Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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It’s Too Expensive to Eat Healthy Food, Right?

While I write this I am in the company of a group of women who ride horses. Some of them have nearly limitless means and the expense of owning and riding horses does not require any sacrifice whatsoever. Others, once having identified their passion, must prioritize their financial world, dropping things that others consider essential so that they can continue to pursue their equestrian goals. When we discuss proper nutrition one of the first things I hear is something along the lines of “it’s too expensive to eat well.”

I don’t buy it.

How often have you heard some version of that phrase. Whether it be Zone, Paleo, Whole 30, or just “stay out of the middle of the grocery store”, this is uttered with some degree of exasperation and oppression with a kind of mind-numbing, self-fulfilling frequency.

How so? Per the folks at Whole Foods, regularly skewered for being too expensive (seriously, they sell fancy potatoes), on average we in America spend 7% of our disposable personal income–that’s SEVEN–on food. 50 years ago that number was 16%. We now spend less than 1/2 of our after-tax income on food compared with what we spent 50 years ago.

And eating well is too expensive.

If we dig deeper into that stat alone we see that modern food production has decreased the cost of food relative to both income and inflation. The cost of producing food of all kinds has risen much more slowly than income. Why? Partly because junk, carb-laden food is cheap. High-fructose corn syrup costs a fraction of grain sugar. Corn-fed protein sources, with or without antibiotics or steroids, is grown faster and cheaper than grass-fed. Stuff like that. Less expensive to produce + incomes risen at a greater rate across the entire spectrum, top to bottom.

How then is it too expensive to eat a more healthy diet. We have 9% of our after-tax income to play with, right? Is some other necessity (shelter, transportation, medical care, etc) eating that up? What are we doing with that 9% (16-7) that we can’t find some of it to eat better? Ah, Grasshopper, now we begin to see. It’s a ‘Nando thing, it’s superficial. It’s not how healthy you are, it’s how you look, or something like that.

Some stuff might be more expensive, but the seemingly obvious culprits are actually false targets (eg. healthcare which for this audience represents only a tiny % of new cost c/w 50 years ago because of insurance, govt. programs, etc. despite all of the apocalyptic talk on SM). Nope, it’s how we CHOOSE to spend that freed-up 9% that makes it feel like we don’t have money to buy better food.

Think about that household in the 1960′s or even the 70′s. One car. One TV. One radio. Once purchased all data was free. A pair of shoes and a pair of boots. Sneaks if you were a jock. You didn’t get your hair done if you were a guy, you got a haircut. You didn’t get your acrylics touched up every 2 weeks; if you wanted long nails you grew ‘em. Stuff like that.

Fast forward to today and think about the stuff you’ve acquired, stuff you are convinced you can’t live without, stuff that costs money that you choose to spend every single day. The ratio of drivers to cars in a household is seldom less than 1.5 people/car, and it’s usually closer to 1:1. The ratio of phones to people over the age of 10 is seldom less than 1/1—everyone carries a phone. It’s not enough to have a phone, or even a phone with an unlimited text plan, nope, it’s gotta be a phone that will let you post your thoughts on today’s weather in Bimini to FB. Right now, from anywhere. If you don’t have Netflix available on each of the 4 flat-screen TV’s in the house you are considered a Luddite.

Listen, I certainly am not saying that all that stuff isn’t great, that it’s not a ton of fun and really convenient (as I type on one of the Apple products that literally litter our household, through the WiFi network at the barn, so I don’t deplete the battery on my phone by using it as a hotspot), or anything like that. What I most certainly AM saying, though, is that people who whine about how hard it is to afford to eat better almost always do so via a FB post from their iPhone 7 while sitting in the salon having their hair done, hungover from too much Bellevedere they consumed last night while noshing on Doritos smothered in Cheez-Wiz.

9 %. The stark reality is that we have let our things become more important than ourselves.

I’ll see you next week…

–bingo

Who Would Write Your Obituary? What Would it Say Today?

