Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Year of the Copperhead (the 500th post)

This will be quite a long post.  Feel free to set aside some time to read this; or take a few days to digest it.  It is also an emotionally heavy post.  It may not be an enjoyable read for everyone.  However, in my opinion, it is a worthwhile post and if I'm able to pull it off, you will walk away from it with a stronger dose of humility and a stiff reality check about life.

Job and His Friends by Ilya Repin (1869)
It all began for Job when he lost his oxen and donkeys and servants by the hands of some thieves.  One servant escaped with his life and was able to tell Job (Job 1:13).

Not a moment had passed when another servant came to Job and informed him that fire from heaven (asteroid?  volcano?) had burned all his sheep and servants, except for one, who, escaped with his life and was able to tell Job (Job 1:16).

Immediately after the second servant shared the bad news, a third servant showed up on the scene and informed him that his camels were stolen and his servants killed by a raiding party.  Again, this servant escaped with his life and was able to tell Job (Job 1:17).

No sooner had the third servant finished informing Job, a fourth servant came to tell Job his sons and daughters were enjoying a feast at the eldest brother's home when a tornado formed, ripped through the home and sent the roof crashing onto his children, killing all of them.

If the story is to be believed, in one day, Job lost 7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 donkeys, a large number of servants, 7 sons and 3 daughters.

As if to add insult to injury, Job contracted painful sores on his head and feet (Job 2:7).  Later, Job's friends came to try to comfort him.  But his pain was so extreme, his friends could only sit with him in silence (Job 2:13).

Upon further reading in the Book of Job, we also learn he was mocked and scorned by friends and neighbors and even by his wife.

I'm not going to debate the historicity of Job's story, but rather I want to focus on the question: could it have happened?  Indeed the scale of Job's trials is large, but each of those events have happened to other people.  And if you still don't think what happened to Job could happen to others, there are plenty of examples of hard times which exist all around us today.  They existed 50 years ago; they existed 100 years ago and they will exist in perpetuity.

If It's Happened to Someone Before, It Could Happen Again and It Could Happen to Me

Some stories stick with me.  I often come back to them.  These stories rattle around in my head often.  Not much needs to be said.  I think I can provide the headline and you can imagine the rest.

My grandmother lost her 15-year old son to a tick.  She lost a young baby boy too.  My sister-in-law and my niece both lost a baby.  Friends and other relatives have had still-born children.  My aunt lost one son to stomach cancer and another son to Lou Gehrig's disease; both died in the prime of their lives while my aunt lived well into her 90's.  A nephew took his own life as a teenager.  A mother in our community, backed out of her driveway and accidentally ran over her young child; the child died.  A wife lost her husband after he had a motorbike accident - her young son saw his father crash the bike on the street and witnessed him die.  I was in a restaurant one afternoon.  A mother and her young daughter had just ordered before me and sat down with their food.  I ordered mine and the cashier had tears in her eyes.  She told me that the mother/daughter just lost their husband/father - he had died recently.  The daughter was really too young to understand the situation.  Another wife in the community, lost her healthy, strong husband to a stroke.  He was around age 40.  Their boys lost their dad; my son lost his soccer coach.  My father-in-law - my wife's father ... he died too young and unexpectedly.  More on that later.

A young child at our church beat cancer with treatments.  I hear the treatments are pretty tough.  Another young mother in the community recently told me how her young son is enduring cancer treatments.  A couple of months ago on Facebook, I read of parents laying to rest three of their children after they suffered from juvenile Batten disease.  Another story from my sister-in-law goes that her neighbor's young daughter was sitting at the table during dinner and began to complain that she felt like throwing up, but could not.  She then slumped over and died from a burst appendix.

I read The Republic of Pirates a while back and will never forget one story.  I summarized the story previously: one example the author used to illustrate how bad a sailor's life was, was about this young boy who the captain beat quite savagely for 17 days!  He beat him, whipped him, made him eat his own stool and when the boy finally spoke, he asked for something to drink.  The captain ran to his quarters and then returned with a cup of his own urine and made the boy drink it.  The boy finally died.

The first part of Vikor Frankl's book Man's Search for Meaning, details the horrors of living in a Nazi concentration camp.  Lots of horror stories from WWII and concentration camps haunt me.

I still remember following the news about and feeling anxiety for Elizabeth Smart and her family, when she was kidnapped and raped over a span of nine months.  I also remember the horror when the news broke on the Ariel Castro kidnappings - gut wrenching.

In September 2017, I watched Otto Warmbier's parents describe seeing their son for the first time since being released from captivity in North Korea.  Their account is harrowing (see here).

September 11, 2001 and 2012 will always be vivid in my mind.  From 2001, the images of the planes crashing into the towers as well as the images of the man and people leaping from burning buildings, still chills me to the bone.  And then in 2012, seeing Ambassador Stevens' bruised, smoked, body being dragged in a street in Benghazi, makes me shudder.  Then there are the mass shootings: Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Aurora Colorado, Orlando night club, D.C. Sniper, Ft. Hood 2009 & 2014 ... Las Vegas ... the list goes on and on.  These are just the ones that have stood out in my memory.  Not to mention the other terror attacks in London, Barcelona, Norway, Russia, India ... all over the world.  It truly is endless the list of terror attacks and mass shootings.

Weather happens; and anywhere you live, nasty weather can pop up.  Tornadoes, hurricanes, strong wind, abundant snow, ice storms, flooding, drought.  Our family has lived through tornado warnings in Dallas and Houston.  Just weeks after we left Dallas, a tornado ripped through our old neighborhood.  Then in 2011, after enduring a searing, hot summer drought in Houston, my kids had to hunker down in their school when a tornado tore across our community in November.  Then there are the major natural disasters.  To name a few that remain in my conscious: Mt. St. Helen's, Indian Ocean Earthquake & Tsunami of 2004, Japan 2011, Katrina, Ike, Irma, MariaHarvey ... more on Harvey later.

Of course we can't forget about wild animals and their interactions with humans.  Some of those interactions are still fresh in my mind.  My sister fainted when a rattlesnake slithered over her foot.  Mountain lion attacks in California and cougar sightings in a business park in Utah.  I don't have too many details, but I seem to recall my brother going on a bear hunt in Alaska and killing one!  I might need to ask him about that someday.  Living in a forest affords many opportunities to see wild animals.  Several years ago I battled armadillos who tore up my grass and yard, digging for grubs and such.  I think I killed about half a dozen armadillos that year.  Our neighbor was walking her two schnauzers in the park next to our home when she happened on a coyote.  The coyote attacked her small dogs leaving them nearly dead.  The neighbor escaped with no injuries.  My wife, one day, just finished a walk and was getting the mail when a coyote emerged from the forest and was eyeing our schnauzer.  We often see deer and buck on our walks.  One baby deer got stuck in our backyard.  She couldn't escape and when my wife went to investigate, the doe tried going though a small opening between our fence and side of our house.  She got herself wedged really tight and was crying.  Jill pulled the fence down (it was sagging already) so the deer could escape.  Raccoons are quite the characters and have taught us the need to always keep garbage in the garage and to not put the garbage out until the day the trash gets picked up.  Every night on my home camera I see raccoons walking through the driveway and back yard.  Possums also frequent our neighborhood, but are far less bothersome than raccoons.  Bats come out at dusk.  In the summertime you can see them swooping through the air eating insects.  One morning on a walk, I had one swoop around me several times.  It really freaked me out how often and how close it came at me.  On another occasion, a bat swooped on my wife and I while we were on a walk.  People have been bitten by bats and contracted rabies.  Some have died.  Every winter, we get turkey vultures.  They come from the north and roost on the roofs and trees.  It is very similar to Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds.  The most destructive wild animal in our area are feral hogs.  They will absolutely ravage a yard - like a plow.  Grass, plants, bushes - all are devastated by hogs. We even have alligators near our home.  I've only ever seen one alligator in the lake near our home.  And I was only able to see it through binoculars.  Then there are the snakes: the garter snakes, yellow-bellied rat snakes, tree snakes, king snakes, and then the venomous ones: moccasins, rattlers, corals and copperheads.  I've seen one dead rattlesnake; one water moccasin, four corals and countless copperheads.  More on copperheads later.

