Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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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.

Casa Blanco

What makes a house a home? What is it that turns a bunch of numbers, maybe a word or two, and makes them more than a something you locate on Zillow or Google Earth? And then if you’re really, really fortunate, is there any way you could imagine your house becoming a home that then becomes more than your own home?

A place that earns a name, and everyone knows why.

I can’t remember if I’ve told this story before. I’m getting kinda old; us old guys tend to repeat ourselves, to tell our stories over and over again. Forgive me if I have (as I’ll forgive you if you do remember and choose to walk on by). Casa Blanco is sort of a take on Casablanca, of course. Should it be one word? I dunno. Might be a bit too precious, that. My last name is White, so the Blanco part is a no-brainer. You might ask why the Spanish, though. That comes from my daughter Megan and my “Extra son” Alex who teasingly called their mostly Irish mutt of a Dad “Papi Blanco” just for giggles.

It’s been 7 1/2 years since we decamped from 29123 Lincoln Rd., the home we made as our family grew. We moved in there just about a week before Randy, child number 3, arrived. We stayed there for 21 years. Frankly, I never would have predicted that after the ordeal that was purchasing the house. If we hadn’t put on an addition and totally re-designed the spaces we kept, my memories of the sale would have driven me out and into something that made me feel like it was ours and not “theirs”.

But stay we did, and Lincoln Rd. did become a very special home for us and for many of our children’s friends. It’s where Beth started collecting what my daughter-in-law calls her “Extras”. Kids who needed just a tiny bit of extra love, of extra attention, a little bit of cheerleading and guidance that Beth was able to give. My abiding memories of Lincoln road revolve around our kids and their friends. Dinners with various and sundry buddies at the table, everyone there, chatting and laughing for what seemed like hours. My very favorite memory is all of the times I came home to find a child, but not one of my children, sitting at the kitchen counter doing their homework.

“Hey Papi! How’s it going?”

With all of that you could reasonably ask why we would leave Lincoln Rd. at the tender ages of 53 and 52. Why downsize, why leave a home that had such wonderful family memories for us and our kids? Trust me, the kids all asked! It was really the only home they’d ever known. The sad reality is that we were in the middle of my Dad’s protracted illness. He was marooned on the first floor of the 2 story farmhouse style home where I’d grown up. Unable to climb the stairs, he and my Mom moved into the dining room. The poor guy didn’t have a proper shower for the last 3 years of his life.

We live 750 miles away from my hometown, making our ability to help out my Mom and my siblings a challenge. Beth took 80% of my turns. She returned each time with the same conclusion: we are not going to be in that position. We will downsize before it’s necessary. We will move early enough that our new home will have a chance to be the next family home, not just the house Mom and Dad moved into.

Beth was committed, which meant I was committed, but it was far from clear when we were actually going to pull up stakes and head for wherever. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a leak in one of our bathrooms which resulted in water in our basement. I came home one night to Beth on her hands and knees, cursing, picking up melted drop ceiling at the bottom of our basement stairs. She was so angry. I blurted out “Bleep it, let’s move.”

Beth: “Great, but I still want to downsize.” Me: “Sure, I’m good for 20, 25%”. Beth: “Oh no pal…50%!” Me (just to win the “argument”): “Then I want to live on the lake (thinking what’s the chance we could find a house 1/2 the size of Lincoln Rd. with one story, on the lake, in our price range?). It took her less than 3 hours to find what would become Casa Blanco on Zillow. We looked at it the next day, signed the sales agreement 3 days later, and Beth immediately began to build what she called a “grandchild trap”.

So here we are, 7 1/2 years, one renovation, 2 redecoratings, 3 weddings and 5 grandchildren later. Casa Blanco has become a home. Heck, Casa Blanco has even spawned a new version of yours truly. Megan has described 3 versions of her Dad over her lifetime: Work Dad (very intense; sometimes not much fun), CrossFit Dad (who knew your Dad could actually be cool?), and Lake Dad (super chill; so far the favorite). As I write this I am gazing out over Lake Erie, my vast watery backyard. The lake, and my soul, becalmed.

