Friday, November 2, 2018

Elaine, an Amazing Hospice Patient: The Magic of 80% Mental and Spiritual Power and 20% Physical Condition

Copyright © Kim Roberts

November 1, 2018. We are what we believe. Religious or non-religious, faith is us. I’ve been living it. I am witnessing it. Now, I am writing about it.

I haven’t seen Elaine for a few weeks as she and Dan went to Hong Kong for a week to visit with their friends. I was worried sick since they had to take such a long 14-hour flight and anything could happen to Elaine. Elaine has been at her end-stage (stage 5 CKD) of renal disease with a kidney level below 4%  and it has been for four months now. But knowing her and her faith in her God and in herself, I knew that she would not let anything stop her as long as she still has a small percentage of energy left to aid her mental power and to sustain her during the travel.

Frankly, I would do the same. As long as I have at least 20% of my physical condition for me to hold on to, I can make up the 80% with my mental power and the force of my faith. But unlike Elaine who puts her unwavering faith in God and sustains on the magic of prayers, I have a strong faith in myself and some in religion, philosophy, hope, dream, and an aspiration for life’s magic and meaning.
Me and Elaine today 11/1/18
Faith is a firm belief, or conviction, in something for which there is no proof. Faith may be held as true by one or more persons. A belief is a state of mind. As one places trust and confidence in someone or something, or a tenet, or body of tenets, without questioning or proving their validity, the believer has developed belief and faith. That goes with or without devotion, loyalty, and commitment for that belief over a certain period or a lifetime. Both Elaine and I have belief and faith although we place our belief and faith on different grounds. Her faith in God is pure, complete, and absolute because she was born in Christian faith and in America. I was not. But for my survival during wartime and difficult family situations, I developed faith early to give me strength, hope, comfort, and to anchor my life decisions. Even before I was introduced to Christianity, my faith was not completely in Buddhism either.

While Elaine and Dan were in Hong Kong, I suffered a bad case of heel spur. But, nothing would stop me from getting out and providing services to others. So I have been working. My most enjoyable workday was a six-hour convention for families with disabled children on October 13. I did the work while limping around, laughing at my ugly, swollen foot. Yesterday, I worked with an autistic child with speech problem. Then again, I worked with Sofie, the child with Down syndrome who arrived in an outfit of an angel as yesterday was Halloween day.
Dan and Elaine at the restaurant today 11/1/18
The waiter at the restaurant I frequented at lunch looked at my swollen foot and asked me, “Why are you working at this stage in your life?” I smiled and responded, “My dear young, handsome man, why not? And may I ask, at which stage in life that one should stop having fun and enjoying the meaning of life?” He answered, “I guess you’re right. Perhaps you also wanted to work so you can stop by here and have our delicious shrimp eggrolls and chat with me.” We laughed ourselves silly after that comment.

Today, I went by to pick up Dan and Elaine for lunch. I had imagined how feeble and sickly looking she would be after such a long trip to Hong Kong and back. Elaine came out with Tomo, their dog, to open the door. I looked at her and thought I saw a ghost. She looked so well and she walked better and faster than me with my limping foot. As usual, I brought them some lemons from my trees and that really cracked them up. There’s no doubt that I have an affinity with lemons. It makes me happy when my friends, who read my blog, “The Lemon of Life,” said that they would never look at a lemon the same way again. Along the way to the restaurant, I again cracked Dan and Elaine up when I mentioned before they converted me into Christian faith, a Vietnamese mother desperately tried to convert me so, hopefully, I would marry her son, a Protestant pastor. Nowadays, her son is still a priest at a Castro Valley church. Dan really laughed when I confessed the main reason I declined. I understood the English bible version better than its translation in Vietnamese.