Markets and keeping a career can be volatile.  Of course many know of the Great Depression in the 1930s.  Growing up, I often heard my parents discuss how they were dealing with tough times in the late 1970s and early 80s.  I read an op-ed of a man who was laid off in 2004 after working with a major company for 25 years - too young to retire, too old to get another job ... it was the same company I work for today.  Enron was eye-opening.  We have friends who worked for Enron ... one day they were well-to-do, the next they had no retirement savings or pension to draw from.  The Dot Com Bubble ... I narrowly escaped that while some of my friends I graduated college with did not.  I often think of a manager named Rich O'Connor.  He was a senior manager who interviewed me.  After I landed the job and after working a few months for the company, I was shocked to hear that Rich, who was about to retire, drove home one day, pulled into the driveway, experienced a heart attack and died.

You see?  Who needs the Book of Job when you have all these stories to draw from?  If any one of these things happened to someone (and they veritably did), then it could happen to me and you.  That is an important lesson to remember.

A Word About Copperheads

We live in a cul-de-sac near a heavily forested park.  We get snakes in our yard quite a bit.  Most are harmless, but we do see the occasional venomous snake - it's almost always the copperhead.  Usually, the time of year we see the snakes is between the end of April and beginning of May.

Our first encounter with a copperhead was in 2013, when my daughter left the back door ajar.  My wife walked in the kitchen, she noted the door was slightly open and a copperhead was slithering in!  She quickly shut the door and pinched him between the door and the door-jamb.  When I got home a few minutes later, I took some hedge clippers and lopped his head off.  It was quite a shock at the time.

Ever since then, we've encountered the occasional copperhead in the garage and in the yard.  Heavy rocks, shovels, brooms, rakes, pellet guns - all effective for dealing with copperheads and snakes in general.  A friend of mine, who deals with and likes snakes, came over one time when we had a copperhead in our garage, and dealt with it.  He took it home and skinned it.  Copperheads don't lay eggs, rather they are one of the few snakes who deliver live babies.  He told me the one he caught in our garage had babies in her.

Copperhead bites aren't 100% lethal.  Usually, people who have been bit by a copperhead suffer pain and tissue damage.  I've done a fair amount of research on copperhead bites and have seen the damage that can be done ( search: copperhead bite ... don't click the link if you're squeamish).

Coming across any snake in your yard or in the wild can cause your heart to skip a beat or two.  But like anything, the the more you become accustomed to it, the less "shock" you feel.  For me, I always experience that rush of adrenaline, even after the many snakes I've encountered.  I'm minding my business and then - poof - there is a snake sitting there in the garage, or driveway or yard or walking path or street.  There is never an announcement with copperheads (unlike the rattle of a rattlesnake).  He's just sitting there.  There is not much one can do to prevent a copperhead from showing up in your path.  You just have to acknowledge he's there; know he's venomous and then have the courage to deal with him.

The Year of the Copperhead

I've dealt with more copperheads in 2017 than any prior year of my life.  Coincidentally, 2017 has been the wildest year of my family's life, in terms of unexpected events.  Indeed we've experienced lots of challenges, but we've had a lot of wonderfully memorable times too.

Things started off rather mildly and would not otherwise garner my attention, except by looking back on the whole year.  During the first week of January, after coming off a very enjoyable and peaceful Christmas break, our youngest came down with some type of nasty stomach virus.  She was in an abnormal amount of pain, could not sleep at night and really could not eat anything.  My wife had to take her to the ER and our poor daughter needed an IV.  It was a little worrisome at the time, but after about a week, she got to feeling better.

About that same time, I was on an early morning walk and decided to jog a bit.  It was early in the morning and dark and I did not see a bump in the sidewalk and I took a nasty tumble.  I banged up my knee and shattered the screen on my iPhone.  Not a particular great start to the year.

On top of these two events, my wife and I noticed that a small leak under our bathroom vanity had turned into a larger leak.  We finally decided that replacement of the vanity was needed, besides fixing the leak.  After consulting with our friend who is a home designer, we decided we should proceed to not only fix the leak, but upgrade the bathroom.  And while we were upgrading the master bathroom, we decided to fix one of the upstairs bathrooms, which had been leaking on and off for the last eight years.  And while we were at it, we decided to remodel the powder room bathroom next to the kitchen.  Over the course of the next nine months, we met on and off talking about and designing these three bathrooms.

Later in January, my in-laws came to visit us in their new COW (Casa on Wheels).  They stayed for a few weeks and we had much fun with them.  I helped my father-in-law get the TV antennae working, took them on a tour of my work's new campus, watched the kids play basketball games and band and orchestra concerts.  They were gone for about a week to go on a cruise to Mexico, then they returned and stayed until our HOA finally sent us a letter saying their COW needed to be moved from the cul-de-sac.  My mother-in-law flew back to their home and my father-in-law took a long road trip, meandering through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

One weekend, we were able to go visit him at the beach next to Galveston (his first road-trip stop of many).  It was a beautiful day on the beach.  The kids got to play in the ocean and my wife and I and him were able to relax and talk.  He fired up the grill and we all ate hamburgers and chips.  A truly memorable experience!  We were so sad to say goodbye to him when we drove back home.

February was unusually warm in 2017.  Instead of typical highs in the 60s, we experienced almost half of the month in the low to mid 80s.  On Saturday February 25, we enjoyed a morning watching our youngest play a basketball game.  Then in the afternoon with not much else to do, I decided to give some of our hedges a trim.  My 12 year old son came out to help me.  After trimming about 4 bushes, we began the clean up.  We took 1 or 2 wheel-barrow loads to the forest.  Working on filling up the 3rd, I reached down to pick up a scoop and got pricked.  I knew there was a thistle-like weed in the pile and at first I thought it pricked me, but then a moment later, I saw the copperhead slither off.  I yelled out, "I got bit by a copperhead!"  I moved my son away from the pile, we went inside, I cleaned the bite and then asked my 15 year old son to go with me to the emergency room.  My two younger kids stayed home.

I drove and had my son look up symptoms of a copperhead bite.  I wanted to know what to expect in the next few minutes to hour.  After ensuring I wasn't going to pass out, I had him call my wife.  She wasn't answering her phone.  He kept trying.

We drove to the local ER at town center.  After talking to the desk attendant, she informed me that they were not equipped to handle copperhead bites.  She said I should go to the main hospital ER 4 miles away.  We got back int the truck and drove to the main hospital ER.

By the time we walked into the ER, the pain was spiking.  They immediately admitted me; stuck an IV in me. At around 1:30pm or so, the pain was excruciating. It felt like a railroad nail entering my palm and exiting out my middle knuckle on the back of my hand. I went into a bit of shock and they gave me morphine. I still felt the pain, but I was more calm at that point. By 2:20pm, the anti-venom was ready. Of all the hospitals in the area, our main hospital is the one place that has anti-venom on hand. It takes about 45 minutes to prepare it (CroFab). I was told the amount they gave me cost about $10K. An hour later, the anti-venom was doing its work and the swelling stopped.

