People who know me will be expecting me to say 42. Those who don't may be wondering why 42. If you want to try to understand my thoughts (I try and keep things simple but seldom succeed), it pays to have a sense of humour. The number 42 is, in “The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams, “The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything”, calculated by an enormous supercomputer over a period of 7.5 million years. Unfortunately, no one knows what the question is.
I've tried to stick (not 100% successfully) to one key point in each article, and as my understanding changes, I try to update the articles. That's why this is not a blog as such. I revisit these articles as my understanding develops. The dates alongside articles are the dates these articles were last updated (although even that doesn't always work correctly). Sadly it can't pick up whether the changes were substantial, or merely grammar, vocabulary, etc.
Unsurprisingly I have some thoughts on humour. Humour brings its own challenges to understanding. One of the things I've learned in life is that if people can misunderstand me they will — and even when they can't, they still will. I attempt to indicate attempts at humour to avoid another complication — despite the fact that when we have to explain humour it loses something.
In intensive care after heart surgery, I got to know my nurses a bit. One laughed at my jokes, but as I got to know her, I found was just being polite. She had developed no sense of humour. It wasn't that she didn't appreciate my peculiar sense of humour (not uncommon) — in her world humour simply didn't exist. I briefly explored this with her because it was such a foreign concept (she wasn't a Kiwi) — but was lost with such an unusual (to me) frame of reference.
I'd already found that nurses live in a different world from the rest of us. It was a shock to find that people can live in this world with such different values and priorities from what I had come to regard as normal through my work (accounting) being all-consuming since my stroke. I have been through a series of thoughts and eventually decided to write them down. They're very much a work in progress, but I decided to make them public because I am fortunate in my life to have had my views challenged (at times strongly).
Considering those challenges has modified my views (or not) — and I'm not finished yet. I'm not looking to change people to think like me — that would not be helpful. One people group isn't inherently superior to another. Each has different strengths and weaknesses — just as individuals do. So we can and should all learn from each other.
I want to acknowledge people in my life. People will know this includes extended family and friends. That's only natural — especially with my amazing wife / business manager / nurse / carer etc. who never ceases to amaze me. She's beyond wonderful. I'm also thinking of those who've put up with me as I've tossed ideas around — not just recently but throughout my life. The verse from Proverbs says it well: "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another".
Some may call it arguing or debating — but the fact is that without people to develop and test my ideas with, I would have made even less progress than I have. I'm grateful that there are still people around, despite what our political leaders show, who can discuss ideas without making personal attacks on those who might disagree with particular views. And I look forward to that continuing.
There are other ways to learn — arguing is not the only nor the best way. There's what we call studying — a relatively inefficient way to absorb ideas for many people. Then there's darkness. Some of the biggest developments in my life have followed times of trauma — loss of our first daughter, loss of our first business, loss of health and so on.
I didn't see it at the time, but growth is natural (but not guaranteed) when all else is stripped away. Perhaps it was best captured by Chauncey Gardner — again showing my sense of humour. For those who don't know, this was Peter Sellers' last movie role (Being There). Chauncey explains that a garden (gardening is all this simple man knows) is seasonal — one season followed by another. So winter is followed by spring. Those who feel as though they are in winter might identify with my own brief (6 months) encounter with “depression”, albeit undiagnosed, and the way I recovered. It's only one person's journey — and unlike medically-caused depression was only the result of a trauma.
I don't expect vast quantities of readers and have decided not to turn this into an open forum. It's not that I seek to avoid debate — I'm just a little jaded by so-called debate — especially on the internet. My dearest friend died of cancer — on my wife's birthday in the year of our 25th wedding anniversary. He lived a full if too short life, leaving a widow and four daughters. That taught me the reality that tomorrow is not guaranteed to anyone. My stroke and the subsequent issues have further taught me the reality of this.
After my wife gave me a kidney in 2014, I found my stroke (2007) wasn't the only cause of my thinking being more distorted than usual. We need clean blood — but I hadn't realised what that meant until I didn't have it and then got it back again. We're all going to die. I know my kidney or heart can fail at any time (I've now got my Gold card and hope to see 70) so I'm keen to summarise some things I've learned so if my children and others have questions, they can see some of what I've learned.
At one time (it's called youth) I knew every answer to every issue. I've spent the rest of my life unlearning so much of the “truth” I “mastered”, and learning new things. I still believe in Truth. I am glad to be a friend of Jesus Christ — more real today than for the many years I spent in “church”. I look forward to learning new aspects of life — from wherever opportunities may come. That does not imply any view that doesn't agree is necessarily wrong — although it also doesn't mean I must agree with others.
If I had to sum up life in one word, that word would be relationships - family, friends and society. Classic movie death-bed scenes never focus on business, entertainment or the like - it's all about relationships. I used to think these were corny, and often in movies they are. Despite that, there is wisdom in the idea. Let's not leave it till our deathbed scenes to say what is important.
And while we're on life's journey, let's not assume we have to see eye to eye to make a relationship strong. Having different views is great, as long as we accept others usually have reasons for their different views. They may have a different way of seeing life, especially if they're at a different stage of life and have yet to see some things as we do - and vice versa.
Hopefully, as we get older, we can start to see things from other's perspectives, and even more from God's perspective. After all, relationships are at His heart.
