Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Language is the facile congress of intuitive thought. It is an expression of intent and emotion through sound modulation. Humans evolved into a society of doers through language. It is language that made the San Francisco Bridge,

 the Sistine Chapel,

Notre Dame cathedral,

the Leaning tower of Pisa

and all the wonderful architectural triumphs around the world.
It is also language that created the Mona Lisa,


or Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galileo.

It is language again that has created the digital world we occupy through succession of 1s and 0s. And it is also language that gave us the Space Shuttle,

the Concorde

and the Joint Strike Fighter.

Language is at the heart of all that is accomplished and all that remains. All the music from Mozart to Beethoven to Stravinsky and Eminem there lies the common thread of language –an expression of hope, love, anger, fear, happiness and despondency It is through these communication of thought and expression of ideas that new worlds are born. We communicate via language, whether in written form, Braille, or sign language, our inner selves. Language thus creates a medium of expression. It tells others about our thoughts and us. It tells us through those pulses of vibrating air what the world is. Language is the determination of the nature of meaning.

Intent is the cloaked specter residing under the sounds of expression, yet through language even the hidden intent of our inner thoughts can be exposed. No matter how dark the veil, intent always oozes through in words and inflections. It is the emotions riding on the words that reflect feelings. We feel, therefore we express. Opinions are our release of inner thought and the cadence of the expression reflects the emotive mood. The slow undulating viscous smooth lilt of words of love, versus the harsh high-pitched staccato with the teeth chopping words as they fall out over the twisted tongue can only mean anger.

The written language has more thought prevailed upon it. It is disciplined and succinct to the projection of an idea. It also is an infant in the scheme of things, since the written word is youger by thousands of years to the spoken expression.

                                            Cuneiform the first known written language

How we communicate is how we think. How we think is riddled with our fears, happiness, and experiential references. Thus many a father has told his son to watch over the words before speaking, once spoken however these words enslave us.

                                          Werniecki and the Broca's Areas of the brain

2.4 million years ago the brain was half that of its present size. It achieved the current size around 1 million years ago. The Broca’s and Werniecke Areas in the brain seem to have evolved around 250,000 years ago yet language in all its glory did not occur till 40,000 years ago. The sudden adaptation from animalistic behavior to hunter-gatherer to the modern pin striped suited man with a Mohawk hair-do is what Chomsky proposed. No slow regulated evolution just boom there it is.

                                  Language is the determination of the nature of things

Current references to “mirror neurons,” the brain cells imitator extraordinaire are thought to allow learning through imitation. Ever seen a three month-old baby, sure you have, how she tries to express by imitating the adults till she is able to with time and experience. Akin to her arm and leg movements, the sounds that emanate from the infant are free staccato utterances, unformed and unguided until more control of the mouth, tongue and the vocal cords has occurred. Then one day “Mamma” rings out to the delight of her mother and all is well with the world.

“I can’t imagine someone saying that garbage!” He said with some anger and resolve. Something that was said had reverberated in him the wrong way, disassembling his structure of philosophy and nature.

“Who and what are you talking about?”

“That jerk. He is a quack at best. Doesn’t know a thing about anything and makes himself out to be an expert. That damned Joe.” Joe was the new fellow in the medical program. He was all bluster and blister. Spoke out when not spoken with, opined when no one asked and expressed when least desired. He was a one-man band of satire, uncouth and discourtesy.

“What happened?”

“I sent him a young woman for an opinion and he laid out the worst case scenario. Took the percentages and rolled them over to destroy any little hope she had. Left her crying in the room and then had the nerve to say, “Make the necessary adjustments in your life,” to her. He is the devil himself.”

“He can be a little opinionated at times.”

“Opinionated is not the word for him. It took me an hour to remove fear in her and even then the doubt he cast remained.”

“Maybe you should talk to him.”

“I do that about once a week. The tunnel between his ears is pretty wide. Everything flows through.” He said with his right hand sailing from left to right. “It would be one thing if he could empathize with the patients. I bet his ‘mirror neurons’ are dysfunctional.”

