Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

70, 200, 500, 1000 & 86,400 (Hat Tip to Parag M)

Imagine, if you will, that each day, precisely when you awaken, 86,400 pennies are deposited into your bank account. Every. Single. Day. Each night when you go to sleep whatever is left of that 86,400 pennies is removed from your account; every day you have to find some way to spend 86,400 pennies. What would you do? Would you put it in another account and let it grow slowly over time? Invest it in stocks or some other long-term plan? Get a bigger mortgage or a fancier car and use your pennies to make payments? Or would you perhaps give your pennies away, or even use your pennies for your own daily expenses and therefore buy the freedom to do, or be whatever it is that makes you (or those you love) happiest?

Would you spend a penny for the freedom to use your own time?

Of course many of you knew exactly where this little ditty was going to go as soon as you saw “86,400″, the famous number at the heart of Jim Valvano’s famous ESPY Awards speech as he was dying from cancer. There are 86,400 seconds in each day. No more and no less. You can’t bank them and save them for a rainy day. Each second has precisely the same value in that each sentence can only be filled by that which you choose. Valvano asked “how are you going to spend your 86,400?”

Another way to look at this is to ask what is your time worth to you. We’ve all heard the time-worn trope that “time is money”. Interestingly, the more affluent we become as a society, and the more affluent individuals become, the less time we all seem to have. Odd…ironic…isn’t it? I recently came across new terms: time poverty and time affluence. Interestingly, those at both extremes of the income scale can have either. It is striking that even the wealthiest among us, man and women who can (and do) pay to have all manner of the messy and menial tasks of their lives done by others (lawn, laundry, livery, etc.) find themselves swimming in an anxious and ever-shallower pool of time.

To be sure many of these time-poor individuals who are resource-rich are buying time to be busy at that which made them resource-rich in the first place, and those who are time-wealthy cannot use their time to acquire resources for whatever reason. For most of us, though, we do have some measure of control over how we spend those 86,400 pennies. Sometimes you must put a real number, a real value on your time.

This weekend I attended a meeting of a very special professional group that includes some of my very closest professional friends. It meant time away from my practice, time that produces on average some $1000/hour of revenue when you look at all of my activities (note: this is revenue to the practice that mostly goes to overhead, sadly not income to me!). Our meeting was generously supported by some 16 companies that do business in my space, companies for whom many of us consult. One of our guest speakers pointed out that the government has decreed that consultants in healthcare cannot be paid more than $500/hour (though most make much, much less than that), an arbitrary number when you are talking about a physician who might generate $5000/hour (think neurosurgeon). Still, it is possible to “price” time for almost anyone. Heck, your favorite hospital administrator or health insurance CEO would like you to think that they are a bargain at ~$1500-$3000/hour because they, and they alone are responsible for the aggregate revenue (~$10-$100MM/hour) of their institution!

In reality our time is much less expensive in dollar terms but much more expensive and valuable in, well, life terms. My real responsibilities at this meeting ended around 6:30 Friday evening. But these are my people; this is my professional “tribe”. I chose to spend the evening with them, and they with me. Doing so meant another night at the hotel so I shaved some pennies off of my expenses by booking a flight home the following evening at 8 (the meeting was completely done at noon on Saturday), something I instantly regretted the minute I got on my outbound flight. What did I do about that? I found an earlier flight at 4 and “bought” myself 4 more hours with my darling wife for $50/hour.

A bargain, at least for me.

So why stay at all on Friday night you might ask? Well, everyone around you is also making the exact same kind of decisions about their time. Most of my friends chose to spend Friday night together out to dinner just down the street from our hotel. Not only that but at least a couple of them spent a few of their collective pennies playing a joke on me. I didn’t even notice that all 60 or so of them in the restaurant had gathered around the table where I sat as the waiter brought a “Happy 70th Birthday” cake, complete with candle and a whole restaurant serenading me! The fact that I am 58 and my birthday is in January is irrelevant. My friends spent their “pennies” to make me laugh.

There are 86,400 seconds deposited in your account each day until the day when they’re not. Each one of us gets to decide, at least some of the time, how much each one of those seconds is worth and how we will spend them. Sometimes, like my first 70th Birthday Party, those seconds are the perfect gift.

Each in its own way priceless.

 

 

Sunday musings…

Sunday musings…

1) 41. George Herbert Walker Bush, patriot. RIP.

