The Comeback Kid

Final anti-rejection treatment at Kaiser Infusion Center – December 31, 2021

We also glory in our sufferings, because we realize that suffering develops perseverance, and perseverance produces character, and character produces hope. ~ Romans 5:3-4

Thus there are three things that endure: faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:13


Candidate Bill Clinton only received 2.8% of the vote in Iowa when he ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 1992. After polls showed that he was way behind in the New Hampshire primary election, he came back to win second place there. He confidently styled himself “The Comeback Kid.” He went on to win the nomination and the presidency in one of the biggest political comebacks in history.

By no stretch of anyone’s imagination am I like Bill Clinton. Nevertheless, I’ve had a few comebacks of my own. After flunking out of college in 1983, I returned to make the Dean’s List when I graduated in 1994. Following a school board election defeat in 2008, I was appointed as a school district trustee and elected board president in 2010. A severe health crisis that summer put me into the ICU and weakened my body so much that I couldn’t sit up, stand, or walk when I woke up from an induced coma. I triumphantly strolled into my house 106 days later.

As 2021 comes to a close, I’ve been reflecting on the challenges of the past two years. A successful heart transplant quickly morphed into a grueling contest of wills between self-confidence and self-doubt. Faith strengthened by my spiritual journey, and wisdom gained from reading philosophy and participating in therapy have taught me how to manage the uncertainty that lurks in the recesses of my mind.

As my psyche continues to wage war against itself, I’m comforted by the fact that I now have the tools to regulate the forces of doubt and rally the power of confidence. As 20th-century French philosopher Albert Camus put it, “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” With that said, a question that keeps rolling through my mind is: Do I have another comeback left in me? 

Ongoing issues with organ rejection, Covid isolation caused by immunosuppressive meds, and continuous conflict in my mind could be barriers to a successful revival. Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius gave us a solution for that. He wisely advised, “What stands in the way becomes the way.” Despite his wise words, I haven’t given much thought to what another comeback looks like. Until now.

I’ve never been a fan of New Year’s resolutions. They start off as lofty and mostly unattainable goals that end up in a pile of empty promises. Many years ago, I participated in a corporate executive leadership program and learned how to craft a personal vision and mission statement. Since its objectives are measurable and achievable, I update my personal vision and mission every New Year’s Eve. I have a plan and I’m ready to take on 2022 with gusto.


2022 Personal Vision and Mission Statements

My vision is to live a full life as a post-heart transplant patient.

My mission is to nourish my soul, body, and mind on a daily basis.


Read the Gospel and say prayers of gratitude every day

Practice mindfulness and meditate every morning

Communicate with family and friends on a regular basis

Maintain a heart healthy diet

Drink 4 liters of water per day

Exercise a minimum of 5 times per week

Publish my memoir Summer in the Waiting Room 

Write a post on every month

Read something of substance every day


To be sure, I’ve endured a whole bunch of pain during the past decade or so. Suffering became a way of life for me by mid- 2021. Trying to make sense of my new world continues to test me in every way possible. St. Paul the Apostle teaches that suffering ultimately leads to hope in Romans 5:3-4 and his words in 1 Corinthians 13:13 give me confidence that faith, hope, and love will carry the day.

My objectives might not look realistic on paper, but I’ve been doing many of the activities on the list haphazardly for the past few months. Perhaps publishing Summer in the Waiting Room will complete a comeback. Maybe that’s a superficial way to measure success. Maybe not. Who knows? I know this much. Heart rejection or no rejection, Covid isolation or no isolation, confidence or doubt, I’m committed to taking it one day at a time. I won’t let anything stand in the way of a meaningful year. Whatever does will become the way. With faith, hope, and love, I just may be the Comeback Kid in 2022.

On behalf of Sandra, Marisa, and Erica, Happy New Year!

You Are Enough!


The opposite of “never enough” isn’t abundance or more than you could ever imagine. The opposite of scarcity is “enough.” ~Brené Brown, Social Work Professor and Researcher 


I’ve been going through a bonafide, real deal, legit, no joke existential crisis. I can’t count the number of times throughout the past year and a half that I’ve seriously questioned my existence. It all started on April 16, 2020. That’s the day I received the miracle of a heart transplant. It was about a month into COVID lockdown. That one-two punch nearly knocked me out emotionally.

The COVID restrictions/transplant combo pushed me to the sidelines for the first time in my life. Physically and medically recovering from transplant surgery kept me from doing much for about nine months. Immunosuppressant meds to protect my new heart from rejection has locked me up in COVID prison since. Before all of this, I dreamed a little bigger and worked a little harder anytime mediocrity and inferiority demons began seeping into my consciousness. 

Since work and community leadership aren’t at my disposal anymore, I’ve fallen into a deep and dark funk of unworthiness. I question my place in this world at least a few times a week. Strengthening my faith, reading philosophy, and working with a psychologist are helping me weather the storm raging in my mind. A glimmer of clarity opened up when my therapist introduced me to Brené Brown’s groundbreaking research about scarcity and “never enough.”  

Every person reading this post knows what I’m talking about. There is so much pressure to be perfect. The best partner. The best parent. The best child. The best sibling. The best breadwinner. The best friend. Meeting one of those standards is a tall order. Meeting all of them is impossible. Yet, here we are trying to do just that. Social media has made trying the impossible excruciatingly painful. Not good enough for this. Not good enough for that. Sound familiar? Whatever it is we aspire to, it’s never enough.

To combat unrealistic self-imposed expectations, experts suggest making a list of good qualities and accomplishments. Reflecting on it serves as a reminder of one’s value and place in this world. I wrote a poem instead of listing my thoughts. When doubt creeps in, my own words are a safe harbor. I hope my prose inspires you to write your list. Because…#YouAreEnough!


I Am Enough

An idyllic childhood was filled with dreams.

What will I be?

College basketball coach, baseball manager, an important man? 

The sky was the limit, they all said.

Life didn’t quite work out that way.

But, I am enough.

Sandra is one of my three loves.

The best husband I set out to be.

Career, politics, working late, and community work filled my days. 

Carousing with extended family filled my “free time.” 

Handyman, NOT ME! Gardner, NOT ME! Plumber, NO WAY! 

Movie night, dinners, dancing, and laughing, YES!

I’m not the best husband, but I’ve done my best.

I am enough.

Marisa and Erica are two of my three loves.

The best father I set out to be.

 One-on-one time with each was scarce.

Coached youth sports, advised academic decathlon.

Chaperoned field trips, volunteered in class.

We three love music, books, art, history, and politics. 

Inside jokes, Giants, Niners, Warriors too. 

I’m not the best father, but I’ve done my best.

I am enough.

The sky was the limit, they all said.

High School Varsity Basketball Coach

High School Junior Varsity Baseball Manager

School Board President, Corporate VP


Big Deal! I fell short of boyhood dreams.

I never “cut down the nets” or raised arms after winning a campaign.

Executive paychecks disappeared when my family needed them most. 


I’m an important man.

Sandra, Marisa, and Erica say so.

