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Wisdom to Share: Birthday musings…1/9/2022

“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?” –Satchel Paige

Another trip around the sun. 62 years old. How odd, to have a “6” in front of whatever my age is. 60 really wasn’t cataclysmic, at least not in the existential way 50 was. Kinda matter-of-fact, 60. 62? About as nothingberger an age as they come. They seem to be coming fast and furious now, the birthdays. It’s a little hard getting worked up about them to be honest.

Still, New Year’s Day and birthdays lend themselves to a bit of introspection, or at least a little bit of taking account of the “state of you”. Happily, since my birthday is only 7 days into January, I can knock it all out in a single “musing”. It’s interesting, the older I get the less I find myself keeping track of. Sure, I still track sleep metrics, and I’m certainly aware of not only my regular, routine retinue of snaps and crackles but every single new pop that shows up to join the band.

But there’s nothing really new here. As I’ve gotten older my genetics have caught up with me. Thankfully I have two good friends who are my docs and they simply won’t let me pretend I can diet or exercise my way out of chromosomal destiny. I sleep better (and so does Beth) when I drink just a little bit less at dinner. Nothing else really registers. I would fit into my shirts and pants a little better if I either exercised to match my diet, or ate to match my activity. Again, not really revelational, either of those. I’ve long ago made peace with the fact that I am simply a happier human being, more fun to be around, if I relax a bit about buying pants with a bigger waste size for the first time in 10 years.

So what am I actually thinking about? The last couple of paragraphs could certainly give the impression that I’m pretty satisfied with where I am. That I’ve put it in cruise control. That’s not actually true, though. I think ol’ Satchel was talking mostly about how old he felt physically; everyone always wanted to know how the ageless wonder could be so good for so long on the baseball field. Who knows how old he actually was when he finally hung up his glove, but I’m betting it was 10 or 15 years before 62.

Honestly though, I really don’t know how old I feel in ways not physical. There’s so much out there to learn. Wouldn’t it be cool to learn new stuff as readily as a 5 or 10 year old? I’m sure that my neural pathways have become much less “plastic”, but still, I feel like I’m young enough to not only learn new stuff in my comfort zones so that I’m better at my regular stuff, but also start fresh with some stuff that’s totally different. I know it’s not microsurgery, but learning how to make a decent cappuccino with a “manual” espresso machine was kinda cool.

A couple of weightier things have coalesced around 62. Two gentlemen are on my mind as I look toward a horizon coming ever closer. I’ve written about the first before. We shared a ski lift a few days before my 40th birthday. I must have shared that the prospect of my 40’s was somewhat daunting. His response was inspirational, and in retrospect dead-on accurate. Your 40’s, he said, were the years when you are as close to every peak you have ever, or will ever experience. You will still be close enough to the athlete you were as a younger man to participate in almost any physical pursuit you wish. If your work is physical you’ve done your 10,000 reps and then some; you will move with efficiency and grace. And with 40 years under your belt you have accumulated wisdom and are beginning to take on the polish of maturity.

All of this will make you better for everyone who depends on you, everyone to whom you are responsible.

This brings me to another friendly acquaintance, this one from my early years in the CrossFit world. Andy Stumpf is a former Navy SEAL who was part of the management team of a younger CrossFit, Inc. and who is now a leadership consultant and a life coach of sorts. It’s likely that I haven’t actually talked with Andy for 6 or 7 years at least, but I stumbled upon his podcast while driving home from our South Carolina vacation. While I was learning how to work my new espresso machine I had him on in the background.

The first thing that Andy said that made me perk up (sorry) was the general admonition to “be the better version of yourself.” Not the best version; no one knows what that really is. The “better version”. I’m familiar with this concept, this game. My alter ego in the CrossFit world was a guy named “bingo”, an avatar created not from bits but from words that represented what I felt was the better parts of who I was at any given time. This isn’t a new thing for me in any way. I’ve tried to find and apply this better version since my wedding day.

What Andy said next, and I’ll be paraphrasing, is what really made me stop and listen. Your better self is not one that is directed straight ahead, along a path solely in front of you, but rather one that looks first to the left and to the right to see who you might be able to take along. Andy, the former SEAL, is using a military analogy of course, describing the best teammates and leaders as those who check on the teammates or subordinates alongside them, choosing the course that is also best for them. Or even the course that is better for them then even for you.

Returning to my friend on the ski lift for a moment, your 60’s are the years when your inevitable physical decline is balance by the continued accumulation of knowledge and experience. The sum of these two characteristics is wisdom. These are the years that bring the wisdom to share. As I join these two men and their counsel I find a tiny kernel of inspiration on this birthday/New Year’s reflection: if one is fortunate enough to be asked, now is the time in life where one shares whatever it is that is their “better self”.

I’m not sure if I ever saw the guy on the ski lift again after that weekend, and Heaven knows if I will ever have the privilege of talking with Andy again. But I am deeply grateful to them both for where I’m going with their gifts. Our “better self” is an attainable goal that is worth seeking. As we leave behind pieces parts that cannot be better, like the skier I was at 40, we put our efforts toward those that can. Like the continued attainment of wisdom. We look outside ourself, look to see who is standing to the left and to the right of us, with the wisdom gained to lead all three of us to something or somewhere we might call “better, still”.

