Suicidal, But Sane

Suicidal, But Sane

By Ken K. Gourdin

For far longer than I care to admit, now, the Dog of Clinical Depression has alternated between nipping at my heels and threatening to devour me whole.  Clinical Depression is so prevalent that even if you, yourself, cannot relate, chances are very good that you know someone who can.

I’ve written before on the Blog of the very tempting option of simply deciding that I don’t want to deal with my seemingly-intractable, seemingly-insoluble problems, pulling the covers over my head when the alarm goes off, and singing to myself, in Eddy Arnold’s immortal words, “Make the world go away!  And get it off of my shoulders …”  Or, to borrow and slightly alter the refrain and the title from The Fifth Dimension song, “One less … phone to answer!  One less … angry call!  One less clueless CSR … to pick up after! One less … phone to answer!”

I’ve also written before of my seemingly-perpetual job dissatisfaction, underemployment woes, and resulting economic limitations.  It does seem as though no matter what else is on my resume, as soon as someone sees that I have experience answering phones, that’s what he wants to hire me for.  Likewise, I’ve written of my circular odyssey of leaving a job answering phones nearly 20 years ago, at least partly swallowing my fear and uncertainty, finally applying to law school (but never completely conquering the fear and uncertainty), and taking a circuitous route through law school before finally graduating … only to be denied admission to the Bar, based largely (if not entirely) on a complex behavioral health history.

Sometimes I’ve said (and only half-jokingly, at that) that if I had received a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from MIT summa cum laude, a potential employer, upon seeing such a credential on my resume, would say, “Ohh, sorry!  Our theoretical physicist position has been filled, but I do see here that you also have phone experience, and we have another department that answers phones …”

All of that is a long-winded, perhaps unnecessary prelude to introducing the following piece of poetry, which I also wrote longer ago, now, than I care to admit.  Despite its fatalistic tone in spots, I intend it, perhaps oddly  ) to be life-affirming.  If you know someone who is in crisis, and/or someone who is contemplating suicide, please encourage him or her to get help (and do as much as you can to facilitate getting that help).  Call 1-800-SUICIDE, visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org, or contact your local behavioral health agency.

Suicidal, But Sane

Everybody thinks you’re crazy

When you talk of suicide.

But no matter where you run,

There’s still no place to hide.

Somehow it’ll find you,

This Monster we call Life,

The one with a thousand hands,

And each one of them has a knife.

No one gets out of this world alive

So why even try to stay?

How long can you run from the Monster?

Maybe another hour, maybe another day?

But still, I’ll keep on running

As long as I can remain.

It’s true I’m suicidal,

But it’s also true I’m sane.

© Ken K. Gourdin, 1988

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On God’s Alleged Favoritism

A Meditation on God’s Alleged Favoritism

By Ken K. Gourdin

A not-infrequent theme at Mormon Dialogue and Discussion, to hear atheists/agnostics/the disaffected/detractors tell it, is that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that they’re “special” in God’s eyes (my phrasing) such that they receive even trivial blessings from Him while others must endure terribly unfavorable and (in mortal terms) unfair circumstances, be victims of evil, suffering, and wickedness, and so on.  The question, in more general terms (my phrasing), is, “Why does God bless only the special?”

God cares about about such a trivial matter as someone losing his keys, on the one hand, so the common complaint goes, but cannot be bothered to save someone from (for example) being raped, on the other hand (or, He saves one person but not another from the latter fate)?  I admit, I can readily see the hand of God in some (many) of my trials, yet I cannot understand why He has not seen fit to grant other blessings which I have sought earnestly.  Indeed, the juxtaposition between blessings granted, on the one hand, and blessings denied or delayed, on the other hand, is a puzzlement to me, with my limited, finite, mortal perspective.

Essentially, that means I fall into both camps. In some things (indeed, in many things) I am among the “special” (though I’m really not so special) to whom God, in His mercy and love and as befits His perhaps-unfathomable eternal purposes, has granted bounteous blessings. On the other hand, (while I admit that any trial I have been called upon to endure pales in comparison to trials others have endured; for example, my brother lost his first wife and my niece and nephew lost their mother to cancer), I have also been exposed to the considerable buffetings of mortality (such as the dog of clinical depression, which alternates between nipping at my heels and threatening to devour me whole; perpetual underemployment, work dissatisfaction, and resulting financial difficulties; and so on) and have wondered from the depths of my soul, “Is there no balm in Gilead?”  My constant mantra is, “Could things be worse?” and, as much as part of me might hate to admit it, the answer’s always “Yes, they could always be worse.”

So, while I might not agree with it, I certainly can understand the “Why does God, if there is one, seem to love some more than He loves others?”  perspective.  I can understand the “How is it that I, or that my loved ones, have not found favor in God’s sight?” perspective.   One fallacy to which we mortals often fall victim is that we equate God’s blessings with His love, or we equate His failure to grant a desired blessing  (even a deserved blessing) with His displeasure or His disfavor.  My sister-in-law is one of the finest human beings I have ever known.  I don’t know why God saw fit to allow her and her family to go through what they went through (are going through?).  But I have faith (sometimes weak, sometimes wavering faith, but faith nonetheless) that He does.

Prompting my first contribution to the thread, another poster wrote, “I’m not a fan of the ‘candy machine’ God–you put in the tokens, push a button, and goodies come out.”  I responded, “Neither am I,” and posted a link to something I posted a few years ago on the blog on “God as Santa Claus” (this and all other links last accessed September 9, 2017):

https://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/on-gods-injustice/.

Later, I added:

If one of the purposes of this life is to learn to trust God, let us be in whatever circumstance we might find ourselves, then it wouldn’t do for Him to dole out blessings as though He were Santa Claus, nor would it do for Him always to withhold them as though He were an arbitrary, crotchety old miser (something akin to, say, Ebeneezer Scrooge).

Though it might seem to us, from the outside looking in at others, as though He does the first or the second of those two things inordinately in the lives of people we know or of whose lives we are aware, often, those assessments are based on a single snapshot in time.  At any given moment, in any single life, of course it’s going to seem to us as though He does the first of those things more than He does the second (or vice-versa).

