“Is he always this passionate?”
The inquirer was making a site visit from the Department of Health and Human Services, Maternal-Child Health Bureau, checking us out regarding a federal grant we sought. The question was rhetorical, more a commentary on my exuberance and enthusiasm regarding the needs of women and children in San Bernardino County and our proposed solutions than a request for information, but the answer Vanessa Long, our most capable program manager would have given was a decided “yes”. Today the answer haunts me.
My just-completed four days in an excellent South African hospital revealed several key pieces of information about me and my little stroke. First, there is no evidence that the stroke was caused by a clot or bleeding inside the brain. It was deep in the brain in an area called the thalamus, not on the surface as many more debilitating strokes are. Speech and thinking are not at all affected, thanks be to God, and there is little if any weakness. I’m numb on the left side of my body and a little uncoordinated on the left. And my head feels spacey (good medical term, “spacey”). While there’s no plaque or fat deposits in the walls of my arteries, their muscles are thicker than average. But the most important information was that my blood pressure tends to go through the roof (192/106) under any emotional situation, positive or negative. The nurses caught it up there several times, though 130/80 was more common. The high pressure probably caused spasm in a small penetrating artery serving the affected area leading to hypoxia and maybe then “terminal” spasm. Intense reactions to normal stimuli? Perilous Passion!
The passion that got me here (“Something has to be done to help our brothers and sisters in Africa deal with HIV.”) could well take me out. And yet it has always created difficulties. Beginning probably in grade school, some of you will remember the kid on the front row who got C’s in conduct in part because his hand insistently waved to answer every question. That passion has suggested to some that emotion has clouded reason, though I think it usually follows a reasoned conclusion. Some people resist the causes that passion supports just because of its intensity. “For every reaction there is an equal and opposite reaction,” and that may be true even within the body of this passionate individual. The current question is whether that passion can be controlled, modulated to avoid its destruction of the body which gives it expression. Putting it in a box will not likely serve its cause.
A few years ago I was invited to a prayer retreat put on by Randy Harris, Rhonda Lowry, and the then youth minister at the Malibu Church of Christ. It was to run from early Friday evening until Sunday afternoon. Getting across the LA basin took more time than I had allowed, and the retreat was beginning as I turned off Interstate 5 and headed into the Santa Monica Mountains. I relished the challenge of the mountain curves in my Honda Civic with the V-tech engine, and I got there, stoked, ere long.
What I remember most of the retreat was my feeling at the end after nearly two days of mostly praying, together and alone, with a little talk of prayer and meditation sprinkled in for guidance. First I didn’t want to leave. The place was not of paramount importance, but the rural setting was conducive to our goals, and the things that normally intruded were not there, so I loaded my car after lunch on Sunday so as to prolong uninterrupted the open-ended afternoon session in solitary prayer—just me and God. When I finally did leave, I felt no reason to rush, so no screeching of tires or exhilarating turns going down the hill, quite in contrast to the drive up. I felt no pressure to get home, not just because I had no appointments that evening, but none of the usual pressure that appeared within me raised its ugly head, created by my own internal demands to be busy, to do something. And so I was content to stay amongst the big rigs at 55mph easing down the interstate toward LA in the right two lanes. I was at peace. I was convinced of the value of what we had done, but I was contrastingly almost reluctant to speak of it. That passion was somehow different.
That peace remained largely intact through the night. I made some changes in my behavior that were suggested at the retreat, spending more time in the Word, especially the Psalms, changes that have been largely maintained to this day. But, those things gradually became one more part of the “to-do” list, the must do list and over a few weeks that deep inner peace gradually slipped away, crowded out by the press of a plethora of commendable activities, unprotected by my reading of the verses in the Psalms.
Today I am convinced that what happened at that retreat is a big part of the solution to the problem my self-destructive body is presenting. Don’t get me wrong. I am quite aware that we all must die, but 60 is relatively young, even (or maybe especially) for our family. In addition, more than sixty years of resistance training for my arterial muscles probably will require medication to assist in the task of keeping the BP down (and I’m on it), but learning to approach life on a little more even keel will probably reduce that medication requirement, and medication alone probably won’t do it. Finally, it was and is a good thing, that peace, in and of itself, and my colleagues in the kingdom would probably get along better with a Bruce no less committed but with a little less edge.