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A Follow Up On Gratitude: Sunday musings…11/26/2023

1 Brand. Why do vaccines now have brand names? Seriously. What possible reason is there to breand something that, by its essential nature, will never live long enough to face a generic equivalent.

Salk is spinning in his grave.

2 Advertise. Along the same lines of for-profit conversions of mutual health insurance companies, who thought it would be a good idea to advertise branded medications to patients? Often very complex medications prescribed for very complex, typically dastardly diseases. Stuff that is challenging for docs who treat it to understand.

A pox on the FDA, FTC, and every drug company involved in this travesty.

3 Powell. As in “Powell Doctrine”. A nation should never enter into war unless they do so with overwhelming force and a clear, unambiguous, specific outcome in mind.

A corollary is likely: do not enter into war without both.

4 Success. Here is a re-post of a prior “Sunday musings…” in which I expounded on a close friend’s thoughts on the relationship between gratitude and success.

“My friend David Granetranet 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 shared somne time ago 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?”

And to bring this Thanksgiving weekend to a close, if you have been successful, no matter you you may define it, are you grateful?”

Whether or not this little corner of the internet is successful, I am deeply grateful for any of you out there who’ve made a little time to read it. I’ll see you next week…

Enough! Thanksgiving Musings…

Once again, here is my sorta annual “Thanksgiving musings…”

For pretty much my entire adult life I have tried very hard to live by one of the core tenets of Taoism: the man who knows when enough is enough will always have enough. Through times both thicker and thinner, the more closely I’ve been able to hue to the intent here the happier I’ve been. Today, Thanksgiving Day 2023, I once again reflect upon a companion piece that may very well bookend a philosophy for life.

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough.” (HT Mrs. Bill Livingston)

Enough is a truly powerful thing. Enough is the portal to satisfaction, if not happiness. Enough is the antidote to yearning, to wanting. Once you have enough there is no reason to covet. After enough anything else is a bonus, life’s equivalent of that overflowing Holiday cornucopia. Gratitude is a straight shot to enough. On this Thanksgiving Day I am grateful for all that I have, for as long as I have had it. On this Thanksgiving Day I am grateful for all whom I have in my life. My family and my friends.

I am grateful, especially today, for a life where for so very long enough has been enough.

Happy Thanksgiving. I’ll see you on Sunday…

Veteran’s Day and Patriotism: Sunday musings…11/12/2023

My Dad was a patriot. So was Beth’s. For any disagreements either man may have had after his years of service were long past, both men really did believe that the United States was a country that deserved the support afforded by patriotism. To be sure, both of our Dads had periods where they were more than a little unhappy with those who may have been running the country and how they were doing it–not surprisingly for those who knew them, these periods rarely coincided for both men–for the most part they found much more to be worthy of their support.

I don’t remember my father-in-law’s “origin” story as well as I do my Dad’s. Lifted out of the trades track in high school and placed in the college prep course by a guardian angel teacher, Dad went to UNH on a 1/2 football scholarship. Without the other half of a scholarship Dad pretty much starved. He dropped out, joined the Army, and then after his tours in Korea he mustered out and headed back to college. He landed at UVM with a 1/2 football scholarship and the GI Bill in hand. In stark contrast to these heady days of NIL payments for college athletes Dad still needed to take a part time job as a short order cook in his first two years of school to be able to afford to eat. He retained equal parts proud to have served, and grateful for the support given to him for that service.

The simplest and most accurate definition of a patriot is one who loves, supports, and defends his/her country. Full stop. Patriotism of this sort is quite different from the false patriotism manufactured by, say, Vladimir Putin, whose call for a return of Russian glory is more about self-interest than fidelity to his motherland. In a country such as the United States (or Canada) that lacks the advantage of shared ancestry and history that extends to the beginning of civilization, patriotism is often demonstrated by its smaller alter ego “civic duty” or devotion. In the absence of ancient commonalities a citizen must consciously choose to seek to come together with his/her fellow citizens as a concrete manifestation of patriotism.

How do we do this? How do we encourage a greater degree of patriotism from a broader swath of American citizenry? I think three simple things would get us off to a good start. First, let’s stop giving a free pass to people who are enjoying all of the benefits of citizenry and yet miss no opportunity to denigrate all things American. You know who they are. The so-called cultural elite, especially those in the academic community who never miss a nit to pick, always on the side of putting down America and things American? Blowhard politicians at every level of government who can barely muster a kind word for the country they supposedly serve? There’s a difference between constructive criticism in an attempt to promote a better country to love and an open contempt for not only country but the very idea of love and support for your country.

Why should these people be our national thought leaders if they care so little for our nation?