As unfair as it might seem to us (with our limited, myopic, mortal perspective), whatever else He is or is not, God is also a Sovereign.  I don’t know why it seems as though God, to this point, has withheld certain blessings I have earnestly sought, but even the thick-headed, dull-of-heart, dull-of-mind, often-unseeing, often-unfeeling natural man that is Kenngo1969 [my screen name] has seen and felt the Hand of God in his life in unmistakable ways often enough to know that even if I don’t understand His perhaps-unfathomable larger and long-term purposes, I can trust Him when His servants say, “All things work together for the Good of them that love God” (Romans 8:28); and “I know not the meaning of all things; nevertheless, I know that [God] loveth His children” (1 Nephi 11:17); and “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:15); and so on.

In response to someone who posted news of the tragic death of a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I wrote:

I don’t deny (and I don’t think anyone here whose views are similar to my own would deny) that it’s easy to conclude, if one only looks at evidence from this mortal Second Act alone, that life is not fair.  The thing is, we don’t remember the premortal First Act, and the post-mortal Third Act hasn’t happened yet.  One must consider the three-act, premortal-mortal-postmortal drama in toto before reaching any such conclusion.

Later, I posted, “I was searching for something unrelated, and I happened upon this address/article by Elder D. Todd Christofferson [of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ] from 2012.  I think it might have relevance to this discussion:

https://www.lds.org/ensign/2012/01/recognizing-gods-hand-in-our-daily-blessings?lang=eng.”

Using myself as an example (since, as I mentioned earlier, I fall into both camps, the “favored” upon whom God has bestowed considerable blessings and the “why does God bless some but not others” camps, respectively), I posted:

One reason why God doesn’t intervene to prevent all of the “bad” stuff from happening is His commitment to the free will of His children.  Another reason why He doesn’t so intervene is because that would obviate the need to have faith in Him.  (If I were absolutely certain God would answer all my prayers in exactly the way I wanted Him to, there would be no need for me to have faith in Him.)  Another reason why He doesn’t so intervene is because the evil that certain members of humankind perpetrate upon their fellows will stand as a testimony against them and will condemn them at the judgment.  (God will not be mocked.)  Another reason why He doesn’t so intervene is because this is, by nature and by design, a fallen world in which we all, to a greater or lesser extent, must learn to deal with (to put it very mildly, in many cases, I realize) less-than-ideal circumstances.  Another reason why He doesn’t intervene is because to do so would circumvent His (perhaps-unfathomable, at least to the mortal mind, anyway) larger purposes.  Another potential reason why He might not intervene is because whatever else He is or is not, He is also a Sovereign.  And so on.

I have no need to explain why, in specific cases, God did or did not intervene in a certain circumstance, or why He chose to intervene in a certain way in a certain circumstance (or chose not to). I don’t know why God, apparently, chose not to intervene before I had two failed hip reconstructions (with all of the attendant physical consequences ensuing); I’m exceedingly grateful, however, that He chose to intervene by guiding a surgeon’s hand in three consecutive subsequent operations: It’s entirely possible that I would not be walking at all today, let alone being able to do so relatively free of pain, if He had not.  Conversely, I don’t know why God apparently has seen fit to withhold certain other blessings I have earnestly sought, but I have faith that doing so, for whatever reason, is more in line with His purposes for me.

Meanwhile, the standing of those recipients (or non-recipients) of blessings before God is between God and them; and my standing before God is between God and me.  I dunno.Perhaps the recipients of those interventions really are better than I am, but, in any case, it doesn’t do any good for me, with my “toddler’s” perspective (in Eternal terms) to shake my widdo fists and stomp my widdo feet at how “unfair” the Sovereign Lord of the Universe is being, or to declare, in a fit of “Spiritual Sibling Rivalry,” “See?!  I always knew Heavenly Dad loves you best!” Nor would it do any good for them to respond likewise to the blessings I have received.

Another poster critiqued my proffered notion that God intervenes in the lives of His children by stating that in doing so, He removes free will.  I responded:

I don’t think it removes free will for Him to intervene as suits His purposes [emphasis mine, in original].  It would remove free will if He always intervened.  And again, this is the Second Act.  We can’t remember the First Act, and the Third Act hasn’t happened yet. (Notwithstanding the fact that I was voted “Best Philosopher” of the THS Class of 1988, I lack the philosophical chops to say more than that, so I’ll have to leave the philosophical defense of my position to people who are smarter than I am. )

My skeptical interlocutor then asked, “Did God guide just your surgeons [sic] hands, just his hands when operating on you, or does He guide all surgeons [sic] hands all the time regardless of wether [sic] they believe in Him or not?”  I responded, “With due respect, you need to reread the post to which you are responding.  Reread it as many times as necessary, for comprehension this time.

My skeptical interlocutor then asked, “Why did God remove your surgeons [sic] free will by intervening and guiding His hands?”

I responded:

He didn’t remove His free will.  (You’re seriously mischaracterizing my position if you think I believe that, absent God’s intervention, this surgeon would actively have done harm to me.)  Ever hear of the Hippocratic Oath?  The fact that this sawbones (as an old law professor of mine used to call them) is a damn good surgeon didn’t hurt.  And why are you ignoring all of the other reasons I mentioned in my previous post for Bad Things Happening to Good People in favor of focusing on this one?

My skeptical interlocutor responded, “With due respect, I’ve reread your post and comprehended it. My question still stands.”  I replied, “However many times you have read it, nonetheless, it seems that, alas!, you still don’t understand it.”

My skeptical interlocutor responded, “Where do I insinuate the surgeon would have actively done you harm without God’s intervention?”  I replied, “You stated that God ‘removed [my surgeon’s] free will by intervening and guiding his hands.’”  (The implication of that statement, being, of course, that, left to his own devices, my surgeon would have been apathetic, or careless, or even that he might have done me harm affirmatively).