I’m not the best at anything

But, I am enough.

I Get It…I think…Maybe – What is Life All About?

With Marisa and Speaker Pelosi, 2005

“What am I now? What am I now? What if I’m someone I don’t want around?” ~ Harry Styles, 2019


I was sitting on a barstool at the Beer Hut, a dumpy little bar hidden in the corner of a strip mall on the east side. It was a Tuesday or Wednesday night, I think. Maybe it was 1984 or 1985. I don’t know. I’m not too sure because the years between 1982 and 1985 were a blur. For all I know, that hazy memory is a hodgepodge of many drunken weeknights my best friend Rudy and I spent at the Beer Hut and other dives that dotted east San Jose. 

Sitting at my left was a grizzled veterano drowning his sorrows while hunched over a bottle of beer and an empty shot glass. To my right stood Rudy. He was bullshitting with the other drunks standing at the bar. As usual, he was making them howl with laughter at one of his many entertaining stories. We had some great times during those days despite the reality that I was numbing the pain of academic and personal failures. 

Fast forward some 20 years. As an executive at Comcast, I was mingling with other guests in the Los Altos Hills backyard of some Silicon Valley zillionaire. The occasion was a Democratic Party fundraiser hosted by former President Bill Clinton. Standing on the large lawn offered a birds-eye-view of the majestic San Francisco Bay below. I took my daughter Marisa so she could meet Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, the House of Representatives Minority Leader. 

Already quite the feminist and political animal at the tender age of 11, she was excited about the prospect of meeting the person who would one day become the first woman Speaker of the House. Unlike the foggy memory of that night at the Beer Hut, the Los Altos Hills event is clear as that cloudless fall day. Marisa and I rubbed shoulders with some of the country’s most powerful people. The widescreen view of the bay matched the unlimited possibilities before me.

I’ve told the story about that high-powered backyard event a whole bunch of times. It’s one of the highlights from a career path that I didn’t know existed when growing up on the east side. Until now, it never crossed my mind to share stories of the Beer Hut days with anyone but family and a select few close friends. It was during a time that I drifted from one dead-end job to another while filling my emotional emptiness with meaningless short-term gratification.

That’s nothing to be proud about. I’ve always been ashamed about the shortcomings that litter my lifetime. That’s why I haven’t told that kind of story outside of my intimate circle. Shame is a powerful emotion. Best-selling author and professor Brené Brown describes shame as “that warm feeling that washes over us, making us feel small, flawed, and never good enough.” Yup, I know that feeling. She refers to the inner voice that reminds us of shame as “gremlins.” 

Living life at full throttle, ambitious career climbing, and indulging at family parties were my defense against the gremlins. I know that exposing a not-too-flattering characteristic of my personality is risky, especially in such a public forum like this blog. What if people outside of my family circle see me differently? This revelation could potentially lead to embarrassment and more shame. So why am I sharing so much information about myself, and why now?

In her book Daring Greatly, Brown illustrates how vulnerability is the first step toward developing courage. Her ideas fascinate me, so I’m taking a shot at being vulnerable. She also writes that we can build shame resilience by facing it head on. Rarely have I looked at my years in the emotional wilderness with serious reflection. I was afraid of getting to know myself. I wondered, as Harry Styles asks in his song Falling, “What if I’m someone I don’t want around?” 

I had lots of amazing personal and professional achievements in the 2 decades between that blurry night at the Beer Hut and the inspiring day in Los Altos Hills. It didn’t matter. Failure and imposter syndrome gremlins danced around me waiting to strike at the slightest hint of a foul-up. Life took a sharp turn during the decade and a half since Marisa and I rubbed elbows with the high and mighty: a massive heart attack, living with heart failure, and a transplant. 

My decade-long winning battle with heart failure and the transplant have been miracles. There’s no other way to say it. One would think that both experiences would naturally lead to a life of gratitude and emotional security. I hear it often. “You must be so grateful.” “It must be nice to be retired and not worry about anything?” Not so fast! When your life is literally turned upside down, emotions and sense of worth are ripe for exploitation while the gremlins giggle with glee on the sidelines poised to attack. 

I no longer have the distractions of ambition, a rewarding career, and drink to keep the gremlins at bay. In their place, an amazing spiritual journey came to the rescue. The odyssey started tentatively during the difficult days of recovery after my 2010 health crisis and gradually gained momentum in the decade that followed. In the darkest days after transplant when uncertainty reached its peak, my spiritual journey went into high gear.

Studying ancient Stoic philosophers, exploring diverse spiritual traditions, and learning about the basics of psychology opened the door for me to look at the world in a different way. Practicing vulnerability in therapy inspired me to dig deeper into my mind, soul, and past. Reading the daily Catholic Mass and reflecting on its words, stories, and lessons expanded my understanding of God and strengthened my relationship with Him.

With that said, I get it now…I think…maybe. Here it goes. There are 3 easy steps to living a peaceful and fulfilling life:  

(1) Accept what we can’t control. 

(2) Have certainty that what happens to us (good or bad) is what God intends to happen.

(3) Give of ourselves for the sake of others.

This is what St. Paul the Apostle meant by “faith, hope, and love.” No matter what life gives or takes away from us, Paul wrote in is First Letter to the Corinthians, “these three remain…But the greatest of these is love.”

It’s not easy to follow Paul’s guidelines. I still haven’t completely accepted my new “normal.” The desire to be active like before the heart attack quietly lurks in the back of my mind. Even though I intellectually understand that whatever happens is part of God’s plan, uncertainty clouds my thoughts from time to time. I try to fulfill St. Paul’s vision of “the greatest of the three” by focusing on my mind, body, and soul to stay healthy for the sake of Sandra and the girls.

Putting into effect what I’ve learned on this spiritual journey is really hard work. With thousands of years of wisdom from philosophers, religious thinkers, and psychoanalysts at my disposal, I make an effort to live one moment at a time. Using Brené Brown’s well-researched advice, I also work on shame resiliency and embracing my shortcomings. Together these ideas and practices bring me a sense of peace.

We all have a lifetime of unwanted baggage heaped on us by things we can’t control. Embarking on a voyage of self-discovery is the first step in unpacking the mess. Give it a try. It’s working for me. I’m getting to know myself better and I’m starting to like what I see. After it’s all said and done, I’m someone I want around for a while. I know that Sandra, the girls, and family and friends would agree.


With Rudy before the pandemic

Oh yeah, one last thing. Through 45 years of friendship, Rudy is still my oldest and best friend. He’s been on his own spiritual journey for much longer than I have been on mine. He’s also a spiritual advisor and has been a comforting presence through every step of my health ups and downs. Although our relationship isn’t based on bad old fashioned fun anymore, we still laugh until our cheeks hurt reminiscing about the party days of the 1980s. 

Harry Styles’ song hit me in the gut the first time I heard it. It’s as if he wrote Falling about me circa 1983, or maybe 1985. Who knows? (LOL) Thanks to my daughters for introducing me to his music and expanding my musical world. 