My handyman, Xua, is a devout Christian who told me a story of a retired Vietnamese American podiatrist, Nguyen Duy Tan, who retired and became a pastor at the same Castro Valley church. He came to America the same time I did. When he visited Vietnam he realized that there’s no podiatry in Vietnam, he offered to teach podiatry for free at the university in Hanoi. He’s still doing that. One never knows how belief and faith can change the life of one person who in turn, changes the lives of many others. And that’s where one can really find the meaning of life.
The crispy ham hock and crispy ricenoodles 
I asked Elaine if her kidney failure symptoms got worse. She pulled out some ziplock bags in her pocket and said, “Yes, I can throw up easily.” I waved her off and laughed, “You’re showing off. I throw up all the time.” Dan reminded me that Elaine was under hospice care. But I responded, “But she is misbehaving. She is not acting as one.” Elaine laughed, “Something is wrong here. There must be a mistake.” But I knew there was no mistake. No modern day medical professional can predict the power of faith that sustains a sick patient when the physical conditions begin to diminish. I often mentioned a rule I used, which is 80/20. As long as a person has 80% mental power, and 20% of bare physical health, one can go on. Likewise, a healthy individual who has a higher percentage of physical conditions can fail if there is not enough mental power to function as a whole.

In my blog of January 1, 2017, I wrote about my rule of 80/20, “… I live on 80% mental power. I couldn’t survive today if I had relied on my physical health and other external conditions.” Sometimes they say football is 90/10 or 80/40. But to me, most sports are 80% mental and 20% physical as all players have similar physical conditions. It’s their spirits that make the games winning or losing. And that is how I feel about living life.

We arrived at the restaurant and continued to chat about my book, my editing, my work, and my relative who is currently under hospice care. I talked about another close relative who is old but healthy. Her problem is that she suffers so much fear of the unknown, anger, insecurity, and hatred for people around her including her relatives. It dawned on me that she had gradually changed her appearance ever since she became extremely negative. The individual I mentioned used to be a beauty queen now has a frightening look. A loving heart and righteous thought can improve a person’s appearance and make one glow with radiance, and vice versa. Confucius said that and my father taught me so at an early age.
Elaine was savoring the rice noodles
I still remembered each time Elaine walked through the door, any door, she moved as gentle as the wind. She never made a big entrance, never appeared visible among others, and never tried to get attention for herself. With her petit figure, rarely any jewelry, and in simple outfits, she could be missed by anyone. She reminds me of Mother Teresa. But, instead of feeding the poor with real food, she fed the rich and poor with food for thought, faith, and comfort. Of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people she had reached and blessed with her gentleness, beautiful smiles, comforting gesture, and loving heart, perhaps she could not count more than a dozen who would return and show her gratitude. 

“Sometimes we just do what we believe that should be done,” I expressed my deeply held feelings for Elaine, “Forty two years ago, you and Dan never knew when I came into your house that I would turn out to be this way. I still remember it was your fortieth birthday.”  Dan interrupted me, “Yes, Elaine was born in 1936.”  I continued, “I didn’t know how I would turn out either. But I knew then, whatever I was doing, I did it because it was the right thing to do. There has never been a need for any recognition. When you visited me at one of the most beautiful flats in San Francisco, at the corner of Kearny and Lombard, and moved me to the artists’ poor quarters in the city, I just turned down the financial assistance by one of the richest women in the city. And, I turned down financial help from a man who, a decade later after I was successful and independent, became my husband. No one knew what I did. But I knew. I did it for me. I found you and Dan a good fit for me to train myself through a rough road and I was right. Glad we both did. Now we have a story to cherish.”

 By then the waitress served the food and we nearly had to fight each other over the crispy skin of the ham hocks. It was so delicious. Elaine ate wholeheartedly and my nausea had gone away so Dan and I dug in and thoroughly enjoyed the food. Elaine was radiant and she could not hold back joy and happiness. I felt today was my best day in weeks. One feeling Elaine and I share is the freedom we have inside—freedom from fear, desperation, anger, and negativity. And that goes back to belief and faith. There’s no better feeling than being spiritually strong and free.
In front of the restaurant
I know a little about the feeling of fear as one is near death. During my childhood, due to my mother’s ignorance of my allergic reactions to many allergens including herb, she made me sick by giving me Northern herb (thuốc Bắc) or Southern herb (thuốc Nam). I overheard Father telling Mother as he was referring to my rashes, vomiting, and delirium after I drank an herb potion that Mother gave me. He said, “She’s not going to live a full life with these sickly conditions. All the healthcare providers have said they have no cure for her. Sooner or later, she will die young,”