My skeptical interlocutor then asked, “If God hadn’t guided your surgeons [sic] hands, would he have done a worse job?”  I responded, “I don’t know.  I have no empirical, objective evidence for the belief that God guided my surgeon’s hands.  The only evidence I have for that belief is that God told me He did so [emphasis mine, in original].  I know that will drive you crazy, but you’ll simply have to deal with it the best you can. ;)

My skeptical interlocutor then asked, “Does your surgeon recognise that he wouldn’t have done as good a job but for God guiding his hands?”  And I responded:

I don’t know.  He knows I believe that, because I have told him so.  I do know that the type of surgery he performed on me is incredibly complex.  I do know that the postoperative complication rate is very high, and that the postoperative prognosis isn’t very good even when the surgery is successful (even when it is performed by the best in the field).  I do know that a high percentage of people who undergo surgical operations such as the one(s) I underwent have additional surgery to address further problems (even when it is performed by the best in the field).  All of that having been said, neither he nor anyone else has operated on me in the last 32 years.

My skeptical interlocutor then asked, “Does your surgeon do a worse job when left to operate solely relying upon his own training, experience and skill?”  And I responded:

I don’t know.  I do know that he keeps my file separate from those of the rest of his patients and former patients.  I think he considers my case and its outcome especially notable (see my previous paragraph).  I’ve never explicitly asked him if that is the case; it’s simply something I have inferred from the tenor of our conversations over the years.  (And we have had a considerable number of conversations in the years since I “officially” was his patient; more than the norm, I gather, but I don’t have any evidence for that, either, so sue me. ;))  A few years ago, we needed some medical documentation for something (a handicap parking placard/plate for a vehicle, I think it was), and my father went to visit him.  A member of the doctor’s staff said, “I’ll pull the file,” and he said, “That won’t be necessary,” and signed off immediately on whatever it was.

Notwithstanding the fact that I haven’t “officially” been his patient for 32 years, his memory of my case seems especially vivid.  Most doctors, and especially most surgeons (and this is not an indictment of them), if a patient were to tell them that the patient needed something (especially after that length of time), would say, “Let me get back to you after I’ve pulled and reviewed the file,” or something similar.  Not him.

Later in the thread, I posted (bold mine, in original):

What you, apparently, are missing (or downplaying, or ignoring, perhaps because it doesn’t fit your [apparently] godless paradigm or what you do or do not want to believe about a God who does exist), [screen name redacted], is that I haven’t told separate stories in this thread: I haven’t told one story about an 11-13 year old kid whom God apparently didn’t like, or toward whom He was ill-disposed, or toward whom He was, at best, apathetic, and so He allowed that 11-13 year old to suffer through two failed hip reconstructions and their painful, grueling, apparently-fruitless aftermath, on the one hand, and another story about a 14-15 year old kid whom he liked, or toward whom he was well-disposed, or toward whom (fortunately!) He was not apathetic, on the other hand, and so He blessed that 14-15 year old and the surgeon who operated on him through three subsequent successful operations.

The young man who went through all of that, the initial two failures and the subsequent three successes?  Same kid.  So my experience can’t an instance of “we’re back to the opening of the thread: apparently God loves some more than He loves others.”

My skeptical interlocutor then responded to my denial that my entire experience (the first two dismal failed operations and their difficult aftermath, followed by three successes despite long odds) still could be summed up by saying “God loves some more than He loves others,” “Yes, it can.”

I responded (bold in original):

No, it can’t, because, again, you’re conveniently ignoring or downplaying my own not-inconsiderable physical and emotional suffering through those first two failed operations. God could have intervened then, too, but, for whatever reason, He did not.  (I’m not trying to be a “Drama King” here … I’m just sayin’!)  I don’t know precisely what God’s purposes were for choosing to not intervene in the first two operations while intervening in the latter three, but I choose … perhaps naively, perhaps foolishly, from your point of view, and that’s fine … to trust Him.

Perhaps, rather than saying that God chose to not intervene, I could have pointed out that, in fact, He may have done so in ways I didn’t perceive. As much as I might have wished (indeed, as much as I might still wish, even today) for a better outcome, perhaps the outcome would have been even worse, had it not been for his unperceived intervention. Indeed, that’s true of any horrible, undesirable circumstance any of us might face. My interlocutor continued, “Because whilst your version of God was guiding your surgeons [sic] hands, he was allowing children to suffer at the hands of their abusers.”

I responded:

Yep, and he also allowed a child to suffer through two failed major operations and their physically- and emotionally-painful, grueling, ultimately-fruitless aftermath before that, too.  I freely admit, that I don’t know all of the reasons for that, but I choose to believe that He does.

My skeptical interlocutor then continued, “If God can physically intervene in your reality, then He has the ability to physically intervene in everyone’s reality.”

And I replied:

I’m not sure what you mean by “physically intervene.”  When I posit that God guides someone’s actions, I’m not suggesting that He intervenes in the same manner in which, say, an earthly parent might guide a child’s hands as the child learns to tie his shoes, nor am I suggesting that that’s what happened when I use such phrases as, “God guided the hand of my surgeon.”

My interlocutor then continued:

So when a child prays for the abuse to stop, and it doesn’t, it irrefutably means that’s because He chose not to [intervene to make it stop]. What kind of God chooses to not stop child abuse when He has the ability to do so, whilst seeing fit to help your surgeon perform the operation on you?

I responded:

The same God who allowed my sister-in-law, who is one of the finest people I have ever known, to die a horrible death from cancer.  I don’t know all of the reasons why God, despite many fervent, faithful prayers that she be delivered from that fate, did not deliver her, and I would, indeed, think that is a tragedy, if I also thought that her existence was due to nothing more than more-or-less random biological processes and that, once her life was snuffed out, she simply succumbed to the void, but I don’t think her existence is due to nothing more than simple biology, so I don’t think she simply succumbed to the void.  I realize the only thing that will convince you of the soundness of my position is your own surprise at not having ceased to exist entirely when you shuffle off this mortal coil, so I suppose we’ll simply have to wait to see who’s right. ;)

And I’m sure Elizabeth Smart prayed, fervently and frequently (if not more-or-less constantly) for her abuse to stop.  I don’t know why those prayers, along with those of her family and friends for her swift safe return, were not answered in the way she, her family, and her friends hoped they would be (at least, not at first), but I’m sure that they have faith that God does.