2) C8. The next version of the Corvette will no longer have the engine up front, thus ending the prominent proboscis  responsible in part for the iconic look.

Count my vote as “unlikely” for any new mid-engine design making middle-aged men look any less ridiculous driving one.

3) Tree. Why is decorating your Christmas tree called “trimming” the tree? Anybody?

The more stuff we put on ours the less “trim” is looks. Just saying…

4) Nexus. Readers of my drivel are aware of my fitness tracker…ahem…problem. I’m pretty sure I’ve tried and eventually abandoned no fewer than a dozen of the so-called “wearables” in my quest to record some actionable measurement of my exercise. I’ve been through simple steps trackers (not useful at all in my not humble at all opinion), HR monitors (reasonably useful as a marker of relative intensity), and instruments that measure HR variability (likely a useful measurement of both “stress” and recovery). (As an aside, measuring PO2 is pretty cool, but probably only useful if you are exercising at altitude.) While they all represent pretty cool tech, not a one of them is really useful when it comes to measuring the things that I think are meaningful when we discuss real fitness: work and power.

And not for nothing, none of them is anywhere near as much fun as my first ever tracker, the late and (at least for me) much lamented Nike Fuel Band.

But I think I’m onto something real. Big-time sports programs of all sorts have found it valuable to measure power and acceleration, and a company called “Push” has been supplying an instrument that can measure both. A couple of years ago folks in the fitness world started asking them if their tracker could be used to measure work done during a something like a WOD. After 2 years of fine-tuning the movement acquisition capabilities of their tracker and the sophistication of their algorithms I think we may finally have a gadget that measures your workout. I had great hopes for the Biostrap but gave up after finding it nearly impossible for it to recognize movements. The Nexus package of tracker and app are worth exploring.

Once again I am drawn back…

5) Three. Number of funerals we had this weekend. We were one wedding short of some kind of anti-RomCom (neither Andie Mcdowell nor Hugh Grant made an appearance). A beloved coach, a beloved peer, and a beloved mother (in-law) were all memorialized. We could only attend one, but I’ve been in touch with friends who made it to the others. All three were similar in that everyone seems to have taken my friend Bill the Surgeon’s advice and made their peace with the departed. This left us all with only our memories of the love we shared with our coach, our friend, and Beth’s Mom.

I’ve written this before, but on such a weekend it bears repeating. One should say 4 things often and with ease, not only in the course of completing a life’s work or concluding a life’s relationships, but in the course of living a life:
Please forgive me.
I forgive you.
Thank you.
I love you.

Sounds simple, huh? Maybe even a little trite, but none these is easy to say. Each one of those little phrases is a bit of a minefield, laden with a hidden meaning and a back story, each one the mid-point in a little journey with a “before” you know, and an after you can’t predict. There’s a little risk in that “after”, and that’s why those 4 little phrases aren’t really all that simple. Why considering this is not at all trivial. All 4 or those little phrases make you look outward, look at another, and in so looking they force you to put yourself at the mercy of that other.

With so many farewells I’ve spent a lot of this weekend thinking about those 4 essential things and about how they fit into a life. We are, each of us, part of a tiny little ecosystem; thinking about using these phrases encourages us to look outward and see the others in our own worlds. Saying them let’s us follow the guidance of Bill, shared most recently and succinctly in a note last week: “Say it now, for we know not when.” It was heartwarming to hear our friends and family so openly expressing not only their love for the three cherished ones we’d lost, but also to and for each other.

Please forgive me.
I forgive you.
Thank you.
I love you.

It’s been a long couple of years and I’m ready to stop thinking about death and dying for a while.

I’ll see you next week…

–bingo

As You Approach Orphanhood

Sadly, I have had numerous opportunities over the last year or so to note that there is not a single language on earth that has a word or name for a parent who has lost a child. Words exist to describe a surviving spouse, and of course we have a word in most languages for a child without parents: orphan. The word conjures up Dickensonian images of waifs and wastrels in varying degrees of distress and underdress, under-fed and unloved. In reality, despite the ubiquity of this stereotype, there are many, many ways that one becomes an orphan. Indeed, in a proper order of events, each of us will be orphaned by the loss of a second parent.