I stayed in the ER until they could get me a room in the ICU. I was about to go to the ICU at 5pm, but someone needed the room more than I did. So I waited in the ER wheelchair from 5pm to 9pm. My wife was there the whole time, so it wasn’t so bad. By 9pm, I was in a bed in the ICU. I took a couple of Tylenol that night for pain – the pain was not so bad by then.

By Sunday morning, I could make a quasi-fist, but the doctor did not like that the swelling still had not gone down enough.  He said they were keeping me in for one more night. All day Sunday, it slowly got better. My skin on the back of my hand went from very tight (could not even see one single wrinkle), to just a normal swell (similar to a sprain). I could make a complete fist Sunday night and by Monday morning, I was texting with just my right hand (although that ‘a’ was a little hard to get to on the keyboard).  The hospital discharged me and I went home,

While I was in the ICU, several nurses were concerned about my heart.  I had a heart flutter / irregular beat sometimes. It was not constant, but would come and go. It started in 2007. I went to a cardiologist in 2007; went through the gamut of tests and was given a clean bill of health – was told to keep working out. Over the last 10 years, I just lived with it; sometimes it was more noticeable than others. I tried seeing a cardiologist in 2016, but the scheduling never worked out and I dropped it.

Saturday night and Sunday morning, the nurse saw what my heart was doing. The doctor was able to arrange for a cardiologist to come visit me and look at my heart. They did an echo cardiogram on me Sunday afternoon. The cardiologist said it was not a major concern and that a cardiac ablation would most likely fix it.  Later in March, I saw another cardiologist and went through some additional testing.  We decided that a cardiac ablation would be the best course of correction.  The procedure was scheduled for July.  More on this later.

After the copperhead bite, I became a bit of a local sensation at work and in my community.  Lots of people wanted to know the details; other people would tell of a story of some dude getting bit by a copperhead and I would say, "that was me."  At work, I had multiple opportunities to present my story and share a safety minute on yard safety and what to do in the event you are bitten by a venomous snake.  In some circles and conversations, my co-workers suggested the snake bite provided positive exposure for me in front of senior management, thus helping boost my career.  I can't fully discount the notion.

I stopped doing major yard work in February and hired a lawn guy.  The first time he came out, he found (I think) the copperhead that bit me.  He killed it.  Thus ended the life of the first copperhead I encountered in 2017.

The copperhead bite wasn't the only event in February that I will never forget.  A couple of weeks before the bite, I celebrated my birthday on a Friday night by going to the high school basketball game.  Our team was having a pretty good year and they were facing their main rival.  It was a somewhat close game through 4 quarters, but our team made a strong push to the end and put themselves in a position to win it.  And win it they did - in fashion!  It was one of the best birthday presents I've received.

As wild as February was, a calm March was welcomed.  Our oldest was able to go with her band to New York City and perform in Carnegie Hall.  The rest of the family enjoyed time off from school during Spring break.  And our family spent some time at the Houston Rodeo.  April was equally quiet, as we enjoyed the warming of spring and the anticipation of the school year wrapping up.  We attended practice events for the end-of-year school programs and choir plays.  My 2nd son and I started a chess club for him and his friends.  And my wife and I enjoyed long spring walks under sunny blue skies.  My oldest son also started his spring-summer basketball league and we were able to travel to a lot of his games and watch him play.

Around the second week of April, I was on one of the greenbelt trails and there on the right side sat a copperhead!  I was able to find a rock and throw it skillfully onto its head.  Thus ended the life of the second copperhead I encountered in 2017.

My current assignment at work is highly cyclical.  For the vast majority of the year, I assist management in developing an outlook for the current year's budget as well as a plan the next year's budget.  There is a lot of work and planning involved.  Every March, the process begins again and gradually heats up until we finish in September.  May is really when the work begins in earnest.  On Monday May 8, after wrapping up a full agenda from our team meeting, I walked back to my desk full of enthusiasm.  I had a lot of work to do that day and week and I was energized to tackle my to-do list.  I had been sitting at my desk no less than 10 minutes when I received a phone call from my mother-in-law.  She could barely speak through tears.  My father-in-law passed away at the young age of 66.  She wanted me to go be with Jill, as soon as I could, so that when she heard the news her father passed away, she would have someone with her.  The news was shocking, to say the least.  I packed my things at work, told my team and manager and then drove home.  I called Jill, but I knew she was teaching her class.  When she called back, I told her she just needed to excuse herself from work and meet me at home.  She asked what was wrong; again I told her to meet me at home.  She asked, "is it my dad?"  I had to tell her at that point - yes.  Silence.

She was at home when I walked in.  Then the tears came.  We spent all morning and afternoon talking, crying, mourning and discussing how best to tell each of the kids when they got home from school.  We told the kids and there were more tears and mourning.

Jill flew home immediately and then about a week after that, the kids and I drove home for the funeral.  The funeral was lovely and tearful.  The burial was on a cold, rainy day in Idaho.  Jeff was a great man and I still miss him as does everyone else.  My last time talking to him was about a week after the copperhead bite.  I was at home when he called me.  I told him all about it and he listened and asked questions.  Then he told me of his adventure he was on.  He was still working his way through west Texas at this point.  He stopped at some RV park that had a nice swimming hole.  He said he'd get in the water and all these small fish and minnows would kinda swarm around him.  It was comical the way he told it.  I miss him.

After we had returned home from the funeral trip, towards the end of May, on a Saturday night, I was walking to my truck around 11pm to go pick up Emma from a friend's home.  There next to my truck in the garage on the driver's side sat a copperhead.  This one truly caught me off-guard and seeing him so close to the truck I get into every day really threw me off and my heart was pounding.  I got the shovel and crushed his head.  Thus ended the life of the third copperhead I encountered in 2017.

June and July were quite busy, but very enjoyable and memorable.  My youngest and I took a quick trip up to Idaho for my parents' 60th anniversary.  We got to commemorate them, play lots of golf and eat delicious food.  Then a couple of weeks later, the whole family drove up to Utah to attend my niece's wedding.  We got to spend lots of time with family and play more golf and eat lots more delicious food.  At the end of June, my oldest passed her driver's test and earned her license to drive.

July brought to completion a 10-year ordeal with my irregular heart beat.  My cardiac ablation was scheduled for the first week of July - everything went as planned.  The only really memorable part was during the pre-op when they were poking me with all those needles.  It was early in the morning and I had been fasting for quite some time.  The nurses were having a hard time finding veins.  After about 4 or 5 pokes, my wife went limp and passed out!  All attention that was on me was diverted to her until she felt good enough to get up and out of the room!  She survived and I turned out just fine ... it took them 7 pokes to finally get 3 IVs in me.  The cardiologist said it was a very routine procedure and everything went well.  The arrhythmia has finally abated and I have never felt better in a long time.  Quite frankly, the toughest part of the whole procedure was the removal of the catheter and then trying to get my digestive system flowing again.  But things sorted themselves out and I fully recovered.

Once I fully recovered, I started testing my legs and heart, by starting my daily long walks again.  One of the very first walks I took was on a stormy July afternoon.  As I often do on my walks, I snapped a picture and posted it to Instagram.  As I look back on that day, those ominous clouds probably foretold a lot more than I realized.  About 40 days after that picture was taken, our lives would really be turned up side down.

We finished July with some fun.  Our youngest child turned 11 and we had lots of friends over for a party.  There was lots of good food, goodies, face painting and swimming.

