Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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A Father’s Day Visit From My Dad: Sunday musings…6/19/22

A raging “sea” sits just outside my windows as I watch the U.S. Open Golf Championship, held this year as always on Father’s Day weekend. 50+ MPH winds last night “redecorated” my backyard, depositing umbrellas in new locations and moving carpets hither and yon. I got an impromptu shower as two gigantic waves hit the seawall while I was checking on the condition of my antique boat, stored as always just below our upper deck. Beth is at a horse show; the dogs have re-racked. The weekend is off to a quiet start. At least indoors, that is.

Father’s Day is an interesting holiday. Many (most?) Dads get a pass on pretty much all responsibilities at home and head to whatever venue they visit when they are doing the thing they do for themselves. The golf course or the boat launch. Perhaps the tennis courts or a duck blind. I’ve always taken a different approach, trying to be available to do Dad stuff with my kids, or in recent years with my grandkids. I liked being “Dad” when my kids were younger, and I really enjoy being “Papi” with my grandkids. Who knows who will be around to play with me, but it doesn’t really matter. I’ll be here and I’ll be ready.

In yesterday’s WSJ Elizabeth Bernstein wrote a very nice little piece about the bond she and her Dad had through sailing. For my brother and me the bond came through golf. My Dad gifted us with the game of golf when we were quite young; I was 8, my brother 7. Golf was where we got to see the guy my Dad’s friends saw. Dad was a bit of a tease with his buddies, who in turn teased him right back. It wouldn’t be until we were in our 30’s before Randall and I felt like we could tease him back. On Father’s Day Dad would play with the Levin brothers, three of his close golfing buddies, and the caddy master would assign my brother and me to the foursome. To be sure we were at work, my brother and I, but unlike other Sundays we were very much included in the banter of the round.

Our Dad being a Dad on Father’s Day.

It’s been almost 7 years since Dad passed away, and about 10 since he disappeared into his mind and left us. I think of him and miss him every day, but especially so, of course, on Father’s Day. I want to call him and ask him about The Country Club and his round there. To tell him how excited I’ve been to be playing golf again, and to hear him offer encouragement when I tell him that I’m back on injured reserve as my “good” hip fails me and I can neither walk a course nor swing a club. He’d be upbeat and positive, confident in my eventual recovery, and we would look ahead to our next round together. A good walk it would be, indeed.

As I wait in hope that I will receive the gift of being Dad or Papi I will leave you, as I have done for some 5 years now, with the story of the last Father’s Day I spent with my Dad. A brief moment when all was as it had been, a Dad and his boy together on a golf course.

My siblings and I only need to remember one weekend each year when it comes to celebrating my Dad. His birthday almost always falls within a day or two of Father’s Day. So it was that I found myself in Rhode Island the past couple of days, in the company of my Mom and a guy masquerading as my Dad, a guy who was very curious about the new fella who’d dropped by for a visit.

Getting old is not for sissies, my friends.

Somewhere inside, deep inside, there’s still some of my Dad in the jumbled up connections of his mind, carried by the body that failed him in such spectacular fashion 2 ½ years ago. Dad is extremely intelligent, the only family member in his generation to have gone to college. Quite the athlete, he used football and the GI Bill to pay for school. Like so many in his generation he then worked, raised a family, and put himself through grad school. He won his club championship in golf twice at the ages of 50 and 60. No typo. Beat the reigning RI State Amateur champ on his home course for the first one.

As we sat on the porch of his house overlooking the par 5  14th hole, I had an ever so brief visit from that guy. From my Dad. Like a citizen of Brigadoon he came slowly through the mist of his mind to join me for a bit. We’d always bonded over golf. My brother and I never turned down an invitation to join him on the course, either as partners or as caddies for him and his buddies. It was quite a privilege to do either; my Dad’s most elemental essence was expressed on the golf course.

A light breeze was blowing through the forest in the back yard just beyond the rough. We chuckled at the golfers who failed to take the wind into consideration, sheepishly trying to sneak into our yard to retrieve their out-of-bounds second shot. Dad talked about caddying as a kid in the Depression. We both noted the absence of caddies as the foursomes passed in and out of view. It was really very nice.

I quite like the Dad of my adulthood. Quick to smile, slow to anger, unfailingly loyal and kind. It’s hard to imagine now how distant he was when I was a boy, his friendship as an adult is so easy. I’m not sure how long we sat there to be honest, nor when I noticed that he was slipping away. As surely as the village of Brigadoon disappears, the mist had returned to claim him. I got up, walked over to his chair, held his hand and gave him a kiss. I wished him a Happy Birthday and a Happy Father’s Day, hoping that I’d made it on time. That he was still there. That he knew it was me, Darrell, his oldest child. I told him I loved him.

He smiled and gave my hand a little pat as he disappeared into the mist.

I really miss my Dad.

