Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Archive for December, 2022

Merry Christmas From An Olde City Bar

Christmas is a holiday of giving. Santa is the spirit of giving. As I have done for many, many years I send you Christmas greetings with this verse courtesy of Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s “An Olde City Bar”.

“If you want to arrange it, this world you can change it.

If we could just make this whole Christmas thing

Last.

By helping a neighbor, or even a stranger.

To know who needs help you need only just

Ask.”

Merry Christmas my friends. May the Eastern Star light your life today, and every day for many years to come.

Santa Claus Will Always Be Real: Sunday musings…12/18/22

1 Soccer. It’s what’s for breakfast.

2 Messi. I admit that I am lightly cheering for Messi to win his first World Cup title. I also admit that I rather like the “new” Messi. Gritty. Confrontational. Edgy.

3 Cookies. Yesterday was Christmas cookie day at the White house. Beth and I come from two vastly different families in some ways, but in one very special, important way the White and the Hurst families have always been the same: we have Holiday traditions that include an activity around which we all gather. Beginning with Beth’s Grammy, passed on through my mother-in-law Sandy, and now practiced in the homes of all three Hurst girls.

The house was warm. Casa Blanco is tiny. Much smaller than even the once-upon-a-time one-room schoolhouse that became the Hurst family home. Kids and adults were crammed into the kitchen as the little ones sat elbo-to-elbow decorating the sandtarts. We managed to hold off on the first glass of wine until dinner time. All of us except Beth, that is: her Grammy always capped off a successful cookie baking day with a glass of red wine, and so, too, did our own Grammy, Beth.

I watch what I eat 50 weeks out of each year so that I can eat pie at Thanksgiving, and cookies at Christmas.

4 Rhode Island. “Rhode Island underpromises and overdelivers.” John “Buda” Dell’Arerio.

Beth and I will travel to Little Rhody, the state of my youth, to spend the Christmas weekend with my Mom. There are 4 of us in my generation. Each year one of us (and our sainted, in this case, spouse) has hosted Mom, and when he was alive Dad, for Christmas. Have I ever told you how this came about? Forgive me if this is a repeat.

Many years ago, after all four of the White kids had fledged the nest, we all casually asked my folks what their plans were for the Christmas Holiday. Each of us, in our own way, said something along the lines of “we’d love to have you come visit us.” Not hearing back from our parents accepting what we all thought was a heartfelt invitation we each just assumed that Mom and Dad had accepted the invite from one of the siblings and went about planning the Holiday with only our own nuclear families in mind.

A week or so before Christmas my younger sister Kerstin, so much younger than we older three that she had been a quasi only child, just as casually asked my Mom what she and Dad were doing for Christmas. Mind you, Kerstin was expecting to hear that they were going to a sibling’s house, but what she got was equal parts hilarious and shocking:

“Your Father always wanted to see the Rockettes’ Christmas show so we are going to spend Christmas in New York.”

Now this was outrageously out of character for my parents, and Kerstin wasn’t quite sure where Mom was going with this: “Oh…that sounds nice! How are you getting there?”

SNAP! Mom closes the trap: “Oh, we’re taking a bus, along with all of the other parents who weren’t invited to spend Christmas with any of their children.”

Ooo, ouch. Kerstin doesn’t quite recover quickly enough and continues with polite conversation: “What are you doing for dinner?”

Mom moves in for the killshot: “Typical Christmas stuff. There’s a very nice brown bag turkey sandwich dinner that we will have on the bus. With all of the other parents who didn’t get invited to Christmas dinner by one of their children.”

By this time Kerstin is equal parts incredulous, offended, and just plain pissed off. “That’s total BS! You were invited by every single one of us. That’s it. From now on you will be assigned a child to visit each year. I will PERSONALLY tell you at Thanksgiving where you are going on Christmas.” And thus began the “Christmas Rotation” for Anne Lee and Dick.

Mom is no longer much of a traveler, and thus Beth and I will find ourselves on the road for this year’s Holiday. Having lost 3 of our 4 parents I, we, are both so very pleased to still have this chance to spend Christmas with Mom. Who knows if we will get another…

5 Santa. Once again I re-post this gem from years ago with a tiny bit of editing to keep it current.

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

Once again my darling wife Beth knocks it out of the park. We have a couple of little ones again in the White house, 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 Dan, Megan, and Randy were growing up. Important for us to draw out the time before Randy 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 he called “Key Klaus”.

Rest assured, the parental units in Clan White did struggle with how to handle the inherent subterfuge that is necessary to have the Santa Claus story as part of our childrens’ 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 the giving 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 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.

I’ll see you next Sunday, Christmas day…

The Man In Many Mirrors: Sunday musings…12/11/22

We see ourselves reflected in so many more mirrors than the one before which we brush our teeth every morning. We are, and have ever been, many things to many people. Indeed, we have also always been many things to ourselves. How, when, and where we look in the various mirrors that surround us likely determines which version of ourselves we see.

