March 4, 2016

Vagabond Traveler: Wilderness and Sky…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:00 pm


Mama, put my guns in the ground,
I can’t shoot them anymore.
That long black cloud is comin’ down,
I feel like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door.

Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door,
Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door…

—Bob Dylan, lyrics

I don’t know quite how to speak this week, about how things went. I guess, just start back where it started, with the telling of it. I felt the pensiveness and tension in me, back even before my last post. And no, it wasn’t fear. At least that’s what I kept telling myself. It’s not fear. Whatever it was was there, just kind of stirring around inside me. It was like I was standing there, looking at a great mountain in the distance. The ablation. Out there a good ways still, but creeping in a little closer every day. And each day, with the rising and setting of the sun, there was nothing to do but walk right toward it. And I knew. There was no way around it. The mountain had to be faced, and it had to be faced alone. This road had to be walked, and it had to be walked alone.

It’s not that I didn’t want the procedure done, the ablation. I did want it done. And who am I kidding? A “procedure” is just a clean word for that way more frightening term. Operation. That’s what I was facing. An operation. Sure, nowadays, they can slip up through a vein in your groin with a laser knife, slide right into your heart, and just sear the misbehaving muscles. The thing is, fifteen years ago, it would have been major open heart surgery, what they were doing to me. They would have sawed me open with a hack saw. And they would have peeled back my ribs and poked and cut around my heart with a knife. By hand. And I would have been cooped up in pain for weeks and weeks. That’s assuming I survived, of course. I would have played the odds, though. Not much choice there. I would have had to. But it’s not anything like that, now. Now it’s very close to an outpatient thing. You walk in one day, walk out the next. That’s what the doctor told me, anyway.

And from the start, ever since my long hospital stay last November, I wanted it done. It had to get done so I could get off some of those toxic drugs they had me on. It had to get done, for my life to ever be close to normal again.

And it all closed in, it all became so clear to me as the mountain crept in a little closer each day. I thought about it a lot. How rare and beautiful life is. How much there is I haven’t done. I’m fifty-four. Not that young anymore. But not that old, either. And I thought to myself. You really need to get a grip on things. Figure out what’s important. You’ve been depressed these past two years or so. You’ve been drinking yourself into a stupor. You’ve been full of rage. For what? What good does that do anyone? What does it do, except prove that you can drink yourself into any state of mind you want to? Stop it. You can’t drink away pain. Stop choosing to feel all dark and depressed and angry. Get up. Clean up. And get out there, and live. And yeah, all that said, I sure would like me a drink. I sure would like one.

It took a while, to get my bearings after I got home from that long hospital stay in November. Took a few weeks for it all to sink in, how close it had come. How nearly I had left this earth. It changes you, a thing like that does. Nothing is quite the same as it was before, not ever again. Not once you really grasp it, that you faced the Grim Reaper right up close and walked away. There’s a couple of things that can happen, after that happens. You can curl up in fear, retreat even further into the darkness. You can drink even harder and swear at the bitter skies. Or you can step up and realize that Death took a shot at you and missed. And you got nothing to fear, not ever again. That’s what I grasped after a few weeks at home, after things had settled down a bit. I had faced Death, and I will never be afraid again. Not like I was before. I will walk free, I will live free.

And it trickled out and around, then, this new knowledge I had latched on to. How beautiful life is, and how intensely I wanted to be alive. The people around me at work were the first to see that new part of me, I think. I spend more time in the office than at any other place. And once I had grasped this new perspective, I could not keep it inside me. The joy bubbled and rolled from me. My coworkers looked on in astonishment as I walked about, whistling to myself. And even breaking into song, sometimes. Who was this strange new guy? They wondered. It sure doesn’t sound like the Ira we know. Is the man off his rocker? It can’t be him, singing like that. But it was.

And it didn’t take long for the first wild strange thing to get here. I don’t quite remember how it came up. But I got to thinking. And it seemed like a real good idea at the time. Then I got to talking. And I told them, at the office. This spring, after my ablation, I’m getting my motorcycle license. There was a brief, stunned silence. Not that anyone had any problem with what I had said. It’s just that, I mean, me riding a motorcycle is even crazier than me cooking and having a beard and wearing an Aussie hat.

I’ve taken a few very rare rides as a passenger, in my life. I’ve never, never driven a bike. Never. You couldn’t have paid me to. Death machines, that’s what I called them. People get killed on those things all the time. And not because they’re driving recklessly, either. Most times, a motorcycle accident happens because other drivers don’t see the bike. They pull out in front of you, and it’s over. That’s a death machine, I said sternly to a lot of friends who ride. You’ll get killed, riding that thing. That’s what I’ve said, many times. And I have never, never even remotely considered getting my license, or learning to ride. It was way too big a risk for the old me to take.