Falling, by Harry Styles

My therapist recommended Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Buy it today! It will open your eyes to things you don’t want to see at first. Once they’re open, it just might help you find the path to your journey.

Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown


Hope in the Time of COVID – What is Life All About

Enjoying a few moments of freedom from COVID on Pebble Beach

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way” ~ Psalm 37:7


On May 20, 1976, an amusement park located just 30 minutes from home opened to much community fanfare. Marriott’s Great America had roller coasters and other thrill rides. The park’s advertisement boasted “lavish musical shows, parades, marching bands, street performers, and even a circus.” It was the most exciting thing to happen in Santa Clara County during my childhood.

Everybody had gone to Great America that summer 45 years ago. My teammates at little league practice were stunned when I told them that I hadn’t been there yet. I’ll never forget the way I felt when the coach, acting very much like a 12 year-old instead of a wise leader, laughed and rhetorically asked, “you’ve never been to Great America?” I suffered from FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) that day, decades before venture capitalist Patrick McGinnis came up with the term.

I ultimately got the chance to experience the excitement of Great America with a neighborhood friend. I think it was the next summer. Growing up, my family had everything we needed, but extras depended on household cash on hand. I’m sure my dad finally let me go when he had enough money for me to pay for what I needed to enjoy the experience. Needless to say, the word need was defined by my dad. There would be no souvenirs for me.

My mom used to say that things happen cuando Dios quiere (in God’s time). Her belief was the rule when I was a kid because there was no other choice. Following a triumphant return to college, I had my own beliefs and sought to manage my own timetable vowing to never miss anything that could make me happy. Ambition and anxious energy controlled my life. I foolishly figured that there would be no FOMO for me if I just didn’t miss anything.

My fear of being excluded from personal or professional opportunities was real. I made a commitment to be at every family gathering, business meeting, social get-together, and community event. It would not be unusual to work late into the night on the east coast and take an early flight home to attend Sandra and the girls’ school activities. That strategy didn’t work out very well for my health in the long run. Of course, that’s another story. 

Surviving a massive heart attack, 10 years of heart failure, 17 months connected to an artificial heart pump, and a heart transplant have all but eliminated FOMO from my psyche. Faith, selfless family love, reading the works of ancient wisemen, and psychotherapy have put life’s “wanna do’s” in perspective. My understanding of “wants” vs. “needs” is stronger than ever (see:

Unfortunately, for people who have compromised immune systems, the Pandemic of 2020 isn’t close to being over. According to a Johns Hopkins University study, nearly 15 million Americans are “unlikely to mount strong immune responses to COVID-19 vaccines.” That includes patients with organ transplants and chronic medical conditions or autoimmune diseases, such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. 

Doctors at Johns Hopkins confirmed that the vaccine “isn’t sufficient to enable [people vulnerable to infections] to dispense with masks, physical distancing and other safety measures.” My immune system has been further weakened by intensive IV treatments to fight off heart rejection (see: That means that Sandra and I still have to shelter-in-place and be extra careful about social interaction.

Sandra is fortunate to continue working from home, but she misses the camaraderie of the office and the professional interaction that comes with her work. I recently presented a virtual workshop on networking and I’m currently preparing for virtual civic engagement seminars. Speaking with groups online isn’t the same as being in a room. It’s really hard to exchange ideas with people when I don’t get feedback or can’t see facial expressions and body language.

This reality is a perfect breeding ground for FOMO. Since the lifting of restrictions, we’ve missed many experiences that would be otherwise normal for us to participate in. This spring, we stood outside of a church while the rest of the family mourned the passing of a beloved uncle inside. We’ve missed college graduations for my godson and our niece, a memorial service for a cousin, our oldest compadres’ anniversary dinner, and numerous family gatherings. 

At times, it feels as though we are on a deserted island watching family and friends enjoy vacations, gatherings, ball games, parties, and the trappings of a “normal” life. Sandra is a beacon of strength and an apostle of God’s love as she remains laser-focused on protecting me from a potentially fatal infection. It pains us to let loved ones know that we won’t gather unless protective 2020 CDC guidelines are in place, including the recommended period of quarantine.

With more warm days ahead and the holidays right around the corner, many more of these celebrations are still to come if COVID doesn’t mount a nasty comeback. Does all of this cause us sorrow and regret? Of course it does. But we have faith in what St. Paul the Apostle teaches in his letter to the Romans where he tells us “to rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”

It’s been a long time since the FOMO demons have entered my consciousness. More than a year into the COVID pandemic hasn’t changed that, especially since everyone was in the same boat throughout 2020. There was nothing going on to miss. For most people, the pandemic is over now. Masks have been tossed aside, large public events are back, and families and friends are playing catch-up by getting together like there’s no tomorrow.

Are we envious of others who get to enjoy the fruits of their sacrifices from last year’s isolation? It’s hard not to be. Sandra has always turned to her strong faith in tough times. My long journey with heart disease and the hardships that we’ve weathered have taught me to trust in God. We’re comforted by the wisdom of Psalm 37:7 and try to genuinely cheer for family and friends who can celebrate freedom from the pandemic. Like my mom used to say, our chance to join them will come in God’s time.

For months, the transplant team has suggested that we take a getaway from the seclusion of our house and the drudgery of regular outings to the doctor’s office and lab. We took a drive to Carmel to spend a day at the beach where we gleefully ripped off our masks to walk along a secluded section of the seashore right below the scenic and historic Pebble Beach Golf Links.

At the end of the beach, I listened to the ocean water lap against the rocky shoreline where we sat and reflected on how blessed we were to be there. To be sure, it wasn’t the same as drinking Jack and Cokes at a resort with friends or dancing in our compadres patio while sounds of familiar and cheerful voices echoed in the background.

Missing from the moment was FOMO itself. Watching people in the distance prancing in the water gave me hope that life will march on as long as I take care of myself and Sandra is by my side. As COVID and sure to follow restrictions try to creep their way back into our lives, people will no doubt be unhappy and downhearted. We have to keep in mind that as a community we survived the 2020 surge. If need be, we can do it again

As Sandra and I made our way back to the car, we spotted a couple of young women sitting on the sand enjoying the sight and sound of waves crashing onto the beach. We asked them to take a photo of us to commemorate our joyful day. Before reached the busy parking lot, we slung on face masks and returned to the real world of sacrifice and discipline. There was nothing to fear. The serenity of Carmel assured me that there is hope in the time of COVID. 

Desire Isn’t Our Friend – What is Life All About?

Pacing the sideline at the James Lick Invitational Tournament – 1988

2nd Noble Truth of Buddhism: The root of all suffering is desire.

“You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you might get what you need.” ~ Mick Jagger & Keith Richards


I was in the 6th grade the first time my dad took me to the James Lick high school Invitational Basketball Tournament. It was a neighborhood institution that kicked off the holiday season. The gym was packed. I was mesmerized watching players run back and forth in a choreographed ballet to the soundtrack of basketball shoes squeaking on the polished maple floor. Cheerleaders jumped, chanted, twirled, and fired up the crowd. The whole scene was intoxicating.

