Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

“Expiration Date”: Sunday musings…7/11/2021

1 7/11. Heh. Always makes me laugh when I come across these numbers together.

Can’t remember the last time I was in one, but still.

2 Huber. Getting a lift from one of those ubiquitous golf carts cruising around at a horse show. Horse Uber. Right? Right?

Should be a word.

3 Aren’t you? It always tickles me when someone recognizes me. Not that it’s a very common occurrence, at least not any more. Maybe once or twice a year at a conference, especially if I’ve done a couple of professional videos around the same time. In the CrossFit world, back in the day, it would happen pretty much any time I showed up at an event. I was always tickled when it happened.

Walking around the show grounds with Beth and her trainers it was cool to see them recognized by folks from all around the horse world. The twist, though, was having their HORSES recognized. Again, pretty cool, but totally foreign to any of my experiences anywhere, ever.

Still a rookie at this game.

4 Expiration. As in expiration date. For whatever reason I’ve come in contact with several people who have received dire medical diagnoses with a terrible prognosis. Really, nothing short of being presented with your own expiration date. A couple us who’ve been more fortunate got to chatting about this on the way to dinner after yesterday’s show sessions. You know how it went, of course:

What would you do? How would you structure the rest of your life if you pretty much knew what “the rest of your life” was going to look like from the calendar’s point of view?

There’s nothing really very new or unique about this question, of course, and it’s quite likely that when I’m done writing this morning I won’t have covered any untrod ground or come upon any revelations or epiphanies. But still, the question is out there and it’s rather interesting that it has come to rest in the “Restless Mind” while I’ve been doing mental gymnastics around the issue of finding new ways to occupy myself when/if I hang up my professional spurs. What would your days look like, how would you paint the final canvasses or pen the final chapter if you pretty much knew when the show was going to close?

There’s a very poignant song, I think it’s by Graham Nash but it could be David Crosby, titled “Encore”. It’s about leaving the stage behind but carrying on with the rest of your life. More like #2 up above, “aren’t you?” or “didn’t you used to be?” than “clock’s ticking”, and more in line with a healthy retirement. I thought I’d address that until I met another soon to be released soul, and to be honest I think the “expiration date” is bringing a welcome clarity to my “Encore” internal dialogue.

Like everything else there are poles to the question. Extremes, if you will, on either side. The person I’ve been with this weekend is simply ramping up the intensity of what you and I would see from the outside as their “regular life”. They go to work, although maybe not quite as often or for quite as many hours each day. There’s been no effort to check off any bucket list items. No fantastic or fanciful travel. Dinners mostly at home and only on the road if the destination is family. To be sure there are no sacrifices being made, financially or otherwise; if there is something there to be had in the moment that will make that moment a bit more special or memorable, whatever it is gets “had”. No fools are suffered, although what little I know of this person leads me to believe that they’ve not suffered fools any time anyway.

On the other end of the spectrum, I went to college with someone who was presented with a diagnosis that had a high likelihood of causing a calamitous end to the journey at any moment. No medicine or surgery exists that can change the odds. This person could do literally anything they wished; the risk of disaster seems to be the same no matter what they do after they make their bed in the morning. Their choice was quite different: they retired when most of us were just barely getting going with our careers and our families, and they have been off on a lifetime of the kinds of adventures that the rest of us will put off until we are too old to even think of them, let alone pull them off. They suffer fools and pharaohs equally; it’s all a part of the journey when you can literally expire in minutes, any minute.

So what would it be for me, then? You may remember my friend who passed some years ago from cancer. The one with whom my friendship deepened in the brief 22 months between his diagnosis and the day he died. It’s a shame that it has taken another dire diagnosis to see that my friend Ken gifted me with the answer to the question of an “expiration date”, as well as the answer to my interminable quest for some kind of meaning if or when I retire.

If I were to get stamped with my own expiration date I know now that I would simply live each day with the joys of being with Beth, our family, and our friends. Where I am or what I might be doing doesn’t seem like it would matter all that much. Heck, I’m sitting in an empty stall at a horse show, listening to an auction for young horses in Europe and picking straw out of my shoes. Not my personal groove at all, ya know? And yet, I am happy. Content. What I am is content in a place and around an activity that is not me or mine because I am around people who dream of being here and doing this. These people are mine, and I, theirs. I am literally basking in their happiness.

Why would I want to be anywhere else, or doing anything else, no matter when?

Silly, this, to find myself with this answer as if I needed to be looking for it, since I come around to this “answer” so often, here and elsewhere. We all have an expiration date, after all. It’s just that most of us don’t know when it is. Blessedly, myself included. If we do, certainly if I do, I just can’t find anything other than my people to think about. Like Ken did. Be with my people doing the things we do that make us think of each other as “our people”.

I’m flattered and happy to have spent this weekend in the company of a person who has received their “stamp” and chose to include me in what time they have left. It made me smile to think of my college buddy, doubtlessly off on an adventure that will make us all a tiny bit jealous if not for the price of their “stamp”. In both of their honors, and in honor of Ken, it’s been a privilege to remember that it’s not really a very difficult question for me to answer if it ever comes my way.

Looking ahead I’ve already got everything I need to be happy with whatever time I have left, and looking back I’ve had everything I’ve needed to be content with the time I’ve had.

