Reflections on 9/11 and a Significant Birthday

1000+ years old Petroglyphs along the Colorado River near Moab, Utah
1000+ years old Petroglyphs along the Colorado River near Moab, Utah

September 11, 2015, Denver, Colorado

Our parents’ generation all remembered where they were when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941. I was in high school in Columbus, Georgia, when Kennedy was assassinated in 1963…at Florida State University when Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in 1968. On September 11, 2001, I was in Reno, Nevada, with my wife Susan, and a nurse friend, Rosemary, who was visiting us from Oregon for the purpose of recording guided imagery meditations with Susan’s and my music.

Susan’s father telephoned us early that Tuesday morning, telling us to turn on our televisions. We watched in horror for the next few hours. Eventually, after having seen replays of the falling towers numerous times, we said to each other that the best thing we could do at that moment was to do our work. After turning off the television, we sat together and recorded guided imagery meditations, that were broadcast for years on our CARE With Guided Imagery channel, a companion channel to our main CARE Channel.

No one had any idea when they went to work in the twin towers that day in September 2001, just like every other, that thousands of them would die that day. Life is fragile but resilient. The human race can kill itself off by the thousands. But the survivors thrive again after a time…until the next war, or terrorist insurgency, or revolution, or uprising, or violent religious conflict repeats the human tragedy.

On my birthday within Arches National Park
On my birthday within Arches National Park

Celebrating September 8, 1948

Three days before 9/11 was the occasion of my 67th birthday. At age 67, two thirds of a century, it’s getting harder and harder to maintain the denial of having attained “middle age” (heaven forbid, not “old age”). This essay is an opportunity to take a few minutes for self-reflection, to look at my life, in the present, the past, and the future.

Next year, 2016, will witness the occasion of my fiftieth high school class reunion. My classmates and I will have lots in common. At this age, most of us have lost our parents. We’ve moved up to the top age level. Perhaps more disturbing, everyone my age has likely experienced the loss of a friend or relative younger than we are. Time to start checking off items on the Bucket List!

The remainder of my life span is relatively limited, no longer in some distant unimaginably distant future time. It’s safe to assume that I’m more than halfway done. It’s sobering to remember that my mother was only eight years older than I am now when she died. Susan’s mother died at age sixty-four. To paraphrase Tom Lehrer’s old line, “By the time Mozart was my age, he’d been dead for decades.”

Balance Rock and Arches National Park panorama. Notice the people standing at the right side of Balance Rock.
Balance Rock and Arches National Park panorama. For a sense of scale, look for the tiny people standing at the right side of Balance Rock.

Travels in Utah and Colorado September 7-11, 2015

I spent my birthday driving with Susan from Reno to Denver, where we were to participate in a conference for the cancer support group Healing Journeys. After driving all day from Reno to Salt Lake City the first day of the trip, we arrived on the second evening at one of my favorite places, Moab, Utah, home to some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.

For those readers who are not aware of the Moab area, it is surrounded by Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Cathedral Valley, the backdrop for several wild-west movies. In my opinion, this area is equal to the most famous national parks, Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon. It is impressive at any time of year in any weather.

In the course of our many cross-country trips starting over twenty years ago, Susan and I were able to visit Moab and its spectacular surroundings several times. We spent the afternoon of my birthday, and the next two days driving through the landscapes. Whenever a particular view was irresistible, I would stop the van and shoot video for our CARE Channel. This trip was a flashback for Susan and me, because it was our first long road trip like this in many years. I haven’t had to shoot video for the CARE Channel since our company, Healing Healthcare Systems, hired two young hot videographers. One key to how we have grown the company has been to hire people who know more than we do, who are experts in their respective specialties.

Stone columns within Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction, Colorado
Stone columns within Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction, Colorado

After Moab, Utah, we drove to Grand Junction, Colorado, where we stayed over night with two friends, Terry Chase, associate professor of nursing, and Sharon Blackburn, retired physical therapist. We had met Terry many years ago when she worked at Craig Hospital as the director of patient and family education. Craig Hospital is world renowned as a facility specializing in spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries. Terry is herself a paraplegic from a bicycle accident years ago. Prior to the accident, she taught middle school physical education for over 8 years. Her own experience contributed to her success in caring for patients with similar or related injuries. She is a prime example of the ability of the human spirit to cope with and transcend physical injuries.

And finally, today, we arrived in Denver and set up our instruments for our performance tomorrow for the Healing Journeys conference. Healing Journeys was founded by a friend, Jan Adrian, whom Susan has known for decades. Jan has personally had numerous bouts of cancer, and yet she has survived to create this organization that brings together health professionals and patients to share their wisdom and experiences. We have attended several of these conferences before, and they are always both inspiring and heart-rending. Cancer is a chronic spectrum of diseases for which there is not always a definitive cure. Instead, cancer survivors must monitor themselves and treat recurrences, which can unfortunately occur even after many years of healthy remission.