Happy Father’s Day to all who are so blessed. I’ll see you next week…

Another Reunion. Sunday musings…6/12/2022

1 Gore. An unused parcel of land over which no one claims ownership. Apparently the word from which one of my college classmates last name is derived.

Could have some fun with this one in lighter times, eh?

2. Birthdays. We’ve entered the time of year I like to call “birthday season”. All three of my kids start turning older this weekend. Randy turned 30. 30! How the heck did THAT happen?!

Time flies, man. Time flies…

3. Reunion 1. Beth and I are “flying back” from my 40th College Reunion on Route 90. We had the silliest flight home from Williamstown you can imagine. A three hour drive to Boston in order to fly to Myrtle Beach for the privilege of a 3 1/2 hr. layover before heading home to Cleveland. Almost 12 hours via that route, so here I am, with Beth driving, once again typing to you at 75 MPH courtesy of the modern internet.

I mean, come on, who does anything but fly TO Myrtle Beach?

4. Reunion 2. Wow. I mean, just WOW! It’s been 40 years since I drove away from the Purple Valley in the family station wagon chockablock filled with 4 years of stuff cleared out from the last of my dorm rooms and carted back to Rhode Island for the last time. That was a weird trip; I think it was the only time I was alone in a car for that drive, ever. Pretty melancholy ride, to be honest. Quite a bit different from my first drop-off ride in the fall of 1978 when I was deposited in my freshman dorm room after a raucous family drive along the topsy turvy asphalt ribbon of Route 2, the Mohawk Trail, through Massachusetts.

Until this weekend that was the only time I’d been in a car on that particular drive. Beth and I were routed that way from Boston via the map app as we headed back to Williams College for my 40th college reunion. Talk about time flying. Whoa. 40 years. 44 years give or take a few months since that first drop-off. Ditto for the orientation week known as “Freshman Days” back then (though probably no longer because, well, freshMEN), the week when I first met my classmates. I’ve written about this phenomenon before. Even in a school as tiny as the Williams of that time I really had no contact with at least 50% of my class from that early week until various reunions to come.

That was, once more, one of the themes of this reunion. “Hi, I’m Darrell. How the heck did we not know each other in school?!”. This year’s version was almost exclusively men I’d not known; past years almost exclusively women whose friendships I’d missed out on for whatever reason. Despite the lovely protestations from everyone over the years I still think these missed opportunities, and the responsibilty for the misses, is probably on me. I still think I was overly interested in myself back then. But this year brought a balancing note to those missed opportunities because a couple of people I DID know in those younger days came to this year’s festivities for the first time, or the first time in decades. What a treat to see Brenda M. and Jennie V. after so many years.

I could have spent hours with them both!

The second recurring theme this weekend was retirement. It’s a natural; we’re all in our 60’s after all. I expected to hear that most of my classmates were already retired. So many have been so very successful that it only seemed natural. Frankly I was looking forward to tapping into their experiences as Beth and I begin to plot our eventual glide path toward our retirement landing. To my surprise almost everyone (with the notable exception of my lifelong best friend Rob) was exactly where I find myself now, enjoying work and without that one thing we are looking forward to retiring TO. It was comforting to know that I wasn’t the outlier even though this is likely the best source of advice for me whenever they, and I, are ready to take that next step.

In a funny way the people who didn’t attend were in many ways at least as present at those that did. Perhaps because some of them were friends I was looking forward to seeing in real life rather than on social media, or folks who’d suggested that they might be there and I just expected to see them. Beth was curious about my friends’ and my dating back in the day (only one old flame for any of the guys was there). Where were they all? Where were the ones who’d come to Reunions in the years just after graduation but have stayed away for 5 or 10 or 30 years? Thinking about them now, they were mostly the kids who aced college. Grades, sports, romance, through the lens of 40 years gone by it seems that they were the ones who nailed the whole Williams thing. A couple of the girls I did date including my freshman crush, Jaime, come to mind. They seemed to sail peacefully and happily through our four years in Billsville.

One is left to wonder, though. Was my take on their college days accurate, and they were just so good that a reunion could only be a letdown? Or did I totally miss the boat and their experience was as varied and normal as the rest of us? Maybe secretly worse, and a reunion just opens old wounds? Funny. As we drive home it’s the classmates we didn’t see who fill our thoughts. Enough to see ourselves back in the Purple Valley 5 years hence, back to visit with the young man who left college unaware that he’d only just begun to learn who he would one day become.

To my classmates, I hope I see you long before our next Reunion. For those of you with whom I’ve become Sunday friends, well, I’ll see you next week…

Role Model

At the moment I am sitting in an airport–Boston, if it matters–on the way home from a very nice visit with my Mom. I really don’t get to see her all that much, which is, of course, on me. I was able to turn a business trip during which I took Mom out to dinner into a weekend visit with Mom during which I snuck a business meeting in.