So I guess that’s where I am at 62. Not a bad place to start my next trip around the sun.

I’ll see you next week…

2022 New Year’s musings…

1 Revolutions. Maybe it’s because of all the news and commentary about January 6th and the Capitol whatever you want to call it, but every time I say “New Year’s Resolutions” it comes out “revolutions”.

I’ll be 62 in 5 days. Highly unlikely I’ll be making any “revolutions” for New Year’s.

2 Risk. “I just thought I’d see more, you know, scorpions and quick sand. And anvils. I thought life’s dangers would include more flying anvils.” Lovely Daughter Megan.

Love that kid.

3 Address. Beth and I are wrapping up our holiday week in our new place near Megan. Our first week away from Casa Blanco in which we stayed in a home we own since we sold our beloved ski home in Utah (damn the Great Recession). Once we got the staging for photos out of the way it started to feel like “home” to me, as places always do once Beth has put her touch to things.

But what really made it special, more “home”, is that it is 20 minutes from Megan and our son-in-law Ryan. We are blessed beyond belief that our sons Dan and Randy and their families live within a few miles of Casa Blanco. Even though they are all kinds of busy we get to see them quite often. It’s an event when we get Megan and Ryan (and their dogs!) Traveling to the Low Country will now be easier since we (and OUR dogs) won’t have to impose on them by invading their space for days (and eventually weeks) at a time.

We find ourselves once again at the “where do you want to be” stage. The last big “visit” there was around our 25th Anniversary, a time when it looked like none of our kids would be in NE Ohio. Where do you live when there is no family in the immediate area? Mind you, we were 10 or so years younger at the time, a life stage we could reasonably assume we’d survive intact. Still, we spent a year or so in the deciding, in the end coming to the realization that “place” had become “home”, at least for the time. That our boys came home and settled was a wonderful stroke of luck.

Now? in our early 60’s (how weird to type that!) we look forward to what is now known as “aging in place” at our beloved Casa Blanco. Surrounded by friends we’ve know for almost 30 years in addition to 5 grandchildren (Happy Birthday today to Lakey!!). But man, those Cleveland winters are brutal, climate change notwithstanding. Another year’s worth of searching, both physically (dry runs on both coasts of Florida in addition to coastal South Carolina) and emotionally (friends our age and a horse who winters in Florida, none of our siblings have chosen a winter spot, our only not-in-CLE child) bring us to the logical next place. For at least a couple of weeks every year, Condo Blanco sits 5 minutes from the Atlantic in South Carolina.

25 minutes from family.

4. Resolution. Meh, I’m still nearly 62. You and I both know I need to make all of the standard issue resolutions. Eat better and eat less. Drift back to a more formal, more structured, more disciplined fitness regimen. (As an aside I drifted over to CrossFit.com for the first time in many months; thanks for the “bingo” shout-out JS Smith!). Find a hobby or two that bring me in contact with men my age (haven’t really done anything like that since discovering CrossFit).

Hardly revolutionary.

I find myself going over some of my earlier writing. You know, checking out what seemed important to me at the time. What seemed important in the world at the time. It’s interesting to note that the world around me has been “on fire” in “unprecedented ways” for 15 years now. Funny. I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s. Years of epic tumult and conflict, domestically and abroad. Double-digit inflation. Controversial military conflicts. College campuses convulsed in protest about, well, everything. Sounds kinda familiar, doesn’t it?

Is nothing different today, then? Well, yes and no, I guess. No, in that it is naive at best and willfully intellectually dishonest in the likeliest sense to hold that our political, moral and other conflicts are in some way unique simply because they are our conflicts of the day. I mean, come on, we had kids getting shot on college campuses by the National Guard in one instance and a crazed sniper firing from a clock tower in another back then. Streets on fire in cities around the country…back then. If anything might be different it is that in addition to traditional information sources we now have a “man in the street” viewpoint available on all manner of social media.

No, the world is no more or less in an uproar than when I was young. We just know more and know it faster.

So what’s the point? Where’s the resolution in all of this? It’s simple: behind every idea, every position taken on any or all issues, lies a person. A real, live human being who gets up each day, eats a square or three, goes to work, and tries to make it to the next day. Perhaps there’s some joy there, too. A bit of sorrow, for sure. We all have a bit of sorrow. But if we are talking about the majority of the developed world, we are talking about millions of people who aren’t hungry, who aren’t outdoors. People who strive for just a bit better, who want just a bit more of better for their children and grandchildren.

People are not internet addresses, @whatevers or avatars. Behind whatever drivel might come out of their fingertips and land on Facegram or TwitTok lies the same challenges we all face. Maybe most of them spend less time than I do parsing the “big ideas”, but other than that, the same. Countless studies large and small have shown that removing the screens that sit between us restores some of that humanity on both sides of pretty much any issue. Did you ever see that Heineken commercial there they sit people with opinions that are poles apart and just set them to talking? It’s extraordinary watching them find their own common ground.

