Let me begin by clarifying that you can blame this twisted odyssey I’m about to present on the blessings provided by two important people in my life. First, there is @mrdeadlier for providing the best example of changing the world one challenge at a time.
I can picture Del at this very moment feeling the old cheek burn that likely happens when he is outed into the spotlight. That’s because we all know he’s not really that into himself. Tough cookies :)
This is my story and I’m sticking with it. If you can stick with the next 3,000 or so words, you’ll see where I’m going with this. If you don’t have an hour to waste, stop right here.
OK, you’re still reading. The other person I would like to dedicate this to is no longer alive in a purely physical sense. He remains a treasure in the lives of everyone he touched. During his time on earth he was known by his friends as the ‘Midas Man’, because he had this incredible knack for making a lot of money.
Although “Paul” did not reach the net worth of the Pegula family, he did join the billionaire club during the time we were acquainted. I will refer to him hereafter as “Paul” to protect his desire for anonymity, even in death.
That is exactly what he would want me to do in this situation. Situation? Yes, situation. Paul taught me a lot of things, not the least of which is that billionaires live in a world full of sycophants.
Among several projects we worked on together, I’m most proud of Paul’s sponsorship of a cancer support group that I started during 1993 after moving to a remote town in Wyoming. At that time I had just opened a private counseling practice providing support and psychotherapy for people/families with cancer.
Our mutual interest in oncology was the seed that resulting in life’s work helping people with cancer formulate individual health plans. These plans included far more than simply standard chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery treatments. This plan integrated psychotherapy as well.
Over the years we collaborated, Paul often encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and share the wisdom I gained from working with people with cancer. He reinforced my goal to honor the grandmother who raised me and died of cancer my senior year in high school.
Paul often chided me about my unwillingness to bring my life’s work into the spotlight. He wanted to make me a director of psychoneuroimmunology at a proposed cancer center he wanted to build. It was his dream to build a state of the art integrated center for people in our region.
He said he solidly supported much in the work I was doing incorporating individual psychotherapy as a standard of care in the treatment of cancer. It was an amazing time with endless possibilities.
However, the local ‘keepers of the status quo’ were bent upon preserving their medical fiefdom. They managed to harass this generous benefactor right out of the community. Paul was a formidable man in many ways, and this was the first time in his life he had ever been shut out of realizing a personal goal.
Though the dream of building a comprehensive integrated cancer treatment center never physically materialized, the scars left behind from the struggle catapulted me into retirement. The scars left me wondering for years what there was left for me to do with all the wisdom bestowed upon me for over three decades by patients.
How could I possibly find a way to honor the hundreds of people I was blessed to ride shotgun with on their way to their next spiritual destination? Paul challenged me to step out of my comfort zone, and become their voice. But how? And what would I say?
Here is where things begin to get interesting. One of the greatest lessons Paul taught me was to learn to trust my instincts. He told me many times the essence of a true leader is one who is willing to be simultaneously impervious to criticism, as well as courageous enough to risk facing abject failure in the public eye. He believed in what I was trying to do.
Paul was a spiritual man. He claimed to have experienced a miracle and spiritual awakening at a particularly low point in his life. Paul had “ship loads of money” (as the DraftKings commercial preaches on television ad nauseum). He was determined to make this money generate a better life for people with cancer. It was his passion.
Paul taught me that sometimes in life there are windows of opportunity that open and close in rapid succession. As a vintage model Bills fan, I’ve learned not to squander those opportunities, thanks to constant reminders from those much wiser than myself.
Grab joy while you can, because just like that, your entire world can all turn into a royal mess. That is what the experience of cancer teaches us. This is a repeated theme among the hundreds I was privileged to join along the way.
My mentor required that I pay attention to these opportunities “as is” on a regular basis. He often scolded me for resisting to embrace my divergent passions regardless of how little I thought they had in common. He challenged me to find spiritual meaning in the seemingly unrelated areas of my life.
Well, anyone that comes to know me for more than a day can readily identify the two greatest passions in my life outside of God and family; oncology and the Buffalo Bills. But, how on earth am I supposed meld these two passions together?