Still, rare is the mirror that reflects all of who we feel we really are.

Yesterday was mostly spent in the company of strangers. A travel day on the back end of a short weekend spent with many of my closest professional colleagues. Among the masses in the airport I was reflected in the most basic, banal version of that which I am: a middle-aged white male of little note, moving confidently through an insignificant slice of travel. No indication of my destination. Nothing to denote whether I was inbound or out. Just one more body moving through space. Any mirrors present were too far away to provide enough focus for anyone to see beyond the curiosity of a bright orange vest.

And by the same token, too far away to see what version of myself might be reflected in those around me.

My weekend meeting, on the other hand, was another story. There is a tiny little group in my world made of people who do what I do professionally. More so, the longer-tenured members of this group make up my circle of professional friends, people with whom I would go our of my way to see and spend time with if they were within 100 miles of my house. Among the many younger newcomers invited to join us there are a few with whom I am also forming friendships that feel quite comfortable, quite real, if you will.

I shared a car with one of the lovely younger eye doctors from the airport to our hotel. Himani and I are forging a very nice friendship around things that are outside of our shared profession. During our drive we talked about our marriages, how they came to be, and how they developed in the context of our larger families. I learned a new word, propinquity, which means the effect of proximity. One of the execs on the industry side of my profession gave me a ride back to the airport. Arthur and I were airlifting out early to get home in time for the back end of the family weekends. We also talked a little about family and marriage. My conversations with Himani and Arthur about marriage and family showed us that we had more in common than our profession despite being decades apart in age, with vastly different propinquity at work in how our own little families came to be. My reflection in their faces was one of genuine interest, kindness, and care.

While not a complete picture of who I think I am, my reflection in our growing friendships is based on parts of me that are real; they result from a genuine effort to be better and I was delighted to see them there.

Esquire had a cover article on Bruce Springsteen that I was slowly working through when we had a couple of our grandchildren staying with us for the weekend. It was one that spent quite a bit of time on Springsteen’s lifelong quest to figure out who he really is. He has a funny little quirk. Each time the writer asks a question that requires a deeper bit of self-awareness Springsteen looks into a mirror in his office before he answers. It’s as if he needs to be reminded that he is answering as Bruce, or supposed do be answering as Bruce, not BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN. Almost like he is parsing the question “who am I when it’s just me looking in the mirror” before each answer.

Making this an even bigger challenge, the whole “who am I” thing keeps changing. The longer we live the more versions of ourselves emerge. Some of them even real! Returning for a moment to our weekend with the little ones, “Papi” really is a different but altogether real version of who I am at this moment in life. For sure I am no less frustratable when dealing with the blocking and tackling involved in raising little ones, and I probably don’t really have all that much more patience than I did as “Dad”. Oh no. I feel all of that now, too. The difference is that for whatever reason I have now essentially embraced these and other feelings as an essential part of an activity that I truly want to engage in. Today I acknowledge their presence and experience rather than avoid them as I am sure I did as a younger man.

Who does this make me now? Who am I after years of trying to be kinder and more present in my friendships? Springsteen had a famously fraught relationship with a father who never really accepted who he, Springsteen, was as a child and a young adult. For the record there was nothing of the sort in my relationship with my Dad at any stage in the lives we lived together. As a father himself Springsteen learned to be present in the lives of his kids, and to at least try to accept them for who they are at any given moment in their lives. No matter how well or how poorly we may be at either or both of those with our kids, grandchildren give us a Mulligan. A do-over if you will, at least if you are fortunate enough to have a chance to be in their lives.

Many years ago I wrote about a long weekend spent in the mountains of Colorado in the company of friends at that time. Adult weekend we called it. What I recall was a rare feeling that for pretty much the whole weekend I felt like I was exactly who I thought I was when I looked in the mirror. At least the good parts of who I thought I was back then. Pretty cool weekend. Interestingly it was a pretty easy weekend, too. No posing. No trying to anticipate what others expected, wanted, or needed. I just woke up and gave everyone whatever felt like the best part of me available at a given moment. Though I had no idea of the changes that were about to occur in my life I had a pretty good idea of who I was that weekend.

Now? Ha! I can’t even figure out what the mirror even is right now. Is it truly the mirror over my sink, the one that reminds me of all the miles I’ve traveled and hours I’ve flown in the memory lines of my face? Could be. Probably always has been. Still, it may never have really been that at all. The mirror in the mountains may have been my friends, and Beth, and how we were, all together. Today it may be the face of the children, or of Beth, as we made our way through that hectic weekend with the grandchildren.

The face of my young friends Himani and Arthur in the car, and the faces of the friends I’ve known so much longer who were there with me this weekend and who have been there through many of my different “reflections”.