It is somewhat amazing to me how many people have lost a parent early in life through abandonment. A mother or a father simply ups and leaves. No forwarding address or email, just gone forever. It hurts just to type those words. What must it feel like to leave them, your children? I can’t imagine. Still others lose a parent for years on end before that parent actually dies. Mental illnesses of all sorts, most commonly the various types of dementia, essentially wipe a loved one’s personhood off the planet long before the empty shell passes on. It’s a rather cruel joke, that, to see what looks like your Mom or Dad sitting across from you like some kind of reasonable facsimile, an avatar perhaps, but not really Mom or Dad. Mourning begins years or decades before anyone sits Shiva.

In the end, though, orphanhood comes for us all, in one way or another. My friend Bill, the surgeon, expresses surprise and a sense of something that is a bit more than frustration, though slightly less than anger, at what he calls the “final reckoning” deathbed visit. Why, he so often wonders, do so many people, so many sons and daughters, feel the need to achieve some sort of closure, some sort of final peace in the last waning hours of a life? Mind you, this is a man who practices “live and death” medicine; his point, forged so close to the fire, ought not be missed.

Mothers and fathers are no more or less flawed than any other humans. For most of us their flaws lie cloaked behind the curtains of devotion in our childhood. As we ourselves age, certainly if we become parents, those curtains part and we begin to see more of the whole person who makes up Mom or Dad. Blessed are we who find more to like and love behind those curtains. One hopes at worst that what we find does not dim the glow of childhood memory. Bill’s point, or at least what I think he is saying, is that we should know that orphanhood is inevitable. There is nothing that you can say or do on death’s doorstep that cannot be said or done long before you approach the threshold of your own orphan status. Bill would say that closure is important, that he understands and supports the compulsion to make sure that your parents know that you love them. It’s just the timing he’s wondering about.

Why wait until the cusp of orphanhood? Why not discharge regrets and express your love and gratitude when you and Mom and Dad might still have time to enjoy what comes next? Together.

Sunday musings 11/25/18

Sunday musings…

What are you afraid of? Alex Honnold, the climber and subject of the thrilling documentary “Free Solo”, feels that most people are afraid of what others think of them. That a lack of, or a loss of social standing is the prevailing greatest fear among those living in developed society. Honnold’s feat in the documentary is to climb Yosemite’s El Capitain without any equipment at all, not even a safety rope. His definition of fear makes perfect sense in that context: fear should involve some sort of real danger.

One should be aware of the peculiar nature of individuals who do things like climb mountains, with or without the use of safety measures. They tend toward a more inward view, taking their own pulse as it were rather than seeking to have a take on the pulse of others. As an aside it always amazes me that they marry, more so that some of them remain married. The fear of which Honnold speaks is as much fuel to them as a pack of gel squeezed between the teeth at mile 20 in a road race. They simply need it in order to move.

Must we who do not willingly partake in life-threatening activity adopt such a stark approach to fear? Is it trivial, or are we trafficking in the trivial, if we are fearful of that which may not necessarily take our lives? Yes and no, I think. Rare is the opportunity for the majority of us to be in a place at a time when we truly fear for our lives. Most often is the case that it will be an illness that brings us there; fear in this case has as much to do with the utter lack of control over our fate when illness strikes. We simply do not have the need to fear for our lives; we do not need to address real danger.

Fear of failure is the common thread that links the Honnolds of the world with you and me. Sometimes that failure puts us in a position where we might feel judged. We may find a lesson here if we look through the eyes of a man who will succeed or fail based on how well he maintains contact with little more than finger or toe tips: it is the failure that we might reasonably fear and not what others might think of that failure.

Not every failure needs to be feared. Our reality is different from that encountered on the side of the mountain. Some failures are necessary, nothing more than a part of a process that results in ultimate success. What I will take from Honnold’s conjecture on fear is that it is I who decides which of my endeavors is important enough that I might let fear into the equation when the possibility of failure is considered. But I do think that Honnold is right to dismiss (most of) the fear of what others think of us. It’s OK to care, but it’s more than OK not to allow that caring to rise to the level of fear.

While others may opine on my particular adventure, if the adventure is grand enough I need not be afraid of what they think of either my adventure or of me.

I’ll see you next week…

–bingo

 

Gratitude

For pretty much my entire adult life I have tried very hard to live by one of the core tenets of Taoism: the man who knows when enough is enough will always have enough. Through times both thicker and thinner, the more closely I’ve been able to hue to the intent here the happier I’ve been. Today, Thanksgiving Day 2018, I’ve come upon a companion piece that may very well bookend a philosophy for life.