I’ll never forget the excitement I felt watching the winning team cut down the nets as a souvenir and seeing the all-tournament team clutching trophies at center court as the crowd cheered. From then on, one of my dreams was to play in the tournament. I looked forward to someday standing on a ladder to snip a little piece of the net as a champion and imagined holding an all-tournament player trophy of my own.

Six years later, I had my chance. As a senior at James Lick, I was co-captain and starting shooting guard for the varsity basketball team. We won our first game on opening night. I had a good game and earned a top 10 spot on the all-tournament vote tally. So far so good. For the first time in my life, I understood what it meant to want something really bad. My stomach churned with excitement and anticipation.

After the game, a bunch of students celebrated the victory at the neighborhood Round Table Pizza. My teammates and I walked into the place like conquering heroes. On the way home, my friend lost control of his car and crashed it head-on into a telephone pole. A few hours later, I was sitting in the Kaiser emergency room as a doctor stitched the deep cut on my forehead. My dad looked at me with his signature furrowed brow of disapproval.

The doctor said no to basketball for a week. I was miserable the next day at school and the day after. It felt like my dog had died all over again. I suffered sitting on the bench wearing jeans and a letterman jacket watching my team lose the next two games. Something that I had wanted since the 6th grade went up in smoke right before my eyes. There would be no nets to cut down, no all-tourney trophy to hold at mid-court, no cheering crowd.

Eight years later, I had another chance. I was pacing the sidelines in my second season as the head varsity basketball coach at my high school alma mater. My team was playing in the championship game of the tournament. I wanted to win that game so much that I could taste the silk net that we would cut down when the game was over. The other team had different plans. At the end of the first half, it was still a close game, and then it wasn’t. We lost by a wide margin.

My insides literally ached from disappointment. I couldn’t sleep and barely nibbled at mealtime. Each time I walked into the gym in the weeks after the tournament, I second-guessed my losing game plan and rehashed the visual of that car coming face-to-face with an immovable object 8 years earlier. Wanting high school basketball glory had been so intense that the letdown was brutal.

Looking back on the events of 1980 and 1988 seems so quaint now. My intellectual journey of spiritual and philosophical discovery has opened my eyes about what causes so much pain and suffering in our personal lives. Throughout history, sacred texts, philosophers, and psychologists have told us that temptations and cravings are sure paths to unhappiness and sorrow. 

According to Hebrews 2:18 “he himself has suffered when tempted.” While sitting under the Bodhi tree, the Buddha realized that desire leads to suffering. Roman philosopher Marcus Aurelius put it bluntly, “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it.” Swiss psychologist Carl Jung said, “Desire without forethinking gains much but keeps nothing, therefore his desire is the source of constant disappointment.” The bottom line is that desire isn’t our friend.

Even though we have 2,500 years of wisdom to turn to, we keep making ourselves miserable. I was so tempted by the romantic illusion of cutting down the net in front of a cheering crowd as coach and making the all-tourney team as a player that my craving to achieve these desires was more powerful than the game itself. In the end, the pain and suffering I brought upon myself wasn’t caused by the game. It came down to not getting what I wanted.

Read that paragraph again.

It’s an eye-opening realization that’s worthy of deep reflection. Was I distraught because we lost the game or because I wanted to win so desperately? Those two thoughts might sound the same, but they’re different. Looking back on many of the darkest emotional chapters of my life, I’ve come to accept the universally recognized philosophical truism that desire and temptation cause suffering.

Last year’s Covid pandemic is a perfect example of this belief. Nearly every conversation with friends and family shifted to frustration, impatience, and unhappiness about having to wear masks and not being able to have a “normal” life. The desire to see friends, go to a restaurant, visit loved ones in the hospital was overwhelming. The CDC reported that “40% of U.S.adults reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse” last summer

As the classic Rolling Stones song goes, “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you might get what you need.” We tied ourselves in knots over things we wanted to do, but we needed to stay alive and out of the hospital. Most people who tried to follow the guidelines are still here. Can you imagine how less complicated life would’ve been if we accepted the restrictions without the emotional damage we inflicted on ourselves? 

Does that mean we shouldn’t have desires or want things? Do I want to live my life without having to focus on transplant issues on a daily basis? Do I want to drink lots of beer and have a bunch of Mark’s hot dogs? Do I want to walk my daughters down the aisle? Do I want to live long enough to spoil grandchildren? The answers to these questions are yes, yes, yes, and hell yeah! The reality is that God commanded the first 2 wants and He will dictate the last 2 as well. 

If I had my way – which I’ve clearly learned that I don’t – I would eliminate the word want from my vocabulary. When the thought pops into my head, I try hard to think it through before I say it, even to myself. Life is a tough gig. If these very smart dead guys are to be believed, we bring emotional pain onto ourselves. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt. 

There’s a story that’s often attributed to the Buddha that shows up in all kinds of inspirational and feel-good memes. There’s like a 99.9% chance that he never uttered these words. Whoever said it brings clarity to what I tried to say in the last 1,100 words or so. Take some time to think about it. It just might give you a different perspective when desire takes over your mind, heart, and soul.


A man asked Gautama Buddha, “I want happiness.

Buddha said, “First remove I, that’s ego, then remove want, that’s desire.

“See now you are left with happiness.”

Finding Meaning – What is Life All About?

“To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche, 18th Century German Philosopher


June 27, 2021 – 2:12 PMKaiser Santa Clara Medical Center, Room 3365

A little more than 72 hours before I started writing this post, I was at home making a bowl of oatmeal and blueberries to start the morning. Life was settling down after a physically and mentally challenging year. The hardest days of my heart transplant recovery were behind me. Walking 4-plus miles everyday, doing light strength exercises a few times each week, and working on a couple of mentoring opportunities filled my time.

After enjoying a few spoonfuls of the creamy and fruity breakfast, a phone call I had expected from the heart transplant clinic came in. I was waiting for the results of a quarterly blood test that determines if the medicine needed to protect my heart from rejection was working. Usually, the test results are good and the call is a quick 2-3 minute chat about staying the course. This time was different. 

The 30 minute conversation began with the nurse practitioner telling me to report to the hospital as soon as possible to be admitted. My body’s immune system was preparing to wage a battle against my heart to reject it. This is the most common cause of death for transplant recipients.  Just like that, the wave of comfort, peace, and happiness that I had been riding for a while came violently crashing down on the shore of uncertainty. 

A heart transplant isn’t a cure, it’s a way to live longer and improve the quality of life. It’s so easy to think that a transplant is just a few snip snips, put in the new heart, a couple of stitch stitches and the patient is good to go back to a “normal” life. In reality, it’s a daily grind of staying on top of anti-rejection meds, eating healthy food, exercising, and keeping regular cardiologist appointments. Infection, rejection, and other calamities wait in the wings.

