He Has Survived

He has survived twenty-two days of a relentless virus, which has invaded his sinuses and descended to the weak link – his asthmatic lungs. War has raged and the old medicine barely touched that which under different circumstances would kill him.  Hold it off, he tells himself.

“Here is something stronger to inhale four times a day until the coughing stops and then twice a day to strengthen your lungs to ward it off the next time.”  — to ward it off the next time.  How ominous.  He remembers that another physician had told him years ago to spit out what he coughs up; don’t swallow it.

A day before, he coughs and coughs, spins, faints and lunges head first into a nearby wall.  At least the glass in his hand doesn’t smash cutting him to the bone and requiring another trip to the emergency room.  He coughs more carefully.

He has survived the war.  The virus wears down, retreats but doesn’t give up the ghost completely.  One day a cold will return and will descend again. The man thinks about the black plague, about the small pox that killed so many touched by European invaders, the pandemic of Spanish influenza and about his grandfather who died at thirty-nine of that particular virus in his lungs.

At sixty-eight, the man, without anyone saying it, knows how close he has been to not being here, if it had been another time, another location.  He is becoming aware of how vulnerable humanity is, not even counting all the ways humanity has of killing itself off.

He inhales the new medicine.  He breathes deeply and smiles for now and hopes that this medicine really is stronger than the last.  He thinks about the wonders of modern medicine
and laughs when he thinks most of the progress is in his bathroom — the cammode and a bar of soap.

Spreading the Misery in this Holy Season

As a little boy

I walked out of my

Bedroom and looked

At the little nook of

Books cradled against

A pale, blue background.


It was there I saw a copy

Of Les Miserables and

Knew enough even as

A nine-year-old that Les

Must be “The” and Les Miserables

Must mean The Miserable Ones.


Ever since those days

I’ve thought about how it

Isn’t just the French who

Are miserable. I’ve agreed

With Thoreau that people

Live their lives in


Quiet desperation and

How that surely is

A form of misery. And

Then I think about

The History of Mankind

On the History Channel,


And how humanity always

Seems to turn for relief from

The misery of quiet desperation

By realizing that misery

Loves company and so

Inflicts misery on other


Desperate ones by (in some-

What historical order) clubbing,

Bashing, spearing, slicing,

Dicing and shooting first

With rocks shot out off canons,

Then bullets out of muskets,


Then bullets in magazines

In high-powered rifles and along

The way atomic bombs dropped

From planes as a way to get

Out of their own misery, but

If it feels so good to vent all


That desperation by spreading

It around, how come desperate

Men in their teens, twenties and

Thirties once they have blown

To smithereens little boys and

Girls and some adults


In elementary, high school,

College, grocery store parking lots

And movie theaters, turn the Glock

9mm on themselves after all that

Spreading?  Surely, if that spreading

Is the answer, that would

Have done it.

Quiet, Peaceful, Still

Quiet, peaceful, still

Town Square, 1971,

he swaggered out of

the theatre, a twenty-six

year old, husband, dad,

university chaplain, preacher

of peace during Viet Nam,

reached into his pocket,

pulled out his hand with

index finger and thumb

cocked, pointed here

there and everywhere:

Blam, blam, blam,

“Do you feel lucky, punk?”

uttered years before he

had a “Go ahead,

make my day” kind

of a day

after watching Dirty


stare down

the bad guy.

The preacher of peace’s

adrenalin was pumpin’

flowin’. He, too, was

ready to pop the bad

guys just like a few

years before, he was

Steve McQueen in

Bullitt putting his

shoulder holster over

the arm of the chair and

looking at it in a pregnant

pause as if to ask if this

is the right way, the way

he made after the unbelievable

car chase that set the standard

for all car chases to come.

Was it Bullitt’s stare at his

gun that gave him pause,

or simply the still, small

voice that won out

and kept him from ever

owning a gun? And

forty-one years later

he remembers just

how he felt that evening

and he thanks God

that he never bought

that gun.

