Tony Joe White (July 23, 1943 – October 24, 2018).
The album “Closer To The Truth” introduced me to the music of TJW a.k.a. the Swamp Fox and I’ve listened to him daily since. Nearly 25 years now.
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Tony Joe White (July 23, 1943 – October 24, 2018).
The album “Closer To The Truth” introduced me to the music of TJW a.k.a. the Swamp Fox and I’ve listened to him daily since. Nearly 25 years now.
Michael Burks (July 30th 1957 – May 6th 2012).
My experiences last year in hospital and the time spent in Intensive Care clinging onto life has taught me a great deal. I was a frail, sensitive child. The archetypal seven-stone weakling. Yet, I have surmounted the seemingly insurmountable. I have stared death in the face and found myself, even in my weakest moments (both physically and mentally) and against all odds, able to keep up the fight to remain here.
I was listening to music earlier. It’s the relationship with silence which makes music so moving, for me at least. It’s in the interplay of the music against the backdrop of silence which was there before the song began and will be there when it has stopped, which makes music so affecting. The omnipresent silence therefore the canvas onto which music is sonically painted.
As it was then last year when my life hung in the balance, the silence of non-existence juxtaposed against the fight to stay here, even though one day I’ll be gone. I just knew my journey wasn’t done, that more of life needed to play out. I likely will not amount to much in societal or worldly terms but that’s not the point. I am reminded of the quote spoken by Warren Zevon back in 2002 as he edged closer to the silence having been given the diagnosis of terminal cancer. “Enjoy every sandwich” he opined on Letterman.
You know, I never really understood that sentiment until fairly recently when I was once again able to eat and enjoy a sandwich. Up until then I had been very careful about what I ate due to the extensive nature of the bowel surgery I had undergone. Life is strange. I had been wanting to go fully vegan before all the drama of last year and had successfully cut out red meat but still occasionally ate white meat and some dairy. Now, all of that makes me feel physically sick and I end up on the toilet a lot, which leads to that area stinging and burning, so in a way what happened forced me to adopt the life I always wanted but hadn’t given myself fully to before.
So it was then, I took a bite of a sandwich.
The softness of the bread, the tastiness of the filling, the feeling of doing something usual again after so long of eating in essence, bland foods. Before all of this, I would have needed to have been taken to a great restaurant with the most extensive menu to feel anything like that but nope, there I was, sat in my kitchen tucking into a regular sandwich and it tasted incredible.
But more so than that, it took me directly into that given moment. I could never get my head around the concept of Living In The Moment. I was always thinking about the past or planning towards a future. I understood it in my head but it never resonated with me fully. Now it does and I get it. I am now completely focused on whatever it is I am doing in any moment and I give my all to it, whatever it happens to be.
The backdrop is always silence, whether it be the knowledge that one day I won’t be here in the form I am now, as I once again enter non-existence or just writing in ‘silence’ which is never possible as there is always some sound happening whether it be one of the cats purring, the hum of the refrigerator, an owl hooting outside, rain pelting against the window. I’m okay with not existing as we all reach that state anyhow.
The simplicity of the moment is always there, perhaps making a cup of tea which has now become a minor ceremony as I imagine how many people, how many pairs of hands, how many lives were involved in the process of getting the tea from the Sri Lankan fields to my warmed teapot and then a flavoursome brew. It can be watching the refuse collectors first thing in the morning, as the truck makes its way up the street and often under the cover of darkness. The unsung heroes who work the menial jobs with little to no thanks and who get up at ungodly hours to work a totally unglamorous job, just so our lives run a little smoother.
Everything is different now.
My entire outlook has changed and for the better. I don’t just sense the interconnectedness between all things, I see it, I hear it, I KNOW it. But what I have been completely unprepared for is how much I have become the silence which is always there, playing out against the backdrop of my own life.
I am sitting here listening to a song, The River Knows Your Name, by my favourite singer-songwriter, John Hiatt. It’s from the album Walk On which was the first album of John’s I bought and still the one which captivates me the most.
In the town in which I live are three rivers and the smallest one flows into a larger one and then further along that river flows into the largest. So there are 2 points along the journey of each river where a river merges with another and becomes one before individuating once more.
I am reminded of the quote attributed to Rumi – “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” I like that. We don’t have to surrender our individuality in realising we are each more alike than different.
I was thinking about water and how it often represents emotion and just as the song began, rain started to pelt against the window. There’s a whole world outside that window. I used to get up really early and walk about and streetlights would be on and the occasional lighted window in the houses around me but by and large, everyone would be in the land of slumber having hopefully nice dreams and who knows, maybe some astral travel as well.
The rain hit the windows hard and I was reminded of the musical warrior, Gord Downie. A remarkable individual. I was introduced to him through the parent band, The Tragically Hip. The album was Live Between Us. It was so different to anything I had heard before yet I was captivated at once by the sound and feel of the band and the deftly poetic allusions created by Gord as he expressed himself artistically through song.