“That would make him…”

“Autistic. No. Just an imbecile with the devil’s tongue.” His exasperation was obvious. Stress rode the color on his face and sweat beads of anger formed over the temples. “I mean you can express the data with a positive bent. The response to treatment is over 85% in that woman’s case and he decides to ride the 15% barge of despair. 5-year survival after treatment is well over 50 percent and he says one of two women with this disease die in less than 5 years. Is that nuts? Or what? I understand false hope is as bad, but truth can be expressed in better ways than with a glass half-empty all the time. Wham, slap in the face and see you later attitude is not what a fragile mind can take. Take the hope away and you might as well ring the death knell.”


“Fighting a disease requires energies and super-human strengths. The fights against despair, frustration, hopelessness and plain depression are all too many, and then to present the worst case scenario is like walking someone to the guillotine.” His hand falls slicing through the air down on the table wham.

‘That is sad.”

“Sad but cruel too. I mean you can say the same thing better and with enough measure to allow the aggrieved understanding to sink in slowly yet with hope. Not only are his words chosen poorly but also his inflections are almost without empathy. There is no ‘me’ in the conversation. It is as if the book reads the words in a monosyllabic tone like the computer text to speech readers of the days past. Now even the computer text reader voices have inflections simulating reality for human comfort. None with that dufus.” He shakes his head disgustedly then gets up to leave.

“Don’t let him get to you.”

“Easier said.” He looks back after taking a few steps, “Empathy is being a human. To lose a fight before it is fought, to lay down your arms before the enemy is sighted or to accept defeat when the drums of battle have yet to be beaten and all because of mistimed, mistuned or misrepresented information is horrible! The decision must lie with the individual once the facts are properly assimilated.” He turned to leave and briefly looked back to say, “Always!”

Tonality, pitch and inflection lie at the heart of communication. The meaning of the word changes with variation of one or all three. Humanity’s gift is the ability to draw from these musical expressions an algorithm for communicating thoughts and feelings for sharing and building, for creating and developing and for softening the blows of nature upon nature’s grandest experiment – us.

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, 

Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch; 

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you; 

If all men count with you, but none too much; 

If you can fill the unforgiving minute 
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run - 

Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, 

And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son. 
-Rudyard Kipling

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Miracle on Christmas Street

December flows in fits and starts of cold winds and cloudy dreariness. The drama of change in the deep clutches of power and might. The whistling chimneys and the rattling of the windows overcome by the inconstant powering on and off of the heating system. But there is something in this cold air that makes humans alive with spirit and happiness. The last month of the year is also the month of Christmas. It is the joy of giving that supplants all other feelings.

Precisely in the herald of this month a cold and distant echo of misfortune was to strike claiming all virtues of joy and content of his spirit. He lived for this month. His “presents” for his family and friends started accumulating the day after the New Year. There were no resolutions to resolve past transgressions of life, for there were none. No bills of equanimity to pay for imbalance of ideas, or purge the colors of prejudice for he treated all the same. He lived a clean and decent life. He functioned on the beautiful hue of a mural of morality that claimed the blank fabric of his being. He was a giver of ideas and things. Nothing mattered but the joy and smiles he received in return. He was wealthy with contentment and ignorant of wants. His was a life lived in balance and selflessness. Not quite out-of-the-world-type of behavior, but in these days it seemed that way.

Sitting at his small wooden desk that barely covered the breadth of his own legs, with the conspired deliberations of thought and happiness he addressed the cards with words that would fill the hearts of all the lucky recipients, who took the time to read them. The elegance of his thought was expounded within the content of his words.

The pen had barely scratched the letter on the fortieth card when a sudden gallop of the heart and restlessness of his pulse made him pause. This was odd. He had never felt this before. He regained his composure after a moment. Poised to begin the exercise of love and comfort through the flowing ink of his pen, when a second wave of the sudden internal bodily riot made him stop. The concern was just being raised to the alarm level in his thoughts when the lights went out.