The new Colorado reality: legal recreational pot stores
The new Colorado reality: legal recreational pot stores

September 12, 2015, Denver, Colorado

We were awakened by an early knock on the door, saying that the police were inspecting our damaged van. Simply parked in front of the B&B, a drunk driver had rear-ended our van at full speed, destroying his car, and (we think) totaling our can as well. It certainly wasn’t drivable. The insurance company must make the judgment as to whether it is repairable or not.

Our faithful Chrysler van, crunched by a drunk driver
Our faithful Chrysler van, crunched by a drunk driver

Luckily, the harp and other gear had already been removed from the van. So it could have been so much worse! The rental company did not have a van available to rent, so we are hoping to get one tomorrow, at which point we can start the drive home to Reno.

This was the car that crashed ours--totalled!
This was the car that crashed ours–totalled!

Without question, the fact that we were about to spend the day with people who were dealing with cancer, the van being damaged soon became an ignorable detail!

September 13, 2015, Denver, Colorado

Because our van was destroyed, prolonging our stay in Denver, we had the opportunity to play for the Sunday morning service at the church known as the Althea Center For Engaged Spiritality where our friend Jonathan Ellerby is the minister. He also hosted and participated in the full day Healing Journeys conference the day before, which was the reason for our trip. The serendipitous playing opportunity was delightful. We look forward to future events at Jonathan’s church that will bring us back to Denver.

The Healing Journeys Conference:

Cancer as a Turning Point — From Surviving to Thriving

Being in the same room with a large number of people dealing with cancer in their own or loved ones’ lives is an amazing experience. Having attended several such conferences before, I knew what to expect. And yet, to fully appreciate the experience, one simply must be there.

Jan Adrian, founder of Healing Journeys
Jan Adrian, founder of Healing Journeys

We are physical beings on a spiritual journey which ends in death. (Jan Adrian)

Jan Adrian started the Healing Journeys cancer support organization over twenty years ago, when she experienced her first of many bouts of cancer. She says that she knew there was more to be done with people suffering from cancer than offering surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. This was her 34th conference.

It is difficult to relate everything that was said and experienced during this conference. The speakers included Dr. Michael Finkelstein, author of Slow Medicine, putting to rest the idea that the magic bullet cures we all seek actually facilitate healing. There were healing stories from cancer survivors who had been given terminal diagnoses and lived to share their stories.

The takeaway from the conference was that it is up to each of us to make the most of each moment we have, because none of us know how long we have. We heard poignant stories of fear, suffering, survival, and ultimately thriving with cancer. The experience of cancer ideally is transformed into a learning experience, a conditioned to be accepted and resisted. Some individuals, like Jan, have lived with cancer for decades. Every individual is unique in his/her cancer experience. Every individual is required to muster his or her physical and spiritual inner strengths to live life to the fullest in spite of the disease. Strength, humor, wisdom, and grace under pressure were present in abundance for this conference.

Our instruments inside the Althea Center for Spiritual Engagement
Our instruments inside the Althea Center for Engaged Spirituality

It was a privilege to be asked to participate in the conference. Besides playing music for guided imagery meditations by minister Jonathan Ellerby, Susan and I presented a session on Consonance and Dissonance in Music. Dissonance in music seeks resolution. Dissonance in life provides the impetus to change, to consciously resolve life’s hardships. Cancer is a major dissonance in life. Our musical illustrations symbolically represented the transformation of dissonance into harmonic beauty.

Time is the currency of life. (Susan Mazer)

I am very thankful (knock on wood) that Susan and I have no pressing health issues. We try to eat healthy foods and exercise regularly. We try to minimize stress wherever possible. We nurture our social connections among our close friends. We play music regularly. Some years ago we made the resolution to try to take at least one international trip each year. We work to maintain a balance between work, leisure, social, intellectual, artistic, and spiritual aspects of our lives.

There’s an old joke about the health fanatic at the end of his life frustrated to be dying of nothing. It may make a good joke, but persistent health certainly beats the alternatives. Susan and I both color our hair. We plan to do that as long as possible, because when we finally stop, because we can’t be bothered any more, we’re going to get very old very quickly. In the meantime, perception is reality. I am glad that I can perceive myself as sixty-seven years “young.” Not old.

The old cliché is that “youth is wasted on the young.” When we’re young, we think that the future is limitless, that anything is possible, and that we can do everything we want, given enough time and resources. Now that I’ve reached the two-thirds century mark, I have more resources at my disposal than earlier in life. But not so much time… I know that my current perspective will not get any sympathy from those who are older than I am. I’m not requesting or desiring sympathy. I just hope I can continue to live my live one day at a time…one month…one year at a time…in my current comfortable and stimulating lifestyle for as long as possible, however long that turns out to be. As Spock said in Star Trek, let us all “live well and prosper.”

Canyonlands National Park, near Moab, Utah
Canyonlands National Park, near Moab, Utah

Hi, I'm Dallas Smith

My blogs offer the vicarious pleasure for my readers to learn of my travels and musical adventures.
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