Monthly Archives: January 2021

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The East Side Eddie Report launched in July 2013 to provide readers with a unique viewpoint on community issues from the perspective of someone from the “other side of the tracks.” The content focused on encouraging leadership in the Latino community. In December 2014, ESEReport.com created the “Summer in the Waiting Room” series to chronicle my 10-year battle with heart failure.

That struggle taught me that trusting in something bigger than ourselves can change lives. My passion for telling stories that help and inspire others guides my life journey. As ESEReport.com continues to evolve, the mission is to inspire readers with faith, hope, and love.

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It’s Never Too Late

Ready for another day!

“It ain’t over till it’s over.” ~Yogi Berra, Hall of Fame baseball player and manager

“Ah, nothing is too late until the tired heart ceases to palpitate.” ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, American poet

***

My Compa Pancho and I are avid sports fans and we text often when there’s news in the sports world. When legendary baseball player Hank Aaron died recently, I shared a video of a commercial that featured Aaron and Giants slugger Barry Bonds. The TV ad was aired during the year that Bonds was chasing Aaron’s all-time home run record. It was a clever tongue and cheek play on the historic chase.

So far so good, but there’s always a hitch when it comes to something about the Giants. Pancho is a die-hard Dodgers fan. Anytime I mention the Giants, he immediately prepares for hand-to-hand verbal combat and a flurry of shit-talking begins. To be fair to my compa, I do my share of talking shit about the Dodgers. Anyway, I was waiting for him to bring up the same old tired and unproven steroids BS about Bonds.

But that’s not what happened. His response was shocking. Like a ball coming out of left field, Pancho shared with me that a friend from his boyhood neighborhood committed suicide. The friend hanged himself. Not really knowing how to respond, I texted my condolences. Pancho went on to describe how the man’s family was devastated.

The last time Pancho saw his old neighbor was a few years ago. The man was riding a bike and looked skinny, tired, and old. He had struggled with depression and substance abuse for most of his adult life. According to Pancho, he was high on drugs when they ran into each other. After a few minutes of small talk, they went their separate ways. His life came to a tragic and lonely end in a losing battle against mental health, drug, and alcohol problems.

I spent the rest of that evening and most of the next day thinking about Pancho’s old friend. His story brought to mind the never-ending cycle of troubles that complicates our lives and keeps us on a continuous roller coaster of emotional high and lows. Too many times, the ride gets hair-raising and we think it’s too late to bring it back to safe place. It’s easy to give up, but my life story has taught me that no matter how hard life gets, it’s never too late. 

I ran across a poem a while back by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that was perfect for what I was thinking about. Longfellow, one of America’s greatest poets, wrote the verse in 1875 as the keynote for his 50th college reunion where he read it to a group of 70+ year old classmates. The poem is about the reality that none of us will be able to stop time and it’s never too late to keep learning and growing.

The line that inspired me most from the poem reminds me of a famous quote from Hall of Fame baseball manager Yogi Berra. During the 1973 World Series, Berra was the manager of the New York Mets. The team lost the first 2 games and winning the series looked like a longshot. When reporters asked how he felt about the Mets’ chances after being so far behind, he famously said, “it ain’t over till it’s over.” The Mets went on to win the next 3 games in a row.

These 2 stories can be inspirations for anyone who’s thinking about giving up when life gets too hard. Both anecdotes encourage us to believe that it’s never too late, no matter the situation. At one time or another, all of us have fallen prey to the notion that an opportunity passed us by, with no way to return again. This leads to regret, second-guessing, and fear of not getting another chance. The inevitable next step is to give up.

I’ve always considered myself to be a person ready to take on life’s challenges head on. I didn’t think giving up was in my DNA. That arrogance was crushed during the first month of 1983 when I received a letter from San Jose State University informing me that I didn’t meet the academic requirements to stay enrolled. I flunked out and gave up on myself. 

I spent the next several years, drinking excessively, partying, and soothing my bruised ego in unhealthy ways. Once the hangover from that blurry time cleared up, I started to work my way back into the university. I ran into a mental roadblock almost immediately. During the first semester back at SJSU, I confided in a professor that I thought I was too old to start over, it was too late to earn a degree. His response motivated me and changed my life. 

The professor shrewdly concluded that I would grow older someday with or without a college education. Choose my path forward thoughtfully, he advised. With those wise words, I carried on with my studies and graduated a few years later. I worked tirelessly over the next 2 decades building a life and family with Sandra while developing a meaningful and successful career.

