Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

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Memories and Remembering: Sunday musings…12/1/19

Not gonna lie, Thanksgiving this year has been a tough go for me. As you know Thanksgiving is far and away my favorite holiday. The coming together of family and friends for nothing but the joy of coming together as family and friends has always touched my soul. That we would or could continue to do so year after year has been a bit of a touchstone for a kid (and a couple) who moved away. For more than 30 years we have alternated in some way between extended families. Where once we needed only manage two generations there are now four in the mix. 2019 was an “off” year for us, a year when children would prioritize in-laws (if even that was possible). Beth and I neither hosted nor traveled to be hosted by family for Thanksgiving dinner (hugs and infinite thanks to the Taylors for folding us into theirs and to Randy and his little family for joining us for brunch).

I missed everybody.

Seriously, I was a mess. Just a great big blubbering mess. I missed everyone, those both simply away and those who are gone. This longing was occasionally just below the surface, and to my wife’s great amusement bubbled through at pretty much every tiny little emotional prompt. It goes without saying that I sprung a leak watching “Mary Poppins” and “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood ” (the Mister Rogers movie), but come on, I cried at the end of “Downton Abbey”. Everybody lived! Everybody was happy! And I still cried. Don’t even get me started about that new “E.T.” commercial. Sheesh.

For whatever reason, well, probably because we wouldn’t have a typical family Thanksgiving, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about family members who are no longer with us. It’s been a tough few years for the White and Hurst families, and for the families of our sibling’s spouses for that matter. I’ve found myself thinking of my Dad and my Father-in-Law, wishing I could chat about any number of things. We stumbled upon a lovely picture of Sandy, my Mother-in-Law, making Christmas cookies. So vibrant, so alive in that picture. My memories of those holiday moments came alive, too, a rush of color and smiles and scents and laughter. Bob’s puns. My Dad’s terrible palate that could nonetheless parse the provenance and price point of Chateauneuf de Pape. They are here with me as if we’d had dinner yesterday.

If I had the guts I would re-watch “Coco”, that lovely little Disney movie about the Mexican day of remembrance Dio de los Muertos. I don’t, and I won’t, at least not now while I seem to be just one raw exposed nerve, but if I did it would probably help a bit. Remembering, that is. Harold Bloom, the Yale professor of literature and societal scold, has given this some thought: “Our beloved dead live only as long as we absorb them into our daily thoughts and feelings. When we die, our own survival will be the extent to which we have changed the lives of those who come after us.” Very Mexican, that. Still, both Bloom and Coco are right; Beth’s folks and my Dad have been here with us this Thanksgiving.

Are they in Heaven? Boy, for as much thinking as I’ve done about that over the years I still don’t know where that is. Heaven, that is. Is it a place like what Disney depicted in “Coco”, where our dead live for as long as they are remembered by the living? Does the Heaven of my upbringing exist as a place of eternal joy for those whose lives were deemed worthy? Or is there some other, more rational explanation like the one that my genius brother-in-law and I have explored through quantum physics? The multiverse of infinite time going both forward and backward?

Or perhaps it is not our beloved dead who are in Heaven but us. Maybe it is we who are in Heaven. Mr. Rogers: “The connections we make here in the course of a life–maybe that’s what Heaven is.” Maybe Heaven is here, now, and those we’ve lost in the flesh are nonetheless here with us in Heaven for as long as they are remembered. Make no mistake it is easier and far more satisfying to be warmed by a hug than a memory. But still, the connections persist. That’s likely the important lesson for me this Thanksgiving. The rituals help us to remember, and the remembering keeps those we love and have loved close by. My beloved Thanksgiving, in every version, may be as close as I will ever come to understanding Heaven.

And that it’s OK for me, for anyone, to want a little more of Heaven.

 

Holiday Rituals: Sunday musings…11/24/19

“The sign of a healthy ritual is one that can be changed.”

This is my favorite time of year. Thanksgiving, that is. I’m not so much a fan of the whole “Holiday Season” thing, given that it’s all about the commerce of Christmas. What I really love is Thanksgiving. It’s pure, or at least as pure as a holiday can be in our hyper market-driven American lives. For those of you who are now being launched out of your chairs with a knee-jerk response about the heinous effect of the Pilgrims on the indigenous natives here long before the westward move from Europe, save your breath. What I’m talking about is not in any way related to anything historical other than the traditional myth of generosity and comity I first learned about in kindergarten. Thanksgiving for me is simple and pure. We gather and break bread, the only reason to do so being that we are thankful for the opportunity.