By the same token, too much emphasis is placed on issues and ideas on the margin at the expense of elemental, more global ones. Take, for example, the Pledge of Allegiance. Why is it an issue at all whether or not the words “…under God,…” are in our national declaration of fidelity to country? The Pledge is a declaration of our patriotism, our love and support for our nation. This would constitute such an overwhelming majority of the purpose behind the Pledge that we should relegate the distraction of the debate on these two words to the periphery of the discussion where it belongs. We ought neither to allow ourselves the luxury of such selfish discussions, nor others the privilege of driving discussions away from the importance of such a primary issue, patriotism.

Lastly, we should return to a time when each of us made it a point to think of the success of our country as something to which we, as individuals, must attend. Pride in nation and sincere hope for national success must no longer be something looked down upon, but rather something that each of us learns and practices. Our leaders must begin to work toward more than their own self-interest and that of their peers, but also to that of country.

For the rest of us, it is enough to look at our own little parts of the country and make whatever small effort we can to make them just a tiny bit better. We should call out those who seek to tear down our nation and make them uncomfortable in that effort, just as we should lift up those we see working for a better, more unified whole. Patriotism is neither trite nor trivial. All it might take is to think for a moment before you act or speak about being a patriot, of supporting and loving and defending your country when you do so, even if you truly believe that what you are doing or saying is to right a wrong.

To those who have served, and to those who serve today, I leave you with a tiny prayer I heard first from Beth: May peace find its way through your courage.

I’ll see you next week…

Historic Times?

“…for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” –George Elliot (HT to my friend Bruce K.)

We in the U.S. have been bombarded of late with missives that declare that we are living in “historic times”. Among that which might make this true is that we have another “historic opportunity” to participate in an election that will “determine our fate as a country in historic ways.” But is that really so? At the moment it appears that we will simply re-run the last election, albeit with all semblance of nuance peeled away in the acid bath that has been these last four years.

Are we truly at an altogether unique inflection point, one so different from all that have come before that our fate, our daily experiences to come, will be affected in ways that we cannot miss or ignore? In ways that we as a people, nay, as a species, have never encountered before? Or is this particular upcoming election occurring as it will simply the next in an unbroken series of political or governing evolutionary steps that has been unbroken since the end of the Civil War? (We must note that despite the upheaval at the Capital in 2021 the handover of the Presidency proceeded as always). Is the excitement and the drama simply another extension of the “Techquake” and its always on firehose of information?

Seriously now, if you are one who is on your soapbox (facing in either direction), are you really telling us that upcoming Election Day, likely pitting two men well past their expiration dates, is going to change our nation to a greater degree than the one that brought us 4 years of LBJ and the Great Society? FDR’s command of the nation through WWII? Heck, do you think it will really end up in the upheaval wrought by Reagan that resulted in the dismantling of the USSR?

As a people the citizens of the developed world have been swept along in the great rivers of effluent poured forth from that firehose of information spawned by the internet. Goodness, unlike even 4 years ago we have an even smaller ability to parse the accuracy of literally anything we see on the various coms brought our way along the interwebs. Have we forgotten the accuracy and truthfulness of Elliot’s words above? If so is it because we simply cannot get even a single pupil above the torrent of information to see what he saw? Or is it more that we have lost the ability to paddle even the tiny amount necessary to do so? No matter, the result is the same. Legions of people who have lost the will to see another person as more than an idea, opinion, or meme.

Literary fiction is taught as the study of quiet acts of desperation and the fall-out that follows. Life, on the other hand, is made up of quiet acts of little distinction one way or another, made out of sight of nearly everyone. Anonymous acts carried out with neither malice nor benevolence. These are what constitute the reality of life. It seems to me that at least a (very loud) portion of our people have lost the appreciation of this reality. For them each act is either an existential affront or a tiny step toward canonization. I do not believe they are correct. Elliot is only wrong in that he underestimates his object; that things are not so ill with you and me, is not half but mostly owing to those who lived that faithful life.

To what, then, is this anonymous majority faithful? This is quite simple, and because this is so it is all the more painful that it must be pointed out: they are faithful to one another. They live lives that are faithful to the belief that it is another person with whom they are living, not an opinion or a belief. This anonymous mass lives lives that are intertwined with other people, not other opinions. When they look to their left or to their right what they see is not a position or a platform, but a person. It is this, the acknowledgement that we are surrounded first by other people, that leads to peace and salvation in this life.

You and I are surrounded by people who are faithfully living quiet lives, anonymous to all but a handful of others, whose lives will be remembered by even fewer, if at all. Unbeknownst to one another they likely crossed paths with someone with whom they would find little common ground in belief, someone who is close to you, about whom you care very much. Despite this lack of commonality the crossing was uneventful. It was peaceful. On balance it was marked by quiet goodwill, if it was marked at all. It was a moment that will have passed directly into an unvisited “tomb” in the memory of each of these individuals. If they saw anything at all, they simply saw another person.