August gave us two events that we will never forget.  The first event had been anticipated for quite some time: the moon eclipsing the sun for all of North America to see.  My brother, being an astronomy aficionado, knew this day would be here ten years ago.  And he knew it would pass directly over central Idaho.  He made a deal with a lodge owner that he could have a reservation for the normal cost.  The lodge owner agreed.  As August 21 approached, my brother reminded the lodge owner of the agreement, as the prices of hotels all across Idaho skyrocketed due to demand.  The agreement was kept and my brother and his family enjoyed front row seats to the eclipse.  As for me, I was at work and observed the many people on campus trying to catch a glimpse of the eclipse.

One day after the eclipse, right after lunch, I received an email from my manager.  The title of the email, "Undead Hurricane Harvey."  The previous week, back to August 13, Harvey was investigated and then entered the Gulf of Mexico, where the consensus was he was going to die in Mexico.  Then came the email, which quoted a respected weather blogger.
"I think the best case scenario for this weekend is scattered showers and highs in the low 90s.  In the worse case scenario, we have the potential to see some widespread flooding.  Some of the global forecast models have painted rain bullseyes of 10 to 15 inches of rain over parts of the Houston metro area.  Although it is too early to have much confidence in that, this definitely shows the potential for heavy rainfall if Harvey reforms (even into a weak tropical storm) and moves into the central Texas coast.  If heavy rains do come, right now they're most likely from later on Saturday through Monday for the Houston area."
There it was - the beginning of what was to become a series of events that would change our lives forever.

My wife's worries kicked into high gear (thankfully) as she scrambled to buy water and extra food in case we needed to hunker down for the hurricane.  We figured we would get lots of rain and possibly lose electricity for a few days and then things would return to normal.  All day Friday, Saturday and Sunday, we watched Harvey lumber across south Texas and inland.  Then he stopped and headed towards Houston.  All that time, he moved ever so slowly with Houston on the "dirty side" of the storm - meaning we got pummeled with rain.  We thought we'd get a foot or so of rain.  But it didn't stop at 12 inches.  And with every forecast, the amount of rain predictions kept going up.

Sunday afternoon, my son and I walked out behind our home towards the lake to see how far up the water had come.  It was pretty high.  Not as high as the water from the previous spring flooding.  I didn't worry.  In Spring 2016, the water was much higher and I felt confident that nothing would come of it.  But we still discussed "what-ifs".  One of which was, "what if the water comes into our street?"  Our response was, "we'll begin moving things upstairs."

Monday August 28 at 6am, our doorbell rang.  It was our neighbor who came to warn us that our cul de sac had water in it.  I moved all our cars up to the top of the street, where the elevation was 20 feet or so higher.  Then we set about moving all the important things we had to the upstairs.  That took all day.  And as we moved things upstairs, I kept monitoring the water as it crept from the street, to our curb, to up into our driveway.  I used chalk to mark the water line and note the time of day.  It was moving up our driveway inches per hour.

Later in the day on Monday, another friend of ours and his buddy, came and scoped out how high up our house is and how long it would possibly take for the water to reach the inside of our home.  By their estimates and leveraging the East and West fork monitors of the San Jacinto, they said the water might get right up to our doorstep and then recede.  At that point, I figured the worst we would get would be an inch to few inches of water in our home.  So we put the furniture on cans and blocks.

Still more friends came to help us move a ton of food and things, from our place to a friends home.  We figured it would be better to get the kids out while there was light.  With them settled comfortably in a friends home, my oldest son and I hunkered down in our home, hoping the water would recede.

At 6pm on Monday, the water had reached my AC units in the back yard.  At that point, I decided to shut power off to the home.  My son and I then went over to our next-door neighbors, who are on a little higher ground.  We all watched the news and monitored the river levels.  Lake Conroe Dam was releasing a lot of water and the East and West forks continued to rise.

By 11pm on Monday, the water was right up to our door step.  I was still holding out hope.

Two hours later, at 1am Tuesday August 29, water entered our home.  My son and I were still at our neighbors and ended up falling asleep there.  Three hours later at 4am, our neighbors woke us up and said water was coming into their home too.  We needed to get out before we all got stuck.  My son and I went back to our home, waded in the water inside our home (about up to our knees), got our bags, threw them into the kayaks and then paddled up the street and put our stuff in the back of my truck.  Then we went back to our neighbors and helped them get up the street.  I took their cat, who was in his little kennel.  He was scared and freaking out.

Tuesday August 29 was filled with checking on neighbors, helping them put stuff upstairs (as the water was getting close to entering their home too), helping people who tried to drive through the water, dropped off food and clothes for people who were rescued and also checking in on our home.  I lie not - it was tragically depressing walking in our home with water everywhere.  It is a helpless feeling.  My wife broke down in tears and all I could do was to tell her things would return to normal.  When I had the chance that afternoon, I placed a phone call to get our flood insurance claim started.

Wednesday August 30 was the beginning of a long, slow rebound.  The positive news: a phone call from another friend telling us that the water was out of our home!  This was shocking as we figured it'd be days before the water receded.  We drove over to our place, waded down the street (water was still in the street) and checked it out.  We snapped lots of pictures and took video.  It was a start - we could at least get into our home.  Other friends' homes also were empty of water.  The mucking began.  We helped our friends muck from around 10am til 2pm.  Then focus shifted to our home.  From 2pm to 10pm, we mucked, ripped out wet drywall (what a funny expression!) hauled out debris, ripped out doors ... all that.  It was a long day.

From Wednesday August 30 til about Sunday September 10, the daily routine was, get up, eat, muck, eat, muck, eat, muck, sleep.  There were so many homes to muck and so many needed help.  Between keeping things moving along at our home and helping others, we were always busy.  I was especially proud of my oldest son, who worked so hard during these days.  He had a lot of friends whose homes were flooded and he spent a lot of time not only helping us, but helping them.  My other kids did a lot to help too.  They each helped in their own way and they did their best to keep a positive attitude.  The work didn't stop after September 10.  It continued on for the whole month of September, but for our family, we began to focus more on making plans and coordinating work to get our home repairs moving.

For the kids, school got off to a rough start.  They had barely began the school schedule when Harvey hit.  Our kids' high school got hit really hard with the flooding and the entire student body would not be able to use the school.  The school had two options: 1) disband the high school and farm the kids out to multiple schools or 2) pick one of a few awkward schedules and share a high school building with another student body.  Parents and students opted to share the high school with another student body.  Our two older kids began their new schedule of commuting 45 minutes and starting school at 11:30am and getting out at 4:30pm and then commuting 60 minutes back home (extra time due to normal rush hour traffic).  Their days were long, but they learned to adjust.  The middle school and elementary school were not impacted in our area, so our two younger kids were able to go to school with a normal schedule.

The second half of September, we got so much done.  With the help of my pool guy, we turned our pool from brown to blue.  The pool, by my count, had about 15 fishes in it.  After 20 lbs. of shock, they were all floating the next day.  Then we drained, filled, and backwashed repeatedly.  When it got fairly clear, we cleaned the filters and then the pool really cleared up.  My cleaner broke from all the extended use, and I ended up buying a new one.