All four of our patents were able to visit Casa Blanco, something for which I am eternally grateful. My brother still teases me about my Dad’s visit. Sitting at our picture window, gazing out at the lake oscillating between raging whitecaps and On Golden Pond stillness, his short term memory long gone as a functional part of his being. About every 30 minutes or so he would exclaim “who owns this place? What a lucky guy HE is! He must be really rich”. Whenever we recall his sole visit that quote invariably comes up.

Our lives at Casa Blanco have been marked by loss. 3 parents, two dogs, a few friends who’ve fled our latitude for more welcoming climes. Despite that when I look out the windows what I see is little ones, the grandchildren caught in the magic of Casa Blanco and “Camp Grammy”. I hear their voices, the peals of laughter, the clamor as they jump off the pier or climb onto the lily pad. Despite myself, a man who avoids expectations as the emotional time bombs they so often turn out to be, I find myself dreaming of what might come next.

I can’t help myself.

As painful as it would be if none of these come to pass I look out into the yard and I see wiffle balls and bats and tees and, oops, a broken window or two. Theres a little plastic pool perpetually filling and spilling. Fishing poles with bobbers floating just off the pier, a tiny shoulder resting on my arm as we sun ourselves and pretend to fish. Cheek splitting smiles that burst of pride as one child drives our silly little antique Whaler and a sibling or a cousin or maybe just a friend gets up on one ski for the first time. And sunsets. So many sunsets that Beth and I share with our children and grandchildren.

Expectations mean hope, and hope is a dangerous thing, I know. When I dream of tomorrow’s tomorrow and see Casa Blanco it looks like my forever home. Looks like just what we hoped it would be, our next home, filled with the grandchildren Beth so very much wanted to nurture. How I will fight leaving that, for as long as it’s there. But what if none of that comes to pass? Is it still Casa Blanco if there are no children, or children’s children to warm our home with another generation of love? It will always be a home, my home, as long as I have Beth and she has me. Without all the rest, though, is it just where Mom and Dad live, a very sensible house for an older couple, albeit one with a nice view?

Today it is still Casa Blanco, the home where my heart lives. Where I hear yesterday’s tiny voice explaining a tiny puzzle (I think it goes here, Papi), and look forward to a big, messy, loud dinner table tonight, filled with family, where we will sit for what seems like hours (in pre-school time), happy in each other’s love and safe for at least today from whatever tomorrow may have in store for our little home.

What a blessing, today, filled with hope, living in all that is Casa Blanco.

I’ll see you next week…

The Magazine That Used To Be Sports Illustrated

Perhaps it was the cigarette ad that clinched it. After a couple of years pretending that it was the same Sports Illustrated I’d grown up with, even in its diminished state, seeing an advertisement for cigarettes was like a bucket of ice water dumped on my head. A sports magazine that accepts cigarette ads! After separating from most of its long-time writers, dropping to every other week for a time before becoming a monthly, SI was hanging on to its reputation by the thinnest of threads. Still, writers had come and writers had gone over the years. Maybe there could be life as a kind of Esquire of sports.

Nope. A full page cigarette ad stamped the “time of death” seal on the editorial side of what was once the best sports periodical in history.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of Sports Illustrated in the world of sports. All sports. SI was the window into a sporting world that extended beyond the boundaries of American soil. Serious sports. It was rare for Sports Illi to stumble. So rare that most long-term readers can recall individual stories (usually the last, long essay in the issue) that failed to measure up. Or worse, that attempted to elevate a trivial, fringe, hobby-like activity that few would consider sport. Even there, though, the writing was strikingly , arrestingly good. You read about chess or bridge or billiards, even if you would gladly die on the “not a sport” hill for each of them, just to enjoy the pure joy of reading the writing.

At the moment I’m reading a nice little book by the retired NYT columnist Harvey Araton in which he tells a bit about how he came to be a sportswriter. He, like I and so many others in our generation, rushed to the mailbox each Thursday to get first shot at that week’s Sports Illustrated. Araton received his first subscription as a gift from his sister. Our family shared a subscription at home, but each of use was gifted our own when we headed off to college. In the student union in college, multiple homes as a resident, and finally my inbox at work as a grownup, Thursday meant Sports Illi.