A crucial lever of continuity had become unhinged somewhere in his being. The wonderful machinery of his body of seventy-five years had through wear-and-tear lost the composure of the fluid function and form of being. Something had gone awry and there was no help around. He was alone in his modest home, a rustic ranch-style house perched near a pond of still clear water, ablaze with lights and sounds of Christmas.  And now with the passage of time the critical mass of the present was slowly dissolving the potential future. Life was oozing through the pores of his being. The clock ticked and tocked its mechanical hubris to allocate the next moment, heralding the future into the present and as it did so the colorful landscape of his life seemed to falter and fade in inches off the mural.

The shrill ring of the telephone claimed power over the room. It rang for a while and then it stopped and then it rang again for a while. Time was fleeing, in the darkness outside of the evening. He lay motionless. His head that had slowly fallen to the desk surface now ashen and his mouth open with his thick shock of curly salt and pepper locks of hair falling over his face covering his half opened eyes. The red conical Santa hat with the white plume of cotton on top lay on the floor.  His right leg twitched repeatedly and then all was quiet again. His facial color now drained like the parchment paper of the greeting card beneath it. The arrow of time kept its flight, the unmoving mover of events and lives, creeping in its steady pace overtaking the desires of this lonely habitant.

Ten days later the sun had just broken out after being held hostage to the dark gray clouds. The few spurts of snowflakes had come and gone. The wind was cold and shook the naked branches of the tall trees as they cowed to the whims of that force. The chimneys belched the dark sooty smoke of oil burning stoves. The homes were shuttered as fortresses to the bad weather, with curtains drawn and nary a pedestrian walked the icy sidewalks. Motion, was only exhibited by cars as they were driven to and fro to businesses.

He lay in the hospital bed with tubes exiting from all parts of his body. He was still distant to the present stuck somewhere in time where communication was measurable in being only. His eyes were partially opened, swollen and without recognition.

“So what do you think?’ The resident asked in his mild mannered baby-faced thirty-year-old questioning wisdom. He was sharp in critical thinking and had decided neurosurgical residency would help him decide his future.
“I haven’t the faintest idea.”
“We thought it was a tumor in the brain, but all the CT scans and the MRIs have been negative.”
“Well it has to be the critical cortical brain. I mean given that he has a good primitive brain activity but no cerebral functionality. His heart is ticking and he is breathing on his own but no perception, words or actions.”
“You see,” he bellowed, “any assumptions we have been wrong.”
“Waiting long enough something will show up.”
“Time is a delicate coefficient. Too little and wrong assumptions can mislead while too much and the wear and tear on his body will destroy his chances for recovery. What we need is a Christmas Miracle.”
“That’s a new one, coming from a neurosurgeon to be.”
“All tests have been negative and yet we have this impasse. I checked the books, journals and of course Google. All answers are fairly pat. There is no “House” moment. We cannot go and biopsy the brain and five minutes later have a diagnosis or for that matter do a craniotomy because a hunch has arrived and must be resolved quickly. I found out reality is a whole lot slower and more challenging,”
“Welcome to the real world.”
“That sounds eerily damning.”
“It is, because that is what real life is. It isn’t a TV show. It is life.”
“Okay enough of philosophy. What do we do next?”
“Done!” He slapped his fist into his hands.
“A small focus, the Neurologist feels it is some scar tissue from yester years.”
“Did you consider a SPECT scan?”
“What would that show?”
“Maybe able to isolate that area further. And while at it how about a Chest XRay?”
“The Chest was clear except for a small nodule in the left upper lobe. It is too small and deep for a biopsy. I’ll order the SPECT. This sounds like “House” now. Doesn’t it?”
“Lets get a PET scan while we are at it, since a malignancy has to be ruled out and it is the strongest of all arguments yet.”
“This could be the next House episode now.” He laughed as he walked away. Youth has a certain measure of flippancy that arguably is charming some of the times, and the TV is their measure for all things real and fictional.