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough.” (HT Mrs. Bill Livingston)

Enough is a truly powerful thing. Enough is the portal to satisfaction, if not happiness. Enough is the antidote to yearning, to wanting. Once you have enough there is no reason to covet. After enough anything else is a bonus, life’s equivalent of that overflowing Holiday cornucopia. Gratitude is a straight shot to enough. On this Thanksgiving Day I am grateful for all that I have, for as long as I have had it.

For a life where for so very long enough has been enough.

Sunday musings 11/18/18

Sunday musings…

1) Bubble. Economists and central bankers are ever on the alert for an economic “bubble”. I’m declaring that we are about to have one pop. Any time you see a dozen ads for really expensive watches in a single magazine on a Sunday you’re headed for a dip in the economy.

You heard it here first.

2) Allowance. Today’s NYT has a section on money. Like the whole paper somehow isn’t about money, but anyway. There’s an article on using an app to deposit your kid’s allowance in their bank account. Seriously. That’s as stupid as the prohibition on teaching kids script writing.

A child should know what money looks like. What it feels like.

3) Head. As in head shots. As in how long is it going to be before real action is taken in ALL sports to make shots to the head such an onerous occurrence that they are essentially legislated out by the players themselves. Case in point: brawls in professional hockey and fighting in amateur hockey. If you are the so-called “third man in” when a fight breaks out in the NHL you are ejected and suspended for a game. Same thing for any fighters in amateur hockey, at least low-level juniors, youth, and high school hockey.

Ken Dryden takes the NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to task for his failure to adequately care for either the retired players who suffer the consequences of prior head injuries or present players at risk. Yesterday’s Michigan/Indiana game ended shortly after Berkely Edwards was pithed by an Indiana player and carted off the field with at least a concussion. It was nauseating. I’ve been similarly affected watching literally any men’s lacrosse game at any level, up to an including the NCAA (I admit to never watching a pro game). Every quarter finds at least one miscreant taking a stick or a body part and applying it to the squash of some opponent, almost always with little or no consequence.

Summary ejection with the likelihood of suspension for shots to the head will result in an evolutionary change in every helmet sport that will lead to fewer athletes suffering from brain injuries. Full stop.

4) Threes. They say that bad things come in threes. Crazy cases in an ER. Complications in an OR. Death. Once you’ve had that third one you are in the clear, at least for a while, at least until the next first one. Man, I sure hope that’s true. It’s been a really tough week around Casa Blanco. I/We lost a beloved pet, coach, and mother (in-law), all in the last week. So. Much. Death. I, we, are all ready for it to end, at least for a bit.

Everyone and everything dies, right? I get that. Even that radioisotope spinning out all manner of death rays eventually sputters to a nuclear silence, however many millions of years it may take; that’s just math. It’s quite a bit more poetic, however sorrowful, when we lose the living. They leave behind stories. If we are lucky, they leave behind love.

As I get older I find it harder not to cry when I am sad. Sometimes it’s a quiet moment and a few lonely tears. Others it’s what I just heard described as “crying ugly”, wracked by sobs that come in waves as uncontrollable as the tides. At times like this week it seems like an OK thing to do. Like it would be somehow strange not to cry. Normal. Other times seem weird even to me, like when I cried at the end of “La La Land” because the couple that SHOULD have made it as a couple didn’t. (As an aside, I hate that, when the writer pulls tragedy out of what should have been a happy ending).

I’m OK right now, OK this morning. Probably mostly cried out I guess. I’m on to the memory stage, that time when, if we are lucky enough, we remember the love. The love that my mother-in-law had for her husband, her three girls and their husbands, and as we are discovering the hundreds of students who attended her alternative school. The love that my coach had for me and countless other young men, expressed in my case after I no longer played for him yet it was still he who swooped in and offered the counsel a young knucklehead needed to grow up out of knuckleheadness. And the love that my goofy little mutt gave us every minute of his goofy little life.

No message here today my friends. Just a little sadness that is being lifted by memories of love, hoping that our third loss means we get a bit of a break. A little hope for you, if you have lost, for the warm embrace of similar memories of the times when you, too, were loved.

I’ll see you next week…

–bingo

Sunday musings 11/11/18

Sunday musings…

1) Veteran. “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.” –Ambrose Bierce

Happy Veteran’s Day to all who have served. I sit in safety because of your service, wherever it may have been.

2)  Riposte. To reply, as in fencing, to an advance. “L’esprit d’escalier”: the unfortunate tendency to think too late of the perfect verbal riposte to an affront or attack.