And that, my friends, is where the resolution will come from. There is far, far more common ground we all share than whatever differences we may have. We live in a world of vast commonality. That which we share dwarfs any differences we may have. Regardless of how much time we spend in the echo chambers of our pet peeves or primary pursuits, what we find there is still only a fraction of what we bring there. We are each much, much more than a vessel for some hot button issue or cause. More than that, as I quoted from the movie “I, Tonya” years ago, we are each much more than our worst decision or our worst act.

Here, then, is my resolution, one that I hope you will share with me: in 2022 I will step out from behind whatever barriers I may have erected, or may have been erected around me., both on SM and IRL. I will remember that there is almost no “other”, only different. I will seek to understand that different, but only so that I may better seek that which I share with those in all of the people who orbit my life and whose lives I orbit. For those who have made bad decisions I will do my best not to judge them solely on my knowledge of those decisions. I will trust (and, yes, verify) that they are, indeed, more than just the sum of their mistakes.

I resolve to see people first.

Happy New Year my friends. I hope 2022 finds us together in some way, somewhere, sometime.

Christmas musings…

Once again on this day of days I offer this verse from “An Olde City Bar” by the Trans Siberian Orchestra:

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

If we could just make this whole Christmas thing last.

By helping a neighbor, or even a stranger.

To know who needs help

you need only just ask.”

Merry Christmas my friends. May the Eastern Star light your life today, and every day.

The Spirit of Giving: My Annual Christmas Eve musings…

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

Once again my darling wife Beth knocks it out of the park. We have a couple of little ones again in the White house, and because of that we will have a healthy dose of Santa in our lives. While I realize that Beth and I will not really have a say in whether or not the whole Santa Claus story plays out in our grandchildren’s houses, what he stands for is important. Important enough for us to have had him in all his splendor and glory when Dan, Megan, and Randy were growing up. Important for us to draw out the time before Randy came to the realization that Santa was not a real person for as long as possible, so deep was his love for the furry fat guy he called “Key Klaus”.

Rest assured, the parental units in Clan White did struggle with how to handle the inherent subterfuge that is necessary to have the Santa Claus story as part of our children’s upbringing. From the very beginning, though, the message was about the giving, about generosity and caring enough about someone else that you not only gave them a gift, but you gave them a gift that let them know how much you cared about them. You know, the “spirit” in the Spirit of Giving, if you will.

No matter how you massage it, that day of reckoning when your child finally realizes that the character Santa Claus is nothing more than the figurative representation of the giving concept can be fraught with all kinds of emotional trauma. For sure you might get a dose of “you lied to me”, but in my now decades of experience being around parents it’s actually rather rare for this one to pop up. What you generally face is sadness, with maybe a touch of disappointment and even mourning tossed in just to add a little sting to the moment. Like so much else about parenting, or even just about kindness, these are times when you get to talk about and teach really important lessons. Here the lesson is about giving of yourself, with or without a physical gift to actually give.

While thinking about this we stumbled upon a lovely little story about how one family handled both the “Santa isn’t real” revelation and the “Santa is real” in spirit thing. Heck, the story may even be true! A Dad sensed that his son was pretty much on the cusp of discovering that the guy in the red suit wasn’t really the real deal. His approach? He talked to his son about how he sensed that he, the son, looked like he was not too sure about the Santa Claus character. The Dad complimented his son on being a caring young man: “Everyone who cares, who is generous can be a Santa. I’m very impressed by how kind you are. I think you are ready to become a Santa, too.”

The Dad went on to ask his son to think about someone in his world who looked like they were sad. Maybe a bit lonely even. He tasked the boy with thinking very hard about what that person might really like as a present. Something they needed, and something that would express that whoever gave it to them realized this need, and cared enough to give them a present that helped to meet that need. There was a catch, though: the recipient was never to know who gave them the gift. For the son the satisfaction was in the caring and in the giving, not in the recognition and praise that might follow.

It doesn’t really matter who the child chose or what he gave; you can trust that the story–true or not–is just lovely right to the end. What matters is that this very young boy is escorted through what can be a very sad stage in a young life by a caring and thoughtful parent. On the other side of this journey emerges a young man who has learned the true meaning of Santa Claus in the secular Christmas story. He has learned that what matters about Santa Claus is real indeed, and always has been.

Santa Claus is the Spirit of Giving. He will always be real.

I’ll see you tomorrow…

Indulgence: Sunday musings…12/21/21

1 Culture. “Culture eats strategy for lunch.” -Anonymous

On the White board at the surgery center where I do much of my work. Also, the guiding principle underlying why and how I built SkyVision.

2 Familiar. The description of the loss a husband suffered upon the death of his wife. “A quiet, familiar life with the woman he loved.”

I owe a note to a friend thus suffering.

3 E.D. Hirsch. You likely know Mr. Hirsch as the author of “Cultural Literacy” if you know of him at all. Published in 1987, “Cultural Literacy” posits that education must begin with the teaching of specifics. His tome is heavy on what was once known as Western Civ, and he is adamant that teaching in primary grades should emanate from the teacher teaching these specifics.

