Debunking a Myth

There are no atheists on their death bed.

As a humanist (atheist), I have heard this comment more times than I can count. In fact, it was said to me earlier today. I want to share an experience of mine that debunks this myth.

I had an acute pancreatitis attack in March 2017. Due to other pre-existing conditions, my body was unable to fight all that was going on in my body and my organs were starting to shut down starting with my kidneys and liver.

An MRI showed that about 25% of my pancreas was permanently damaged from the acute attack, my right kidney was only 10% of its normal size and that my left kidney had over 50 kidney stones in it.

I was in bad shape. The surgeon told my wife that I only had a 20% chance of making it through the emergency surgery on my pancreas and kidney.

I made it through the surgery and I was in the Intensive Care Unit for 10 days. The first 4 days were touch and go. During these 4 days, I had ample opportunity to understand my proximity to death.

Never once did I ever consider turning to a god — any god — for help. I was at total peace knowing that I was most likely going to die … just like every other living thing on Earth. I had lived a full life. I was ready to die.

I had treated others with respect and did my best to help those in need of empathy, compassion and support. I lived my life to make every day count because I knew there is no such thing as a hereafter in which one is rewarded or punished based on the life they lived. I knew I had to make this one life matter.

As it turned out, I didn’t die. I was released from the hospital 14 days from the day I went in. I am so thankful that I had the opportunity for my humanist (atheist) belief to be tested and confirmed.

“Believing there’s no God means I can’t really be forgiven except by kindness and faulty memories. That’s good; it makes me want to be more thoughtful. I have to try to treat people right the first time around.”
– Penn Jillette

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Quotes that inspire, motivate and challenge us.

Grief, Bereavement and Loss

— Warning —
This post deals with death and grieving.

Most of us go through a period of grief and bereavement when someone we love dies. No two people experience grief in the same way. Some externalize the grief with visible signs of deep sorrow and emotion. Others internalize the grief and become somber and withdrawn. Regardless of how we handle the grief, we must go through the grieving process to get through to the other side.

If you are completely overwhelmed, support is available when you’re finding it hard to cope with stress, anxiety or depression. Your local mental health professionals are trained, ready and eager to help you get through this difficult time in your life.

Common Symptoms of Grief and Bereavement

  • shock and numbness – this is usually the first reaction to loss, and people often talk about “being in a daze”
  • overwhelming sadness, with lots of crying
  • tiredness or exhaustion
  • anger – towards the person you’ve lost or the reason for your loss
  • guilt – for example, guilt about feeling angry, about something you said or did not say, or not being able to stop your loved one dying

These feelings may not be there all the time and powerful feelings and emotions may appear unexpectedly.

It’s not always easy to recognize when bereavement, grief or loss are the reason you’re acting or feeling differently.

Actions to help you get through the bereavement and loss

Try talking about your feelings to a friend, family member or health professional. 

Try these 7 ways to feel happier, which are simple lifestyle changes to help you feel more in control and able to cope:

  • Manage your stress levels. If you have a lot of stress in your life, find ways to reduce it, such as learning a few time-management techniques.
  • Enjoy yourself. Doing things that you enjoy is good for your emotional well-being.
  • Boost your self-esteem. The best way to improve your self-esteem is to treat yourself as you’d treat a valued friend, in a positive but honest way.
  • Limit your intake of alcohol. When times are hard, it’s tempting to drink alcohol because it “numbs” painful feelings. But it can exaggerate some feelings and make you feel angry or aggressive. It can also make you feel more depressed.
  • Exercise. Even moderate exercise releases chemicals in your brain that lift your mood. It can help you sleep better, have more energy and keep your heart healthy.
  • Get adequate sleep. Around 7 to 8 hours is the average amount of sleep an adult needs for their body and mind to fully rest.
  • Build your resilience. Resilience is what allows you to cope with life’s ups and downs. Making something worthwhile out of painful times helps your resilience grow.