I’ll see you next week…

Fourth of July musings 2021…

There’s Something about the Fourth of July. Such a complex day around Casa Blanco, at least the part of Casa Blanco that lives between my ears. Many years ago the first two weeks of July meant a family vacation. We lived in a one-company town; American Optical shut down for the first two weeks of July and the town pretty much did, too. Little League games went on hiatus. Everyone who could left town.

When I was super young my maternal grandparents would scoop me up and take me to their Jersey shore beach house for a week or two in June. My folks would then come in on the first and we would have a cottage in the town next door for the two week holiday. Funny, but I just now realized that we almost never saw my grandparents during those weeks even though they were just one town over. I have no memory of fireworks there, either with my little family or my grandparents.

We spent every day on the beach. It must have been funny watching our little caravan of kids carrying chairs and an umbrella. Mom or Dad pulled a wagon with a classic styrofoam cooler containing tuna sandwiches and store brand soda. Full on sugared soda. There was an outing to the boardwalk carnival and miniature golf. I remember a Saturday dinner at Esposito’s near the beach in one of the other of the towns. The kids would fill up on the bread and my Dad would be furious when we ate maybe a bite apiece of dinner. Happened every year, our own little Groundhog Day at the beach.

Still, it’s funny that I am just now after more than 50 years realizing that the vacation was a single family affair. No grandparents, aunts or uncles, or other families. Just us.

Some time after my sister Kerstin arrived (5 years after Tracey) the beach trips ended in favor of Webster Lake in Massachusetts. Also known by its Native American name “Char gog agog man chog agog chabunga munga mog”, it was our summer vacation spot for 2 summers. Not many memories from those days to be honest. Our family was of very modest means in those days. What I remember is kinda like what I remember of the Jersey Shore–day after day of just hanging with my siblings and my parents near the water. Not many memorable outings. Well, no outings, really. Fireworks were a couple of Roman Candles my Dad fired into the lake.

Anyone who has read any of my stuff is familiar with what has come to be known as “Cape Week”. In truth what we call Cape Week is actually Cape Cod v2.0. In the waning years of our life in Mass and the first couple of Rhode Island years we spent the first two weeks of July on the Cape at a place called Radio City. As an aside my brother married a girl whose family had a home there right on the beach. Small world, eh? We crammed the whole fam damly into a two bedroom cottage (my folks slept on a fold out couch) with a classic beach community outdoor shower. My Dad cooked every meal on a grill he bought at a gas station on the way there. Fireworks? We sat in the dunes at the far end of the beach and watched as they burst over the public beach across the river.

Cape Week v1.0 was also pretty much just us. 4 kids, two parents. All of my Dad’s people summered just down the road, maybe 20 or 30 minutes away, in Buzzard’s Bay. Grampa White was there full time, and my Uncles Larry and Kenny had tiny cottages there, too (Larry would go on to retire there, and two of his daughters would spend at least part of their adult lives there as well). Did we visit them over vacations? No clue. I’m pretty sure they never came to Radio City, though. Just 2 weeks of alternating between beach and pool, basketball and tennis, each day bookended by Dad handling the kitchen duty.

Things changed once we all got to high school and started working during the summers. Kerstin is still bitter, or at least she feigns bitterness, that our “away” family vacations came to an end after one Radio City trip where I stayed behind to work. Leaving a teenager alone at home made Mom nervous, although we were all so afraid of my Dad that not a one of us would have dared to crack a beer at home, let alone throw a party. The 4th became just another working day for us, just another round of golf or day at the pool for my parents. We never did spend Independence Day on the Cape during Cape Week v2.0; the family that owned the cottage we rented kept that week for themselves.

Some things didn’t change though: Cape Week as we all know it was still just us, Mom and Dad and the four kids, our spouses and children. With rare exceptions visits from extended family really just didn’t happen.

There’s something about the 4th of July that resonates, isn’t there? Like we are all supposed to do something, SOMETHING, to mark the day. Preferably with some sort of family around. Several years ago I said I’d like the Fourth to be a “thing” at Casa Blanco. I really had no idea what that would mean, what it would look like, but I did the “Field of Dreams” thing, just sort of “built it”, and hoped family might come. How’s it going? Like I said up top, it’s complicated. Kinda like Cape Week all those years. Lots of moving parts, lives moving in and out of each other. There are no rules for my “thing”; Casa Blanco is Beth’s house after all, and “Dad’s 4th of July thing” is an open, casual, fluid invitation, not a command or call to action.

So how’d it go this year? I’m going with great. We saw all of my kids over the weekend. Megan flew in for the Fourth AGAIN! Dan arranged a “field trip” to a local winery where the wine was California good. My sister Tracey and Steve came with all three of their’s. Randy spent an afternoon playing all sorts of beach games with his cousins, just like Cape Week. The lake was calm and all the toys got wet. Fireworks? Compliments of the neighbors, thank you very much! It could have been any summer weekend at all, really, but it was the Fourth, and somehow that made it just a little more special.

