in the knee. I am reasonably certain the problem is caused by fluid on the knee but I can’t be sure until I see my orthopedic surgeon on the 4th of January. Who would have ever thought that a side effect of radical prostatectomy surgery would impact my knee?

Finally, on this day after Christmas, I certainly hope everyone had a joyous and restful holiday. While I don’t celebrate Christmas myself, remember I am a Jewish atheist, and I am bothered by the constant commercial clatter of the holiday that begins the day after Halloween and seems endless, I am a champion of diversity and acceptance of the other person, no matter what his or her beliefs are. Would that we could all be like that! Acceptance is the key to serenity if all you do is accept your personal set of circumstances. On a broader scale, acceptance of the other is the more powerful path to peace, love and understanding even when the rest of the world is falling apart around you.

I thank each and every one of my readers for your interest in this attempt to share with you some of my stories of recovery. I wish each one a very Happy New Year. So glad the Mayans were wrong.

Being In The World

Surviving In This Very Moment

Being in the World

To borrow a phrase from Martin Heidegger without necessarily committing to its meaning, being-in-the-world adequately represents the notion of the existential moment. If I could phrase it differently than Heidegger I would strip it of its ontological references while incorporating the notion of representing an illusory phantom of the trace of memory and a projection into the future. In Levinas’ terms, this is represented better by the notion of hypostasis, the question of the infinitely brief moment of existential time while merging the idea of the trace remembered and the future desired, both of which are measured by ever fading memory or ever more fantastic dreamt of futures. In brief, existential time is a simulacrum of the merger of past/future, while cleverly disguising both within a true sense of security of past events and future certainty. Nothing, however, exists outside of this very moment of existential time; all the rest is merely a ghost or a projection on a screen of hope.

Going beyond the ontic nature of Heidegger’s being-in-the-world, Levinas focuses on the idea that hypostasis focuses on the interiority of solitude in which one experiences existential time; the trace of memory and those projections for the future are clearly personal, not able to be shared with any other human being. If left to its own resources, Heidegger insists, the self would be so consumed with its own interiority that it could not relate to the exterior world other than to evaluate the entirety of that world as objects of the self with being incorporated in the objective relationship with the objects, including the human objects, in the world. Levinas is critical of this position arguing that one can only understand being by and through the social interaction with the other, by responding to the call of the other without reservation or expectation of reciprocation; to make oneself present in the world in order to be responsible for the welfare of the other without reservation or expectation of reciprocation. In this sense, being-in-the-world turns Heidegger on his head by proclaiming that ethics trumps ontology; that response-ability, the ability to respond to the call of the other from wherever it originates is a fundamental obligation of the ethical human being, denying the interiority of the self as more important than the self existing as a social being evidenced by its commitment to the exteriority of the world one encounters in this very moment of existential time.

I exist in this world in order to be of service to the other, to extend my hand whenever and wherever I hear the call of the other asking for help. Must I answer each and every call from the other? No, but I must answer the calls for which I am best equipped. For me, as a personal being existing in the world, I have two major callings. I will answer the call of anyone with a desire to stop drinking by extending my hand and offering the support I can and must offer. I do this because I am a recovering alcoholic with over two decades of not drinking. Recently, because of my diagnosis of prostate cancer I announced my presense to any and all who have the same or similar diagnosis; I will answer the call of anyone with prostate cancer by extending my hand and sharing my experience, strength and hope. The choice of these two ‘causes’ does not preclude my being responsible in other situations; it simply means that I have chosen to priortize my personal sense of responsibility in these two arenas at this very moment. It seems that I recognize my existence within the bounds of the spirit of Alcoholics Anonymous and the community of men diagnosed with prostate cancer as well as those men who desire to end prostate cancer as the second leading killer of men in the United States.

As we come full swing into this holiday season and the arbitrary turn of the calendar to a new year, I place my hopes in the possibility that sanity may be restored to this world in which we live and wish everyone a very happy holiday and a most happy new year.

Who is the Author of this Text

Writing

Writing

I am sitting around waiting for a call from my urologist. I called this morning to report a bloody discharge in my urine, an unexpected problem. I have no other symptoms, no pain, fever, no nothing except the bloody urine. While sitting around I was looking through a old journal of mine and I found an entry dated 10/23/06, written a bit over six years ago. It began with these words, “Who is the author of a text?”