I've had quite a year - I don't know if next year will follow a similar trend, but other things I've learned that so much of the Bible I thought I knew was from a Greek mindset rather than a Hebrew mindset. That makes so much difference, including when I hear people say something the Bible says, I now ask if the original writers had it in mind, or if it's been added by our Greek minds.
Added to that my understanding of Maori / Waitangi issues was woefully misinformed - but there is hope. Having started to appreciate the different ways our minds work according to our culture, I see Maori (like indigenous people generally) minds are much closer to Hebrew minds than to English.
Having qualified for my Gold Card I finally got to see a neuropsychologist. Among other things, I learned that the doctors who treated my stroke never expected me to work again. They didn't know how stubborn I am. I also learned my mind is in the 90th percentile - except for some areas where it's 50% or less.
Separately from all this, I started to appreciate that our minds are much more powerful than we think (ironic since we think with our minds). Part of this (but not all) is the power of positive (and negative) thinking.
Aligned with this, hope is a greatly undervalued thing in life. We often hear about faith and love. Hope is the third of the trio, but much less is said about it. My time on dialysis showed me what a difference hope can make in people's lives.
This is not new - but it's been re-emphasized just how crucial relationships are - they are key to life. I don't just mean with spouses (important as they are).
Life is good - not just goodish as Dave Gorman says. There is so much bad in the world - but it is played up by the media which ignores so much good (except a token piece now and then) because it doesn't sell.
I heard someone talk about deliverance. He described 5% being "fun" stuff (when he gets a "live" one, 20% as inner healing (letting go of emotional baggage from past events, and 75% as renewing the mind. That feels much more appropriate than so much I've heard in the past.
The big thing I learned this year is the importance of questions. Not like those asked by The Riddler, but questions leading to growth. Children are born curious - and that's how they grow. Sadly curiosity is stifled out of most children, so by the time they're in their teens they've already taken a blue pill (The Matrix) without even realising it. Of course, asking questions is only a start. We need to ask the right questions. Knowing which will lead to useful answers is not easy in itself.
And then we still need to find answers. There are not many questions which have answers that are always right. An obvious exception might be the Ten Commandments. Take "do not murder" for example. That seems fairly obvious to most, but Dietrich Bonhoeffer eventually decided to kill Hitler anyway. He failed (and died as a result), but most would feel his attempt to save a multitude of lives by killing one person was justified.
Each question has multiple possible solutions. The only way to know if we've chosen a useful answer is by trying it. The first attempt might not work as well as desired. It may be there's a better answer, or perhaps the solution just needs some fine-tuning to cater for more factors. Even if it does work for one person, it won't necessarily be the best solution for everyone. It may not even be the best solution for the same person at a different time.
The last part of a question is evaluating solutions. This often leads to further refinement of the solution, so even finding an answer to a question does not mean the end of the process.
The big thing I've come to see this year is how rare the ability to question is becoming. If you've ever tried to question climate change you'll know what I mean. A science teacher at a home-school forum in about 2005 was asked to name his top three environmental concerns. Two of them were water - salt water and fresh water. I think the third may have been deforestation. When asked why global warming wasn't there he said man-made global warming wasn't in his top ten. That surprised me.
This year the hysteria about man-made global warming concerns me. For example, manipulation of the temperatures has produced nice, if faulty, charts. So what are the real figures? Can I trust the "alternative" (thanks to Trump for giving this word a new meaning) figures I've seen? If we can't even be sure of that, how can we know what the right questions are? Here comes George Orwell.
But all is not lost. During the chaos around Black Lives Matter this year, I have heard enough to show me my life really would have been harder if my skin had been darker. This came not from the looters or even the protests. It came from quiet, ordinary people, in England, the US and here in NZ / Aotearoa.
Having spent most of 2021 failing to get significant health issues diagnosed. I finally saw my kidney specialist in late November (having missed my mid-year appointment because of the second lockdown). Much to my surprise, she suggested a three-week break from a pill. I was sceptical (to put it mildly) - I'd been on this particular pill for well over a decade, but I had much faith in this kidney doctor, so agreed to it, not expecting it to make a difference.
Sometimes differences are so small they're hardly noticeable but within a week I was back to my old self. I tried various alternatives, but they either made no difference or seemed to be taking me down again, albeit more gradually.
So what's the lesson? Even medication can change as time goes on. We can never assume anything. I've already learned that about other areas. Question everything.
2022 was a repeat of 2021. My health quickly returned to 2021 levels and descended even further. At one stage I had two nights in a row when I seriously doubted I'd see the morning. On the third day, I realised this was made worse by our enemy forces sneaking in with thoughts not my own. Having dealt with them
2023 was the reverse of 2022. My physical health was generally fairly stable, if still somewhat low. At the start of the year, we visited our old church to see what "church" was like. The key word was noisy - even armed with noise-cancelling headphones. In March Lynette broke her hip and was subsequently diagnosed with osteoporosis. In December Lynette's family Christmas (on Boxing Dad) with much of the Robbie's clan was postponed due to Covid. We enjoyed a quiet but blustery walk along an almost deserted Petone beach - a very quiet day.
On Boxing Day Lynette became ill and we cancelled Cheryl's visit before they got here. The next day the GP didn't give us antibiotics for an ear infection. She talked to the hospital and then we used my wheelchair to go to the hospital. She stayed one night in the stroke ward, but in the morning was eventually seen by a physio, and finally diagnosed with vestibular neuritis - no pills but regular eye exercises.
So when I said 2023 was the reverse of 2022, Lynette became the patient for much of the year.