One day, as a child of six years old, I passed out after suffering a high temperature induced by rheumatic fevers, my sister Kiem Anh woke me up with a cold towel over my forehead. Then she whispered, ‘Mom thought you were going to die. I know she will give you more herb potion to drink. She’s cooking it now. Can you smell it? If you are afraid of it, try to use your mental power and show that you’re well.” Kiem Anh was right. I was so afraid of my mother’s treatment of my illness that I suddenly felt fine. Kiem Anh then surprised me with a psychology book she just rented and read a chapter about “mind over matter.” I knew then the power of human mind.
Elaine was examining my Screaming Eagle WWII license plate
What I learned and practiced of having beliefs and relying on faith has helped me go through wars, end of the Vietnam War, a new life in America, and survive all other atrocities and adversities. There were times I clearly felt I functioned with at least 80% on my mental and spiritual power—the power to devise, plan, and prepare a strategy to respond to any unexpected encounter.

My experience of life and death was unique. I’ve never considered death a destructive end, just a beautiful conclusion of life. And only what I made of life mattered, not what death brought. Nowadays I often wish my parents and Kiem Anh were alive so I could thank them for giving me a false impression that I was going to die young. That gave me an urgency to make the best of my time on earth. As Elaine said about her condition, “It must be a mistake,” I do realize that mistakes can be the best thing that happens to patients. But, whatever the case, keep the faith.

P.S. All the photos were taken today 11/1/18. I have just finished the blog now and it is fun to write from the heart

END. Copyright © Kim Roberts

Friday, September 28, 2018

Elaine: A Pillar of Spiritual Strength to The End

Copyright © Kim Roberts

Every time I drive down the hill of Acadia court to Dan’s and Elaine’s house, I relive the images of myself walking up the hill to the main street and down the hill to Chabot boulevard then moving along for two miles before reaching a bus stop that took me to Hayward for classes. That was in 1976. When I was at home, outside my room’s window, Elaine would be pitching for the ten-year-old Brian to bat. Her petite figure was bending forward with left hand in an oversized mitt pressing on her back. With her right hand, she gripped the baseball, wound it up, then cocked, and accelerated it like a professional. At the time, I thought she made the cutest pitcher I had ever seen. When she appeared concerned that I had walked such a long distance to places I needed to go since she was not able to give me a ride all the time, I said that she had given me the strength to reach my destinations and complete my goals and that was all that mattered. I told her, “In martial arts, the best fighters have to go through brutal training to build strength and hone their skills. If I look for an easy way out, how far can I get?” It was never the distance, it was the motivation that made a huge difference in my life.
The first time she and I had lunch in SF in 1976, I asked her about public transportation to go from downtown SF to SF State University for an appointment. I had intended to sign up for classes there. She offered me a ride. I had no idea that she lived about thirty miles away and there was a huge traffic problem going across the bridge. On the day of my appointment, she took me to SF State and waited for me.

When I got out, she asked, “Did it go well? What do you think about this university?”

I answered, “Very well. The school is fine. The man I spoke with for thirty minutes or so was fine. He was the nicest man. First I asked, ‘May I call you Sam?’ He smiled, ‘Of course and may I call you Kim?’ After our talk, his secretary gave me a catalogue and all the class schedules and information I needed.”

“Who is Sam?” asked Elaine.

I casually said, “Sam Hayakawa.”

Elaine cracked up. “You really don’t know who he is, do you?” she asked.

“Should I know who he is?” I was totally curious. Elaine explained and we laughed the whole time on our way back to my place.

When I found out how far she had driven to take me to places, I apologized and she said, “It’s not the distance, it’s the goal. As a Christian, I live to serve the Lord by helping others. If we have met your goal, I met mine.”
Today, as usual, I picked up Dan and Elaine for lunch after my work in the morning. On the way to the restaurant, we passed by John George Psychiatric Hospital. I told them the stories of my work there. “In one suitability for release hearing, the judge asked the patient if the patient would continue to take psychotic drugs prescribed by the MD, the patient answered, ‘I am not crazy any more. I will find people who are crazy and give them the drugs.” We erupted into laughter. When I came to see Dan and Elaine I brought them a small bag of my special variegated mint from my garden. Elaine said, “I still remember you growing mint in the back yard and you went out there to pick them.”

