Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Archive for May, 2021

Sunday musings…5/31/21

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

That is all.

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

That is all.

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

That is way too much information, frankly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That would be pretty interesting, wouldn’t it?

I’ll see you, well, some Sunday soon…

Religion and Faith: Looking Back at a Special Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mother’s Day musings…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll see you next week…

She Trotted Like a Fairy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rapunzel “Renzi” White July 2015-April 2021

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