It is in the subtle axioms of wayward thoughts that a germ of truth is beheld, waiting for the implied assumptions to reach the desired conclusions. So it is with small miracles that are born in the fragment of a sentence within the emptiness of ideas. Yet that emptiness beholds the richest of all experiences and knowledge. Sometimes in the sanctuary of a quiet reflection the expressed thought can weigh in and proclaim Eureka. It is like the discordant string tuning of the violin, the obo, the isolated bleat from the Saxophone or the semi-fluid tone of the flute, with an occasional echoed cough from the audience, that, suddenly with the raised arms of the conductor, in a flash of genius, all converge into a pure tone of rhythm and beauty to surround you with a symphony. Perfect harmony! Order from chaos! Convergence!

            William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - Song of the Angels (1881

And so it was that December 14th evening when two minds wrestled with the airy substance of exhaustive communication, an idea was hatched that would grow to lead to a miraculous recovery.
He, our gifted and talented lover of Christmas, the man with the wit and wisdom of contentment and balance, the writer of a hundred Christmas cards with a cast of thousand words, had visited upon him the Angels of Truth and Grace that evening via the ramblings of two men of science.

                                                 MRI result of a solitary metastasis (spread)

He was diagnosed with a Lung Cancer with a solitary metastasis to the brain. It was the non-small cell type. Both the lesions were removed and he was considered disease-free. His stupor, it appears was from the brain overcome with the poisonous material of the wayward cancer cell. The apothecary of poisonous hormones circulated into his brain and shut it down. It was euphemistically termed “Para-neoplastic Syndrome.” Only when the tumors had been independently removed, did the threatening humors dissipate and the brain was able once again to muse in its musings.
This was the Christmas Miracle.

A year later, surrounded by his favorite colors and lights, listening to the rich sounds of Bing Crosby, he sits once again inking in blue, the pure thought of the joyous season. He is once again reunited with the love of the Season and the breadth of the human Spirit.
The doorbell rings. He opens the door.

“Package for owner of 30th Christmas Street.” It is the mailman.
“Thank you. And I have something for you.” He returns with a gift package, “Merry Christmas!” He exclaims with the lyrics, “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” playing in the background.

Life has begun again to forge new acquaintances. It is all in the giving that true happiness resides. The rest is the mist of ignorance that clouds our reason.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Soul Mates

The river bends at a most inopportune moment transecting a beautiful garden of trees, flowering bushes and flowers of all colors and beauty. It is a quiet place made haven to the birds that fly by to visit and some to feed, for there is always a bird feed full of content and promise. The lazy branches of the birch trees swagger under the tug and push of the breeze and the rustling leaves fill the sounds of heaven on this lovely paradise.

The grass is always neatly cut, for from time to time a thin tall man can be seen mowing it with great care. He seems to pause to catch his breath and then filled with the desire to accomplish he continues undeterred by the body’s desires of rest.  He can see the riverbed from where he mows and his glance moves from place to place taking in all the life this Eden has to offer. His rituals are weekly and Wednesdays are what he looks forward to most when he can sit in this haven on the back of a modest century old home and watch the birds at play.

This Wednesday however he is noticeably absent. The birds still fly in but the chatter is different. The sounds of communication have a different cadence. There is hurried chatter and coos and twitters but little harmony. They must miss the human.

It is 2.O Clock in the afternoon and he sits besides his wife who is lying quietly in the hospital bed. He holds her hand in between both his. There is a communication between them. A lot said but no words uttered. All emotions encompassed within the loving grasp of hands. She looks up at him and smiles. He leans forward and caresses the hair out of place and hovering over her face and gently places it back over the pillow. Her face is calm and content. No frowns of whys and whats and hows lurk on her weathered face. She is at peace.

“You wouldn’t know it, that she was sick. She looks so normal?”
“Yes she does. Unfortunately she has this leukemia and now it is taking its toll on her after 12 years. The bad cells are occupying most of her organs and even congesting the lymph glands. Her immune system is unable to mount a defense against the infection she has but the antibiotics should help with that.”
“Will she be okay?”
“I don’t know jus yet. Her vital signs are steady but until we get ahead of the infection this could be serious. She has been having more and more sweats and chills. She has lost a considerable amount of weight and her appetite is poor.”
“I noticed that and asked her about the appetite and weight loss but she would shush me every time, saying she was okay. I know you are all working hard to help her. I appreciate that very much.”
He goes back to the room to join his mate and picks up her hand gently to caresses it once again in both his. The circuit of energy is once again established and she smiles.