Then I told them the story of my morning elderly client with depression problems after being assaulted. I had advised him to start a small herb garden. He did and now it is his one and only hobby that truly relieves his depressive moods. I could see the delight on Elaine’s face. She loved it. “There’s so much life in a garden,” said Elaine.
When we left the house, Elaine walked independently with no walking cane. She waltzed about strongly, gracefully, and she even opened the door to the Pho An Hoa Restaurant in San Leandro for me. Elaine has been at her end-stage (stage 5 CKD) of renal disease for nearly three months. The doctor has put her under hospice care. So imagine my surprise when she even looked more beautiful and healthier than most of elderly people at eighty-two years of age.

During our meal, she was completely lucid and quite articulate when she recalled the work she and Dan did in Argentina from 1992 to 1994, mingling with Argentine prisoners and later their work in China, as they consistently faced scrutiny from the Chinese government. "The Lord takes good care of me. How can I be worse? Right now, once in awhile, I got cramps on my left shoulder and left leg. Otherwise, I feel fine," laughed Elaine. 
Then she asked me to tell them my stories—work, book, blogs, and other stuff. I did. I also mentioned my close friends who have passed away, including Dr. Jameson. Once, I offered to purchase a book from the Vatican for Andy assuming it was just a book. When the bill came it was $6,000. I was in shock. As it turned out, the Codex B in Greek was, and still is, worth over $25,000. We kept cracking up and lit up the restaurant with laughter. Other diners were eyeing us as though we were having a celebration. The servers smiled at us and kept bringing us tea and anything we needed.

For the past few weeks, Elaine had told me she couldn't eat and kept losing weight. Today she ate the whole shrimp roll and a small bowl of “pho.” She looked at my surprised expression and laughed, “It’s the company that gives me energy and an appetite.”
Before we left the restaurant, I told her I too had such a high spirit. I felt as if she had given me so much strength and inspired me with hope and purposes. Elaine had healed my broken spirit and she still brings me love, joy, laughter, and solace. I thanked Dan and her for this opportunity to experience such an amazing power of giving, receiving, and empowerment. We had a blast and I am still shaking my head with amazement. How does she do it? I don’t know. But I know all along, she is an endearing tower of inspiration and a pillar of spiritual strength.

Copyright © Kim Roberts

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Lemon of Life

Copyright © Kim Roberts

September 26, 2018. Life Is a Lemon. Realistically, I do mean an oval citrus fruit of about 5% to 6% citric acid, with a pH of around 2.2 in its acidic juice, giving it a sour taste. A lemon is what it is. It gives its juice as an ingredient, but it offers neither a recipe, nor a finished dish. So it’s up to the individuals to create whatever they wish with this heavenly fruit. The choices are lemonade, lemon meringue pie, marmalade, lemon curd, lemon liquor, lemon zest, including baked goods, puddings, rice, and other dishes.
Meyer Lemon
Ideally, one may wonder what a lemon has anything to do with real life, real people, and real human emotion. But it does, in a big way. At least it is in my case.