And so I sit here with Beth, a cup of coffee in hand, and finish this version of “Sunday musings…” on a breezy Monday morning, happy to have had this Fourth. I close my eyes and the little waves on Lake Erie sound just like they did on the Jersey Shore and the Cape. I feel the sand between my toes on the beaches of my childhood. There are eggs scrambling in the bacon fat, and my Dad is burning the toast. Mom is reaching into the styrofoam cooler pulling out tuna sandwiches. Someone just got a hole-in-one at miniature golf. The wine was just a little bit better, the beer a little bit colder, the sun a little bit brighter. I open my eyes and I am here with Beth on the day after a Fourth of July weekend where just for a bit we had us all.

There’s something about the Fourth of July…

A Brief Father’s Day Visit From My Dad

Jason Gay, the WSJ sports columnist/comic relief editorialist gets it. He gets Father’s Day. No escape to the golf course or tennis courts for him. Jason is the father of two. No communing with the boys fishing or tearing up the backcountry on a bike for Jason. His idea of a great Father’s Day is to get his hands dirty in the act of being a Dad. Makes some muffins and mess up the kitchen. Pretend to plant some flowers so you can dig in the mud. Raining out? No problem. Rain means puddles to splash around in with the kids.

I like to think of Father’s Day as the day when I get to hang with my kids and just be Dad. It’ll be a bit weird this year as the gang is even more spread out than usual. Randy and Beth just landed in Florida with L’il Bug in preparation for an appointment early tomorrow morning. Megan is home in the Low Country, gearing up for a work week while keeping a watchful eye on her growing family of alligators in the back yard. Dan is hopefully going to get a few hours off (young lawyers don’t really have days off!) to chase after his two bundles of joy. I’ve heard from them all. My “extras” Alex and Whitney have checked in, too.

Being a Dad (and a Papi) is a joy!

Tomorrow, the day after Father’s Day, my Dad would have been 90. Father’s Day with him when my brother and I were young was pretty special. Dad was an incredible golfer; he gifted the game to my brother and me when we were quite young. We got to share golf with him on Father’s Day by caddying for him and three of his close friends until we were old enough to join him and one special buddy (my brother’s favorite loop) for a round. Randall and I got to see our Dad in his element, surrounded by loyal friends and joyful at his good fortune.

It’s been almost 6 years now since my Dad died. Six years since I’ve been able to wish him a Happy Birthday, a Happy Father’s Day. I think of him often, as I do my Father-in-Law who passed away in 2017. Here is what I wrote after visiting my Dad on Father’s Day, the last time I visited him for his Birthday, re-printed on Father’s Day as I’ve done each year since:

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.

Sunday musings…6/13/2021

1 He-Hem. What’s necessary on a pair of pants for an under-tall male.

Not to be completed until the sewing machine is necessary to make curtains for a She-Shed.

2 Snaffle. A particular type of bit, or mouthpiece, that connects a horse with a rider.

Really should be a snack food, don’t you think? Like, I dunno, a Snickers-flavored waffle or something.

3 Valet. Each year I either acquire a different nickname/role as the non-riding spouse of an amateur dressage rider. I’ve been jokingly referred to as The Breeder (kinda fun wearing my hat to non-horsey events), The Collector (a terrible role: you have more horses than you have use for), The Trader (you buy and sell horses; I actually find this one fascinating and would like to continue wearing this one), and for at least the first show of the year, The Valet (I brought chilled wine to celebrate the first post-lockdown show).

Everyone needs a role, right?

4 Competitor. Boy, it’s been a really long time since I’ve competed in anything with any kind or real intent. Might have been 2003 or so. My brother and I played in a golf tournament. We were inexplicably insulted by the pro a couple of months prior to the event. This turned what should have been at most a semi-serious hits and giggles fest into a grim, full-on, trample the injured/hurdle the dead effort to not only win but win big.

We both knew how to do that, and we did, indeed, run away from the field.

The point is more about us being super comfortable competing. Being in the arena and not finding it the least bit daunting to be either judged or measured. We’ve never competed in anything where we had either complex equipment (driving race cars, for instance) or animals to depend on (no Iditarod). At the moment I am writing from a spot in the shade across from stables in which millions of dollars of horseflesh stands ready to compete. The equestrian world contains both professional and amateur riders (the competitors), trainers of both who may or may not compete personally, and a category that is completely foreign to me: owner.

Now to be honest, as The Trader I’m not really unfamiliar with the concept of “owner” I guess. Beth does not ride the horses we trade (the pros do), and I, of course, do not ride at all. But we would not be in this world at all if Beth was not riding and competing. Indeed, we entered this world 20+ years ago with Lovely Daughter Megan. When I asked our trainer about this phenomenon, the non-riding or infrequently riding owner, his answer was that competing was so daunting for some riders that it literally makes them ill.

I guess I understand this, at least in the abstract. It’s just so foreign to me as a lifelong competitor in something or another. To be honest, not having a competitive outlet, a physical, athletic competitive outlet, has left a huge hole in my life. It’s not about winning or losing; that golf tournament where I really burned to win was an anomaly in my adult life. But I’d love to have something active where I got those little butterflies before the game, where I tuned in and automatically became laser-focused during the match. Love to have something to sit back and replay over a beer or glass of wine. Maybe even have my own Valet to provide the libations.