Now it isn’t. And now I am not only considering it, I’m planning to do it. Just because I want to. If I die riding, I die riding. That’s better than rotting away in some desolate nursing home thirty years from now.

I remember when I told them, there in the office. I’m getting my motorcycle license, I announced brightly one day. The guys seemed to accept the news cheerfully enough. One of them came back at me. “Oh, so are you going to be riding with the Pagans?” And I shot back. Maybe. If they’ll have me. I got no problem riding with the Pagans. Or the Hell’s Angels, either. Heck, I’ll be their chaplain. They’re just people. They need the gospel, just like anyone else. I’ll ride with anyone. I’ll walk with anyone, too. Don’t matter to me at all, who it is, or what they look like.

And that was that. And that’s how it is. Sometime this month, I’m planning to go get my beginner’s permit. And this spring, I’ll spend three Saturdays taking a training course. I could not know less about riding a bike than I do. So I figure to learn from the ground up. And I figure if I don’t like it, well, at least I’ll have my license. If I do like it, I’m getting me a Harley, something long and gleaming and wicked. I already got my canvas backpack and my duster and my boots. I’m growing a ponytail to go with my beard, and I’ve got a big old Bowie pig sticker in a leather sheath to strap to my hip. And, oh, I’m thinking about getting a dog, too, to ride along. (Which is real odd, because I haven’t allowed my heart to become attached to any animal since the Stud died, way back.) Let’s just say, if all that happens, there’s gonna be a whole lot of new border crossings coming up real soon.

A month or so out. The mountain lurked, creeping ever closer every day. The ablation loomed. I’m not sure how to describe how it felt. It was a mixture, I guess. Kind of a strange restlessness, way down deep. But I held on to what I learned, back in November. I will walk forward and I will walk without fear. And I didn’t feel at all that the Lord must keep me alive because there’s some special work for me, down the road. No such thoughts bogged me down. If anything, there was an even stronger sense that I was entirely expendable. I’ve said it before. You are expendable. Everyone is. The Lord doesn’t need you for anything, not for any reason. And about the time you get to thinking you got some special thing going on for Him, that’s when something will come along and whack you right upside the head. And it doesn’t matter, anyway, in the end. The Lord’s work is gonna get done, one way or the other. That’s just how it is.

I stayed pretty loose emotionally. At my last appointment, the doctor had told me. An ablation was not something to fear. It was being done to make me better. That’s about as basic as you can make it, I guess, coming from a doctor to a patient. But I never lost sight of how serious it was, how serious it had to be. When you go under, and when a foreign object gets slid up to cut and sear your heart, that’s a serious thing. Ain’t no other way of looking at it.

A few weeks out. I wasn’t looking for a sign, or anything. And I can’t remember exactly what I was looking for, rummaging around in one of my desk drawers one evening. Stuck way in the back, there was a little paper bag. Rolled up and crumpled up in a corner. Curious, I got it out. There had to be some reason a paper bag was stuck back in the drawer. I unrolled the bag. Opened it.

And there was a little necklace stuck in there. A little oblong piece of flat clay, baked to look like a stone. A little more than an inch across. A thin black lanyard was looped through a hole in the stone, big enough to slip over my head. And in the center of the stone was the stamp of a cross. I turned the thing in my hands and examined it. And it calmed my spirit, I gotta say. I couldn’t remember where I had picked up the necklace, probably at some flea market somewhere. Strange, I thought, that it now emerges, at a time like this, at this very moment. And I bent my head and looped the black lanyard over. The flat stone nestled into my chest. The stamp of the cross. I was about to go on a journey, a vagabond traveler in a strange land. And I would carry the cross with me. That’s what I decided right there on that spot that night. I told no one of what I had found, or of my decision. It was a simple thing between me and God. Kind of like a covenant, maybe.

A week out. The final countdown rolled down in my head. And I looked out, ten days or so, and made plans. The things I would do, the places I would go, when it was all over. You look to the other side, in times like that. At least I do. Because when you get there, that means the mountain is behind you. Mostly, though, I focused on the actual date. Wednesday, February 24th. That’s when it would all come down. And they had told me at work. The day before, we’re sitting you on a chair, here in the back office. And we’re going to stand around you with our hands on you. And we are going to pray to the Lord for your protection. I’m OK with that, I told them. And the last weekend approached, then came and went.

Tuesday, February 23rd. The day before. It all seems a little surreal in my mind, that day. It seemed to flash by, and it seemed to crawl along agonizingly slow. I worked. Told my customers and my builders, the ones I talked to face to face or on the phone. Tomorrow I will be out of the office, and the next day. I’m getting a medical procedure done. I’m thinking maybe I’ll be back Friday, at least part of the day. And the day wore on. Afternoon came. And Rodney came to tell me. Come to my office. We’re ready to pray for you. And I got up and walked with him.