We can’t always choose our circumstances in this life: I couldn’t choose not to have those operations (any of them, not just the ones that failed) if I wanted to enjoy the degree of orthopedic health I enjoy today; my sister-in-law couldn’t choose to not get cancer; and Elizabeth Smart couldn’t choose to not get kidnapped, raped daily for nine months, and otherwise abused.  Often, the only thing we can choose is how we respond to our circumstances, as unfair and undesirable as those circumstances may be.  If you believe that, ultimately, how we choose to respond to our circumstances matters only for the rest this life (which, frankly, is the equivalent of believing that, ultimately, such choices don’t matter), that’s your choice.  I believe … and choose … differently.

Another poster asked, “How do you explain those of us who asked, begged even, and got nothing?”  And another poster added, “That’s what I’ve been wondering,” adding that his family had been searching for information on his father’s relatives so that they could perform proxy ordinances for them in the Temple, without success, and ending hopefully, “Maybe in the millennium,” the thousand-year period of peace prophesied following Christ’s return. I responded:

I’m sorry for what you both have been through and for what you’re both going through. By no means have my contributions to this thread been intended for me to set myself up as any kind of a paragon of virtue or an example of answered prayers. The truth is that when it comes to answered prayers, for the vast majority of us, life is a mixed bag: Perhaps there are found keys, but, if not, hopefully, there are kind locksmiths who can help us out of our predicament without charging us nearly what their work is worth (or perhaps without even charging us at all); perhaps there are miraculous cures, but, if not, hopefully, there is strength to endure and there is perspective gained despite (indeed, perhaps even because of) dire circumstances; and so on.

Indeed, my contributions to the thread are intended to illustrate this “mixed-bag” perspective: For every righteously-desired blessing I’ve been granted, at least one other blessing has been delayed or denied. I’ve posted at length here about the protracted, circuitous route I continue to travel in search of financial security and occupational fulfillment. This is especially puzzling to me in light of an experience I had in the Nauvoo Temple that I posted about on another thread. I have a lot of questions to which I don’t have the answer. I have simply determined to not allow what, as yet, I do not know to persuade me to doubt the reality of the Oliver Cowdery, “Did-I-not-speak-peace-to-your-mind-concerning-the-matter” moments I have experienced. I have simply determined to not allow what I do know to be held hostage to what, as yet, I do not know.

Here’s an account of my Nauvoo Temple Initiatory experience:

While I was wondering, in light of the denial of licensure [to practice law], what I should do next, I wasn’t necessarily overly troubled by it, and I wasn’t necessarily actively seeking answers. I visited the Nauvoo Temple where my aunt and uncle were serving as temple missionaries at the time and had the chance, for the first time since receiving my own endowment nearly 20 years before, to do initiatories. While I wouldn’t expect that passage to strike anyone else in the same way nor with the same force that it struck me, a particular passage from that ordinance struck me with unusual force: it talks about wielding a certain instrument in defense of certain assets. It made me think that this long, circuitous, tortuous odyssey I have undertaken in an effort to find a comfortable career niche might not have been completely in vain, after all.

Lack of progress on that front in the more than ten years since then (indeed, given the careless psych eval I received from an idiot psychologist, in some ways, I have regressed) makes that experience all the more perplexing, but, nonetheless, I still cannot deny what I experienced: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15).

My original skeptical interlocutor then asked, “Let me say again, I’m glad your surgery went well.  Can you look at it objectively with a wider lens and perhaps consider that you have been drawing a target where the arrow fell? Isn’t that a possibility in cases where divine intervention is claimed?”

I responded:

Anything is possible. In matters of faith, we’re all our own triers of fact with respect to what evidence we choose to admit, what evidence we choose to exclude, how much weight we choose to give any given piece of evidence we choose to admit, and so on. Given the myriad possible different perspectives, I wouldn’t be surprised if you were to choose to exclude evidence I have chosen to admit, were to choose to weigh the evidence I have admitted differently than I do, and so on.

Another poster responded, apparently feeling that the example of prayers offered for help in finding the information necessary to perform proxy ordinances in Latter-day Saint Temples for loved ones is too trivial, “I had something a little more crisis-oriented in mind, like terminal illness, that kind of thing.”

I responded:

I don’t know why the many fervent prayers offered in my sister-in-law’s behalf that she be delivered from the horrible fate which befell her of dying from cancer were not answered in the way those who offered those prayers would have liked them to be, but I have faith that God does.

Later on, I responded to the implicit contention that finding information on one’s ancestors so that a Latter-day Saint can perform proxy ordinances for those ancestors in a Temple is a trivial matter which is unworthy of Divine intervention still further.  Not to go all “Church Lady” from Saturday Night Live on my readers or anything (“Could it be . . . Satan?!”), but Latter-day Saints do believe that a battle began in the premortal realm between Satan and those of Heavenly Father’s spirit children who chose to follow him, on the one hand, and those of His spirit children who chose to follow Heavenly Father’s plan and come to earth, on the other hand. See Revelation 12 in the Holy Bible.

I wrote:

I think [screen name redacted]’s example is a good one, though. One would think that a righteous desire, a purely spiritually-oriented goal, an effort to keep one of Heavenly Father’s commandments to seek out our kindred dead, would be something regarding which Heavenly Father would most readily grant blessings which His children seek. Opposition in all things, living in a fallen world, and similar conditions seem ever-present. I can only say that if we allow such “fallen-world” conditions to convince us that God doesn’t love us, then the Adversary wins even though he hasn’t persuaded us to commit any “great or malignant” sins, to use Joseph Smith’s phrase. Again, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:15).

Bottom line? I think the extent to which any mortal—with limited powers of perception, cognition, reasoning, and so on—feels he can trust God is greatly influenced by what else that mortal believes about Him—what other attributes that mortal believes He possesses. With the Book of Mormon prophet-king Benjamin, I “[b]elieve in God; believe that He is, and that He created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.”

Because of my personal experience with God—even though much of that experience involves perceiving Him only dimly, “through a glass, darkly,” to use the Apostle Paul’s phrase (1 Corinthians 13:12 KJV)—I know He exists. As the Book of Mormon prophet, Nephi, tells us of the Savior, so it is with His Father, too: “He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world” (2 Nephi 26:24).