We joke in the White family that our traditions, especially those around holidays, are set in stone. Do it twice and it’s as permanent as Stonehenge. While this is certainly true on average, looking back there have been some mileposts where a turn was made. Actually, more than a few. In the earliest of days my maternal grandparents hosted Thanksgiving in New Jersey. This went on until my Dad had enough of traveling with 3 and then 4 little ones. Turkey Day moved to our home for the next 20 years or so. I have to admit that I don’t remember whether or not Gamma and Gramp were there in the tiny house in Southbridge; I cannot remember a Thanksgiving without Gamma once we moved to RI, at least after Gramp died.

Why can’t I remember where she sat?

Take a moment and think about your family meal. What time did you eat as a kid? Do you remember why that was the time? And the meal itself; what did your family eat and how was it prepared? It was always the same, each year, right? We were a football house. In RI every high school has a Thanksgiving Day game. Same for Massachusetts. The annual rivalry with Bartlett (Webster) has been a thing in Southbridge for decades. I got to play in one as a freshman, but I can remember going to the game to see our childhood heroes, the gods who strapped on the pads for the Pioneers, from my grade school years. My first cup of coffee was at at Bartlett/Southbridge Thanksgiving Day game when they ran out of hot chocolate. We ate around 3 if memory serves. The games began at 11 and were done by 1:00. Long after I hung up my cleats in RI we all piled on our warmest outerwear and watched Lincoln High play its annual version of the game.

Stuff starts to change when you get married and the whole in-law thing enters into the Holiday equation. Beth and I are both first-born, first-married, first to have kids (and grandkids) in both of our families. Since our families lived 6 or 7 hours apart there was no way to pull off the double-dinner dance so delicately done by countless friends who married local. It’s funny how you notice the differences in family traditions so much more than that which is the same. The Whites and the Hursts all ended up with magnificent meals, both nutritionally and spiritually satisfying in every way, albeit by vastly different routes. Beth’s family sourced everything locally, each item plucked from the farm within days of Thanksgiving, every course and dessert made from scratch. In our house the turkey was frozen long before dinner, and the only things made from scratch were the mashed potatoes (Dad was very particular about them) and the stuffing.

And yet both meals were the best meals I ate every single year because they were baked in love and enjoyed in the company of those I loved and who loved me.

Change has continued to come to our Thanksgiving rituals as the next generation went to college and began to (yikes!) marry themselves. Two generations of in-laws to manage now. Whoa. Children living out of town with job schedules and travel logistics to contend with. Siblings who live close enough to give at least a passing thought to joining around a single table, and other sets of siblings just far enough apart that to do so would require a quantum computer and a Papal decree. Our little family alternates years as we did for so long when our kids were young. This is an “off” year for us. Beth and I will see one child and his family for a short time at brunch. That will be it for our family gathering, at least on Thanksgiving Day. Another family will fold us into the embrace of their ritual, a change for both of us.

The details change, but do the rituals of Thanksgiving change as well? I don’t think so. At least not enough to change how I feel about Thanksgiving or how I remember our Thanksgivings of yore. We will enjoy the rituals that have surrounded the signature ritual, the Thanksgiving Day meal, and for this year they will be enough. Pizza on Wednesday to usher in the Holiday, and the best steaks we can find on Friday. On Saturday I’ll try to find some way to serve lasagna; we always had Mrs. Cunniff’s ready to defrost after 3 days of leftovers. I’ll bring Cakebread Chardonnay (and think of my sister Tracey) to our friends’ house for dinner, almost 30 years of ritual in that little gesture alone. With those steaks we will drink Chateauneuf de Pape, the only wine my Dad could identify; he had the world’s worst palate and was subsequently the easiest wine drinker to please except on the Friday after Thanksgiving when only Chateauneuf de Pape would do.

The sweet sadness of change will be lightened for me by the strength of the rituals that persist. Each one has grown to fill the space created by inevitable change. By both loss and gain. The rituals that we have now have come from the same place as those they have replaced, a place of love, a place filled with thanks for that love. Yes, this is my favorite time of year. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Mary Poppins and Politics: Sunday musings…11/11/19

Sunday musings…

1) Wit. “Mustard’s Last Stand”. Name of a hot dog stand at Northwestern.

2) Streaming. Lots of churn about streaming fatigue, overload, etc. So many/too many new options layered on top of shows and movies you still need to catch up on. What’s a body to do?

I’m gonna read a book.

3) Burberry. I stumbled upon several articles talking about the new creative director of venerable clothing brand Burberry. All of them talked about their plans to change stuff there. While I am not a regular customer by any means I have had a couple of pieces from Burberry that fit my style and stood the test of time. Which begs the question: why must Burberry, or for that matter any iconic brand known for a particular whatever, change? Evolution seems proper, maybe even inevitable, but the incessant demand for the traditional to change is confusing to me.

Why must change be considered as a mandate rather than an option, especially in a successful endeavor?