On Twitter a rather erudite retired surgeon posted the obituary of a 72 yo physician who died from cancer. She’d been sick and dying, knowing that she would die from her cancer, for some 2 years. Her obituary, obviously written herself, was funny and self-deprecating, an obvious attempt to soothe the sorrow of those she left behind. A women’s basketball player from Northwestern was killed by suicide last week. Who will write her obituary, and what will it say? One of my local colleagues died very suddenly and unexpectedly on Friday at the age of 50, roughly 24 hours after being diagnosed with cancer. Who will write his obituary, and what will it say?

2016 was notable for the number of rather famous people who died. This particular sector of humanity is famous enough that many media outlets pre-prepare obituaries so that they will have material ready to publish shortly after there announcement that the famous individual is deceased. It is unusual that someone not so famous, even someone of a degree of local fame, should have an obituary ready to go. More unusual, to be sure, for that obituary to be as light-hearted a read as that Minnesota MD. No, for the majority of humanity, at least here in the U.S., an obituary is a rather slap dash on-the-fly “just the facts, M’am” effort by whoever is at the desk at the local funeral home.

I know this, of course, because my Mom sent us the draft of my Dad’s obituary before she gave the OK to publish. Now, my Dad was a very good man, hardly great in the sense of, say, FDR or Red Auerbach, but he certainly deserved more than a rote regurgitation of his stats written in 6th grade English. Since I spend more time exercising my writing muscles than my siblings, or maybe just because I can type faster, the job fell to me to capsulize a man who was larger than life to his family, just like I’m sure is the case with my just deceased colleague and that Northwestern basketball player.

The grains of sand that pass through the funnel of life’s hourglass are only dry if observed from afar; up close each one is as colorful as any rainbow, as full of energy as any thunder storm. Poetry is there for the asking.

For most of us there is still a long journey ahead. The bulb atop our hourglass still holds innumerable grains of sand, a countless number of memories yet to create. We have years, nay decades of love yet to give and receive. Life is actually quite long for all but the unfortunate, unlucky few. Their lesson for us is simple, I think: Who will write your obituary? What will it say if it needed writing today?

Emotional Well-Being: Mental Health Deserves Equal Footing

Some time ago I wrote about creating a way to measure health. Real health. Health that encompasses every aspect of what it means to be alive and well. As a CrossFitter I definitely included Coach Glassman’s Disease -> Health -> Wellness continuum, and I also acknowledged the critical importance of his concept of “Fitness over Time”. As a classically trained physician/scientist there is clearly a place for more traditional metrics like blood pressure, serum lipids and the like, although they may, indeed, be an variable that is ultimately tied to fitness.

Where my thoughts on defining and measuring health seem to depart from most current trends is in the recognition that mental health–emotional wellbeing—is as much a part of being healthy as any other thing we might examine.

Think about it for just a moment. Most of what we would classify as mental illness has as many outward signs that we can see as diabetes and hypertension. Which is to say, none. Yet we—all of us, not just CrossFitters—see nothing but the good in treating diseases like diabetes openly and aggressively. There is no stigma attached to seeking care for your hypertension or your elevated LDL. To the contrary, if someone who loves you discovers you quit measuring your glucose before you bolus your insulin, they are for sure gonna get in your grill.

For whatever reason, mental illnesses, including addiction, are looked at quite differently. No one is asking the person with chronic depression whether she is taking her life-saving medication, for example. We might notice an insulin pump on a friend or family member, but then it’s quickly forgotten. Everyone seems to be very uncomfortable around the young man who has very obvious hand tremors from the life-saving medication he takes for his Bipolar disease. We all seem to be so much more understanding when we have to wait for a response from someone suffering from Parkinson’s Disease than from the young women who has the same symptoms as a side-effect from the medicine that quiets the dangerous thoughts in her head from Schizophrenia.

It’s not even necessary to look only at these kinds of severe mental illnesses when we are examining the importance of mental or emotional wellbeing as an integral part of being healthy. What good does it do to have a 5:00 mile, a 500 lb. deadlift, and a 1:59 “Fran” if it was self-loathing that drove you in the gym to get there? You may be quite accomplished, the envy of your peers, at the peak of whatever life mountain you wished to climb, and yet you cannot feel joy. How is it possible to be healthy without joy? I look at Usain Bolt and what I see is quite possibly the healthiest man alive. My friend Tim, the writer, tells me that Justin Gatlin has nearly everything that Bolt has—youth, fitness, wealth—but the combination of failure to knock off Bolt, and the public disapproval reigned on him as boos from the Rio stands has left him emotionally broken. It’s subtle, but if you look at his face in the blocks of the 100M Final it’s there.