You already knew the results. The scores. Who won and who lost. You looked to SI and its stable of thoroughbred writers to help you understand how and why, and sometimes what it meant in some larger picture. Layden and Deford. Reilly and Rushin. Zimmerman, Mack, even Plimpton. Dr. Z and his protege and successor Peter King. The writing in SI made you care about the sports more than you cared about the standings. You learned about the men and women, the girls and boys who played the games. You learned why they played, for whom they played, and what it meant to them to play.

If you grew up with words, like I did as the son and grandson of teachers, you also marveled at how these writers worked at those words. Each one was a different flavor of excellence, but each was excellent in their own way. When the magazine arrived you had a plan. Everybody seemed to read a new issue in a slightly different way. While Rick Reilly was writing “The Point After” I started at the back of the magazine. Then it was the cover story, and then on to page 1. When I discovered that one of my favorites and I had attended the same tiny liberal arts college in the northeast, I looked to the Contents to see if he had a piece in that week’s edition.

Tim Layden never disappointed.

It seemed as if nothing could derail Sports Illi. Even the ill-fated, however wonderful it would have been if it succeeded sports daily “The National”, barely dented the Sports Illustrated experience. Started by Frank Deford, arguably the most famous sports writer in America in the ’80’s, “The National” came and went faster than the hopes of that year’s sure-fire Triple Crown winner. Deford and Jenkins left, but their legacy of a literate treatment of sport remained at SI.

And now? I’m completing this little essay toward the end of February. 2021 brought us an epic Super Bowl. One that was chockablock filled with interesting story lines in addition to the obvious: Tom Brady, aka Methuselah, vanquished his upstart rival Patrick Mahomes to win his 7th Super Bowl and a 4th Super Bowl MVP. Without Bill Belichek. By this time in prior years we all would have read and digested a very long article that replayed the important parts of the game, along with various commentaries on the significance of the outcome, and now we would just be waiting on the arrival of the Swim Suit Issue (capitalized, of course). My monthly SI hasn’t even been delivered yet.

When it does arrive will it contain a replaying of the important events of the game, pointing out a big play we might have missed? And now who will comment on the game and the stories it launched? There is no longer an NFL “voice” to whom we would turn at SI. No Jenkins. Zimmerman is deceased. Peter King left and launched an “e” property, a man ahead of his time. Even Tim Layden, who wrote about football in prose that reminded one more of Hemingway than anything typically seen in the Sports pages, even Tim has left the world of print for new televised adventures.

The Sports Illustrated I knew and loved, the weekly magazine that everyone in my family read cover to cover and then discussed for days afterward, has been gutted by its new owners. It is a shell of its once formidable self, its editorial soul hollowed out by the publishing side of the business. Every week my SI gave me both the news and nuanced commentary. I once heard the ghosts of favorite writers who’ve departed our world in the words written by next generations of men and women who gave us sports as literature. Every week. Now I get a monthly magazine with nothing that could remotely be considered news, and “insights” so late in arriving that they may as well be historical commentary, run by a publisher so craven that they print cigarette ads.

The magazine that used to be Sports Illustrated.

Culture Eats Strategy For Lunch

“When you decline to create or to curate a culture in your spaces, you’re responsible for what spawns in the vacuum.” –Leigh Alexander

Nature abhors a vacuum. In all ways and in all places. While I have never seen this immutable law applied to group culture, that only speaks to my own lack of imagination and insight, and by extension Alexander’s surfeit of both. I use “spaces” a bit differently, preferring the term as a reference to internal or personal geography (timespace, brainspace, emotionalspace). Alexander’s choice of “space” rather than “place” adds to the brilliance, the “aha”-ness of the insight in that it specifically includes the virtual as well as the physical.

Some people exert, or could exert, enormous influence over very large spaces by either actively tending to the culture or by standing aside and simply observing what fills the vacuum. The CEO of our local medical behemoth has imposed his will at a very granular level on an organization that employs 10’s of thousands. Rules and regulations abound there. In the world of CrossFit, a space I spent much of my free time for years, the culture arose primarily from the founder’s philosophy and worldview. Pretty freewheeling, rough and tumble, with few, if any guardrails.

At this moment in historical time one is left to wonder if spaces such as Twitter or Facebook have arrived at their present place because their algorithms curated or declined to curate the culture in their space.