“Ah, nothing is too late; Till the tired heart shall cease to palpitate.” 

Then, for a brief moment many years later, my heart actually ceased to palpitate. While I was sleeping comfortably on a hospital bed in the ICU during the wee hours of the morning on June 17, 2010, my heart went into cardiac arrest literally stopping for a few seconds. A team of doctors, nurses, and cardiac technicians frantically worked to get my heart pumping again. About 1,000 volts of electricity sent through defibrillator paddles did the job.

I had two more chances to give up during the 10 years following the close call. On my 55th birthday in 2018, a surgeon was putting the finishing touches on surgery to place a titanium pump in my heart. My lungs started to swell. It took 5 days of smart medical decision-making by the surgeon and anxious waiting for my family before the doctor closed my chest cavity. I didn’t think I could go through another rigorous rehabilitation. It was too late, I thought. I’ll never be the same. Nevertheless, life continued forward.

Seventeen months later, transplant surgery hit me like a speeding big rig and the meds made a mess of my psyche and emotions. By the third month of a slow and depressing recovery, I convinced myself that I was too old and too weak to come back yet again. Just when I was about to throw in the towel on this latest fight, I took advantage of the resources at my disposal. With God’s grace, an awesome transplant care team, Sandra and the girls’ love, and a little hard work, I marched on.

So, here’s what I’m trying to say. Longfellow and Yogi had it right. It’s never too late. As sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, something will happen to make it a less than perfect day. Your internet service could go down in the middle of an important Zoom meeting, co-workers and/or your boss could get on your last nerve, you could get into an argument at home, your car might break down.

What are we to do when any given day inevitably turns imperfect? Keep going. Don’t look back. It’s not too late. As long as you heart continues to nourish your body and soul, there’s a chance that whatever is causing your suffering and grief is fixable. Over the next several posts, I plan to get philosophical and share my thoughts on how to overcome challenges big and small.

Until then, keep in mind – just believe – that everything will work out in the end. With faith, hope, and love, “it ain’t over till it’s over.”

***

Here’s the link to Longfellow’s full poem: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44639/morituri-salutamus-poem-for-the-fiftieth-anniversary-of-the-class-of-1825-in-bowdoin-college

2021 is Here: Now What?

“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” ~Jospeph Campbell, Philosopher and Mythologist

***

The other night, I had a short dream about me and my late father-in-law. He was 81 years old when he passed away a little more than a year ago. We were about 15-20 years younger in the dream. Although Sandra’s dad was small in stature, his work ethic, humility, and quiet strength made him a giant of a man. Few words were needed for him to express approval, disappointment, encouragement, or mischievousness. His eyes and a simple nod of his head spoke volumes.

The dream reminded me of a time in my life that was full of opportunity and professional excitement. I was in my late 30s, confident and a little full of myself. Providing for my family, working my way up the corporate ladder, and serving the community in a variety of ways were priorities. My father-in-law looked like he was in his early 60s, full of life enjoying retirement and the fruits of his labors as a cement mason.

He was from the same region in Mexico where my grandmother spent her childhood. I loved hearing stories about his boyhood and he loved telling them. We also talked about politics, history, and current events, usually while grilling ribs on the barbecue pit or around the dining room table over rounds of Budwiser, Coors Light, or Corona. In the middle of me waxing eloquent about some historical event, he would suggest another round of beers with a simple nod, raised eyebrows, and encouraging eyes. It was his way of asking, “Are you ready?”

Despite these shared interests, we couldn’t be more different on the surface. He was great with his hands and could build or fix anything. I can’t hammer a nail straight into a piece of wood to save my life. He was soft-spoken and I’m outspoken. When he talked, it was mostly in Spanish. English is my language of choice. With a few too many beers under our belts, we would switch languages and howl with laughter at each other’s attempts to tell a funny story. 

Perhaps our biggest difference was in the way we approached life. He was a steady as he goes kind of guy. I’m a dreamer. He worked in concrete construction for over thirty years. I’ve had no less than 5 professions in the same span of time. Throughout my career, each day brought new experiences. Without fail, he awoke before dawn, labored in the elements all day, had dinner with his family, and watched the news and novelas before going to bed.

