Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Archive for June, 2016

Sunday musings 6/25/16

Sunday musings…

1) Brexit. Certain to show up in the next “Hangover” sequel.

2) Hangover. Man, who thought THAT was a good idea?

3) Ritz. “I had the feeling you get when exiting a cinema after a matinee, blinking at the light and still half-living in the film.” WSJ on a stay at the Ritz Hotel, Paris.

Lovely writing, that. A bit hard for me to relate, though, since my last matinee was “The Jungle Book” with my 79yo Mom.

4) Sincerity. “The key to life is sincerity, and if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” –Robert Steed 1936-2016

Man, how good is that in this election cycle?

5) Edge. Whether or not you know it, or knowing it whether or not you acknowledge it, everyone is always on the lookout for the edge. Everywhere. The edge has lots of names, but by any moniker we all seek it. Our Puritan ethic sends some of us in search of the edge in more, or harder work. Lots of that around here, chez CrossFit. Others of a different ilk seek the edge through shortcuts and work-arounds. Think PED’s and the Olympics, or access to information about a trade or a deal milliseconds before the competition. In some ways, at some times, getting the edge is about coming out on top in a zero-sum game where winning means also not losing.

What’s puzzling is when the edge is freely accessible to everyone, and yet there are legions who either ignore it or actively turn away from it. Think health. There’s some pretty easy stuff out there that will give you the edge, stack the deck in your favor if you will. Yet there are many among us who are militant in their refusal to take their piece of the edge, even when it is freely given and nearly free. You don’t need me to point out the obvious here.

I find myself torn between an intense need to teach those I care about to grab the low-hanging fruit, and an equally intense desire to not be around those who chase an irrelevant 0.01% edge in one domain while giving up10% in another. More and more I find that avoiding the latter gives me an edge.

6) Dad. A long-time columnist in my home town paper writes this morning about making it to his Dad’s bedside for a final hug, just hours before his father passed away. I’ve been thinking about my Dad quite a lot recently. He left us very quickly, his long, slow slide into oblivion interrupted quite unexpectedly and quickly. Only one sister was there. It’s kind of strange, but I find myself missing him more and more, both in the literal sense at gatherings, and the more emotional sense in his just being gone.

We missed him at both of my sons’ weddings, for example, and the space at the table next to my Mom still doesn’t look quite right 9 months on. There are 8 grandsons on my side of the family, and all of them took turns swinging their Gram across the dance floor at last week’s wedding. I found myself looking over at her table, looking for that little twinkle in my Dad’s eye, the one he always got when his wife was happy. Even as his mind betrayed him toward the end, that part of him remained. The part that so loved my Mom that her happiness brought him more joy than pretty much anything else. Alas, no twinkle. Just an empty space and the hint of his shadow.

It’s been 8 years since I’ve swung a golf club. After thousands of rounds in the company of hundreds of very fine people, the game of golf doesn’t owe me anything, and I only rarely give it any thought anymore. That’s why it’s so strange that I’ve found myself dreaming about playing golf. Like every night dreaming about playing golf. I admit that I miss the camaraderie of the game. The tomfoolery on the first tee as you haggle over the bets to come bookending the jackassery in the bar afterward as the lies grow and the round becomes so epic in the re-telling that Harvey Pennick himself couldn’t have made us better golfers. I do miss that, but the playing? For whatever reason, the game itself has left me.

Or so I thought, until the dreams began. It doesn’t take a Freud to figure out that the dreams have little to do with golf, of course. They are about missing Dad. You see, after seeing my Mom happy, it turns out that the next best thing for my Dad was to see his kids happy, and on the golf course we tended to have happiness as we got old enough to care less about our scores and more about our foursomes. Thinking back I recall lots of twinkles in my old man’s eyes in the company of his sons on a golf course.