Likely more the rule than the exception I’d say.

3) Risk. None other than Michael Joyner of Mayo Clinic fame is now calling for the inclusion of “fitness testing” as a distinct variable when assessing health risk in adults. Of course he is talking about aerobic, “cardiovascular” fitness only, having chosen as his metric some form of VO2 Max. It is entirely possible that he and other adherents to the tenet that fitness is completely described by endurance in any domain that can be measured through a proxy like VO2 Max are correct. The absence of data, any data whatsoever, in support of the notion that physical decrepency is the actual cause of early mortality leaves scholars such as Dr. Joyner with no choice but to use endurance as the definition of fitness. When designing risk models they have no other options.

Some weeks ago I included a RFP of sorts here and elsewhere for a measurement of fitness that includes other factors such as strength. I specifically reached out to the CrossFit and functional fitness communities asking for a test or a measurement that could be used to apply a broader definition of fitness (e.g. work capacity across broad time and modal domains). Crickets.

You can’t out train bad nutrition. Fitness is going to be measured and included in cardiac/all-case mortality risk profiles. In order to be relevant in health, public health, and healthcare the functional fitness community (which is arguably led by CrossFit) must step up sooner rather than later and join the conversation in a meaningful and measurable way. As one with a foot in both sides of the conversation (who admits to his inability to conjure up the requested measure) it is my firm belief that it will be far better to engage in the welcome evolution of thought in the healthcare community than to hope to lead an insurrection.

All of the necessary elements are in place.

4) Loss.  Half-blind, deaf, and dumb as a rock, Beth’s little mutt lived one of the happiest lives I’ve ever been privileged to witness. Tiny Tim died this week in his beloved “Mom’s” arms just a few days after his 17th birthday. It was quite a run for our little “shitpoo” (shitzu, terrier, poodle). Timmy was named after the famous Dickens character when he arrived in our home looking like a Beanie Baby with a broken leg. His bond with Beth was cemented when she broke her leg falling off a horse and they convalesced together on the couch. Though he was a perfectly sized lap dog he would only allow Beth to hold him for any but the quickest moments.

Like when he would go out in the snow and forget to come in before his little toes froze and he was “stranded” in the yard. As I said, dumb as a rock.

We are in our 50′s, Beth and I. We are surrounded by death. Friends and acquaintances pass unexpectedly and tragically in the middle of life, or lose children to any manner of mishap or misfortune. Our fathers are gone, each the victim of a terrible and agonizingly slow demise that left them but shells of the men we’d grown up with. Along with our siblings we were a powerless audience, spectators with a front row seat to their suffering. Like Tiny Tim both men lived lives far, far beyond what could have been imagined in their childhood. Both men, when they had control of their faculties, could look back with a smile at the lives they’d lived. We miss them both terribly. In the missing it is the men in full we remember as time blurs the final chapters of their lives and we turn the pages to our favorite parts of their stories rather than the end.

Some losses are expected; they are simply a part of living. The death of my 91 year old former partner. Our little Manster Timmy. We sit in a kind of “pre-Shiva” as my mother-in-law dances her last dance hand-in-hand with daughters who have loved her as we loved our fathers. Our sadness stems from the knowledge that what remains will be only the memory of that love. The last bedtime story has been read. The last ball has been tossed. The last pre-dawn wake-up alarm has been barked.

The last goodbye kiss has been exchanged.

I miss my Dad and Beth’s Dad. I will miss Beth’s Mom. I miss my dog. How fortunate am I, are we, that we had them for so long, knew them so well, were so well loved by them and allowed to love them so well. I asked for and offered forgiveness for any hurts that may have been occurred. I have been openly thankful for all of the gifts that they have given me. In the end I am comforted in the knowledge that I told each of them how much I loved them.

How fortunate am I, are we, to have loved so long and so well that we are so deeply saddened at our loss. How fortunate are we all to have one another, still, here to love so deeply for however long we may be so blessed.

I’ll see you next week…

–bingo

 

Faith in One Another

“…for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and  me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” –George Elliot* (HT to my friend Bruce K.)

We in the U.S. have been bombarded of late with missives that declare that we are living in “historic times”, that we have a “historic opportunity” to participate in an election that will “determine our fate as a country in historic ways.” But is that really so? Are we truly at an altogether unique inflection point, one so different from all that have come before that our fate, our daily experiences to come will be affected in ways that we cannot miss or ignore? Or is this particular upcoming election simply the next in an unbroken series of political or governing evolutionary steps that has been unbroken since the end of the Civil War? Is the excitement and the drama simply an extension of the “Techquake” and its always on firehose of information?