I admire how he just got it done, day in and day out. He was a prolific cement mason on large industrial projects and especially talented working small side jobs. With perfectionism and creativity, each patio, driveway, sidewalk he did was a work of art. I’m sure he didn’t plan for that life when he was a boy in Sonora, Mexico. Per the old Mexican saying, he took it un dia a la vez – one day at a time.

His story brought to life philosopher and mythologist Joseph Campbell’s classic quote. This kind of philosophical outlook builds resilience and strength. We spend too much time trying to mold our lives into the “perfect” life of meticulously designed happiness. When the inevitable unplanned event happens, we grow uncertain, unhappy, and frustrated. Last year was the perfect example.

2020 started with the optimism of a year befitting a symbolic and symmetrical number. Before the first month was out, we experienced the tip of a global pandemic iceberg. It all went downhill from there. Before long, “Covid Fatigue” had set in. As a society, we opted not to take it un dia a la vez. Any possibility of resilience and strength gave way to vulnerability and weakness. People were uncertain, unhappy, and frustrated.  

Ironically, 2020 was actually a pretty darn good year for me. On January 1, 2020, a titanium pump was still attached to the lower left side of my heart to help my seriously diseased heart circulate blood throughout my body. On April 16, 2020, I had a heart transplant and a new lease on life. By New Year’s Day 2021, I felt physically and mentally stronger than I could ever imagine 365 days earlier.

I paint a rosy picture of a wonderful and blissful year. Of course, that wasn’t the case. It doesn’t account for an extremely difficult transplant recovery. Physical and mental challenges in the aftermath of surgery consumed me so much that it may have been God’s way of protecting me from the darkness of world events. With or without Covid and smoke from devastating fires, I had to shelter in place.

I had the luxury of taking that solitary time to read, think, and reflect. My ancestral and cultural  “one day at a time” belief system started to sink in. We have no power over future or past events. The Lord’s Prayer even tells us to ask God to, “give us this day,” not yesterday, not tomorrow...this day. The pandemic, political nonsense, and fires were out of my control, so why worry about such things.   

2021 is finally here. Now what?

I’m sure that millions of us will resolve to eat better and become physically fit in the new year. Other resolutions probably include things like working toward career advancement, finding love, pursuing a lifelong passion. Then the first week of 2021 came. The optimism that blew air into the 2021 balloon on New Year’s Eve developed a slow leak before we could recover from the 2020 hangover.

Like many of you, I sat stunned, saddened, and angry watching the images on TV of modern-day barbarians sacking the symbol of democracy and freedom. I’m a Mexican American eastside Yankee Doodle Dandy with a deep love and profound respect for the traditions and institutions that secure our American way of life. As my anger grew, my thoughts turned to the spiritual journey that has given faith, hope, and love to my life. 

My anger and sadness began to drift away. I learned the lessons of 2020 well. I had no control over the awful images that came from the Capitol and have zero power over what happens in the days to come. All I have is today. “Give us this day…” I’m resolved to use the remaining 351 days of 2021, a day at a time, to explore ideas that lead to a deeper understanding of life and inner peace. 

That’s just a fancy way of saying that I will look for ways to keep the bullshit that causes emotional pain from taking control of my thoughts. Inspirational memes, superficial feel-good rah rahs, and trendy mindfulness gurus won’t get the job done. It’ll take hard work and dedicated commitment to the craft of learning to understand our world and the universe beyond. God’s prophets, philosophers, and psychologists will be my guides. 

I strongly recommend that everyone also use the remainder of stay-at-home time, however long that may be, to do the same. I urge you to read, think, and reflect instead of fruitlessly looking for ways to fill in empty spaces with diversions that imitate the “good old days” before the pandemic. The worst that can happen is you’ve occupied your time with something that isn’t harmful or unhealthy. The best thing that can happen is that you find the ever so elusive inner peace.

In the dream with my father-in-law, we were at a backyard party. I was chatting with a group of faceless men and he was digging through an ice chest fishing out a couple of beers. He turned around and slowly walked toward me extending his arm offering a can of Bud. He gave me his signature nod with raised eyebrows and encouraging eyes as if to ask, Are you ready?

Rather than asking if I was ready for another drink, I think he came to me in the dream to ask if I was ready for the next stage in my life. I’ve come a long way and I know there’s a long way to go. I have so much to learn. I have more experiences waiting in the wings. I still have room to grow intellectually and spiritually. Am I ready? I think so.