The nightfall is slow and comes easily but within the fluorescent white walls of sterility it is fire walled to an outside realm, deciphered only by the clocks that register the passage of time. Muted echoes of emergent calls overhead stream through the hallways and scurried steps emerge and follow to whence the demands came. The pace is slower a little. The clatter of the dinner plates being collected by the Food Service creates a limited banter between employees but this too is brief and quickly ceases once the tasks are completed.

“You should go home. You look tired.” She says awakening him from his nap. Her hand still in his and his body slumped to the side against the hospital bed.
“I am okay. I want to be here with you.”
“I know, but I don’t want you to be sick too. I couldn’t help you.”
“You get better then I will get as much sleep as I need.”
“There is little chance of my getting better. The doctor told me.”
“I think this is just a slight relapse. You will bounce back as you have done before.”
“No, darling. My time is over.” No tears flow from her eyes, just truths. She looks at him and a frown crosses over her forehead. “It is okay. We will meet on the other side. I couldn’t live without you anywhere.”
“I love you.” He says and continues holding her hand. Tears flow from his eyes readily with a sting of pain. He turns his head to avoid being seen. She knows.

The sun announces its arrival as a shaft of the golden hue breaks through the shutters and touches the opposing wall scattering the bright light in the room. The bright light falls on his face and he awakens to a silence. His hands still cover hers but the warmth has stolen away in the night. Her eyes are closed and her face is set in its quiet calm of peace and tranquility.

The tears don’t come. He wants them to, but his eyes are wrenched from all their moisture. The heart feels heavy and flutters inside his chest but continues to beat. His hands shake ever so slightly yet they continue to do his bidding. The past flows through his mind in torrents, bleeding the memories in its wake. Some sharp and vivid, others softened and blurred – all good and comforting and aching his insides.

“But she was in remission?”
“She was for almost two years. But she had been in remission several times before.” The disease always comes back. We have many tools now. Medications that thwart the mature lymphocytic leukemic cell from growing, but we still cannot get to the primitive mother cell or cells that start this whole process. “
“How long do others in her condition live?”
“Some much shorter and a few much longer. Remember that is from the time of diagnosis. Sometimes the diagnosis is not made and the disease has been in the body for many years.”
“Without any symptoms?”
“Yes, unfortunately. These lymphocytic white cells basically grow and survive raising the total white cell count. They subsequently overpower the normal functioning white cells by their sheer numbers and infection and organ dysfunction starts to create mischief in the body, which ultimately leads to illness and death. In her case the infection got her because she had no defense network of normal cells to help the antibiotics to rid of the bacteria.”
“I don’t now what to do?” He looks for answers and can find none.
“You can keep her alive in your memory, by staying healthy.”

It is a Wednesday afternoon and he is once again mowing the grass and the birds are chirping their normal chatter, unbeknownst to them of the heavy burden of loneliness he carries. His gait is slow and his once erect spine and straight shoulders are bent and slumped under the weight of his grief. He looks at the riverbed and the water appears to course around the bend a little quicker, sloshing ever so harshly at the turbulent turn. The light is bright but seems to fade a little. He wipes his brow and heads to the chair to catch his breath and drink from the glass of water sitting on the table. His hand never reaches the glass.

The Obituary Section of the newspaper mentions one J.U. Brown, 97 years old dead of natural causes. No relatives. His wife G.L. Brown predeceased him at age 99 years two months ago.

Years later the bend in the river is gone from the thrashing of the turbulent water and where once stood the majestic garden now courses an angry river. The boarded house has fallen in disrepair and uprooted trees form the river’s bank. Now the weeds rule the chaos that surrounds where order once ruled and the sound of the chirping birds is replaced by the burble and roar of nature’s fury from the angry river as it slowly inches its way to devour the once upon a time home of two beautiful soul mates.