And yet it was that quiet faithfulness that behind whatever disagreement might exist between the two there lived much more than another opinion or belief. There lived another person. Another person living a life largely unnoticed, hopefully a quiet one with less desperation than more, on their way to an end noticed by few and mourned by fewer still. Lives that were lived in the faith that there exists much, much more good in others than not. Lives lived with a faith that no real ill lies between them, or between us.

A faith that we, the living, must endeavor to keep alive.

I’ll see you next week (which will surely arrive, regardless)…

It’s About the Other Person: Sunday musings…10/29/2023

1 Value. A measurement of the relationship between quality and cost. In its simplest stating value would be defined as high quality at low cost. This could be something quite rare and very expensive–think maybe a base-level Ferrari–or something that provides almost the same quality as that rare thing but with less scarcity and a dramatically lower cost. Sticking with cars, your average Corvette fits here quite nicely.

Thinking along these lines can be kinda fun no matter what your predilection might be. Very shortly I will be heading out to buy libations for a large upcoming family gathering. I plan to stock up on one of the best values in all of winedom, the most recent version of Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc. Once again it is rated above 90 by pretty much everyone, is made is massive quantities so is not difficult to find, and is ludicrously inexpensive (~$14 or so).

Pretty much the definition of value, soon to appear in a wine glass near me.

2 Did. There is a nearly endless number of gripes I have with autocorrect and spellcheck. Microsoft Word seems to have some sort of stylecheck built into both of the above. Maybe it’s just me, but it sure feels like the mean-spirited bot behind the curtain has it out for me and my very personal writing style.

More than that, the modern whateverchecks seem to have been co-opted by the pervasive deviations from the English I was taught as a child in school. T’was a time when dictionaries and English teachers could be counted on to hold the line against the incursion of the vernacular, both standing strong against the various vagaries of the trendy.

Need an example? Hows about the “who” and “that” of “did”. I was taught that when someONE did something the reference was “who”. “The teacher who did that should receive a medal.” A non-person, whether animate or not, would receive that reference “that”. “The chair that keeps biting my pinky toe is on its way to the dump.” And yet, each time I write “who” in reference to a person who has done whatever I get red underlining or a blue-out. When did the rules change, and if they really haven’t changed how come those of us who remember the rules are forced to suffer this indignity?

I’d like to get ahold of the person what did this.

3 Cellphone. Our texts are polluted with ads and admonitions to purchase the latest iPhone. Mine is 2, 3 yrs old, max. Admittedly there is a software update waiting for download, and last time I looked all 40 or so apps taking up space on my screen need to be updated. Still, all in all, my apparently ancient cellphone continues to provide me with everything I need, while at the same time giving me all kinds of things that I could want. Pretty sure Beth and I spend way more than $100/month just for the phone and the stream of electrons flowing in and out of it.

Among the things coming across my screen on some of the stuff on my phone I don’t need are stories about how important it is that every human, certainly every American human needs to have a cellphone. Has a need for a cellphone that borders on having a right to have a cellphone. But not just a cellphone mind you, a cellphone that has as much unnecessary stuff on it as mine does. In a time of meaningful inflation that has had an impact on the real ability of folks to afford housing, healthcare and food, we are informed that an iPhone or the equivalent is a comparable need.

In all honesty I can readily get on board with the contention that having the ability to make and receive a phone call, send and receive a text or other type of message, and participate in the basics of commerce (buy necessities, communicate with government, landlords, school, etc). To do this you need a phone, a browser, and a very basic camera. Memory needs are negligible. Excepting mandatory job-related apps there is nothing else you need.

Such a phone can be made for a few dollars, and connecting to the network can be accomplished for a few dollars a month. I am on board with the need for having such a basic cellphone. The basics of modern life almost demand it, and we aught not deny anyone the ability to obtain that which they need for want of such a basic implement.

4 Wedding. Or more exactly, Vance, Steph and a wedding.

As I foreshadowed above in “Value”, we had a family wedding here this weekend in Cleveburg. It was a new experience for most of us, a second wedding. Doesn’t matter at all why the celebrants were coming together in a second marriage for both; we were all together to celebrate them, and that’s where my friend Vance Thompson and Steph Curry (who I have never met) come in.

Steph Curry of basketball fame once gave an interview in which he was asked what the most important ingredient was that explained his success on the court and in life. Mr. Curry has been quite successful in pursuits that range far beyond the 3-point line, as it were. His response was: “It’s about the other person.” My friend and professional colleague Vance Thompson is wildly successful in our shared profession, and like Steph Curry he has been similarly just as successful in pretty much everything he has done outside of eye care. Vance goes one step further than Steph when asked how he has pulled this off: “It’s about loving the other person.”