Or it’s all of those. That’s probably it. All of them. The mirror in the bathroom is the measure of where we are at the moment. It’s a good thing to know who you are at any given time. There are mirrors all around us that show us where we are going (like the airport), or perhaps where we should be trying to go. I really would like to be enough for my Littles, but there are times when it will be someone else who they will need to be their “enough”. My role there is to be ready if it’s ever my turn. Their faces tell me if I’ve learned enough patience, or if I’m as “in the moment” as I think I am. The mirrors that are the faces of my friends this weekend tell me that I am becoming a better friend each time we see each other. That I may be someone with whom they would like to have a new friendship. None of the mirrors lie to you, at least they don’t if you have your eyes open.

As the years have gone by I’ve become better at knowing who I am at any given moment when I look in the mirror. ¬†Who I still need to become is there too, if I look hard enough.

Sunday musings…12/4/2022

1 Browns. Anyone think the choice of an 11 game suspension which made DeShawn Watson’s debut come against his old team was a coincidence?

2 700. Number of days since DeShawn Watson suited up and played a live football game. Anyone surprised that he was terrible?

3 Jets. Every time I think about how depressing it’s been to live in a city where the collective regional mood on 20 or so Mondays is determined by such a crummy football team, I remember that I could live in an enclave of Jets fans.

4 Parade. In yet another example of the slow, agonizing death of what used to be the center of Cleveland media, the Cleveland Plain Dealer has stopped paying to add Parade Magazine to its Sunday paper. I learned what mattered to Cleveland and to people who lived in Cleveland by reading the PD cover-to-cover every day when I moved here in 1991.

The demise of the once meaningful daily newspaper is neck and neck with the de-hubbing of what was once the largest airport in the country as emblematic of a city still in decline.

5 Endure. Do you have elderly relatives who are still in possession of their faculties? If you do I can’t encourage you enough to sit down and engage them on pretty much any topic they wish. Early days in their life? For sure. Learn about the history of your family. What it was like to live in dangerous times? times of privation? Absolutely. Regardless of what you may hear or read we are living in an era of unprecedented prosperity in a historical context. Hunger? Climate impacting the lives of Americans (not just their anxieties about the future)? Ask your eldest elders about the Great Depression or the Dust Bowl days.

It’s quite obvious that The Grapes of Wrath was not on the high school reading list of most climate warriors.

We could do worse that to ask to be adopted for a bit by my colleague John Berdhal’s grandmother. Annabelle Loken, R.N. is 97 years young, and according to John she is more than happy to dispense some hard-earned wisdom to any young’uns who are willing to listen. That would mean pretty much all of us. No less than the great Dick Lindstrom, the most famous living eye surgeon and one of John’s mentors, found Ms. Loken’s wisdom so compelling that he quoted her in one of his bi-monthly essays:

“Enjoy when you can. Endure when you cannot.”

This is just gold. Remember, this woman is 97 years old. She was born after WWI but was a teenager during the Great Depression. She came of age, was educated, and started a family during WWII. I believe she lived most of her life in South Dakota, hardly a go-go metropolitan city life. And yet she leads her admonition about life with joy. “Enjoy when you can.” No looking over your shoulder to see what might be gaining on you. Enjoy your life when life allows you something to enjoy. No waiting for the sound of the other shoe dropping. Nope. Listen instead for the beat of the band as both feet dance with joy.

I find the words she choses in her second sentence very interesting. Think about “endure” for a moment. Not fight. Not “carry on” or the like. No, endure is what she chooses. This is clearly a woman who has had less at times over her lifetime. I sense that these were times that she considered “between” times. Between the times when joy might be there to be had. She chooses “cannot” rather than “must” in the second sentence. It’s not that you are forced to endure, you are simply living in a time when you cannot enjoy life, and so must endure until that next period where you do, indeed, enjoy what life has brought you.

Ms. Loken seems to be a very optimistic person, don’t you think? I mean, any time you have a chance to enjoy she is saying that you should do just that. My bet is that if you ever had a chance to chat with this extraordinary person that she would say that you MUST enjoy if joy is there to be had. Those times where enjoyment is scarce? Times of hardship like those Dust Bowl days in the Great Plains, including South Dakota? Well, those we simply endure in the belief that they will pass.

So many of Beth’s and my elders left us without telling their stories. For sure, some did share wisdom. My Mom called while I was writing and offered a couple of pearls as is her wont (Mom is still an active parent!). I’ll have to ask my friend John if his Grandma Annabelle has shared stories to go along with her wisdom. If that little bit of poetry she did share, “Enjoy when you can. Endure when you cannot”, is any indication, it’s easier to understand how it is that John has turned out to be the extraordinary person that many of us are privileged to call our friend.

So do yourself a favor. Seek out the oldest members of your family. If you are a little short on older relatives go find someone else’s elders and bathe in the poetry of their lives, of their wisdom. Annabelle Loken is 97 years old. How fortunate that I got to share a tiny bit of her wisdom while she was still here to share it.

I’ll see you next week…

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