The first studio album I heard was In Violet Light and I was especially taken by a song called “It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken.” Gord Downie died in 2017 of an aggressive form of brain cancer, called glioblastoma.
In the time remaining after his diagnosis, he went on a final tour with The Hip and that last show is on YouTube in its entirety. The song Grace, Too is incredibly hard to watch because in the screams contained within the song is a man railing against the dying of his own light. He begins to cry. The screams become a cri de couer. It makes me want to reach into the screen and hold him and tell him everything will be okay although he and I would know that it wouldn’t be. I would still want to reassure him in some way. At least to let him know I value/valued his presence on this Earth.
Gord also recorded a haunting album entitled Secret Path which charted the short life of Chanie Wenjack, an Anishinaabe boy who ran home one night from an Indian residential school before sadly succumbing to hunger and exposure. His body was found next to a railway line. He had walked for 36 hours in sub-zero temperatures, wearing just a windbreaker. It’s a powerful musical statement pertaining to a terribly sad time in the history of Indigenous peoples living in Canada.
When I was in Intensive Care last year, I got chatting to a nurse who worked there. She was mad keen on the band Rush, another group of incredible Canadian musicians and it was through her I reacquainted myself with them. The drummer Neil Peart had himself passed away due to brain cancer. I had in the past been crazy about the band and had seen them in London on their R30 tour. The only concert I have been to where people not only stayed for the drum solo but awaited it with baited breath and Neil didn’t disappoint. Three master musicians.
Anyhow, I started watching YouTube videos and I came across a performance of “It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken” performed at the 2021 Juno Awards with the remaining members of The Tragically Hip and with special guest Feist on vocals. It broke me in two. Here I was, still close to death and yet suddenly remembering how precious life was/is. Sometimes I forget. I have healed and life goes on. Gord isn’t here. Neil isn’t here. Their music however remains, as do I.
And as do you reading this.
If I could, I would reach out from this screen and hug each and every one of you and let you know, in no uncertain terms, how grateful I am that I know you.
Thank you for your Earthly presence in my life.
I went for a coffee yesterday and I sat right by the front window of the store. A few inches of glass between myself and the wider world.
People were walking past outside, most looked in and yet it felt as if I was in my own private place.
All around me inside the bakery/coffee shop were people, those queuing up for takeout beverages and snacks as well as those hoping to find a seat to enjoy their purchases in warmth and comfort in the friendly and pleasant surroundings.
Even had it been warm enough to sit outside, I would still have felt that sense of privacy. My very own window on the world.
When I was taken into hospital earlier this year, I had a number of ‘coincidences’ occur which normally I would shrug off however they are bothering me and I wanted to outline them here.
I have always had what one could term a ‘spiritual side’ to my nature. ‘Belief’ has always held a fascination for me. I was happiest within that as a teenager when I discovered Paganism and then Shamanism. I was unhappiest when I explored the Abrahamic faiths.
I need to take you back to 2009. My birthday actually that year. I was sitting in my garden, camera in hand photographing nature around me. I was thoroughly depressed and frankly, wishing to die. I asked ‘God’ if he/she/it/they existed and in that moment, a brilliant shaft of light came through the clouds above and illuminated the fir tree in next door’s garden. A very clear outline of a golden cross shone out, which I quickly photographed and have included below.
It took my breath away. It was only in the tree for a minute or so. I went back outside every day for weeks trying to see it again but nothing occurred. So what did I do? I went back to organised religion and was once again, miserable. Christians are not pleasant people in the main. I stayed within that nonsense for a further 8 years. What a waste of time, effort and energy. I genuinely felt God had answered my prayers in an incontrovertible way.
I eventually left and put all such things to one side.
Then this year happened. I am taken into hospital with suspected gastroenteritis and it was soon discovered I had blood clots in my stomach which had caused a small section of bowel to die. I had 2 bowel resections, during which time I was in Intensive Care. When it was made clear to me the severity of my situation (my mother had been told to ‘be prepared’ as I was taken down for my first operation) I prayed. I did so sceptically. I simply asked if there was a God, and would he/she/it/they reveal themselves to me again incontrovertibly to notify me of its existence?
I was ventilated for several days then taken off it and so I began my recovery. I was assigned a nurse who dealt just with me as a patient. Each bay containing a bed had a designated nurse looking after them. All of mine were Christian. Every single one of them. Many were from overseas. When I was able to, I would chat with them and as religion/spirituality was still important to me asked if they held any religious convictions. What was interesting was that many hadn’t planned on becoming nurses, they just seemed to find themselves heading in that direction. Quite a few were brought up within other faith systems or structures yet felt the calling to be Christian.