Contractors began arriving and soon walls were up and floated and mudded.  The dust ... oh the endless dust!  We began working ideas for remodeling the house with our contractor.  What was going to be a 3 bathroom remodel project turned into a whole home remodel.  One of the main ideas was to knock out the wall dividing the kitchen and dining room to make the space more open.  We also worked on re-designing the kitchen layout as well as the office (our oldest son's room).  Plumbers, electricians, carpenters and laborers came.  They knocked out walls, ceilings, re-piped, re-wired, jack-hammered, busted pipes, fixed pipes, moved pipes ... all of it.  During all this flurry of work, one quote from C.S. Lewis kept popping into my head:
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.
Perhaps that quote soothed my anxiety a bit, in the sense that there is a directing mind over a home remodel just as God is at the helm of a soul remodel.  And perhaps all of 2017 and the seeming chaos of it all, is similar to what C S Lewis is talking about.  It's quite painful to see your home flooded, gutted, ripped up, hammered, chiseled, dirtied and stomped on so much.  But in keeping the greater vision in mind, the whole ordeal is quite bearable - the greater vision being:  knowing that everything will be better than before - more sound - more suited - more loved.

On September 29, I arrived home from work and found a dead copperhead sitting in my driveway!  I asked the workers about it and they said they found it in our garage and killed it.  He was moving a mirror in the garage and the snake lunged at him.  They just killed it and threw it in the driveway for me to see.  I told them it was venomous and he was lucky it didn't bite him!  Thus ended the life of the fourth copperhead I encountered in 2017.

October brought a wind of optimism.  Walls were up, all the debris and garbage were hauled off, we had a plan to move forward and things seemed to be moving along.  Sure, there were bumps and stalls, but overall, a lot of progress was made.

While on a walk on October 4, I came across another copperhead on the greenbelt.  Not sure if I used a rock and branch this time, but I was able to deal with him as well.  Thus ended the life of the fifth copperhead I encountered in 2017.

The highlight of October was seeing the wall between the kitchen and dining room removed and in it's place, a grand cedar beam arch.  On October 18, a big 16 foot cedar beam (16' x 12" x 8") was delivered to our home.  The truck driver, me and one other dry-wall worker helped lift the massive thing off the truck and into the house.  I've never helped lift something so heavy!  The two other smaller beams were much easier to move.  The next day, the carpenter and his crew came.  I pulled up a chair and observed the crew install two temporary trusses on each side of the wall.  Then they tore down the wall.  Next, they cut the cedar beam to size and hefted the big log up.  They quickly put temporary supported beams under it and then they put up the two cedar beams up to form the arch.  That whole exercise took perhaps 3 hours.  The end result was impressive.  Our home was much more open and the smell of cedar wafted through the home.

A few days later on October 22, while on a quiet Sunday morning walk, I found a smallish copperhead in the gutter.  He wasn't moving much and I though he might already be dead.  It was a cool morning too, so that may have been a reason he wasn't moving too much.  But I poked him and he moved.  This time, I found a strong wire from a yard sign and was able to sever his head.  Thus ended the life of the sixth copperhead I encountered in 2017.  He would be the last copper head I came across in 2017.

At the end of October, the day before Halloween, my wife and I get a call from our oldest.  She was a passenger in her friend's car had been in a fender bender.  OK, I thought.  No big deal.  I told my daughter to tell her friend that she needed to exchange insurance information and then drive home.  Then more details emerged.  The car wasn't drivable.  The airbags deployed.  The glass shattered and my daughter got some scratches.  The windshield was massively cracked and buckled.  It wasn't just a fender bender; it was a full blown accident.  Her friend was driving them home from school and was "distracted" and when she looked up, she intended to stop, but got the accelerator and brake mixed up and they slammed into the car in front of them going 35-40 mph.  The car they hit, in turn, hit the car in front of him.

On Halloween, I took my oldest to the neighborhood clinic to have her checked out.  After a check-up and some quick x-rays, it was determined she is just fine,  After two days, she and her friend were back to normal.
Leading up to Thanksgiving in November work continued on the home.  Jill and our contractor were about to take a whole day to visit some kitchen cabinet stores to get ideas for kitchen design when Jill's friend showed her pictures of her new kitchen.  We quickly learned of a carpenter who could build custom cabinets for quite a reasonable price.  Many, many hours later and after lots of discussion and talking of ideas, we had a kitchen design.  We were able to provide the design to the carpenter and get a quote and found it quite reasonable.  Furthermore, he would be able to build closet space for Ben, a bookcase in the living room and hallway and our master bedroom closet and rebuild our stairs.  After seeing some of his work, we were quite impressed and excited to see him start.

Progress on the home continued.  November marked three city inspections (structural, electrical and plumbing).  Thankfully, we have a great plumber, who discovered a gas leak next to the furnace in the attic.  All the walls, except the living room, were finished ahead of the tile guy and carpenter.

For Thanksgiving, my wife's friend offered her home to our family, since they would be out of town the whole week.  It was a much needed break from school, work and reconstruction and it was the first time our whole family was under one roof since August 28.

Jill's friend's home was right across the street from some other friends of ours.  These friends bought a fixer-upper and had been working on it for the last few years.  We took a tour of their home and realized they had been living in a construction zone for a few years, while we will only have to live in a construction zone for a few months!  Naturally, we decided to have Thanksgiving dinner together in their construction zone!  It was quite comical eating in their mostly finished dining room and then watching football on a small TV in the living room with no floor or ceiling!  That night, we drove out to the lake and watched the sun set.  It was a perfect cap to a great day of gratitude!

At the end of Thanksgiving week, we had about a third of our floor tiles cleaned and then had our washer, dryer and second fridge delivered.  We set up our son's bed and made a space for him.  At that point, we were able to get most of the family moved back into our home.  Our eldest stayed with a neighbor, but all the other kids were able to move back into their rooms, while Jill and I used our eldest's room.  We also had the damaged fireplace removed and a new one installed.

Our carpenter showed up the last week of November and began work on the kitchen.  He and his crew were able to fabricate and install much of the kitchen.  Also during this week, work started on repairing the upstairs bathroom.  This bathroom had been leaking on and off since we first bought the home in 2009.  The plumber installed a new shower pan and filled it with water to ensure it did not leak.  After a few hours, I noticed it was leaking through the ceiling.  It was leaking so much, there was a bulge in the ceiling.  I lost it.  On a Saturday night at 11pm, I took a hammer to the ceiling, ripping a massive hole and let all the leaked water out.  I put a bucket on the floor to catch most of the water.  The next day, I told our contractor and plumber that I wanted the ceiling ripped out and the bathroom ripped out and then put it completely back together.  I did not want the ceiling put back together until the bathroom was fully restored and functioning and we verified there were going to be no more ceiling leaks.

With the start of December, we had a few sit-down meetings with our designer and discussed how we were going to push this project across the finish line.  Bathroom tile, in the master bathroom, powder room and upstairs bathroom needed to be completed.  The kitchen needed to be completed.  Base boards and crown molding needed to be installed.  Kitchen tops and bathroom sinks and tops needed to be finished.  The plumbing and toilets needed to be installed and finished out.  And all of that needed to be done before we painted.  We also worked to get quotes on painting the kitchen cabinets, walls, molding and base boards.  Having talked to neighbors, we learned that we simply could not be in the house while painting was on-going - the fumes are too strong.  So we planned to get as much done as possible and then let the painting crew take over while we left town for Christmas break.

December 8 brought a welcome change of scenery.  After a few days of cold, dreary rain, Houston got a skiff of snow!  We woke up on Friday December 8 to snow on the cars and ground!  Our youngest son's birthday was that same day and he got quite a special present with the snowfall!