Hands on Shoulders

The following was written by CHAPLAIN [LTC] JAMES C. BERBIGLIA,USA,Ret.
PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH USA in response to the tragic shooting yesterday at the elementary school in Connecticut:

Children, hands on shoulders ahead of them like little elephants trunk to tail,
Quick march, crying, terrified past slaughtered kindergarteners to the firehouse,
While Fathers and brothers play weapons and war games on X-Boxes
And White Male Congressmen vote for more guns and right-to-carry
And Jesus is born in a manger, challenging the power of Roman Rule.

It Seems So Distant — Five Haiku

It seems so distant

When he jogged the woodland trails

Before getting sick.


His lungs are now weak;

Coughing has exhausted them

And his head still spins


And every breath hides

A rumble deep within,

And he fears breathing


Which will send his head

Spinning round and round the room.

He sits down quickly;


He doesn’t get up

Let alone go for a jog.

The outdoors can wait.

The Codeine

The codeine sent him

Into Alice in Wonder


Land.  Still, he coughed

His head off, had to grab

Hold of anything


Reach as his head spun

Round and

Round, spinning,


Avoiding collapsing,

Shaking off all


Of the past which

Came rushing into

His brain and draining

Him from reality –

Former, now dead girl

Friend, now dead

Wife walking

The beach

So many years

Ago —

But unfortunately

A cough away

A hacking cough


From the

Way it is –


Is this, then

Reality? He

Looks around

Shaking his

Head, breathes

Deeply and waits

For, apprehensively




Breathe in deeply

The ER physician requests.

Hold it.  Okay, exhale.

Easier said than done.

The patient pushes air

Past various obstacles

Which have taken up

Residence in his lungs –

Blockades, what seem like

Concrete barriers and

Through mazes more

Complicated than that

In Alice in Wonderland.

This is no wonderland.

This is the land of the

Hacking cough, gurgling,

Rattling, suffocating


He takes an antibiotic,

Inhales a puff of Albuterol

And prays that the

Elephant on his chest

Will get up and go

Back to the Serengeti

Where he belongs.

Appetite is gone.

Exercise is out of the question.

It’s a tough way to

Lose weight, the nurse

Says. Right now he

Doesn’t care. He just

Sits up in the chair,

Stares blankly at

The old Numbers reruns

On the TV and sips his

Bourbon which the nurse

Told him not to do while

Taking cough medicine

With codeine. He’s at

Home, not driving heavy

Machinery.  Say goodnight,

Patient.  Goodnight, Patient.

Nineteen Years

Nineteen years


and counting,

he still doesn’t


the holidays.

Even before, they had lost

their holiness

for him, which was

all he had cared

about over and

against his

late wife and


objections. They

called him Scrooge.

Now, with grief

pretty much

under control, abated

even, he

hears the

ubiquitous carols,

and doesn’t even

have the energy to

fight against the

secularization of

Christmas. He chooses

not to listen. He

just doesn’t care


Instead, he thinks

about how it isn’t

the most wonderful

time of the year along


the pressure to be

happy. It feels like

being confronted


someone (maybe the


who says,

“Come on. Come on.

Let’s have a little smile

there. Come on. Hey,

it’s Christmas so

cheer up.”


Perhaps if there

were two things for

him to like

about the holidays,

it’s listening to “Have

Yourself a Merry Little

Christmas,” one of

the saddest songs

ever written.

It’s the only song

that comforts him

in the other-wise sacred


and he bets the

lyricist knew loss,


A Few Short Weeks Before the Vote and Now

Fatigue hangs around like the next door

Cat ready to pounce, in the act of pouncing,


Fatigue hangs in the air like millions of

Tiny dumb bells falling on one’s back.

Fatigue surrounds bones, muscles and

Joints, seeping like bone chilling

Dampness into and through the muscles,

Into the bones and the nervous

System causing the muscles attached to

The bones to shiver.  It all weakens the

Body politic till it can think only about

Bed, sleep and the dream of a day off,

Way off, so far off, it might never come.

And now, sweet, sweet rest and then

A Tiger Wood’s fist pump.