The good news is that the transplant team caught the rejection before it damaged my heart and put a plan in place to fight it. I will get high doses of steroids, a dialysis-like treatment to clean antibodies out of my system, and an infusion of proteins. The bad news is that I have to be in the hospital for at least 11 days to complete the treatment 

That means wearing one of those light blue cotton gowns with an open back for 11 days. That means sleepless nights in a tiny hospital bed for 11 days. That means lousy-tasting food for 11 days. That means hearing the monitors and the sounds of sickness in the hallways for 11 days. That means getting poked to draw blood a few times every day for 11 days. That means not knowing what will happen next for 11 days. 

Lying alone in the dark as a monitor beeps and displays a green line dancing to the heart’s rhythm, I surf social media to see people preparing for 4th of July festivities and frolicking in Cabo, Lake Tahoe, and fun places near and far. Watching people celebrate their freedom from Covid’s loneliness, sadness, and hopelessness plays havoc on the psyche, especially one with an uncertain future. In the darkness of the hospital room, my mind wanders from bemoaning my misfortune to digging deep into the soul to reflect on the meaning of life.

During the height of the pandemic, people were upset that they couldn’t have a normal life. Not being able to go to dinner with friends, visit family, enjoy a ballgame, and much more caused widespread suffering for many people. I thought about St. Paul the Apostle languishing in a Roman prison for years and writing about hope, faith, and love. It reminded me that being a slave to our desires isn’t the pathway to personal peace.

Almost 2,000 years ago, Roman philosopher Marcus Aurelius wondered if there was more to life than just “marrying, raising children, getting sick, dying, waging war, throwing parties, doing business, complaining about their own lives.” Sounds familiar, right? That’s what most of us live for. Is life all about sipping a glass of wine in Napa Valley at a posh resort and posting pics on social media to escape the drudgery of daily existence? 

Or is it about surviving “to find some meaning in the suffering,” as German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said. Over the past 11 days, I’ve had a lot of time to think about Nietzche’s perspective. Since there was no damage to my heart, I feel good and energetic. I had to find some way to cope with the fact that 11 days of restricted confinement was my fate on the very weekend that Americans declared independence from Covid restrictions.

Here’s the thing: Just because I felt good when I arrived at the hospital doesn’t mean that all is good. Antibodies were assembling the troops to attack my heart. There was no time to take the holiday week off. It was time to call on my own troops to fight yet another battle. Medically, doctors immediately began executing their plan. Mentally, I was resolved to stay in the moment, use skills I learned in psychotherapy, and put into practice my understanding of Stoic philosophy. It was game on!

Marcus Aurelius also wrote that, “the obstacle on the path becomes the way.” He meant that we must face and work through life’s challenges instead of complaining about them. My diseased and now transplanted heart is the obstacle in my life. Working with it is the way. I decided that I’ll try to have fun while in the hospital. Sandra has been here everyday. The girls trade off being here with her. It’s just like being at home with my family, just not so comfortable.

From the healthcare aides to the nurses, cleaning crew, and nutrition staff, I tried to get to know each member of the hospital team that came into the room. They’re from Nigeria, Kenya, Taiwan, China, the Philippines, Yugoslavia, and a few from the east side. We talked about politics, hoops, family, their home countries, and empathized together with the victims of the collapsed building in Florida. 

Believe it or not, this hospital stay has been a rich experience. Have I come any closer to understanding what life is all about? Not a chance. But, I’m learning that taking each moment for what it is and enduring tough times with a little sunshine goes a long way. I’m becoming more convinced that doing fun things from time to time only serves to temporarily soothe the suffering of everyday problems. I truly found meaning in what could have been 11 days of suffering.

July 5, 2021 – 10:36 AMKaiser Santa Clara Medical Center, Room 3365

My cardiologist just left the room. She’s part of a great team of amazing doctors that have cared for me for more than a decade. The news is good. The last of the treatments will be complete by late afternoon and I’ll be discharged later in the evening. I’ll need to do additional blood tests to determine if the plan to rid my body of the heart rejection demons was successful. Until the results come in, I’ll get back to my home routine and just take it a moment at a time. 

What is Life All About? – Talk It Out!

“An unexamined life is not worth living.” ~ Socrates, Ancient Greek philosopher, 469-399 BCE


What is life all about? 20th century French philosopher Albert Camus half-jokingly said, “The literal meaning of life is whatever you’re doing that prevents you from killing yourself.”

I never really thought about it until about a few months ago. Prior to a health crisis, my philosophy was pretty simple: work hard to take care of my family, enjoy life’s pleasures whenever possible, and try to make a little difference in the lives of others. Over the course of 11 years, these activities were gradually becoming harder to do and ultimately ceased to exist. I suddenly found myself busy doing nothing. What’s a once ambitious man with a Type A personality to do?  

I went on a mission to search for meaning somewhere in the tangled clutter that represents broad swaths of my life. When I was a little boy – maybe 8 or 9 years old – I remember eavesdropping on my mom and her comadre from across the street talking about a woman who left her husband and kids to “find herself.” From the looks on their faces it was pretty clear that they were confused and scornful at such a thought. 

They questioned the idea that finding oneself was even a thing. That’s just for gringas who can’t handle life, they agreed with a judgemental tone. The comadres stood with crossed arms and furrowed brows asking each other how a woman could even think of leaving her children, not to mention the repulsive possibility of a potential stepmother coming into the picture. The moral of their discussion was pretty clear to my formative mind. Life isn’t fair. Deal with it.

I always wondered if my mom had dreams. She never mentioned anything, but then again women of her generation and social class weren’t allowed to express their personal aspirations. I’m sure that my mom truly believed that her purpose in life was to serve her husband and children, a role she mastered selflessly. Mom also believed that the only way to calm fears, anxiety, depression or dissatisfaction was to pray and leave it to God. 

Throughout my spiritual journey, I discovered the power of prayer and the comforting reassurance of “leaving it in God’s hands.” My relationship with God has been the guiding light that helps me endure the darkest days. But, I’ve also learned that prayer alone doesn’t tame uneasy thoughts of doom, uncertainty, and regret. 

In addition to a connection with God, spiritual wellness includes a balanced diet, exercise, hobbies, healthy fun, and openness to psychotherapy. Therapy is something many people won’t talk about. The CDC recently reported that over 90% of Americans have never received counseling from a professional. Psychology Today reported that the high cost of therapy and stigma about mental health keep people from considering a therapist. 

According to the CDC, only 26% of Americans have a diagnosed mental disorder. An American Psychological Association study, however, noted that 77% of Americans say that they’re stressed out. It’s a fact of life that all of us feel sad, angry, hurt, confused, etc. at one time or another. Unfortunately, social stain attached to the word “crazy” prevents an open public conversation about requiring mental health coverage as part of insurance plans. 

Diagnosed mental illness isn’t the only reason to seek counseling. My first experience with mental health was on the heels of my mom’s passing in 2004. I was crushed and felt lost. A therapist helped me understand the seemingly unbearable pain. Within a few months, I was able to manage the suffering caused by my mom’s death. Once I determined that the healing process was complete, it was time to move on with my life, or so I thought.