That questioned puzzled me for years. Slowly at first, but repeatedly, I felt Paul nudging me from his perch in the sky to remind me how much time I wasted missing the forest for the trees. Then IT happened.
A guy by the name of Del Reid and associates came along, and a movement was born that connected the Buffalo Bills with helping people with cancer. It came in the form of BillsMafia.
This BillsMafia movement smacked me down harder than I’ve been whacked since in a long time, maybe back to the 60s. I woke up with flowers in my hair, and have been singing Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell songs ever since.
OK, so there weren’t any Joni Mitchell songs. What actually replaced Joni turned out to be the Shout! song. I persevered through a couple of seasons writing articles about the Bills, or as Del kindly put it once “finding my voice”.
I began a blog about what has since come to be known trepidatiously as ‘wyobabble’. It’s a term like the term ‘lifer’ at One Bills Drive. Not necessarily the greatest of labels, but I chose to run with it rather than deny those who are rightfully skeptical.
Which brings us to the present, a place where we find ourselves launching a new year, a new football season, with new and caring owners who find themselves in the middle of a not so new mess.
If you ‘billieve’ in the theory of karma, it’s possible the Pegulas are now facing a similar challenge when they bought the Bills as they did after buying the Sabres. We are about to find out exactly what they learned from the detour they took around the Pat LaFontaine situation and others as they guide the franchise to calmer water.
If you don’t learn from your miscues, you’re doomed to repeat them is a phrase that captures this essence of karma. What blessings from the Sabres situation are being brought to the attention of the Pegulas again, and why?
Furthermore, what steps from their experience can be taken to facilitate a smoother transition of ownership? How can they reduce the learning curve of adapting to the steering wheel of their new ride?
These are the thoughts that crept into the recesses of my progressively demented mind after a week that included the retirement of the starting quarterback, the head coach abandoning his team, and the rejection by a former hero and general manager to return to the fold. What good could possibly come out of this trifecta of nightmares?
How could I use my experience with Paul and all the people with cancer I’ve worked with over the years to transmit a message of hope to the Pegulas and Bills fans as they traverse some pretty slick terrain? Ah heck, that’s easy.
I just needed to go to sleep and let my brain do all the heavy lifting. I’ve learned over the years that a creative and demented mind needs to be free to roam without judgment, and sleep is the best place for that to happen in my case.
It happens to me in a variety of ways, but this time it was a song that woke me up. As usual, I went to bed praying for inspiration. Sometimes it comes, sometimes it doesn’t.
However, when it does, I’ve learned not to ignore it. After going to sleep wondering about the Bills mess, I woke up with that darn song playing over and over again in my brain.
As I staggered toward my first cup of coffee at 4 AM, I started thinking about the meaning of the song, and why it was on repeat mode. Over time I’ve learned that usually only happens when I’m supposed to pay attention to something.
So I push ahead. Is it the lyrics of the song, or am I supposed to pay attention to something else? Patience, the answer will come when its ready.
My thoughts drifted to past conversations with Paul, who I often spoke with when I was troubled about understanding my own creative process. His rare level of intelligence was highlighted by his trademark bellow, and especially his raucous laugh after hitting the nail on the head with yet another ‘vision’.
And there it was. A vision of Paul sitting in his swivel chair smiling from ear to ear. He was demanding to know what types of modalities I used to connect with clients to help them access their inner strength to fight cancer. He was relentless in his pursuit of this information.
These thoughts brought me back to my tool box. One of the tools I developed and used to assist people along the way was music therapy. My interpretation of music therapy.
I often used music therapy in my work to reach out and connect with people that experienced difficulty trusting others and/or communicating. I found music therapy to be the one modality that best bridged language and cultural differences to facilitate effective communication.
So here is how it worked in from my twisted view. If any of you remember the hilarious television show “Ally McBeal”, you’ll remember the story line about theme songs. There was the “funny little man”, John Cage, swimming in the deep end of a pool full of obsessive compulsive disorder.
He decided one form of therapy was to identify a theme song that represented the way he wanted to project himself outward toward the rest of the world. He would picture himself as a celebrity (often Barry White) and sing.
I just thought that was stink on poop when I watched that show. I wanted to write to David Kelley (the writer of the series) and thank him for a shiny new way to work with my clients. Music therapy!
