Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘bingo’

The Right Decision

There are some really big decisions in a life. I mean huge, consequential decisions that simply must be made. To do so is very, very hard. There is simply no escaping that fact. You reach a point where you have to make a call on something that matters. Really matters. Like, rest of your life hinges on your decision matters. As part of this monumental process you must make peace with the concept of “certainty”.

You can–you really must, actually– be certain that this is a really big decision, but you must at the same time be cognizant that you cannot be certain that you are making the best decision possible.

I am forever in search of a better vocabulary to describe things I know or things I feel very deeply. In that never-ending search I came across an article about the former GM of the Philadelphia 76′ers, Sam Hinkie. Mr. Hinkie is a polymath who is at any particular time either wildly sentimental or icily objective. Fascinating guy, actually (you can read the article in SI 12/5/16). Throughout the article it was somewhat difficult for me to establish common ground with him (except for our shared devotion to precise language) until I came upon a brief discussion of “certainty” in decision making. Both Hinkie and I had the same decision to make–to prioritize our courtship and subsequent marriage over other pursuits like education and vocation–and we both not only made the same call but continue to describe it as the best call we ever made.

We were certain of its importance, and in response at some point we went “all in” on the decision. Here is Hinkie on the process:

“You have to be careful that you are thinking reasonably. People are too willing to scratch the itch of the near thing. Discipline is the difference between what you want and what you really, really want…I think people often don’t bring that kind of rigor to whatever it is, if it’s important. Because they’d rather make lots of little tiny decisions that a few big ones.”

Certainty is a sword that cuts both ways. One cut you control is the one of knowing that something is really big. Something you really, really want. Something that matters. The quality of the next cut depends on your decision making process: are your motives proper? Are you making the decision in such a way that you not only maximize your chances of success, but at the same time minimize the likelihood that you will suffer remorse at the outcome? You cannot be certain that you will make the right decision, but the only way forward once you are certain about something is to pour everything you have into whatever that thing is.

Hinkie: “What wouldn’t you pay to make it so, if it’s right?”

In Fitness Tracker Recovery

Hi. My name’s Darrell and I buy activity trackers.

Like most everyone else, I’m sure, it started off innocently enough. For me it was the Nike Fuel Band. Man…was that fun! Looking back it really didn’t do all that much to be honest. As far as I can tell all it really did was tell me how many steps I did, and maybe there was some other kind of movement it tracked. Heck, Nike made all kinds of a big deal out of the “social aspect” of the Fuel Band. How I could follow groups and compete to see who got how much Fuel and I never even did any of that.

It was the fireworks that got me, I think. When you made your Fuel goal, whatever that even meant, your band erupted into fireworks.

Thinking back that might have been enough. A Fuel Band, daily fireworks, and I might have stopped right there. Ah, but as is so often the case when you are an early adopter, my Fuel Band was not really a ready for prime time grown up product. It broke less than a year after I put it on for the first time. But me? I was hooked. I imagined all kinds of cool stuff you could do with a REAL tracker. A tracker that could measure something real and meaningful like…wait for it…WORK. I’m a CrossFitter after all. WCABTMD is my ultimate goal. Of course I’d want to track my work done.

So began my quest. The research wasn’t quite as in depth, my dive not as deep as my initial jump into CrossFit so long ago. Imagine how long it took to get through a few pages of CrossFit.com or the original CrossFitKids.com with a dial-up or early stage cable modem. No, this was a high speed/high churn journey. Next up was a Garmin Vivofit which taught me that I should care about sleep. Not just sleep of course, but the measurement of my sleep. Who knew? Years ago I’d researched sleep and I knew I should be getting some multiple of 90 minutes (cycles) each night, but now I could measure that, too.

Naturally the VivoFit was inadequate: no points for a PU. So, too, the Jawbone Up came up short. I gave some thought to the Athos wearable garment sensors, but my craving for measurements wasn’t deep enough to prompt me to buy something that only told me when and to what degree a particular muscle group was firing (although it would have been a cool way to dial in my deadlift and squat technique).

