Since September 11, we have been more or less on a heightened state of alert for terrorists and people who have intent to kill us. We're now checking railways, tunnels, and buses as well as our airports. Fear – can be extreme, moderate, or non-existent depending upon your living arrangements and travel habits. For example – if I, rural American that I am – lived in New York, I would be thinking about how to get out of that city as soon as possible. It wouldn't take to much viewing of that empty hole in the ground to strengthen my resolve. Subways – I'll take my chances with crack gangs and walk. Anyway, that's my paranoia – not someone else's. Take this morning for example:
The little paper tooth attached by a magnet to my refrigerator announced it was time for an appointment with "Dr. Excavator" to have a couple of cavities looked at. I like "Dr. Excavator." He has a pleasant manner and is almost painless. The good doctor is in McLean, Virginia, which is thirty miles from Paeonian Springs and eight miles from Washington, D.C. I don't mind the drive, which is mostly expressway, but I do stress about the parking. Today I was lucky and found one of the doc's reserved spaces available.
I don't know about you, but I don't like to think about the immediate things they do to you in a dentist's office. The prepping is fine, the chastisement about not flossing properly is tolerable, but the intensity and whine of the drilling can make me go into white-knuckle fear – despite how deadened my gum is. So, over the years I have developed a mental technique of staring into the examination light and seriously concentrating on other things. It usually works, that is until today when I looked out the doc's tenth story window and saw the Washington Monument gleaming in the distance.
During a break in the action, I asked my captor what it was like on September 11. He told me that he could see the smoke rising from the Pentagon on that day. He paused thoughtfully and went back to drilling. This started another thought. What if – I'm great at "what if's" – some person with doomsday destruction on his or her mind were to get hold of a suitcase "nuke" and set it off near the area I was looking at? I did some calculation from things I remembered from my NBC training in the military (nuclear, biological, chemical) and immediately concluded that the good doc and I, the dental assistant, and the doc's wife the receptionist would be vaporized before the doc could say, "open wider."
Driving back the thirty miles or so to Paeonian Springs I also surmised in the event of the evil scenario described above most of the countryside along my way would be devastated. Any humans left standing would soon stagger and fall like a colony of ants after an attack of "Raid." Working myself up into an agitated frame of mind, I finally put my mental brakes on and shouted, "Wait!" I was obsessing over something I couldn't control even if the dire events described were to happen.
That's what fear is all about – losing control over our life, our destiny, and a multitude of other things, we like to keep our finger on. I concluded that many of the things that eventually do us in are not even remotely related to terrorists, suitcase bombs, or crack gangs. The things that actually get us are possibly more boring than the ones I've mentioned but they are just as deadly and heart wrenching. Most have to do with our health. An area of our life which we generally have more than a moderate amount of control.
Take what we eat for example. When you take the family out for lunch or dinner at the newest franchise operation and you get stuffed, are you stuffed because you're not used to eating that much or because you couldn't stop eating? If you couldn't stop eating, you may have a problem. In some cases, we overload ourselves with carbohydrates, sugars, fats, and salts and literally shock our system. Maintaining these eating habits over time will kill us. Our pancreas, liver, stomach, and intestines break down and surrender. Our blood sugar elevates spilling excess glucose everywhere – in some cases causing us to go blind and lose limbs; plaque from cholesterol coats our arteries narrowing the passages – increasing the pressure – and then WHAM! – something pops and we die – or worse.