Sixteen years later, while curled up in a fetal position, I felt empty and discouraged after transplant surgery. I again sought therapy. This time I found the courage to also ask the transplant team therapist for help with general anxiety, a demoralizing condition that has hounded me since my early 20s. My stomach churns constantly as if something is wrong. My mind begins searching for a reason for the unease and predictably conjures negative thoughts (the Boo Voice). 

Stinging life setbacks re-enter my consciousness. Feeling defeated by a self-perceived wasted life empowers my Boo Voice. Well-intentioned advice from others to “just get over it” is like putting a BandAid on a broken leg. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis and therapy wrote that, “unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.” More suffering and sorrow are sure to follow. That’s where therapy comes in.

I decided to give Socrates’ philosophy a chance and began to examine my life by talking it out. Sigmund Freud’s mentor called it the “talking cure.” I shared with my therapist the good, bad, and ugly of my personal history with unvarnished honesty. The process revealed things that I never wanted to acknowledge before. Now I’m learning how to peacefully and confidently live with the Boo Voice.

Taking that final step to bare my soul with a therapist has changed my life. It unlocked the shackles that kept my brain strapped to fear, worry, and failure. The hard part was the first step, putting the key into the cuffs that kept my mind closed. On one hand, I could hear my mom and her comadre telling me to give my worries to God, not a psychiatrist. On the other hand, faith assured me that God sent the therapist to help Him help me.

Psychotherapy isn’t only for people with severe mental illness. We all have daily troubles. We all have things from somewhere in our past that cause suffering and lead to unwise decisions and actions. After many hours of sharing my inner thoughts, reading, and reflecting, I’m beginning to learn about who I am. I realized that my mom and her comadre were wrong.

Finding oneself isn’t only for gringas who can’t handle life on their own. It’s for anyone who seeks to find meaning in their lives. A faithful look into the past is the gateway to finding that truth. Honesty is the key. Any conversation with a therapist that resembles a rosy social media type lifestyle won’t work.

I’m at peace with myself as I write. I know that the Boo Voice is lurking around every corner waiting to be emboldened by anxiety. I plan to ride this wave of tranquility until it inevitably crashes onto the shore. That’s just life. Working with my therapist has given me insight into the anxious corners of my mind and provided me with the tools to face any and all storms that aim to disrupt the calm.

Seven years ago, I set out to share a message of gratitude and hope by writing about my battle with heart failure and the spiritual awakening that followed. I didn’t expect that I would also go on an eye-opening, sometimes painful, and ultimately liberating journey of self-discovery. 

By no means do I have the answer to a question that has been a mystery to humankind for thousands of years. Despite that obvious reality, I’ll share my thoughts on the meaning of life in a series of new blog posts called, What is Life All About? I hope that the series stimulates your mind and encourages you to think about what life means to you.

Oh yeah…one last thing. I’ve learned to accept, appreciate, and actually enjoy being busy doing nothing.

One Year Later 💗 What I’ve Learned

Today is my first heartiversary with Idaho! If you don’t know Idaho, you can meet him here:

To commemorate this special day, I want to share what I’ve learned over the past 365 days.


What I’ve Learned*


Heart Transplant Recipient, 57, San Jose, California


Organ donors are the perfect example of God’s love. May He bless Idaho’s family.

“And these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” ~ 1 Corinthians 13:13 

Love is a tricky thing and a word with many meanings. The best kind of love is agape (God’s love), an ancient Greek word that means giving of yourself for the sake of others.

Sandra, Marisa, and Erica are the loves of my life. They’re my heroes too.

Eating bad food, pushing myself to the limit, working hard, playing hard, partying hard, and thriving on stress was fun, but NOT a very healthy way to live.

A lot of guys my age think that they don’t need to get an annual physical or go to the doctor when something doesn’t feel right. Staying on top of things and following doctors’ orders are better than being in the ICU.

Doctors speak in Doctor. Keep asking questions until you really understand what they’re saying, then do what they tell you to do. They’re smarter than you and everyone around you.

Argentine poet and philosopher Jorge Luis Borges wrote that “the future is inevitable and precise, but it may not occur. God lurks in the gaps.” Ain’t that the truth!

I’m not afraid to die. The way I see it: The worst case scenario is also the best case scenario. Death is a ticket to heaven.

“It is also written: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ~ Matthew 4:7

I think I tried to test Him one time too many. The lesson is clear. Don’t mess with God.

Heart transplant is not a cure, it’s a way to keep living longer.  Meds, doc appointments, blood tests, and biopsies are for a lifetime.

No, I cant eat and drink anything I want.

Transplant surgeons literally cut your heart out to make room for in a new one. It’s a total shock to your body, like being hit by a speeding 18-wheel tractor-trailer truck.

ICU Delirium sucks. It’s a brain dysfunction in critically sick patients that causes confusion and weird hallucinations based on reality. 

I hope you never have to meet Rich Ha or John McArthur. If you do, just know that you’re in great hands.

You know what also sucks. Having a tube shoved down your throat to keep you alive or seeing a loved one go through that.

People who refuse to wear masks and won’t get the Covid vaccine because “the government can’t tell me what to do” are just plain dumb. Sorry not sorry.  

Heart transplant recovery messes with your mind, body, and spirit. It’s no different than the daily grind of life, just way more intense. 

It’s so important – actually critical – to develop relationships with healthcare providers. The amazing and skilled heart transplant and cardiac care teams at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center are like family.

Sharlene Madanes and Sarah Parnow are superstars!

Unhealthy core beliefs that go unrecognized and unchecked can cause lasting damage if not confronted. When your inner Boo Voice exploits your core beliefs, pain and suffering are right around the corner.

Living and working at full speed because “there are places to go, people to see, things to do” was one of my mottos. I damn near worked myself to death. 

Transplant recovery and my Boo Voice almost talked me into doing that again. Almost…

Mental health gets a bad rap. It’s one of society’s core beliefs that belongs in the dustbin of history.

The 1st Noble Truth of Buddhism is that life is full of suffering and unhappiness. The 2nd Noble Truth states that desire, attachment, and selfishness cause suffering and unhappiness. 

I know that I’ll never be the same. I miss the hustle and bustle of the executive suite, the rough and tumble of political battles, and the thrill of center stage. But then, I kinda don’t miss it. 

“Nothing is permanent. Everything is subject to change. Being is always becoming.” ~ Buddha

I confronted my Boo Voice and finally acknowledged to myself that I made a meaningful contribution to this world and still have a little more to give.

I was in a line the other day that wrapped around the building to get my second Covid vaccine. A woman jumped out of her car fumbling with her smartphone and rushing to the front door of the clinic only to be told to get in line. I started to judge her in my mind because she looked so silly, but that used to be me at one time.

“Let’s take it nice and easy…nice and easy gets it done every time.” ~ Frank Sinatra, Nice N Easy, 1960

It soothes the soul to go for a walk just to go for a walk.

To my fellow 40 and 50 somethings: Don’t be fuddy duddys. Listen to your kids’ music. You can thank me later.