It’s true that I don’t understand the reason why God does everything He does—and why He refrains from doing some things I might wish He would do (see Isaiah 55:8-9: God’s thoughts and His ways are higher than are our thoughts and our ways, because the heavens are higher than the earth)—but, whatever happens that I might wish doesn’t happen, and whatever doesn’t happen that I might wish would happen, my assurance of the fact that God loves His children, that He loves me, individually, is unshakable: Given life’s myriad utterly mystifying vicissitudes, if I give that up, what’s left?

 

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Blood-draw brouhaha, part 2

Blood-Draw Brouhaha, Continued: More on Payne v. Wubbels

By Ken K. Gourdin

As I previously noted in a post from a few days ago, Salt Lake City Police Detective Jeff Payne’s body-cam footage of his arrest of University of Utah Hospital Burn Unit Charge Nurse Alex Wubbels has created a large stir far and wide on the Internet after the released footage shows Nurse Wubbels refusing to allow a blood draw from William Gray, a comatose burn patient/truck driver/Rigby ID reserve police officer because Mr. Gray could not and did not consent, nor was there probable cause to justify the blood draw, nor had a warrant been issued authorizing it, nor were there exigent circumstances to justify it. (Indeed, Mr. Gray is not suspected of any wrongdoing whatsoever, whether civil or criminal.)

As I also previously noted, Mr. Gray was seriously burned when his truck caught fire before he could get out after it collided with a vehicle whose driver was a felon fleeing from pursuing Utah Highway Patrol Troopers. The other driver died in the collision, which Logan (Utah) Police have been tasked with investigating. Originally, Logan Police sought Salt Lake Police assistance in obtaining Mr. Gray’s blood.

As I previously noted, although Nurse Wubbels and her superiors acted in good faith, they were mistaken about the applicability of the hospital policy they invoked to forbid the blood-draw because Mr. Gray, an innocent victim, was not suspected of criminal wrongdoing. (However, as I also noted previously, other law, such as the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act of 1996, aka HIPAA, may well—indeed, it likely does—preclude drawing blood under circumstances such as these, as well). Detective Payne has retained Salt Lake City attorney Greg Skordas. (Full disclosure: I know Greg Skordas, who, as an adjunct professor, taught me in law school—though he definitely wouldn’t remember me.)

Things looked bad enough for Salt Lake Police, for Watch Commander Lieutenant James Tracy (who ordered Detective Payne to arrest Nurse Wubbels if she refused to allow the blood draw) and for Detective Payne already. But given the revelation by Logan Police Chief Gary Jensen that his office had backed off of its original request for the truck driver’s blood once he realized that the driver was unconscious and therefore unable to consent to a blood draw, and that Logan Police told Detective Payne to not worry about procuring the sample and that they would get it through other means, now, they look even worse.

As Salt Lake Tribune reporter Luke Ramseth noted in a story about Logan P.D.’s interactions with Salt Lake P.D. regarding the matter of obtaining Mr. Gray’s blood, “[Logan Police Chief] Jensen said one of his detectives investigating the crash told Payne not to worry about pushing for the blood draw because Logan could get the blood through other means. He said Logan officers didn’t initially realize the crash victim, 43-year-old William Gray, was unconscious and thus unable to consent to a blood draw.” Indeed, in a conversation caught on Detective Payne’s body-cam, Detective Payne admitted that he already knew Logan Police had asked him to back off. See the following address (this and all other links last accessed September 9, 2017): http://www.sltrib.com/news/2017/09/08/detectives-body-camera-confirms-that-logan-police-asked-him-to-back-off-blood-draw/.

Though it should go without saying that I don’t agree with every position Mr. Skordas stakes out on behalf of his clients, I’ve found him to be he is a likeable fellow, a capable and entertaining instructor, and (from my distant observation) an able advocate for his clients. I have no reason to believe Mr. Skordas is not well regarded by his fellow members of the Bar, by both prosecutors and defense attorneys alike. That said, while, I don’t know for sure, I suspect Mr. Skordas’s approach to advocating for someone like Detective Payne, who has been brutalized both in the media and in the court of public opinion for his actions, is “Any port in a storm.”

Now comes word from Mr. Skordas that the real reason why Detective Payne wanted the truck driver’s blood is to preserve the driver’s commercial driver license (CDL). See the following address: http://www.sltrib.com/news/2017/09/09/slc-detectives-attorney-says-officer-wanted-blood-drawn-to-help-the-unconscious-patient-keep-his-commercial-driver-license/. As much respect as I have for Mr. Skordas, I find that explanation for Detective Payne’s actions highly suspect. I don’t think it passes the smell test, the laugh test (though this is, of course, no laughing matter), or several other, similar tests.

In on-line comments to the story linked in the foregoing paragraph, I commented:

I might laud Detective Payne for his desire to be proactive in looking out for the interests of the truck driver/Rigby ID reserve officer/burn patient [William Gray], but here’s the problem with that position, Counselor: It’s not the job of public officials and entities to vindicate private interests. That’s why all entities and all parties involved have legal counsel (or can retain such counsel, if they feel it is necessary). And it certainly isn’t necessary for a government actor (i.e., Detective Payne) to go so far in his attempt to vindicate private interests as to arrest a private citizen who simply was attempting to be conscientious in doing her job and was following orders from her superiors.

The way for Detective Payne to be proactive in his attempt to help this patient [Mr. Gray] keep his Commercial Driver License is to speak with those closest to [Mr. Gray] and to suggest that anyone empowered to make medical decisions for him help vindicate his interest in retaining his CDL by allowing a blood draw.

In the interest of fairness, I should reiterate that Detective Payne, too, was simply following the order of his superior officer, Lieutenant Tracy, in arresting Nurse Wubbels. Though the change came too late to help Nurse Wubbels, the University of Utah and the Hospital were absolutely right to change policies which come into play in incidents such as this to ensure that administrators, not nurses, are responsible for dealing with law enforcement and for handling demands for evidence.

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Alleged Vast Mormon Conspiracy

On Conspiracies, on Their Collapse, and On the Founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Which, Some Say, is One of the Largest Alleged Conspiracies in the History of Religion

By Ken K. Gourdin

A poster at Mormon Dialogue and Discussion posited that the foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rests upon a conspiracy involving Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, David Whitmer, Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer, Jr., John Whitmer, Hiram Page, Joseph Smith, Sr., Hyrum Smith, and Samuel H. Smith, Emma Smith, Mary Whitmer, and perhaps others.