For competitors it’s OK to get butterflies in your stomach, as long as you can get them to fly in formation!

The non-riding owners are very nice people, and if they need a little encouragement or a kind-hearted push or shove, I’m there for them, however little understanding I have of their motivations or mindset. For some people those pre-game jitters are more pterodactyl than butterfly. It makes little sense to do something that makes you unhappy, however much being another non-competing part of that something might make them happy.

It’s just that seeing them there, so close to it, whatever it is, and not being able to get to the starting line…well…I think it will always make me a little sad for them. Or more accurately, a little sad for me. If I had that one thing I loved, that thing I loved being around, no matter what it was, I’d have filled that hole that’s been open and waiting to be filled for so very, very long.

I’d have jumped at the chance to once again saddle up myself, enter the ring, and be a competitor.

I’ll see you next week…

Sunday musings…5/31/21

1 Tracker. I cannot type while wearing a fitness tracker on my right wrist.

That is all.

2 Tracker. Unless you use a GPS tracker any distance traveled measured by something on your wrist or your foot is absolute BS.

That is all.

3 Tracker. After vetting the best tracker I’ve found (Biostrap) I have now reached the point where I know precisely what it will show me every morning based on what I did over the course of the prior day. It basically tells me whether or not I had wine with dinner; I am tracking the intersection of evening pleasure and guilt.

That is way too much information, frankly.

4 Excess. No, not how much I may or may not have imbibed last night (for the record, 2 vacation beers), but rather unexpected or unanticipated excess. Yesterday I went on a hike with Beth, one of her sisters, and our brother-in-law. Said BIL informed us that the trip would be “5 hours, give or take” and the hike “around 2.6 miles”. I assumed that 5 hours included travel to and from the hike, and that around 2.6 miles was the hike in total.

BZZZZZZZT. Wrong. Johnny, tell our guest about the lovely parting gifts.

5.2 miles with ~2600 feel of elevation gain (and descent) that would take us 5 hours. That’ll surely teach me to listen much better when I am a “passenger” on a voyage of any type, whether it be physical (a hike or a WOD) or otherwise (visiting brew pubs). I have no one to blame but myself, of course. I could have bailed at any point (which I did on today’s “recovery” hike after ~100yds or so).

The Lesson? Anything more than your daily anything is excess.

5 Reunion. It’s reunion season. Vaccinations and illness-driven immunity is widespread enough that even Vermont, the New Zealand of the U.S. when it came to Pandemic lockdowns and border closings, has allowed travel into the state. And so it is that I find myself on a couch in the northern Vermont countryside listening. Beth and I see her sisters and their husbands at least twice a year, and I consider the couples to be among my closest friends. I feel the same way about my siblings and their spouses. It’s been an awfully long 18 months.

My friend Bill, often my muse for these bleatings, just texted a photo (how’d he know I was writing?). A photo of our 25th Med School reunion. My God, did we look young at 50-51! I mean, lighting is everything and all, but is it possible that I really look this bad now? Seriously, it gives one pause when it comes time to decide on whether or not you’re gonna go when the invitations to reunions show up.

Family reunions make sense to me. Always have, actually. In fact, we are so fortunate with our families that we see each other frequently enough for whatever reason that a big reunion type of thing isn’t really necessary, however desirable and fun they may turn out to be. It’s the other reunions that are a bit perplexing. Even though they’ve turned out fairly well over the years, they’re still a bit of a mystery. You’re in touch with some of whatever group that is inviting you to gather, or you’re really not. Over time, and it doesn’t have to be all that much time really, you’ve drifted apart from pretty much everyone. Whether by choice or simply “benign neglect”, you’ve moved outside of the orbit of a different lifetime’s other travelers.

Why go?

Warning: this is classic musing, I’m afraid, and there is nothing remotely resembling a conclusion on the way (unless one surprises me along the way).

Last night around the campfire my 25th Reunion in VT came up and my BIL Pete asked how many reunions I’ve attended (he’s been to 2, total; BIL Gene has skipped a super-majority of his, too). As it turns out I’ve been to most of my college reunions, and as far as I can tell, all of those for med school (my 35th should be occurring right now but is cancelled due to Vermont out-COVIDing Singapore). But ‘why go at all?” was where that conversation quickly arrived.

It’s a very fair question, that. Men are said to make friendships based on shared experiences, woman shared feelings. Friendships for men occur shoulder-to-shoulder, while woman are full-on, direct eye contact. And yet both men and women leave it behind when they graduate from wherever, at least for the majority of the people they knew and which whom they purposefully shared space. As much as I always hated to admit it, my Dad was mostly right when he told me at age 20 that 10 years hence I wouldn’t be able to find a single phone number for anyone I was calling a friend in college (I managed to hang on to 5).

Why go, then? As I’ve so often written, my understanding of any particular whatever is always enhanced when I come across the vocabulary that best describes what it is I’m considering. Last night around the blaze it was Pete whose word choice lit the way. While describing the two times he RSVP’d “yes” his take away was they’d been interesting experiences. Being there was interesting. Much to his surprise, he found himself interested in the comings and goings of people he’d spent precisely zero minutes considering over the prior 10 or 20 or 30 years. Nothing prompted him to act on that interest, to seek additional contact, but finding himself interested made him kinda happy.

