Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

Sunday Musings…1/28/2024

1 Vituperative. Abusive, bitter, sarcastic. One guess who the subject of the article was when I read that word.

2 Calumniating. Synonym for vituperative. Imagine you found this one first and the definition was “vituperative”. Webster’s rathole.

3 Contumelious. Oh why not…one more in the family tree. I’ll be grading the pundits that are offering pundications about you know who on the quality of their adjectives.

4 Yellow. “The big yellow one is the sun!” –Brian Reagan

We fled to Florida in pursuit of Hero, Beth’s loyal steed, and stumbled upon “the big yellow one” when we arrived. I sat down to write under its magnificent glow only to have it disappear behind the clouds that have begin to lubricate my laptop from above.

Cleveland has followed us to the locale formerly known as “The Sunshine State”.

5 Pill. My friends Brett and Lynne reached out a couple of days ago to invite me and Beth to visit their home in the mountains. Brett, like most of the surgeons I know (and if I’m honest, much of the time me as well), is quietly convinced that he is a true polymath, with enough innate smarts and acquired “data” to offer educated and perspicacious commentary of most of what he encounters in life.

Including, in this case, last week’s “Sunday musings…” LOL!

Brett thinks that I left out the most important part of the longevity formula, the plan to increase the quantity and quality of your lifespan. Again, like many (most?) of us in the club, he jumps the gun a bit, offering to give me the “secret sauce” before I finished the “cookbook”! No worries of course. I previewed what’s on the way while letting him know that we would get back to him and Lynne about their generous invite.

For the last several years I’ve done a little thought experiment in January. I’d run across an article on WSJ.com in which a fascinating hypothetical was proposed: If you could stop the aging process at a particular point in time, at what age would you do that? At what age do you feel that you are close enough to your physical peak that you are comfortable balancing that against your intellectual capacities and maturity? Great question, that.

My physical fitness has been slipping for at least several years. Despite this, until the months just before my first hip replacement in 2019 I remained generally stronger than I was at any time other than my years as a college football player. When did I peak? At what time was my overall physical fitness, when my capabilities across the 10 general characteristics of fitness CrossFitters chase at its highest level? Although I didn’t know it at the time I probably peaked somewhere in medical school. My buddies and I managed to cram in marathon hoops sessions, round robin squash fests, and an admittedly conflict of interest laden exploration of 1980’s aerobics classes (most of my friends were single) while we finished up school. I supplemented this with pretty standard issue weight training (Beth liked lifting, even back then). Make that peak age 25 or 26.

Believe it or not, from there the slow age and career inflicted decline began in earnest. Had it not been for that Men’s Journal article in December 2005 I’d likely be a typical 64 year old desk jockey, broken by my job and the various and sundry weekend warrior injuries I would have doubtless suffered. Ah, but this CrossFit thing not only saved me from that but also gave me another peak somewhere around age 48. To be truthful I’m back on the descent now, especially following the 18 month ordeal of my second hip replacement, but at least summited another (slightly lower) peak before starting the slide.

How about the other half of the equation? The part where you have a certain amount of intelligence, experience, and maturity? Well, for sure I was whip smart at 26. Every doctor (like me and my buddy Brett) is simply brilliant on med school graduation day; we have no idea what we don’t know, and no idea how to actually be a doctor, but hey, we just crammed for 4 straight years and our brains are busting at the seems with, you know, smart stuff.

You know where this part is going, of course. At 26 I’d yet to acquire the maturity and experience that is necessary to create what I’d like to call “actionable intellect”. Such a thing could also be called “judgment”, and in short the ingredients you add to the mix are mileage and the accumulated humility that one acquires “on the road”. Like every other 26 year old I was pretty sure I knew it all already we finished up school,but we all know how much longer the story is at that point, don’t we.

So it must be age 48 then. Another physical peak achieved. lost of miles under my belt including the humility of a struggling business and the grounding effect of nearly losing a child. Must be 48, right? Well, to be quite honest, I would really love to return to age 48 in a physical sense. My 64 year old bones are more than weary, at least the ones that have carried me for all 64 years, and I’ll admit right now that I’m slow-rolling writing this because I’m dreading the thought of ruining a perfectly good lazy Sunday with a workout that’s gonna happen sometime after I finish this. A funny thing happened again on the way to my “final answer” though: just like my first answer at age 58 I realized that my non-physical growth over the last 6 years has been extraordinary.

This weekend, in the company of quite a few men and women who like me quite a lot, and a couple who truly love me, I discovered the “second flaw” in the thought experiment I first came across 6 years ago: there are THREE essential characteristics that can grow, or atrophy, over the course of a lifetime, not two. Yes, the two noted in the WSJ, physical and mental prowess, are both the obvious and arguably the more important, at least on the surface. If we look solely at these two metrics, and if I was truly forced to take the pill one day or another, I might very well have taken it on my 59th birthday. Especially if I’d known what my hips had in store for me going forward. If I’m being brutally honest, I have likely plateaued intellectually, too.

Can you continue to gather wisdom if you’ve hit your intellectual peak?

Ah, well, the answer to that (and the next lesson in bullet-proofing your brain against dementia) is also the response to Brett’s observation that I’d missed the key to both the quality and quantity of your lifespan. You see, the third measure, the third aspect of our being that can grow over time, is our emotional health. How we are able to both feel emotionally, and how we are able to respond to the emotions of those around us. The answer, the third leg of the stool for all of this is our ability to be emotionally open to close friendships, and our willingness to simultaneously seek more close friendships while we deepen those we are already blessed to have.

My weekend began with a bit of a detour on my way to connect with Hero in Florida. My professional side gig as a consultant and educator sent me to Dallas and the company of colleagues both old and newly met. Among them were those folks who like me, and the couple of very good friends who would say that I am a friend they love. It was so very, very nice to be there. Like being in the warmest topical pool imaginable, and realizing that you’ve become a much better swimmer than you’d ever been in your life. In the company of my friends I was just better at being their friend. Like learning a new swimming stroke, in the company of people I’d never met it was just easier to meet them, find that which we shared, and start a new journey toward friendship.

So yes, Brett, I hadn’t gotten to close friendships yet but they are key to living both longer and living better and happier. And yes to my friend who is so very concerned about the risk for dementia after watching a close family member succumb, the quantity and quality of your close friendships also helps to inoculate you against the scourge of dementia. Emotional growth might be the third pillar, the missing load bearing element in the classic WSJ thought experiment. Physical and mental prowess only? Maybe I’d have taken the pill on my birthday in 2019. Does your EQ, the emotional equivalent of your IQ also diminish as part of the aging process? No idea. But I’m better at the whole of things with 5 more years of gains in my EQ, and with that prowess that much better at the core of my friendships.

So I will head back to the gym. I’ll continue my pursuit of another language, deeper knowledge about wine, and perhaps an intellectually challenging game to learn and play with my Man Cub and his sibs and cousins. In April I’ll be off to the mountains to give a wonderful friendship fuel to grow.

And if our EQ is part of the equation, and if mine is still increasing, well then I shall leave the pill on the counter for at least one more year.

I’ll see you next week…

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