Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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A 9/11 Epiphany

It’s been 9 years since the 9/11 attacks on America. One wonders what lessons have been learned in those intervening years, lessons that may be either personal or societal, or indeed lessons that might be so universal that they are both. This kind of stuff doesn’t happen all the time, a life-changing event that informs and transforms entire generations, a game-changer that sets the table, lays down the rules for all of the “play” to come. Looking back over the years it’s clear that I had an epiphany during those days right after 9/11, a personal insight that was so significant that it changed the very vocabulary I have used to discus my life since. How about you? Did anything like this happen to you?

I should set the table here I suppose. Where were you on that day? Where were you…what were you doing when the planes hit? When the buildings came down? It was a Tuesday. I was in the operating room when one of my assistants told us about the hits, and I was in the lobby watching as the first building came down. Everything shut down here in Cleveland; it was rumored that another plane had diverted and was on its way through our airspace. We shut down the offices, retrieved the kids from school, and set about hunting down friends and family all over the world. There was a little panic as we waited to hear from my brother (stranded in Chicago, eventually to rent a car to drive to Connecticut) and my closest friend Rob (safely at lunch on business in Rio di Janeiro), and then…nothing.

Remember? Remember how weird it was for a few days? Businesses closed, schools closed. All air traffic came to a full and complete stop. It was sunny in Cleveland, an odd stretch of bluebird days with nary a cloud in the sky. This, of course, only made it all the more eerie and obvious that the sky was empty, not a single airplane, not a single entrail to mark someone’s path from some here to some there. My kids begged me not to go on a business trip long planned for that Friday, their impassioned pleas rendered moot by the shut down of North American aviation. We all stayed home. Remember?

The world cautiously and gingerly re-opened for business that next week which allowed four of the White men to keep their golf date at ¬†Kiawah Island. Not that the world had returned to business as usual, though. Not by a long shot. I flew out on September 20th I think it was, Cleveland to Charleston. Just me and a skeleton crew of workers at CLE for the departure and the closest thing to a private jet trip I’d ever taken. They weren’t closing the cockpit doors yet; I spent the whole flight chatting with the flight attendant and the pilots. They were very friendly, seeing as I was the only other living creature on board at the time.

The Kiawah resort had a 99% cancellation rate that weekend. That’s not a typo. NINETY-NINE PERCENT. We had the place to ourselves. I’ve never had better service. Walk in for breakfast and sit…anywhere. Stroll up to the pro shop at courses that typically have months-long waiting lists for tee times, and then proceed directly to the first tee. Lunch and a re-load? No problem fellas. What time would you like to play this afternoon? Unprecedented, and unlikely to be repeated short of the Apocalypse.

It was while playing the Ocean Course at Kiawah, the course made famous by the epic comeback by the American Ryder Cup team to re-claim the Cup after several pastings at the hands of the Europeans, that I had my epiphany. I hated it. I played poorly, but not as poorly as I scored. The course was so penal that shots little more than 2 or 3 yards off target begat unplayable or nearly unplayable lies. It’s not just that it was hard, either. Heck, the River Course at Blackwolf Run absolutely slaughtered me, but I enjoyed everything else about that venue. I hated the everything about the Ocean Course itself. If you are a golfer you understand what it means to say that a course “sets up well to the eye of the golfer”. Not there. Not for me. I never liked what I saw in front of me; the course never set up for my shot in a way that pleased my eye, let alone my game. ¬†In the afternoon I played Panther quite well, and enjoyed everything about the walk, too.

We discussed our plans for golf for the rest of the weekend at dinner, a discussion that was made possible by the absence of any competition for tee times. My brother, brother-in-law, and Dad all wanted to play the Ocean Course again. Nope. No way. Why, I asked them, would I willingly return to some place or some thing that I knew I disliked? I then expressed my epiphany, my gut reaction to 9/11 and all that had come with it, identified and crystallized by a round of golf on the Ocean Course: the things that make me UNHAPPY make me feel worse than the things that make me HAPPY make me feel good. The bad feelings from the bad stuff are worse than the good feelings from the good stuff are… well… good. Furthermore, once identified, the bad things could very likely be avoided with greater accuracy and success than the good things could successfully be made to happen.

WHAT?! The table fairly exploded. Stuff like “glass half empty” and “not playing to win” flew around, a veritable carpet bombing of my revelation. I made a couple of half-hearted efforts to explain, to expand on my epiphany, to defend my position, all to no avail (which if you know any of the extended White family is not the least bit surprising). Nonetheless I stood my ground on the essential tactical decision that came from the strategy of avoiding things identified as “unhappy”–I continued to vote “NO” on another round at the Ocean Course.

Was I right? Am I right? Well, my partners definitely didn’t think so, and might still not agree if they were asked today. But here’s the rub: the epiphany was so clear, so obvious, so definitive and logical and right for me that it didn’t and doesn’t matter all that much what others think or if others agree. Given the game-changer that was 9/11 I was obviously open to this kind of revelation, though I was not in any way seeking this, or any OTHER sort of revelation. It arrived unbidden, and once there was like finding that thing you forgot you were looking for.

My epiphany? The things that make me happy can always be sought, can always be chased when they are visible, can always be welcomed if they arrive. Who wouldn’t fill their glass with that kind of stuff whenever they had the chance? The easy thing, I think, is to avoid the stuff that, once identified, you now know will make you unhappy. No matter how full your glass may be, THAT stuff always drains the glass.

Some times playing to win means playing defense.

2 Responses to “A 9/11 Epiphany”

  1. September 13th, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    Apolloswabbie says:

    FWIW – Tony Robbins’ stuff is rooted in the simple formula:
    -behavior is determined more by the unconscious mind than the conscious
    -the UCM works to avoid pain and gain pleasure
    -avoiding pain is more important than gaining pleasure
    -once an association is made in the UCM (for example, playing the ocean course), there is no easy way to re-associate to pleasure. This can be true often if there’s a single, one of, event (puke from food poisoning on the first night you try a new food, how likely are you to eat it again even if you know it wasn’t the new food?)

    There is a skill in learning how to associate more pleasure than pain to a desired behavior, and another in learning how to associate more pain than pleasure to an undesired behavior. The UCM perceives reality with haphazard clarity, and conscious clarity does not translate to UCM clarity – EG, the alcoholic knows his drinking causes immense pain, but the trick is getting the UCM to make that association vice the association that not drinking causes ‘ultimate pain’.

    This may not be exactly what you were experiencing, but I found the parallels interesting nonetheless.

    BTW – double the irony when you consider your blog theme that you associated pain to the ocean course!

  2. September 13th, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    darrellwhite says:

    “Double the irony…” Too funny!

    My Epiphany had to do, and continues to apply, to CONCIOUS decisions, err I would have caved to my partners’ desires to play the course again. I’m not sure how terribly introspective I am (or was), but I am VERY aware of how I feel in the moment, and Dude, I HATED that golf course!

    I’m good with the concept of UCM and its drives and drivers, but I’m altogether to unwilling to be led by them alone. Hence the “lightbulb” moment, the epiphany.

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