Peaceful Reflections From an Empty Bucket
“‘Cause I got a peaceful, easy feelin’,
And I know you won’t let me down,
‘Cause I’m already standin’
On the ground.”
Those lyrics by Jack Tempchin, sung by the Eagles on their 1972 debut album, came to mind following some introspection prompted by a popular question. I was asked about the contents of my “bucket list.” After thoughtfully considering the usual suspects for life’s unfinished business — destinations, cultural samplings, events, accomplishments, etc. — I came to the conclusion that my bucket list contains nothing.
That response caused my questioner to remark that I am “the most at-peace person” they know. I attribute a good bit of the basis for that observation to ALS. In my experience, folks tolerate, or even expect, a certain amount of teeth-gnashing from someone so stricken. When none is forthcoming, people are often surprised, occasionally to the point of undue flattery.
The notion of being “at peace” stimulated additional contemplation. Ultimately, I reckoned that I am on a journey toward peace, and infrequently taste it in its purest sense. I also realized that was not always the case.
Prior to ALS, I had an enormous bucket list. I wanted for nothing, but was in pursuit of more of everything. On the surface, I was thriving, but subliminally, I was drowning. I lived within a loose, theistic framework of my own regulation. As both judge and jury, I acquitted my often atheistic behavior. The hypocrisy set the stage for constant internal warfare.
My pre- and post-ALS selves are in stark contrast. Per the International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, “Since ancient times, transformation has been viewed as an evolutionary process within consciousness whereby one sees the world in a new way.” The journal goes on to assert that “personal transformation is preceded by a disorienting dilemma that disrupts the order of one’s life.” The trauma of ALS certainly fits.
C. S. Lewis wrote, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Whether it was a coincidence or a catalyst, I embarked on a quest for the truth shortly after my ALS diagnosis. Circuitous or straight, every route I followed took me to the same inevitable destination: God.
The dividends were immediate and dramatic. My coping skills kept pace with disease onslaught. Increasingly, I found unexpected peace. As it turns out, in that regard, I was not alone. Spirituality reaps rewards for countless others.
An article in Practical Pain Management states, “Research results have supported the use of spiritual practices in helping patients cope with pain, reduce pain intensity, and lessen the degree to which pain interferes with the activities of daily living.” These practices, ranging from structured rigor to free form, include meditation, prayer, affirmation of self as spiritual or religious, deferral to a higher power, appraisal of divine intervention, yoga, diaphragmatic breathing, and studying religious literature.
Spirituality also provides succor in the face of imminent mortality. In his book, “Reflections on the Existence of God: A Series of Essays,” Richard E. Simmons III shares what Dr. David Nelson, a 19th-century physician, observed while sitting beside many of his religious patients as they lay dying. Nelson wrote, “I beheld more celestial triumph than I had ever witnessed anywhere else. In their voice there was a sweetness, and in their eye was a glory.”
Unlikely figures have flirted with their own spiritual constructs, as they sought relief from life’s vicissitudes. Albert Einstein, at best a religious skeptic, once wrote: “Strenuous intellectual work and looking at God’s nature are the reconciling, fortifying, yet relentlessly strict angels that shall lead me through all of life’s troubles.” Albert Camus, an avowed existential atheist, reportedly began attending church later in his life while “searching for something that the world is not giving me.”
During this ALS chapter of mine, spirituality has been a pillar of life support. The foundation of my spirituality is built upon two realities from the Christian Gospel that Jesus emphasizes repeatedly: everlasting life and the kingdom of God. I fervently seek both. They are attainable through faith and by striving to obey the two great commandments: loving God with my entire essence and loving every human being.
Sadly, a civil war-like skirmish will often break out between the angels and demons within my psyche, interrupting the fulfillment of God’s directive, and I sin. Thankfully, after repentance, by God’s miraculous, merciful grace, I am forgiven. My slate is wiped clean.
The Eagles’ tune is a love song of sorts. Fittingly, the lines I chose sing to me about life under God’s love. I stand grounded, right where I need to be, with God. I trust he won’t let me down. I bask in his peace.
Who needs a bucket list?
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