I admit that I poke fun at fashion with some regularity, typically timed by the semi-annual release of fashion issues of the big national newspaper magazines. My fascination with the absurdity of what is promoted as good, or even possible knows no bounds. Nobody wears that nonsense, yet lots of somebodies continue to wear garments that are instantly recognizable as Burberry. Does this not denote success? Is this not what a successful venture of any kind in any space would seek to perpetuate? I think of the pillars of healthcare delivery, known for excellence in certain spheres because of their ability to successfully treat the most complex cases imaginable. One of them here in town has a new “creative director” who has decided that change means the equivalent of mass market growth in fashion. Like Givenchy designing and selling volume in Kmart.

How long can a successful brand sustain change before what made it successful has been diluted to the point of nonexistence? How many places can the iconic Burberry plaid be placed before it’s just another color? How far from the classic pieces for which it is known can the new creative director take the Burberry style before it’s no longer Burberry?

These are questions that apply everywhere a traditional product, brand, or name means something.

4) Candidate. Much noise has been generated by Michael Bloomberg’s flirtation with a run for the Democratic nomination for president. He is a political chameleon, running now as a Democrat after a run for mayor of NYC as both a Republican and an Independent. Mostly a down-the-line progressive when it comes to social issues he nonetheless has a couple of positions that would appeal to conservatives; his record for law and order in New York appeals to conservatives while at the same time revolting progressives due to the tactics utilized to achieve the goal. A billionaire many times over he seemed to find a balance in NY between promoting business and the creation of wealth while simultaneously protecting those at the bottom of the economic pile. As much as anyone in New York can, anyway. He likely gets bludgeoned in the primaries even though it is equally likely that he would win the presidential election in a landslide.

As interesting and intriguing as Mr. Bloomberg may be his potential entry into the race makes me think of the most impressive national figure I can think of in my lifetime who should have run for President, Condoleezza Rice. Ms. Rice was Secretary of State under Bush and is now a professor at Stanford among other pursuits. Possessed of a nearly unmatchable intelligence among recent government officials both elected and selected, she checks every conceivable box both as a candidate and as someone prepared to govern. I think I can trace my dissatisfaction with both politics and government in part to her decision to withdraw from public life. Not since Paul Tsongas withdrew from the ’92 race due to illness have I felt like the right person was there to be chosen. Her absence from the national conversation borders on tragic.

I fear that we are thus doomed to at least 5 years of braying from the far Right and Left, or just plain old braying if we have 4 more years of 45. In the absence of someone like Ms. Rice, someone of substance who transcends the pettiness of our politics, I will spend another 4 years waiting. Waiting for someone of substance who will speak to me and the 10′s of millions of us who inhabit the center of American politics. Some a little left and others a bit right of center, but all of us clustered far from what it apparently takes to be nominated to run for either party. I will wait for someone who makes me think of Mr. Tsongas or Ms. Rice. Individuals of arching intelligence and substance who have lived lives that citizens of all political leaning can agree have been honorable. Ethical. Candidates who will take and hold principled positions without denigrating or dismissing those who disagree. Someone who can both campaign and govern.

Watching her leave her post as U.N. Ambassador after a successful run as Governor of South Carolina I felt like Bert, looking skyward as Mary Poppins flies away after saving the Banks children. So long Nikki Haley. Don’t stay away too long.

I’ll see you next week…

 

 

Tiny Cultural Collisions

I just returned home from the largest of the annual ophthalmology meetings. At these gatherings I see my professional friends, and some 35,000 or so of us descend upon whatever city we are visiting. We bring all manner of customs and culture along with us, there to collide with those of the locals. Here is what I wrote about this a few years ago, still relevant today.

It takes very little effort to observe the intersection of cultural norms. Indeed, it takes a substantial effort NOT to notice them when they collide, as they must, in the polyglot that is the United States. Physicians, it’s been noted, are little more than paid observers; I see these collisions daily. What are we to do when cultures collide?

Now, I’m not talking about the “old as eternity” cultural divide between teenagers and their parents; in the end the teens will either hew closely to the cultural norms of their heritage or fall more in line with those of their present address. What I am interested in are those cultural norms that remain an integral part of the fully formed adult one might encounter in a rather typical day, and by extension whether and how one should respond to any cultural dissonance. Or for that matter, WHO should be the one to respond.

It’s the tiny ones that catch my attention. Personal space for example. The typical American personal space extends one arm length between individuals. Something shorter than a handshake, more like a handshake distance with bent elbows. The Mediterranean space involves an elbow, too: put your hand on your shoulder and point your elbow to the front and you have measured the personal space of a Sicilian. Asians on the other hand occupy a much larger personal space that can be loosely measured by a fully extended fist-bump. Something which would be anathema in polite Japanese company, but no matter.