Seriously now, if you are one who is on your soapbox (facing in either direction), are you really telling us that Election Day is going to change our nation to a greater degree than the one that brought us 4 years of LBJ and the Great Society?

As a people the citizens of the developed world have been swept along in the great rivers of effluent poured forth from that firehose of information that was spawned by the internet. Have we forgotten the accuracy and truthfulness of Elliot’s words? If so is it because we simply cannot get even a single pupil above the torrent of information to see what he saw? Or is it more that we have lost the ability to paddle even the tiny amount necessary to do so? No matter, the result is the same.

Literary fiction is taught as the study of quiet acts of desperation and the fall-out that follows. Life, on the other hand, is made up of quiet acts made out of sight of nearly everyone. Anonymous acts carried out with neither malice nor benevolence. These are what constitute the reality of life. It seems to me that at least a (very loud) portion of our people have lost the appreciation of this reality. For them each act is either an affront or a tiny step toward canonization. I do not believe they are correct. Elliot is only wrong in that he underestimates his object; that  things are not so ill with you and me, is not half but mostly owing to those who lived that faithful life.

To what, then, is this anonymous majority faithful? This is quite simple, and because this is so it is all the more painful that it must be pointed out: they are faithful to one another. They live lives that are faithful to the belief that it is another person with whom they are living, not an opinion or a belief. This anonymous mass lives lives that are intertwined with other people, not other opinions. When they look to their left or to their right what they see is not a position or a platform, but a person. It is this, the acknowledgement that we are surrounded first by other people, that leads to salvation in this life.

You are surrounded by people who are faithfully living quiet lives, anonymous to all but a handful of others, whose lives will be remembered by even fewer, if at all. Unbeknownst to one another they likely crossed paths with someone with whom they would find little common ground in belief, someone who is close to you, about whom you care very much. Despite this lack of commonality the crossing was uneventful. It was peaceful. On balance it was marked by quiet goodwill, if it was marked at all. It was a moment that will have passed directly into an unvisited “tomb” in the memory of each of these individuals.

And yet it was that quiet faithfulness that behind whatever disagreement might exist between the two there lived much more than another opinion or belief. There lived another person. Another person living a life largely unnoticed, hopefully a quiet one with less desperation than more, on their way to an end noticed by few and mourned by fewer still. Lives that were lived in the faith that there exists much, much more good in others than not.

A faith that we, the living, must endeavor to keep.

 

*George Elliot is the pseudonym of a woman. In order to write and be read she felt the need to write as a man. That most women who write today can do so using their own name is “unhistoric” is yet another indication of how wonderful are our times.

Sunday musings 11/4/18

Sunday musings…

1) Fall. As in “fall back”. I slept 10.5 hours last night. I. Feel. Great.

2) Digital. As in watch. At the moment I am wearing an $11.00 Casio digital watch. It took 2 beeps to reset 2 time zones, and I know it’s November 4th by looking at a watch purchased 2 years ago.

$11.00. Is this a great world or what?

3) Techquake. Term used to describe the advances that have come to our digital world that began with the opening of the internet to regular folks like you and me by Netscape (among others).

I think that fits quite nicely, thank you very much.

4) Historic. “…for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and  me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” –George Elliot* (HT to my friend Bruce K.)

We in the U.S. have been bombarded of late with missives that declare that we are living in “historic times”, that we have a “historic opportunity” to participate in an election that will “determine our fate as a country in historic ways.” But is that really so? Are we truly at an altogether unique inflection point, one so different from all that have come before that our fate, our daily experiences to come will be affected in ways that we cannot miss or ignore? Or is this particular upcoming election simply the next in an unbroken series of political or governing evolutionary steps that has been unbroken since the end of the Civil War? Is the excitement and the drama simply an extension of the “Techquake” and its always on firehose of information?

Seriously now, if you are one who is on your soapbox (facing in either direction), are you really telling us that Election Day is going to change our nation to a greater degree than the one that brought us 4 years of LBJ and the Great Society?

