On the first anniversary of dying, some thoughts on living

Sure, the news business' future is in doubt, and the goals on the bucket list remain just that. But it doesn't take a tarot reading to find the upside of a still-beating heart.

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Dominic the dog

Dominic catches flies, chases squirrels and leads columnist Steve Lopez on long walks good for the heart, knees and soul. (Steve Lopez, Los Angeles Times)

Exactly one year has passed since my unexpected death, and I've got to say, time really flies when you have a pulse.

I'm not one to waste a lot of time looking back. But when I'm out and about, throwing nets and fishing for column material, people often ask how I feel. When I tell them everything's OK, thank you very much, they seem a little skeptical. And sure, two knee replacements and one cardiac arrest in a single year is a lot to deal with.

It was late August when I briefly flat-lined after the first knee surgery. A nurse used chest compressions to bring me back from the dead, and I left the hospital a week later with a pacemaker that keeps an arrhythmia in check.

The whole thing took a little getting used to, and the anniversary, admittedly, produced some mixed feelings. One day I'm telling myself to eat raw carrots and walk to work so I can hang around longer. The next day I can't come up with one good reason not to grill a fat sausage and crack open another beer, knowing it could all be over in an instant.

Not that checking out early wouldn't have its advantages. No long, drawn-out suffering. No more impossible decisions about whether to bundle cable, Internet and phone services. And what would you be missing, really, if you belly-flopped into the big nap? A reunion tour by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass? Another chance to wait in line with 30 million other suckers for a new Apple device that's guaranteed to make all the others you bought obsolete?

But then I think about my life. I've got a terrific wife and three great kids, and we've added a dog named Dominic who takes me on long morning walks that are good for the heart in more ways than one. Plus, I couldn't dream up a better job, and I've got a new mayor to keep honest. I can't die now.

There were some days, early on, when I thought about — it's a trite term, but occasionally useful — my bucket list. I wanted to write another book or two, do a good deed or two, become fluent in Spanish, learn how to play the piano, live near the sea and enjoy food and wine grown in my own garden.

As of the deadline for this column, these goals remained largely unmet. But I did fix a broken patio umbrella last week, rebooted a new novel for the fourth time, and made a delicious salad Monday night with tomatoes from my garden.

I tossed that salad, by the way, after visiting a tarot card reader in search of a hint as to whether I'll go on breathing without incident this year. Why tarot? Well, I felt like I had to do something to mark my re-birthday, so I browsed the listings for psychics and called a Chinatown woman named Ann. When she didn't answer, I considered a Mid-City business called Moonridge Spirit, because how could I not? But a Yelp reviewer said of the psychic, "I felt like she was guessing a lot."

You think?

On my way home I stopped at the House of Intuition in Echo Park, an all-purpose healing center with foot soaks, vibrational sound therapy, crystals, scented candles and who knows, probably some toasted lentils.

I was taken into a small, dark meditation room before my transfer to another parlor, where the healer on duty was a tarot specialist named Sera, as in que sera, sera.

I told Sera about my having risen from the dead, and the tug of war between a greater appreciation of life and a wariness of the dark abyss. I confessed to being a bit of a skeptic about things paranormal, but told Sera that on the other hand, I did once meet with an animal communicator to see if she could talk to some raccoons and find out why they insisted on destroying my frontyard.

Sera shuffled and threw down the cards. A lightning strike on the Tower card had knocked off the crown of the man I thought I was, Sera observed.

"Which is essentially what happens," she said, "when you die for a moment."

Of course.

Something else in my life had changed, Sera went on, and I was unsettled about it. Sure, I said. The newspaper industry is not exactly thriving, and this is a business I love, so that tends to weigh on me.

Sera said that to have a long and happy life, I'd need to work on "getting more comfortable" in my "emotional realm," finding a healthier way to manage my anger and thinking of change as an opportunity for growth.

This cost $50.

But for no extra charge, Sera answered two more very big questions: Who might buy the L.A. Times, which could play a factor in my ability to manage my anger, and, will the Dodgers win the World Series?

Sera shuffled and dealt.

"It's not the Koch brothers," she said, confirming recent news reports that the conservative billionaire brothers had kicked the tires but lost interest in buying the paper.

She threw down another card — the Magician.

"It's Rupert Murdoch," she declared.

Better than the Kochs, I said.

And the Dodgers?

Sorry, Los Angeles. Sera said it's not in the cards this year.

I guess I've got to hang around at least another year to see it happen, and Sera said she thought I'd make it that far.

No guarantees, of course. But I do hope to survive until this coming Sunday, when I host the Firehouse Cook-off at The Taste food and wine festival on the Paramount Studios lot. At last year's event, I was just out of the hospital and feeling so woozy, I thought I might die for the second time in 10 days.

Seems like yesterday. But like I said, time really flies when you're back from the dead.


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