My favorite little example of the variety of cultural norms that swirl in the soup of the great Melting Pot is the affectionate greeting. You know, what most fully acclimatized Americans would recognize as the “bro hug” shoulder bump and clasp, something that would be appalling to a Parisian or Persian, or indeed even to a Princess of the Antebellum South. Yet even here there are differences. The Princess, joined by legions of Housewives of Wherever and Junior Leaguers everywhere are ninjas in the practice of the single-cheek air kiss. It should be noted that ~90% of men are NOT ninjas in this particular art, and are expected by its practitioners to bungle the act.

Persians and Parisians, on the other hand, find the one-cheek air kiss to accomplish only half the job. They, and others who share centuries old cultures, warmly greet each other with a two-cheek kiss. I am sure that there are nuances involved here that remain unseen and unknown to both most men and certainly most (all?) who don’t share the heritage. (As an aside let me just say that I am a huge fan of this particular cultural norm because it means that two of my very favorite colleagues, Neda and Carol, always arrive bearing TWO kisses).

So what’s the point here? Two, I think. First, there is a certain boorishness in the failure to observe and recognize the existence of these cultural norms when they are encountered. Some, like those I’ve mentioned, are the relative equivalent of a soft breeze, neither strong enough to fill a sail nor de-leaf a tree. Recognizing them, even in the tiny manner that one tries not to trample on them even if they will be ignored, is a tiny gesture of kindness, respect, and courtesy.

The flip side, number two, is deciding which of these norms is the default setting. Here things get a bit stickier, especially when cultural norms run afoul of SOP on the particular ground they occupy. Think air kiss in Afghanistan, for example. Bowing in the boardroom of Samsung in San Clemente. There are more, and bigger examples, but you get the idea. Here I think geography holds the trump card: “when in Rome” should be your guide, especially with cultural norms where the collision may be substantially more impactful than whether or when you turn the other cheek, a tornado to the above tickling breeze.

Perhaps we could all agree on the two-cheek greeting thing.

In Memoriam: Abby, the Wonder Dog

In Memoriam: Abby the Wonder Dog

This morning I was awakened by a text from Beth: “Call when you can.” That’s almost never good, and today was no exception. My beautiful, brilliant dog Abby had died. A tumor was wrapped around a major artery; there was nothing to do but comfort and love her after the artery burst. She died in her Mamma’s arms as my son Randy gently stroked her head.

May I tell you her story?

My older boy, Dan, shared an apartment with two friends and a very cool Border Collie named Dakota. When Tommy and Megan moved on Dakota went with them, leaving a hole in Dan’s heart that could only be filled by another dog. Did you know that farmers in central Ohio who raise working dogs don’t always spay or neuter their packs? Neither did we. While I don’t know how extensive this next part is, at least some of the pups that are not needed to work the farms are simply turned out onto the land to fend for themselves. It’s enough of a thing that there is an animal rescue in Tiffin, Ohio dedicated solely to these “extras” from the litters.

Abby and her sister were feral for the first 6 months of their lives. After being live-trapped they were brought to the Border Collie/Australian Shepherd rescue where Dan somehow discovered Abby’s picture. There must have been 3 dozen dogs in crates and running in outdoor pens when we arrived to see if they would let us adopt one. It was funny. We had to audition for the staff. They brought out 6 or 7 other dogs to see how we would handle them before finally bringing Abby out of her crate.

Abby, who promptly came right over and climbed simultaneously into Dan’s lap and all of our hearts.

Herding dogs like Abby, part Border Collie and part Aussie, are rightly famous for their intellect and their energy. Having one of these without a farm to run them is a special kind of crazy. As a college junior Dan’s apartment was hardly expansive enough to contain her energy. Was it boredom or anxiety that prompted her to tear the carpet in the apartment and eat down through the subfloor while he was in class? She never said, but shortly after her “redecorating” she came for her first extended stay with Mom and Dad.

We had quite the little pack, Beth and I. Haddie our English Setter was like Nana in “Peter Pan”, mothering dogs, children, and adults alike. Tiny Tim arrived looking more than a bit like a Beanie Baby, so tiny and fragile, velcroed to Beth’s side. And then Abby arrived, all energy and curiosity and mischief. Even with her canine buddies there was still something about being without her people that made her crazy. Nothing on a counter or in a closet was safe from her when we were out.

I’ve told most of these stories before. Like the time she ate about $200 in petty cash from the office. Pretty interesting poops in the backyard after that as you can imagine. The very best one was when she “ate my homework”. We’d gone out to dinner and apparently I didn’t put my surgical sheets for the next day’s cases far enough back on the counter. If that’s all it was I could have run up to the office and simply run off new copies. Nope. As it turned out I was also transporting a couple of special order lens implants from one surgery center to another. Implants for which one of my patients had paid about $1500. Oh yeah, Abby ate those, too. That was a pretty weird phone call, telling my patient why I was cancelling their surgery at 9:00 PM the night before. The OR staff still talks about that one.