The tile guy, electrician, drywall crew, plumber, and granite guy worked for three weeks to get things ready.  Things still didn't go quite smoothly.  After getting the bathroom vanity and sink roughly set up, we realized Jill's faucet (which already had the plumbing and tile in place) was too low.  So they had to rip out a few wall tiles and adjust the plumbing.  Jill's kitchen vent hood had also been set up, but afterwards, she realized that it was set at 24 inches high when it should have been 36 inches high; so they had to undo that work and move the vent up and put things back together again.  And one other little minor detail was that there was no outlet for where the microwave would be placed; so they had to figure out a way to deal with that.  Lots of minor and major issues needed to be dealt with along the way in the rebuild process.  But by December 16, things looked pretty good and we were ready to leave town and let the painting begin.

While painting and trim out finished up, we spent our time with family and friends in the cold North.  We got to go to Temple Square; we watched some Weber State basketball; we played lots of basketball; watched the new Star Wars movie a few times; went shopping and got ready for Christmas; spent time with family; ate lots of good food and relaxed.  And despite all the good times, 2017 still had to try our patience when everyone in the family came down with flu-like symptoms during the first few days of our vacation.  Thanks to good insurance, we all were able to see the doctor just down the street and 4 out of the 6 of us were prescribed Tamiflu.  We got our rest and did our best to recover before Christmas day.  For the first few days of the trip, we only got inches of snow and even what little we got, melted.  But on Christmas Eve, we got several inches of snow and on Christmas Day, we got to play in it!  It was a great way to finish out a very tough year.

As I look back on all that has happened this year, a few quotes come to mind.  The first is a quote I referenced in a Facebook Live video I recorded back in September.  It is from Marcus Aurelius and is one of my favorite quotes:
Be like the rocky headland on which the waves constantly break. It stands firm, and round it the seething waters are laid to rest. 
'It is my bad luck that this has happened to me.' No, you should rather say: 'It is my good luck that, although this has happened to me, I can bear it without pain, neither crushed by the present nor fearful of the future.' Because such a thing could have happened to any man, but not every man could have borne it without pain. So why see more misfortune in the event than good fortune in your ability to bear it? Or in general would you call anything a misfortune for a man which is not a deviation from man's nature? Or anything a deviation from man's nature which is not contrary to the purpose of his nature? Well, then. You have learnt what that purpose is. Can there be anything, then, in this happening which prevents you being just, high-minded, self-controlled, intelligent, judicious, truthful, honourable and free - or any other of those attributes whose combination is the fulfilment of man's proper nature? So in all future events which might induce sadness remember to call on this principle: 'this is no misfortune, but to bear it true to yourself is good fortune.'
We are artists in this life and the material we have to work with are other people and their actions and events in general.  How we react to them is the paint on our canvas.  We get to choose how we react mentally and physically.

The second quote is from Seneca and although in the negative form, the point is still valid:
I judge you unfortunate because you have never been unfortunate; you have passed through life without an antagonist; no one will know what you can do - not even yourself.
Again, the perspective is not to view these events as good or bad, but to view them as material to interact with and to prove your virtues of wisdom, justice, temperance and courage.

Epictetus used Hercules as an example of someone who was defined by his adversity:
What would have become of Hercules do you think if there had been no lion, hydra, stag or boar – and no savage criminals to rid the world of? What would he have done in the absence of such challenges?
Obviously he would have just rolled over in bed and gone back to sleep. So by snoring his life away in luxury and comfort he never would have developed into the mighty Hercules.
And even if he had, what good would it have done him? What would have been the use of those arms, that physique, and that noble soul, without crises or conditions to stir him into action?
I don't look at the Year of the Copperhead as an unfortunate year.  Rather, I look upon 2017 as a year where I and my family were able to face what life threw at us with a "stiff upper lip" and react with all the required virtues - especially courage.  Moving forward, we will forever be defined by the challenges sent our way and how we reacted to them.  Personally, I am extremely grateful for what has happened this year.  Never before have we had more opportunities to teach our children how to approach, view and manage adversity.  I sincerely hope they will remember this year for the rest of their lives; and more importantly, the lessons they've learned in dealing with tough times.

I hope you've learned something from this post.  Writing it was a very cathartic experience for me and helped me to continue to put life in the proper perspective.  Feel free to leave a comment or reaction and share how adversity has helped you become a better person.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B9:4-8

The sinner sins against himself: the wrongdoer wrongs himself, by making himself morally bad.

There can often be wrongs of omission as well as commission.

These will suffice: the present certainty of judgement, the present social action, the present disposition well content with any effect of an external cause.

Erase the print of imagination, stop impulse, quench desire: keep your directing mind its own master.

Irrational creatures share in one animate soul, and rational creatures partake in one intelligent soul: just as there is one earth for all the things of earth, and one light to see by, one air to breathe for all of us who have sight and life.

When we are not virtuous, we are really only harming ourselves.  Indeed, we may harm others, but if others truly are applying the discipline of assent, then they are not harmed by us, in which case, the only harm done is to ourselves.  When our home was burglarized in 2014, indeed it felt like a violation of our privacy, but upon examination, nothing was truly lost to us.  We lost the use of a few computers and the use of jewelry and other possessions, but no real harm was done to us.  The burglar harmed himself with injustice.  Perhaps one day he'll realize there is a better way.

Things left undone are just as bad actively doing harm.

It is sufficient to be content now; to do well now; to love your fate now.

Your perception of the world indeed is all in your head.  Harm done to you only exists in your head.  Desires and impulses are only in your head - they are not real.

We are all part of one great Whole.  Think on this the next time you feel harmed or you wish to harm.  In the end, you are only harming yourself.  We share all with all.

(see also Citadel p. 44-45, 70, 146, 188, 271)

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B9:3

Do not despise death: welcome it, rather, as one further part of nature's will. Our very dissolution is just like all the other natural processes which life's seasons bring - like youth and old age, growth and maturity, development of teeth and beard and grey hair, insemination, pregnancy, and childbirth. In the educated attitude to death, then, there is nothing superficial or demanding or disdainful: simply awaiting it as one of the functions of nature. And just as you may now be waiting for the child your wife carries to come out of the womb, so you should look forward to the time when your soul will slip this bodily sheath.

If you want another criterion - unscientific but emotionally effective - you will find it quite easy to face death if you stop to consider the business you will be leaving and the sort of characters which will no longer contaminate your soul. You must not of course take offence at them, rather care for them and tolerate them kindly: but still remember that the deliverance death brings is not deliverance from the like-minded. This alone, if anything could, might pull you back and hold you to life - if you were allowed to live in the company of people who share your principles. But as things are you see how wearisome it is to live out of tune with your fellows, so that you say: 'Come quickly, death, or I too may forget myself.'

Another passage, and reminder, on death.  Marcus uses the discipline of assent to break apart the concept of death.  Humans have feared and built up the fear of death so much, that many simply fear it without fully realizing what it is they fear.  When broken down and analyzed, there is nothing to fear in death.  It is a part of nature and is as natural as the changing seasons.  Marcus goes so far as to say that we should wait on our death as we would the delivery of a baby.

And if that doesn't quite help overcome the fear, then Marcus gives a few more reasons as to why you should welcome death.  You'll no longer need to deal with people that "contaminate" your soul.  Of course the opposite could have other effect - if you live among like-minded people, then you may want to hold on to life longer than death intends, in which case you fear death.  But the reality was, at least for Marcus, he was ready to part company of people who contaminated his soul.

Epictetus had a good analogy on the topic of death.  Death is like the captain of a boat.  You make port, leave the boat and go to collect water, food, trinkets, etc.  But all the time, you are mindful of the captain's call.  When he calls, you need to hurry as quickly as possible to get back to the boat and get on.  But while you're on land, that anticipation and waiting for the captain to call is analogous to waiting for death (see Enchiridion, passage 7)

(see also Citadel p. 270-271, 292-293, 296)

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B9:2

A man of sense and sensitivity would depart the company of men without ever tasting falsehood, pretence of any kind, excess, or pomp. The next best course is at least to sicken of these things before your final breath. Or do you prefer to sit at table with wickedness? Has your experience not yet persuaded you to shun this plague? Because the corruption of the mind is much more a plague than any such contaminating change in the surrounding air we breathe. The latter infects animate creatures in their animate nature: the former infects human beings in their humanity.