I was eventually put into a side room. Still within Intensive Care and still with one-on-one care however I was deemed no longer clinging to life and to free up the ward bed for someone who needed it more desperately than I did. I met with other nurses I hadn’t as yet met or so I thought at the time. It was one of these who said to me:-
“Hi Jonathan, how are you feeling today?”
“Getting there” I replied.
She said “You don’t remember me do you?”
I told her that I didn’t.
She told me that she was the very first person who had spoken to me when I came into ICU.
I apologised and she smiled and said “Don’t worry about it.”
I then said “I’m sorry, I don’t know your name?”
“That’s okay” she responded. “Madonna.”
I was incredulous. “Your name is Madonna?” I enquired.
“Yes” she said.
“Are you Catholic?” I asked.
“I am” she said.
I then discovered I had been looked after when I came into ICU by a nurse called Mary. I vaguely remembered her. Madonna and Mary.
Aside from a certain pop singer and it’s not even her given name, I have never known anyone in my life who was called Madonna and what were the chances of being looked after in the same ICU by a Madonna and Mary? I then remembered my prayer. Was I being shown something? All I could think of was the evils perpetrated in the name of Catholicism. That and the fact the Vatican had become a vaccine hub during the recent couple of years, some of the said vaccines containing human fetal tissue.
I left that ward and was taken down to another ward, still for people who are critical but no longer deemed to have life-threatening conditions. I was introduced to a nurse who immediately told me she was a Christian. She gave me her testimony. When she became Christian. What made her to do so. The exact date of her conversion and how her life had been subsequent to that. She launched straight into it. My mother was beside me. She didn’t introduce herself or ask after us, just straight into the story of her life as a Christian. Why had that happened? Did she do that to everybody who is new to the ward? I discovered she didn’t. Why me then?
This has all been very puzzling to me. I compartmentalised it until very recently.
I then found out the names of the people who performed my operation. Their names translated to ‘Light’ and ‘From the Sun.’ “Here we go again” I thought. The last person I had contact with at the hospital before being discharged from their care, her name was Mistry. I took that to be Mystery and so I began looking up Light Mystery (Light Mysteries relates to the Rosary) which lead me back to Catholicism. The Madonna and Mary connection. Also, I was born in 1973 and the Catholic bible contains 73 books. I steer clear of 66 books because I think that number of books approved of by ‘the powers that be’ is there for a reason. 666 and all that.
Then I thought “Hang on, what does Mistry mean as a surname?” It translates as Carpenter. Joseph and Jesus were both Carpenters. I am a J.J. Jesus died at 33. I was born on the 12/12 which reduces to a 33. The nurse who drew my bloods that day was a Catholic and attends the same church my Stepdad had done while he was alive.
All I can think of is the evils perpetrated by the Christian church throughout the ages. I can’t get past that in my mind. Yet I am seemingly being drawn in this direction. There are far too many coincidences. I have heard of people converting to Christianity with far less examples of what they believe to be Divine Intervention happening in their own lives that have led them to that point.
I don’t know what to do.
The bible is a terrible book. I don’t like Christianity as a religion. Am I being led to Gnosticism I wonder? Or am I being led back to mainstream Christianity? If so, what possible reason could God have for me there? I will be miserable again.
Anyhow, this is where my head is at currently.
This is a date I will always remember.
That was the day I presented to hospital with crippling abdominal pains and 2 days later, a crash call was made due to my being unresponsive with a significant bleed on the ward.
I underwent my first operation on the 11th to perform a laparoscopic small bowel resection.
My second operation was performed on the 13th and a further laparotomy was performed with another section of small bowel removed.
I was discharged this evening.
I am to be on blood thinners for life, which I’m not happy about as they quell sexual ardour – muted orgasms and the like.
I only came off blood thinning treatment a few months ago because of these issues – I had a Pulmonary Embolism in 2017 and that fateful decision has clearly led to this new medical event.
I’m not happy that I will likely now be single for life however having tasted my own demise and having just spent 11 days in Intensive Care, it’s not something I am keen on repeating.
I won’t bang on about Universal Healthcare which is free* at the point of service for all however I am ever so grateful I live in the UK where this treatment was provided for me at no expense other than an *incremental amount of tax taken from my wages throughout my life compulsorily up until this point.
I have taken my first blood thinning tablet this evening.
I have lost so much weight from my face and I have a pallid, grey listless type of look however I will rally. One week ago I was messing several pairs of diapers per day and now I am able to sit here, with full control once more of my bowels. Simple pleasures. I have recovered so quickly in terms of food as well. One week ago, I had a line in my neck and was being fed intravenously.
In time I will go back to see all the doctors and nurses who tended to me and thank them personally. They were magnificent. This has been an ordeal and very nearly a tragedy and it shows that life can change in a moment because on the 8th I felt perfectly well and healthy.