They had set up a chair in the middle of the room. I sat in it. And they gathered around me, my coworkers and my friends. They placed their hands on my shoulders. And they spoke to the Lord on my behalf. Be with Ira as he walks into this journey, this unknown, tomorrow. I bowed my head and sat there. And when they had finished, my eyes were a little wet. I thanked them, all of them. My good friends. Right there for me, right there with me. Tomorrow, though, they could not come to where I was. Tomorrow, I would walk alone.

And that evening, we had our regular Bible Study upstairs, our little core group of die- hards. Six of us were there. Regulars, mostly. And we listened to a Keller sermon. And again, it was all a little surreal for me, sitting there, absorbing this time together with my friends. It all seemed so rare and precious, a moment like that. And afterward, we sat around, talking. Keller had mentioned in his sermon. Trust your friends. Be bold, and be vulnerable. And as we were winding down, someone asked. Does anyone have anything out of the ordinary to share? Or request?

I spoke up. Yes. I do. Tomorrow, I said, I’m going in for my ablation. It’s a pretty big deal to me. I would like all of you to gather around and pray for me. I know we’ve never done anything like that before, not here as a group. But tonight, I’m asking. They didn’t hesitate, my friends. They stood in a semi-circle behind my chair. Placed their hands on me. And each of them prayed a simple prayer, talked to God. And they weren’t asking the Lord to make sure I made it back. They were asking that I would be calm and resolute, whatever comes. And that His will would be done. And as they wound down, then, I thanked them all. I was a little choked up. It was a special moment for all of us, I think. We stood around talking for a few more minutes. My friend Allen and I finalized our plans. He had offered to come and take me in to Lancaster General early the next morning. I was scheduled to check in at six o’clock. And then we all separated and headed for our homes. That was the last evening, winding down.

The vagabond traveler paused and pulled the brim of his hat down low against the cold and shifting winds. He huddled in his long coat and wrapped it tighter around him. He shivered ever so slightly and looked to the west. The road before him led into the shadows, slowly fading into darkness. The smell of death was out there. Shadows from the mountain loomed large above him. It will come in the morning, he thought. The good or evil that will be sufficient unto its day. The journey will continue, the road will lead on. In one dimension or the other. He shivered again, and then settled down to rest. But he knew sleep would be a far and fleeting thing that night.

There was no late meeting with my friends at Vinola’s that night. That’s what usually happens. I go down after Bible Study, and we sit there and talk for half an hour or so. And that usually winds up my Tuesday evening. But not tonight. Tonight it was time to do some thinking and it was time to go to bed and get some sleep. I felt fairly calm. But I wasn’t all that sure if sleep would come.

It didn’t, and it did. I slept fitfully, jolting awake now and again. And again. And soon, the alarm clattered. The last morning. This was it. Allen would be here at 5:15. I got up. Showered. Dressed in T-shirt and sweats. Slipped on the stamped cross necklace. Packed a light duffle bag. Last time I went to the hospital, I stayed for ten days. So this time, I packed a change of clothes, and a few books and other items. And my iPad. Just in case it goes longer before I get home, like it did last time. I glanced at the clock. My phone dinged. A text from Allen. “I’ll be there in a few minutes.” I looked outside. A light rain drizzled down.

And I stood there in the kitchen, like I always do just before leaving on a journey. Whether it’s a ten-day road trip or a one-day excursion to the hospital. And I remembered the last time I left like this. How I had crossed myself and talked to God, just before walking out. I thought about that. How I had asked God to allow me a safe return later that day to the home I loved. Well, He allowed a safe return, alright. Ten days later, after almost calling me to His home, instead. But still, I remember getting home after all that time and walking into my house. I stood there, right where I had stood when I left, right where I was standing now. And I crossed myself again. And thanked Him.

Outside, lights flickered in my drive. Allen. He was here. I picked up my bag. And then I stopped. And then I crossed myself again. I felt very calm inside, talking to the Lord. The conversation was short. My words were very simple. God, I said. You know the future. I don’t. I’d really like to return to my home tomorrow, like the doctor told me I could. But I’m OK with whenever it is You get me back, or if I don’t come back at all. I’m OK with that.

Outside, Allen waited. It was time to go. I switched off the lights and shouldered my bag and walked out into the darkness and the rain. I greeted Allen as I settled in, and we chatted right along. Mostly about the little things, the ordinary details of our lives. The roads were completely deserted at that hour. In twenty minutes or so, Allen turned onto James Street and pulled up and parked outside the hospital entrance. There wasn’t a whole lot to say at this moment. We shook hands. Thank you, I said. My friend. Thanks so much. “You are very welcome,” he answered. “I hope everything goes well for you.” Then he stopped. “Well, I know it will go well for you, whatever happens,” he said. Yes, I said. I know, too. It will go well, whatever happens. I turned to the entrance as Allen edged out and drove into the predawn darkness.

