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Sunday musings…6/13/2021

1 He-Hem. What’s necessary on a pair of pants for an under-tall male.

Not to be completed until the sewing machine is necessary to make curtains for a She-Shed.

2 Snaffle. A particular type of bit, or mouthpiece, that connects a horse with a rider.

Really should be a snack food, don’t you think? Like, I dunno, a Snickers-flavored waffle or something.

3 Valet. Each year I either acquire a different nickname/role as the non-riding spouse of an amateur dressage rider. I’ve been jokingly referred to as The Breeder (kinda fun wearing my hat to non-horsey events), The Collector (a terrible role: you have more horses than you have use for), The Trader (you buy and sell horses; I actually find this one fascinating and would like to continue wearing this one), and for at least the first show of the year, The Valet (I brought chilled wine to celebrate the first post-lockdown show).

Everyone needs a role, right?

4 Competitor. Boy, it’s been a really long time since I’ve competed in anything with any kind or real intent. Might have been 2003 or so. My brother and I played in a golf tournament. We were inexplicably insulted by the pro a couple of months prior to the event. This turned what should have been at most a semi-serious hits and giggles fest into a grim, full-on, trample the injured/hurdle the dead effort to not only win but win big.

We both knew how to do that, and we did, indeed, run away from the field.

The point is more about us being super comfortable competing. Being in the arena and not finding it the least bit daunting to be either judged or measured. We’ve never competed in anything where we had either complex equipment (driving race cars, for instance) or animals to depend on (no Iditarod). At the moment I am writing from a spot in the shade across from stables in which millions of dollars of horseflesh stands ready to compete. The equestrian world contains both professional and amateur riders (the competitors), trainers of both who may or may not compete personally, and a category that is completely foreign to me: owner.

Now to be honest, as The Trader I’m not really unfamiliar with the concept of “owner” I guess. Beth does not ride the horses we trade (the pros do), and I, of course, do not ride at all. But we would not be in this world at all if Beth was not riding and competing. Indeed, we entered this world 20+ years ago with Lovely Daughter Megan. When I asked our trainer about this phenomenon, the non-riding or infrequently riding owner, his answer was that competing was so daunting for some riders that it literally makes them ill.

I guess I understand this, at least in the abstract. It’s just so foreign to me as a lifelong competitor in something or another. To be honest, not having a competitive outlet, a physical, athletic competitive outlet, has left a huge hole in my life. It’s not about winning or losing; that golf tournament where I really burned to win was an anomaly in my adult life. But I’d love to have something active where I got those little butterflies before the game, where I tuned in and automatically became laser-focused during the match. Love to have something to sit back and replay over a beer or glass of wine. Maybe even have my own Valet to provide the libations.

For competitors it’s OK to get butterflies in your stomach, as long as you can get them to fly in formation!

The non-riding owners are very nice people, and if they need a little encouragement or a kind-hearted push or shove, I’m there for them, however little understanding I have of their motivations or mindset. For some people those pre-game jitters are more pterodactyl than butterfly. It makes little sense to do something that makes you unhappy, however much being another non-competing part of that something might make them happy.

It’s just that seeing them there, so close to it, whatever it is, and not being able to get to the starting line…well…I think it will always make me a little sad for them. Or more accurately, a little sad for me. If I had that one thing I loved, that thing I loved being around, no matter what it was, I’d have filled that hole that’s been open and waiting to be filled for so very, very long.

I’d have jumped at the chance to once again saddle up myself, enter the ring, and be a competitor.

I’ll see you next week…

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

Thoughts on a Long Life (A Re-Post)

Life is long. I’ve been saying this for a while now. Life is only short if you are unlucky. More often’s the case that your life is very hard and it’s STILL long.How often have you heard the term “long and slow wins the race”? I’m becoming skeptical about this one as well. It seems to me that the average speed of the winning racer is, indeed, rather slow. But if you watch the race itself you notice that the most successful “racers” are actually doing serial sprints. Picking their spots and turning it on. Knowing when it’s “Go Time” and being able to floor it seems to be the best strategy in the long-life race.

If life is long we need to re-interpret some of our other strategies as well. “Carpe Diem”, live for the day, becomes somewhat more complex if we anticipate that we will live another, and another, and on and on. We typically view “Carpe Diem” through the prism of the classic thought experiment, the “get hit by a bus” scenario. As in: “If I get hit by a bus tomorrow would I be pleased with all I’ve done thus far, with what I did today?”

