Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

Shades of You: Sunday musings…12/17/2023

1 Playlist. Where once upon a time I had a 25 disc CD changer locked and loaded and ready for the Christmas season (and brought 6-10 CD’s with me to the OR each week), I now have a 5 hour Spotify compilation of the season’s best: Christmas at Casa Blanco!

And I still–STILL–cry every time I hear “An Olde City Bar” from TSO.

2 Pusillanimity (HT Daniel Henninger @WSJ). Cowardice. Cravenness. Gutlessness. Spinelessness. Poltroonery.

Learning the word “poltroonery” might be the most educational thing that has come my way from the university community in awhile.

3 Flow. Like so many other professions the end of the calendar year is filled to the brim for physicians of all kinds. My office and my OR’s are always stacked wall-to-wall with “work” that feels like it just has to be completed before year’s end. It’s certainly not something that is unique to medicine; my older son, an attorney, always seems to have too many irons in the fire with a 12/31 deadline each year.

The goal is simply to keep one nostril above water.

4 Evolution. “If we all had perfect memory, we would all grieve the older versions of who we used to be the way we grieve departed friends.” Blake Crouch, “Upgrade”.

Who we are changes over time. It’s not so much that we forget who we’ve been over the years as much as it is that what and who we remember becomes less and less about who we actually were. We’ve created a narrative that covers what we remember, and often what we wish to remember. Our memories of who we were, and of how we came to be who we are today are less a recitation of the play-by-play than a continually evolving color commentary of our “origin story”. (Apologies for the sports analogy; Browns game is on in the background).

Sometimes, if I’m being honest with myself, I’m not sure where the facts run out and the desire for a supportive story fades in.

What is it that brings along a meaningful, major change in who we become? Sometimes it is an external event, one over which we had no control and one to which we could only react. The death of a family member or a friend. A business failure. Act of God. If you think about it these circumstances are interesting in so far as they give us some insight into our individual resilience, especially if we encounter more than a couple of them. They might even say something about our imagination, what we are able to conjure out of the chaos of these moments. It strikes me that people who are forced to change under these types of circumstances are more likely to mourn the older version of themselves.

What seems to be more interesting, at least to me, is the change that someone chooses to make. Who does that, and why? What does it take to be the kind of someone who surveys their life, takes their own measure, and decides that it is time for a change? There is a comfort, a sense of security in the familiar and the same. Heck, it can be daunting to change up your breakfast menu, let alone set about the task of personal change. In a very interesting interview in today’s NYT Magazine the musician David Byrne of the Talking Heads and columnist David Marchese wonder if the critical characteristic is curiosity. I read that this morning and have been chewing on it all day. Honestly, I can’t really get on board with it. To willingly pursue a change in who you are because you are curious about who you might yet be?

I’m not sure I’m on board with that at all.

At some point in a life, if you are lucky, I think you find a certain part of you that could be better. Not a skillset thing, even a super important skill like being a parent, but more a certain something that is more global that, once acquired, would lead to improvement in a broader collection of skills. Perhaps you are an introvert by choice. Your default is to hold yourself at a distance in most circumstances. One day you realize that even a tiny bit more effort at engagement might enhance your friendships for example, or garner new friendships to add to the fold. Or perhaps it’s a bit of the opposite: you really like to talk, often at the expense of listening. Even a small increase in the time that you spend listening might make parenting easier and more enjoyable, and you may very well be a better partner or friend.

Whether we are mindful and purposeful, or simply reactive and moved along by the flow, who we are at any particular time is going to be someone different from who we once were. Can’t be any other way, right? The someone we once new as ourself will be but a portrait drawn by the parallel forces of memory and imagination. Are we better? Are we somehow worse? Who could ever know in the here and now? Our internal narrative paints our picture. If we are fortunate the external forces to which we must react are gentle and kind. If we see an opportunity to grow, through curiosity or need or simply desire, we take control of that narrative, at least for a moment, and hope that change has been for the better.

No message today I’m afraid. No pithy conclusion where I tie it all together in the end. Maybe just a tiny wish that the story I tell myself about who I am and how I got here is more accurate than not. That who I have become is a little better in more ways than not, so that there is no need to bemoan my imperfect memory, or to mourn the who I was at some time before.

And that those of you who are still along for the ride have enjoyed more of it than not.

I’ll see you next week, whoever I’ve become by then…

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