Abby never really lost a kind of wariness around new people. It was there with all of us (except Dan) at the rescue and remained after she came to live with Beth and me while Dan was doing lots of traveling as he completed his studies. There’s a lovely fellow who worked for the boys at their gym who Abby never warmed to; he sent us a very nice condolence in which he shared that this had always made him sad. Beth and I had just one worry, that she would be skittish around little ones like grandchildren. No worries there. I will forever see her lying close to her newest littlest people, totally unperturbed as they tumbled on top on her in their travels.

Or the tiny little “drive-by” kisses, soft little licks she gave Landon or Lila or McKenna on her way by. Yes, those…those I will see through my tears forever.

Abby loved us from the minute she chose Dan right up until she died. The last thing she saw on this earth was her people Mom, Beth, and her little brother Randy. I’m still not sure if it was better to be away or not. All I know is that I loved my dog, and that the very last thing I did when I left the house last week before my travels began was to reach down, scratch her ears and tell her. For all of my sorrow I wouldn’t trade our years together for anything.

Fair winds on this last journey Abby, your sails full with the winds of my love. I did so love being your person.

Musings on When a Game Became “The Game”

Here is an update to an essay from a couple of years ago. I read it today, on a Saturday afternoon, when I will once again not be watching football.

 

Randy texted me about the exciting finish to the ND NCAA football game. Dan called and asked if I was watching the Browns. It made me smile. Not the result, not even the topic, but the excitement. A parent is only as happy as his least happy kid, and at those moments two of my kids was very happy. My sons football playing days are long behind them, but the game still brings them joy.

Me? Not so much.

Oh sure, there was a time when football never seemed to be any lower on my list of wonderful things than 2 or 3. I was a medium-sized fish in a puddle as a high school football player, but I didn’t have the game out of my system when I graduated. Accepted at one Ivy League school and waitlisted at another, I turned down both because I was too small to have any chance of playing football at that level. Instead I went to a very old, very small school and played a bit all 4 years. Now done as a player I was nonetheless still enthralled by all other things football.

Many of my closest friends were met on the freshly cut football fields of my youth. Wins and losses followed on those fields, most of which I’ve long forgotten. Indeed, I’ve written before that it is only the losses I remember, especially those that resulted from some personal failure in a game. A fumble, perhaps, or a blown coverage. And yet there is no escaping the fact that those countless hours at practice, in the locker room, and on the field are in large part responsible for who I am, the adult I’ve become.

It’s a powerful thing, football. The game itself is exhilarating to both play and watch. At least, it was. I find myself finding all kinds of reasons not to watch football games now. Not consciously finding “big picture” reasons so much as tiny reasons, like Beth wants me to tag along to the barn, or Abbie the world’s smartest (and most easily bored) dog would like an adventure kind of reasons. Football of all sorts played at any and all levels has sunken to a kind of triviality, easily trumped by a trip to the grocery store.

No one thing is responsible for this falling out of love, as it were. This fall is different from the last, and the one before only in that it is now glaringly obvious that football holds for me no essential attraction by itself. Looking back my only surprise is that it took me so long. Why didn’t I begin to turn away as my friend the ER doc buzzed through Dan’s shoulder pads with a saw in order to get him into the MRI? Or when I walked onto the field after Randy knocked himself out cold with a helmet-to helmet tackle to force a fourth down, his first concussion? I was still young, still sure that the game would bring my sons what I thought it had brought me.

I see them now, both of my boys, face down and immobile, and I shudder. I started to see them each time I saw a player go down in high school, or college, or the pros. I began to see that I valued those young men nearly as much as my own boys, and I started to notice that the game of football had become The Game. Those entrusted with The Game did not–do not–appear to share my feelings about the players.

The junior high coach carries the star running back to the bench, there to wrap the sprained ankle in the hope of returning him to the game. In a high school freshman game, a rout, the first string defense is still on the field in the fourth quarter, the opportunity to play in a game slipping away for kids who may never get another chance, when the starting safety goes down with a severed spine on a play he should have been watching from the sideline. What was the first string learning at that point in that game? Alumni and athletic directors and coaches at colleges noted for academic excellence openly opine that they cannot win without lowering the admission standards for football players, and just as openly run those kids off the team and out of their scholarships when they are no longer needed to win. The game in the NFL becomes more violent, with ever more gratuitous violence magnifying the carnage wreaked upon the bodies of the players. Ex-pros roam the earth as a kind of walking dead.

When did football become The Game? When did the keepers of the game become keepers of The Game? When did football players as young as high school become little more than a modern stand-in for gladiators thrown into the arena for little more than the amusement of the many and the benefit of a tiny protected few? I’d like to think that there was such a time, an inflection point, when it did change, but I fear it has been ever thus. If that is so then I, too, bear some responsibility for what The Game has become. I did not turn away, or turn my own sons away, at the time of my own dawning awareness that The Game and its keepers cared naught for our sons at all, but only for themselves and their respective place and privilege.