In any life, long or short, this line of thought has merit; one should strive to max out each day, wring the most life out of every single one.A long life prompts one to rise up and view a life not from 3 feet but from 3,000 or 30,000 feet as well. What happens if I DON’T get hit by a bus? If I look at the path I am now on, the trends I have established with the decisions and actions I have taken thus far, is what I am doing and where I seem to be going likely to create a life I will look back upon with pride and with a smile if I DON’T get hit by that bus?

The reality is that you are driving the bus, pedal to the medal at times and just cruising at others, carrying as your passengers the friends who get on and off over the long life. It may be more important to avoid hitting someone else with the bus you are driving than it is to worry about being hit by a bus yourself.

For the duration of the trip, however long it turns out to be.

Play Group

Play group lives!

On Friday I played my first round of golf in 13 years. It’s crazy writing that. My Dad gifted the game of golf to my brother and me when we were 7 and 8, respectively. Over the years I’m sure that I’ve played thousands of rounds of golf. I was a pretty good golfer. Not great. Certainly not go out and compete great. Let’s call it “country club good”. Still, it was rare for me to be totally outmatched in any foursome, and I was generally a decent partner for that “good walk, spoiled”. When I hurt my shoulder in the gym so many years ago I became a very mediocre golfer, literally overnight. More than that, every swing hurt.

For the privilege of playing what, for me, was not great golf I got to be in pain, a pretty lousy trade.

So I gave up golf. Didn’t play a single round, or really even set foot on a golf course, for these last 13 years. Quite honestly I really didn’t miss the game itself. Golf had been good to me in so many ways, and I walked away without any real goals left unachieved. What I did miss, though, was golfers. The men with whom I played golf. I missed the grab-assing on the first tee, arguing over who got how many strokes from whom and what the game would be. I missed rehashing the round with my playing mates on the “19th hole”, lying about how well we played. What I missed about golf was the camaraderie of being in the company of golfers.

Which is why my round on Friday was so special. We even had a story heading up to the first round. You see, it was actually supposed to happen a week ago, but I got called to an emergency surgery. My first in at least 10 years. How weird, eh? So this Friday came after another week of anticipation and the fear that I wouldn’t just be 13 years rusty, but truly and completely awful. My visits to the driving range put the chances of that happening at a pretty robust 50%.

You know what? It didn’t matter. Oh, I was terrible all right. Simply horrible at the start. I lost 3 balls on the first hole (kinda scary; I only brought 9 balls!). Couldn’t even get a ball airborne with my driver. But it really didn’t matter at all because I wasn’t there on the first tee with just any group of golfers. I was there with 6 men who I have known and with whom I’ve been friends for some 25 years.

We met through our wives, all stay-at-home Moms who’d found each other through Pre-School PTA and formed classic play groups when our kids were tiny. These are most of the guys I’ve traveled with to some of the most gawd-awful courses in South Carolina, and then come back with some of my very best golf memories. They were collectively holding their breath not just to see if I could still play, but more importantly to see how I reacted if I couldn’t.

Did I really mean it when I told them that I was back for them, to be a part of our Play Group, and not for the golf?

This is not a group noted for its collective ability to let an opportunity to tease a member pass, but there they were. Silent. Worried about their friend. Kinda bummed for me, actually. Until I stepped up to my putrid 40 yard best drive and promptly plunked another ball in the drink. We probably got close to getting the boot the howls of laughter were so loud. My buddies peppered me with golf balls to make sure I wouldn’t run out, and made unprintable jokes about how I might have more effectively used my “Orange Whip” swing trainer as we rolled on toward what turned out to be a very nice walk, indeed.

How did I end up playing? Meh, overall pretty pitiful to be honest. There were a few rather nice iron shots in between 45 putts (some things never change!), and I was O-fer on those holes where I played around with hitting driver off the tee. Oh, and I ended up net positive on the golf ball ledger; I found a total of 6 balls to balance the 4 I lost in all. We were all even par in the pub afterwards, of course! There was no mercy extended in the commentary on my maiden round, although one buddy did have a tip that might just do the trick on that driving problem.

What my day turned out to be was exactly what I’d hoped for, a chance to be in the company of men who were my friends. 6 guys with whom I’ve not spent enough time over the years as I sidelined myself from one of our gathering places. No matter how old you are you always need a crew, a tribe of compatible humans who genuinely want you to be there, no matter where “there” happens to be. Friends in my case who may or may not have tucked a couple of extra balls in their bag just in case you kept losing yours at a 3 per hole rate.