He is particularly dismissive of the notion that children who are exposed to more “experiences” are somehow at a kind of automatic advantage. “That’s what fiction is for.” To him it matters not where one acquires knowledge. “The residue of experience is knowledge. If you get your knowledge from the classroom, it’s just as good as if you got it from going to the opera.” (HT WSJ)

Food for thought with our children and grandchildren learning from home so much over the last year and a half, and we have a front row seat to the show.

4 Indulgence.’Tis the season, eh? Indulgence at this time of year, at least in the Judeo-Christian world, is rather obvious. I weigh and measure my food all year so that I can eat pie at Thanksgiving and cookies at Christmas. Neither of which I weigh or measure, by the way.

There’s an aspect of guilt when it comes to indulgence. It’s more than just the occasional treat. An inch of dark chocolate on your Paleo Diet doesn’t really cut it, and if you consider that an indulgence it’s probably time to loosen up a bit. I was thinking that the ultimate First World indulgence is the un-timed hot shower, but anything that occurs on a daily basis probably doesn’t count either.

Uh uh…indulgence involves a certain sense of not only excess but also a bit of “I really shouldn’t”. Jay McInerney: “I find the shadow of guilt always adds piquancy to any indulgence. It’s almost more pleasurable, feeling slightly guilty.” As a boy raised Catholic by a mother who openly admired the way her Jewish friends raised their kids (producing what I’ve come to call “double guilt”), I definitely get the “shadow of guilt” angle to indulgence, especially with ones that only occur on rare occasions.

Others, though, indulge in ways both frequent and grand. Indulgence writ large, if you will. Take, for example, Lilly Bollinger and her approach to Champagne: “I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it–unless I’m thirsty.” Man, THAT woman knows how to indulge. Not much guilt evident, either. I’m sure my Mom wouldn’t approve, and I’m equally sure that Lilly wouldn’t care.

In a perfect world we would all be more like Lilly Bollinger, indulging on a daily basis in something that brings us pleasure with or without a side of guilt. The world, as I’ve said, is messy, no matter where it is you might live. Indulgence is what you make of it, and it’s probably a good thing that we have this Holiday Season during which we give ourselves permission to indulge a bit.

Life is messy and life is hard. Go ahead and indulge. You’ve earned it.

I’ll see you next week…

Thanksgiving

1 Travel. Kudos to American Air. Seamless trip in and out of New York’s Laguardia Airport. Both CLE and LGA were packed. AA was super.

2 Fee. As in landing fee. As in did you know that Cleveland Hopkins airport has some of the highest landing fees in the country? Takes a ton of the mystery out of why airlines keep bailing on servicing Cleveland.

And makes the 30 minutes we spent idling on the tarmac waiting for a ground crew to park us after landing inexplicable and utterly unacceptable.

3 Friendship. My closest friend from college lives about 20 minutes (without accidents on the roads) from my brother and his family. We hadn’t seen each other in a few years so we dropped in for lunch and a tour of his new digs. Downsizing is a wholly different gig in the Northeast!

Anyway, the point here is the incalculable benefits of meeting in person. Nothing can substitute for that first hug after so long apart. Same for walking in to my brother’s house. All of our fancy ways to connect pale in comparison.

There’s no emoji that can compete with a real, live, in person hug.

4 Conflict. As I was landing a little while ago I was flashing across all of my long-distance connections when I came across something that annoyed me. Doesn’t really matter what it was, to be honest. It just rubbed me the wrong way. That is came from people who I typically like almost unconditionally added a tinge of disappointment.

So what did I do?

Well, after confirming the accuracy of the whatever, I simply moved on. Let it pass. For whatever reason, reason bubbled to the surface. Rather than push back, a rather reasonable thing under any circumstances but almost reflexive upon completing a flight, however well the airline performed (granted, “well” has a pretty low bar when it comes to airlines nowadays), I just walked on by.

Why? Not all things that bother, or all things with which you disagree, rise to the level of conflict. The teachable moment presented to me was just that: take a moment. Take a moment to first determine who owns whatever problem there is. If it’s you, like my little thing today, will you solve the problem by engaging and therefore expanding the conflict? If you engage is it possible to exit the encounter victorious? Or if not victorious, at least not seriously damaged? In the little moment that followed my tiny moment of pique it was crystal clear that creating conflict where none is presumed on whatever the other side might be would end poorly.

Sometimes you get to choose whether it’s a conflict at all.

5 It’s the end of November. In the United States we are just finishing the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, the purest of our national holidays in all respects. We are entering what is euphemistically known as the “Holiday Season”, a time once used to commemorate the intersection of family and faith, now bastardized into a commercial orgasmic frenzy. It’s a bit different this year, to be sure. We’ve been shopping from home for everything from cocktails to capers for almost 2 years. I didn’t see anything remotely reminiscent of “Black Friday” in today’s papers.

Hidden in this season somewhere, alive against all odds, lie the rituals that bind us together, bind us to some version of our past. Rituals are different from habits. Habits are trainable, repeatable, common activities we engage in consistently in the hopes of some equally consistent, common outcome. They are largely personal and exist in a tiny personal domain. Rituals, on the other hand, are a shared endeavor, and choice is not always a part of the program.

