The Colon Tiger

As Maggie drove me home following my procedure, I gulped water and munched on the snack of fruit I’d packed for this moment. Relief washed over me like baptismal waters. To be sure, the anesthesia contributed to my high but it was fueled by pure emotion.

By Deutsch: Indischer Maler um 1650 (II) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
For weeks I’ve experienced just-beneath-the-surface anxiety about my second colonoscopy. My first, three years ago, resulted in the removal of my right colon three days later. I was physically healthy then, too. I anticipated a clean bill of health and ended up out of work and recovering for months.

And, so, my anxiety before my second colonoscopy was about more than the dread of the prep. What if my healthy-self was not so healthy again? Had I run my last run? Would I be pulled out of work — work I love — to tend to my health? Was my body silently betraying me as it had seemed to three years ago?

Rational analysis of the events of three years ago (no cancer, aggressive treatment, full recovery) might lead to the expectation that I’d be munching fruit en route to pizza following my second colonoscopy but…

We experience life through our emotions.

Though my self-talk had me convinced all would be well, my emotional interpretation lies in wait for a time of weakness. It was like a patient tiger stalking prey. I was first aware of the pouncing emotional tiger during my 24-hours of fasting prior to the procedure.

My growling emotions exploited my hunger.

I re-felt all those feelings of three years ago as my growling tum begged for solid food. The fears, the dependency, the drug-induced paranoia, the physical weakness, and a profound sense of mortality scratched and clawed at my rationality.

The tiger’s irrationality clawed at me during colon prep, too. I cried over stupid shows and yelled at the dog. The morning of the procedure I picked a fight with my wife over an inconsequential matter. In hindsight, I can even see the tiger of previous emotions impacting my reactions to unrelated matters weeks ahead of time.

Our past experiences influence how we feel in the here and now. I worried not because it was a productive emotion but because I am my past experiences and emotions. Though my awareness of my past emotions can help me prevent them from controlling my behavior, I will never be fully free of my past. The absence of a right colon is part of who I am.

I’m more empathetic. I can hear the fears of others facing medical concerns more deeply. I feel with them in ways that I might otherwise not. That stalking emotional tiger doesn’t just claw and scratch. Sometimes it’s more like A.A. Milne’s Tigger who pounces out of the shadows joyfully knocks me over and licks my face. Even in its power over me, my emotional tiger loves me and helps me to love others more fully.

I would never have chosen the events of three years ago but I do not regret them. I think I’ll keep my colon tiger.

Related Posts

God Hides God’s Face From Me! May 20, 2014
Unnatural, May 21, 2014
Out of Chaos, May 27, 2014
No Big Deal, May 29, 2014
Mortality, June 3, 2014
Wiped Memories, June 6, 2014
Perseverance, June 10, 2014
Scars, June 19, 2014
Embracing Emotions, July 2, 2014
An Unexpected Onion, January 14, 2015
One Year Ago Today, March 28, 2015
The Long & Short of It, March 29, 2016
The Colon Tiger, October 19, 2017

“I Just Know”

“I Just Know”
New Blooms Burst Forth
Blooms burst forth in the company of trees and grasses that burnt only eight months prior. McCall Point, near Rowena, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0

I know a woman who on deep spiritual issues (and small ones) will close off conversations with, “I just know.” I have learned the futility of even asking clarifying questions once she’s pronounced her surety. I’ve experienced the consequences of waking her aggressive defensiveness from its slumber one too many times.

Living in the ambiguity of life, in the space in which there are more questions than answers, can be disconcerting. It’s understandable to yearn for certainty in the midst of the inexplicable and perceived dangers. Despite our scientific strivings to answer the mysteries of our existence, we know little with absolute assurance.

For many, religious dogma or a form of spirituality of “just knowing” provides, if not solid ground, than the illusion of it. We probably all dabble in pretending confidence without solid evidence at times. To do otherwise in at least some small matters would lead us to brain-freeze and the inability to take any action.

To function, we need something onto which to hold on this slippery, rocky trail that is a little too close to cliff’s edge for comfort.

Or do we? Must we have the dogma of absolute certainty of God or no-God to make sense of the world?


Something within me allows me to tolerate the unknown mysteries, the ambiguity of life more openly than the woman who “just knows.” Even so, she and I are not that different. I experience a feeling of certainty that there is an essence that runs within my life and all of creation. I even have a name I call that core: God. I find comfort in the experience of God as I deal with the randomness, the utter capriciousness of life.

Still, she “just knows” and I don’t know. I surmise. I suspect. I perceive and wonder. And I doubt. At times I’m convinced it’s all made up. Whatever it, is.