It wasn’t about the golf. Really, even when I was decent, it really wasn’t about the golf even if maybe I did care a bit about the golf then. Nope, it’s about Play Group, and the friends who make up Play Group. So a tip of my cap to Pete, Rob, Steve, Bob, Dwight and Tom (we missed you, Ted and Ken). Thanks for saving my spot. And a shout-out to my brother Randy for the long-distance coaching and encouragement. A hearty: “Yes! When?” to Rob, Bob, T, and all of my long-lost golf buddies when you ask me to play, as you’ve continued to do for 13 years.

No matter what your handicaps may be each of you has proven to be a “scratch” when it comes to the game of friendship.

You CAN Have It All (Some Restrictions Apply)

In my weekly reading I came across an updated version of a classic. Life is like juggling as many balls in the air as we can. All of the balls are made of rubber; drop one or two or whatever and you just pick ’em up on the bounce. All of the balls except for family. The family ball is made of glass.

Drop the family ball and it shatters.

Some years ago I wrote an essay that pretty much said that you CAN’T have it all. It was accurate for the times, not because it was harder to have it all back then but because having it all actually meant having EVERYTHING. Man, was I attacked for saying that. One Academic ER doc, a woman, came at me with a classic ad hominem attack. Not a word about what I wrote (the only thing she actually knew about me), but plenty about the person who wrote the piece. Not very helpful, frankly, or conducive to productive dialogue. Wonder what she’d have said if she’d known about my advocacy on behalf of my younger colleagues, particularly women. In any event, it’s time for an update.

My daughter and I have had a brilliant ongoing discussion about what most people label “work-life balance”. Megan and I agree that no such thing exists because the whole concept is built upon a false construct. “Work” is a part of “life”. It is inextricably a part of life and therefore cannot be carved out as something that is inherently separate and equal to whatever it is that one calls “life”. My old CrossFit world provides a very nice analogy in the discussion of functional movements like the squat. A squat is a movement that is a unified whole. You cannot break it down into pieces/parts and train them separately.

Doing leg extensions, hamstring curls, and leg pushes does not train the squat.

What Megan and I have settled on is “Harmony”, a state in which all of the aspects of life ebb and flow into and out of play. Think of the various instruments in an orchestra playing a complex composition. It is as obvious when a life lacks harmony as it is when a single instrument is out of step with the rest of the orchestra. Too much or too little, too fast or too slow, you always “see” it when harmony is lost.

What, then, is different in our understanding of “having it all” today compared with 9 or 10 years ago. As always my understanding, and consequently my ability to enunciate my understanding, has been enhanced by a better, more accurate vocabulary. You can, indeed, have it all, but you must think long and hard about what “it all” means to you. The misperception then, and now, is that “having it all” means having EVERYTHING. You can’t have everything. No one can have everything. Whatever you think “it all” means, for sure it doesn’t mean “everything”.

There’s more to it, though. Once you have taken the measure of what belongs in your own “all” basket, harmony comes when you realize that you can’t have it “all” at the same time. All of the things in your “all” basket take the lead at times, and fade a bit toward the background at others. Again, the metaphor of the orchestra is apt: there’s an oboe there somewhere but it’s not always playing. You simply can’t have it “all” all at the same time.

You can have it all, but all doesn’t mean everything. Even if you have it all, you can’t have it all the time. So where does my little juggling epiphany fit in? We all know people who we admire for keeping many balls in the air while spinning a dozen plates on sticks. When they occasionally drop a ball here or there we uniformly react with something like “of course you drop one every now and again.”

But what if it’s the family ball? The one that’s not even a little bit rubber but actually the thinnest glass imaginable? Each of us also knows that career-driven person who always puts family second (or lower). Takes every assignment. Works when they’re home, by choice. What of them? (And don’t @me about those true heroines/heroes who work 2 or more jobs just to keep a roof over the family’s heads and food in their tummies; I’m clearly talking about people who have choices to make).