Aristotle, Plato, Marcus Aurelius, Siddhartha Gautama, St. Paul the Apostle, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Friedrich Nietzsche, Mohandas Gandhi, Jean-Paul Sartre, and C.S. Lewis were smart motherfuckers!

Taking a long hot shower without a Left Ventricular Assist Device is pure pleasure.

Nothing is more important than right now.

I’m still a dreamer and hopeless romantic who sees silver linings through rose colored glasses.

I’m still money from the free throw line!

“It ain’t over till it’s over.” ~ Yogi Berra, Hall of Fame Baseball Player and Manager


*The format of today’s post is inspired by a popular column in Esquire Magazine. Cal Fussman’s interview of Muhammed Ali is my all-time favorite. Check it out:,%2C%20it%20doesn’t%20hurt

The Boo Voice

The travieso trying to wiggle away from my big sister Barbara around 1967

In my last post, I wrote about the obstacles that make life extra challenging in 2021. Coronavirus, isolation, family Covid fatigue, and every day problems make for a seemingly unbearable existence. I posed a question: Are the things that make us feel awful real or is suffering all in our minds? I wrote that the mind is a major cause of our pain and that there has to be something more than temporary distractions to help us deal with sorrow. 

You can read the last post by going to this link: 

Seventeen years ago, I had my first exposure to the possibility that “it’s all in my mind.”  I was running up the stairs at the Long Beach Convention Center and suddenly felt like I couldn’t catch my breath. The weird sensation went away in about 10 minutes. It happened again a few weeks later. I was on a flight that was making a smooth descent into San Antonio International Airport when, out of nowhere, I had a hard time breathing. 

I was only 40 years old at the time and in fairly good shape. I made an appointment with my doctor anyway because of family history of heart disease. In the clinic, the doctor covered all of the bases – extensive blood work at the lab, an EKG, echocardiogram, and cardiac stress test. He chuckled because I was on the treadmill jogging and chatting at the same time without losing my breath. Someone with heart disease wouldn’t be able do that.

Tests confirmed that there was nothing wrong with my heart. The doctor speculated that something else could be causing the feeling of being out of breath and referred me to a psychologist. The thought of going to a therapist didn’t register in my east side Mexican American working-class brain. We didn’t do therapy. Like Dave Chappele once joked, “psychologists were for upper middle-class white people. The rest of us had liquor stores.” 

My dad used to say that putting all your energy into work when life gets hard was the answer to the blues. That’s what I did after my mom died, but it wasn’t working so well for me. I went along with my doctor’s recommendation. I figured that I had nothing to lose. During our first meeting, the therapist described how heart attack symptoms are similar to those of a panic attack caused by anxiety. 

Rather than actually losing oxygen, the mind tricks the body into thinking that it’s out of breath. It was hard to wrap my mind around what I heard, but I kept going with it. Several sessions later, the therapist’s diagnosis was generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) triggered by my mom’s passing a year earlier. The condition impacts only 3.1% of Americans. Depression can go hand in hand with anxiety.

According to mental health advocates, GAD is “chronic, exaggerated worry and tension that is unfounded or much more severe than the normal anxiety most people experience.” The Mayo Clinic says that GAD is caused by a “complex interaction of biological and environmental factors.” What that means is that anxiety is partly caused by chemicals in the body that aren’t working correctly and partly caused by something negative that happens to us. 

I was a happy-go-lucky kid, There wasn’t a tree I wouldn’t climb or a fence I wouldn’t jump over. My mom used to say that I could be a little bit travieso (loosely translated as “naughty”). When I was about 10 years old, I wrecked my bike and scratched myself up pretty good riding downhill on a trail I wasn’t allowed to be on. My mom didn’t know about the details of that accident until 25 years later when my brothers, sisters, and I were sharing stories about youthful shenanigans .

Despite being somewhat of a daredevil, I had a tendency to worry, overthink, and overreact. It could be anything. I would lose sleep the night before a spelling test in elementary school worried about flunking. In high school, I couldn’t concentrate in class on gameday because I worried about making a mistake that would embarrass the team and school. Those bad things never happened. Nothing triggered those thoughts.

When mom passed away, I felt like a helium balloon floating aimlessly and untethered to the real world. She was my safe harbor when the winds of life’s storms howled. She was my biggest cheerleader. With mom gone, I worried incessantly about everything. This perfect storm of biological and environmental factors led to the therapist’s diagnosis. 

He recommended a combination of medication, therapy, and group mindfulness classes designed to address the chemical and triggering elements of anxiety. Given everything I understood about what the doctor told me, it made sense to me. I decided to give the proposed treatment my all. Within a few months, I was back on track building a life with my family and working on a career. I graduated from mocking psychology to being a therapy advocate.

The more I understood about anxiety’s causes, effects, and solutions, the more I wanted to learn how to manage it. The short story about unreasonable worry is fear of the unknown. An anxious mind comes to conclusions (usually doom and gloom) in the absence of verified information. As the old saying goes, anxiety makes mountains out of molehills. I refer to unwarranted thoughts that swirl in my mind as the “Boo Voice.” 

The therapist and mindfulness classes from 2004 prepared me for the most turbulent decade of my life. For 10 years, unknown life and death health situations hovered over me like a black cloud. Staying in the moment and consistent dialogue with doctors prevented my mind from escaping to unhelpful places. After heart transplant, my Boo Voice and I engaged in brutal battles. Using the same formula from 2004 has played a major role in my recovery.  

At some level, whether diagnosed with anxiety or not, we all have a Boo Voice. Everyone has different triggers. During these uncertain times, worry consumes most of our days. Will family members get sick and die? Will our kids lose out in their education? Will the vaccine work? When will life get back to normal? On top of all that, we still have to deal with the little daily annoyances that can ruin our days. 

How can we keep our Boo Voices from getting the best of us? Try this 3-part strategy. It helps me get through the toughest of times.

  1. Communication

The best option is a therapist, support group, spiritual advisor, or journal (all 4 is most effective). If these don’t fit your budget or comfort level, your significant other or bestie will work. The downside is that those close to you have skin in the game, so they’re not optimal. The most important thing is to talk it out.

  1. Meditation – Mindfulness

This is another concept that didn’t fit into my boyhood worldview. Taking mindfulness classes in 2004 and studying Buddhist principles for 10 years changed my mind. Meditation is really hard to do, but worth it. It helps you focus and calm the mind. A great tool is the Calm App. It’s about $70 a year to subscribe. The first year is free for Kaiser members.

  1. Pursue a Healthy Passion

Alcohol, drugs, food, sex, parties, and other guilty pleasures are quick, but temporary bandaids for the Boo Voice. When you remove the bandage, the cut is usually deeper. I’m not preaching. I get it. I’ve never been threatened by a good time. Healthy is the key word. I love writing, reading, and mentoring others. Find your healthy passion and do it.

Like everything worthwhile in life, what I just laid out is not easy. It takes hard work and dedicated commitment. I wish I could say that I’ve conquered my Boo Voice once and for all. Of course, I haven’t. Most likely I will battle it for the rest of my life because of biology. Medication helps with that part.