There’s no real point here, my friends. No teachable moment at the end of these musings. Just an old guy at the stage of life where loss has the edge, missing his Dad and wondering when, or if, that ever gets any easier.
 I’ll see you next week…bingo

Customer Service: The Ohio DMV vs. Your Eye Doctor

It was the smile Ms. DMV Lady. No question, the smile told me that you chose to ruin my day when you had a lay-up chance to make my whole weekend, that you did it on purpose, and that it made you incredibly happy. In any other circumstances I’m sure I would have smiled back at you; that’s what other human beings tend to do when they see such unbridled joy on someone else’s face.

That trip back was my third one to the DMV, but there was no way for you to know that. You did see me on the second one, though, and you clearly remembered me. I forgot my license at home so I couldn’t do what I needed to do to transfer the title for my tiny little beater of a boat. Not only that, but there was nothing you could do to help me at that point, and I totally understood that. It was my fault entirely, so I didn’t ask anything of you on that visit because I knew that there was no way that you could help me, no matter how much you might have wanted to on that particular visit. I was really frustrated for sure, but I didn’t direct any of that at you, or anyone in the DMV.

Nope, it was the return visit where you could have made my day. My wife and I hurried home, got my ID and then hustled back. Did you notice that? Did you notice that we were both there? It’s really hard to free up two people who work full-time during your hours of operation. Definitely not your fault, that. We’d already tried to pull this off the week before and been thwarted, and here we were back for a second time with you, third time total. Now was your chance. We approached the desk with obvious relief on our faces. If we were successful this time we would still have to visit the DMV one more time (you only do titles; another location would do the license), but at least only one of us would need to take off work. You took the title transfer again–you looked at it in detail the first time and couldn’t possibly have missed this–and told us that the previous owner had filled it out incorrectly. He signed it in his name alone, instead of his name as “trustee”. That’s it; he forgot to put “trustee”.  You could have tipped us off before we went home for the license. You could have just noted it and let it pass. Nope. You said that we would have to bring it to him to fix before you could transfer the title.

We were equal parts dumbfounded and devastated, and it showed clearly on our faces. Here it was again, your chance to make our day. There was nothing nefarious about the prior owner’s mistake; it was a simple oversight in how he described the ownership. God, it was such an easy fix. It was right there, right in front of you for the taking. I held out my hands and pleaded softly and quietly for mercy. No disrespect toward you or your staff or your department, and no sense of entitlement or demand for action. A very simple request and a very quiet plea that we had acted in good faith. Your response? “You forgot your ID the first time, Sir.” I simply held out my ID and very softly said “but I went home and got it without saying anything, and here I am. Please, we’re really trying hard here and really could’t know.”

It’s a legal document was all you said. You had a duty to protect the State of Ohio, you said. It was then that I responded, still quite quietly mind you. I shared that the couple you had just chosen not to help were a doctor and a nurse. That we routinely put our family second as we care for patients in need. Nights, weekends…no matter. I asked if I could fill out your customer service survey, either on paper or online, explaining that I am evaluated on the care I provide and the experience that my patients have under my care. Oh my…the look on your face was priceless. Utter shock. Not once in your life, it seemed, had it ever occurred to you that it would be possible that you would be accountable to your customers. “We don’t have anything like that, Sir.”

Then came the smile.

Seldom have I witnessed such a pure, unadulterated expression of joy. You had chosen to ruin my day, and having succeeded you were not just pleased, you were infused with a visceral joy. It started in your eyes as realization crept in, and then it spread to every muscle in your face. Like I said above, it was the kind of smile that is almost always returned by another human being; we are wired to share such joy, after all. Alas, ’twas not to be for you and me. It was all I could do not to vomit on your threshold when you somehow found the strength to break through the grip of your ecstasy to wish me a nice day.