Consider peer support where people use their experiences to help each other.

Search and download relaxation and mindfulness apps

As a final thought, keep in mind that time heals all wounds the vast majority of the time. Allow time to heal your pain and hurt.

Look up, put on a smile and, after some time, we’ll see you on the other side of your grief, bereavement and loss.

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Our Purpose

Image by Luisella Planeta Leoni from Pixabay

“Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of other men —above all for those upon whose smile and well-being our own happiness depends, for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labors of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received and am still receiving.”
― Albert Einstein


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The COVID-19 Lockdown and After

Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

I am very lucky. The COVID-19 mitigation efforts are not financially affecting me as I am retired and have an income that is more than adequate to meet my needs. Yet … I am starting to have bouts of anxiety and depression due to the devastating affects that the global lockdowns are having on the working class people all over the world.

I want to touch on a few areas of concern that are on my mind. I present these from a humanist perspective.

Lockdown Realities

The COVID-19 pandemic is global. I can’t think of anything else in my lifetime that has brought so much destruction, loss of life and financial ruin to so many people.

I see so much pain, mental and emotional suffering, financial devastation and loss of hope that, at times, I’m so moved with empathy that I must sit down and cry for my own emotional release.

I don’t question the need for societal procedures to slow or contain the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. I do question the draconian isolation measures that have effectively imprisoned people in their own homes without weighing the potential devastating consequences.

When all of the lockdown procedures began, I told my wife that a baby boom and an increase in domestic violence will follow. Today, Governor Andrew Cuomo (New York State) released the following increase in domestic violence since the “stay at home” requirement was put into place:

  • March statistics showed a 15% increase in domestic violence cases.
  • April statistics showed a 30% increase in domestic violence cases.

Financial uncertainty

Many, many people and small mom and pop small businesses cannot hold on through the period of time it will require to see the other side of this pandemic. Without a steady flow of income, radical life changes are the only thing these folks can envision. Keep in mind that 50% of the households in American do not have the money on hand to pay for a $500 emergency. How in the world are these families going to financially make it through this pandemic?

Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash

Unemployment benefits

In the last 5 weeks in the United States, 30 million people have filed new unemployment claims. Unfortunately, the real number is higher than this because the claims must be filed online and many of the states don’t have the technical capacity to handle the huge influx of applicants. To make matters worse, a large number of applicants who were lucky enough to get their claim filed have yet to receive any money.

Economic stimulus checks

Assuming a family qualifies for the maximum one-time payment, both adults can receive $1,200 each plus $500 for each qualifying dependent child. That is a great start. However, that equates to about 2 weeks of income for the average family. As anyone can see, those unemployment checks had better start coming in soon … real soon.

Opening up the economy

Sectors of business will be able to open on a ongoing basis as determined by government authorities. However, social distancing mandates and maximum numbers of allowed customers at a time will apply. So, here are some problems that businesses face that, in turn, affects employees when the business is able to open:

  • Many potential customers are strapped for cash due to the pandemic lockdown.
  • Many potential customers will not feel safe as long as the coronavirus is still spreading and taking lives.
  • As a result, there will be fewer customers which leads to reduced income to the business which leads to the need for fewer employees.
  • Even under the best circumstances, this will last for a year or longer.

The road of life before you has sharp curves and steep hills. If you are to navigate it successfully, you must critically budget your money, efforts and time. Now is the time to get physically and mentally fit for the challenges before you. Never forget that:

You will learn from this experience.
You will become smarter and stronger for having gone through this.
You will get through this victoriously!


My other websites:
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The Empathy of a Friend

Photo by Abo Ngalonkulu on Unsplash

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”

Henri Nouwen

Nature’s Gift

“Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.”
Gary Snyder

Photo Narrative

Nature blessed my wife and I with this beautiful bearded iris a few days ago. It was such a surprise because we never planted any iris bulbs of this color. Being curious, we unearthed the bulb to discover that two bulbs had grown together. That’s right, the bulb of a deep purple iris and a bulb of a brilliant yellow bearded iris had grown together to produce this beautiful hybrid specimen.