The highlight was Mass this morning. With the Pandemic lockdowns and Mom getting older and no longer driving she has seen her church-going reduced to 11 AM mass on TV. While it’s better than nothing it’s really only a touch more than nothing, even for Mom. It was nice to get the day started in the Church of my youth, my butt aching on the hardest wooden pews in America, my back as stiff as a board leaning into the perfect 90 degree angles.

We’re Catholic; we suffer.

During my “sneak away” meeting we had a little sidebar conversation about role models. In this case professional role models, but on my drives to and from Boston I got to thinking about role models in general. My parents and my maternal grandparents were obvious role models, of course, as were a couple of coaches who wore the role model cape as comfortably and naturally as they did the whistles around their neck. In Church this morning I was reminded by the priest that we have a “built in” role model. As Christians we “celebrate” the ultimate sacrifice, the ultimate expression of altruism and seeking to help others in the “history” of mankind. Men and women are tasked with following Him as the ultimate role model for how we are to live our lives.

If one does, indeed, believe, and if one does follow Him as the role model in one’s life, then all other talk of role models is irrelevant. Like so many other goals and targets, though, the Lamb as role model is ultimately unachievable by any and all, and thus we have the all too human phenomenon of other, human role models. Believers or not we all seem to get this; everyone I’ve ever met can name more than one role model, someone very public or known only to them, but always at least one.

What then constitutes a role model? Who is qualified to fill this role? Who would be willing to do so? How do we find these people, these role models?

In a world that was much less heterogenous, where people of all stripes had more in common than not and acknowledged that fact, role models seemed to be a little easier to come by. Audie Murphy. Stan Musial. Jackie Robinson. Heck, even a politician or two filled the bill. Every town had a teacher or a coach or a cop who everyone looked up to. Why then and not now? Partly because of that sense that we were all more the same than less, but partly because we only knew the good stuff about our role models, and on top of that we only really wanted to know the good stuff, ya know?

Once upon a time to be a role model meant to be always trying to do the right thing for the right person at the right time. We forgave the occasional slip because we saw the effort and appreciated the ongoing effort. It inspired us to do better ourselves. We forgave the occasional failure because we knew how hard it is to always look to do that favor, to offer the helping hand, to put forth the best effort. To put yourself in line and push others ahead. Our sense of our own humanity was extended to our role models as a gift to them such that they would continue to lead us.

The perceived lack of role models in society today says more about us than it does about any role models that we may have discarded. We accentuate our differences rather than our commonalities, no matter how far on either end of the curve lie those differences. We not only accept too much information about our all-too human potential role models, we actively seek the “smoking gun” that will bury them. We are all the lesser for all of that, for we deny ourselves the potential that could come from having a role model just a little bit better than ourselves. Someone not that very different from ourselves whose goodness we can aspire to because it is achievable, if only we would try.

And having tried, even if we are only partly successful, perhaps we, too, may become someone’s role model.

Grief Is Just Love With No Place to Go

“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.” Jamie Anderson

Are you like me? Do you find yourself suddenly a bit sad, melancholy, out of the blue? Or perhaps, like me, you tear up at every sentimental story you happen across. A stray dog is reunited with its long, lost owner after a week, a month, a decade. An older man buys a kid a new bike after the kid slams into the man’s car by accident and the old guy just can’t let the embarrassment of hitting his car be the last memory of the bike. It’s like every possible emotion lies so close to the surface that the tiniest breeze uncovers it.

Maybe it’s the unbidden memories of loss that do it. That happens to me, too. More and more often, come to think of it. Some of them are prompted (the downside of Facebook Memories I suppose), but just as often they seem to come out of nowhere. I was watching my 9 year old Aussie racing around the yard yesterday and just couldn’t shake the memories of my Border Collie, Abby the Wonder Dog, who should have been right there chasing Sasha for all she was worth. It was hard to see Sasha after a moment. I thought I had something in my eye, at least until Beth’s goofy little mutt Tiny Tim joined the party.

Boy, did I love those dogs. Haddie and Kota, too. After so many years I still grieve.

As I was gathering my thoughts before musing this morning I stumbled upon Ms. Anderson’s words and had an epiphany: I miss being able to love those I’ve loved and lost. At levels both very deep and barely below the surface, I continue to grieve. It’s truly grief; there’s really not a tinge of regret here. I’ve largely followed my own advice to tell those I love them just that. To ask forgiveness if I’ve somehow hurt them, and forgiven them for any harms that came my way. I’ve thanked them for loving me and for allowing me to love them. No “I wish I’d’s” or “I should have’s” or “if only I’d had more to to’s”. When I read that lovely quote I simply realized that I still had so very much love to give to those I’ve lost, and what I was feeling was that I can’t.

Every now and again the losses pile up like so much water in a bucket, until they spill over into the open. Not just lives, although those are the toughest of course. My Dad and my grandparents, Beth’s parents. My friend lost to suicide a year ago. Perhaps its a one degree of separation life lost that does it; my sister and her husband lost a brother-in-law a couple of weeks ago; I’d never even met him, and yet the tears ran as if we’d just had a beer last month. Sometimes no one dies but there is a decrease, or a loss of proximity, contact. Doesn’t matter why. Something creates a space that is almost as wide, as impossible to navigate, as death itself.