Once it’s a ritual you’ve been committed.

We call these rituals by many names; in the extended White family they are traditions. We are a family that craves such things. Do it once it’s a precedent. Do it next year and it’s a tradition. Do it yet again and however it went, it is now inviolate ritual. Is this good? This year, an “off” year for our little family (kids all had their “primary” Thanksgiving feast with their in-laws), Beth and I accepted an invitation to spend the weekend with my Mom surrounded by my brother, one of my sisters, and their families. Our Thanksgiving rituals were transported largely intact some 150 miles (and 15 years) to Connecticut. As Beth and I landed and switched our phones off “Airplane mode” we already had an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner on the next “off year” 2 years hence!

Some rituals are gentle, almost whimsical. They tickle us and we smile little smiles as they come and go. Others are grand, some so outsized that “grandiose” is the only apt descriptor. There is weight to these, demands that must be met, plans that must be made. Some of this weight is real, usually born of history that stretches generations into the past. Some are even pleasant.

The power of ritual to teach and to bind is part of why they persist. The power of a ritual to resist a changing world, whether macro or micro, speaks to the inherent and personal resonance of that ritual. The more internal the effect, the greater the power.

The longer lived the ritual, the more resistant it is to a changing world. Even the tiniest bit of evolution, however appropriate, can feel like violating a kind of trust.

Church. The family meal. Travel. Gifting. All of the trappings that surround each. Why do we do what we do, especially at this time of year? Do our rituals remind us of a history that is warm, a legacy that bears propagating? Do they teach a next generation in a way that leads us to look forward with eager anticipation? Even painful rituals such as Yom Kippur end with optimism.

Do they rather simply reinforce some something that should have faded away, been allowed to die? Something that stands in the way of a better today or tomorrow, yesterday as the anchor that drags against full sails and a bright horizon? These we should have the courage to leave behind.’

Tis the season in which most of us face the longest-lived, most deeply entrenched rituals in our lives. Most of them are likely that way because they bind us to a warm past, teach us, re-fuel and inspire us. Whether writ large or small, these are what we should return to, wherever they may be, as we face the bombardment of a world a’changing.

I hope your Thanksgiving rituals left you with hearts filled to bursting, re-fueled and inspired, ready for whatever comes your way, our way, borne aloft toward a better tomorrow by the rituals of our pasts.

I’ll see you next week…

Dave Granet Defines Success

My friend Dave Granet posted a little thoughtlet on “success”, and it started a very nice conversation about what actually constitutes success and why. Thinking about success may provide us with a platform from which we might think about the other issues that may be orbiting our little personal planets. Dave’s post was this: “Successful people have a sense of gratitude. Unsuccessful people have a sense of entitlement.”

To parse this one must begin with a definition or at least an understanding of what success is, and equally importantly, what it is not. There are many terms that are often associated with success, things like wealth and power and fame. Is it necessary to have any, or all, of these to be a success? Can you be successful in the absence of any, or all, of these? Where would one fall on the gratitude/entitlement continuum if one were to have any, or all? This is really tricky, and I’m afraid that when I’m done you will likely have more questions than answers, maybe even more than you had when you started.

That may actually be the point now that I think of it. Success probably relates to what I’ve shared in the past about “All” or Everything” in that the proper definition of success emanates from within, not without, and this I think is what Dave is implying when he makes the distinction based on gratitude vs. entitlement. Let’s use an example, a very famous example, to try to illustrate this and prompt some thought: Steve Jobs.

Mr. Jobs as you know was cut down in the prime of his life by a disease that has no known cause. Was he a success? He was wealthy, famous, and wielded great power both inside and outside his company. He was married to his only spouse, and together they had healthy children (2, if memory serves). A life to be envied, no? One to which many (most?) might aspire.

A deeper dive at least suggests another story, though. It appears that Mr. Jobs, unlike his one great peer Bill Gates, had few if any close friends. Indeed, within his company and his industry he left behind a trail of despair. All one reads about is how hard it was to work with or for him. He won…for sure he won way more than he lost…but did he succeed? Was he successful? I never once read or heard anything from Mr. Jobs that implied that he was grateful for either any of his wins, or any of the spoils of his victories. There were a couple of whispers about an end of life wistfulness about a paucity of connection, though.

I don’t mean to pick on Mr. Jobs, and Heaven knows his family surely misses him. I think his example might soften the “entitlement” part of the equation a bit as I never really got a sense of that from him (as opposed to, say, your favorite rich and famous Kardashian). Being grateful, however, bespeaks connection, a very certain acknowledgement that the concrete parts of success–money, fame, power–are without any real value unless they somehow allow you to share them.

This, in turn, brings with it the humility that comes from realizing that you can’t be truly successful if success is only something you can count rather than something you can feel.

No one is entitled to victory, let alone success. In order to feel successful you must be able to admit that you neither did it alone, nor can you truly enjoy it alone. The gratitude felt by the successful is one born of thankfulness for the opportunity you must have been given, and borne aloft by the desire for your success to be one that is felt by not only you, but by others you are thankful to have in your life.

