So What!

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Together on the historic Great Lawn at St. John’s University – Queens New York – May 19, 2019

I studied history at San Jose State University. A professor who had a major influence on me was one Dr. Feliciano Rivera. His expertise was in Mexican and Mexican American history. He literally wrote the book on Chicanos in the United States. The old professor always provided an insightful and entertaining take on historical events and their implications.

He paced the front of the classroom like a caged lion and his voiced boomed as the subject matter captured his passions. Probably in his early 70s at the time, his white hair contrasted sharply with dark weathered skin. He had a black eye-patch over one eye. No one dared to ask how the patch came to be.  He was an imposing – almost menacing – figure in class.

I’ll never forget the opening remarks from the first class I took with him. He rattled off a series of dates and names, paused while banging his fist in the air, and said, “so what!” Those were perhaps the two most consequential words in my college studies. The professor’s point was that the study of history wasn’t merely memorizing date and names, rather it was about understanding the meaning of events.

I used the research techniques and writing skills that I learned in college to bring my story to life. I introduced Summer in the Waiting Room on this blog on December 4, 2013. On two occasions, once in 2015 and again in 2017, I announced to readers that I was finished with the story as my health situation had been stable for several years.

By the beginning of 2018, my health took a turn for the worse. The year was dominated by a lengthy and comprehensive heart transplant evaluation. Life threatening open heart surgery to implant a mechanical pump onto my heart closed out the year. There were more stories to tell.

There is still one more step to go in my health journey – a heart transplant. Since that will happen only when God decides that the time is right, now is a natural point to bring the story to a conclusion. After 5 ½ years of sharing countless dates and many names and some 75,000 words later, the two words that defined Professor Rivera’s lectures swirl in my mind. So what!

In the end, my story is a classic cause and effect proposition. Over the span of 9 years, a series of nearly catastrophic health crises and miraculous outcomes caused me to dig deeply into my soul in search of understanding. The effect has been a rich spiritual understanding of the preciousness of life.

I’ve spent an overwhelming majority of my 55 years caught in the vortex of worldly demands – the mortgage, college tuition, career advancement, etc., etc, etc. I didn’t have time to think about the meaning of life, nor was I very interested. Reflections on faith and philosophical questions didn’t fit in my daily calendar of business meetings and family time.  Plotting my next career move took precedence over understanding and accepting God’s plan for me.

That’s all changed now. More than once, God brought me to the edge of life in this world. Each time, He decided to keep me around. These miracles have given me the time to think about the questions that could shed light on the beauty of life uncorrupted by real-world burdens. With his thoughts on faith, hope, and love, St. Paul the Apostle has been my spiritual guide for these reflections.

The final leg of my spiritual journey started about a year ago when my cardiologist asked me to share any goals for a receiving a mechanical heart pump and ultimately a transplant. Without hesitation, I answered that my short-term goal was to see our youngest daughter graduate from college, which was one year away. “That’s doable,” the doctor responded.

Last week, we accomplished that goal. Sandra and I traveled to New York to see our daughter Erica walk across the stage at St. John’s University. The added bonus was spending time with Marisa, our oldest daughter who works in NYC. Just 6 months earlier, I was fighting for my life in the ICU.

With the ever-present black LVAD bag holding the equipment that helps keep my heart pumping slung over my shoulder, I waited with Sandra and family members who made the trip with us. About 15,000 others watched with as the graduates marched onto the university’s historic Great Lawn to the SJU marching band’s rendition of “Pomp and Circumstances.”

When Erica’s name was called, I proudly stood up and clapped. All went silent and it seemed as though I was alone while smiling broadly with pride. The whole scene was like a slow-motion video. A split second later, I joined my family by whooping and hollering in celebration of Erica’s milestone. A million thoughts rushed through my mind as I could feel St. Paul hugging me with faith, hope, and love.

I’ve spent much time reading, thinking, and reflecting about the how these three words have given light to the way I now see the world. The words are everywhere on social media and in daily conversations. Usually they appear when people experience pain and crisis or moments of bliss and high spirits, all worldly sensations.

My health crisis and spiritual journey have opened my heart and taught me to appreciate the power of believing in faith, hope, and love all of the time, not just in times of need or during fleeting moments of happiness caused by accomplishment or material gain. I hope you join me for the final three Summer in the Waiting Room blog posts where I’ll explore how my understanding of these powerful concepts changed my life.

So what?

I wholeheartedly believe that I’m now on the path to someday experiencing pure spiritual joy and happiness.

That’s what!