There was a time when my playing days were long over when I still found myself on edge as the weather chilled and the smell of cut grass filled the autumn air. It was time to get ready to play football. Those days are long past, and I find that I no longer even think about watching, indeed can no longer see myself watching, except as a vehicle with which I can channel the joy of a child. And that is perhaps why I can no longer watch a game whose keepers have lost sight of the fact that someone’s child plays in The Game.

One is left to wonder about the parents of those gladiators past.

Honeymoon Weekend #34: Sunday musings…9/1/19

Sunday musings…

1) Fly. A young climate activist sailed across the Atlantic rather than fly to a conference to prompt a discussion about the environmental cost of air travel. She hopes to encourage the “climate woke” to fly less.

Sorry. Any trip over 3 hours is torture for me. If it takes longer to drive, pedal, or sail I’m on a plane.

2) Nashville. Pretty cool little city ya got here, Tennessee. Myriad options for drinking and dining layered on top of a truly magnificent music scene. I know that’s no real news to pretty much anyone, but being here to experience it is a tiny revelation.

Shame about the outcome of the Georgia/Vandy game, but still…

3) Connected. The good news: I am able to see pretty much all of my clinical data from the office including notes and tests. The bad news: ditto. Friday was my first full day on our Annual Honeymoon (more in a minute); it was filled with texts and emails and calls about patient issues that were convenient for those not on vacation to have handled during a Friday work day. Unlike many “always on” businesses my staff is largely off on the weekends so I am now somewhat inoculated from contact in all but the most significant emergencies. Also, unlike so many people who cannot turn off their connections lest the boss reach out and their availability to her/him be measured, I am traveling with the boss.

She just has to tell me what she needs and when!

4) Small. As in small world. As crazy small as the world turns out to be without any real effort on my part, the tiniest of friendly gestures can make it downright tiny. When I was an active participant in the Crossfit community, especially in the early pre-2012 or so days, wearing a shirt from CrossFit.com or a Box I might have visited was a guaranteed conversation starter. Heck, I once had a pilot who saw my tee shirt ask to see the Games videos I had on my iPad; the flight attendant brought it up to him in the cockpit while we were in the air. All it took was a noticing what I was wearing and offering a brief, friendly comment or question.

I had one of those moments this morning in our Nashville hotel. A gentleman who looked about my age was wearing a Middlebury Lacrosse tee shirt and I asked him about it. Turns out his son was a 4-year teammate of my nephew, and the two sets of parents had become great friends. We could have chatted for a couple of hours if they didn’t have wedding activities to attend to.

Smaller world moments are only a smile and a friendly question away. They are worth the tiny risk of approaching a stranger.

5) Honeymoon. Beth and I are in Nashville for our 34th Annual Honeymoon trip. What a ride! Without a doubt our marriage is the single most important endeavor we’ve ever undertaken, and so far the most successful thing we’ve ever done. I wish I could tell you that we had a super detailed plan that we laid out and followed all those years ago, but really, there were only two really simple things we did starting in the very beginning. We agreed that we would always talk to one another about everything we were thinking and feeling. No simmering and stewing over whatever might bother us. And we bought into Beth’s brilliant observation that marriage is not a 50/50 proposition, but rather 100/100.

Each of us has committed 100% of who were are and what we have to our marriage.

What does that mean in practice? In the briefest possible explanation what that means is that even when considering something that is vitally important to you, be it your job or some passion you have for whatever, you stop to consider what your decisions mean for your partner. Are you one of those people for whom job and hobby are one and the same? Can’t wait to get to work? Spend all of your non-office time dreaming about your career? Or are you rather that freer spirited soul who works only so that you can walk some other path, one at which you can’t really make a living? No matter. 100/100 means that you consider the effects of your career or passion activity decisions on your partner and your partnership, in our case our marriage.

Of course, all of this requires a huge amount of honesty and generosity, with a healthy dollop of tenderness and empathy. It takes effort. Over time it may become a bit easier simply because you become that which you practice, but in the early years most of us need to learn how to look outward, to hear and see how our personal choices affect that one person with whom we are closest. How do you get there? Well, it certainly helps to be crazy in love, right?! Each time you choose your two over your own one you get a little bit better at understanding how powerful those tiny little gifts to the marriage become as they build over time.

We’ve each been committed to each other, to our marriage, 100%. Two is so much bigger than 1+1.

Musings on Home

Sunday musings…

1) Hero. Beth’s new horsey partner has finally arrived from Spain. Christened “Hortalano” but nicknamed “Hero” by the Man Cub (after Hiro, the protagonist in Big Hero 6), he is now home.