Our complex and conflicted attitudes and feelings about mental illness are especially evident when the topic of suicide comes up. Just typing the word makes me uncomfortable. Even how we describe suicide is fraught with hidden meaning that reflects our discomfort: someone has “committed suicide”. Right? Someone committed an act that we simply cannot fathom, one that leaves the survivors completely without any understanding whatsoever. How could someone DO that? It’s as if every suicide is the same as the suicide of the crooked prison warden in The Shawshank Redemption when he looks out the window and sees his fate arrive in the front seat of a State Trooper’s car.

In reality most of the time it’s simply not like that at all. Nothing about it is simple at all.

The outer walls at the periphery of my world have been breeched by suicide twice in the last couple of months. One of them actually does feel a bit like that prison warden. Frankly, I am too conflicted, too aware of the external circumstances and not enough aware of the internal life of the deceased to offer much right now. The other one, however, just stopped me in my tracks when I heard. The loss was profound.It has also introduced to me a new vocabulary that I truly believe provides a starting line from which we can change how we think about not only suicide, but all of mental illness. A friendly acquaintance lost his wife when she was killed by suicide.

We don’t need to know all of the details of the story. Suffice it to say that in the face of a child’s illness she suffered quietly. Too quietly to be noticed. Perhaps she didn’t realize how badly she was suffering, or maybe she was like so many of us and couldn’t bring herself to see her illness for the life-threatening entity that it was. No one will ever know. What is clear, though, is that this was not anything about commitment. Kidney failure may be cause of death in a diabetic, but it is diabetes that kills him. There is no difference here. The cause of death was suicide. Her disease, her depression is what killed this young woman.

Each of us has a very few moments in our lifetimes that forever change us. On the second Tuesday of July in 2006, unbeknownst to me, one of those moments was transpiring in a lonely, dark corner. Joyfully, the moment was a beginning, not an ending. Regardless, once learning of the moment I was changed forever. Now I knew. You cannot see any marks from mental illness, no swollen appendage or insulin pump. But it is there all the same, and it must be acknowledged and accorded the same degree of care as any other disease that may take our loved ones from us. Mental illnesses are real, and they can be deadly. There ought not be any conflict or discomfort in treating them.

We may stop losing so many of our loved ones when start to see emotional wellbeing as part of being healthy.

 

A Struggle Just to be Average

Lake Wobegone, where every child is above average. Remember that? It’s a joke, of course, but it’s funnier if you have even the tiniest bit of comfort with numbers, statistics, and probabilities. Every parent wishes for that, right? To have raised a child who rose even just a little bit above.

What does it mean to be average? It begins with the cohort, the population you are evaluating, and the particular variable that is to be measured. The average Division 3 cornerback is a decidedly different specimen than the average guy playing on Sunday. The average working vocabulary in a room filled with Pulitzer Prize winners is quite a bit different than that of, say, the Green Bay Packers booster club luncheon yesterday. On the other hand, the average VO2 max in those latter two groups is likely pretty similar.

Along with average comes a range in any curve. Some groups are tightly bunched around the mean, the average; being average is an expectation. On the line at Ford your performance has to be average at worst. If you are above or below the average in any other group it probably is helpful to know how big the range of differences is in that group. For example, if we are measuring 400M run times at the Olympics there’s a pretty skinny range beyond which below or above average makes you stick out, good and bad.

Average does not necessarily mean mediocre.

I got to thinking about this yesterday when I heard from a bunch of my college buddies sending along birthday wishes. In my life there have been two places where I’ve been average: Williams College and CrossFit. Both here in the CrossFit world and in my college years at Williams it has taken everything that I have just to be in the middle of the pack. This is a double-edged sword. It’s humbling to have to literally give it your all just to hit the mean. However, placed into a group or given a task in which you have the potential to excel, to bust the curve if you will, the experience of having to work so hard just to be middling should drive you to do the same when you have a chance to be the best.

