Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Archive for May, 2022

Role Model

At the moment I am sitting in an airport–Boston, if it matters–on the way home from a very nice visit with my Mom. I really don’t get to see her all that much, which is, of course, on me. I was able to turn a business trip during which I took Mom out to dinner into a weekend visit with Mom during which I snuck a business meeting in.

The highlight was Mass this morning. With the Pandemic lockdowns and Mom getting older and no longer driving she has seen her church-going reduced to 11 AM mass on TV. While it’s better than nothing it’s really only a touch more than nothing, even for Mom. It was nice to get the day started in the Church of my youth, my butt aching on the hardest wooden pews in America, my back as stiff as a board leaning into the perfect 90 degree angles.

We’re Catholic; we suffer.

During my “sneak away” meeting we had a little sidebar conversation about role models. In this case professional role models, but on my drives to and from Boston I got to thinking about role models in general. My parents and my maternal grandparents were obvious role models, of course, as were a couple of coaches who wore the role model cape as comfortably and naturally as they did the whistles around their neck. In Church this morning I was reminded by the priest that we have a “built in” role model. As Christians we “celebrate” the ultimate sacrifice, the ultimate expression of altruism and seeking to help others in the “history” of mankind. Men and women are tasked with following Him as the ultimate role model for how we are to live our lives.

If one does, indeed, believe, and if one does follow Him as the role model in one’s life, then all other talk of role models is irrelevant. Like so many other goals and targets, though, the Lamb as role model is ultimately unachievable by any and all, and thus we have the all too human phenomenon of other, human role models. Believers or not we all seem to get this; everyone I’ve ever met can name more than one role model, someone very public or known only to them, but always at least one.

What then constitutes a role model? Who is qualified to fill this role? Who would be willing to do so? How do we find these people, these role models?

In a world that was much less heterogenous, where people of all stripes had more in common than not and acknowledged that fact, role models seemed to be a little easier to come by. Audie Murphy. Stan Musial. Jackie Robinson. Heck, even a politician or two filled the bill. Every town had a teacher or a coach or a cop who everyone looked up to. Why then and not now? Partly because of that sense that we were all more the same than less, but partly because we only knew the good stuff about our role models, and on top of that we only really wanted to know the good stuff, ya know?

Once upon a time to be a role model meant to be always trying to do the right thing for the right person at the right time. We forgave the occasional slip because we saw the effort and appreciated the ongoing effort. It inspired us to do better ourselves. We forgave the occasional failure because we knew how hard it is to always look to do that favor, to offer the helping hand, to put forth the best effort. To put yourself in line and push others ahead. Our sense of our own humanity was extended to our role models as a gift to them such that they would continue to lead us.

The perceived lack of role models in society today says more about us than it does about any role models that we may have discarded. We accentuate our differences rather than our commonalities, no matter how far on either end of the curve lie those differences. We not only accept too much information about our all-too human potential role models, we actively seek the “smoking gun” that will bury them. We are all the lesser for all of that, for we deny ourselves the potential that could come from having a role model just a little bit better than ourselves. Someone not that very different from ourselves whose goodness we can aspire to because it is achievable, if only we would try.

And having tried, even if we are only partly successful, perhaps we, too, may become someone’s role model.

Grief Is Just Love With No Place to Go

“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.” Jamie Anderson

Are you like me? Do you find yourself suddenly a bit sad, melancholy, out of the blue? Or perhaps, like me, you tear up at every sentimental story you happen across. A stray dog is reunited with its long, lost owner after a week, a month, a decade. An older man buys a kid a new bike after the kid slams into the man’s car by accident and the old guy just can’t let the embarrassment of hitting his car be the last memory of the bike. It’s like every possible emotion lies so close to the surface that the tiniest breeze uncovers it.

Maybe it’s the unbidden memories of loss that do it. That happens to me, too. More and more often, come to think of it. Some of them are prompted (the downside of Facebook Memories I suppose), but just as often they seem to come out of nowhere. I was watching my 9 year old Aussie racing around the yard yesterday and just couldn’t shake the memories of my Border Collie, Abby the Wonder Dog, who should have been right there chasing Sasha for all she was worth. It was hard to see Sasha after a moment. I thought I had something in my eye, at least until Beth’s goofy little mutt Tiny Tim joined the party.

Boy, did I love those dogs. Haddie and Kota, too. After so many years I still grieve.

As I was gathering my thoughts before musing this morning I stumbled upon Ms. Anderson’s words and had an epiphany: I miss being able to love those I’ve loved and lost. At levels both very deep and barely below the surface, I continue to grieve. It’s truly grief; there’s really not a tinge of regret here. I’ve largely followed my own advice to tell those I love them just that. To ask forgiveness if I’ve somehow hurt them, and forgiven them for any harms that came my way. I’ve thanked them for loving me and for allowing me to love them. No “I wish I’d’s” or “I should have’s” or “if only I’d had more to to’s”. When I read that lovely quote I simply realized that I still had so very much love to give to those I’ve lost, and what I was feeling was that I can’t.

Every now and again the losses pile up like so much water in a bucket, until they spill over into the open. Not just lives, although those are the toughest of course. My Dad and my grandparents, Beth’s parents. My friend lost to suicide a year ago. Perhaps its a one degree of separation life lost that does it; my sister and her husband lost a brother-in-law a couple of weeks ago; I’d never even met him, and yet the tears ran as if we’d just had a beer last month. Sometimes no one dies but there is a decrease, or a loss of proximity, contact. Doesn’t matter why. Something creates a space that is almost as wide, as impossible to navigate, as death itself.

Today is Mother’s Day, or as I prefer to think of it, Mommy’s Day. I confess that I have no idea how or where or by whom Mother’s Day was created. But unlike blatantly commercial creations like “Sweetest Day” (American Greetings card-giving creation) or just outright silliness like “National Eyelash Day” (not kidding; really a thing), today is the day when we are each given permission to fawn over the Mom’s we still have among us.

You called your Mom, right?

That’s the point. The reason I open my annual thoughts on Mother’s Day with musings on grief. My beloved Gamma, Mom’s mom, is gone. So, too, both of Beth’s grandmothers. My mother-in-law has been gone for a few years now, too. My FB Memories from 6 years ago are filled with pictures and videos of the magnificent trip to Mexico arranged by my soon-to-be departed father-in-law when he surprised Sandy by bringing their girls (and their boys) to Mexico for a last family gathering to celebrate both Sandy’s Birthday and Mother’s Day. Soon, too soon, Bob would be gone. My Dad, too. Whether it’s Mother’s Day or just some random Tuesday, there’s no one there to call.

But not today. Sure, I will set aside a little bit of time to grieve for Mommies not here to Mom. I’ll tear up at all of the Mom memories that come my way today. But I am still blessed on this Mother’s Day. Today I have a bunch of Moms to call. Starting with my Mom and my darling Beth, my kids’ Mom, I have tons of love that still has a clear place to go.

So Happy Mother’s Day to all of you Moms out there, and to the kids who still have you there for us to love.

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