The latest actor in a long-running passion.

2) Drip. Street for “fashionable wear”. As in “LeBron was wearing crazy drip when he got off the bus.” Makes about as much sense as calling a high maintenance person “extra”.

3) Twee. Affectedly or excessively quaint, pretty, or sentimental. Never yet applied to any room decorated by Beth.

4) Bolt hole. A safe or restful place; one where you can hide from something unpleasant. Pretty much describes every place I’ve lived with Beth, especially Casa Blanco.

5) Home. What becomes of a place once it is no longer occupied by the people who made it a home? It is certainly changed. Can it remain home to those who are still there to make it one? Of course. Until, that is, it can’t.

My Gramp was so very smart in so many ways. He and Gamma could very well have stayed in the little ranch I remember as their home after my Aunt Barb went off to college. I’m pretty sure it was paid for, and it was certainly user friendly for a couple entering what we would now call middle age. But Gramp saw no advantage in the history of place, nor could he find a use for the extra room in even so small a dwelling once all three daughters had fledged the nest; he and Gamma decamped to a modest 2 bedroom apartment in Newark where he worked as the assistant superintendent for Newark schools.

They took along their living room furniture, and as luck would have it they also managed to take along (or had been taken along by) a few of their close friends at the time. Gamma and Gramp seemed to be about as social in Newark as they’d been in Glen Ridge. In all of my visits to their house I never remember any interaction with the neighborhood or the neighbors. In the Newark apartment it seemed that everyone knew my grandparents, and by extension, me.

In the late 60′s and early 70′s the great diaspora of retired north easterners to southeast Florida had begun. My two aunts had already moved to Miami, and Gamma and Gramp followed shortly after Gramp retired (the race riots in Newark prompted him to hang up his spurs at the earliest opportunity). I should note that in both Newark and Miami my grandparents became renters. Just another example of Gramp’s genius because neither they as a couple, nor Gamma as a widow, would be encumbered by place.

Like a spiritual tortoise, home would travel with them.

Gramp died when I was in high school. My memory of that time is kinda fuzzy. Maybe I was a junior. Gamma stayed in the King’s Creek apartment alone for at least a couple of years. She hosted my buddy Kid and me for a spring break visit during my freshman year in college. Her days seemed to be filled by time spent with friends in the apartment complex, usually centered around the pool. With two daughters and four  grandchildren only a few miles away she also had their activities to attend if she wanted to. I remember watching my cousins baseball games with my uncles and my Gramp. Did Gamma use their games (and Jenny’s tennis matches) to fill the hours of her days?

It’s been almost 4 years since my Dad died. Unlike Gramp there was so much of what constituted home for my Mom and Dad in the house where I was raised that they remained in place. Mom still lives there, moving through that big space like a ping pong ball in a gymnasium. With the exception of Thanksgiving and other family gatherings the house at 30 Kirkbrae Drive has been much too much for the 30 years it’s been since my youngest sister graduated from college, the last of the four of us to fledge. Mom and Dad stayed so long that home and place became one and the same for them.

After a couple of years alone in her apartment in Miami without Gramp Gamma either decided or was convinced that it was no longer home. Or at least that it wasn’t not enough home to stick around. My folks and my aunts were clearly on board because all three sisters built homes that had spaces ready for Gamma; she was welcomed into each of their homes for varying periods of each year, the specifics changing as she got older and the northern winters became more of a challenge. What changed for her? What had been there at King’s Creek in the first couple of years after Gramp died that was no longer there after a few years?

Or was it more that something had changed in Gamma herself? Even the tiniest of spaces can feel awfully empty when they aren’t really home. Without the rest of whoever made up “home” I imagine that the loneliness makes everything seem simply massive. And empty. The comfort of the familiar gets lost in the emptiness. When do you try to make that emptiness smaller? Gamma left in her late 60′s I think. Having already moved at least twice she simply moved with whatever she had left in her little tortoiseshell of home and began residing with her daughters and their families.

While we 8 grandchildren all considered her a part of our homes, I wonder now if Gamma ever really did feel at home in all those years lived without Gramp. Untethered to place she’d moved early at each stage. Probably not the first in any of her groups to do so but most definitely not the last. Blessed to have options she (and Gramp) seemed to grasp the reality that someone else would make decisions for them if they didn’t make them for themselves, even about something as fundamental as home.

There is certainly an aspect of place to home, but home is more than place. Leaving a place does not need to mean leaving home, or even leaving behind what made a particular place a good home. How do you know when it’s the right time to leave? Sadly I don’t think you ever really do. Gramp made moves which, looking back, seem to have been brilliant. Prescient. I think what you do realize all too often is that you probably stayed in place a bit longer than you should have. That the natural attachment to place that is part of the home equation has lasted longer than what really made that particular dwelling a home.