Think for a moment about your own spaces, maybe looking initially at the ones over which you might have a bit of control or influence. Work. Home. CrossFit Box, whether owner or member. What has your role been in the creation and ongoing curation of the culture of those spaces? It’s a rather Taoist proposition, I think: to act is precisely equal to not acting, because one or the other course must be chosen. At my day job we actually did go about the task of creating a culture (A Tribe of Adults), and we knowingly curate that space by culling the tribe of those who don’t, won’t, or can’t acculturate.

In the end this is probably just another entreaty to consciously examine your own spaces, your world, and seek to exert whatever control you can wherever you can in order to live well. Whatever “well” means to you. Again, the Tao te Ching gives us some useful vocabulary, imagery we might reference. In the end we are all more like the pebble in the stream than the reed in the field. We may aspire to live as the reed, flexible and ever able to flow with whatever breeze may blow through. The reality is that an untended culture surrounding us flows so powerfully that it, like the water in a stream, eventually reshapes us as it inevitably sculpts the stone in the stream.

The difference, as both Lao-tse and Leigh Alexander teach us, is that you have the ability to control the flow.

First, You Need a Boat: Equality is Not the Proper Goal

“Life’s not fair.” –Scar

What does equality mean? What does it mean to be equal? I caught the tail end of a discussion on equality on NPR this morning. Unlike most of these discussions in that particular space this one was calm, measured, and came to a reasonable conclusion: only after a basic level of things like food, shelter, and safety has been met is it reasonable to consider disparities above that level.

This has come up in my day job. A study was done that proports to show that male and female eye doctors are paid unequally. The conclusions are false at the outset in this particular case because by law, services in this particular arena are paid exactly the same no matter who performs them, when or where. Unfortunately, the sensational lede taps into all kinds of notions of fairness, and all kinds of perceptions about what people assume must be true, that women always make less than men for equal work. There is no question that this is the case is some walks of life, but interestingly the data (some of which the authors ignore in their quest to prove their preconception) proves otherwise in medicine.

An opportunity to examine real differences in how men and women practice medicine is thus lost in the pursuit of an examination of the spiritual quest to combat inequality, even where none exists. Is this the unicorn of equality? Is payment under government programs the only place where equality actually exists? Heck if I know. What interests me is the fact that the first assumption is that inequality is present. Inequality is the default setting. That there is an inherent degree of unfairness in pretty much any and every setting.

Know what I think? Equality doesn’t exist. It cannot exist if we are to have an ever-improving world. There is nothing unfair about that in the least. Just like the conclusion reached this morning by the NPR panel, a just civilization establishes a floor below which allowing people to live is ethically wrong. For example, in healthcare it is my contention that we have a moral obligation to see that every citizen has access to care when they are sick. Inherent in this contention is that there is a basic level of care that meets this moral obligation by ensuring the same outcome as any other level of care. One could apply this same concept to food, clothing, and housing without missing a beat. We can think of the rights enshrined in the U.S. Declaration of Independence as a proxy for this baseline if you’d like. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness make a very fine baseline.

One’s right to “life” necessarily includes a right to be fed, would you agree? Equality would mean that if one among us dines on Beef Wellington, than each among us must do so as well. This is where unthinking and unquestioning fidelity to “equality” brings you. In so doing it forces everyone to expend energy protesting “inequality” better put toward fulfilling the moral obligation to see that no one goes without protein. In healthcare we see all kinds of protests againts the inequality of care demonstrated by the horror of a VIP of some sort or another recuperating from a procedure in a luxury suite, while the proletariat must recover in the equivalent of a Hotel 6. The reality is that the outcomes will be equal; the moral obligation has been fulfilled.

Above a basic level in pretty much any domain you wish to examine, equality does not exist. Sorry. Scar is right. Life’s not fair.

Is he really though? Saying that it’s not fair is the same as saying that inequality above that level at which everyone has a right to live is wrong. Here is where I part company with those who hew to this viewpoint. What does it matter that someone drives a Cadillac while another drives a Kia? Do both not get you to work on time? Or that Beef Wellington again: do you not get the same amount of protein from a hamburger? The example I am presently using in another conversation about equality in healthcare is similar: if a medicine is effective taken 4 times a day, is the fact that someone can pay more for a version that must only be taken once a day a measurement of unfair inequality? I vote “no”.