Irises are rare in Ecuador due to being on the Equator. The sun is absolutely brutal in the Andes Mountains where we live at an altitude of 6800 feet. Unless they are watered daily, irises will not thrive and produce blooms.

We brought 40 iris bulbs to Ecuador when we moved from the United States 12 years ago. In the States, the irises would boom twice a year. In Ecuador, our brilliant white bearded irises bloom 4 times a year with each stalk bearing 5 – 6 blooms. The colored irises bloom 3 times a year and there are usually 4 blooms per stalk.

It’s amazing how much joy this simple hybrid iris brought to our lives during this trying time of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown,
for going out, I found, was really going in.”
John Muir

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The American Dream is a common trope in much of the United States’ mythology. The core of its ethos is that with hard work and dedication, anybody can achieve success and prosperity. While optimism and perseverance are admirable traits, the path to financial success in the United States is not as simple and straightforward. The chances of one becoming wealthy in this country are slim to none, and there exists many barriers that impede upon those seeking opportunity.

These barriers range from discrimination based on income, race, religion, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation, the rising prices of higher education, single income households, the disenfranchisement of convicted felons, the accumulation of debt, and a lack of historical family wealth and inheritance. Today, there is an ever rising gap in economic inequality. The middle class is declining and can soon become a nonexistent entity, and more and more Americans are slipping into poverty. As the middle class continues to shrink and the poor continue to struggle, the extremely affluent – the .01 percent – and their wealth continue to grow and prosper.

In many ways, it is expensive to be poor and being from a lower income household makes success much harder to attain. The effects of poverty can lead to stress and studies have shown that lower class Americans exhibit higher signs of anxiety and mental illness. Also, being from an impoverished neighborhood with poor living conditions such as unclean water, pollution, lead exposure, crumbling infrastructure and inadequate food safety can have a huge impact on one’s psychological and physical development. Another important factor to note is that poorer neighborhoods have underfunded and overcrowded school districts.

With poor living conditions, underfunded education and a lack of resources to work off of, this leads to a struggle to survive. The family structures in many poor neighborhoods are often unstable and with a low income, there is less time for parents to invest in the child’s academic and social development due to having to work more. There is also a positive correlation between poverty and crime, as individuals with lower levels of education and income are more likely to commit crimes and be incarcerated. This is due to lack of resources and opportunity that lower-income neighborhoods provide.

The negative factors of being born poor and living in an impoverished environment traps people into a cycle of poverty. This is one example of how class impacts behavior, there is a high priority to ensure basic needs such as food, clothing and hygiene. A culture of survival and using crime and extreme measures to achieve a level of security develops. Poverty can become a generational phenomenon that is passed down through families. Moving out of poor and crime-ridden neighborhoods is difficult as safer and affluent neighborhoods are more expensive. This allows for a segregation based on class to occur and not only continue to enforce a wealth gap but also a cultural gap.

There have also been instances of discrimination based on income such as landlords refusing to rent to lower income individuals. Many of the government assistance programs also mostly benefit the middle to upper class such as mortgage tax deductions, tax-free social security income (if household income exceeds $118,500) and retirement plans (such as 401(k) which is only offered by select employers usually high-paying ones), etc. There is also racism involved in housing discrimination in which banks can refuse to lend money to people of color despite meeting qualifications. This practice has a history in the United States called “redlining” which involves denying financial services through increasing prices to neighborhoods based on their ethnic and racial composition. Redlining contributed to historical poverty in the black population due to denying home ownership which prevents inheritance of property.