Today is Mother’s Day, or as I prefer to think of it, Mommy’s Day. I confess that I have no idea how or where or by whom Mother’s Day was created. But unlike blatantly commercial creations like “Sweetest Day” (American Greetings card-giving creation) or just outright silliness like “National Eyelash Day” (not kidding; really a thing), today is the day when we are each given permission to fawn over the Mom’s we still have among us.

You called your Mom, right?

That’s the point. The reason I open my annual thoughts on Mother’s Day with musings on grief. My beloved Gamma, Mom’s mom, is gone. So, too, both of Beth’s grandmothers. My mother-in-law has been gone for a few years now, too. My FB Memories from 6 years ago are filled with pictures and videos of the magnificent trip to Mexico arranged by my soon-to-be departed father-in-law when he surprised Sandy by bringing their girls (and their boys) to Mexico for a last family gathering to celebrate both Sandy’s Birthday and Mother’s Day. Soon, too soon, Bob would be gone. My Dad, too. Whether it’s Mother’s Day or just some random Tuesday, there’s no one there to call.

But not today. Sure, I will set aside a little bit of time to grieve for Mommies not here to Mom. I’ll tear up at all of the Mom memories that come my way today. But I am still blessed on this Mother’s Day. Today I have a bunch of Moms to call. Starting with my Mom and my darling Beth, my kids’ Mom, I have tons of love that still has a clear place to go.

So Happy Mother’s Day to all of you Moms out there, and to the kids who still have you there for us to love.

That One Time At The Masters. Sunday musings…4/10/2022

1 Hostage. First published “Musings” in weeks. My blog has been held hostage by multiple server quirks. Lots of stuff to talk about. Also, likely time for a change in venue.

2 Equilux. The first day of Spring, the Equinox, is not the day when daylight precisely equals dark. That day is actually called the Equilux, and it typically occurs a day or two prior to the first day of spring.

Learned that from the comic strip Frazz.

3 Mistake. “A mistake repeated more than once is a decision.” –Paulo Coelho

Boy, there’s a lot of meat on that bone, isn’t there?

4 Schlimmbesserung. German. An intended improvement that actually makes things worse. Think New Coke. Or EMR.

Yeah…definitely EMR.

5 Memories. One of the things that Facebook does very, very well, is remind you what you were up to in years past. At the moment I am in the midst of 24 consecutive days of “Drinking with John Starr” 2 years ago during the Pandemic lockdown. It was a very dark time for me, one of the darkest of my life. And yet, every day at 5:00 I thought about my friend John and his “Drinks Around the World”, and I smiled.

It may not have been the best coping mechanism (as John himself pointed out), but it did get me through. In 10 days or so I will buy John a drink and say “thank you”.

6 Movies. This has been an “on” week in our new life as grandparents. Beth has lots of responsibility with the little ones. My Dollie is exhausted. We’ve reacted by watching movies together. Some at night, some during the day, but all together. We typically choose movies we’ve missed over the years, or current movies everyone is talking about. There’s a trend we’ve noticed of late…

…we almost always find the most lauded movies to be disappointing.

Seriously. Manchester by the Sea was nothing less than a 3 hour emotional beatdown. You stick with it because it was so well-reviewed. The actors and acting said to be so good it didn’t really matter what the story was. You stick with it thinking that any movie so highly regarded MUST give you some kind of reward for sticking it out. Yeah. No.

Last night it was “Lost in Translation”, one of Bill Murray’s non-comedy movies. One that supposedly proved his chops as a “real” actor, not just a goof. Sure, Murray’s acting was actually quite good. But come on now, WTF was it really about? The best, most memorable scene in the whole thing was Murray whispering something wholly unknown into his co-stars ear at the end. It was the signature moment and you can’t hear him.

You. Don’t. Know. What. He. Said.

So today we took a totally different tack. Beth and I watched a movie with no pedigree whatsoever, starring actors we’d never heard of or seen before called “Without a Paddle”. It’s ridiculous. Just silly. Not art in any sense of the word.

We loved it.

It’s like that book you read because you simply want to be entertained. No work. A “Harry Bosch” or “Grey Man” novel. Bourne, in years past. I’d have felt a bit better about the “esteemed” movies if they’d been…you know…fun. Even less pretentious would have been better.

Murray didn’t need an “art house” movie to cement his reputation. Beth and I didn’t need his (or Ben Affleck’s for that matter) offering to the arts gods.

7 Masters. At the moment I am sitting in front of a television, finishing off one of my DWJS cocktails and enjoying my annual “visit” to Augusta National. I’ve sent out greetings to my locals, my brother, and my best friend. My two cheering interests will come up short, although the fact that Tiger made it through all 4 days without needing an ambulance is probably cause for a second cocktail. It’s funny, that a golf tournament is an annual touchstone for a guy who stopped playing golf for 12 years, but nonetheless, there it is on the tube.