I walked in and up to the second floor. Same place where I checked in last time for my “outpatient” day. I shivered a little. This place sure holds some tough memories. I walked up to the nice check-in lady, and ten minutes later, I was being directed to a bed in the corner of the outpatient room. They curtained me off, and the older, motherly nurse came with all her stuff. Blood pressure. Oxygen level. Temperature. That’s what she needed. She chatted right along and I chatted back at her. We got along real well. I’m here to get my heart fixed, I told her. She clucked in acknowledgement and sympathy.

I changed to a gown, then, and just lay there. She came around now and again. Talking right along all along. During one conversation, I told her. I’m wearing my stamped-cross necklace. I pulled it out and showed it to her. “Oh, my, Hon,” she said. “You can’t have that on you. You can’t have anything on you.” But it’s important to me, I protested. She was sympathetic but firm. “No necklaces on the operating table. That’s the rule. They don’t want anything that’s going to get all tangled up.” I looked sad. But I heard her. And I didn’t apologize to God, or anything. Just slid the lanyard up and over my head and slipped the necklace into my duffle bag. “When you get back to your room, you can put it on as soon as you like,” the nurse assured me soothingly.

They wanted me in the operating room soon after eight. That’s what I was told. The nurse flitted about, taking care of other curtained-off patients. I heard her chatting right along with them as well. And I glanced at my iPad. Eight o’clock. Things had better be happening soon, here, I thought. About then, a male nurse came in. He introduced himself and told me. He was here to prep me for the procedure. He did his thing for a few minutes. The curtain slipped open and the doctor came walking in. Dr. B. The man. He was all smiles. “Ira,” he beamed, waving his cup of coffee. “It’s a go. We’re going to get you fixed up.” I smiled back at him and shook his proffered hand with my left hand, which was the only one free at the moment. Thanks, I said. I’m good to go.

And the whole thing just came at me, pretty much like they said it would. My prep nurse disappeared, and within minutes a very lovely female nurse walked in and spoke to me. “I’m (I forget her name, but she was real lovely.),” she said. “I’m here to take you to the operating room.” Great, I said. She rolled out my bed, an orderly took the front while she pushed along. And we swept out into the halls and out and around all kinds of corridors. And then they were pushing me through a large set of swinging doors. The room. It was cold, real cold, just like I remembered it from a few years back, when my flutter heart got worked on. They rolled me up and then slid me over onto the table. A whole team was assembled. The lovely nurse kept chatting right along. I told her. I won’t see you guys again, because when I wake up, it’ll be in another room. I want to tell you. Thank you so much for all you are doing for me. She smiled in welcome. And then the anesthesiologist walked in and up to the head of my bed. The time was real close. I’m not quite sure I grasped just how close. But I know now, looking back.

And I had thought about it, how it would be at that moment. I can tell you how it felt. I was a traveler, standing at the edge of a wilderness. I’m talking wilderness as described in the Bible. I remembered how Pastor Mark had told in a sermon what a real wilderness was. It’s not a nice “wild” place where you can drive or walk in, camp out for a night, and then leave. Modern civilization has greatly romanticized the concept of true wilderness. A wilderness is a place of real danger, where you might actually die. Pastor Mark compared it to the Ebola virus, which at that time was ravaging several African countries. And he said. “Wilderness, the Biblical wilderness, is where you travel into one of those countries to care for the stricken. Where you care for the sick, people with Ebola. That’s what a wilderness is.” I never forgot.

And now, here I was, ready to walk off into another kind of wilderness. A dangerous, dangerous place, where there was no guarantee of return. I was ready to take off for a nice long hike into the wilderness. I had a map I trusted. And there was a guy back there on the border, directing me. The doctor. I trusted him, too. Completely. And on this little hike, well, they pretty much got the wilds tamed down, these days. Almost all the people who walk in make it back out. That’s the thing. I was wandering in, fully expecting to return. But the bottom line was this. I was fully planning to return. But once in a while, someone doesn’t make it back.

The operating team chatted right along. The anesthesiologist hovered at my head with her equipment. And she reached over and connected a little hose to the IV needle they had stabbed into my wrist. I looked down at my wrist, curious. I wonder how long this will take, for me to go under. The anesthesiologist was talking right along, too. And she told me, as she opened up the flow. “Pick your dreams.” That’s a funny thing to say, I remember thinking. Pick your dreams. And I told her, all conversationally. Hey, I can feel something flowing into my veins…. And that was it. That’s the last thing I said or thought. I was out like a light. Gone, down under into a strange land of strange dimensions and bright loud skies.