Many of America’s social issues such as racism, ethnocentrism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia can be intersected with classism. For instance, the black, Latino and Native American population of the United States are still disproportionately impoverished. This is the direct consequence of slavery, colonization and Jim Crow laws. This is systemic racism at its core. Women and the LGBTQ community are also more likely to be impoverished due to discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Historical research dictates that the construct of race was created to maintain a permanent class hierarchy and assert white superiority in order to justify colonization and enslavement of people of color. Furthermore, centuries of patriarchy and heterosexism played a big role in disenfranchisement of women and LGBTQ. In fact in 30 US states, it is still legal to deny employment and fire individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. The American prison population is over-represented by lower class citizens of all race, and marginalized groups such as Black people, Latinos and LGBTQ make up a significant segment.

Throughout the history of the US, the prison system has served as a confinement center for many people who belong to marginalized groups. Incarceration rates for non-white groups is higher than average as is the incarceration rate for sexual minorities and the poor. For crimes such as drug possession and theft, black Americans faced longer prison sentences in comparison to whites. The Reagan-led War on Drugs of the 1980s particularly targeted blacks and Latinos in the inner-cities. HIV criminalization laws also disproportionately affected gay and bisexual black and Latino male population who mistakenly and/or unknowingly spread the virus.

America has the highest amount of imprisoned citizens in the world. The prison system operates as a form of enslavement with cheap labor being exploited from the prisoner population. Many prisons are privately owned and run by corporations. In addition, several states have in place, laws that deprive the voting rights of convicted felons. Also, many workplaces can legally deny employment to an individuals with a criminal record with black convicted felons getting the bear of the brunt. As a result this leads to and reinforces the disenfranchisement of a large segment of the American population which consists of marginalized groups.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Under centuries of Eurocentrism dating back to the colonial era, Whiteness became a proxy for wealth and high status. Even today, that ideology is still prevalent and superior because the Western world, which is composed of predominantly white countries, is portrayed as wealthier, civilized and more developed in the media despite some developing and struggling Latin American and most Eastern European countries being predominantly white. The epidemic of non-white countries being depicted as poor, uncivilized, war torn, exotic and barbaric, despite the progress and rapid growth of many formerly colonized countries such as India, Ghana, Nigeria, South Korea, etc, contributes to negative stereotypes of non-white immigrants and the resulting xenophobia.

Within North and South America and the Caribbean, the legacy of slavery and colonialism still remains present as dark skinned people of color are discriminated against in society and the workplace. While white and lighter skinned people of color enjoy higher positions and opportunity for better jobs. This phenomenon of white privilege grew out of the creation of race in the 16th century and the belief that Europeans and their descendants were a superior race, thus the only ones worthy of ascending to a higher class. Even first and family names associated with non-European (excluding Hispanic) or non-Christian heritage and culture can make an individual a target for discrimination.

However, white people are also victims of classism and many live in poverty. Despite the majority of the wealth in the US being held by white Americans, the majority of the American lower class is also white. Another important fact is that majority of the American prison population is white and also suffer the same disenfranchisement upon release. White privilege does not always trump classism but does help given the Eurocentric sentiments that are embedded in Western postcolonial society. A lower class white person still has more opportunities handed to them than a fellow lower class black person simply on the basis of skin color.

The paradoxical belief of the working class white population is the feeling of superiority, social mobility and resentment towards non-white groups including black and brown immigrants and Muslims. The dominant culture of the United States is one of white exceptionalism which is reinforced through the media and society. However, a poor white person has a parallel struggle to a poor person of color and regardless of white privilege, the cycle of poverty still cannot always be escaped. The white working class continues to sink into deep poverty as the white middle class continues to disappear. As long as the ruling class can take advantage of the construct of race, the ideas of white supremacy and racial division will continue to flourish.