I got to go to the Masters once. In person. My best friend since college once had a job where he took 3 clients to August for the Masters each year. We had a deal: if one of his customers bailed for whatever reason he would call and I would come. In a super cool coincidence I got “the call” at the dinner table when my Mom and Dad were visiting us in Cleveland. Rob had tickets for the whole weekend and one of his customers couldn’t come. I was in!

Have I told you this one before? No matter. It’s a good story, and more than that, it makes me happy to tell it. That’s kinda the point of musings, in’t it? Anyway, the deal was that Rob and his other three customers were landing in Charlotte Friday night and driving to a hotel near Augusta that night. I was to fly in and join the party at the airport. This being 1994 and Cleveland being a Continental hub at the time, the logistics were easy peasy. We met up in baggage claim, hopped in a (huuuge) rental car, and headed to the hotel. Up at the ass crack of dawn to drive to our rental house at the Augusta Country Club (the denizens of Augusta were way ahead of the AirBnB thing) where 4 passes were supposed to be waiting for us for both Saturday and Sunday at the Masters.

And where we found 4 for Sunday but only 3 on Saturday, one for Rob and each of his official customers.

Mind you, I’m pretty much playing with house money here. I’m gonna go to the Masters for the final round, one week after getting the call. We made the ticket discovery while we were exploring our 4 bedroom house, ESPN and CBS on cable, and a second fridge in the kitchen filled with Heineken and bottles of wine with names I hadn’t yet learned how to pronounce. Worst case scenario: I watch Saturday’s round on TV and drink waaaay above my pay grade. Rob wasn’t having it, though. He called the ticket broker his company used and read him the riot act. Off went Rob and his customers; it looked like my Masters experience would be a single Sunday final round.

So there I was, 11:00 or so, sitting on the can, when the broker calls the house. Yep, I’m here, guest of Mr. Roberto, no ticket. “Well, the only badge I have is my own–long pause–but I guess the customer always comes first.” Not gonna lie, I clutched just a moment there. I wasn’t really, truly a customer, after all. Just a moment, though. “Yup. I guess you’re right. So how do we get together so that I can get that badge?” He was playing the Augusta Country Club and would be making the turn around 11:30. Could I meet him on the 10th tee?

What do YOU think? Of COURSE I could.

So I walk out of the front door of our rented house and start to walk, well, where? Remember, this is 1994. There’s no Google Maps or Waze to help me find my way. I know that I’m in a course-side development, but frankly that’s pretty much all I know. The Golf Gods were smiling on me, though. Around the cul-de-sac comes a big, fancy Lexus and the driver rolls down the window as he comes up on me as I’m walking. “Where ya headed?” Turns out he’s the pro at the club where I’m headed. “Sounds like you need to get to the 10th tee!”

And it just gets better from there! Three groups pass the 10th tee and ask WTH I’m doing there, all to leave the tee with best wishes my way for a great day at the National. The broker hands over the badge and calls his driver with instructions to pick me up at the clubhouse. “Is it OK if I drop by our ‘command house’ on the way to the course? I’m pretty sure we can get you some lunch for your trouble’.” Homemade burritos served up by Southern Belles in the kitchen and then off to the Master.

There’s another full “Musings…” worth of stories from this adventure, but you’ve suffered enough already. Finding a high school golf adversary teeing off as I arrived, my Dad’s buddy squiring me around, invited to stay in the same neighborhood as Jack and Arnie if I don’t reconnect with Rob et al, and so much more. Every year my tiny little living room is crowded with these memories, sharing space with memories of my Dad and his love affair with the Masters.

In the end it’s just a golf tournament, right? And yet it is also a touchstone for things that are so much more. Each year I’d call my Dad to review the tournament. My best friend made the call and got me there in person. My brother and my locals have been texting throughout. There is so much that is so important to me that this weekend touches on.

No lesson. Nope, just good vibes. Just, you know, good.

I’ll see you next week…

Phil Mickelson and the Quiet Part: Sunday musings…3/13/2022

Sunday musings…2/13/22

1. Spring. Spring forward. Today is the first day of Daylight savings time.

No deep meaning. Just a PSA in case you missed the memo

2. Host. For some inexplicable reason my personal blog, Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind, has been held hostage by a virus on the server where it lives. Since Super Bowl Sunday (all caps!) I have been unable to post anything.

My internal hard drive is so full it’s ready to burst.

So I’m just gonna set it all down here and flood those servers with my drivel once they open the door.

