Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Archive for November, 2021


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what did I do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll see you next week…

Dave Granet Defines Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Annual Thanksgiving Musings…

Sunday musings…

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

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


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

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

Oops…edgy grumpy again. Sorry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving. I’ll see you next week…

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