You will see me again, Ms. DMV Lady. Three times we’ve tried to get our little 1971 boat licensed, and it looks like we will need to make two more stops to accomplish that. It most certainly won’t be at your particular DMV location, though. Just thinking about that makes me nauseous all over again. No, you will see me again on my turf, as a patient. Karma, if nothing else, is imbued with a keen understanding of irony, a truly wicked sense of humor. In all likelihood it won’t really be me, personally. Even karma would find that too outlandish, an irony simply too delicious to believe. In reality you will need someone who does what I do, and you will need them in a manner and a sense that is identical to how I needed you.

I noticed that you are very nearsighted, and you have an inflammatory disease of your eyelids called blepharitis that often causes an acute type of particularly unsightly pinkeye (you are not my patient; this is not a HIPPA violation). Perhaps your son is getting married this weekend like mine. You didn’t know that, did you?  No, of course not. You broke your 3 year old glasses. Your prescription is out of date and you can’t just walk in to Lenscrafters and get a new pair, and your vision insurance only covers me. It would be a shame to have to wear broken glasses to enjoy this wonderful day. Or maybe that ugly, uncomfortable pinkeye bubbled up and there you are all red and gooey, two days before the whole fam damly shows up for the wedding. Nether one is truly an emergency, and failing to take care of either one right away will not cause you any harm whatsoever.

Let’s make it even more realistic. You know, like my return trip to your office. Let’s say it’s just before closing time, and the only way to get your glasses or your medicine is if a doctor gives the OK to see you right away. No matter what you see on the billboard, you won’t get an appointment at the Cleveland Clinic or UH. No, it will be a private doc like me. We always try to help. The Doc will know your story. How? Well, through our staff we always know the story because it always makes a difference. Would it have mattered to you that the reason I so desperately wanted that boat licensed was so that my son–the one getting married–could take his cousins and his friends out on his wedding weekend? We’ll never know; you didn’t ask.

There you will sit with your non-emergent problem that is only barely even urgent except for how much it means to you personally. Do you have any idea how easily the doctor and staff can slow-roll this even now, after you are in the office? They can follow protocols to the letter, check every preferred practice pattern box and follow every single insurance billing protocol, your chart and super bill as clean and proper as the illustration of a perfect boat title as you wait for your insurance to authorize your vision care visit, or pre-approve your expensive branded medication, and ruin your weekend.

In short, they could be you, ignoring the very real person with the very real need who stands before them asking for help. Or they can see you, hear you, and so easily choose to help you. Which, of course, is exactly what they would do. They will call the insurance company to get your Rx authorized, or they will give you samples of the medicine to carry you until you get pre-approval. Because you see, Ms. DMV Lady, that’s what every single one of us is supposed to do when we are on the other side of the desk from someone who needs our help and we are truly, safely, and easily in the position to choose to help them. It’s the decent thing that decent people do for others. When they can either make your day or ruin your day, it never crosses their mind that they even have a choice. It’s funny, when they know a little more about how meaningful it is to you that they helped, they really feel good about that.

Which is why after you have been helped, after you get what not only what you need but what you really want, you will be surrounded by people with the huge smiles of joy that come from doing the right thing. You’ll undoubtedly smile back.

Will you know why?

 

 

 

 

Sunday musings on Father’s Day

Father’s Day is a big deal for me every year, just not so much in the traditional “Dad’s day off” kind of way so many fathers seem to celebrate. My idea of a great Father’s Day has always been to in some way, shape, or form hang out with my kids being a Dad, or with my own Dad, being a son. This is the first Father’s Day for me since my Dad passed away, a transition for sure, but it’s also the first Father’s Day since I became a grandfather. Lots and lots of emotions competing for a spot in the limelight today.

I’m a little bit late out of the box with musings today. The man cub was into hanging with his Papi, and that’s just as good on Father’s Day as being around my kids. All of them were around this weekend, too. Li’l bingo got married last night and that added another daughter-in-law to the fold. Another child to celebrate on Father’s Day. It’s quiet for the moment, the excitement of the wedding now just a gentle buzz of fuzzy memories and and soft smiles.

