Extra Beats

Ever since my medical tests last week, I’ve been visited by a vague and unsettled feeling. A restlessness of a sort. It’s a feeling that something’s changed even though, technically, nothing has. It’s not physical.

Physically? I’m great. In fact, I’m better-than-great. I mean, what a gift to know (as the cardiologist said) my arteries are “as clear as the day you were born.”  Didn’t know that before last week. Now I do. That’s a gift.

So, it’s not physical.

It’s definitely spiritual. Psychological. Deep-level stuff. A kind of a brooding feeling, almost.

Been talking with The Judge about it. Talked about it with my therapist and group today. Here’s how I can describe it to you…

It’s like I was on a bus, and the bus was going along just fine. When, out of nowhere, somebody jumps up and pulls the emergency brake. The alarms screams. The bus lurches to a stop. You’re thrown forward, headfirst into the seat in front of you. Then, you’re yanked back the other direction, as the bus shutters and shakes to a complete stop.

And after a momentary pause, some voice in the back of the bus timidly shouts,
“Oh…sorry…my bad…never mind.”

You hear the exhale-sigh of brakes loosening again. And, in a matter of seconds, the bus is headed back down the road, just like nothing ever happened.

But, something did happen. And even after you’re underway again, there’s an adrenalin surging through your veins. A looking-back over your shoulder.

Which reminds me of the time our dogs cornered a possum on the back porch. It sounds like something that might happen out in the country, but it was right smack dab in the middle of North Dallas.

One night, we were awakened by our small dog, Scruffy, barking his little head off. We looked out on the porch, and there was our other dog, Grace, nose to the ground, eyes focused ahead on the prize…a possum that had wandered on to the back porch and was now corned and clearly outnumbered by the two dogs.

Grace –border collie at heart– had that possum cornered. Scruffy –running maniacally back and forth– was sounding the alarm.

That possum looked horrible. It’s face was disfigured into a snarl. It might have been drooling. It was definitely hissing. We thought it might be rabid.

Anyway, we brought the dogs inside, thinking that this would allow the possum the space to safely wander off into the night. While we are at it, we took a brief visit to “The Google,” to look up possum behavior. Frankly, given the way it looked, we were afraid this animal might have been rabid.

Turns out, all these features are but one manifestation of the “playing possum” adaptation. Playing possum doesn’t just mean playing dead. Apparently, it can also include looking rabid, dangerous, sick…such that a predator will take one look at you and say, “No ma’am, I don’t want any part of that…”

Reassured by this, and since twenty or so minutes had passed, I stuck a flashlight through the sliding glass window, to see if the possum was still there. I figured, with the danger long gone, he’d probably seized the moment to wander off.

To my complete surprise, not only was the possum still there in that corner of the porch, but it was in exactly the same position as it had been, twenty minutes before! Same snarled mouth. Same crazed look. As if the two dogs were still right in front of it, still threatening it’s life.

I went back twenty minutes after this. Same thing! In exactly the same position, snarling out at the empty night.

I finally went to bed, and we kept the dogs inside that night. Somewhere during overnight hours, the possum did wander off. But it’s clear the animal spent at least an hour, frozen in that same fear-response position, as if a long-gone threat was still immanent, pressing, and an immediate danger.
——————————-

I feel like that possum, I suppose.

I guess I ought to just get up and wander off. But I’m frozen. Wondering.

What does all this mean? What if the worst had happened?
And yes, I go there:

What if I had died?

I mean, I am getting older. I turned fifty last September. I wrote about how that sucked. It still does. But I moved through that milestone, and just kept moving on.

So then, holy crap, here’s an actual medical test that, no matter the result, reminds me of the truth I’m already living: I’m older. I’m gonna die some day.

It’s not like I didn’t already know all that. But this test became an outward and visible manifestation of the inward and spiritual reality.
So, yes, getting older is a part of it.

But, so too is just thinking about the past few months.

You see, I keep going to back over the days, weeks, and months just prior to last Tuesday. It’s been a busy time. A very very busy time. I believe I’ve written about it. (If not here, on Facebook…)

Starting with Holy Week, I worked a string of about forty straight days without a full day off. I am not bragging. I am reporting/confessing. Funerals. Other extra events. Just regular church stuff.
It’s been very busy. That kind of busy you can honestly call “a good busy.”

But it’s not balanced. It’s not what I “preach” to others all the time. It’s not “keeping Sabbath.” I get that.

I preach about keeping things in balance. I sit with folks in my office and tell them how they ought to do it. I talk (sometimes I probably brag) about my hobbies and interests, and the great and busy life Dennise and me have.

Hell, I blogged about all this, just last week! I bragged, at the end of this very blog, about the great lives Dennise and me have…

We’re busy, but “it’s a good busy.”
We’re tired, but “it’s a “good tired.”

I’m still able to say, “It’s a great life.”

But is all the busy “good?”
Or, is a “good tired” ever a good thing, beyond a rare occurrence, now and then?

I’m left asking: “Is the last month-and-a-half how I wanted to spend my last days?”

It’s theoretical. I get that.

But I’m afraid the answer would be, “No.” That’s what’s coming to me, at least.

Sure, a lot of what I did, I’d do again. In….ahem…a heartbeat.

But all of it? Would I work all those days in a row, or would I find the way to take some time off?

For example, I can’t recall when I last picked up my guitar and just played for a day. Or even a few hours.
When was the last time I wrote a song?
I cannot remember.

That can’t be good.

Yes, I get away to ride my bike pretty regularly.
But even during a lot of these rides, as I’m peddling away, my mind is already on whatever-comes-next…worried that I won’t make the next thing; failing to even see the beauty of the lake.

All the time (and I mean all the time) people tell me, “Eric, how is it that you move so fast?”!!”
Or, “I’ve never seen anybody move as fast as you!”

I’ve always taken these as compliments.
Or, as a shield. A shield against the inner voice that says “You’re not doing enough…”

But maybe it’s not really a compliment or a shield.
Maybe it’s an indictment.
A condemnation, even.
A flaw.

Here’s the image that came to me today:

My life has an “extra-beat.” Life is a song in 4/4 time, and I’m always cramming-in just one extra downbeat. A fifth beat in the measure, that makes the rhythm a little….bit….off.

You probably see where I’m going with this
Because this is what they’re telling me about my heart too.

My heart has an “extra beat.”
It’s not beating too fast, or too slow.
My blood pressure’s good.
No blockages.

But, there’s an extra beat in the rhythm.

So what hit me between the eyes today is: As goes my heart, so goes my life. I have an “extra beat.”

So, the next question, for me is: what to do about it.
Or, existentially, probably not do.

I mean, the heart problem will get solved, I am sure. I’ll go to the cardiologist in a few weeks, and we’ll talk about what, medically, might be causing these extra-beats. What the next step is, etc, etc…

But I don’t need a cardiologist to tell me what’s causing the extra-beats in life.
I can pretty easily identify that.

The question is: Do I cut something out?
If so, what would that be?
Or, When it’s all good, what do/can you cut?

What would a regular life-beat look like?

These are my questions.
These are my confessions.
I don’t come here tonight with answers, but simply a willingness to hold the questions before me in tension.

What am I going to do about the “Extra Beats?”

Stay tuned…

(Leave a comment below. If you like this post, then “share it” or “like” it on Facebook/Twitter by clicking the box below, so others can see too. Comments here are moderated, and are approved at my discretion, when I can get to it..so be patient if they don’t appear right away)  

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

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