I responded that I found this theory implausible, pointing out that “[e]ven the smallest of possible conspiracies, those composed of a mere two people, tend to collapse under their own weight.  You propose a far larger one that, somehow, managed to hold up.”

Another poster asked me what empirical or other objective evidence I could offer in support of my assertion.  I responded:

You’re right.  Mea maxima culpa.  I don’t have any data.  My observation is based on simple human nature: If the cost of maintaining the secret/conspiracy (whether that cost be personal or social, emotional or fiscal; whether that cost entails being ensnared in the civil and/or the criminal justice systems, respectively; et cetera) becomes higher than the cost of revealing it, then it is likely to collapse.  Taking suspicious spouses out of the equation, adultery wouldn’t disrupt nearly as many marriages if neither of the “conspirators” ever came clean; taking suspicious whistle-blowers out of the equation, financial fraud wouldn’t impact nearly as many investors, businesses (or quasi-businesses or ersatz businesses), or industries if none of the conspirators ever came clean; and so on. 

None of the prosecutors I’ve known (and I’ve known a few) would ever say, “Meh! Forget conspiracy!  That’s small potatoes!  I don’t need that!” Rather (for better or for worse) they use conspiracy charges as leverage to help them go full-force after their real targets.  If they really want Bugsy, but they lack evidence that they know Whitey can help them get against Bugsy, they’re not above telling Whitey, “Here’s the deal: I’ve got you dead-to-rights on conspiracy right now.  If you testify (or otherwise help me) to convict Bugsy, I’ll give a walk on the conspiracy charge.”  I still have no data (so sue me!), but simple common sense tells me that far, far more people are nailed on (or at least charged with, initially) conspiracy-to-commit charges (and other inchoate crimes) than are ever nailed for the actual crimes themselves.

Plainly, the official account of the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is preposterous.  In many ways, though, the only things more preposterous than the official account are the alternative explanations put forth by critics, by skeptics, and by the disaffected which are intended to explain away divine and supernatural influence.

As the Book of Mormon prophet, Alma, put it, “And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls” (Alma 37:6–7). Regarding the methods He would employ in restoring the fullness of His Gospel to the earth, the Lord has said, “The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh” (Doctrine & Covenants 1:19).  The Apostle Paul is in accord.  He wrote the Corinthians, “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty” (1 Corinthians 1:27).  And as the Apostle Paul also wrote the Corinthians, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

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Questions remain after Subway employee cleared in police spiked-drink case

Although Subway Employee Alleged to Have Spiked Police Sergeant’s Drink Was Cleared and Accepted City’s Settlement Offer, Questions Remain

By Ken K. Gourdin

Tanis Ukena, a former employee of a Layton, Utah Subway sandwich shop, who was arrested on suspicion of adulterating a police sergeant’s drink when the sergeant experienced unusual symptoms after consuming a small amount of the drink, has accepted a $50,000 settlement from Layton City.  

Preliminary tests indicated there was a foreign substance in the sergeant’s drink, but apparently, more extensive subsequent testing found nothing unusual.   For coverage of the settlement with Mr. Ukena in Salt Lake City’s Deseret News, see here (last accessed September 7, 2017):

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/900000863/utah-man-wrongly-accused-of-drugging-officer-gets-50k.html.

Even though Mr. Ukena was cleared, I don’t think the sergeant lied about the symptoms he experienced; presumably, third parties would be able to testify that his (re)actions after consuming a small amount of the drink were unusual, and there should be some sort of a record of his report of those symptoms to medical personnel (e.g., to hospital personnel, if he sought treatment).

On-line commentary about the settlement at Deseret News excoriated the sergeant (at least implicitly, if not explicitly) for his alleged untruthfulness and contended that the settlement was insufficient.  A prima facie case (Latin for “On the first impression”) is one which, if allowed to stand unrebutted, is sufficient in itself to prove the truth of the matter asserted.  And res ipsa loquitur is a Latin phrase meaning, “The thing speaks for itself.”  I responded to on-line comments as follows:

Those of you who argue that this settlement should have been much higher are ignoring a few basic facts:

  1. Preliminary tests (while, of course, they are not foolproof, as this incident shows) indicated that there was something foreign in the sergeant’s drink. Depending on the circumstances, such tests could still be enough to establish a prima facie case.  At a minimum, res ipsa loquitur would spur further investigation.
  2. Having my first point in mind, while, ultimately, Mr. Ukena was cleared, that does not mean that someone else could not have put a foreign substance into the sergeant’s drink.
  3. When it comes to settlements against government entities such as municipalities, there is no “they,” and there is no “them.”  There is only us.  Ultimately, there is a potential for every resident of a municipality to bear fiscal consequences of payouts: liability insurance rates may increase, bond ratings may suffer, and so on.  One may say, “What do I care?  I don’t live in Layton,” but incidents such as this can happen anywhere.

We may never know exactly what happened or who is responsible, but, notwithstanding the settlement, nothing in the coverage I have read has convinced me that the sergeant was anything less than fully truthful.  Even though Mr. Ukena was not at fault, I believe one should not lose sight of the fact that something happened to the sergeant.

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Blood-draw brouhaha

Hospital Blood-Draw Brouhaha—Wubbels v. Payne: Salt Lake Police Detective Jeff Payne Arrests Burn Unit Charge Nurse Alex Wubbels After She Refuses to Permit Blood Draw from Comatose Patient

By Ken K. Gourdin

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last couple of weeks, you’ve probably seen the police body-cam footage of University of Utah Hospital Burn Unit Charge Nurse Alex Wubbels being arrested by a Salt Lake City Police Detective Jeff Payne, who then placed her in handcuffs and dragged her out to a squad car for refusing to comply or to acquiesce when Detective Payne wanted blood drawn from a patient on the unit.  In late July, Utah Highway Patrol troopers were in pursuit of a fleeing felon whose vehicle collided with the semi rig being driven by a truck driver and Rigby, Idaho reserve police officer who was burned severely when the rig caught fire before he could get out. The fleeing felon died in that collision.  