Being a parent has been the single most difficult thing I’ve ever done. For that matter, it’s still the hardest thing I do. This is likely the case for any of you out there who have kids, too. Technically it’s not really all that complex, and the work itself isn’t all that too very difficult. I mean, sure, sometimes that full diaper spills over, or for that matter the first not so great experience with adult beverages spills over, but really the clean up is just a clean up, just like any other clean up. What makes the whole enterprise so bloody hard is that you simply care more about the outcome of your work as a parent than just about anything else you’ve ever undertaken.

My Dad wasn’t there but all three of my kids were together yesterday, The Heir and Lovely Daughter there to support their no longer little brother and his wife on their big day. The night ended with countless best wishes for the new marrieds, followed by round upon round of “Happy Father’s Days” for the Dads present. It felt right and it felt good and it felt like success. Like my own Dad would be proud of the Father I’ve become. Three happy and successful kids and me, Dad, feeling pretty good about the whole parenting thing. Until they all gave me my Father’s Day hug, got in their cars and headed off to their own homes, leaving me to worry about whether I’d done enough to prepare them for tomorrow. And then tomorrow after that.

It’s Father’s Day, after all.

I’ll see you next week…

–bingo

Situational Awareness: Enemy or “Other”?

The original “word” for this thought was to be “enemy”, but the more I thought about it the less that seemed to apply. You see, “enemy” is really a very simple concept, one that is just too black-and-white in this world of grey in which we live. An enemy is nothing more or less than someone who has openly declared intent to do you harm. Nothing too very ambiguous about that.

This is very different from a person who dislikes you, or someone you dislike. It’s fundamentally different from someone who is angry at you. These folks can simply be ignored; they can be consigned to the trash heap of indifference. I’ve been known to say that it’s perfectly OK to make an enemy as long as you’ve done it on purpose so that you can assess the ramifications beforehand. Re-thinking this in light of a more accurate definition of “enemy” probably changes my tactical advise to “it’s OK to make someone angry at you.”

This is important today as we traverse our lives with our “situational awareness goggles” on high, important when we identify someone who is better described as “other” as “enemy” or “possible enemy”. By any measure we actually live in a world which is incredibly safe. We are not surrounded by legions of enemies but rather by “others”, people who stand apart for one reason or another as different. Maybe even odd. If we view our world as one which is inhabited by only friends or enemies we are at risk to categorize these “standouts” as dangerous until proven otherwise, all data to the contrary. We are at risk to extrapolate the actions of one “other” to all, even those who share nothing with those villains besides their “otherness”. Is this really necessary?

Frankly, my worldview as a young man was very narrow, my willingness to even let the “others” be something at all less than zero. No, “others” were to be feared or ridiculed; they were certainly not meant to be ignored, let alone accepted. Now? Most of the “others” are just varying degrees of different, nothing more. Pick a number…99point whatever % are just that and will never be anything more diabolical or dangerous than a friend might be. They will never be an enemy, no matter how much their “otherness” sets us apart.

For most of us the world is filled with friends and others. We just don’t have that many enemies known or yet to be discovered. I do not advocate replacing our “situational awareness goggles” with “pollyanna specs”, but we really don’t need to have the setting on “high alert”. The risk of the false positive, the risk of identifying an “other” as an enemy is very, very high because there really are very, very few real enemies. Very few people who mean you, or anyone, true harm. To be sure, do be ready to act when it is eminently clear that an enemy is in the room; do not meekly accept the fate a true enemy wishes to force upon you.

Be alert for sure, but don’t let the cacophony resulting from the rare sighting of an enemy, of evil, blind you to the fact that those who will not be your friends are almost always just “others.”

Sunday musings (thinking about Ali)…

Sunday musings (thinking about Ali)…

1) Genius. “What is genius but balance on the edge of impossible?” –Norman Mailer on Ali

2) Will. “The willingness to do what it takes to prepare to win is much more important than having the will to win.” –Unknown

Ali said numerous times that he hated ever minute of preparation for his fights. Every step on the road, every turn of the rope, every hit on the bag. And yet it was also said that in his prime no one out-worked him before a fight.