I passed the time asking a number of questions. Is the one affixing one’s signature to a text, whether by affixing one’s name to a page or by actually signing a document, the same person as the one who wrote the piece? Is the person whose signature is attached to a piece the same person as a reader approaches that text outside of the presence of the author and at an indeterminate time in the future? Am I the same person in this very moment who signed the piece? The same person who wrote the piece in the past tense? The same person when, some unspecified time in the future reads the piece?

Perhaps I am not the same person I was when I began this post. In fact, I began writing in the morning and soon after I began writing my son arrived ready to do some work around the house. We then went to lunch where we spoke about many things including the weather, his drive to Phoenix, pain and the advances in medicine. We discussed my cancer, the treatment and side effects of the surgery. We even went shopping for socks. All of this changed me from the writer I was a few hours ago to the writer I am at this very moment. While the changes may be subtle, they are not insignificant. Every act, whether intentional or not, leaves an infinite number of unintended traces behind, some physical others less so but nevertheless show impact on the future writing.

Am I the same person I was before I was diagnosed with prostate cancer? I don’t believe so! In fact, I can point to major differences in my attitude and approach to my own lived-experience. I know I am more aware of little things, of connections, of reasons for being. No, each and every experience, whether significant or mundane poses a problem that changes one’s approach to life and the challenges we face.

For one to think differently is to argue for permanence in the world, a world in which things are absolute and certain when, in fact, nothing remains the same over time. Truth can only be determined for a particular moment in time and determined by examining all the evidence both pro and con. The truth that is then worked out is what Dewey called a warranted assertion. Once, not so long ago, people believed that there were only four elements that made up the entire universe: earth, water, wind and fire. This was held to be true and inviolate. No one believes that today because of advances in science presented evidence to the contrary. This is but one example of change that makes truth relative to the questions being asked and the evidence being presented for any position.

So here I am writing a text that is fluid in the writing and open to changes in thinking. As a writer, I am writing the text in what I call existential time. When I complete the text I leave it to a reader to explore. The text itself no longer exists in existential time, rather it exists in archival time. As a completed text, I, as author, step aside and leave the text to a reader and while the reader is reading the text in existential time (for the reader) s/he is reading a document that only exists in archival time. For the reader of a text, an archive of the past, the reader invades archival time through an infinite regression into the past, to a time when the very text being read was written and signed by the author, yet the author of the text no longer exists; for the writer, assuming s/he is alive, the time the text is being read is a projection of the past turned forward, a future now, that begs for a reader’s interpretation. In this sense, the past and the future turn into each other and meet at the reader’s now.

What interests me here is how having prostate cancer can inspire me to look at things closely, to experience my own thinking from a time long ago and to begin to rethink the ideas held in them. I approach what I have written not as an author but as a reader. The one who wrote the entry I am exploring no longer exists, I as a reader can gain some insight into the thought process I once had, but that process only appears to me in the trace within the text I signed.

Overlapping Circles of Community

The impossibility of approaching the other (autrui) without speaking to him signifies that here thought is inseparable from expression . . . consist[ing] in the intuition of sociality by a relation that is consequently irreducible to comprehension.
Emmanuel Levinas, Basic Philosophical Writings, p.7

Overlapping Circles of Community

As the new year approaches, less than two weeks away, I think it is important to reflect on the past year, the ups and downs, the natural fluctuation of the randomness of time, in order to digest the traces left behind that continue to affect me. As I age I find that life presents new, often unique, challenges that simply come with getting older. I also find that concurrent with those challenges is a desire to connect with friends and family through increased social contact. Additionally, while I have always been struck by nature, I find myself increasingly being in awe of the beauty and violence of the natural world. Both of these connections require one to approach the other (in the case of social contacts) and the Other (in the case of natural phenomenon) with a speaking, a conversation or perhaps as Levinas equates this use of language, with a (non-theistic) prayer (more like a polite but insistent asking or imploring) said without reservation or expectation.

Two major medical issues seemingly exploded, disrupting my life since May. The first of these required a total replacement of my left knee, a procedure from which I am still recovering. I am no stranger to orthopedic surgery having had two hips replaced and a L3-S1 laminectomy fusing my lower spine with titanium rods and screws but I had no idea how difficult it would be to recover from knee replacement surgery. After three and a half months of physical therapy I regained nearly full extension of the knee but I remain plagued with a stiffness that seems to haunt me during the day.