About now you are probably asking yourself what the heck does this have to do with a wedding? Think for a minute about the difference between getting married and having a wedding. To get married all you need is about 15 minutes, a working pen, and $50 or so to get your marriage license and cover the costs of the Justice of the Peace in whatever ‘burg you call home. Voila…married. A wedding, on the other hand, is a whole nuther kettle of fish. A wedding is about a bunch of folks, including the bride and the groom (or bride and bride, or groom and groom, or…) gathering together for the other person. Clearly the couple at hand are there for one another, but the rest of the guests are there for AT LEAST the couple on stage.

Especially if it’s a family wedding. Then you really want Vance to be the one who’s right, that it’s about loving the other person.

And for this one weekend at least, that’s what we all saw and did. Family came from all over the country to join with the “chosen family” of the couple’s friends in an intimate display of love. If there were conflicts afoot you’d never have known; inside the venue there was nothing but love. Everyone was about the other person. Everyone was about loving a bride and a groom who were getting a little bit of a mulligan in the game of life, one that they deserved as much as anyone ever has. Every guest, whether family born or chosen, was there for this very special couple, and in so being ended up there for each and every other guest.

As you probably know I often end this tiny “musings” with some sort of teachable moment or take-home message, but I’m not really sure there’s too much more than this: in a world in which it seems everyone is about no one but themselves, that no one seems able to think beyond the tip of their own nose when it comes to what someone else thinks or feels, in reality we all have it within ourselves to let it be about the other person. To MAKE it about the other person. And yes, even to LOVE the other person, even if you’ve never met them before that very moment. We were, all of us in that room over those hours, there for the happy couple, and indeed, for each of the other people gathered to celebrate them.

I guess if there is a lesson here it’s that Steph Curry is right: it’s about the other person. And if you’re very lucky, well then, Vance Thompson is right, too: it’s about loving the other person, because they just might be loving you right back.

I’ll see you next week…

Good and Bad; Right and Wrong

There is such a thing as right and wrong. Sadly, we have been brutally reminded of this over the last week or so. Where once we believed that the great wars of the 20th century had relegated a certain level of bad off of the front pages of our newspapers and sent it to the purview of history, we are now confronted with bad in a Medieval, barbaric sense. Our regulated floor, if you will, emanating from the Geneva Conventions has been trampled in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Conventions of right and wrong are ignored on the streets of our cities and towns. Unthinkable behaviors (wanton theft, random attacks) occur daily.

We find it necessary to be reminded that good and bad exist, and that they are different from one another.

My latest reminder came not last weekend but weeks ago while re-reading a little piece about Dale Murphy, the retired baseball player most famously remembered for his days as an Atlanta Brave. Mr. Murphy was noted for his career-long insistence on doing the with thing. If you are a baseball fan you may remember that he retired 2 HR short of the magic 400 that likely would have guaranteed his election into the Hall of Fame; he could no longer stand to be the shell of his former self and so he went home rather then extend his career with PEDs. Dale Murphy is a good man who prided himself on doing the right thing.

We so not need the atrocities of a type of war-making we thought banished, and the attendant “justifications” trumpeted by the war-makers to know that we have been living in an age of moral equivalence for a very long time. Certainly no less than 30, 40 years. A time in which the ends somehow justify the means. Something is not really wrong if it was done by or directed at the right people. Generations ago one could enunciate a coda of what was nearly universally recognized as good, as right. Be honest. Don’t steal or cheat. Work hard. Don’t cause harm to another on purpose. Look upon others, even those with whom you have generational conflict, as fellow humans of equal worth sharing space on the same rock hurtling through space.

As a society Americans had an ethic of working together toward a common goal, a common idea of what was good. None other than de Tocqueville observed this and included it in his historic musings about America and Americans. As a people we had a sense of what was right and what was wrong, a clear understanding about the difference between good and bad for a couple hundred years. Sometimes we got it wrong, but in general we and our leaders strove as a people to be better.

This is the place where naysayers jump in with comments about various types of discrimination, about groups for whom this ideal was simply not a reality. Or groups we barely knew existed who have found their collective voice in recent years and pointed out continued discrimination. I fully acknowledge these facts. Racial discrimination was terrifically worse in previous generations, as was the unconscionable treatment of women (entire categories of people could not vote for 150 years). All true. Still true. But as de Tocqueville anticipated, there has been an inexorable (albeit painful and often excruciatingly slow) movement toward more of better. It has hardly been a straight line from bad to better, and it could still stand to include more, but that is the journey we have taken as a people. It is a journey toward better, toward good and away from bad, that however halting and indirect we continue to share.

Still, in this fraught age the Dale Murphy’s of the world are looked upon with a kind of wonder, as if he and his life are somehow not of this time. Marry someone you love. If you have a family prioritize raising your children to be good citizens who know the traditional difference between good and bad. Be honest. Don’t hurt people. Be kind and generous to those outside of your family whenever you can. Do these things in a quiet manner, not out loud in self-aggrandizement as you build “your brand”. There are certainly well-known others who fit this mold; Denzel Washington and Neil Patrick Harris come to mind. Lots of no-name folks, men and women you will never meet who will never be famous are doing the same thing.