I am sat here listening to The Allman Brothers. My mum has been remarkable, walking nearly a mile through the hospital complex each day to come and visit me, at age 90. Both cats are close by and the garden hedgehogs have just been fed.
Things right now could be a whole lot worse. I’m alive and for that I am grateful.
In 2000, I had an emotional breakdown. It came out of nowhere and I cried for well over an hour. It was a torrent of emotions. I was at a church across town. I felt called to go there. I was chatting away outside and the next thing I knew, I was sobbing. The priest was informed and he came outside and held my hand while I cried. I couldn’t stop.
To this day, I have never known why that place and why I cried as I did. Just seconds before I was having a very normal and ordinary chat with some people there.
Today, I discovered from an online search that the person I spoke about in the previous post, the young gay lad who died tragically at just 19 had his funeral there 2 years previously. I didn’t know that until today. There must have been some sort of residual memory trace or psychic remnants hanging about or maybe I was on a track, which I was closely aligned to because of knowing him, albeit briefly, and this tied me to his energy. I don’t know.
Thinking about it today, I realise there was a feeling associated with the emotional event back in 2000 which mirrors exactly what I felt when I met him and what I feel now, all these years on, having thought about him again. I was crying for E even though he was no longer on the physical plane.
In all the time which has subsequently passed, I have probably only met a handful of people who have left such a deep impression upon me. I think these people, beacons, come along once in a while and although their physical presence is no longer around, their imprint remains for all time and is just as strong as when they were living alongside us. E was definitely one of those.
I have been thinking a lot lately about someone I knew only briefly in my early 20’s. He was a young gay lad. I met him through a mutual friend at the time.
He had been brought up within the Roman Catholic religion and his coming out was a difficult time for his nearest and dearest. I knew him for just a few short months back in the late 1990’s but I was always struck by his kindness, his gentle nature and his resolve to live life on his own terms, regardless of what the fallout might have been for others who perhaps weren’t quite as accepting of himself as he was. He wasn’t yet out of his teens but in many ways, a self actualised individual. I looked up to him. He was courageous and although his smile masked inner turmoil and pain, he always brought love to the table.
He was befriended by an older male (B) within the wider gay community. I can vividly recall the night I was told that B had been involved in an horrific accident. His car had veered off the road and shortly thereafter burst into flames, the occupant fully aware of the situation he had found himself in. I was friends with quite a few gay people at the time and one was an older male, same sort of age as B. He burst into tears when he heard. He told me what a lovely man B was. I was relieved it wasn’t E. A short while later, it was discovered B hadn’t been in the car at all but had let E borrow it.
E was a lovely person, inside and out. He had a smiling cheeky face and the thought he had left the world in that way, filled with yet more pain, his beauty being erased with each passing second, was just too horrible to contemplate. His story was featured in the local newspaper. His photograph there too. I got hold of a copy and took it home, putting it under my bed and taking it out once in a while to read it, to somehow keep him alive. My mother being a deeply homophobic person (still is, sadly) got rid of it. Threw it out and only told me after the dustbin men had taken it away.
I have been an addict for a very long time. Drink, food, cigarettes etc you name it. I have been battling inwardly for more time than I care to think about and this year having gone through yet another breakdown, realised my issues had begun in the serious way they have presented themselves within my life, since about 1998. That’s the year I pinpointed it to. So, I decided to once and for all get clean and discover who I am under all of this.
It was then E came to me in a dream. There he was. Just as when I knew him. I could hear his voice. I hadn’t thought about him in over 20 years so wasn’t sure at the time why I had dreamed of him. I now realise he was the catalyst for my self-destructive path, the straw which broke this camel’s back. Getting clean had created the insights needed to see that the pain of his loss was just too much for me to handle at the time and because I didn’t have anyone I could confide in about this, I instead tried to bury it and simultaneously began seriously self-medicating.
The day after the dream, I went looking online for him and for a long time couldn’t find him at all and wondered if I had made him up. Then there he was. Born 1978, died 1998 at just 19. I had found him. I was born in 1973 and my year of birth seems to get further away with time using the scroll bars on online forms but 1978 still seems fresh. I feel the pressure of time now at 48 but 43/44 is nothing. Young. It’s difficult to contemplate someone having had so much to offer the world and being gone in his early 40’s, let alone knowing that for 24 of those years he hasn’t graced the world at all with his presence and never will do so again.
I miss him. More now probably than ever.
This song reminds me of him.
I had a nice surprise the other day. A friend dropped by to say hello. A young dunnock.
She stayed with me for a good while, gripping my fingers like a branch and then sitting in my hand for a short time (see below) before flying off into a hedge.
A couple of days later, I was outside and she made herself known to me. She flew all around me, then sat across from me in a branch and looking directly at me, sang her beautiful little song. She had remembered me.