My Mom and Dad did, indeed, raise kids who were above average. It appears that Beth and I may have done so, too. If we are lucky, the Man Cub and his cousins will follow suit. The only way I will know is because I had the privilege of struggling to be average in the company of two very extraordinary groups of people.

My classmates and teammates at Williams, and my fellow CrossFitters.

 

Sunday musings New Year’s Day 2017: Purpose

Sunday musings…

Musing, whether today on my 56th New Years Day or on any other random Sunday, is an entirely different proposition when done in the presence of my 15 month old Man Cub. He takes up an awful lot of space for such a tiny little creature. I’ll give it my best…

This is not going to be just another whatever about making or keeping resolutions just because it happens to be the first day in a new year according to the Western calendar. Hit up that intellectual workout if you please, for sure, but that’s not where my head’s at right at the moment. Nope, not detailed micro-resolutions like “exercise X times each week” or even more global ones along the lines of “get healthier”. At least for me, today is the day I tie the ruminations of prior days, weeks, months and years together into something which feels something like a common thread to which I can cling as I pull myself through the second half or so of this life.

Like so many of the stuff that leaks out of my inner hard drive onto my keyboards and into my life, this slow-cooked epiphany was prompted by a tiny little random thought I stumbled upon in something I was reading. “We spend most of our lives in a reactive trance, not really thinking about why we do what we do.” –Tara Brach. That, my friends, stopped me right in my tracks. How much of my life am I living on auto-pilot? How much of what I do each day is the equivalent of handing over my day to an internal self-driving program that, at best, reacts to not only what has just happened but what is by history likely to happen next?

It is time for me to remember that a purposeful life must be one that is lived proactively, and that in order to be proactive it is necessary for one to have a purpose.

No one can be expected to live every moment of a life in a fully proactive mode, at least not without risking certain insanity. No, what I think I’m feeling is a lack of thoughtful purposefulness in most of my life at the moment. It’s more than goal setting, more than having come through the serial apply-matriculate-graduate kind of purpose of a younger life. It’s not a case of just “going through the motions” of existence either. What I think this New Year’s Day reflection is really about is a need to articulate a 30,000 ft. purpose for at least a portion of my life, and in so doing to give me something about which I can be proactive for a portion of each day.

As I made the “hard turn at mile marker 49” my friend Hari suggested that the second half of a life is spent in living the life that the previous 50 years you’d spent preparing everyone else for. Apparently I am a bit of a slower learner than some as it’s taken me an extra 7 years of so to be ready, but I at least appear to be ready to examine the concept of the purpose of what might be the next 50. For some this is undoubtedly an internal pursuit, but what little self-awareness I have leads me to believe that mine will be a more social, collaborative pursuit.

Should I have gotten here sooner? Is this a call to you if you are younger than I to start now, rather than later? Nah. We get here when we arrive, and not a moment sooner. In all likelihood my purpose will slam me upside the head when I’m looking in another direction. Is that the ultimate in being reactive? Or might the simple fact that I am open to the blow enough to call it a proactive part of the process?

We’ll see, I guess. We’ll figure it out, both you and I. For just this moment though I’m afraid that I have to step away from the keyboard, for out of the corner of my eye I can see the Man Cub headed toward the stairs. Will my dash to snag him before the top step be reactive or proactive?

Sometimes a purposeful life is actually lived in 10,000 3-foot moments.

I’ll see you next week…

–bingo

Why Private Practice Survives

“I’m surprised these kind of places are still open.” –Physician employed by World Class Medical Center

“And yet, here you are, bringing your mother in for a visit.” Technician checking in mother.

In my day job I am an ophthalmologist, an eye doctor who takes care of medical and surgical diseases of the eye. Our practice, SkyVision Centers, is an independent practice, what is often referred to as a “private practice”. As such we are neither connected nor beholden to either of the large organizations here in Cleveland, both of which have large ophthalmology practices with offices near us. The mother in question was originally seen on a Sunday in my office through an ER call for a relatively minor (but admittedly irritating) problem that had been ongoing for at least a week.

That is not a typo; an ophthalmologist saw a non-acute problem on a Sunday.