On Christmas day in 2016, I received a giftwrapped holiday present from my beloved niece. Inside was a beautiful Meyer lemon carefully boxed and wrapped. For a sentimental value, that was the sweetest lemon I had ever received. For years, she had difficulty growing a Meyer lemon tree. Finally, she had the first and only lemon and she dedicated it to me. How unique is it? I was in tears. It was truly special when someone was thoughtful enough to offer me the honor of having her first lemon—as gift of love.
Kumquat blossoms
That brings back memory of my childhood in my garden in Sadec, especially, the middle plot of land surrounded by three creeks where I often tiptoed on dead leaves, carefully moved about without making noises as they might wake up my grandparents in their graves. On top of my Grandpa’s tomb, I lay on my back and looked up at the lemons dangling on branches that drooped over the graves. The tall, slender lemon tree among other large fruit trees was delicate but it brought us gifts throughout the year. “Kim pick me some lemons, I am cooking fish for dinner tonight,” my sister Kiem would call out. And Mother would tell my cousin Thuong, an MD, “Look, Kim ruined her teeth by sucking on lemon. Then she makes lemonade daily and broke so many jars of sugar by dropping them on floor.” Cousin Thuong responded, “A small price to pay. She got good bones by getting so much vitamin C.”
Juice vesicles inside a caviar finger lime
Sweet memories brought back images of my family, of my parents and sisters, and neighborhood friends. It was a peaceful environment before the Vietnam War exploded into a full-scale war. The good time that had gone forever like water departing our canal to join the sea but the lingering effect still remains in my heart. More importantly, a lemon always reminds me of our tree in Sadec where I picked lemons often and visited with my grandparents’ graves—the tree of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. With warmth in my heart, I felt a connection with the dead—an unique feeling of being transported into bygone time—years, months, weeks, days, and moments. As time passed, my surrounding environment evolved, I moved on, and my feelings changed. But, like water in the creeks that was drawn out by the tide but magically returned with some new water that replenished the creeks, there’re always some remnants of the past--the old water. I am a sucker for a belief that I have designed, created, and lived moment by moment throughout my journey in life. I have evolved. I have changed. I have transformed. But, beneath it all, I still have some fundamental ties to my roots, the place I left—connections I could never break—as my emotional and mental reactions to lemons or limes have shown.
A variation of the Buddha's Hand Lemons
Over time, I have carried out my passion for lemon and lime by growing practically any rare citrus species I could find. My very first one was a gift from a man who later became my husband. He gave me a Meyer lemon tree and a shovel. “Why a shovel?” I asked. “ So you cannot use the excuse of not having a shovel and kill my precious Meyer lemon tree,” he laughed. It has been thirty-five years since that day and the tree has always been loaded with fruit. Then I grew Buddha’s Hand lemon, Rangpur lime, Persian lime, Mexican lime, Variegated Pink lemon, Kefir lemon, caviar finger lime, and two kinds of Kumquat.

With that many citrus trees, the scenes of butterflies, bees, insects that came to enjoy the blooms were always spectacular, festive, and moving. I could describe the details of a citrus blossom, but I can never adequately convey to others some magical aspects of the scent. It’s a heady aromatic fragrance, which makes a lemon and other citrus fruit special. Those who have the experience would relate to my passion for citrus blooms.
A butterfly enjoys the nectar
My best friend in the old days, Linda Anton, a writer, once told me, “John and I are so embarrassed that this is the first time since we moved to Kentfield, we had to buy a lemon. Our tree is sick and that makes us sick not seeing and smelling these blossoms.” Her husband was a multi-millionaire entrepreneur but he preferred to be called “Farmer John” as he enjoyed cultivating his plot of land on the beautiful hill on Acorn Street in Kentfield. Linda was loving, kind, and caring throughout the years I knew her. In 2002, I had a major surgery and my husband was unable to look after me. She came, spent time in the hospital and at home to care for me. Then she brought me flowers and a card. I asked, “What for? I am the one who should do that.” She answered, “The gift bestowed on the receiver can only be given when the person at the receiving end accepts. I thank you for allowing me to do something for you.” That’s truly a heart-felt gift—one that no money can buy. Later, she spent precious time comforting me when I lost my husband and in return, I was with her when she lost hers.
A variegated Pink Lemon, pink in the inside.
Last week, when I gave Elaine, the lovely lady with a kidney failure, a variegated pink lemon and she cracked up, she reminded me of Linda Anton. Elaine has given her life to serving those in need and comforting the sufferers. Like her, Linda inherited a lot of money after John’s death but instead of going back to be a writer and enjoyed an easy life, she found her calling. She went to the Pacific Divinity School, got another master degree in religion and went back to Utah to become a pastor in a church. Like those who love to serve, she wanted to make a difference in other people's lives. There is enough kindness in the world for broken souls because life is a lemon and these individuals have taken it and made something delicious, beautiful, meaningful, and magical of it.

Copyright © Kim Roberts or