What does being successful mean to you? Rich or poor, famous or anonymous…are you successful?

My Annual Thanksgiving Musings…

Sunday musings…

Some of my drivel is evergreen, or at least as close to evergreen as whatever I may ever produce. This is from 2016 and it continues to capture how I feel about Thanksgiving. I hope you enjoy it and find a bit of meaning in it as I do each time I revisit it.

Thanksgiving is by far and away my favorite holiday. Not even close. Maybe it’s because I’ve always had much to be thankful for, always had pretty much everything I need and at least a bunch of what I (thought I) want. Seriously, I can’t really remember a single Thanksgiving in my entire life where I thought the ledger was tilted to the minus side, where I just couldn’t find so much more to be thankful about than not.

You?

Oh sure, there’s always something to gripe about. I’m not really sure what it is at the moment, but Beth called me out last night for basically being an edgy grump. Guilty, but cluelessly in retrospect, even though I managed to come up with a reasonably coherent attempt at an explanation at the time. Still, it’s almost Thanksgiving, and I’ve gotta get my…ahem…stuff sorted out.

One of the attractions for me to the day is that there are no real obligations. No gift giving. No “X shopping days until” stuff. Heck, I’d love to see a bit of Thanksgiving cheer around town, in stores and restaurants and such. Like we didn’t know all of those Christmas lights were already up the week before Halloween just because you didn’t plug them in?! Sheesh. Throw me a bone. Gimme a turkey and maybe a pilgrim hat in the window, just for a couple of days. Let me revel in the holiday where there’s really no revelry, just for a moment.

Oops…edgy grumpy again. Sorry.

Thanksgiving is so much more precisely because it’s so much less. Your family, such as it is at any given time, gets together and you eat turkey. Simple. You gather around a communal table, pass around whatever traditional fare constitutes your family’s meal, and talk all over each other with your mouth full. Everyone is more pleased to be together than not, even your cranky aunt who always–ALWAYS–tells you to swallow your food before you answer. Even she is OK on Thanksgiving.

There’s a sameness to Thanksgiving, at least in our minds, and I think that’s part of the joy, the comfort of the holiday. Close your eyes, sit back, and just for a moment think about Thanksgiving at your house. Don’t pick a particular life stage, just let it happen. What do you see? Man, it’s like seeing my life scroll out before me in countless little pictures and video snippets. My timeline is notable for one very important thing: at no point, in no image that flashes before me, am I alone.

What do you see? There’s football in mine. Lots and lots of football. The first memory in line is football. It’s so cold at the Southbridge/Webster HS game my hands feel numb typing. I had my first cup of coffee that day; they were all out of hot chocolate. You played and then came home, or went to the game and then came home. Yup, football and fires in the fireplace, and so, so much food. And there’s always that one, strange, once-a-year food, right? Peanut butter filled dried dates, rolled in pure sugar. Like a bite-sized PB&J. That’s the one I remember. It was always up to just one or two of your family members to make that weird little treat, too. I flash on my youngest sister as she rolls the dates in the sugar, feigning anger as her siblings snitch them off the plate as quickly as she rolls them. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth at the memory of those little sugar bombs.

As you sit there and move through your Thanksgiving montage you begin to notice something, though. At intervals that are not really regular, but they are there, just the same, something changes. Maybe you moved, and the dinner table is different. There are some new characters around the table, a girlfriend here, a husband there. Sometimes something is missing. You run back the tape. You look and you look, but try as you might, someone isn’t there. All kinds of reasons for this, of course, but the first time you scroll through a significant change–venue, menu, cast–it shakes you a bit, right? Your brother got married and has to share the holiday with another family. Your sister was deployed; no Skype back then to sorta, kinda, fill the space. Mom or Dad, Grandma or Grandpa, someone is no longer here to be there at all.

Here, I think, is where edgy, grumpy Darrell is probably coming from. If you’ve been around long enough, and Heaven knows I certainly have, you’ll scroll through more of these changes, these inflection points if you will. More than you really realized were happening at the time. New families. In-laws. Another generation arrives. If you could somehow go back even further, before your own little Thanksgiving memory tree started to grow, you’d find that there’s nothing really unique at all in this little part of Thanksgiving. Change, growth and change, are also part of the magic of the Holiday. What was it like for my Mom to move with her new family to a Thanksgiving in her own home? Family lore has it that my Dad’s family was more than a little unhappy with his move all of one county away. What was he thinking those first couple of Thanksgivings at my Mom’s house? For that matter, what was it like in their homes at Thanksgiving when they were the same age as their grandchildren are now?Did they have peanut butter-filled, sugar-rolled dried dates?

Every day is new. Each one is different from the last, and Thanksgiving can be no different. This week there will be much that feels like so many Thanksgivings of yore, yet it will be new as well. New babies and new lives and new places. New additions brought into our oldest traditions. Things and people to adopt and love as much as all we’ve loved before. Goodbyes to be said, however quietly.