Now Dr. Daughter swears that she tried to get her Mom in to see a doctor all the previous week. “She” even called our office (more in a moment) and was told all of the doctors were booked. Strictly speaking, the staff member who answered the phone was absolutely correct in noting that our schedules were full (actually they were quite over-booked in the pre-Holiday rush), and that we would not be able to see a patient who had never been to our office. Dr. Daughter works for a massive health system that advertises all over town–on billboards, in print, on the radio and online–that anyone can get a same-day appointment with any kind of doctor in the system, including an eye doctor. In fact, we saw several dozen existing patients that week for same-day requested ER or urgent visits with the urgency determined by the patient, not our triage staff.

What’s my point? Dr. Daughter never made a single phone call. She had one of her staff members call on behalf of her mother; neither I nor my staff is responsive to proxy calls from staff. I know Dr. Daughter and much of her extended family. Over 25 years practicing in the same geographic area and populating the same physician panels she has sent me barely a handful of patients, even though I care for a substantial majority of that extended family. Despite that my staff would have moved Heaven and earth to find a spot for Mrs. Mom if Dr. Daughter had called either my office or me personally.

I know what you’re thinking: Mrs. Mom would get in because her daughter is a doctor. Nope. Not the case. I may have taken Dr. Daughter’s phone call for that reason, sure, but Mrs. Mom gets an on-demand ER visit despite it being our busiest time of the year because she is the family member of other existing patients. We treat family members as if they are already SkyVision patients; we just haven’t officially met them yet.

Now you’re thinking “what does this have to do with private practice?” Without meaning to be either too snarky or self-congratulatory, this is precisely why private practice continues to not only survive, but in many cases thrive. We have the privilege of putting our patients first. Really doing it. Same day urgent visits? No need to put it up on a billboard; we just answer the phone and say ‘yes’. Lest you think we are simply filling empty slots, or that we have open ER slots we leave in the schedule just in case, let me assure you that this couldn’t be further from the truth. We. Are. Booked.

Well, it must be that we are so small that the personal touch is easy. Surely if we were huge we couldn’t get away with this. Sorry, wrong again. A bunch of my buddies are orthopedic surgeons in a massive private group on our side of town. Like 15 docs massive, with all of the staff you’d expect to go along with that many doctors. Got an orthopedic emergency? You’re in. You may not get the exact doctor you’ve seen before on that first visit, but you won’t be shunted to either an ER or an office an hour away, either. The staff members making appointments for a particular office are right there, sitting up front. The same goes for the enormous Retina practice that spans 4 counties here in Northeast Ohio. Ditto for the tiny little 3-man primary care practice up the street from me, lest you think only specialists do this.

The private practice of medicine survives because the doctors go to work for their patients, and they don’t leave until the work is done. Private practice docs bend their own rules on behalf of those patients. Every day and every night. You know what happens when private practices are acquired by massive medical groups like the two 800 lb. gorillas in Cleveland? All of those rules get made by people who don’t really take care of patients at all, and they never bend a single rule ever. Those former private practice doctors become shift workers beholden to an institution, no longer working for their patients at all.

That family doctor or specialist who was routinely asked on a daily basis if someone could be squeezed in is not only no longer asked, she doesn’t even know the question was there in the first place. Everything is handled by the institution’s call center, somewhere off in a lower rent district, with no sense of what is happening at that moment in the clinic. Your doctor might have a cancellation and a spot open to see your emergency. Indeed, if she’s been your doctor for a long time she would probably rather see you herself because that would make for better care.  But there are now someone else’s rules to follow, efficiencies to achieve so that they can be touted, and institutional numbers to hit.

“I’m surprised these kind of places are still open.”

“And yet, here you are, bringing your mother in for a visit.”

On her way out, after impatiently waiting while her mother thanked me profusely for seeing her when she was uncomfortable, Dr. Daughter extolled the virtues of her employer. Fixed hours. Minimal to no evening or weekend call duty. A magnificent pension plan that vests rather quickly. I should join up, she said. She was sure that World Class Medical Center would love to have me.

I smiled and wished her, her Mom, and the extended family a Happy Holiday Season. As I turned, shaking my head a bit, my technician put her hand on my arm.

“If you did that, who would take care of her Mom?”

Holiday Passages

A pop psychology author, classmate of my parents, once examined life’s stages in a book titled Passages. While I am no fan of her work (somewhat shallow and bereft of any real insight), her choice of a term for major phases of our lives is pretty good. “Passages”. Kind of evokes a journey of sorts. That part of her writing was pretty good.