I make connections as I observe the natural world. I perceive that the experience I call God is the loving life-force that binds creation together. I observe this energy in nature as a forest renews just months after destructive fire. I sense vigor in the healing that comes after death within nature as well as human relationships.

I also see much randomness and pain in nature and human relationships. Why wouldn’t I doubt?

To doubt is to think. It is to pay attention as I traverse the rocky path. Sometimes doubt trips me up and I fall. As I get back up, I inspect my wound. Sometimes I scold myself for not paying attention, for doubting. Sometimes, without much thought, I just get back up and keep moving.

Eventually the redness, the broken skin, or swelling dissipates. Though healing happens in time, I can never be described as good as new. I am changed.

From the doubting and falling, from the self-annoyance and physical pain, I learn. Through doubt I again experience that energy I call God in relationship, transforming me into something more.

Ambiguity, randomness, and mystery are full partners in life. I just know it, except when I don’t.

license cc

The Lichen & Leaves of Hope

The Lichen & Leaves of Hope

McCall Point Trail still smells of burn. Containment lines are marked as no-hike, restoration areas in the natural preserve. In many ways, my first journey on the trail since the early-August Rowena Fire was sad. The loss of brush and many trees is significant.  To contain the fire, firefighters had rightly destroyed delicate vegetation to build containment lines.

But the grasses will return in the spring. The many surviving trees have already started to sprout new leaves despite the season. The lichen in all its delicate beauty has found sustenance in scorched fenceposts and tree stumps.

New leaves sprout from a blackened tree. Photo by Tim Graves
New leaves sprout from a blackened tree. Photo by Tim Graves
Photo by Tim Graves
The delicate and hardy lichen finds a home on a burnt fencepost. Photo by Tim Graves


Additional Post-Burn Photos of McCall Point

In the Valley of Dry Bones (photos)

McCall Point Trail, June 2012  (photos)


Out of Chaos

Waking from a lucid dream, I lay in my hospital bed in those wee hours. I was convinced that they were out to get me. Even moving slightly in the bed caused excruciating pain. How would I protect myself from them?

Through the narcotic painkillers induced paranoia, I looked at my wife Maggie sleeping in the chair beside my bed. What about her? She might be a little naive and too-trusting of them but did I have a better option?

Our history and relationship of thirty-five years clawed its way to the surface: Maggie was my best hope. I’ve always been able to trust her. I remember that. I could not recall a time when she had ever – EVER – betrayed my trust.

I silently chanted to myself, “I can trust Maggie. I can trust Maggie. I can trust Maggie.”


When I first got home from the hospital, Maggie slept on a small mattress on the floor to avoid disturb me and causing me pain. Photo by Maggie Sebastian

During the post-operative period following the removal of my right colon, the intensity of my dependency on my wife rivaled my need for water. In the hospital she served as interpreter, she served as personal chaplain, nurse, and guard dog. She did not leave my bedside for longer than twenty-minutes. Once home, she prepared the doctor-ordered “mush meals” and stood just outside the shower stall while I struggled to return to normal hygeine habits.

My vulnerability during my eight-week recovery period, especially early-on, was frightening and intimidating. The medical staff at the hospital were exemplary but they did not love me. The power of the trust and relationship I have with Maggie kept me emotionally stable during my time in hospital and recovery at home. When I would panic, she would bring me back. When I would sob, she would listen and hold me.


To be human is to be vulnerable and dependent upon others.  I am an emotionally healthy and independent individual but I still need others. It is how humanity is made.

Emerging from these challenging months, I am thankful to have had a beloved who interrupted her own normal routines to be ever-present with me. Love is like that, though. Love takes bad things — a health crisis in our case — and encourages and nudges us to create good out of it. The more than thirty-five year love and bond between my wife and I has grown in surprising ways using the raw material of weakness, fears, and vulnerability.

Love, that Divine glue that connects us with one another and with each rock, atom, and animal, uses chaos as the raw material for good. Created in the image of the Divine One, we too can create and expand love out of the chaos. All we have to do is claw our way out of our paranoia and suspicion of others and learn to trust one another.

When God began to create the heavens and the earth— the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters…God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good. (Genesis 1: 1-2, 31 CEB)


This is the third of multiple posts about my experiences of surgery and recovery following a colonoscopy.

Related Posts

God Hides God’s Face From Me! May 20, 2014
Unnatural May 21, 2014
Out of Chaos May 27, 2014
No Big Deal May 29, 2014
Mortality June 3, 2014
Wiped Memories June 6, 2014
Perseverance June 10, 2014
Scars June 19, 2014

Why do I write about this topic?

Following my surgery I had a myriad of feelings. A myriad of web searches to find the stories of others, perhaps to validate my own emotions, left me empty handed. And, so, I write these posts to process my very real feelings and in the hopes that someone else finds them useful following their surgery and recovery.