In this passage, we really see the contempt Marcus has for "the sins" he described in passage 1 of Book 9.  Rather than endure and potentially be "infected" by the company of pretentious, pompous liars, one should leave.  According to Marcus, protection against such vices is more important than becoming infected by airborne viruses.  All that he is attempting to say is that we become like the company we keep.  If your friends are liars, boasters, seekers of fame and people who are focused on finding happiness in externals (riches, fame, avoidance of pain, pleasures, etc), then you too may become like them.  Better to leave them and seek a life of virtue.

(see also Citadel p. 271)

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B9:1

Injustice is sin. When universal Nature has constituted rational creatures for the sake of each other - to benefit one another as deserved, but never to harm - anyone contravening her will is clearly guilty of sin against the oldest of the gods: because universal Nature is the nature of ultimate reality, to which all present existence is related. 

Lying, too, is a sin against the same goddess: her name is Truth, and she is the original cause of all that is true. The conscious liar sins to the extent that his deceit causes injustice: the unconscious liar to the extent that he is out of tune with the nature of the Whole and out of order with the nature of the ordered universe against which he fights. And it is fighting when he allows himself to be carried in opposition to the truth. He has received the prompts from nature: by ignoring them he is now incapable of distinguishing false from true.

Moreover, the pursuit of pleasure as a good and the avoidance of pain as an evil constitutes sin. Someone like that must inevitably and frequently blame universal Nature for unfair distribution as between bad men and good, since bad men are often deep in pleasures and the possessions which make for pleasure, while the good often meet with pain and the circumstances which cause pain. 

Further, anyone who fears pain will also at times be afraid of some future event in the world, and that is immediate sin. And a man who pursues pleasure will not hold back from injustice - an obvious sin. Those who wish to follow Nature and share her mind must themselves be indifferent to those pairs of opposites to which universal Nature is indifferent - she would not create these opposites if she were not indifferent either way. So anyone who is not himself indifferent to pain and pleasure, death and life, fame and obscurity - things which universal Nature treats indifferently - is clearly committing a sin.

By 'universal Nature treating these things indifferently' I mean that they happen impartially by cause and effect to all that comes into being and owes its being to the fulfillment of an original impulse of Providence. Under this impulse Providence set out from a first premise to establish the present order of the universe: she had conceived certain principles of what was to be, and determined generative powers to create substances, transformations, and successive regeneration.

In this lead-off passage from Book 9, Marcus uses a lot of words to describe various sins.  In the first part, the sin of injustice is committed when rational creatures (humans) harm each other.  And he further sins when his will is not aligned with universal Nature.

In the second part, he calls out lying and describes how intentional liars create injustice as well as unintentional liars, who ignore the prompts of nature, which are trying to show him Truth.

In the third and fourth parts, he calls out those who seek pleasure and avoid pain in their pursuit of contentment.  These people will in-justly blame universal Nature for picking favorites.  Misfortune falls on all; and universal Nature does not bestow pleasure on just the good.  Everyone must realize that pleasure will come and it will go - the same with pain.  Seeking a life of virtue truly is the sole good.

Lastly, Marcus reminds us that universal Nature sees pleasure and pain indifferently and we too should view them the same.

(see also Citadel p. 213, 270)

Monday, December 25, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B8:58-61

He who fears death fears either unconsciousness or another sort of consciousness. Now if you will no longer be conscious you will not be conscious either of anything bad. If you are to take on a different consciousness, you will be a different being and life will not cease.

Men are born for the sake of each other. So either teach or tolerate.

An arrow flies in one way, the mind in another. Yet even when it is keeping on the alert or circling round an inquiry, the mind moves no less directly, and straight to its target.

Enter into the directing mind of everyone, and let anyone else enter your own.

I love how Marcus approaches the perceived fear of death.  Death is nothing else but oblivion or a new consciousness.  If oblivion, then you won't feel or fear anything.  If a different consciousness, then you get another chance to learn to practice Stoicism!

Another excellent summation of our duties towards others: either tolerate or teach.  No need to complain if someone is bothering you.  Either put up with it patiently or make the effort to teach them and help them be better.

This next passage is a but cryptic, but from what I can get out of it, it seems to be saying that mind is able to reason to the point (the conclusion).

And the last passage of Book 8 says nothing more than: share.  Share your thoughts; give your reasons.  And let others share their thoughts and reasons.  Transparency helps everyone arrive at better decisions.  Open and active debate is the foundation of a prosperous civilization.

(see also Citadel p. 225, 258)

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B8:57

The sun appears to pour itself down, and indeed its light pours in all directions, but the stream does not run out. This pouring is linear extension: that is why its beams are called rays, because they radiate in extended lines. You can see what a ray is if you observe the sun's light entering a dark room through a narrow opening. It extends in a straight line and impacts, so to speak, on any solid body in its path which blocks passage through the air on the other side: it settles there and does not slip off or fall. Something similar will be true of the flow and diffusion of the universal mind - not an exhaustible stream but rather a constant radiation. And there will be nothing forceful or violent in its impact on the obstacles it meets: it will not fall off, but will settle there and illuminate what receives it. Anything unreflective will deprive itself of that light.

Sunlight is constant and is undeviating.  Similarly the universal mind is constant and absolute in its purpose: virtue.  Marcus mentions this previously in book 6, passage 17.

Our actions and intent, too, should be direct and unrelenting in right actions.  We can be the light a world that needs it - in a world that needs love, kindness, courage, temperance and wisdom.  Our justice should be merciful and we can infuse teaching and correction in our quest to deliver consequences of wrong-doing.  Truly there is universal light in all, and we can do our part to bring that light out in others.  Like the sun, we can be the beacon of hope, warmth, enlightenment and wisdom.

(see also Citadel p. 241, 270

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B8:54-56

Don't now just take your breath from the surrounding air, but take your thought too from the mind which embraces all things. The power of mind spreads everywhere and permeates no less than the air: it is there for all who want to absorb it, just like the air for those who can draw breath.

Wickedness overall does no harm to the universe. Individual wickedness does no harm to the recipient: it is only harmful to the perpetrator, and he has the option to be rid of it just as soon as he himself decides.

To my determining will my neighbour's will is as indifferent as his breath and his body. Sure, we are born above all for the sake of each other: nevertheless the directing mind of each of us has its own sovereignty. Otherwise my neighbour's wickedness would be my own harm: and this was not god's intention, to leave my misfortune up to another.

The first part sounds like something out of a Star Wars movie as if Marcus were talking about the Force.  I'm not sure I entirely understand what Marcus is saying here, but to me it seems like he's saying that just as air is all around you and available to be taken in, so too is reason and wisdom, if you but make the effort to look for and acquire it.

I assume Marcus means moral wickedness when he speaks of wickedness.  When someone lies, cheats, steals or does any injustice to another person, indeed, they are only harming themselves.

Marcus further clarifies that each person's will (I like to think of it as attitude) is independent of everything, including other people's wickedness.  Forgiveness is meant for you (the person who has been "harmed").  Forgiveness is the gateway to healing your soul so that it can get to the point of truly being sovereign.  I would even go so far as to say that when you realize only the wicked are harmed by their wickedness, you don't even feel the need to forgive, rather you feel compassion for them and you try to think of a way to help them see their error.  I'll never forget the story of Victoria Ruvolo, who was the by-standard who was hit, in the face, by a frozen turkey thrown by a teenager.  She found forgiveness and more.  She understands the concept of wickedness only hurting those who perpetuate it. 