Home can be terribly difficult to leave unless we believe, like Gamma and Gramp, that home is not really where we dwell but where we live.

I’ll see you next week…

 

So: A Perfectly Good Word Tarnished by Abusive Overusive

Lake Superior State has published its annual list of forbidden words. Words that have been abused, misused, or simply overused to a breaking point. Number 1 on this year’s list? “So”.

Yup. “So” is the new “um”, “uh”, or “like”, as annoyingly overused as any of these, but all the more obnoxious because it is especially favored by the young talking heads of the consultative and pundit class. Seriously, whether I agree of disagree with an “expert’s” opinion I can hardly listen to NPR, CNN, FOX, or even the NFL Today. Every sentence begins with “so”. It’s as if there’s a clause in every contract mandating that you do so.

See what I did there? That’s part of what makes it all so frustrating (see, I did it again). “So” is a perfectly good word, one that has so many legitimate uses it’s nothing short of criminal that it has been captured and held hostage by an undisciplined intelligentsia and associated wannabes. Just as you don’t hear truly gifted speakers pepper their spoken thoughts with “uhh” and “um”(I never found 44 to be all that impressive as a speaker because of this), so, too, should we be spared an assault by this more pretentious verbal tic.

Here’s a resolution (see what I DIDN’T do there): I am giving an instant downgrade to the value of whatever is begin spoken by whomever whenever and wherever if he or she insists on beginning the majority of sentences or new thought threads with “so”. Even more so (Huh? Huh?), I’m thinking that it’s perfectly appropriate to simply tune out or turn off anything and anyone who does that. They all tend to be uber-plugged in to screens and tech and such, and if I did I’d probably have a ton more time to do stuff like read a book, or pet Abby the wonder dog, or get on the floor and build a wooden block castle with “The Man Cub.”

So there.

The Man in the Moon: Sunday musings…7/21/19

Sunday musings…

1) Battery. A group of barracudas is called a “battery”. Did not know that.

2) News. Starbucks, once the 3rd space for people of all sorts, especially those who enjoyed reading the day’s news over some sort of fancy brewed beverage, announced this week that they will no longer sell newspapers. This says much more about the state our local and national print media than it does about Starbucks. People young and old get what they consider the news from myriad sources, none of which require the harvesting of trees or setting of presses.

A disturbing bit of news, indeed.

3) Fly. Which do you prefer, take off or landing? Me, I’m a landing guy. Landing means I’ve arrived. I just can’t ever remember a flight where I was mesmerized by the experience of being in the air. Maybe that one time when we were flying in over the top of the 4th of July fireworks.
That was pretty cool, but of course we were on the landing approach at the time.

The journey is not really the thing for me when I am traveling unless the journey is actually the reason  I’m actually doing the traveling. I like to get to my destination, and frankly I like to get home.

Count me as a “landing” guy.

4) Mountain. “You climb the mountain to see the world; you don’t climb the mountain so that the world can see you.” -Anonymous (as far as I’ve been able to tell)

With the exception of first ascents of real mountains (where the whole idea is for people to see you on top), this is, or should be, quite obvious whether you are examining it literally or figuratively. There are so many worthwhile reasons to do so many things, aim for so many goals, that to do so simply for the adulation seems shallow.

How much more meaningful are the goals and their ultimate achievement when the drive comes from within you and not your audience.

5) Lunar. This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing. It’s been so long and we’ve talked about it for so many years knowing that Armstrong, Aldren, and Collins successfully pulled off the nearly unimaginable, it is hard for us looking back to imagine how much uncertainty there was during the Apollo 11 mission. From lift-off (there’d been an Apollo lift-off disaster that cost the lives of 3 astronauts) to the never before done landing and subsequent lift-off from the moon, some 500 million earthbound brothers and sisters of the astronauts held their collective breath again and again only to exhale in exaltation as each challenge was met.

There were so many ways things could have gone wrong, any one of which would have meant certain doom for some or all of the men aloft. Imagine the sorrow had Armstrong and Aldren failed to make it back from the moon. The possibility of a mishap that stranded the astronauts on the moon was so real that the Nixon White House actually had contingency plans in place. James Mann, writing for the Washington Post, unearthed the short but eloquent speech that William Safire had written “in the event of moon disaster”. It began, “Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.” It ended with the, “For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.”

Mann: “What Safire wrote would have qualified as the most eloquent speech Nixon ever gave–and one of the most poignant by any American president. Thankfully, it never had to be delivered.” Having taken us all to the top of the the highest “mountain” yet scaled, it turns out that Armstrong, Aldren, and Collins were, like me, “landing” guys as well.

Imagine, once upon a time there really was a “man in the moon.” It is still astonishing to this day.

I’ll see you next week…

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