My strong feeling is that energy spent in some way protesting “equality” is energy that is not expended on the much more important task of fulfilling the moral obligation of raising everyone to that acceptable basic level. In may, in fact, work against that effort. That constitutes unfairness in my opinion. Advocacy and protest should be directed there, toward making sure that everyone has that most basic obligation covered. One of this morning’s NPR panelists politely disagreed with Former President Obama’s dictum that a rising tide lifts all boats: it doesn’t work if you haven’t got a boat.

Once universal entry is accomplished across all applicable domains, the next task is to continually raise that basic level for everyone, no matter how far the gulf may be between that level and whatever the “sky’s the limit” level might be. Everyone needs a boat; no one “needs” a yacht. One need only look at “poverty” or “hunger” and how the bar has moved ever upward there to see how this might work. We have a moral obligation to see that true rights are available to all. It is unfair to those who have not yet achieved that most basic level when efforts to help them are diverted to the pursuit of an unachievable conceptual goal that neither feeds nor clothes nor cures those in need: equality.

Cape Week Lives! Sunday musings…1/24/2021

Sunday musings…1/245/21

1 Grey. Color of the Cleveland sky from October 1st through May Day. 

2 Vaccine. Got shot #2 on Thursday. Felt pretty punk for a day or so. Now? 

Hopeful. I feel hopeful. 

3 Electric. As in electric car. Why are the ones that are affordable so darn fugly and the ones that are even a little bit pretty so darned expensive? Or uncomfortable. The front seats of a Tesla have the same specs as the benches in the stands at any high school stadium anywhere.

‘Splain me that Elon. 

4 Mirror. I made the mistake of taking a look in the mirror this morning. There’s nothing really special about this particular morning since I have to peer at present day self while shaving pretty much every day. Today, though, I happened to also look at pictures of myself from 5 or 6 years ago. Pictures taken when I was very happy to be sure, but still, the “picture” gazing back at me in the mirror this morning was striking. 

That guy really got old over the last 5 or so years. 

I did a tiny thing this morning.

Beth: “That was nice.”

Me: “I’m a nice guy!”

Beth: “That’s why I married you!”

Me: “I thought you married me for my cute butt, and now that’s pretty much gone.” 

Beth: “Hmmm…right. Good thing you’re nice.”

Me: “Funny girl. That’s why I married you ;-)”

Old, apparently aging rapidly, but still happy. 

5 Cape. Cape Week lives! 28 consecutive years of our annual family gathering on the beach fell to the Pandemic last year. Last night my siblings and I all gave the thumbs up to resume our annual gathering. To our great relief my brother took over the admin duties from my Mom. Understand, she was never meant to have them in the first place. My sister Tracey handled stuff for a few years in the early days before Mom muscled in. 

Who is going to be there? I don’t think it really matters to be honest. Everyone is invited from every generation. Well, every human that is. As always, dogs are not on the guest list. We are clearly all going under the assumption that everyone will have had their second shots (or a single blast from J&J) by then (my brother has the world’s tightest bubble going on at the moment). Once there we never really go anywhere other than the grocery store and perhaps Sundae School for ice cream. The beach is private so it comes with built-in crowd control. 

To be quite honest I was very pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm on our little family text thread last night when my brother confirmed our reservation. After a year off it would have been pretty easy to just let Cape Week drift off into the netherworld of family lore, living on in our hearts but no longer in our calendars. It was really more than a little exciting to be having that little side conversation. Now we are all in that rather blissful stage where our anticipation and joy pretty much overshadows anything else. 

Like, you know, will we still have a matriarch to fuss over? If so, how do we get her across the street and onto the beach? Can any of the cousins make it? Where will they all stay? Will anyone have to work while they are there? Oy…bandwidth…

But those are questions for another time. Not for today. Nope, today is for letting the glow of hope flow over our family. Today is for giving Gram her calendar goal. A little flag on the horizon to march toward. Today is for all three generations to look back over our 28 years of memories and be warmed by them like we are by the noontime sun on the beach. To scour our closets for folding chairs and bocce balls. A day of reminiscing as we sit with photo albums filled with pictures of babies on the beach, my Mom and Dad young and healthy, beaming, happy. Pictures of me with a butt!

For today, at least, Cape Week lives.

I’ll see you next week…

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