You could say that what I bemoan about our present society has always been thus; that I, we, simply know more about it now because of newer, freer information streams. I cannot argue against this possibility. Still, it seems as if even knowing this, that a return to an acknowledgement that there is a clear difference between good and bad, between right and wrong, can only strengthen the fabric of our societies. Different, on its face, is neither good nor bad, it is simply different. Something that is unattractive or distasteful may be just that and nothing more. We can disagree in the great middle. Good and bad is bigger than taste or style or personal preference, or even history. We should not need the atrocities of wars we thought banished to know these things.

In the dark we are all the same. We live together unseen. We have the same dreams and the same fears. Though we cannot see in the dark we still feel. That which we have in common dwarfs all that we do not. Right and wrong are different. There is such a thing as good and bad. These things do not change when the lights are turned on. When the lights come on we must remember that there is good and bad, and there is right and wrong.

And each of us must choose.

I’ll see you next week…

The Weight

Last week our SkyVision family suffered a tragic loss. One of our team members lost a child.

The details don’t matter. They never do when a parent loses a child. Nevertheless, in our modern times I do feel compelled to say that this tragedy did not involve either an overdose or suicide. Horrible misfortune, the bane of our species over the millennia, was the cause. Even in these days of extraordinary, sometimes miraculous medical care, sometimes the medicine doesn’t work and a parent loses a child.

There are so many occurrences that are labeled a tragedy, and some of them even are. But for my mind there is nothing as tragic as losing your child. It is such an unnatural occurrence, so dramatically counter to the expected course of life, that there is not a single language in the entire human race that has a word to describe a person who occupies the space of a parent who lost their child. One who loses their spouse is a widow or a widower. When both of your parents die you become an orphan. Having lost a child, though, does not give you a moniker in any language in the world.

It doesn’t matter how old you are. A friend has a sister who sits on the brink. Their parents are alive and in their ’80’s. Both would gladly trade places with their child. Think about it; even in your ’80’s with children in their ’60’s, you’re just not supposed to lose a child.

Years ago I went through a bit of time during which several acquaintances lost a child. Chatting with one who had since become a good friend, she described her life as thus: each morning you awaken, get out of bed, and pick up the weight of your loss. The weight changes day by day. Sometimes it is a bit lighter, but it is always there and it is always too much to bear.

It is a weight that you will carry for the rest of your life.

What is there for the rest of us to do? Indeed, is there anything that we can do? Experience tells me that the unfortunate answer is no. We cannot carry any of the weight. We will not, cannot understand what it means to have been cast over the abyss and into the black hole of such a loss. And yet we must try. We must look for even the smallest of chances to to help in any way. Sometimes what is requested is simply space. Space and time. As hard as it is to provide this we must be ever mindful that we do not, cannot know what the bearer of this loss needs and therefore to take them at their word. I don’t know what our friend at work will need. What they may want. If they will ask. Only that each of us will answer if given the chance.

So rare that the bearer of the weight doesn’t even have a name. May the rest of us never need to learn what that means.

I’ll see you next week…

Calling from a Place of Love: Sunday musings…9/17/2023

1 Books. I prefer to do my reading the old-fashioned way. It is so much more comfortable and enjoyable to pick up a book or a newspaper or a magazine and read. I have to admit that my reading printed material habit has exposed an essential problem, especially for those of us who live in small homes:

Unless you give away everything you’ve read it is necessary to own bookshelves.

2 Pajamboree. A festive occasion or party at which everyone wears pajamas. It comes from a line in a simply delightful song “Blue Pajamas” by Jonah Werner. Should be a word.

Do yourself a favor and give it a listen.

3 Scars. “Scars have the strange power to remind us that the past is real.” Cormac McCarthy.

Now Mr. McCarthy the writer is notable for the scars incurred by the majority of his characters, not to mention the scars on the souls of his readers. Seems to me that he has more experience with scars than most of us. Says here we should take him at his word on this one.

4 Boat. In the office many of my patients have been lamenting that the coming and going of Labor Day means that the summer is over. I, on the other hand, being an empty nester, declared that summer for me is over whenever I say it is!

I own a tiny little boat. A New England boy, still, it fills me with a silly, entirely unreasonable pleasure to be the owner (with Beth, of course) of a classic New England runabout, a working waterman’s boat. We have a 17′ 1971 Boston Whaler docked on our deck in back of our little cottage. Whereas most Whalers are some version of the classic Montauk, ours is a Sakonnet, a relatively rare Whaler made in small numbers and seemingly long out of production.