There’s something to that, I think. Whereas I may have found myself subconsciously (or maybe not so much “sub”) competing with classmates in the early post-graduate years, I can’t remember having competitive feelings when I’ve attended later reunions. Quite the opposite, actually. I find myself quite happy for my classmates, especially those who seem to have achieved heartfelt goals of whatever sort. And I’m interested in hearing that something has made them feel like they’ve succeeded, made them happy.

Maybe the best example that explains this for me is how I feel about the reunion I DIDN’T attend. I was invited to the 40th high school reunion for the kids I grew up with pre-K through 9th grade. I am intensely curious about those classmates. I’m interested in what has transpired in their lives. I wonder about them. Did they succeed? Did their dreams come true? Are they happy? Have they found peace?

I find myself wondering about them and wishing I’d found a way to make it to Southbridge. And if, perchance, they were interested in how it’s turned out for me? If they were as happy to see me as I, to see them? As happy to be back together as we all are this weekend in Vermont?

That would be pretty interesting, wouldn’t it?

I’ll see you, well, some Sunday soon…

Religion and Faith: Looking Back at a Special Weekend

My granddaughter Lila (“Bug”), was christened 3 years ago. One of the wonders of Facebook, for all of its faults, is the “Memories” feature that pops up in your daily newsfeed. Our tiniest family member Likeland is about to have her Christening in 2 weeks. This is what I wrote after a weekend spent with Lila and all kinds of family visitors.

“I don’t believe in an afterlife, but just in case I’m bringing along a change of underwear.” –Woody Allen

Funny how stuff seems to come in waves. This week brings together parts of the White family for a Christening, the death of the great physicist and atheist Steven Hawking, and a preview of an encyclopedic take on the five years of Pope Francis’ papacy and the controversies therein. We have an affirmation of faith, an implied revelation of whether or not faith should have been present (although the rest of us will remain unaware of the outcome), and an evaluation of the challenges inherent in attempting to alter 2000 years of the administration of faith. Scientists from the time of Archimedes have struggled with the challenges of faith versus science.

Hawking dismisses the afterlife out of hand: “[T]he brain is a computer; once its parts wear out it is simply done.” John Polkinghorne, Professor of Physics and former Anglican priest, offered a learned and respectful (to both sides) examination in the delightful (if challenging) “Quarks, Chaos, and Christianity”; he clearly aims to find the intersection of science and faith. My brother-in-law and I have been sorta, kinda exploring the possibility that an afterlife lives in the multiverse, that infinitely possible infinite number of versions of our own little slice of reality (see “Dark Matter”) that is implied in quantum physics.

At the moment I am just back from the Baptism of my youngest granddaughter, witnessed by the family member who has the greatest degree of faith in the classical sense, my Mom, Gram. Introspection and critical analysis is not necessary, nor even really something to be considered by one who is so faithful in the traditional religious sense. Mind you, this is not a bad thing at all. Indeed, classical religions all seem to share a commonality of decency, a moral code that is at its core one of kindness and consideration.

Pope Francis is popular in part because the “optics” of his papacy all point toward this part of Catholic doctrine. This imagery, which it is reasonable to believe, is heartfelt and real. It is said to be attracting drifting congregants back to the fold. Controversy is only present when the details are laid out, the rules of the religion still as unwavering as they’ve been since Vatican II.

Still, it is the faith, and more than that the real desire (bordering on need) of human kind to have some sort of faith that there will be something at the end. Something more. Whether it is a trip forward or backward, at some point we simply run out of the real estate of time and we are left with a choice: faith, despair, or madness. We can only go so far back in time before we run into the Big Bang. What came before? When we depart that which we are calling life we run into, well, we don’t really know. If we do seek to know what came before or what comes after we run into an absolute road block.

For me, a casual scientist brought up in a very traditional religious environment, I have decided to leave behind both the angst that comes from the need to know, as well as the trappings of religion, in favor of faith. Just faith. Somehow, deep inside, I am comforted by the belief that there was something before and there will be something after, despite the fact that I, like everyone else, am incapable of knowing for certain what that is. There is an inherent comfort in the thought that I might live on in a state of some form or another, perhaps even one that is part of my granddaughter’s Christening today. One thing I know for sure is that without that faith the path for me is one that leads straight to madness.

Indeed, one wonders, especially after the lovely occasion this afternoon, if Mr. Hawking packed a spare pair of underwear. You know, just in case.

Mother’s Day musings…

1 Offspring. All three of our children and all five of our grandchildren will have made appearances at Casa Blanco this weekend! A rare and wonderful happenstance to mark this Mother’s Day.

2 Memories. 4 years ago yesterday we lost my father-in-law, about a year and a half after my Dad left us. November 2018 we said goodbye to my mother-in-law. That leaves our little family with one remaining parent, my Mom.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom! Let’s keep on getting to say that for a little while yet, OK?

3 Sandwich. As in Sandwich Generation, where Beth and I (and our siblings) find ourselves now. Sandwiched between our children (an in our case our grandchildren) and our parents. As my Mom will attest, you never really give up the mantle of parent until you give up your seat here on Earth. Most of the time the dialogue with your kids is mostly internal as they get older. At least until and unless they ask it is, if you are doing it right.

