On December 7th I’ll be checking into the hospital to undergo a cardiac ablation procedure, a process of inserting electrodes and catheters into a blood vessel in my groin, snaking them up and into my heart, and using them to cauterize some confused heart cells that are causing me to have repeated episodes of super-rapid heartbeats called ventricular tachycardia. At least, that’s the plan.
The physician performing the procedure is confident of a positive outcome, which is always a welcome thing to hear. Statistics reveal that one-in-a-hundred ablation patients die on the table, which as odds go are pretty good; one-in-a-million sounds better. On the other hand, since being born sets the odds of dying someday at 100%, statistics offer cold comfort.
The Buddhist Heart Sutra says there’s “no birth and no cessation,” the point being that whatever sense of autonomy or separation I feel is like a dream. The Great Unity is perpetually unbroken; what looks like coming and going is simply how things appear. I’ll remind myself of this as the anesthesiologist puts me under.
Death, of course, is life’s constant companion; it can intrude at any time. My powers of denial push this truth to the side much of the time, but when I’ve confronted various cardiac events and procedures in the past I’ve inevitably found myself pondering the end and so it is today. I’m not scared for me; dead’s ok, very, very quiet. I do worry about those who depend upon me: my fabulous wife of 46 years, my wonderful children and grandchildren. I’ve tried to live responsibly, and not leave them in the lurch. They’re all smart and loving people and will take care of each other, but still.
I’ve been so lucky in love; first my parents, then my sister, my wife, our two daughters and three grandchildren. There’s been ups and downs, of course, but love was never in question. This is not true for everyone, and my gratitude runs deeply. In my imperfect way, I’ve returned that love best as I can, and hope I’ll be forgiven for my failures. And my love of friends and their love in return; an unexpected miracle.
Many people assume my 30-year involvement in our community – as a citizen activist, city council member, mayor, planning commissioner and so forth – is about satisfying my ego. I guess there is some element of that, but community work is so often difficult and disappointing, ego is the least of it. The best of it is experiencing how it is to extend caring beyond those I love to the community around me, and the way it builds my strength and persistence. At times I’m fiercely protective, but not for me; I apologize to those my passion may have offended. My home is not four walls, but an entire city, an entire valley and beyond. If I’ve learned anything about love and caring, is that it’s boundless.
So here it is, my final column perhaps, just in case my good luck doesn’t hold. I wouldn’t want to leave without saying thank you and goodbye. And if everything goes well, and I hope it does, you’ll read about it here.