Apparently believing police were authorized to act under Utah’s implied consent law, which allows them to test drivers whom they reasonably suspect of driving under the influence (and having received a request for the patient’s blood from Logan Utah Police, who were tasked with investigating the collision), Detective Payne arrested Nurse Wubbels after she informed him that hospital policy did not permit a blood draw without patient consent, without probable cause and exigent circumstances, or without a warrant.  

Apparently, though, the aforementioned policy only applies to someone who is suspected of a crime, so it is inapplicable to this situation because no criminal wrongdoing is suspected on the part of the patient.  However, if all of the protections mentioned in the preceding paragraph are going to be extended even to someone who is suspected of a crime, then perhaps they also ought to apply (with equal force, if not with even greater force) to someone who is not suspected of a crime.  Furthermore, implied consent law only applies in situations in which police reasonably suspect a driver of operating a vehicle while under the influence.  And Nurse Wubbels, despite being mistaken in her application of the policy to this instance, was in a most unenviable position: Follow the policy, get arrested; don’t follow the policy, lose her job.

Apart from Detective Payne’s treatment of Nurse Wubbels, which is a separate issue, one of the first questions which occurred to me upon learning of this incident is, “The patient is in a coma.  He’s not going anywhere.  Why can’t Logan Police get a search warrant?”  And, often, investigations of this type range far and wide, crossing jurisdictions.  Logan P.D. can’t secure a search warrant, can’t call Salt Lake P.D. and/or University of Utah P.D. and say, “Hey, your hospital has a patient who was involved in a collision we’re investigating up here, we’ve got a warrant for his blood, and we’re going to send an officer down there to execute it”?

In on-line commentary about the incident at SLTrib.com, apparently believing that Logan P.D., Salt Lake P.D., University of Utah P.D. Rigby, Idaho P.D., and probably a handful of other agencies I have neglected to name, all are involved in a vast conspiracy to protect the semi driver/Rigby reserve officer as “one of their own” (my phrase; the poster trotted out the “thin blue line” trope) another poster implied that all of these agencies (?!) allegedly were acting in concert in an attempt to protect the Rigby reserve officer from liability.

In part, the poster wrote, “Considering the thin blue line and all[,] perhaps they were in fact trying to protect him, maybe from a possible lawsuit from the family of the suspect who died in the crash.”  I responded by asking, “Under what theory would (or could) the truck driver/Rigby ID reserve police officer incur liability? I’ve seen no news reports indicating that he bore any responsibility (or potential responsibility) for what happened. What, if anything, have I missed?”  I received no response from my interlocutor.  

In any event (while I’m not saying this never happens) it is not the job of one jurisdiction or agency to protect another jurisdiction’s or agency’s interest, and it’s not the job of public agencies to vindicate private interests. That’s why each party involved has (or can secure, if one feels it is needed) legal representation.

True, the truck driver/comatose burn patient is not suspected of operating his vehicle under the influence (so implied consent law does not apply). And true, neither is he suspected of other criminal wrongdoing (so the hospital’s blood-draw policy as enunciated/read by Nurse Wubbels does not apply).  However, one aspect of the incident that I have not seen discussed anywhere is that even though neither implied consent law nor the hospital’s blood-draw policy come into play,  laws governing patient privacy do come into play, such as the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), as I pointed out in the discussion at SLTrib.com.  I wrote:

While I have not researched the matter (and, thus, I’m certainly open to correction), I strongly suspect that HIPAA [the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act of 1996] also would require a warrant for a blood draw and/or to permit disclosure of blood test results to third parties (even to law enforcement) in situations such as this one. A quick Web search sent me to the article “HIPAA and Law Enforcement,” by Renee H. Martin, JD, MSN, RN at the following address [last accessed September 3, 2017]: http://nursing.advanceweb.com/Article/HIPAA-and-Law-Enforcement.aspx.

A brief excerpt from the article found at that address states:

“Under HIPAA, covered entities [which I would assume the University of Utah Hospital is] can disclose protected health information (PHI) to law enforcement without the individual’s authorization if they are required by law to do so (such as when a state law mandates reports of [gunshot] victims), or if there is a court order, court-ordered warrant, grand jury subpoena or an administrative subpoena/summons under certain conditions.”

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Fiction: Deanna, Afterword

 

Afterword: What’s Real, What’s Not

While I hope the transition isn’t too jarring for any of my readers, one of the purposes of this Afterword is to provide a bridge from the happily-ever-after world of the story back to reality.  Perhaps the state of my “love life” (such as it is) can be summed up best in the following bit of prose, which I wrote more years ago now than I care to admit (and for better or for worse, the more things change, the more they stay the same):

Love’s Plans

You reached out to me

and I was there for you.

Maybe lasting love wasn’t in the plan,

or maybe love has plans of its own.

Whatever the reason,

or maybe for no reason at all,

I fell in love with you and you fell in love with me.

It ended,

(because maybe love has plans of its own).

I try to reach out;

I try to believe someone still needs me;

I try to remember love’s fleeting sweet taste;

I try to decipher love’s plans.

This story is, of course, a work of fiction.  Nevertheless, it was inspired by actual events, many of which happened to me and to someone for whom I once cared a great deal (and, on some level, for whom I still do).  To put a finer point on it, I once knew a girl who was not unlike Deanna Lopez, and who experienced—in fact, we experienced—many of the same things described in broad strokes herein.

It’s said that the secret to writing successfully is either: (1) to know what one writes; or (2) to write what one knows.  In writing this story, I chose the second of those two approaches.  “Eric” is a composite character.  (Only one of us got the girl, Alas!)  It is, of course, no accident that Eric and I share some key similarities: We both have Cerebral Palsy, and we both walk with a pair of forearm crutches—or with a distinctive gait (a pronounced limp) without them.  

With the exception of dialogue which occurs and correspondence which is exchanged centered around marriage and marriage plans, as well as one other key exception, which I will discuss shortly, although some settings and surrounding circumstances were changed, most of the dialogue between characters herein actually took place.  Much of Eric’s “internal monologue” also reflects my own thoughts at the time.  Contemporaneous journal accounts were a key source of my thoughts, of dialogue between characters, and of correspondence between “Deanna” and me (much of which I reproduced herein verbatim—again, with the exception of “pre-wedding” correspondence).