Another killer – and in greater numbers than terrorists – is the cigarette. I quit smoking in 1980 when the Army became serious about physical fitness training. Running for two miles and gasping for breath all along the way was not fun. Smoke gets in the way of getting oxygen to our bloodstream. It's that simple. If your house is on fire, you will most likely die from the smoke – not the flames. Yet millions of people voluntarily breathe smoke every day. You see them on stoops of office buildings, on the street, and distressingly, you see many kids smoking. Each time I go for a physical – even after being smoke-free for twenty-five years I am asked if I smoke or how long it's been since my last cigarette. Smoking doesn't leave you. Your body can still be affected by that drag you took in your twenties. Unfortunately many smokers kid themselves believing that lung cancer and emphysema are other people's problems…
Now of course everything I've mentioned is terrible and gloomy to think about, particularly in the area of health especially when we see our parents, our friends, and our children suffer or die. However, one killer out there is more terrible than all the killers I've mentioned. It is a sickness – the names are many, but I call it sickness of the soul. This is the part of my article where all you communists and atheists are excused – but you really need to stay...
Albert Schweitzer, the great missionary healer described this malady as sleeping sickness of the soul. This sickness begins when we become immersed in a superficial existence. Success, money, and fulfilling our ambitions are great goals – unless we allow them to become our life. When they do – sickness of the soul sets in with a vengeance.
I am blessed with good and faithful friends. I never lose touch with them. I'm selfish. I need their counsel and they need mine. All of my friends have dealt with sickness of the soul. It can attack without warning no matter what place or position you find yourself. You know you have the disease when you find no purpose in a life that was once full of purpose. It's like the drunk who loses the taste for booze and now must faces the daunting prospect of starting a life – except in this case, there's no challenge. Life has become dead to those afflicted.
Sickness of the soul can be cured, but it first has to be diagnosed and that means stepping out of superficiality and looking inward, asking questions, and actively seeking answers. Some pop psychologists think otherwise, but it has been my experience that you can't cure sickness of the soul without putting God into the equation. After all, it is the neglect of God, which brought on the sickness in the first place. I didn't say abandonment of God, but neglect of God. Depending on ourselves too much and not reaching inward or upward for help when we need it.
I will tell you the story of my late friend Joe (not his real name). Joe and I were in our thirties when we met each other. We both worked in a profession where giving speeches, lessons, and oratory were our stock in trade. Joe was good at this. He was dynamite! He could make his audiences laugh, cry, or rush boldly into the fray – Joe's inspiration literally changed people's lives. This was his first love, but ambition, career, and a family put pressure on Joe to abandon the love that he had. There weren't many "Dr. Phil's" in the early seventies.
Joe's career blossomed, his family grew, and he advanced in stature. In regards to his first love he could only sit on the sidelines and listen to others less talented than him expound, cut tapes and disks, and make millions. Then health problems hit.
I was fortunate to find myself geographically close to Joe as both of us moved along in our careers through Tennessee, Texas, and Florida. I observed Joe become embittered when he realized nothing could be done for his damaged heart. He knew death could come at anytime. He felt like he had been cheated by life – after all - he was a relatively young man.
Joe had always been faithful to his church. He tithed a strict ten percent and never missed a Sunday or other service even when traveling. Church was something Joe did because he felt an obligation to do it. He knew the Bible backwards and forward and could quote scripture like a prophet. Something, however, was missing.
Somewhere in the decline of Joe's health, he hit a spiritual brick wall. He realized that he had bigger problems than a bad ticker. He began asking questions and pursuing answers from a higher source – a Friend. Then one day Joe had a revelation. It seemed to Joe that the answer was to go back to his first love.
No, Joe with his bad heart did not go into the stressful life of a professional motivation speaker, but instead he grew where he found himself planted. He took over a men's Bible class in his church. Over Joe's remaining years, this class attracted many from the surrounding area. It became very popular. Many said Joe's inspiration changed their lives. He certainly helped with mine.
It was on a night when Joe was leading his packed class with the enthusiasm that was only Joe's that he finished and walked into the hallway. He fell and was dead when he hit the floor.
I was one of seven who gave a eulogy at Joe's funeral, which was one of most enjoyable events of my life and I was honored to have the privilege. The church was packed with people who had come to celebrate Joe and not to mourn him. Everyone had a Joe story.
Actually when you think about it, there was nothing to mourn only something to rejoice. Joe and his Friend had cured the most fatal disease of all… sickness of the soul.