As a people the citizens of the developed world have been swept along in the great rivers of effluent poured forth from that firehose of information that was spawned by the internet. Have we forgotten the accuracy and truthfulness of Elliot’s words? If so is it because we simply cannot get even a single pupil above the torrent of information to see what he saw? Or is it more that we have lost the ability to paddle even the tiny amount necessary to do so? No matter, the result is the same.

Literary fiction is taught as the study of quiet acts of desperation and the fall-out that follows. Life, on the other hand, is made up of quiet acts made out of sight of nearly everyone. Anonymous acts carried out with neither malice nor benevolence. These are what constitute the reality of life. It seems to me that at least a (very loud) portion of our people have lost the appreciation of this reality. For them each act is either an affront or a tiny step toward canonization. I do not believe they are correct. Elliot is only wrong in that he underestimates his object; that  things are not so ill with you and me, is not half but mostly owing to those who lived that faithful life.

To what, then, is this anonymous majority faithful? This is quite simple, and because this is so it is all the more painful that it must be pointed out: they are faithful to one another. They live lives that are faithful to the belief that it is another person with whom they are living, not an opinion or a belief. This anonymous mass lives lives that are intertwined with other people, not other opinions. When they look to their left or to their right what they see is not a position or a platform, but a person. It is this, the acknowledgement that we are surrounded first by other people, that leads to salvation in this life.

You are surrounded by people who are faithfully living quiet lives, anonymous to all but a handful of others, whose lives will be remembered by even fewer, if at all. Unbeknownst to one another they likely crossed paths with someone with whom they would find little common ground in belief, someone who is close to you, about whom you care very much. Despite this lack of commonality the crossing was uneventful. It was peaceful. On balance it was marked by quiet goodwill, if it was marked at all. It was a moment that will have passed directly into an unvisited “tomb” in the memory of each of these individuals.

And yet it was that quiet faithfulness that behind whatever disagreement might exist between the two there lived much more than another opinion or belief. There lived another person. Another person living a life largely unnoticed, hopefully a quiet one with less desperation than more, on their way to an end noticed by few and mourned by fewer still. Lives that were lived in the faith that there exists much, much more good in others than not.

A faith that we, the living, must endeavor to keep.

I’ll see you next week (which will surely arrive, regardless)…

–bingo

*George Elliot is the pseudonym of a woman. In order to write and be read she felt the need to write as a man. That most women who write today can do so using their own name is “unhistoric” is yet another indication of how wonderful are our times.

Smaller, As Time Becomes Shorter

This weekend was spent in Chicago at the annual meeting of men and women with whom I share my day job. As I noted in “Sunday musings…” I’ve been suffering a bit from some sort of degenerative issue in my hip. Traversing the longest indoor “bridge” outside of the Providence airport rental car connector, my discomfort made me think of my Dad and the back pain that grew to consume him as he aged. Mind you, my discomfort is minimal in comparison, and my particular problem is quite amenable to a surgical fix with a high success rate. Still, it made me feel older, and it made me think of my Dad, gone these 3 years.

Below is what I wrote some years ago when I started to notice the changes in Dad.

 

When did my Dad get so small? Close your eyes. Think of your Dad. What does he look like? How old is he with your eyes closed? He’s younger, isn’t he? And bigger. MUCH bigger.

I spend most of every day in the company of people decades my senior. I’ve watched some of them age over 20 years or so. There are a few with whom I’ve bonded, who I remember and can conjure up an image if asked. I never appreciate the change in size in them, though.

It’s a strange phenomenon. It’s uncomfortable, no? There really IS a physical change that occurs as we age; we really DO shrink physically. No, it’s more than that when you look at your Dad, more than the physical decrease in size, the loss of vigor and all that goes along with it, the stuff I might actually notice in my patients. What makes it so striking when it’s your Dad is that it’s more than just physical, but a diminution in all dimensions and domains including the one inside your head.

He WAS strength when I was a kid. Literally, a rock. Immovable and unshakeable at all times. Unmoved by excuses or explanations when he knew he was right, or if he MIGHT be right. The final arbiter of discipline (“wait ’til your FATHER gets home…”) in a very traditional family, every thing about the guy was just huge.

When did he get so small? It’s almost scary, you know. He was the guy who stood between me and everything that might be dangerous, at least figuratively. At least in my mind. It’s hard to reconcile the guy I just put on a plane back to RI with my Mom, and the guy who’s there–right in front of me–when I close my eyes. So small now, almost frail. That classic love/fear thing now replaced with something more like love/protect. Does he see it, too? How small?

Will I see it, when I’ve become small?