The vagabond traveler stood at a high point, looking down into the valley below. So that was it. The wilderness. It was a desolate place, but he felt no fear. A strange place, yet somehow so familiar. Above him glinted a vast expanse of hard bright yellow skies. Not soft or white, like light from the sun. But hard yellow, like paint. As hard as it gets. He didn’t think it strange, though. There were voices around him, too. They spoke to him, and he spoke back. He felt no euphoria. And he felt no darkness inside, either. He just was. Everything just was. He stood, looking out into the distance. It was time. He shouldered his pack, and glanced at his map again. Way, way out there, the desolate landscape shimmered as one with the hard bright yellow skies. And the traveler turned his face to the wilderness and walked.

ira duster bw

I slid back into the white light of this reality and jolted awake. And I instantly realized where I was. In the hospital, in the recovery room. It was over. My “procedure” was done. And I walked out of the remnants of the world with the hard, bright yellow sky. A nurse noticed I was awake and welcomed me. I can’t remember what she said. But I remember my first words, in a question. Did it work? She smiled. “Oh, yes,” she said. “Everything went very well.” I asked what time it was. 12:30. Wow. I had been “under” for three-plus hours.

I relaxed and slowly emerged from the fog of that other world. At first, there were clear memories of how it looked and the conversation I was having back there. It was not a place of fear. It was just a place. Slowly, then, the cobwebs brushed free from my mind. As my thinking cleared and I woke up, the details of the other world receded, receded, and slipped away. I tried to grasp, to hold onto them, but I simply could not do it. And then only a vivid memory of the hard yellow skies remained. And that’s all I have with me today. The hard yellow skies, and the fact that the world with such skies was not a fearful place. Nothing else remains in me from my journey into that wilderness on that particular day.

They rolled me on out to my own room real shorty after I woke up. I felt woozy, but not dizzy or anything. There was a weight on my chest, and I checked it out. A heavy battery pack stuck into the front pocket of my gown. A dozen wires protruded from the battery and snaked out all over my chest. And there were a dozen little sensors glued onto me, on my chest and upper arms. To keep track of how my heart was beating. Wow, I thought. No wonder the motherly nurse made me remove my stamped-cross necklace. That thing sure would have gotten in the way of all this. I won’t even be able to wear my cross until I get checked out of here, when they tear these things off.

And another real motherly nurse took care of me in that room. She fussed around. Told me I was on bed rest until 3:30. And in the meantime, did I want any food? She had a cold turkey sandwich she could bring me. I fussed right back at her. I’m not very fond of the food in here, but sure, I’ll take a sandwich, and thanks. She kept checking my vital signs, too. Blood pressure, and such. I was at optimal levels every time. After my bed rest was over, I grumbled about my gown. I’m not hooked up to anything, on my IV ports on my wrists. Can’t I wear my own clothes? “No,” she scolded. But then she went off and fetched me a set of scrubs. Blue, a shirt and pants. I gratefully changed into those much freer clothes. And then I grumbled at my nurse some more. I’m up and walking around. I’m not hooked up to any drugs. I feel fine. Why can’t I just go home? She chuckled, and scolded right back. “We have to keep an eye on you overnight. You have puncture holes in both groins. We have to make sure you don’t bleed out.” I settled in then, not content, but at least understanding.

There’s not a whole lot to say about any stay at any hospital, I don’t reckon. I settled into the evening, and in for a long night. Early that evening, they wheeled in the guy who would be my roommate. I got along real well with him. It’s just that when there are two patients in one room, the nurse traffic doubles. And this guy was in worse shape than I ever hope to be. He was born with half a heart and half a kidney. All his life, he had dealt with those issues. And he was in now, to get his pacemaker replaced. His old one got infected. Like I said, we got along real well. I sure thought about it, that I will never have all that much to complain about, not when I think of him. The night crawled by, pretty much a sleepless thing.

I wanted to get out ASAP the next morning. And Noah, my nurse, told me. The doctors will make their rounds around midmorning. And I was chomping at the bit when the Nurse Practitioner finally walked in around ten. She was quite friendly and cheerful. Yes, I was being released. Yes, everything had gone just about as well as one could possibly hope for. I asked her, then. How about my heart strength? Did Dr. B check that out, when he was down in there? “No,” she said. “We’ll check out your heart strength in a month when you come for your follow-up. I was a little deflated. OK, I said. She left, then.

I called Rodney at work. He was coming in to pick me up and take me home. I’m released, I told him. I’ll be processed out by noon. And right then, the Nurse Practitioner came racing back into the room. She interrupted. “Excuse me.” Excuse me, I said to Rodney, and turned to the Nurse. And she told me. “I just checked your report, and Dr. B did check out your heart strength yesterday. I said nothing, just looked at her. She went on. “Your heart is back to the equivalent of 100% strength.”

I gaped at her, then whooped. A hundred percent. She smiled. “Yes.” Wow, I said. The heart failure people told me I will always, always have a very weak heart. I guess this’ll show them. Wow. There is no better news than that. I held my hand out and up. High five, I said. And that Nurse Practitioner lifted her own hand and slapped mine really hard. I was so excited I could barely contain myself. I’m back to 100% strength, I mean, my heart is, I burbled to Rodney, who was patiently holding on the phone. He congratulated me, and told all the others in the office. “Ira’s heart is back to 100% strength.”