As if that were not enough, I was diagnosed in September with prostate cancer. Considering that the biopsy of the prostate found an aggressive strain (Gleason score of 4+4) and a spike in my PSA to 23 (a range from 21 to 26 over three samples) there was every reason to believe that the cancer was metastatic. This proved not to be the case on bone and CAT scans but the CAT scan was inconclusive because of the amount of metal surrounding my groin. In consultation with my urologist and internist and long talks with my wife, we decided to undergo a robotic radical prostatectomy, a procedure performed on November 28th, nearly one month ago. Once again I dodged a metastatic bullet when the biopsy of the prostate found the tumor completely contained within the organ and the lymph nodes free of disease. At this very moment I can look forward to many more disease free years.

As a result of the prostatectomy, I am left with two side-effects. I am currently required to wear diapers due to incontinence and I am unable to become aroused. I don’t know if these are permanent or temporary and I am not certain I want to undergo additional surgery to correct them. I meet with my urologist on the 27th of December and expect to have a frank discussion with him to see what he thinks. While he will be handing me off to a new urologist, one of his partners, as he moves to a new position out of town, I believe he will be more than straight forward with me about these two side effects.

So the point of retelling these two medical tales is simply this, for me, most of 2012 was consumed with medical issues. It was also met with family tragedy as my youngest cousin, Steven, passed away from multiple myeloma, a particularly virulent cancer that simply consumed his body but never his spirit. About a month before he died I was in Los Angeles to celebrate a 60th wedding anniversary of my wife’s closest friend’s parents. While there I had breakfast with Steven, my sister and several other cousins. Steven, I believe, knew the end was near but he never let on. We talked, laughed, shared stories of our younger days and, without knowing it, said our good-byes. A month later I was back in LA to attend his funeral.

When I let my family know that I was diagnosed with prostate cancer the outpouring of love and support was absolutely overwhelming. What I learned from my cousin Steven was to never ever give up on life, to live life on life’s terms, to experience every moment of existence as unique and filled with the joy of breath; there will be time enough for whatever the antithesis of celebration might be in the grave so there is no need to feel sorry for oneself for a life well lived.

None of my lived-experience of the past year comes close to my being able to comprehend the consequences of these events. There being no intentionality causing the events to occur (I see the universe we share as a gigantic random number generator where probability trumps intentionality) I find that I take great solace in the long and sometimes quite brief conversations I have had with those closest to me. I am learning to extend myself to others in powerful ways and even find myself making new friends along the way. I am buoyed by a fresh look at the natural world in which I exist and the awe inspiring power ranging from the smallest micro-organism to the power of a tiny river’s capacity to carve a Grand Canyon, to the ravages of a blizzard in winter. Taken together, these events, these conversations, my ability to see the absolute beauty in nature and to be awed by the universe itself make this life a life worth living.

Belonging . . . Exploring Taken for Granteds

Belonging . . . Exploring Taken for Granteds

Belonging . . . Exploring Taken for Granteds

Over the past several months I have been thinking a great deal about belonging to multiple communities and what that means. Generally, community can be defined as a group of people who are bound by common interests and have a common purpose. Discovering that I am now a member of several communities related solely to the fact that I am a prostate cancer patient, I began to wonder just what that means in terms of membership. Aside from the communities associated with prostate cancer, I am also a member of many other communities that each exert an influential and sometimes conflicting pressure on my membership.

Being a member of any community requires that one adopt a stance that clearly identifies one as a member. This essentially means that in order to join a group one must accept nearly the total spectrum of what the group aspires to, the community purpose. When one first joins a community, it seems to me, that the best tactic is to lay low for a period of time allowing one to absorb that which the community stands for. As a novice member of any community one must learn the rules, understand the rituals (yes, rituals because every group has a set of rituals or practices that distinguish it from all other communities while summarizing the contents of community purpose) and absorbing the taken for granteds that hold the group together over time and space. Being a member of a community that is widespread means that wherever one goes, when meeting with other members, recognition is immediate and favorable.

Looking at the chaos of the image inserted at the top of this post, the lived-experience as it relates to community membership is represented. Membership in groups or communities is overlapping. Sometimes membership includes a powerful attraction and long deep lines while other times membership in a community is nothing more than having something in common with others but not including a deeply felt commitment to service.

Community membership exerts demands on members. Sometimes those demands are explicit while at other times the demands are implied, made clear only through ritualized practice. At their core, however, all of these demands are generally stated as platitudes with little opportunity to examine their veracity. These taken for granteds make up the core belief system that binds a community together. And there is the rub. Taken for granteds are fundamental to sustaining community bias because they establish a normative condition from which there is little room for independence of thought or practice. The only way one can escape from the massive influence exerted by the community standards is to leave the group, to actively bow out, to walk away. In brief, it is difficult to be a member of a community as soon as one begins to deconstruct what it means to be a member of a group.