Edgy? Well, it’s almost certainly because so very much will be new this year in our little Thanksgiving for the White family. New brings a bit of uncertainty, doesn’t it? Yes, for sure, it does. But with certainty I can say that once again, as with every Thanksgiving, I will have much more to be thankful for. The ledger will be long on thanks, needs comfortably covered, wants undoubtedly as well. I will be surrounded by those I love; when the scroll is run in the years ahead I will see my people. Of this I am quite certain.

And there will be dates. Oh my, yes, there will be dates. Sticky, gooey memories to celebrate memories of generations passing and past, and to begin the next generation’s Thanksgiving story.

Happy Thanksgiving. I’ll see you next week…

A Father’s Gift: Sunday musings…10/24/2021

My in-laws loved to travel. Each was bitten by the travel bug early in life, and both reveled in everything there is about travel in their 50+ year marriage. I confess that the backstory to Sandy’s wanderlust is not one I know very well. Bob, on the other hand, has a story oft told about young men in his generation. Born and raised in semi-rural PA and without a family heritage that included a college degree, he joined the Navy out of high school. As a member of the Navy Band his tours during Vietnam took him through much of Europe. His time spent in the Med near a tiny town called Cap Verat was particularly influential.

Bob and Sandy were both educators, he at the college level, and Sandy as Headmistress of an alternative school called Upattinas. I’ve written about Upattinas before. Part of the curriculum there for the upper school was spending a month on the road somewhere in the U.S., usually in the West or Southwest. Bob would occasionally accompany if a daughter or two were on board. Not content with this degree of exposure to the world my in-laws coordinated a yearlong sabbatical and took to the road, 3 daughters in tow. 6 months traveling by car in the U.S. hitting some 40 states followed by 6 months living in Cap Verat in the south of France.

Beth and her sisters were well-traveled, to say the least!

Fast forward a couple of decades. Bob and Sandy have fallen in love with Mexico. It is their fervent hope that their daughters will continue to make travel a meaningful part of their lives as the girls move through and past their child-raising years. To facilitate this Bob begins to buy, and then upgrade, three timeshare properties, one for each girl. His plan was to bequeath one to each of his daughters. “I have given you a bed in Mexico to sleep in; what you do when you are not sleeping is up to you.”

Now if you have any familiarity with the timeshare industry circa 1990 you know that investing in a timeshare was not a wise financial move. The girls and their boys were not really all that aware of that in the beginning. Nope, we were just dazzled by how exotic Mexico was, and grateful for the generosity that Bob and Sandy showed to us and our families. The highlight for all of us was an epic trip for the whole fam damly (+ significant others) for a week together in Nuevo Vallarta, complete with the lifelong memory of Grampa leading the way on a jungle zip line excursion.

Eventually the reality of timeshare economics barged into Bob’s lovely gesture. Did you know that many timeshare contracts have a clause obligating the owners to pay an annual fee over which they have no say for 99 years? For sure none of us did, including Bob. Still, this gift was so special that the three daughters decided to fight for something that they could have, to make Bob’s sentiment real, without saddling his children’s children’s children with this annual burden. Beth, Lisa, and Amy consolidated their assets, gained a bit of leverage, and essentially bought out 90 years of the contract.

Leaving us with 10 years of a bed in Mexico from which we could do anything we wanted.

And so it is that Peter, Gene, and I find ourselves once again together with our girls in a spectacular property on the ocean in Mexico. Since our very first trips with Bob and Sandy when we went solo with them, we three couples have never been to this property alone. Sure, we talk a big game about how one or the other of us will head down for a long weekend, or take some part of our own families away to that “free bed in Mexico”, but none of us has pulled that trigger. This trip is about the Hurst family. Like Cape Week for the Whites, our trip to Mexico is about being Hursts.

In the end my father-in-law got his wish. Like butterflies to Capistrano, his daughters return each (non-pandemic) year to his beloved Mexico. They bring their husbands to walk hand in hand on the beaches and through the markets he and Sandy so loved at the same stage in life. It was a massive gift in all ways, the tribulations it took to liberate it from the mercenaries notwithstanding. The boy who grew up in the farm country of Pennsylvania gifted his girls Mexico. When Lisa and Gene get here we will raise our glasses to Bob and Sandy in thanks for this gift.

A gift of family.

I’ll see you next week…

Cost, Convenience, Quality: Paying for Healthcare in the U.S.

At the moment I am sitting in a hotel in mid-town Manhattan, between speaker slots at a convention and wishing I’d accepted a less ambitious schedule. Typical of me when away alone, I’m trying mightily not to get on an early flight home. Still, as predictably homesick as I may be, it is good to once again be out “in the wild” among my tribe of eye peeps as we seek more and better ways to stamp out all manner of blinding disease.

While we rail against the vagaries and insults rained upon both patient and doctor by the healthcare payment “system” that exists in the U.S.

Last night I had a very illuminating conversation about some of the maddening nuances that exist in the endless games played by the government and health insurance companies as they plot to thwart the makers of pharmaceuticals and devices from being paid for the use of their products. These producers of products respond with gamesmanship of their own. This, in turn, creates vast inequities in access to both drugs and devices for patient that need them. Safe Harbors compete against Most Favored Nation clauses while middlemen called PBM’s extract a toll at every juncture of the process. Doctors (and their staffs) bend under the weight of misdirected blame and bile for treatment roadblocks they neither built nor can they demolish. Frustration rules the day.