Over time it became clear that the entire fitness tracking industry was just one big shill for the endurance community. All of them were dedicated to measuring your aerobic activity. Period. [Note to Coach Glassman, and everyone in the functional fitness community: if you want growth in your part of the fitness world get a viable tracker of work capacity on the Apple Watch] I had great hopes for the Mio Slice and the BioStrap because you could dial in specific exercises and get activity credit when you did them, not just when you were running, biking, or rowing. Alas, although they were light years ahead of my beloved little Fuel Band they, too, were not ready for prime time. It was comical to see what they decided I was doing when I exercised.

Although my disappointment was painful I was in too deep to just give up. Surely, science would step in with something more meaningful than how many steps I got each day. Enter Heart Rate Variability as a proxy for autonomic nervous system health, ergo fitness. Could this be it? My BioStrap was now matched against both a Zoom HRV and a program on my phone that used the camera to measure HRV. The science was great.

The data was meaningless.

Now desperate I turned off everything except my alarm clock and my cheap little $15 Casio with a stopwatch. Yes, you read that right: I went cold turkey. I hit the pillow and woke up without any kind of measure other than “did you sleep well, dear?” from my wife Beth. 3-2-1-Go, start the stopwatch on my cheapo watch and go as fast and as hard as I could. Sweat angels instead of rushing to check my numbers. No plugging my results into Strava or Beyond the Whiteboard or anything else. It was hard. I couldn’t tell whether the shakes were from the WOD or from trying not to reach for my BioStrap and my phone.

But I made it through. I did give a thought to buying an iPhone when I saw it could do a one-lead EKG (an EKG on your wrist!), but I managed to resist. Recovery is hard, especially if you can’t watch your heart rate go down. No, no, no, I meant it’s hard to not want to put on one of my trackers. You know, just to check. The urge is getting weaker each time I go to the gym now, so I think I’m in the clear. It’ll be tough if something comes out that can really tell me what work I’ve done, what the area is under my curve, but I guess I’ll have to deal with that if it ever actually happens. For now I am free of activity trackers of any and all kinds.

Although I really do miss those Fuel Band fireworks.

When We Will Exclaim a Person of Substance

My life is centered around, and centered by, the myriad women with whom I share airspace. There are certainly men there, too, and I am certainly fortunate in that my immediate world does not include anything like what other folks would consider a boss. While most of the women in my daily professional life are either employed by me directly, or employed by someone who has in some way contracted to assist me, the reality of my daily existence is that I have a symbiotic relationship with teammates who happen to be women, and we depend on one another every waking moment.

Because of this I have become alert to all kinds of slights leveled at women in general, and women who work in healthcare in particular. Frankly my worldview is really pretty restricted when it comes to the workplace, especially since the family Box closed a couple of years ago. In healthcare the hierarchy/patriarchy has historical sheltered bad behavior directed at women from both view and recourse. Is it changing in this volatile world that has emerged these last few weeks? That’s not really for me to say, of course; all I can do is whatever is in my means to provide an environment that respects a gender-neutral environment and chain of command whenever I have the privilege of setting the tone.

What is very interesting to me, and what I find to be a very positive (if tardy) side effect of the recent “outing” of men in power who have abused that power, is the celebration of thoughtful women whose thoughtfulness might not have been quite as well-known before. Again, it goes without saying that this should not be something that is remarkable in the least, but for the sake of this particular musing perhaps we can simply acknowledge and agree upon that, and spend our time thinking about what it is that these women are saying.

Reese Witherspoon comes instantly to mind, of course. Ms. Witherspoon has forcefully said that SOP in Hollywood is no longer even a little bit OK when it comes to opportunity to control the spoils of the industry. Not content to simply raise the issue she has literally put her money on the line along with that of like-minded individuals and begun to create those opportunities. Ms. Witherspoon has much to say that is worth hearing. One could do worse than the recent WSJ Magazine cover article as a jumping off point to begin your listen.

It’s highly unlikely that there is any woman in the world about whom more electrons have been circulating of late than the actress Meghan Markle. There’s not a rock big enough for you to have crawled under in the developed world for you to be unaware that she has recently been betrothed to an heir to the British throne. While Ms. Markle and her beau are, indeed, impossibly cute together, it’s more than a bit of a shame that it has taken her very public romance for the non-People reading public to discover her, her story, and her intellect. This is a person of substance.