Noah came around soon, then, brandishing a clipboard with papers for me to sign. And then a nurse’s aide popped in. She was here to extract the IV needles from both my wrists. I held out my hands and looked away as she yanked them out and taped a big band aid on each wrist. How about these sticky thingies on my chest? I asked. “I’m not taking them off,” she informed me. “Pull them off yourself. First, though, let me get the wires loose.” She fumbled around and extracted all the wires and took the battery from my chest pocket. “OK, you’re good to go,” she said. “You can change into your street clothes.”

I wasted no time disappearing into the bathroom with my duffle bag. Off came the abominable blue scrubs. Then I searched my bag and found it. The clay stamped-cross necklace. I lowered my head and slipped it on. The stone felt firm and cool and comforting, snugged against my chest. Then I dressed in my T-shirt and sweats and my camo jacket. I laced up my sneakers. I was ready to go.

Shortly after noon, Rodney came strolling in. And a few minutes later, we were walking out to the parking garage where he had left his car. Half an hour later, he pulled into my drive. Everything looked the same, as it should have. I had been gone for just over thirty hours, a little more than a day. I stepped out, grabbed my bag, thanked Rodney, and turned to my house.

And then I walked into my home. Stood there, in the kitchen. I set down my bag and lifted my eyes to the heavens. I felt it washing through me, a huge wave of thankfulness and relief. And I crossed myself one more time as I spoke to the Lord.



  1. So happy for you that all worked out and God was with you. 100% is very good. You are very blessed. I hope now you can relax and everything will continue to go well for you.Very well written. (ps. Did you wear your hat during the procedure?)

    Comment by carol ellmore — March 4, 2016 @ 7:07 pm

  2. Very happy to hear that the ablation went well and you are back to 100%. Now to figure out what God has planned for the next chapter of your life.

    Comment by Deb — March 4, 2016 @ 7:29 pm

  3. Thank God for answered prayer. Ira I am so glad to see you back. When you mentioned the “real lovely” nurse I knew even without reading further that you were going to be better than fine but great. Take care.

    Comment by Nancy — March 4, 2016 @ 7:29 pm

  4. Powerful stuff…

    Comment by RAM — March 4, 2016 @ 7:30 pm

  5. Very happy that your procedure went so well and that you are back with us. Enjoy your 100% heart and being off all those toxic medications. Enjoyed reading your whole post. I thought about you last week and prayed for you. I am sure the prayers of all of us who read your posts were with you. Take care of yourself. Peace and all good things all the rest of the days of your life.

    Comment by Rosanna F. — March 4, 2016 @ 7:48 pm

  6. So happy to hear your procedure was successful. Prayer has great power and brings much peace.

    Comment by Erin — March 4, 2016 @ 7:55 pm

  7. Good to hear this great news, Ira!! We may all be expendable, but He has more reason to keep you on this earth than most of us. I am very glad He did!

    Comment by Matthew Block — March 4, 2016 @ 8:13 pm

  8. Ira, I read and loved every single word. I am the biggest chicken when it comes to any medical procedures or even just testing. Reading your post, I could feel myself getting anxious as your words became closer and closer to the big day. I thank the Lord your outcome was the best possible result. Your new lease on life and your new attitude are glorious.

    Comment by Rosemary — March 4, 2016 @ 8:17 pm

  9. Such a very good writing in regard to your feelings and how you made it through. I know that God was with you and you learned to trust him with your tomorrows. It was very well written. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. God bless you Mr. Ira

    Comment by Linda Morris — March 4, 2016 @ 8:21 pm

  10. I’m so glad to see that you came through this procedure so well, now you can learn to ride that motorcycle and do all the things that you now want to do. Another wonderful blog as usual, thank you for sharing them with all of us. Enjoy each new day my friend!

    Comment by Jayme Cutting — March 4, 2016 @ 8:56 pm

  11. Glad this went well for you and you soon will be back like new….very well written….I enjoyed it…. Take care…..

    Comment by kentucky lady — March 4, 2016 @ 9:58 pm

  12. Wow, another amazing read-thanks so much for sharing of what our God is doing in your life…keep on keeping on. So glad it turned out well. And def. get the bike license-nothing like a good ride to empty the mind of cares! We love to ride as soon as we can get out without freezing! By the way, talked to Rachel and Lester this eve! Saw them when we went out to eat!! Love your sisters!! And enjoyed having David with us on our Haiti trip! Keep up the good writing-God gave you a wonderful gift of words!