Our family  will gather this weekend and this has me thinking a bit about those passages. All of our children will spend part of the Holidays with their in-laws; our boys will spend a bit of time with us. Young people truly become a kind of real adult when they take on the responsibility of nurturing a third entity, their marriage. Beth and I used to joke that we would feel like we were “real” adults when we owned our own washer and dryer, but really, we’d gone and grown up as soon as we consciously put our marriage ahead of either of our individual selves. This realization is all we really ask of our young marrieds in these, their middle passages.

This year many of our Christmas tables will have empty seats, or seats that will empty earlier than usual. That final passage demands as much attention as the first one, childhood; it just doesn’t really end as well. Still, it’s also a miracle that we go so very long before that last passage begins, both for us and for those we love. I am struck this week with a single thought: slow down and stay. Stay tiny. Stay young. Stay vibrant. Stay here and now.

Just stay.

In the end all of these passages are a one-way trip. You never back up. You don’t stand still. There’s really no such thing as a Mulligan or a do-over. It’s amazing how much help we need as we start our journey and then again as our journey comes to an end. In the middle, well, we have control. Dwelling in either the past or the future diminishes our present. Doesn’t it make sense to look at each day as its own kind of little miracle? Perhaps aware of what came before (a baby) and conscious of what lies ahead (an empty chair), all the while rejoicing in the miracle of right now.

Safe travels to all on their Holiday Passage.

We Have Today

We are not promised tomorrow.

If tomorrow comes we are not promised a “good” tomorrow. If we lead a virtuous life, whatever that may mean for each of us, we hope that our efforts will translate into a “good” or at least “better” tomorrow. Or not. All we have in hand is today. And every today has something, some thing little or big, that makes it a good day. Each of our privations, every challenge can be borne if we realize that there is some one thing, or if we’re lucky some several things, that are good in each day.

We can hope for tomorrow, and that tomorrow might be as good or better than today. But what we HAVE is today. In the end, that’s all we ever get. There was a time when I awoke each day and checked to make sure that I was still the father of a daughter. That’s all I needed. EVERY day was a good day. Like today.

There’s nothing particularly special about this today, about Tuesday December 20, 2016, except that this is the one you got when you woke up. What’s good for you today? Who’s special to you today? Did you tell them? Do they know? You may not have a tomorrow, but if you are reading Random Thoughts you do have a today, right here and right now. There are only two kinds of “todays”, good ones and great ones.

You got one. Don’t waste it on tomorrow.

Santa Claus, The Real Deal

“Santa is the Spirit of Giving. He is always real.” –Beth White

Once again my Better 95% knocks it out of the park. We have a couple of little ones again in the White family, and because of that we will have a healthy dose of Santa in our lives. While I realize that Beth and I will not really have a say in whether or not the whole Santa Claus story plays out in our grandchildren’s houses, what he stands for is important. Important enough for us to have had him in all his splendor and glory when The Heir, Lovely Daughter, and Lil’bingo were growing up. Important for us to draw out the time before Lil’bingo came to the realization that Santa was not a real person for as long as possible, so deep was his love for the furry fat guy.

Rest assured, the parental units in the White family did struggle with how to handle the inherent subterfuge that is necessary to have the Santa Claus story as part of our children’s upbringing. From the very beginning, though, the message was about the giving, about generosity and caring enough about someone else that you not only gave them a gift, but you gave them a gift that let them know how much you cared about them. You know, the “spirit” in the Spirit of Giving, if you will.

No matter how you massage it, that day of reckoning when your child finally realizes that the character Santa Claus is nothing more than the figurative representation of that concept can be fraught with all kinds of emotional trauma. For sure you might get a dose of “you lied to me”, but in my now decades of experience being around parents it’s actually rather rare for this one to pop up. What you generally face is sadness, with maybe a touch of disappointment and even mourning tossed in just to add a little sting to the moment. Like so much else about parenting, or even just about kindness, these are times when you get to talk about and teach really important lessons. Here the lesson is about giving of yourself, with or without a physical gift to actually give.