It’s the aging parents and our role in their lives that is the surprise. It’s always a surprise, no matter how many of your friends tip you off in advance. As the adult in the middle of life you are presumably still functioning fully, able to make reasonable decisions on behalf of yourself and anyone who needs you to do so on their behalf. An essential conflict looms when you, the sandwich child, feel that a decision needs to be made by your parent and they either don’t, won’t, or can’t come to a conclusion that you know is the right one.

Let’s simply look at the issue of domicile, where they live at a given time. No one wants to leave their home. Heck, the running joke around Casa Blanco is that I will have to be bound, gagged, and blindfolded so that I can’t find myself back to my little lakefront oasis when my time comes. Still, there comes a time when the home you’ve, they’ve known becomes the wrong place. The first move is obviously the hardest, but each subsequent move, while equally necessary, is not necessarily any easier.

Why hone in on this issue? The home, domicile? At pretty much every level where your parents live drives all of the “big” decisions that come next. My father-in-law Bob insisted that he be allowed to die in the home that had housed Hurst’s for some 4 generations. My Mom has remained steadfastly rooted in Rhode Island after (finally) leaving our ancestral home for a two bedroom apartment a quarter mile away. The reality is that older people get sick, and in so doing they require medical care. Neither Mom nor Bob had any family any closer than 2 hours away.

That makes it awfully tough for us, the sandwich generation to help out when the going gets rough.

There are no solutions coming from these quarters I’m afraid. Just a heartfelt shoutout to all of my brothers and sisters sharing this space between the bread. We all need to remember that the challenges we face are the table stake so that our Moms (and Dads) can still be in the game and “play” with us.

4 Mommy. What? You didn’t think I was gonna muse on Mother’s Day without actually talking about mothers, did you?

One of my favorite Mother’s Day stories doesn’t involve a mother at all. Years ago while I was in the process of getting my hat handed to me in a lawsuit about starting my business I became very friendly with the lawyer that should have been the lead lawyer on my team. He’d been through a very traumatic divorce and if memory serves he ended up with the kids. Might have been all daughters. He stepped off the law firm fast track to be home more, doing the parent thing by himself. One daughter made sure he know how much that meant to the kids.

Each year she sent my buddy a Mother’s Day card.

I’ve often thought about the difference between “Mother” and “Mom”. There is a much, much greater investment in giving birth to a child, to be a mother, than there is in contributing the genetic material necessary to create a child. Still, being Mommy means an ongoing, daily investment that goes on forever. I think there’s a wide gulf between “Father” and “Dad”, too. (Fathers take the day off on Father’s Day. Dads set aside the day to be with their kids if they’ll have them). Today’s celebration in my mind has always been “Mommy’s Day”, a celebration of women who have taken part in the act of being a Mom.

You can be a Mom in many, many ways. Likely 2 or 3,000 more ways than I can imagine. Stay at home or go to work? Sure. That part’s easy. My professional life is chockablock filled with super Moms who are killer great eye surgeons, techs, counselors receptionists, and on and on. Working Moms are just really good at the choosing what “it all” means, and then making sure that Momhood is a part of their “all”. My Mom stayed home and Beth’s Mom went to work. Both of us have countless memories of being with our Moms as Mommy. The Jersey Shore for me, Mt. Gretna for Beth, for example. Moms in the sand up to their foreheads, laughing and playing, all the while showing us how to carry ourselves in the world.

Carrying a child and giving birth is an event; Mommyhood is a full-time, ongoing, full-contact endeavor.

Here’s to all of the Moms our there. To the Mommies who got on the floor and dove into the garden and splashed in the puddles back in the day. Thanks for all of life’s lessons, for playing with us in mud, cheering us on when we were winning and just quietly holding us when we lost. If we’re lucky enough, for still being our Mom and still believing that there’s some tiny thing still left to teach us. To the Moms of our children, Mommy’s to our own. We Dads hope we’ve been good teammates, and today we all make it a point to admit that we’re thankful and happy to be mostly along for the ride. Happy Mother’s Day to my lawyer buddy Jim, and to all of the single Moms doing double duty. A special thanks to the young Moms raising our grandchildren. We all love you dearly, really do, even if it sometimes looks like we love your kids more!

And finally, Happy Mommy’s Day to my beloved Beth, my Better 95%. Thank you for making me a father and then helping me learn how to be a Dad. It’s so much easier being “Papi” than it was/is to be Dad. I’m so very glad you had enough time and love left over from being Mommy to make sure I kept trying to be a better Dad every day. Danny, Megan, Randy and I are forever blessed that you were the Mommy in our house.

I’ll see you next week…

She Trotted Like a Fairy

On balance, 2021 hasn’t been all that much different from 2020 thus far. At least for me and mine. We had very few real, quantifiable losses last year. It was more of an emotional beat-down given all of the uncertainty and all of the loss of control. As the new year came out of the gate I, like pretty much everyone, had some hope ahead. The promise of a vaccine and the freedom it (should have) meant. Survival for my little business and my family and friends, with reasonable hopes that we would return to something that felt like normal.