Hopefully Ms. Markle will forgive me for I will certainly get some of details wrong (as usual I am writing without notes). She is the daughter of a caucasian father and an African-American mother, and she has been on the receiving end of various forms of discrimination from a very young age because of that. She tells a story of being forced to declare in school that she is one or the other, Black or White. To check a box because, well, that’s what is done. She declined. Maybe she was 12. She opted not to opt. I don’t know how long it’s been since you’ve been in school, or had a child in school, but that’s a rather gutsy move.

She went home and asked her Dad why. Why should she have to choose? His response informs her message today: draw your own box. Man or woman, if the choices that are presented to you do not include the right choice, draw your own box to check. Ms. Markle tells the story so much better than I, but I am happy to pass it on with a further encouragement that you should go look for her telling this story, and while you are at it there is a wonderful clip of her accepting an award for her advocacy on behalf of empowering women. She is universally described by anyone who has listened to her as a woman of substance.

My hope, and my goal in writing this today, is that the term “woman of substance” will one day be replaced (as I did above) for both men and women with “person of substance”. Substantive ideas matter, and they ought to matter irrespective of whatever labeling might be applied to the holder of those ideas. While they may not have the name recognition of Ms. Witherspoon or Ms. Markle, I am surrounded by women of substance whose ideas bear our listening. My wife and my daughter, my sisters and my mother, my daughters- and sisters-in-law, as well as the extraordinary women with whom I’ve worked in healthcare and met through CrossFit, give me confidence that this can be.

Not today, not yet, not soon enough but soon, for the benefit and betterment of all.

 

Sunday musings 11/26/17, Rigged in Your Favor

Sunday musings…

1) Capulet. Juliet’s last name. No reason; just seems like a cool thing to know.

2) Apokalypsis. Ancient Greek for uncovering or unveiling. I’m not exactly sure why, but this particular derivation of “apocalypse” seems all too appropriate for the last couple of months, eh?

3) Lifetime. After a bit of time I recently tried to access an online place to which I’d once been given a lifetime subscription. It’s one that I used to look at very frequently;my user name and password never changed. I discovered a different sign-in format, one that did not even accept the form of sign-in I’d been accustomed to. “Lifetime” in this case had nothing to do with my longevity, but rather the employment lifetime of the gifter, or the lifetime of institutional awareness of my being.

It leaves one to ponder: how many lifetimes do we have, and what is it that brings any particular lifetime to an end?

4) Babar. I have a thing for watching the end of a series. TV, movies, a particular character in an author’s books. I seem drawn to them even if I had little to no engagement with them over the course of their long or short lifetimes. Just the tiniest bit of introspection leads me to M*A*S*H, a beloved television series that I actually did watch quite religiously. I’m pretty sure that the final episode of M*A*S*H was the first finale I consciously watched as such (thanks again for hosting us all Evan Tabor!).

What’s funny is that I have gone out of my way to put the series finale of shows that I pretty much never watched on my calendar with the same amount of “gotta see it” as those few that I never missed. “St. Elsewhere” was just as much of a must-see as “Hill Street Blues”, for example. Even more interesting–maybe sillier is a better word–I find myself with the same type of nostalgic yearning at the loss for both. Weird.

So it is as I discover that the beloved children’s character “Babar” has made his swan song. With the publication of “Babar’s Guide to Paris” author and artist Laurent de Brunhoff signs off and Babar takes a final bow. There is no heir, and the character is not meant to have any further adventures. After finishing the WSJ interview I know that I will read this book despite the fact that I have read (or been read to) only the original story (written by Laurent’s father Jean) and not a single intervening edition. As avid collectors of children’s books and enthusiastic readers to our children and now grandchildren, this is even more striking.

Why this book, and why now? Well, I have to admit that I’m a sucker for sentiment, and this quote makes it a slam dunk: “I never really think of children when I do my books. Babar was my friend and I invented stories with him, but not with kids in the corner of my mind. I write for myself.”

Who wouldn’t want to spend a few pages with a 92 year old and his friend of some 70 years as they explore the City of Lights together one last time.