While thinking about this we stumbled upon a lovely little story about how one family handled both the “Santa isn’t real” revelation and the “Santa is real” in spirit thing. Heck, the story may even be true! A Dad sensed that his son was pretty much on the cusp of discovering that the guy in the red suit wasn’t really the real deal. His approach? He talked to his son about how he sensed that he, the son, looked like he was not too sure about the Santa Claus character. The Dad complimented his son on being a caring young man: “Everyone who cares, who is generous can be a Santa. I’m very impressed by how kind you are. I think you are ready to become a Santa, too.”

The Dad went on to ask his son to think about someone in his world who looked like they were sad. Maybe a bit lonely even. He tasked the boy with thinking very hard about what that person might really like as a present. Something they needed, and something that would express that whoever gave it to them realized this need, and cared enough to give them a present that helped to meet that need. There was a catch, though: the recipient was never to know who gave them the gift. For the son the satisfaction was in the caring and in the giving, not in the recognition and praise that might follow.

It doesn’t really matter who the child chose or what he gave; you can trust that the story–true or not–is just lovely right to the end. What matters is that this very young boy is escorted through what can be a very sad stage in a young life by a caring and thoughtful parent. On the other side of this journey emerges a young man who has learned the true meaning of Santa Claus in the secular Christmas story. He has learned that what matters about Santa Claus is real indeed, and always has been.

Santa Claus is the Spirit of Giving. He will always be real.

 

Sunday musings…”Certainty”

Sunday musings…

1) Bufflehead. The official duck of Clan bingo.

2) Tortiere. Official cuisine of the occupied according to the NYT.

I dunno. Does occupation taste better if it has a fancy name?

3) Friendship. “Friendship without loyalty is like a lake without water.”

That’s pretty deep.

4) Reality. There are a number of movies that have just come out that deal, either directly or incidentally, with poverty. Characters are either in the act of overcoming their poverty, or are inextricably affected by poverty as they attend to whatever theme the movie other wise addresses. I am struck by a certain detail that I simply cannot ignore in each and every example: the actors all have perfect teeth.

Not only is there not a single tooth askew in the entire cast, but there is nary a blemish to be found on an incisor. Heck, I’ll bet that even the lowliest Grip or Best Boy has a perfect smile.

Don’t know about you, but I just think the mountain men of “Deliverance” or “Winter’s Bones” would have seemed a whole lot less dangerous if they had all of their teeth.

5) Certainty. There are some really big decisions in a life. I mean huge, consequential decisions that simply must be made. To do so is very, very hard. There is simply no escaping that fact. You reach a point where you have to make a call on something that matters. Really matters. Like, rest of your life hinges on your decision matters. As part of this monumental process you must make peace with the concept of “certainty”.

You can–you really must, actually– be certain that this is a really big decision, but you must at the same time be cognizant that you cannot be certain that you are making the best decision possible.

I am forever in search of a better vocabulary to describe things I know or things I feel very deeply. In that never-ending search I came across an article about the former GM of the Philadelphia 76′ers, Sam Hinkie. Mr. Hinkie is a polymath who is at any particular time either wildly sentimental or icily objective. Fascinating guy, actually (you can read the article in SI 12/5/16). Throughout the article it was somewhat difficult for me to establish common ground with him (except for our shared devotion to precise language) until I came upon a brief discussion of “certainty” in decision making. Both Hinkie and I had the same decision to make–to prioritize our courtship and subsequent marriage over other pursuits like education and vocation–and we both not only made the same call but continue to describe it as the best call we ever made.

We were certain of its importance, and in response at some point we went “all in” on the decision. Here is Hinkie on the process:

“You have to be careful that you are thinking reasonably. People are too willing to scratch the itch of the near thing. Discipline is the difference between what you want and what you really, really want…I think people often don’t bring that kind of rigor to whatever it is, if it’s important. Because they’d rather make lots of little tiny decisions that a few big ones.”

Certainty is a sword that cuts both ways. The only cut you control is the one of knowing that something is really big. Something you really, really want. Something that matters. You cannot be certain that you will make the right decision, but the only way forward once you are certain about something is to pour everything you have into whatever that thing is.

Hinkie: “What wouldn’t you pay to make it so, if it’s right?”

I’ll see you next week…

–bingo