3. P.J. O’Rourke. “Jesus said to love your enemies. He didn’t say not to have any.” –P.J. O’rourke

At the moment I am advising a highly competent and accomplished colleague who has been the recipient of an unearned attack by someone who believes they are in power. My colleague is concerned that their response, if they choose to make one, will inevitably result in the creation of an enemy. Now, there are a plethora of other quotes about making enemies, most of which I only know without also knowing their provenance. “If you’re not making any enemies you’re not trying hard enough.” “Having the conviction of your beliefs means having enemies.” Stuff like that. Here’s mine (offered here and elsewhere previously):

It’s perfectly OK to make an enemy as long as you do it on purpose. Doing so allows you to assess the potential consequences beforehand and consciously decide if those outcomes are worth defending whatever your position, claim, or belief might be. The obverse is actually not quite as intuitive: to make an enemy by accident means that you are either intellectually careless, did not assess the ground adequately and missed considering a potential enemy, or indifferent to the very existence of the accidentally made enemy.

For whatever it’s worth I have advised my friend to respond to the attack upon them. They are being bullied by an individual who is laying claim to a space they have no right to claim. There may be blowback, but in the end my colleague will prevail, a newly created enemy left behind and defeated at the same time.

While I am considering the concept of enemyhood (should be a word), another quote comes to mind, also considered here and elsewhere in the past: Do not mistake my silence for agreement with you or your position, or my kindness as a sign of weakness. Everyone has a point beyond which they cannot be pushed. Upon reaching that point some will sadly be utterly defeated and capitulate. Others will fight. More than that, they will fight to win.

When Hell freezes over, they lace up their skates and fight on.

4. Bell. “Mickelson’s mistake was saying the ‘quiet part’ out loud.” (Commentary on the golfer Phil Mickelson and his open discussion of his decision to be paid by groups with less than exemplary reputations in their non-golf endeavors)

Oh boy. How good is this?! You read this and you instantly know what the author is saying. No matter what you do, or to whom you speak and what you speak about, there is often a subtext to the conversation that is mostly left unsaid. Perhaps in acknowledgement that it is distasteful, or a merciful and respectful nod to the fact that it is hurtful, but for some reason the “quiet part” is mostly seen in the knowing nod rather than heard by even the keenest of ears. Mickelson says that all money is the same, and goes on to equate his grievances with how the “masters” running professional golf treat the players, with the human rights abuses of his new potential partners. That’s the “quiet part” previously left unsaid by all of the other pros who’ve taken similar money from the same people.

Mickelson’s sin was saying it out loud.

In my professional world I have a podcast called “Eye Care Out Loud”, a nod to my penchant for saying what many of my professional colleagues are thinking but not saying. In truth most of what I am saying is “out loud” only in that it is published; most of us have open conversations about our issues, but have them out of earshot of anyone who one could call “media” of any sort. Controversy is an over-call. Here I must confess that I am conflicted when it comes to Mickelson’s particular admission. You see, he is a professional golfer who is getting paid to do something related to golf. Some would say that his brash honesty is actually something akin to bravery. Others, and I feel that I lean a bit more in this direction, are more of the mind that his admission is tone deaf at best, and approaching something that feels almost vulgar.

There are “quiet parts” everywhere. Some of them are spectacular, skeleton-in-the-closet kinds of things, but many are small, personal tragedies or hardships that are hard to talk about and maybe harder to hear about. Is it good that we have people who will say the “quiet part” out loud, or do they earn the condemnation so often directed their way? For me I think the answer to that lies in yet another question directed toward me by a trusted colleague for whom I have the greatest respect: “What if you are wrong?” You are on the wrong side of a moral issue, or you are simply wrong on the facts.

I’m afraid that this is going to be yet another “Sunday musings…” without a conclusion, without a clear message. Sometimes the “quiet parts” desperately need to be said out loud, but there is a reason that they are quiet to begin with, eh? Shining a light on injustice kept quiet is most likely a good thing, though being the one to turn on the light often brings with it consequences. Like making an enemy. I guess the lesson may be that it is important to know what the “quiet parts” are before you start talking. After all, whether quiet before or not, once said out loud they are no longer the “quiet parts”.

As Phil Mickelson discovered, you can’t un-ring a bell.

I’ll see you next week (if the servers allow)…

Always Get Back Up: The Story of the Tiny Domino

There was a video making its viral rounds on various social media places of a rather earnest-looking professor-like guy talking about the power of a tiny domino falling and hitting a bigger domino on its way to the ground. He starts the dominoes tumbling. The cascade of 15 ends with the fall of a domino weighing 100 lbs. and measuring >1 meter in height.

All from a domino so small he needs tweezers to place it.

The Professor ends the video with the observation that a 29 domino cascade would finish with the fall of a domino larger than the Empire State Building. Pretty vivid. As is so often the case on Sunday mornings I let the video rumble around between my ears for a bit. What I saw first was a vast space filled with thousands, nay millions of those tiny dominoes, falling down over and over again, never striking anything but the ground. Every now and again a tiny domino would fall against a massive domino, either bouncing or slowly sliding off, eventually finding its way to the ground either way.