There is one instance of dialogue between Eric and Deanna, however, which did not occur between Deanna’s real-life counterpart and me.  I wish, for all the wisdom Eric displayed herein, that I, too, had been wise enough and brave enough to tell Deanna’s real-life counterpart something Eric told Deanna during their frank discussion at the end of Chapter 4.

At the end of that conversation, Eric tells Deanna, “Don’t ask me to lie to you and tell you I don’t have feelings for you, because I do.  Maybe if I didn’t, it would be easier for me to help you.  Maybe what you need most right now is just a friend.  I know I’ve messed things up for you by wanting more than that, and I’m sorry.  I don’t want you to be scared of what I feel for you—or of what you feel for me.  But I’ll gladly give that up if it keeps you away from Scott.”  Of all of the things I should have said but didn’t . . .

Out of respect for Deanna’s real-life counterpart, I avoided telling our whole story in my autobiography, My Story: Lots of Good, Some Bad, and a Little Ugly in the First 32 Years.  While I still have as much respect for Deanna’s real-life counterpart as I ever have, I hope enough time has passed that my telling the story essentially as it actually happened—with some embellishment for dramatic purposes (again, “Eric” is a composite character: someone else got the girl)—will not open any old wounds.  “Deanna” is a woman of uncommon courage: With the help of her Heavenly Father and of her Savior, Jesus Christ, she vanquished her foes and was reborn.

My motivation for telling this story, especially for telling it after all this time, is . . . complicated.  I’m not sure I can even put it into words.  But whatever my motivation is for telling this story, here’s what it is not: For all the times a part of me might have wished that “our” story had ended differently, I never wanted to deny Deanna the happiness she found—even though it was with someone else.  Given what has happened to her since, she absolutely made the right decision to end our relationship.  And even if I thought she hadn’t, Christ died, in part, so that we would have the right to continue to exercise our God-given free will.  Who would I be to question that?

I have only one regret: In “Deanna’s” eyes, I have been lumped together with another person (or other people) who is simply a negative reminder of a past she simply wishes to forget.  For all of the mistakes I made in our relationship (and even if I’m not “marriageable material,” and I’m not denying that there aren’t reasons—reasons good and sound, and reasons not a few in number—to reach that conclusion) I think I deserve better than that.  I wish “Deanna” could have said, “Yep, pasts are like rear ends: Everybody has one, and it’s behind you—at least when you’re standing up.”  It would have been nice if she could have said simply, “You know what?  Yeah, maybe we weren’t ‘meant to be,’ but where you’re concerned, I have no regrets.”  But I cannot dictate to anyone else how she should see her past; that’s her decision.  With that one, small caveat, “Deanna” is an amazing woman.  

As trite as it is, that old cliché is only a cliché because it’s true: Things happen for a reason.  As the writer of Ecclesiastes put it, To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.  My faith may falter; it may flicker; it may best be described in the plaintive cry of the man who begged the Savior to heal his son: Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.  I don’t know the reasons for everything that has happened to me (and everything that has not happened to me) but I have faith that God does.

Perhaps I can do no better to sum up my motivation for telling this story than to hark back to something Eric wrote Deanna.  Indeed, I wrote it to Deanna’s real-life counterpart.  (Ironically, despite its tone of finality, this bit of correspondence occurred quite early on in our on-again-off-again-on-again-off-again relationship.)  I wrote:

I’ve always known that it wouldn’t be hard for me to care about someone else.  The question I’ve always had is “Could someone else care for me?”  If nothing else came out of this, that question was answered.  Since now I know that there is at least one other person on the earth who cared for me like I cared for her (you), I know it can happen again—at the right time, with the right person, under different circumstances.

It goes without saying that not all relationships will have the fairytale ending described here, especially if they encounter some or all of the difficulties also described here.  Like Eric, I wanted only the best for this young lady.  Hopefully, those of us whose relationships with the Deanna Lopezes of the world have ended this way can accept that ending with class, grace, and style.  I’ve searched my soul for those qualities, and this story is part of the result of that soul search.

Many of the lessons our relationship taught me have been the inspiration for telling this story.  In the process of living through and writing about many of the events it describes, I have learned countless lessons about myself, about life, about love, and maybe most important of all, about change.

Like Eric, I’ve learned lessons about how to love with all of my heart, and about what it feels like to receive that kind of love in return;  I’ve learned what it feels like to truly be accepted for who I am, and how to accept someone else that way, too; I’ve learned what it feels like to love someone enough to let them make mistakes and then to forgive them, and what it feels like to receive that kind of love in return.  Like Eric, I’ve learned to listen with my ears—and with my heart, too.  I’ve learned that to truly understand others, I must listen not only to what they say, but to what they mean.

In other words, to borrow Blaise Pascal’s memorable phrase, I’ve learned that “the heart has reasons of which reason knows nothing.”  I’ve learned that silence has many meanings, and, often, it says more than words ever could.  I’ve learned how to tell the difference between the things that matter most and the things that matter least, and how to not put the first at the mercy of the second.  I’ve learned that when you really love someone, you make whatever sacrifices are necessary to make the relationship work.

I’ve learned that loving someone means having the courage to give all of your heart; having the courage to face fear; having the courage to take risks; having the courage to feel pain; and having the courage to handle rejection.  And I’ve learned that the person who never has the courage to face fear, to take risks, to feel pain, or to handle rejection is a person for whom life quickly begins to lose its meaning.

If someone faces that fear time after time, only to see it realized; if he takes that risk over and over again, and loses; if he gets hurt repeatedly; life still will have more meaning for him than if he were to never face that fear, to take that risk, or to feel that pain.  And I’ve learned that, sometimes, real love means having the courage to let go.  To my future wife, whoever you are and wherever you may be, I look forward to applying these lessons to our relationship.

It’s said that no one gets you over the last one like the next one.  “Deanna” is a tough act to follow, and I haven’t found that out—yet.  But sooner or later, whether in this life or the next, someday, I will.

And this time, I’m not letting go.

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