A while ago Beth and I had a rather spirited discussion about how we in the U.S. might be able to pay for the healthcare of our citizens. Being ever practical, and also owning the job of writing the checks that pay for the “health insurance” our company offers its associates (including us), Beth in effect is arguing for a national consensus on something we might describe as a baseline ‘value’ for healthcare. Others would label her concept a ‘floor’, but you get the idea.

What Beth intuitively understands is the tension between cost, quality, and convenience. You pick a baseline or a floor and offer that to everyone. With training as a nurse and 15 years in healthcare administration, her idea of what constitutes the sum of cost, quality, and convenience naturally overweights the integers for cost and quality: outcomes should be essentially equal across the board at both the baseline or floor level, as well as any level that might be considered “luxury”. The costs of achieving that should be in some way equitably shouldered by something we could describe as “society”. Very practical. A strategy that lends itself to being observable and measurable. What’s the rub? Well, only two of the three elements that make up value are covered. To obtain an agreed upon level of medical outcomes (mortality, morbidity, longevity, etc.) the cost is covered.

Ah, but HOW you obtain those outcomes is still a variable. It is the FLOOR of value that is guaranteed. The cost of achieving that baseline universal outcome is covered, the “what you experience” in doing so is not. Our family experienced a bit of this with Beth’s Mom. She was living in a setting that provided excellent care at a reasonable cost, but in a setting that did not provide any extras; it was old, not very pretty, and had we not moved her she would have had a roommate. Her (and her daughters’) experience, what we might call “convenience” in our formula, was found to be lacking.

Therein lies the problem with any discussion about literally anything that we might discuss as a “right”. If we examine food, something we are very conscious of in the White house (Beth and I stopped eating meat 1 1/2 years ago) we find something quite similar. No one among us would say that X Million people should go without food. Indeed, we don’t even really talk about true hunger in the U.S. anymore, we talk about “food insecurity”, the concern that we may become hungry. By the same token, though, no one asserts that everyone is entitled to the same food experience. Not even a little bit. Even the most extreme in the “equality” set do not assert that EVERYONE gets swordfish if ANYONE gets swordfish; it’s the protein that matters and you can get that from a can of tuna. No, quite the contrary, all that is discussed is cost and convenience (access).

Now, of course, in my old CrossFit world (and to a degree in the medical world) it is argued that quality is an ineluctable part of nutrition, that one must extend the equation outside of food alone so that an explicit choice is made that prioritizes quality calories over other purchases. While this is accurate and proper we can reasonably define adequate nutrition as consisting of comparable protein, complex carbohydrates and beneficial fat and keep it separate from other needs, at least for the purpose of our discussion. “Quality” here would be more accurately be called the food “experience”.

How about medications? After all my conversation was with a team from a pharmaceutical company. A complete description of the morass that prescription coverage has become is way beyond the scope of this essay. Hewing closely to Beth’s proposition, each individual should have the right to obtain a medication (or device) that works. Consistent with my further interpretation of the three components of value, the floor of the care continuum is just that, the medicine that works. One should expect to shoulder the cost of more convenient forms of treatment. A 4 time per day pill versus once daily, for example.

The interplay between cost, quality, and convenience holds true in nutrition/food on a global, grand policy making level: From the value components quality, cost, and convenience, you can pick any two, but only two, when you are declaring what is the minimally acceptable level. As Beth intuits, this is similar in healthcare.

My formulaic approach to the coverage of healthcare needs has a little wrinkle that should be mentioned: quality cannot be increased ad infinitum. In all examples we might evaluate there is a practical limit to the ability to improve quality. The law of diminishing returns arrives in the form of asymptote as quality rises. For example, there is little statistical difference between 0.03% and 0.035% when we discuss the risk of a surgical intervention; it becomes similar to chance.

On the other hand, cost and convenience are unbound and can rise almost infinitely. Using an example which is more dramatic than my swordfish/canned tuna offering, alcohol in moderation is consistently shown to reduce mortality. Note that it is the alcohol in a drink that confers the health benefit; the same outcome occurs no matter what you drink. One person’s jug wine from Costco is another person’s Chateau Lafite served in the Gulfstream V.

You get the picture.

What will become of our conversations about issues such as healthcare? Will we arrive at a similar juncture to the one we have now in food, clothing, and shelter? Where quality (outcomes) and baseline cost are addressed and everyone is left to make their own call on convenience/experience (e.g. private or shared convalescent care room, filet mignon or a burger)? Beth can’t see how it can be any other way.

Me? I’m much less optimistic. That old “want vs. need” thing just keeps popping up. Confusion arises when a truly generous people confuse what people WANT with what they NEED. Need is measurable, and therefore finite, whereas want is neither. We can, and should, work to pick up the check for the true needs of each: equal outcomes at a universally affordable cost. “Want”, on the other hand, is the proverbial “free lunch”. I’m all for “a chicken in every pot” , but if you want yours to be Coq au Vin, you gotta buy your own wine.

There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

I’ll see you next week…

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