It was discouraging to think about. It made me a little sad, to tell you the truth.

But as I thought about it a little more, spent a bit more time in my imaginary vastness filled with tiny dominoes perpetually falling, it occurred to me that in order to fall over and over again it was necessary for each of those tiny dominoes to somehow rise up to stand. More than that, each time one fell it moved a little bit. Sometimes further into the vacuum of the vastness, but sometimes closer to another tiny domino. Another domino falling.

Another domino that kept getting back up.

It’s probably trite–some would say I specialize in trite–but what stayed with me in the end was not the image of the massive domino falling at the end, but that of the tiny, delicate, fragile domino in the front of the line. The one that started the whole thing. What most of us ever see is the last couple of dominoes falling, the last tumblers settling into place. Who knows how many times that first, tiny domino fell and struck nothing but earth?

And got back up.

The Power of Normal

There is a certain power in normal in the face of an upheaval. Seeking normal, finding normal, doing whatever it takes to let normal happen in the face of crisis is sometimes all that it takes to prevent that crisis from snowballing into something much bigger, something like a brushfire that becomes a wildfire for want of just a little greenery.

Some normal is drudgery, even in the best of times. You know about that. There are some parts of your normal that require that you literally drag your carcass to or from something, figuratively haul your mind’s derriere to get in the game. In the face of some crisis, tragedy or hardship, these parts of normal probably are just as obnoxious as they are on the brightest, sunniest of days.

There are some things you do all the time that are so much a part of your life that you don’t even realize how much of an upper they are. How they make your life better. Sunday night phone calls with your folks or your kids. The old farts’ hoops game you never miss on Tuesday. 5:00 with your someone, somewhere on a Friday. These are the normals that have power. The power to persevere when it gets tough. The power to bring you just up enough that you don’t go all the way down. There’s an awful lot of good in your normal. Don’t forget it when it gets kinda dark.

There can be enough power in normal to light the way.

Forgiveness

“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” Paul Boese.

Forgiveness is an extension of kindness, both outwardly toward another, and inwardly toward yourself. I like the sense of hopefulness, that sense of optimism in the second part of the quote. The obvious part of “enlarging the future” is that forgiveness allows for the possibility that one who may have caused you harm in the past might still be a part of your future. By definition the larger your circle, the greater the number of contacts and connections of every sort, the greater is the possible in your future.

It’s what “enlarging the future” does for one within that is more interesting to me, however. Holding on to a slight, however terrible or tiny, creates a little “prison cell” for some part of what lies ahead of you. Forgiveness is a kind of freedom, a liberation of self from the binds that come with the effort to withhold the forgiveness, that withholding forever keeping you enchained to that person, that slight, that wrong. One need not forget; after all, the first part of the quote is that forgiveness “does not change the past.” Forgiving and forgetting are not really two sides of a coin.

One can forgive without forgetting, but one cannot forget without forgiving.

Sunday musings…1/16/2022

1 Obstreperous. Noisy and difficult to control.

Sure.

2 Emu. Google “horses asshole emu”.

Think obstreperous flightless bird.

3 Rainbow. My very good friend and his family escorted their black lab Gus across the rainbow bridge today. In the last 3 1/2 years the White family has lost 2 dogs and 2 horses. It never gets any easier. Saying goodbye to our pets guts me every time.

Grace and peace to my friend Rob and his family. Gus was a very good boy.

4 Somebody. “The grains of sand that pass through the funnel of life’s hourglass are only dry and colorless if they are observed from afar; up close each one is as colorful as any rainbow, as full of energy as any thunderstorm. Poetry is there for the asking.” DEW 1/16/2017.

While everyone isn’t necessarily “A” somebody, everyone is somebody who matters. My Dad was heroic in this regard. He remembered everyone. The lower on the economic food chain someone may have been, the more he remembered them. Janitors, waitresses/waiters, maintenance workers…he knew all of their names. He’d ask you about your story, ask you to describe the grains of sand in your hourglass, and if you told him he remembered. Dad would be dumbfounded by the denigration of these and other physical jobs so prevalent on mainstream media and other outlets.

Dad had a way with frontline workers. It was natural, a gift for sure, but he obviously worked at it, too. Did you have a problem getting THAT gift this year? Turns out, that’s not a new phenomenon caused by “COVID-related supply chain issues.” My Dad had a coronary artery bypass graft surgery (CABG) in 1985 at the peak of the Cabbage Patch Doll craze. Somehow he found a Cabbage Patch Doll for every nurse in the Coronary ICU to thank them for their care.

So what’s the point? It shouldn’t take a pandemic that interrupts every aspect of everyday life for us to notice the folks who aren’t anywhere near the top of the economic food chain. CEO’s saved the world in the early parts of the pandemic (Sunday NYT)? Bullshit. Company X allowed the economy to survive because it made “stay at home” work possible? Yeah, that’s bullshit, too. The person who answers the phone in my office or the person driving the garbage trucks had just as much impact as that self-satisfied CEO who’s biggest sacrifice was skipping Davos this year.

