Author’s note: The third and final part of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life” will explore my spiritual journey since that fateful summer in 2010. The following excerpt is the introduction to Part Three.
Part Two, Chapter 8, “Sharks & ‘Cudas,” will continue next week with Excerpt #63.
I embarked on a journey to understand God sometime in early August 2010. Before that, my conception of God was a mythical symbol that lived in the pages of Holy Books interpreted by men developing cultural philosophies. I was baptized, received communion, confirmed, married, and given last rites as a Roman Catholic. Despite receiving all the sacraments the Church has to offer, I was unsure of God’s presence in my everyday life.
When the chaplain at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center walked into my room in the ICU that August day, I was in the depths of an emotional meltdown. Fully awake, but paralyzed and with a breathing tube in my throat, I was in the beginning stages of irreversible hopelessness. I listened to the chaplain talk about faith and gratitude.
My journey toward true spiritual understanding began that day. It wasn’t an “aha” moment. In fact, I’ve learned that the road to discovering God has no end. A few days later, a doctor expressed confidence that I would fully recover from a deadly side effect that left me in a coma for six weeks.
He said that a “higher power,” not so much his years of training and caring for patients, was responsible for the miraculous turn of events. My condition rapidly improved with each succeeding day. My mind was filled with wonder and swirled with questions.
God is a universal cosmic force that’s had many names throughout history and around the world. The ancients referred to “nature” when explaining the causes and effects of the universe. Native American and other cultures use the term, “The Creator.” When scientists can’t fully describe the cause of a phenomenon, they call it “universal law.”
Whether you practice Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism or any other organized religion or philosophical tradition, faith in God is the cornerstone to understanding the inexplicable. No matter your religious, spiritual, or scientific tradition, that “higher power” brings meaning to the universe.
Since those early days in August 2010, I’ve been on a personal faith journey. Some days are marked by calming enlightenment and others have led to uncomfortable uncertainty. At one moment, the meaning of my life and God’s role in it seems to make sense. In another, it makes no sense at all.
The massive cardiac episode that changed my life has left me with a heart that works at about ¼ of the efficiency of a healthy heart. This has placed severe limitations on my energy. As a result, I have plenty of time to think, reflect, and pray on what God and faith mean to me. I usually do this when I’m on my daily walks.
Sometimes I step out to my beloved arbor in the backyard and sit in the coolness of its shade contemplating all that my family and I have been through. For family and friends, the 100-day ordeal in the ICU, operating rooms, and hospital ended six years ago. For me, it’s a daily reminder of the majesty of God.
On the road to enlightenment, I’ve learned that having faith in God is the key to understanding our place in this uncertain and ever-changing world. As is my nature, I went to the bookshelves to unravel the mystery of faith.
A dear friend introduced me to Marcus Aurelius and the ancient philosophers of Stoicism. My brother David shared New-Age writings about God. Other friends recommended that I delve into the works of Mahatma Ghandi, Muhammed, Buddha, and Paulo Coelho. Reading such diverse viewpoints on a common theme inspired me to dig deeper into my own religious upbringing and tradition.
The words of Jesus Christ and the Gospels are more meaningful to me as a result of my literary excursion. I came to realize that faith can come in many forms. Throughout my journey, I’ve come to believe that faith is rooted in acceptance, gratitude, and doing good.
I’m a classic “Type A” personality. I use to work tirelessly. After 106 days in the hospital, five weeks in a coma, two months in the ICU, three weeks of intensive physical rehabilitation, and three years of building up strength, I wanted to be “normal” again. That didn’t happen. Frustrated and angry, I persistently asked God, “Why me?”
Reflection and prayer led me to the answer: “That’s just the way it is.”
Once I realized that there was nothing I could do to change the fact that my heart works at ¼ its capacity, I was able to move on with my life. Through exercise, diet, and faith, I stay healthy enough to make the most of what life has to offer. Acceptance has inspired to pursue longtime passions like writing and working with high school students on the east side.
The concept is simple, “be thankful for what you have.” I struggled most with this concept because it flies in the face of our modern way of life. The American notion of working hard to obtain things is embedded in our culture, so the idea of acquiring “more” is valued over “settling.”
I fell into this dangerous trap. Acquisition of material goods didn’t drive my ambition. I thrived on being recognized for my “successes.” Along with recognition come legions of supporters with whom to celebrate accomplishments. When my energy level dissolved along with my weak heart muscle, the acknowledgement for which I worked so hard evaporated as well.
I grew resentful.
Learning the true of meaning of gratitude changed that. God has given me the gift of a second life with an amazing family and a tight circle of wonderful friends. There was a time when I took this for granted. Now I don’t. I thank God for them and celebrate with them every day. This revelation has helped me see the power of being grateful for all of God’s offerings.
In 1 Timothy 6:18, God tells those he has showered with gifts “to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.” This concept has always been part of my being. I fondly remember my parents sharing what little they had to help those who were less fortunate. I took these values with me into my professional and public life.
Somewhere along the way, the lines blurred between good works and professional advancement. In the rough and tumble worlds of business and politics, winning is the ultimate goal. I’m proud of the good I was able to accomplish in leadership positions. But, I also enjoyed the satisfaction of triumph. I’ve come to understand that that’s not what God means in Timothy.
My spiritual journey has inspired me to dedicate every day to try my best, with this gift of a second life, to do good in the way God intended: No recognition. No fanfare. No expectations.
The path to a better understanding of faith has been frustrating, revealing, and humbling. It’s also been therapeutic and full of love and understanding. No matter what religious, spiritual, or philosophic traditions, or lack thereof, you subscribe to, my life is testimony to the healing power of acceptance, gratitude, and good work.