Why bring this up today? It’s been a lousy boating season here on Lake Erie, especially for us. Our boat only draws about 8″; it’s gotta be pretty smooth out for us to have a comfortable ride. Most hours of most days this summer haven’t fit our particular bill. Indeed, even the big boats haven’t been out and about all that much this year. To make things more challenging we missed some of the better water days for about a dozen really good reasons. My boat made precisely one voyage all summer.

Our Whaler comes out of the water today. Summer is over.

5 Phone. As I prepare to muse I typically review any notes that I’ve jotted down over the week, as well as any my prior missives that may have surfaced and caught my attention. You’ve no doubt noticed that a very significant percentage of my internal RAM has lately been taken up by my Mom and her move to Cleveland to be closer to one wing of her extended family (we have the highest and densest concentration of family members at the moment, a bit ahead of the growing South Carolina contingent).

I stumbled across an essay from 5 or 6 years ago about Mom’s need for a new phone. Pretty timely in that all of us who are in possession of iPhones more than 2 years old are now trying to determine if it’s time to upgrade to the newest version from Apple. Anyway, while Mom was still in Rhode Island a couple of months ago it became clear that our quest to obtain a better/best phone for Mom was futile. Where once her telephone was literally the string that held together all of her social ties, she was no longer talking on the phone.

Mom had lost the ability to make and receive phone calls.

Mom connected to everyone on the phone. Although she was once famous at Williams College (and presumably the alma maters of my siblings) for the daily postcard she wrote so that I wouldn’t have an empty mailbox, in retrospect it was the freedom that she (and my Dad) gave to the four of us to make long distance phone calls on the family’s dime in the days of exorbitant charges for those calls. Mom seems to have instinctively known that hearing our voices, and my parents in turn hearing ours, was crucial in maintaining our relationships.

The phone was also how Mom stayed in touch with everyone. Her parents and her sisters. Friends from college. All of her local friends. Mom loved talking on the phone. Remember, back in the day the phone was a handpiece literally wired to the wall. Even with the gift of a “mobile” phone from Dad she could still be found on a little stool in the kitchen, sitting at what was effectively the desk from which she managed the family. Over the last several years she has slowly gone from landline/mobile/iPad/FaceTime facile to a single hard-wired phone that she often needs help dialing.

This is not a lament over the sadness of watching the slow deterioration of a loved parent–well, not ONLY a lament–but rather another entreaty for all of us to understand how important it is almost everywhere in our lives to communicate with those around us in a way that allows them to participate. I’ve written before that learning the “new norms” will make it more likely that a middle-aged parent will continue to have interactions with their young adult children (e.g. text to ask if it’s a good time to call your kid/pick up the phone and call your Mom), and that failure to do so shows a certain lack of respect and, yes, love (insisting that your grandmother not only respond to your texts, but that she text at all).

There was once a time when I found it frustrating that I couldn’t just send my Mom a quick text when I was thinking of her, or thinking of something I knew she would appreciate. Totally guilty. I’m not sure when I realized that it wasn’t just a choice she was making, but sadly a sign of how she was aging. Phone calls we DO receive now are as often as not either false dials or panicked “urgencies” despite the fact that she now has round the clock nursing coverage.

What to do now? Same as always: meet Mom where she is now. Communicate with her the way she is most comfortable now, face to face, within hugging distance. She still slips back into a time in her past if someone calls and she makes it to the phone on time, or if one of us is with her and we dial up a friend or family member. It was really nice to see her face light up when I called my sister and handed the phone to Mom for a chat. As long as the journey has been it is apparent that she has come back full circle.

For all of her love for the phone her REAL desire was for friends and family to be right there with her for a chat. She is now here in town with us; one of us gets to do that almost every day. For those who are not right there with her we once again have a phone connected to the wall, set up right next to the chair from which she manages her life and can talk to everyone still a part of it. We, her family and friends, will all express our love by going where she is to chat, face to face or over the phone with just a little bit of help.

As it turns out, just the way we have, forever.

I’ll see you next week…

Marriage, Career, and Happiness

Beth and I celebrated our 38th wedding anniversary (and our 41st year together) last week. It’s been a really, really great run! Whenever I’m asked what my greatest accomplishment is, the thing I’m most proud of, I instantly answer “our marriage”. Our wedding was fantastic; friends and family still tell us how special it was and how much fun they had. On that day a friend wished for us that our wedding day would be the day that we would love each other LEAST, because every day from then on would be the day that we loved each other MOST.

Until the next day.

So it’s not the wedding we celebrate on our anniversary, it’s the marriage itself. Time and again over the years we have had decisions to make, life decisions like where to live or what we might choose to prioritize in our family life. Like so many couples we had work-related decisions come up, especially when we were younger. Each time we chose “us”.