Instead we’ve suffered the steady drumbeat of loss. Here at work we lost our friend and colleague of 25 years. A college buddy, a newly minted empty nester, laid his beloved spouse to rest 2 weeks ago. A young in-law has suffered the loss of three classmates to suicide. Somewhat separated by degree but all too close for comfort, a friend told me that a woman we’d both dated had just lost her husband to cancer. He was 61, our age exactly. Reading his obituary in my hometown newspaper was a gut punch even though we’d never met and I haven’t seen our mutual once-upon-a-time girlfriend in decades.

There have been others as well. Beth’s beloved filly, Renzi, lost her life to an unremitting, unrelenting infection in her head. One that affected her life for at least 2 years before it became clear that she would not survive. Over coffee yesterday our friend offered a tearful condolence to Beth and then shared a most extraordinary thing. After reading of Renzi’s death he was so overwhelmed with sadness that he cancelled a major meeting and took the rest of the day off. This friend of ours, who has known Beth for almost 40 years (and me for 45), who’d just lost a dear friend to suicide himself, shut down over Beth’s loss.

With all of our collective losses, why was the loss of a horse he’d never met the final straw? I have to admit that I literally cannot think about Renzi and the arc of her short life without tearing up. It’s hard to type through my tears. What is it about her, about how Renzi lived and how she died, that caused such strong emotions? Beth, so stoic and rock solid through the deaths of our parents and our friends, struggles with this loss as much as any. Why is the loss of this horse, a working animal, a loss that has caused each of us so much sadness?

Perhaps it was her story. More probably it was Beth’s story and how Renzi fit into that story. Beth outgrew her mare, Lyra, and found herself without a horse that could take her to new levels as a rider. She needed a new horse, and quite frankly we just couldn’t afford what she needed back then. No problem. This is Beth White we’re talking about here, right? Can’t afford to buy a new horse? Beth decided she’d just “make” her next horse by breeding Lyra. In July of 2015 Rapunzel was born into Beth’s lap. Renzi took her first earthly breath in the arms of her loving human.

We had such high hopes for Renzi to become what Beth needed; under the tutelage of Holly, her trainer, things looked pretty good. She won all kinds of honors at the shows for young horses. One judge was particularly taken with her: “She trots like a fairy!” But something was always just a little bit off. Beth always remarked that life seemed “hard” for her. A little over a year ago her personality changed and her training stalled. Very long story, short, Renzi was found to have a severe infection that involved most of the right side of her sinuses. After two major surgeries failed to resolve the infection she remained unable to work and in constant pain. With no hope in sight Beth and the veterinarians made the only merciful decision they could, and Renzi was put down.

She took her last earthly breath in those same loving arms, at rest and at peace in the lap of her human.

Why am I still teary-eyed each time I think about this? Heck, I can barely see the screen right now. I don’t ride horses or particularly like anything horsey about hanging around Beth’s barn or the stables at a horse show. I like Beth. Why is my childhood friend so stricken by this as well? It’s possible he’s never seen a horse outside of an occasional glance at one on TV. With all of our other losses, the people we’ve lost and how we’ve lost them, what is it about this horse that has affected us so profoundly?

It’s not really about the horse, of course. It’s about Beth and how much Beth means to us. It’s about not getting a chance to help the people who died. For 2 years now there’s been something wrong with Renzi. Everything was just so hard. Stuff that once came easily–lessons, trailering, being groomed–all of a sudden was challenging. It seemed like there was something wrong, something that was hurting, but many months and multiple trips to the vet failed to shed light on her darkness. Beth suffered right along with her “little” girl, aching to find whatever it was that had changed her “fairy” into a tempest.

In the end it was all too much, wasn’t it? An infection too serious to be cured despite two major surgeries. Too much pain all day, every day in a beloved animal. One of our own, our Beth, suffering as well. She tried so hard. Each effort to save Renzi came up short. We all grieve not so much for a horse but for what that horse meant to one of our people. We shed tears for all the love that went into that horse. For how hard Beth had tried. All those people we lost, people we never got a chance to help.

Perhaps we cry for Renzi, and for Beth, because we feel the pain of their struggle. Because we wanted Beth to triumph. Because it is safer to cry for her, whether or not we knew her, than it is to let ourselves cry for all of the people we wanted so very badly to help but couldn’t.

Our little filly will forever trot like a fairy in our hearts.

Rapunzel “Renzi” White July 2015-April 2021

Thoughts on a Long Life (A Re-Post)

Life is long. I’ve been saying this for a while now. Life is only short if you are unlucky. More often’s the case that your life is very hard and it’s STILL long.How often have you heard the term “long and slow wins the race”? I’m becoming skeptical about this one as well. It seems to me that the average speed of the winning racer is, indeed, rather slow. But if you watch the race itself you notice that the most successful “racers” are actually doing serial sprints. Picking their spots and turning it on. Knowing when it’s “Go Time” and being able to floor it seems to be the best strategy in the long-life race.

If life is long we need to re-interpret some of our other strategies as well. “Carpe Diem”, live for the day, becomes somewhat more complex if we anticipate that we will live another, and another, and on and on. We typically view “Carpe Diem” through the prism of the classic thought experiment, the “get hit by a bus” scenario. As in: “If I get hit by a bus tomorrow would I be pleased with all I’ve done thus far, with what I did today?”