One of Ali’s earliest lessons.

3) Trials. “It isn’t the mountain that wears you down, it’s the pebble in your shoe.” –Muhammad Ali

Here we begin to see the deep understanding that this giant among mere mortals had for the trials and tribulations of everyone else. Who among us must actually give consideration to the mountain at all? Every day, though, each of us must plod on in the face of chronic constant discomfort. Just getting to the next challenge can sometimes seem to be insurmountable. Ali understood. Perhaps this, more than anything, explains why it was that every single person who was ever blessed to speak with him felt that Ali spoke for them, believed in them, cheered for them.

Knew them.

4) Courage. At age 24 Ali received his draft induction card. Having recently converted to Islam, Ali declined to serve and was stripped of his titles. Thus began 3 years of exile during which he struggled to support himself and his family. Three years of being hated by a majority of Americans. The likelihood that he would have actually been asked to carry a rifle and plod through the rice paddies along with the rest of the American servicemen was precisely zero. Think Elvis Presley. He must have known this, and yet he drew his line in the sand and refused.

I’m pretty sure it does’t really matter when we consider this whether or not you (or your parents, or your grandparents) agree or disagree with the particulars of his stance. Like almost every male in my age group I registered for the draft, and like so very many white suburban kids I would have spent almost all of my draftable years as a student, high and dry and thousands of miles away from the war. We didn’t discuss this at home; I have no idea what my Korean War vet Dad thought. I do remember thinking then, as I still regrettably think today, that what he did took a simply unimaginable amount of courage, a courage that I wasn’t ( and aren’t) sure I had (have).

Who among us hasn’t been faced with something that is hugely important, where right and wrong is a stark black or white, 0 or 1 binary question, where we just know with our heart and soul what we should do? There’s always a catch, though. A price to pay. Doing the right thing, even speaking out on behalf of the right thing, will have severe consequences for you or your loved ones or both. Your boss is a racist or a misogynist, perpetually abusing the weaker in your midst. Do you speak up, knowing it likely will cost you your job? A powerful interest group has descended upon your community and is singling out a group of which you are not a part, institutionalizing a prejudice that causes harm to innocents. Do you speak out, knowing that you will now be a target for a vengeful, wrathful power? The government has trained its regulatory aim squarely at your business, singling your world out for unfair attention just because it can. Do you speak out, knowing you will come under such withering scrutiny that you will likely be destroyed?

It’s not just being aware of the injustice, not just acknowledging the injustice, it’s doing so in the face of certain danger to you, or to you and your loved ones. Could you do it? Granted, Ali was 24 at the time of his stand, had come from little and had relatively little to worry about in terms of collateral damage, but still, there he was, walking away from the peak and willingly walking into the valley. Could you do that? Could you have done it at 24, even if you were just one more pebble in the shoe guy, with little to lose and little risk to those you loved?

That question has led to more than a few sleepless nights for me over the years, including last night after I heard that Muhammad Ali, the man who introduced me to the possibility that the answer could be ‘yes’, had died. I confess that, while hopeful, I am still not entirely sure what my answer would be were I to be confronted with such a question.

I’ll see you next week…

–bingo

A Tiny Thoughtlet: Mark Twain on Memory

“I used to remember everything, but now I only remember the things that never happened.” –Mark Twain.

Twain never disappoints, does he? There’s all kinds of meat on that bone. Is he saying that he no longer remembers things that really happened, only those things he imagined at the time, or imagines now? Or is he rather saying that looking back on his life he only remembers those things that SHOULD have happened, but didn’t? Knowing Twain, my bet is that his answer would be:”yes.”