In my day job I have the sincere privilege of working alongside colleagues who are 10, 20 and sometimes 30 years younger than I am. (It is a privilege to work with colleagues senior to me as well!) They are so talented I am regularly awestruck. I thought of them as I read an extraordinary opinion piece by David Brooks in the Sunday Times 2 weeks ago, “Marriage, Not Career, Brings Happiness”. When I chat with them about plans, commitments they anticipate, I find myself in a similar position to that which Mr. Brooks described: most young adults give lots of thought to their career plans, but very little to how marriage (or a committed relationship of any kind) might be a part of their lives. Indeed, if you ask about how they are looking at the future you are likely to hear about not just career but the “where” of the career before you hear about marriage.

If you hear about it at all.

This is striking, probably because it is pretty much exactly the opposite of the way I, we, approached life as a young couple. Mind you, no one advised us on this, and for sure there wasn’t anything like the research now available to convince a young professional or couple to put marriage first. I’ll borrow a bit of information from Brooks. Sam Pelzman of the University of Chicago found that married people were 30 points happier than the unmarried. University of Virginia professor Brad Wilcox found that the odds that men and woman say they are “very happy” with their lives are a “staggering 545% higher for those who are happily married” compared with a matched population of peers who are not married or are unhappy in their marriages. The Harvard Study, the longest study of adult happiness, found similar results over the last 60 or so years (see: The Good Life by Waldinger and Schulz).

Does this mean that you can’t be successful in a career, or find happiness in your career if you have made your marriage your most important commitment? Of course not! I’ve had a great career, kind of like a play in 3 (so far) acts. Busy stay in town partner in a big group; stay in town building a new practice; busy (again) in town with a growing out of town speaker/consultant gig. I just made all of my career decisions in a universe centered around our marriage, and I feel awfully lucky that the career thing has turned out OK.

Brooks admits to “an unfortunate urge to sermonize”, and I feel a bit uncomfortable that this might be or get a bit “preachy”. I like Mr. Brooks’ advise on the front side of marriage: “Please respect the truism that if you have a great career and a crappy marriage you will be unhappy, but if you have a great marriage and a crappy career you will be happy. Please use your youthful years as a chance to have romantic relationships so you’ll have some practice when it comes time to wed…read books on how to decide whom to marry. Read George Elliot and Jane Austen. Start with the experts.”

Once you have married or entered into that committed relationship Beth and I do have two “not so secrets” that have worked for us these 38 years. The first is that marriage and all that goes into a marriage is NOT a 50/50 thing. You’re not splitting anything. It’s 100/100. It works best when both people in a committed relationship, marriage or otherwise, are each 100% committed to the success of the relationship. All of your chips in on the marriage bet every time the wheel spins. The second is never stop dating. You don’t have to stop courting your spouse after you say “I do”. We used to say that the Honeymoon isn’t over until you say it is. Starting with the birth of our second child we have been out on a date (without children) at least once a week, not Mom and Dad, just a boy and a girl in love. We celebrated 38 years by going out on a date, holding hands as we walked into the restaurant, more in love today than any day before.

But not quite as much in love as we will be tomorrow.

I’ll see you next week…

Friendship and Home. “Sunday musings…” 9/2/2023

1 Calumny. Slander with the express purpose of damaging someone’s reputation.

Lotta that going around in the news these days, eh?

2 Parakeet. A young Parrothead.

3 Parrothead. Devoted fan of Jimmy Buffet. An implied homage (or rip-off depending on your POV) of “Deadhead”.

Buffet, who died early yesterday morning, was arguably one of the most beloved musicians of the last 40+ years. He, and his songs, evoked a life lived with few cares, usually near or on a beach, often “three sheets to the wind” after consuming several tropical drinks. His more famous songs portrayed an idyllic existence driven by nothing more complex than sunrise, sunset, and which way the wind might be blowing. He parlayed his music, his image, and his fame into a business empire that included restaurants (seems like every airport south of the Mason-Dixon Line has a Margaritaville in Concourse B), apparel, and real estate (over-55 communities called…wait for it…Margaritaville).

And yet, such was the depth of his goodwill that no one seemed to begrudge him the spoils of his success.

I think that’s because deep down Jimmy Buffet really did realize how lucky he turned out to be. On top of that, I really do believe that he would have lived a less opulent version of the same life (like, for example, my college pal Herb I, the journalist/sailor) had he not been quite so financially fortunate. It’s easier to think this if you dig a bit below the Top 40 surface of his musical canon and listen to some of the quieter, more introspective pieces known only by more ardent fans like my friends DSJ and Starsky. Search Spotify for “The Captain and the Kid” or “Death of an Unpopular Poet” and you’ll get an idea.

In a world littered with the unseemly behavior of the ultra-rich, so many of whom were born on 3rd base and thought they hit a triple, Jimmy buffet never seemed to lose sight of the fact that it was less the pursuit of an endless bounty so much as an endless summer. He once said “If [summer] somehow ended tomorrow I could somehow adjust to the fall,” a fitting epitaph, especially for those of us who lost a little bit of our own summers with his passing.