Family, like work, isn’t really a “stand alone” part of life either. However, as I get older, as I watch another generation raise their families while simultaneously watching the generation that raised us leave the arena, it becomes clear that harmony is much more difficult to achieve if you don’t handle the family ball as if it is, indeed, the fragile element that it is. “You’re only as happy as your least happy child.” How often have you heard that one? Pretty accurate, that. For those of us “managing” the lives of elderly parents and relatives it often seems as if we are only as happy as our least happy elder, too. Do you wonder what, or more accurately who will be there when it is you that is on that final glide path?

I can’t help feeling as if the place of family in one’s own experience of harmony will determine how that final flight goes.

I dunno. Maybe the juggling quote weakens my thesis about life and work and harmony, but I think not. Whether you buy into Megan’s and my concept of harmony or continue to feel that “balance” is the better construct, “work” is not the other side of the teeter totter from “life”. Family is. Without adequately caring for the family part of whichever equation you wish to use stuff just doesn’t work. There is no balance. Harmony is unachievable.

You CAN have it all, as long as the well-being of your family is the first part of “all” you create and take care of.

Sunday musings…4/11/2021

1 Crowd. What you call a herd of rhinos. Pretty good word. Still not the coolest name for a group of animals, though.

A group of crows is called a “murder”.

2 Simulacrum. “sim-you-LAY-crum”. An image or representation of someone or something, usually unflattering or denoting something unsatisfactory.

No reason. Just came across it and had to look it up.

3 Paak. The rapper Anderson.Paak: “You need the mojo of the stage”. This from a man who has been incredibly productive over the course of the last year, creating astonishing music in the fanless vacuum of his home. This quote reminds me of how pretty much all of my professional colleagues viewed their time in lockdown, home, away from their patients. It makes me think about how much we all wish to come together for in-person meetings despite the evidence that shows we are able to learn remotely.

There is an energy in the doing on stage thing. There is a creative spark that simply never lights when you do what you do behind the curtain, so to speak. For me, at least, there is. Paak says it out loud. In healthcare can you provide the same level of care “behind” a screen, without the presence of co-workers? Without the physical connection of in-person care? No idea. Will the possibility of enhanced access, along with what everyone assumes will be lower cost, trump the spark that occurs “on stage”?

For now the answer lies just far enough back stage, off screen, for us to truly see it.

4 Healthspan. Ooooo, I really love this one. As opposed to lifespan, of course. Your healthspan is that part of your life where you are not only not dead (duh), but in good health. Functional. Still winning the fight against decrepitude (you can still get your ass up off the loo without help). As a sorta, kinda, still a CrossFit guy the appeal of this term is obvious. Especially today as I sit here having “broken” my ass after hitting a measly 40 balls on the range yesterday.

Aging is a bitch, but seriously? I hit 40 shots with a wedge and I have a broken ass?

In yesterday’s WSJ there was a cool essay by a guy who wrote a book on the science of fighting aging. Not the diseases associated with aging, but the process of aging itself. At a cellular level there is a lifespan. Once the cells die their lifeless husks apparently remain, gumming up the works for the cells still living. Why does a tortoise live so long? As it turns out it actually ages more slowly at the cellular level. Not only does a tortoise live longer, but it also doesn’t age as rapidly; a 100 year old tortoise is as vibrant as a 50 year old tortoise (if any tortoise could be described as vibrant). In a similar vein there are species of rats, I believe, where it is not possible to distinguish between a 3 year old rat and a 23 year old rat.

Although they live a long time these animals do not age, per se.

Imagine what this would mean for developed societies (the only kind I’ve lived in so the only kind I feel comfortable commenting on). Even without any significant increase in lifespan, if you increase the healthspan of the population you alleviate massive amounts of late-in-life suffering, thereby reducing the cost of caring for elderly infirmed. If older people are only older in time, not age, you preserve the resource that is their collective life’s experience. Mentorship remains available for decades longer, and productivity during their years of employment remains high.

There remains the need to continue to develop cures for disease, of course. This is especially true for those diseases that take out the young. Public health remains neither more nor less important; protecting the population from preventable deaths where better policy is the cure (vaccination, accident prevention, etc) is probably even more important when you have a population that remains “young”, or “not-aged” well past mid-life.

What will bring us to a human version of tortoise-hood? In my rather obsessive reading on this over the years there does not appear to be any one, single thing that could be universally applied across humanity. At least not yet. It appears that literally every diet/nutrition strategy works best in a particular genetic setting, and that no one, single diet works across the board. This stings a bit if you have forced yourself to adhere to something extreme and it turns out it doesn’t fit your genome, a phenomenon that cuts both vegans and carnivores equally. Even if your diet does match up with your genetics, so far it would only seem to keep you alive longer, not keep you “young” longer. Some suggestions to fight aging run afoul of the “less fun” barrier. As in “is it really worth not aging if I can’t have a beer” barrier. Is it really better to have a longer healthspan if you each day is emptied of fun?