    Comment by Joyce Yoder — March 4, 2016 @ 10:55 pm

  13. I’m so happy for you! Everything has a way of working out. Enjoy learning to ride a motorcycle. 3 years after my husband passed I decided I needed to learn something new, so at the age of 57 I took classes and got my license . I’m still very proud of that since I didn’t even know how to start a motorcycle, so if I can do it you will be just fine. Study the book. The written test for me was the hardest. Enjoy your life as you learn new things. I love reading your blogs. God has really blessed you!!

    Comment by Joyce Morrow — March 4, 2016 @ 11:10 pm

  14. Glad it went well, Ira, and hopefully no more heart problems for you.

    Comment by Jonathan Fisher — March 4, 2016 @ 11:38 pm

  15. Great to hear that everything’s ok. Prayer for a person from others is a powerfully bonding & comforting time. Good to hear how those closest to you spent time in prayer with you before the operation. Life indeed is many times a road travelled without a map. Do continue to share with us your life’s journey & the wisdom & insights gained through the everyday. Keep a joyful song in your head & on your lips, it does indeed make life better.

    Comment by peter klassen — March 5, 2016 @ 1:56 am

  16. Wow! What an intense experience. How amazing that you were out the next day! You’re right, heart operations used to be big time. People would talk about them in hushed tones. “Did you know John had a triple-bypass?” “Wow! Really?” Today…piece of cake. Or pretty darned close. So very glad you made it, friend. Yes indeedy.

    It was interesting reading about your pre-procedure; about the routine of going to the hospital for an operation. Getting up at an ungodly hour, bathing, everything is still and quiet as you mindlessly pace through the house. “Did I remember my toothbrush? Will I need shampoo? Is this thing going to work?” There doesn’t seem to be too much room left for fear…it was squandered in the previous days…thank the Lord. There’s no where to run now. No more scenarios to mutter through. No turning back. You are now in the hands of others. And a peace settles in. Your life is no longer your own.

    And that glorious twilighty state. The world could come to an end and you would neither know of it nor care. Everyone works feverishly to mend your broken, soft pieces yet you are exempt though it is your very body being manipulated. It could be seconds, minutes, or hours before you awaken. It doesn’t matter…all irrelevant. It’s over now. It’s over.

    I have often fantasized about owning a motorcycle. I’ve ridden on them several times and always enjoyed the experience. Yet I never rode one myself. Yes, I think I would enjoy one very much. WooHoo to you, Ira! Man, have a ball!

    You wrote about your cross necklace; I would say you’re one better than the average Joe. You’ve got the cross burned right into your heart. If that necklace ever breaks or disappears, hey, it don’t matter. You got the real thing in a place that will always be with you.

    Live, man, live!

    Comment by Francine — March 5, 2016 @ 2:21 am

  17. Such eloquent, beautiful, riveting writing! I’m thrilled the ablation procedure went so well and your heart is back to 100% functionality. Whee! :)

    Comment by Selah — March 5, 2016 @ 9:44 am

  18. I so enjoyed the blog, but as always, it was too short. You always leave the reader wanting more. Your blog is always a highlight of my weekend.

    I am so glad you are doing so well. But I feel a little selfish, because one reason I am glad you pulled through it all is that the blogs keep coming and have only gotten better.

    Once you start your bike trips, you are certainly welcomed up here in the Northwest. There could be no better trip than through the Rockies and around the Northwest. Just let me know.

    Thanks taking the time to share your thoughts. I really look forward to meeting you at some point!

    Comment by Larry H — March 5, 2016 @ 11:24 am

  19. Ahh, what a GREAT feeling, eh, Ira? I’m very happy for you and wish you well in your continued life. I hope you continue to feel happiness!

    Comment by Erin — March 5, 2016 @ 7:08 pm

  20. Wow, Ira, that is so great! I’m happy for you, with you.

    You are a very unique writer, able to say things just like people think them and walk through them, before they fancy it up for other people to hear. By the way, that photo is cool and just the right amount of spooky. I hope it becomes your new long-time blog picture.

    Ha,ha. Hell’s Angels – I remember after I got saved (it really was “saved” – I had been contemplating suicide in college, and found a Gideon’s New Testament), I went on a spring break time with a Christian group, and we learned how to overcome fear on the one hand and religiosity on the other, and talk to people about the relationship we had found with the Lord. There had been a kind of “revival” on the campus, and bunches of us were now Christians – those strange people we had despised or ignored as irrelevant; and we still didn’t fit in churches, either.

    Anyway, at one poolside drinking party a small group of us sauntered into, there were some motorcycle gang members. I walked up the the biggest one, all 6-feet-plus, dressed in leather and as intimidating in all verbals and nonverbals as possible … and I started to converse with him, and ask questions, and talk about my experience with the Lord. He offered to throw me into the pool, and I answered cheerily (probably goofily). Some people laughed out loud, and I felt some fear, but was not altogether intimidated. I really hadn’t gotten used to the fact, just a few months in, that some people Really did not want to hear about what I had found. Anyway, we eventually retreated, my friends telling me I was nuts, especially when I put tracts under something on their motorcycle seats.