This divide-and-conquer tactic used by the elite minority to turn marginalized groups against each other is a strategy to ensure the class hierarchy remains in place. For example, in the Antebellum South, slaveholders only made up about 3% of the population and were either the extremely wealthy planters or the middle-class professionals while the poor whites and black slaves and freedmen made up the remaining. Regardless of their lower status and harsh living conditions, the poor white population valued their rather small but present social mobility and freedom to travel. Instead of teaming up with the black freedmen and joining the abolitionist movement, which could have toppled the oppressive elite, the poor white population participated in the hegemony in exchange for privilege and in fact longed to own slaves themselves.

Some European immigrants were also not considered “white” when they emigrated to the United States.  Groups such as the Irish, Italians, Greeks, Poles, Ashkenazi Jews, etc were categorized as “ethnic” or part of a “lesser sub-race” of European – “not white but not black”. Factors such as being from poorer countries as well as job competition, anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic sentiments played a large role in their status. These groups faced discrimination and poverty upon their arrival on American soil with many were placed into indentured servitude or factory work with unsafe conditions. Xenophobic sentiments would result in violence towards immigrant groups. One particular case is 1891 case which involved the lynching of 11 Italians in New Orleans over an alleged murder which was retrospectively unproven.

Despite the hostility, many of these immigrant groups strove to become “white” in order to benefit from the privileges it would entail. Instead of forming a unification between the black populations who also faced marginalization, violent conflicts emerged over competition for jobs and housing. Many riots and strikes were led by Irish Americans throughout the 19th century in various cities over the demand for their employment to be prioritized over black workers on docks. These riots led to violence and murder of blacks and help drive the unemployment for black laborers in Northern cities up. The Irish eventually became a major demographic in police enforcement, firefighting and other civil servant positions and graduated into “whiteness”. After WW2, the definition of whiteness expanded to include all people of predominate European descent and also people from the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. Despite white privilege being given primarily to European descendants or “European-passing” individuals.

Today, the American dream is still an idea present in the culture regardless of the barriers that exist that prevent social mobility. The history of the United States is one that involved colonization, slavery, and heavy use of social and racial stratification. Wealth was established by the extremely privileged through methods of exploitation and extraction of labor. Through chattel slavery, indentured servitude, mass incarceration and low-wage service jobs, there has always existed an underclass designated to populate the bottom of society. In the current scheme of things, there is an ever increasing power gap due to major corporations enjoying little to no regulation, the rise of big banks and private prisons, the decrease of public education quality, and the increasing poverty rates.

However, in recent years, the push for understanding the theory of intersectionality and how various injustices coincide has been beneficial to combating classism. As noted earlier in this article, classism remains a strong foundation in maintaining and legitimizing many of the established biases, systems, and, more potently, the status quo in the United States. In order to end systemic prejudice in the US, classism must also be addressed and more conversations on it must prevail. Discussions on political, legal and social solutions to class inequality must persist. As long as there exists a class structure and a designation of “haves” and “have-nots” this will continue to enable inequality and the disadvantage of targeted groups.

By: Matt Gamble, The Rutgers Review

Respecting Those Who Serve Us

“I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.”
Albert Einstein


Forty-five years ago I attended a sales conference for those who has attained a certain level of success. The keynote speaker one evening spoke passionately about how every one working for a living is worthy of our gratitude and respect. All work, great or small, provides a product or service that allows us to enjoy the comforts of life that many of us take for granted.

This speaker challenged everyone in attendance to examine our speech and behavior toward waiters, secretaries, coat checkers, bartenders, janitors, construction workers, street sweepers and garbage haulers. Then he asked us to examine our speech and behavior toward bankers, business owners, accountants, CEOs and doctors. He then asked the question: “Why do we treat the CEO better than we treat the waiter?”

To drive the point home he asked us which one’s work we would miss the most if the work that person provided was not provided for a month … the CEO or the guys who picked up the garbage in our neighborhood twice a week?

Obviously, no one wanted to live in a neighborhood in which the stinking trash had not been collected for a month.

Again, I heard this life lesson 45 years ago. I never forgot it. Every worker is providing a needed service to society. Hence, all workers are due our genuine respect and gratitude.