5) Rigged. “Live life as if everything is rigged in your favor.” –The Persian poet Rumi (as told by Neda Shamie)

Have you ever heard a more lovely description of optimism? What a smashing way to approach life! In the past I’ve written that one should assume that each endeavor will be a success, that this simple assumption does, indeed, increase the odds that it will happen. So often we hear from people that the game is rigged. Heck, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that every single one of us has felt this at least once in our lifetimes. We all know people who have simply given up on all but sustenance, so completely do they believe that any effort at advancement will be thwarted in a game that is rigged.

But it isn’t.

At least it isn’t if what we aspire to is simply taking that next step up. Sure, if your only definition of “winning the game” is to have Gates/Soros/Koch kind of money, the game is surely not set up for you to succeed. In reality, success (see “Gratitude = Success”) and happiness do not require such an outsized outcome. Therein lies the brilliance of Rumi’s insight. If everything is “rigged in your favor”, if all of your “ducks are in a line” and the deck is stacked for you, why NOT take that opportunity and turn it into your next success? You could certainly accuse me of being a pollyanna here, but heck, doesn’t it feel better to look forward with hope than otherwise?

The game of life is here, today, just waiting for you and me to play a winning hand.

I’ll see you next week…

–bingo

Drama at the Speed of Light

Teen drama. Very little of it at Casa Blanco right now (knock on wood), likely because everyone is now in their twenties, but I had an interesting conversation about this in the office with some grandparents talking about watching their teen grandkids being raised. We all had it, the drama. It seems to be a universal observation that it’s of a greater magnitude now. Why is that?

If you are of a certain age (like me) you communicated with your friends by telephone. You know, the one on the wall in the kitchen, typically the only one in the house, the one that you shared with everyone else in your family. I know, I know…those of you NOT of a certain age have only seen this on “Leave it to Beaver” re-runs on Family TV, but it was really like that.

Your teen drama took place primarily face-to-face in school, or transpired one-on-one on the phone at night. You had a limit to how long you could talk (your stinky brother wanted the phone), and the “phone game” of a story growing and evolving with each transmittal was the real deal because, well, there was only one call at a time.

Fast forward to 2017. Verrry fast forward. Teen drama, whether it’s a bunch of teenagers or a bunch of folks involved on Twitter, is indeed a much more intense phenomenon. It hits harder and faster, and it spreads at the speed of light because it TRAVELS at the speed of light. Cell phones, Twitter, Facebook, Text…drama transmittal is now exponentially faster so drama growth is no longer linear but exponential as well.

Actionable point? Eh, I dunno. I guess if you are a parent or grandparent it helps to understand why it is that your teen and young adult kids seem to be hit so much harder and so much faster when the same stuff you experienced hits them. As an adult exposed to your OWN drama, though, I do think this knowledge should give you pause, encourage you to actually pause when in the midst of this kind of thing.

Because you can’t un-ring a bell, and when you ring that bell in 2017 the sound travels at the speed of light, and whatever tune your tone rings forever in the vast electronic symphony hall. Teach your teens, but don’t forget yourself.

You’re a big kid now; slow it down.

Textpectation

I am the world’s second worst texter. I’m not sure who is the worst texter, but I’m pretty sure that there can’t be more than one person who is worse than I am. I’m not too concerned about that, though, nor am I all that interested in making much improvement. I just can’t stand the pressure.

Haven’t you noticed? Unlike a phone call where it’s totally OK to let it go to voicemail, there’s an expectation that a text is going to elicit an immediate response. Actually not so much of an expectation as a demand. Call it “textpectation”.

How do I handle the pressure of “textpectation”? Easy. I simply continue to aggressively suck at texting. I have effectively lowered expectations so far that any response at any time is considered something just short of a “visitation”.

YMMV, but if you’ve sent me a text, don’t take it personally.

Success Comes With Gratitude. A Thanksgiving Musing

[On this Thanksgiving day once again I offer this piece on the importance of gratitude, on being truly thankful. Indeed, it may very well be that it is impossible to be successful without also being thankful.]

So much we could talk about this morning. Religious extremists and their violence. Intolerance of various kinds expressed in various ways and in various places. Friendship, and those who would impose restrictions thereupon. Financial models both micro and macro, and how they affect those downstream from the “decisioners”. I could go on and on before I even start.

Rather than contemplate any of these in the kind of depth they deserve, let’s rather consider a bigger theme and look at it from different altitudes. My friend Dave 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 last week 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?