(see also Citadel p. 113, 270)

Friday, December 22, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B8:52-53

Someone who does not know that there is an ordered universe does not know where he is. Someone who does not know the natural purpose of the universe does not know who he is or what the universe is. Someone who fails in any one of these ways could not tell the purpose of his own existence either. So what do you think of the man who fears or courts the applause of an audience who have no idea where they are or who they are?

Do you want the praise of a man who curses himself three times an hour? Do you want to please a man who can't please himself? Can a man please himself when he regrets almost everything he does?

What is the purpose of the universe; this world?  From this passage, we can tell that in Marcus' opinion, the purpose of the Universe and world is the same as the purpose of a human.  Why do we exist?  What should be our aim?  Pierre Hadot says in his book The Inner Citadel (p. 161),
For [the Stoics], the only important thing is humankind's moral elevation and its quest for wisdom. Divine providence, creative and nurturing toward inferior creatures, becomes the educator of human beings.
He goes on to cite Henri Bergson who once said (source),
Men do not sufficiently realize that their future is in their own hands.  Theirs is the task of determining, first of all, whether they want to go on living or not.  Theirs is the responsibility then for deciding if they want to merely live, or intend to make just the extra effort required for fulfilling even on their refractory planet, the essential function of the universe, which is a machine for the making of Gods.
Knowing that our purpose is to become moral & wise beings (the Stoics called them sages), we need not have a high regard for others who think the purpose of humans is to seek applause.  And furthermore, we should not have a high regard for any of those who don't think the purpose of humankind is morality and wisdom.

In the next passage, Marcus further elaborates on who we seek praise from.  We need not worry about seeking praise from anyone who is never happy or content or who lives in constant regret.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B8:51

Do not be dilatory in action, muddled in communication, or vague in thought. Don't let your mind settle into depression or elation. Allow some leisure in your life. 'They kill, they cut in pieces, they hunt with curses.' What relevance has this to keeping your mind pure, sane, sober, just? As if a man were to come up to a spring of clear, sweet water and curse it - it would still continue to bubble up water good to drink. He could throw in mud or dung: in no time the spring will break it down, wash it away, and take no colour from it. How then can you secure an everlasting spring and not a cistern? By keeping yourself at all times intent on freedom - and staying kind, simple, and decent.

Dilatory means "slow to act; intended to cause delay."  In today's parlance, Marcus would have said, "don't procrastinate."  Let your talking and writing be clear and concise.  And when you think, think clearly too.  Don't let things get you down and don't be so overcome with joy and elation that you lose your mind.  Let your mind and emotions be constant and steady.  Give yourself some down-time and rest.

People will say mean things about you, but you must be like the constant spring of clear and clean water.  Try to contaminate it, but it will still flow purely.  I've heard other phrases similar in concept; such as water on a bird (it doesn't stick); or sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.  How can you be like a constantly, pure spring?  By staying intent on being free (in mind), being kind, simple and a decent person.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B8:50

A bitter cucumber? Throw it away. Brambles in the path? Go round them. That is all you need, without going on to ask, 'So why are these things in the world anyway?' That question would be laughable to a student of nature, just as any carpenter or cobbler would laugh at you if you objected to the sight of shavings or off-cuts from their work on the shop floor. Yet they have somewhere to throw their rubbish, whereas the nature of the Whole has nothing outside itself. The marvel of its craft is that it sets its own confines and recycles into itself all within them which seems to be decaying, growing old, or losing its use: and then creates afresh from this same material. This way it requires no substance other than its own, and has no need for a rubbish-dump. So it is complete in its own space, its own material, and its own craftsmanship.

I was bit by a copperhead earlier this year and this passage helped me through that ordeal (link to blog post and link to reddit post).

When viewing brambles, weeds, copperheads, etc., you must simply accept them for what they are.  Marcus does not complain about these things, rather he views them with admiration and he looks at the world as a whole - a whole system that can take care of itself.  Imagine how complex the world is with all the variety of plant and animals and it simply takes care of itself; it is self-sustaining.  Indeed, it is quite a marvel.

(see also Citadel p. 109, 258, 270)

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B8:49

Do not elaborate to yourself beyond what your initial impressions report. You have been told that so-and-so is maligning you. That is the report: you have not been told that you are harmed. I see that my little boy is ill. That is what I see: I do not see that he is in danger. So always stay like this within your first impressions and do not add conclusions from your own thoughts - and then that is all. Or rather you can add the conclusion of one acquainted with all that happens in the world.

This is the discipline of assent.  Practice it!  Read that first sentence again that Marcus wrote.  Someone told a rumor about you ... that is all that has happened.  You have not been harmed in this (unless you allow yourself to be harmed).  It takes practices to see things as they are without adding your opinion to the event.  Marcus says to "not add conclusions" to those events.  Practice this over and over again with everything.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B8:48 - The Inner Citadel

Remember that your directing mind becomes invincible when it withdraws into its own self-sufficiency, not doing anything it does not wish to do, even if its position is unreasonable. How much more, then, when the judgement it forms is reasoned and deliberate? That is why a mind free from passions is a fortress: people have no stronger place of retreat, and someone taking refuge here is then impregnable. Anyone who has not seen this is short of wisdom: anyone who has seen it and does not take refuge is short of fortune.

Within the refuge of your Inner Citadel, you are completely yourself.  No one can tell you what to think or how to act.  When you realize that the true, unique version of "you" lives in a mental fortress, you become free to act and reason.  No longer are you pulled this way and that by external events and people.  The only way to get to this realization is to constantly apply the discipline of assent.  The is a matter of creating gaps between your mental fortress and external events - constantly.  By this continuous exercise, all passions and events "lose power" over you (or perhaps better said, you realize that you were granting these things too much power in your mind).  And furthermore, once you've realized you have a mental fortress, you are free to apply reasoned and deliberate judgement of everything.  And furthermore, if you focus on attaining virtue, you are on your way to wisdom.

(see also Citadel p. 120, 122 [read that entire page])

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B8:47

If your distress has some external cause, it is not the thing itself that troubles you, but your own judgement of it - and you can erase this immediately. If it is something in your own attitude that distresses you, no one stops you correcting your view. So too if you are distressed at not achieving some action you think salutary, why not carry on rather than fret? 'But there's an obstacle in the way too solid to move.' No cause for distress, then, since the reason for failure does not lie with you. 'But life is not worth living if I fail in this.' Well then, you must depart this life, as gracious in death as one who does achieve his purpose, and at peace, too, with those who stood in your way.

Don't let life and the external events stick to you.  Things cannot actually and literally enter your mind and make you think and feel a certain way.  Things don't cause you anxiety; you cause yourself to have anxiety.  You intend something to happen and it does not happen.  Then find a solution.  If there is no solution, what more can you do?  Fretting, wringing your hands, worrying, stewing ... all of that kind of activity does not accomplish what you intended to do.  So why spend time an effort doing that?

Marcus goes so far as to say you should depart this life if life is not worth living over these things.  Indeed, many do take their own life over big and little matters.  People take their life because they cannot endure torture and people take their life because they cannot endure bullying.  Each of us has to face that reality of whether you can endure what life throws at you or not.  If not, be gracious in death as if you had fulfilled your intended desires.

(see also Citadel p. 41, 107, 270)