In any life, long or short, this line of thought has merit; one should strive to max out each day, wring the most life out of every single one.A long life prompts one to rise up and view a life not from 3 feet but from 3,000 or 30,000 feet as well. What happens if I DON’T get hit by a bus? If I look at the path I am now on, the trends I have established with the decisions and actions I have taken thus far, is what I am doing and where I seem to be going likely to create a life I will look back upon with pride and with a smile if I DON’T get hit by that bus?

The reality is that you are driving the bus, pedal to the medal at times and just cruising at others, carrying as your passengers the friends who get on and off over the long life. It may be more important to avoid hitting someone else with the bus you are driving than it is to worry about being hit by a bus yourself.

For the duration of the trip, however long it turns out to be.

Play Group

Play group lives!

On Friday I played my first round of golf in 13 years. It’s crazy writing that. My Dad gifted the game of golf to my brother and me when we were 7 and 8, respectively. Over the years I’m sure that I’ve played thousands of rounds of golf. I was a pretty good golfer. Not great. Certainly not go out and compete great. Let’s call it “country club good”. Still, it was rare for me to be totally outmatched in any foursome, and I was generally a decent partner for that “good walk, spoiled”. When I hurt my shoulder in the gym so many years ago I became a very mediocre golfer, literally overnight. More than that, every swing hurt.

For the privilege of playing what, for me, was not great golf I got to be in pain, a pretty lousy trade.

So I gave up golf. Didn’t play a single round, or really even set foot on a golf course, for these last 13 years. Quite honestly I really didn’t miss the game itself. Golf had been good to me in so many ways, and I walked away without any real goals left unachieved. What I did miss, though, was golfers. The men with whom I played golf. I missed the grab-assing on the first tee, arguing over who got how many strokes from whom and what the game would be. I missed rehashing the round with my playing mates on the “19th hole”, lying about how well we played. What I missed about golf was the camaraderie of being in the company of golfers.

Which is why my round on Friday was so special. We even had a story heading up to the first round. You see, it was actually supposed to happen a week ago, but I got called to an emergency surgery. My first in at least 10 years. How weird, eh? So this Friday came after another week of anticipation and the fear that I wouldn’t just be 13 years rusty, but truly and completely awful. My visits to the driving range put the chances of that happening at a pretty robust 50%.

You know what? It didn’t matter. Oh, I was terrible all right. Simply horrible at the start. I lost 3 balls on the first hole (kinda scary; I only brought 9 balls!). Couldn’t even get a ball airborne with my driver. But it really didn’t matter at all because I wasn’t there on the first tee with just any group of golfers. I was there with 6 men who I have known and with whom I’ve been friends for some 25 years.

We met through our wives, all stay-at-home Moms who’d found each other through Pre-School PTA and formed classic play groups when our kids were tiny. These are most of the guys I’ve traveled with to some of the most gawd-awful courses in South Carolina, and then come back with some of my very best golf memories. They were collectively holding their breath not just to see if I could still play, but more importantly to see how I reacted if I couldn’t.

Did I really mean it when I told them that I was back for them, to be a part of our Play Group, and not for the golf?

This is not a group noted for its collective ability to let an opportunity to tease a member pass, but there they were. Silent. Worried about their friend. Kinda bummed for me, actually. Until I stepped up to my putrid 40 yard best drive and promptly plunked another ball in the drink. We probably got close to getting the boot the howls of laughter were so loud. My buddies peppered me with golf balls to make sure I wouldn’t run out, and made unprintable jokes about how I might have more effectively used my “Orange Whip” swing trainer as we rolled on toward what turned out to be a very nice walk, indeed.

How did I end up playing? Meh, overall pretty pitiful to be honest. There were a few rather nice iron shots in between 45 putts (some things never change!), and I was O-fer on those holes where I played around with hitting driver off the tee. Oh, and I ended up net positive on the golf ball ledger; I found a total of 6 balls to balance the 4 I lost in all. We were all even par in the pub afterwards, of course! There was no mercy extended in the commentary on my maiden round, although one buddy did have a tip that might just do the trick on that driving problem.

What my day turned out to be was exactly what I’d hoped for, a chance to be in the company of men who were my friends. 6 guys with whom I’ve not spent enough time over the years as I sidelined myself from one of our gathering places. No matter how old you are you always need a crew, a tribe of compatible humans who genuinely want you to be there, no matter where “there” happens to be. Friends in my case who may or may not have tucked a couple of extra balls in their bag just in case you kept losing yours at a 3 per hole rate.

It wasn’t about the golf. Really, even when I was decent, it really wasn’t about the golf even if maybe I did care a bit about the golf then. Nope, it’s about Play Group, and the friends who make up Play Group. So a tip of my cap to Pete, Rob, Steve, Bob, Dwight and Tom (we missed you, Ted and Ken). Thanks for saving my spot. And a shout-out to my brother Randy for the long-distance coaching and encouragement. A hearty: “Yes! When?” to Rob, Bob, T, and all of my long-lost golf buddies when you ask me to play, as you’ve continued to do for 13 years.

No matter what your handicaps may be each of you has proven to be a “scratch” when it comes to the game of friendship.