Over the next few posts I will do just that, deconstruct the normative structures of groups in which I claim membership. I will explore conflicting normative statements and try to reach some reasonable conclusion about what it means to be a member. I will begin with groups to which I have a solid connection and end with groups with which I hold nothing more than a novice status. I am writing these brief essays as a way to clarify for myself the underlying commitments I undertake and, quite possibly, make decisions to alter my status. In the next post I will explore my membership in a community of educators and my role and my responsibility as a retired professor of education.

Thinking in Jewish II

If all the seas were ink, reeds pens, the heavens parchment and all men writers, they would not suffice to write down the Torah I have learned and the Torah itself would be diminished only by the amount drawn out of it by the tip of a paintbrush dipped into the sea.
Rabbi Eliezer

A Sefer Torah, the traditional form of the Heb...

A Sefer Torah (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I recover from surgery, I have taken on a project to learn more about how to think in Jewish. Much of my life was devoted to thinking like a philosopher, or thinking in Greek; engaged in rational thought arising from a particular method of thinking that, in the West became the privileged mode for thinking clearly. There is, however, another way to approach the same problems that originates not in Greece but in Jerusalem. While I cannot argue that these are the only ways of approaching a problem, I do argue that these contemporary thought processes are so different, one from the other, that it is worthy of understanding the differences. So for the next few paragraphs I want to deconstruct Greek and Jewish attitudes toward writing, attempting to make sense of them as they impact my current thinking as a cancer survivor.

The quote from Rabbi Eliezer focuses on writing, on the scope or potential of the written word. Before I explore the approach suggested by Eliezer, I first think it important to explore Greek thought about writing. To do so I turn to Plato and his dialogue Phaedrus. Plato argues that writing is absent the writer; the writer is effectively hidden from the reader because the writer cannot be interrogated by an active reader. The writing must, therefore, stand on its own two feet, frozen as an artifact of thought that remains exterior to the text itself. Further, the text cannot represent the totality of the writer’s thought but merely represents a trace of that thought within the text itself. On this view, interrogating unclear text is a critique, a game of gotcha, of pointing fingers, finding flaws, an exploration of the text without the benefit of the totality of thought hidden from the reader by the absence of the author.

Rabbi Eliezer, on the other hand, is arguing that the task of understanding is not bound to either the author or the totality of the author’s thinking. Rather, active interrogation of text provides one with the capacity for understanding that opens up entirely new possibilities. Text is not diminished by the active recorded discussion of the sages, rather it is enhanced, expanded, made clearer because of the commentary.

Put in other terms, thinking in Greek privileges the said over the saying while Rabbi Eliezer, thinking in Jewish privileges the saying over the said. Thinking in Jewish, it seems to me, acknowledges the always already impossibility of understanding the complexities of textual representation without contributing to the development of that text through contemporary symbolic representation while, at the same time, not diminishing the value of the text being interrogated. The said, represented in the text is but a trace of the writer’s saying or thought that went into construction of the text. The interrogation of that text, a new saying is then recorded as the said of commentary. The two cannot be read separately but taken together provide an insight into the totality of saying, of a living text.

Plato’s main point is that writing is absent of direct interrogation because of the absence of the author. Rabbi Eliezer’s point is the direct opposite; that because writing/text itself is subject to interrogation which draws directly from textual references, the interrogation allows for probing the saying embedded in the text as a trace of the author’s thought process thereby opening the text itself to commentary. For Plato, text is an artifact, a trace of the totality of thought. For Rabbi Eliezer, text is a living, breathing, functional discourse that is as fresh as the day it was committed to the parchment upon which it was written. Because it is “alive” the text can never be completed but only expanded upon.

Much of my life to this very moment was spent thinking in Greek, not so much a rejection of my Jewish roots but rather as a result of my training as a scholar. A good deal of my training and the work I engaged in post graduate school revolved around trying to understand the world in terms of rational thought, of philosophy. For the past fifteen or so years, I worked to correct that by reading Jewish texts along with other philosophical texts. I have done this as an amateur, on my own, for the most part without a teacher. As I came face to face with my own mortality over the past several months, I came to the conclusion that I needed to know more about the method for thinking in Jewish. Just when I thought about a teacher, I discovered the Chabad of Elgin and Hoffman Estates and the engaging Rabbi Mendel. I look forward to working with him as I expand my own methodological base and learn to now think in Jewish. I expect it to be quite a ride.

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