There’s no such thing as a small life. Each life is full, vibrant, colorful, and important. Each little grain of sand flowing through the hourglass is as meaningful as the next.

It’s been years since my Dad died and yet I return to his lessons on a daily basis. I see him talking to the guy who swept the floors in the factory. There his is, sitting down to lunch with a banker. If I close my eyes and just listen to the personal banter it’s hard to figure out which is which. The sands of time that flowed for each looked the same to my Dad. He heard the poetry, saw the beauty. My Dad made every life he touched bigger.

Everyone was a somebody.

5. Cost. Mark Cuban has launched a website/business called “Cost Plus Drugs” (costplusdrugs.com) to much fanfare, especially on Social Media of all sorts (Cuban is a plays SM like Yo Yo Ma plays cello). The concept is quite simple: buy generic drugs at wholesale cost, mark ’em up 15%, add a handling fee of $5 and ship ’em off to a waiting patient. The fanfare part comes in the marketing on the website. Each drug is compared with the retail price of the branded drug from which it was spawned. For example, $41 for a chemo drug compared with $9,600 for the brand. Brilliant, right?

Meh…not so much. First of all, if a super expensive drug is off-patent and there is now a generic equivalent on the market, essentially no one prescribes the branded drug anymore (caveat: equivalent in potency, side effects, etc.). Secondly, there are several options out there already doing a very nice job of this, thank you very much, without the hullabaloo surrounding Mr. Cuban’s offering. GoodRx and Costco come to mind. There’s somebody out there, can’t remember who, offering hundreds of generics for $4.00 a month. To the extent that Cost Plus Drugs continues to pressure the pharmaceutical industry and its high prices I suppose Cuban’s entry is a net positive.

Let’s step back and look at the real issue here, though: groundbreaking, new treatments are too expensive. I’m not talking about the outlandish prices of these branded, patent-protected drugs that people like Mark Cuban bandy about to make the price of their generic look so virtuous. No, I’m talking about the amount of money that comes out of the pockets of the people who need the newer medications for which a generic equivalent is not available (or who for whatever reason cannot take a particular generic). For all of Cuban’s bluster and bravado, the bruises that he is getting from patting himself on the back are all for naught. With very few exceptions people aren’t struggling to pay for generic chemo drugs, they are breaking the bank on the newer, more effective drugs.

In general, new drugs come in one of two varieties: minimally changed versions of existing drugs/”me too” drugs from a competing company in order to be in the market space, or truly innovative and new drugs that are a measurable upgrade in all ways from existing treatments. Yes, to be sure, there are some newcomers into a therapeutic space that have a similar mechanism of action as legacy drugs but really do work better in that treatment pathway, but they are a small minority; most are the same drug with a slightly different concentration or secondary delivery ingredients, patented and priced as if they were groundbreaking, new developments.

Where we need someone of Mark Cuban’s intellect, entrepreneurial zeal and all-around chutzpah is when the very best treatments, standard of care treatments, are not available as generics. Here the unholy triumvirate of manufacturer/pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) and insurance company put profit before patient (and healthcare worker) welfare. New, innovative treatments are priced so that the manufacturer can give a handsome rebate (kickback) to the PBM. A patient is then charged a co-pay which is a percentage of that artificially elevated price. This co-pay reduces the financial obligation of the insurance company to pay for the medication. If you’ve ever wondered why a medicine which was priced at $100 ten years ago is now $1,000, this is it.

If the Mark Cubans of the world want to have a real impact on the healthcare costs that matter, the costs to the patient themself, let them turn their attention here. It does us no good to have another do-gooding middleman saving patients a few dollars on widely available generic medications. This is the equivalent of hitting a single when you’re down 10 runs in the ninth. In eye care we don’t need someone to shave off a couple of bucks from the cost of Avastin as the first-line treatment for the devastating, sight-stealing disease macular degeneration; it’s like $50, so patients drop 10 bucks in the bucket on the way out. At big places like the Cleveland Clinic they pay more to park.

No, what we need is someone to step in and figure out how regular folks can afford Eylea or Lucentis, the branded medications that a majority of these patients end up needing when the Avastin stops working (as it almost always does). At $2000 a pop that 20% co-pay can run into thousands of dollars each year for folks who need injections every few weeks, sometimes forever. Cancer treatments that cost $40,000 per dose or truly revolutionary, life-saving drugs like the hepatitis C drugs that came out a few years ago that are now “only” $10-15,000. 20% of that is meaningful to most folks. Step up to the plate and take a swing at these, Mr. Cuban. Figure out how people who have terrible diseases that aren’t really all that rare can afford their medicine. You’re not a singles hitter. Figuring this out is the equivalent of hitting a walk-off grand slam in the 7th game of the World Series.

You were made for this, Mark.

I’ll see you next week…