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MOMENTS OF JOY: If this isn’t nice, what is?

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Mark Basquill celebrates his “third birthday.”

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On January 4, 2018 most of New Hanover County was dealing with the ice storm that started our wonderful weather year. I woke up in New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s Heart Center. I spent the previous morning trying to convince the ER staff and surgical team I wasn’t having a heart attack, before finally getting the clogged arteries cleared out and sleeping.

January 4 is like a second birthday—more like a third birthday. I was born on March 20. I experienced my first heart attack on August 12, 2007 (my second birthday). So waking up January 4, 2018 after my second heart attack would actually be my third birthday.

I’m glad to have made it to 2019.

Seriously glad.

The nurse was awesome, as cardiac nurses often are. She assured me I’d be running again in no time—even when the doc was a wee bit more cautious. She gave me a small squeeze bottle of lemon juice to flavor my water, seeing how I would be cutting down significantly on the coffee. She said a squirt of lemon helped remind her to turn lemons into lemonade, or at least take the bitter with the sweet.

If that isn’t nice, what is?

2019 already has started off better than last year. The Christmas season brought the usual gifts of renewal. My major health concern is a cold that’s been lingering since the day after Christmas. It’s given me a lot of time to read some books I got for Christmas. One is Kurt Vonnegut’s collection of commencement speeches, aptly titled, “If This Isn’t Nice, What is?” (My son Joe gave me the book. He hates it when I use our experiences in these commentaries, so I’ll only mention it once.)

Vonnegut is one of my favorite writers. His works often appear on lists of frequently banned books. They say he wrote science fiction; I say he wrote one of the first psychological textbooks on combat PTSD, “Slaughterhouse Five.” He wrote from a direct experience. As far as I know, his lack of bone spurs led him to being a part of the US Army 106th Infantry, getting captured along with thousands of others at the Battle of the Bulge, and surviving the Allied firebombing of Dresden as a POW.

Perhaps because of his experiences as part of Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation,” Mr. Vonnegut took a rather dim view of war, government, organized religions, naked capitalism, and many aspects of human nature, including hypermasculinity. In one commencement speech vignette, he explained he didn’t hug his adopted son because he didn’t want people to think he might be homosexual. He told another story of his bad Uncle Dan, who believed a male isn’t really a man until he’s been to war.

Despite his exposure to the darkness, Vonnegut aligned more with his good Uncle Dan—who taught him to look for the small moments of joy in the present, who would sit under a shade tree, sip lemonade, and blurt out for no apparent reason, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

We’re starting 2019 with a new Congress and a new NC General Assembly. Ol’ 45 still is rage-tweeting his bigly, manly fears and insecurities. The climate is irreparably heating up. The federal government is shut down (as of press) into week three. And the US military, still deployed all over the planet, is fighting enemies seen and unseen. We’re all going to hell in a bucket. Humanity itself is on the brink of disaster. It’s even money whether we make it to 2020, individually or as a species.

Still, I’m celebrating my third birthday by going for a jog through the neighborhood, going to work and helping some combat vets find a measure of peace. I’m planning a chill-old-dude yoga class, sipping green tea with a squirt of lemon and reading Vonnegut to my daughter, Gwen.

“If this isn’t nice, what is?”

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