Fortunately, you most likely don’t have generalized anxiety disorder. Events and circumstances are the cause of worry and depression. I work hard on my 3-part strategy to manage the environmental causes of anxiety everyday and it makes my life so much better. You can do it too. Give it a try. It takes time. Be patient. I’m on year 17 working with this strategy and life continues to get better every day.

It’s All in Your Mind

Mom and Dad circa 1966

“You have power over your mind – not outside events.” – Marcus Aurelius, 1st-Century Roman Emperor and Philosopher


Imagine for a minute that you’ve been transported to the mid to late 1960s. Standing at an elegant bar is a handsome, well-groomed man with the subtle scent of English Leather cologne on him. He’s wearing a slim-cut black suit, crisp white shirt, dark tie, and black shoes polished to a soft sheen. He casually leans against the bar with his right forearm on the varnished oak countertop with a drink in his right hand.

Deep in thought, the gentleman takes a slow drag of a cigarette held between his left index and middle fingers as it softly sits on his pursed lips. He squints through the smoke looking into an empty space while he’s deep in thought. Any number of things that complicate his life could be swirling in his mind. Frank Sinatra, you say? Dean Martin, perhaps? Or could it be Don Draper? 

The answer is none of the above. The image is how I remember my dad when I was about 4 or 5 years old. He looked like the quintessential man of the 60s, especially when he dressed up. My dad worked at the post office, so he didn’t usually wear a suit and tie. I think he owned 2 suits, 1 black and 1 charcoal, for special occasions. His normal dress code was a pair of slacks, a button up long sleeve shirt, and always shined dress shoes.

Family and close friends called my dad Lico. He was smart and read regularly, even though I’m not quite sure he ever graduated from high school. He served on an aircraft carrier in the United States Navy during WWII. He was articulate and charming, armed with a quick wit and a smile that could light up a room. He was also stubborn, sarcastic, and uncompromising. His condescending words and facial expressions of disapproval cut deeper than any spanking.

In many ways, my dad was a man of his times. He worked hard to provide for his family and unabashedly believed in traditional gender and parent/child roles. In his world, the man was king of his castle. Dad’s word was final, no discussion, no debate, no nonsense. He was a classic rugged-individualist who believed that no one – NO ONE – was responsible for his own success or failure other than himself. 

In other ways, he was way ahead of his time, especially for a Mexican American father in those days. He didn’t want his children to work in “traditional” Latino jobs. He encouraged us to read, explore, and get a college education. He thought deeply and could be philosophical about the ways of the universe. Understanding that life was unpredictable and unforgiving, he always had a thoughtful response in any situation. He expressed these thoughts through what I call Licoisms

He had a treasure trove of these sayings. Some of my favorites include: “we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it” (be patient), “it’s easier said than done” (don’t take anything for granted), and “get off of your high horse” (show humility). “It’s all in your mind” was my least favorite Licoism when I was a kid. Every time I thought life was unfair and looked for sympathy, that was his response.

When I was about 12 years old, I remember getting ready for a backyard party. It was a blistering hot day, and I was expected to wear slacks and a button up shirt because my dad’s relatives were going to be there. I complained endlessly to my mom about the heat. I wanted to wear shorts and a t-shirt. She empathized with me, but still told me I would have to take it up with my dad. Well, I knew that wasn’t going to fly.

Nevertheless, before guests started to arrive, I worked up the courage to ask him if he felt hot wearing long sleeves and dress pants. He turned and looked at me with his trademark sarcastic smirk. I braced myself for what I expected would be a flurry of cutting Licoisms flying my way. He asked if I knew what the temperature was outside. At least 100, I guessed. He followed up by saying, “it doesn’t matter what I wear, it’s still 100 degrees. The heat is all in your mind, mijo.”

As the years passed by, I began to appreciate the saying. After spending a summer in the ICU, it came in handy. My body lost all muscle function from being in a coma and lying on a bed for about 70 days. I couldn’t even lift a finger. Doctors said strength would return with rehabilitation. It sounded impossible. Although he had been gone for 15 years, I heard Lico’s voice telling me, “it’s all in your mind, mijo.”

Let’s face it. Let’s be real. Life isn’t easy. The past year serves to remind us of that. The pandemic, political division, isolation, the summer fires, smokey skies, and on and on. Added to all of that was the grind of daily life. Throughout my personal life, I’ve had my share of struggles. There was that hot summer day in 1975, the passing of my mom, dad, and a sister, a health crisis, and yeah, that every day stuff. 

Did those things not happen? Yes, they did. Was it all in my and our minds? Of course not. It’s life’s way of saying that nature is in charge. We all experience unfortunate events and phenomena. They’re circumstances that aren’t within anyone’s power to control. Can they harm us? The short answer is it depends. Marcus Aurelius tells us that we have power over our own minds and not much more. That’s what my dad meant by, “it’s all in your mind.”

I don’t know where he came up with that pearl of wisdom. I’m sure life experiences, his intellectual curiosity, and catchphrases from his Depression Era generation all contributed to his thinking. Did he read the ancient philosophers? Maybe, maybe not. I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. One thing for sure is that he understood that suffering is mostly caused by our own thoughts, not by the chaos that surrounds us.

Although my dad was a wise man, he didn’t have the answer on how to tame the anguish that churns in our minds. His solution? There wasn’t much that a cigarette and a highball glass full of V.O whiskey and water on the rocks couldn’t resolve. I don’t think that worked for him. I’m pretty sure he suffered from depression and anxiety. I’ve followed a similar path, also with little success. Other people use the same strategy with food, shopping, sex, drugs, etc.

Whether it’s fear of an uncertain future or the inconvenience of kids learning from home because of a pandemic, life sucks if we allow the craziness around us to find a home in our consciousness. A plan to achieve long-term inner peace and some kind of happiness shouldn’t have to depend on any of the sensually pleasing distractions that temporarily relieve our pain. There has to be a better way to deal with nature’s whims. 

Now imagine for a minute that you’ve been transported to a time in the very near future. Covid is still here making family and friends sick, your kids are driving you up the wall because they’re bored at home, your spouse is on your nerves more than usual, and California is in full-blown drought. That’s not even the worst of it. Your company is going belly up and you don’t know from one day to the next if you’ll have a job.

Despite all of that, you don’t feel stressed, sad, frustrated, or angry. You’re not thinking of giving up or murdering your entire family. While driving home in dreadful traffic, you whistle to your favorite song on the radio, rather than flipping the bird to some idiot on the road. You can’t control what’s happening outside of your car. It’s all in your mind. So, you feel calm as you inch through the freeway. 

Is it even possible to feel at peace in this situation? I think it is and I’m intent on discovering the secret. Please keep reading in the coming weeks and months. I’m going on an adventure to find the answer to inner peace and happiness. I plan to be brutally honest with myself and readers. I’m not sure I’ll get there, but the ride should be fun. I hope you find a few minutes in your hectic day to come along with me.