“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

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My Adaptation to COVID-19 Mitigation Changes

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

This blog post will not be politically correct.

I have heard there are people who actually embrace change. I am not one of those people. Maybe the reason for this is that I don’t trust anyone else with anything that affects my life. I want control over my life and I gladly take responsibility for the decisions and actions I take. This is precisely the reason I owned a business for 32 years instead of working for someone else.

This personal philosophy works fine as long as my actions don’t negatively affect the health and lives of other people.

Enter the COVID-19 coronavirus “stay at home” and “social distancing” mitigation taking place in the United States and over much of the world. Obviously, the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic is real and poses a global health risk to everyone. It’s also evident that this pandemic needs to be addressed on a global basis in an effort to save the lives of many people.

I do not doubt the seriousness of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. I am, however, having a really difficult time understanding the extent and depth of the mitigation efforts being taken … nationally and globally. After all, the national (United States) and global economies have practically come to a full stop and a full recession is well beyond a possibility at this point.

Maybe we need to put things into perspective. To help us, let’s take a look at the U.S. annual number of deaths for heart disease and cancer, the top two causes of death.

Heart Disease – U.S.
647,400+ (53,950+ monthly)

Cancer – U.S.
599,000+ (49,900+ monthly)

1,546,400+ (128,300+ monthly)

Total deaths in the United States from the COVID-19 since it was first detected on January 16th in the U.S. is just over 10,000. (As of April 6th at 2:50PM Eastern Standard Time.)

During this same 11-week period, 328,200+ will have died from heart disease and cancer in the United States. I have some questions:

  • Are the 10,000+ lives lost from the COVID-19 coronavirus more important than the 328,200 lives lost from heart disease and cancer?
  • At what point in time in the history of the United States has the economy been closed with 10 million people losing their jobs because 10,000+ people died in an 11-week period?
  • At what point in history has the United States spent $2 trillion in one single action to ease the economic loss to it’s citizens and businesses to ease the economic pain from shutting down the economy?

I am not questioning the legitimacy of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The increasing number of deaths due to COVID-19 documents its legitimacy. Rather, I am questioning the authoritative, heavy-handed response.

I’m not presenting a conspiracy theory. I don’t have one. It’s just apparent to me that there is more going on than what we are being told and what we know … or ever will know.

Okay, let’s get back to how I am adapting to the over-the-top mitigation efforts being forced upon the population … especially here in Ecuador in which a person is allowed to leave their residence 1 day a week for 8 hours to do their grocery shopping, get their medications from the pharmacy, have an appointment with one’s doctor and to obtain any needed lab tests. The prior decree was 2 days to complete these tasks. This mandate is being enforced by local police, national police and the military. Breaking this curfew will result in a heavy fine … and possibly incarceration.

Since the COVID-19 coronavirus mitigation mandates are by and from the national government, I have no (legal) choice but to comply. I can react to these mandates in one of two ways:

  1. I can mentally and emotional fight these mandates, or
  2. I can get my head on straight and change my attitude.

Fighting the mandates will obviously bring anger and stress to my life … and to my wife’s as well. I don’t see any “win” in the mental and emotional fighting. As a better alternative, I can have a cooperative mindset and attitude which will allow me to comply in a calm manner … even though I don’t agree with the decrees.

To maintain the right mindset, I must stay focused on things other than the draconian mandates. The additional “stay at home” hours will give me more time to complete some tasks on my Honey Do List around the house.

I am also looking into learning something new. Learning keeps our minds active and gives us purpose to get up every morning. I think I will do some research because this will keep me focused on a particular subject.

And most importantly, I will start my day with inspirational and motivational input. I will have breakfast to nourish my body and use inspiration and motivation to nourish my mind and spirit.

“It is not a failure to readjust my sails to fit the waters I find myself in.”
Mackenzi Lee