Still, even here there is less than conclusive evidence, let alone a consensus of evidence.

It appears that the battle against decrepitude, the quest to be older without aging, will require something that we do not yet posses. Some kernel of knowledge, some discovery that will allow us to be simply more experienced versions of our younger selves without suffering the aging process. Whatever it is will also have to be acceptable. Suffering some puritanical intervention to achieve a long life without aging seems like a recipe for some sort of societal disaster. Still, I’m convinced that it’s possible to find a solution that will allow us all to enjoy a glass of wine, eat in a manner that we find pleasing and comfortable, and still remain youthful in all ways except the number of candles on our birthday cakes.

Which means we should be able to swing a golf club 40 times without injuring our ass.

I’ll see you next week…

Wearing a Bow Tie to Honor a Friend: Sunday musings…4/4/2021

Tomorrow I will wear a bow tie to work for the first time in more than a year. Actually, it will be the first time I wear a bow tie outside of my house since mid-March 2020. When my world got locked down by fiat from multiple aboves, all of the doctors in my practice transitioned to scrubs for the office. You know, so that we could launder them every night. One of my docs went so far as stripping down in the entryway to their home and showering before changing into civvies. No bow tie meant I could launder everything I wore to the office.

Since med school I have pretty much always worn a bow tie to work. Certainly since I began practice. What started out as convenience (a bow tie doesn’t hang down into all of the yucky stuff you encounter in a hospital) turned into a professional signature (Dr. Bow Tie). Not wearing a bow tie was universally noticed. Greeting patients prior to surgery in scrubs never failed to elicit a “where’s the bow tie, Doc?” The only time I wore what my kids called a “grown up tie” was for wakes and funerals. Bow ties sometimes denote a sense of whimsy and fun; I never wanted anyone to feel I wasn’t being properly respectful.

Last week I lost a colleague from work, someone with whom I worked side by side for the better part of 25 years. Tomorrow, at their funeral, I will wear a bow tie.

That my colleague died suddenly and alone makes my loss, our loss, so much more painful. Separated from each other for 9 or 10 weeks our work family actually bonded. Reached out to one another. Cared for one another. I recorded a video on the effects of the entire COVID experience on our small private practice in early March, and one of the marvels was that each and every person who worked together in our little place came back to continue the journey. Every. Single. One. Other than being able to stay open that fact, that we all came back to pick up where we’d been stopped, was the most amazing, wonderful part of an otherwise very hard year.

That’s what I will be thinking about on my way to the funeral tomorrow. We’d made it. Or at least I thought we’d all made it. Looking back my colleague had started to change a few months ago. A little less bounce in the walk. Slower to laugh. More time spent alone when the option to be together was there. Still, they’d always been very private. We knew something was wrong. We gave space because space was requested whenever we asked if we could help. Safe, we thought, in the knowledge that our colleague had always bounced back from setbacks large or small.

Indeed, they joked with me that the bow tie needed to make a return.

I find myself thinking about my colleague, my friend of 25 years, at odd moments. My efforts to put them in a little closet, a tiny shrine somewhere in my mind, perhaps, where I can visit when I’m strong enough…well…that’s been a miserable failure. I know that there was nothing that I, or anyone, could do for our friend. There was more pain than they thought possible. Intellectually, I know that we were all powerless. Still, dark, sorrowful tears tinged with the bitterness of “why?” and “if only” come without warning, unbidden, staining my cheeks on their way to the ground.

Tomorrow, to honor my friend, so that they will recognize me as they’d known me these many, many years, I will wear a bow tie in public for the first time in over a year. Just in case they are watching from above, to make sure they know I’m there, I will wear a bow tie to a funeral for the first time ever. There will be many of my work family there. We are all feeling the same. There’s an ache, a hole where our friend should be. Where our friend once stood so stolid, so supportive and loving, we will have to find the strength to make our friend proud of us as we hold each other up. As they once did for us. I must remember to bring tissues for everyone. For myself. That will be very helpful.

When you wear a bow tie there is nothing there to catch the tears.