    The night that the group leaders had a public event (which we had invited them to), the gang showed up! After they began talking directly about the Bible, some of the guys got up. “Sit down,” the leader ordered. I heard some of them got “saved” that night too. Maybe you’ll run into them! ha ha I’m not writing a blog, but I wanted to tell you that story. I’m just trying to imagine you on that ‘cycle.

    Comment by LeRoy — March 5, 2016 @ 11:14 pm

  21. I remember patients like you when I worked at Hershey. The ones who wanted answers, gave you a run for your money and usually pulled through far better than their counterparts. I call it spunk. At any rate, God has indeed been very good to you in granting you life in abundance. I’ll be interested to see your new ride, whether it goes by “Harley” or no. It’s bound to be an adventure, one way or the other.

    Comment by Maria Rockhill — March 6, 2016 @ 3:44 pm

  22. Ira, you have such a gift. You take your readers right along with you on all your journeys. The only way I’ll ever get on a motorcycle is if you get on one first. The journey continues. Congratulations on the 100 percent. You must have been doing something right all along.

    Comment by Cynthia Chase — March 6, 2016 @ 4:41 pm

  23. This is indeed your Ministry! My eyes teared as I read. It was so real but I am not able to describe my experiences as you do. As the pastor stated this morning, The Lord has something for us to do but we can easily be replaced if need be. God Bless you in your new adventures.

    Comment by Linda Ault — March 6, 2016 @ 4:50 pm

  24. I am so glad you are getting a bike big black and Wicked! I got a bike at 50 and love riding with my friends. I know you will enjoy your time out on the road with a new heart you are all set!

    Comment by Chris Lampson — March 7, 2016 @ 8:09 am

  25. I see in my mind Phoenix rising up from his ashes. One must go through fire before realizing what is important in his life. You have been given a new lease on life. I am so glad that your procedure or ‘ablation’ went well. The key word here in ‘Motorcycle’…now we are talkin’. There is nothing in life comparable to riding a motorcycle. Riding into the horizon and feeling the wind against your skin and body…accelerating. You are on the right Path Ira….forward and onward…a warrior who has earned his ‘scars’. Bury the past with all of its disappointments etc. and move on. Born anew…Blessings to you…Di

    P.S. I truly abhor your Capthas at the end of this ill stated comment.

    Comment by Di Kisinger — March 7, 2016 @ 9:33 pm

  26. I was especially touched when you wrote, “Your heart is back to the equivalent of 100% strength.” Being told that you get it all back, full refund. The words spontaneously opened a floodgate of emotion with the tug of just a little string, and I’m not sure exactly why. But I think it’s because it’s reminiscent somehow, of Jesus paying it all, and we’re justified, one hundred percent, and returned to the Father washed, and regenerated. Your heart was my soul: damaged goods. But now we’re whole.

    I want to thank you for pointing us to Timothy Keller. He gleans rich messages from the scriptures and shares them in a dynamic way. Good meat.

    Comment by Tammy — March 8, 2016 @ 9:29 pm

  27. Love the new, happy, content, mature yet wild, Ira. Might I suggest a trike instead of a bike? I know. Not quite as cool looking. But, loads more practical and safer, especially for road tripping. Just put on a killer loud exhaust and it’ll be BA. So happy for you.

    P.S. Digging the italicized interjections.

    Comment by Lisa DeYoung — March 11, 2016 @ 10:07 pm

  28. Ira,
    You write very well and from the heart. I am glad I got to see you last Tuesday. You looked great.


    I will keep praying for you.

    Comment by Theresa Barb — March 12, 2016 @ 8:06 pm

  29. It takes great courage to allow procedures to be done on the heart and am thankful it went well. Also the need to get cranking on the “bucket” list is a courage thing in my book. I have mixed feelings on the bike hears all the romance about the wind in your face,the power underneath you,the freedom of the open road and the bugs in your teeth…no,wait,scratch the last one..My urge for riding comes and went away while watching the news 3 day’s ago about 2 bikers who collided with each other. The gas tank cap came off and the fire burned one over 50% of his body. Word is he might not make it..that being said and despite my slowing reaction times and aging reflexes..the bike would not be one of those slow loud “thumpers”. The almighty Hayabusa comes to mind. A ” crotch rocket” worthy of the name it is. It stops at 186 mph…allegedly..and that would probably be fast enough…nice photo with the hat, shades of Orson Welles?..peace to all..

    Comment by lenny — March 13, 2016 @ 12:56 pm

  30. God bless you! Glad your procedure was a success.

    Comment by Emma — March 24, 2016 @ 10:09 pm

  31. A dog. You want a dog.

    Comment by Ellen — March 29, 2016 @ 3:37 pm

  32. Very very nice. Praise the Lord.

    Comment by Sho — November 22, 2018 @ 3:59 am

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