It was the closest thing I’ve ever had to what might be considered a stroke of genius. From recalcitrant teenagers to the most stubborn adults, if I could get a song in their head with lyrics and music that “spoke to them”, that common denominator functioned like a key in a lock that opened the door to a whole new way of thinking.
Whenever someone needed a theme song to mobilize their emotional resources, I would help them find the right one. But, it had to be the right one. The wrong theme song won’t work.
How does one know when they have the right theme song? That’s the magic of music. It evokes a visceral response when it makes the right connection. You don’t know it, per se. You feel it.
Music! Music evokes many different types of responses. It might evoke pain when recalling rejection by a loved one, or joy when it connects you to movement as with exercise.
Music causes you to use all your senses in physical, emotional, spiritual, and even historical dimensions. It is a universal language that is not used enough by most of us in our busy lives.
OK then, let’s get to it and do some music therapy.
If music is a source code that can unlock a successful path to the future, then what would be a good theme song for the Buffalo Bills and their fans in the midst of their current angst? What song could universally challenge a fan base (and owners!) to translate the lyrics into a message of hope for the future?
I wish I had a great story to share about how it came to me, but truth be told I woke up with the song playing in my head. However, before we set out blazing down that trail, we have to set up the scene properly for this mental exercise.
First, a disclaimer (blame the lawyers:). I’m not responsible for getting this theme song stuck in your head. It will happen because it is doing its work like little scrubbing bubbles floating around in your brain.
Now for some ground rules:
Before you get started, print out the lyrics to our theme song on a sheet of paper. (link to follow).
You must not perform this exercise if you are distracted in any other way. Turn off all your electronic devices except your laptop or phone. Connect earphones to device so the music enters straight into your brain.
Before you play the song for the first time, be sure you write next to the specific lyrics any “key words” that you or someone has translated from each line of the lyrics to the situation you wish to address.
Keep the level of sound loud in your earphones loud enough to stimulate your emotions, and loud enough to block outside stimuli.
Read your “key words” again. Turn on the song and listen to the music while reading the lyrics as the song plays (flooding two senses with the same stimuli). This will reinforce the effectiveness of the music.
Think about how the lyrics apply specifically to the situation you are examining. The effectiveness of this method relies upon finding the right “key words” to associate with said lyrics.
That can only happen if you are willing to rigorously examine your own behavior, or rely on a trusted friend or therapist to assist you with this important part of the task.
Just for fun, let’s use Mr. Pegula as an example of a person looking for some “key words” for our theme song. The goal is to help him create the right mindset to deal with the mess in the Bills front office. He is a great example of someone that might relate well to music therapy, given his connection to the Nashville music scene.
Without further fanfare, here is our theme song! Of course, the song is the title of this article!
(Side Note: If you remembered the title to this article as you waded through this ridiculous diatribe, then rest assured you probably don’t have short term memory loss or attention deficit disorder).
For example, here are some suggested “key words” that might work for Mr. Pegula:
Wash, rinse and repeat this process three times. After each time, take a moment to reflect on how the music made you feel. Again, writing out the lyrics and creating “key words” are critical for this process to work.
If you don’t feel empowered, lighter, and more focused on the task at hand after giving this your best effort, then you were not able to do what hundreds of people with cancer have found lifts their mood and helps them carry on when they think they cannot go another step forward.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this little detour into the world of how we used music therapy. It was one of many modalities I studied and practiced over the years as a way to help people find ways to cope with pain, depression, and crises.
I’d bore you more with the results of what happened when people participated in this process in terms of objective measurements like blood counts and progression of their disease, but it will have to suffice to state the correlation was impressive enough to garner a lot of attention. It worked to help many people, and that’s all that mattered to me.
So, Bills fans, as we move enthusiastically ahead, remember our theme song when the harpies from the national media show up to thwart your good intentions. People with cancer face unspeakable hurdles every day. Surely a little thing like our favorite football team hitting a rough patch shouldn’t get the best of us.
Post Note: I’d also like to dedicate this post to our dearly beloved Stuart Scott, who died earlier today from cancer. Booyah, buddy, you did it right!