Memory is a funny thing. Partly accurate reportage, one’s memory is leavened by equal parts wishful thinking and regret. At least according to Twain. Think of your own narrative, the telling of your story. How much is fact, how much is embellishment (never let the facts interfere with a good story!), and how much is what you wish had happened? We were telling stories at dinner the other night, stories we all knew, ones we’d all taken part in creating and ones we’ve told countless times. Each time they are told they get a little better. Does this happen with you? Some of the stuff in our stories probably never really happened, but we remember it just the same.

But Twain also touches on regret in this quote, don’t you think? Things that could have been, or should have been, but for one reason or another, never were. Dangerous ground, that. Regret can turn the urn of happiness into a sieve. In his later years Twain was said to be increasingly bitter. One wonders if his regret fertilized the weeds in the garden of his memory. Perhaps the weeds began to choke the flowers, their overgrowth overshadowing the beauty beneath of those happier memories that may or may not have happened either.

Ticking time bomb, or soothing balm, memory serves us all in the end.

Sunday musings 5/29/16

Sunday musings…

1) Yankees. A new, matte black batting helmet has been unveiled for the road, the first substantive change in the New York Yankees uniform in ages. One of those “things you thought you’d never see.”

Kinda like those Nike swooshes at the Regionals this weekend.

2) OG. Where are all the CrossFit OG’s? At least the out front, in the public eye OG’s. Sure, we get a full dose of The Dave Castro starting around the Open, but where is everyone else?

Thank Heavens Annie Sakamoto was added to the studio show to keep poor Pat Sherwood company.

3) The fly. There’s always ever only one. THE fly. Have you noticed that? Is it the same in your house? Maybe you opened the door and just one got lucky, got in by accident. Or you finally tired of getting up and down to let your dog in or out and just gave up and left the door open.

And in came the fly.

It’s called a housefly, but in truth it only BECOMES a housefly once it comes in that open door. Kind of like Ron White and being drunk “in public”. That fly belongs to you, and you alone. It’s as if there’s some kind of unwritten contract (Can flies write? Can they have written contracts?) that bestows ownership of your house, of your personal airspace to one, single, solitary fly.

The dog lies across the threshold of the open door that welcomed the fly. Once just a fly, now a housefly.

My housefly.

4) 4 Stars. The Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans is one of my favorite places in all of the world. Tucked into a corner across the street from the casino, equi-distant from both the convention center and the French Quarter, it is an oasis of genteel service surrounded by a kind of institutional crassness. Just walking through the gate and seeing the fountain in the courtyard always makes me comfortable, makes me smile.

What I really love about the hotel, though, is that it is a place of exemplary service in which I can just act like myself. Do you ever go to a new restaurant or hotel that has a reputation for excellence, a place inhabited by a clientele with whom you might not regularly consort, and feel like you (and your behavior) are being judged by the staff? You find yourself trying to “live up to” the expectation of a waiter or concierge, inverting the service continuum because deep down you’re not really convinced you belong there. Somehow you have to “live up” to the place. You are there for them, rather than the other way around.

In my 30′s and 40′s I never, not for a single minute, had that sense in any situation whatsoever. I owned every room I walked into, no matter who was there or who was yet to arrive. Several major life events occurred in my 50′s which not only humbled me a bit, but also shook my core sense of worthiness. It’s as if those setbacks and challenges had somehow negated what my family and I had accomplished as we climbed out of the bitter poverty of my Dad’s youth. Even my wardrobe, classic and conservative almost by genetic decree, felt uncomfortable for a time. Funny, to find myself trying to impress a waiter, let alone another guest, as if I needed to prove I was worthy enough to be served.

The quiet, comfortable service given me as soon as I stepped out of the cab and was welcomed back to the Windsor Court has brought order back to the service continuum for me. In my day job I provide the service, and each of my clients deserves to assume that they are worthy of my very best. When I close up the shop at day’s end and head out I am now the client. Whatever room I enter is now once again mine. Tuxedo or tee shirt, my clothes fit me like a glove. Wherever I end up, I belong.

You do, too.

I’ll see you next week…

–bingo

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