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours from me and all of mine.

Darrell

The Enemy is the Couch

One of the repeating themes in all of my writings on fitness is that it is exponentially more important that one gets off the couch than it is what one does after getting up. To be sure, we in the CrossFit community have been reasonably and accurately accused of being zealous in our support of our chosen post-couch activity. Unlike “Fight Club” it has been observed that the first rule of Crossfit must be that you ALWAYS talk about CrossFit. Fair dinkum. Still, while we may be proven more right than not in the end, there exist other effective fitness options.

My nephew, a retired hockey and lacrosse player, has found his post-collegiate sweet spot in one of the cycling/spinning communities. His preferred version is “Soul Cycle”, but that’s probably more like saying Ben & Jerry’s when you really mean ice cream. You and I know all kinds of folks who swear by Pilates, Barre, various and sundry types of Yoga, and the legions of people who lace ‘em up and run at all kinds of levels at all kinds of times in all kinds of places. In the end even the most zealous among us has to admit that each and every one of these non-CF activities are substantially better than continuing in an unhealthy relationship with your couch.

Fitness, and by extension health, are profoundly complex entities. Hence my own personal difficulty in arriving at a single integer that can be used to measure relative health. It also explains the abject failure of the collective whole of the health wearables industry to come up with a single meaningful, actionable measurement. Still, we ought not dismiss the wearables industry entirely if for no other reason that putting on that Fitbit, or launching Health on your Apple Watch more often than not is like magic; it levitates your ass off that couch.

Simplifying our discussion about fitness and health along the straight line between relatively high intensity exercise versus what could be called long-slow aerobic exercise blinds us to both the essential value of forsaking the couch, while at the same time limiting our ability to explore why it is that there doesn’t seem to be that one, single best approach. Part of the genius of CrossFit is that it starts with a definition and then demands measurement. CrossFit proper has enjoyed explosive growth, growth which is now also occurring in a parallel universe of derivative programming offered by trainers who got their start owning a Box. Is it, are they, better than everything else out there?

Does it matter?

Zero sum games require that someone lose in order that another wins. Likewise, a zero sum grading of ideas means that one eventually must become axiomatic at the expense of the demise of another. Zone/macro quantitative strategies of nutrition vs. Paleo and similar qualitative strategies, for example. A complex system demands that we constantly assess not only the “games” themselves, but also the relationships between the various “games”. Perhaps the greatest gift that I have received from my discovery of CrossFit and the CrossFit community is my ongoing curiosity about all things fitness, and by extension my willingness and desire to pursue the inquiry. By extension I have learned that what works for me may not necessarily work for you.

Is it better to do my CrossFit Rx or my nephew’s Soul Cycle? The answer of course is ‘yes’. Should one do the “Taking Back Eating” macro program or find health in “The Paleo Solution”? Likewise: ‘yes’. Broad acclimations await better measurement followed by the evaluation of those measurements across very large groups of people. However, you and I need not await those conclusions because we can embark on a highly actionable study of our own, n=1.

All it takes is getting off the couch.

 

Meaning in an Indifferent Universe

“The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile, but that it is indifferent.” –Stanley Kubrick

Man is the only species, on Earth at least, that seeks meaning in life. Once food, clothing, and shelter are secured, Man then turns his attention both inward and outward, in the quest for for some understanding of why we exist, a quest to make our existence meaningful. Alone among all creatures, we do not subsist (I eat, therefor I am) so much as insist (I think, therefore I am).

The great Religions of the Near East and Near West define a meaningful life in terms of fealty to a deity and His edicts. Further East and meaning is acquired by coming ever closer to enlightenment. New World religions assign meaning to the achievement of harmony among all life forms. But what of the emerging worlds in which the great Religions hold little sway?

Death is immutable, and it is death against which all meaning is measured. What came before can be ever and always dismissed as abstract, but what comes after is inextricably tied to what constitutes a meaningful life. Again, Kubrick: “If we can accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death–however mutable man may be able to make them–our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment.”

How is this necessarily so? Why would it be so? Is it because Man as a species can and does sit down to think? If the universe is indeed indifferent and it is Man who introduces meaning, must it not be that our universe is man-made? Whether through acts of omission or commission, consequences intended or unintended, it’s hard to escape this conclusion. Herein lies the essential challenge of seeking meaning in life: meaningful for whom?