Fair winds and following seas Mr. Buffet. Thank you for sharing your endless summer. May you have an eternity of sunshine, and may it ever be 5:00 in your somewhere.

4 My folks uprooted me (and my siblings of course) after my freshman year in high school. In so doing they gave me a “bonus” reunion opportunity in perpetuity. Forevermore I would have the opportunity to choose between my two home towns every 5 years to visit with my oldest friends and acquaintances. This year brought a 45th reunion in one of the towns (the other passed), the one from which I graduated, but as I noted last week the last vestige of “home” in Rhode Island is now living in an assisted living community next door to my office.

This weekend I chose to visit that version of home each day, and hope to be forgiven by the 50 or so classmates who made the trip to Smitty’s spread.

The thought of returning home to Lincoln made me smile, actually. You may remember my joyful surprise after attending my 40; Beth and I had a ball. Thinking about old friends, especially the oldest of our friends got me to thinking about friendship in general, a recurring theme as both of you who read my drivel know well. It made me think of other times when memories of friends who linger and those who’ve been lost are pushed up like so many feeder fish surrounded by “bubble-feeding” humpback whales. (Google it…so cool). I am now 40+ years from calling Lincoln home; Mom is barely 2 weeks out. What does it take to maintain friendships from long ago and far away.

During our move to Casa Blanco 10 years ago, while purging 22 years of stuff from our house, I came across a tiny note from someone who’d been a close friend in childhood. It was addressed “Hello, my Eternal Friend.” I’d not seen this friend, nor had we directly communicated, in more than 30, now 40 years. It got me to thinking about really enduring friendships. What I’ve come up with is duration, distance, and durability. The three “D’s” of friendship. There were some very nice demonstrations of all three for Beth and me this week as we moved Mom into her Cleveland home, and reminisced about the homes we left to move here so long ago.

Distance is at once the easier and trickier of the three. Once upon a time distance was almost always a deal-breaker, at least if it was applied for too very long. Air travel was not accessible to most, and all of our electronic connections were just predictions on the pages of a science fiction novel. No email, texting, or PM…folks kept in touch via what we now call snail mail and hard line long-distance phone calls. The phone calls were brutally expensive (anyone remember waiting until 7:00 PM on Sunday when the rates when down to call home?), which turned some friendship into something called pen pals. You wrote on a piece of paper with something called a pen, put it in the envelope which then went in something called a mailbox, and then you waited/hoped a letter would return. Distance was a big friendship killer back in the day. Now? Not so much.

Duration is the goal, and durability is the barrier. How durable, how resilient is your friendship? Can it withstand the challenges and demands presented by our always-on communication? Indeed, are our myriad ways of “connecting” over whatever distance exists sufficient to nurture a friendship for the ages? How about age, infirmity, different levels of success or diverging life goals? New interests that may not be shared? What are the characteristics of those truly eternal friendships that make them so?Well, judging by our experiences since my last Reunion there are probably a couple of other “D’s” that apply: Desire and Delight. How much do both parties want the friendship to endure, and how delighted are they when they actually connect, really connect, face to face, no matter how old the friendships might be?

Beth and I have friends who live in the town next door to Lincoln. Around the time of my last reunion we had our own delight in the evening when we dined with a 45 year friend of my mine (35 years for Beth), brought together by mutual desire, delighted by the lack of distance our visit created. That particular friendship is still durable enough to withstand a glass of red wine spectacularly spilled on a white shirt five minutes into dinner! Bob, my friend, reached out on the day we moved Mom to wish us luck, and to ask if we might still return to my “ancestral home” every now and again to visit. And if it would be ok if they hopped on a plane to visit Mom.

And us.

So how about my “Eternal Friend” from childhood? Is the friendship still there, a tiny ember burning beneath the cold ashes of time? Ah, we were so young. We had no concept of what “eternal” really meant. We, certainly I, had no idea what it would take to carry a friendship for an eternity, regardless of how much we might have wanted it to continue. Sometimes friendships just slip away, like my “Eternal Friend”. Those that don’t end up being just a little bit more of everything by dint of duration. They are durable. They’ve passed the test of time.

We don’t get many of these very special friendships, but when we do get one, or get the chance to forge a new one, we have every right to be delighted by every little part of whatever makes that friendship work. Like my Mom and the couple of friends she’d known for 50 years who dropped by to wish her well on her new adventure. Like my friend Bob (and his lovely Kathy), who never did get that red wine stain out of his shirt. Or my friend Bill who moved away for work but wants to know when he can come up from Cincinnati to build me a wine cellar, and my friend Rob who was on the fence about a golf trip will travel with me to Ireland so that he can be there as I return to the first tee.

You can never have enough friends, or work hard enough to keep ’em, especially if they’ve truly been around for an eternity.

I’ll see you next week…

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