Adherents to the great Religions are set here. Meaning is parsed by some higher being. For the rest of us an epic societal tug-of-war exists externally. The furthest to one side posits that meaning ends at the tip of a nose, while the other extreme holds that it knows better and will tell you what you should find meaningful. The truth, at least the actionable truth, lies as always somewhere in between.

Once more, to Kubrick: “However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.” Herein, I believe, lies the lesson. Meaning, writ small or large, can only be created within. The light of meaning is self-generated, but like all light it can be shared. Must be shared. It is in sharing whatever light we might have or create, however dim we might find it, that makes a meaningful life. What light we create is what separates us from all other life, for Man is alone in his ability to shine that light for others, then see and act upon that which is illuminated.

In the end, the Universe may very well be indifferent, but we need not be. Meaning, in life, may be as simple as the absence of indifference.

The Solo System: Friendship and their Orbits

Friend: a person who has a strong liking for and trust in a another person. –Miriam-Webster’s

This weekend my wife and I will visit my closest (non-family) friend. Friendship has been on my mind of late. Truth be told, some version of that sentence accurately describes some part of my day pretty much every day, just a bit more so of late. You can never have enough friends and all. True enough that, but one should reflect a bit on what it is that constitutes friendship, and what it means to be a friend.

Once upon a time in college I embarked on an adventure, a hitchhiking journey to meet up with mates from college, eventually landing on the beach in North Carolina. My Dad was dead set against it. It was time for me to go to work for the summer, and quite honestly the itinerary was more than a little “skinny” on details.

Me: “But Dad, these guys are my friends!”

Dad: “Probably not. In 10 years you may not even know a single phone number for one person who was there. You are lucky if you have a single friend in the world.”

Man, I hated him for that. I left angry and returned triumphant (God watches over fools and Irishmen). Sure enough, only one among that group remains, and he only a warm afterthought. My Dad, of course, was spot on.

Each of us lives in a galaxy of people who swirl around us as if we were a pre-Galilean Earth. Think Brian Regan’s famous “Science Fair” bit: “The big yellow one is [me].” This very center of this solo system is made up of our friends, however few. They are close enough to touch, always in view. Surrounding this inner circle is a slightly larger one filled with friendly acquaintances, people who may once have been friends or may yet become friends, but at present a group of people we are genuinely happy to see but don’t necessarily go out of our way to do so. Next is that mass of people we’ve met, a group not notable for anything; we don’t think of them at all. There are enemies, too, but for now let’s leave them be. All of this floats in a universe of beings we’ve yet to, or will never meet.

What is it that moves one from the orbit of friendly acquaintances into that innermost sphere of friends? The mechanics of it are really quite banal: shared experiences, a kind of proximity (geographic or in our modern world electronic), enough values held in common that you can forgive those that are different. It’s subtle, the difference between a friendly acquaintance and a friend. Heck, you may have some friendly acquaintances who like you, like who you are just as much as your friend. Maybe more. The difference, I think, is not so much in the liking as it is in the trusting and the caring.

Your friend cares about you. Cares what you think. He pauses before he acts or speaks and takes a moment to think about you before he does either. Someone with whom you are friendly might meet you halfway on something, but your friend will go way beyond that toward you because he cares a bit more about what you think than maybe even what he might. While your friendly acquaintance will likely never hurt you your friend will protect you from hurt. Might even take the hit for you and suffer so that you might not.

Because of this you trust your friend in a way that you trust no one other than your closest family. In a sense you’ve pre-forgiven him because you know…you just know…that he not only will he not hurt you, but he will be ever vigilant against doing so even by accident. My Dad was right. You don’t get very many of these. Indeed, most are fortunate to get one at a time.

Your little solo system is ever-changing; people move in and out of orbits, sometimes inward and sadly occasionally out. People grow differently. They change or they move. The work of friendship is hard because it requires looking outward at the same time you allow another to look in. It’s a high wire/high risk enterprise, being someone’s friend. In many ways it’s as if your very soul is in the harness, and your friend is on belay. And in your hand you hold the rope that allow’s YOUR friend’s soul to soar.

Right beside yours.

Yours ever in friendship,