Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Archive for July, 2022

I’ll Be OK: Sunday musings…7/17/2022

1 Open. Wow. What a golf tournament. Cam Smith holes out everything to spoil the feel good Rory story.

2 Wedding 1. Our closest couple married off their 3rd child last weekend. Nothing but smiles all around. There are few experiences more fulfilling than being treated like family at another family’s proudest and happiest moments, as we were so treated yesterday.

Congrats and bon voyage to Joey and Leslie. Fasten your seatbelts kids.

3 Wedding 2. Another couple with whom we are close married off their daughter yesterday. This one was quite an experience for both of us. Beth’s first Indian wedding (the mother of the bride is Sikh) and my first in 30 or so years. We both wore traditional Indian garb for the first ceremony, and then dressed up like the middle-aged Americans we are for the second, Christian ceremony. The festivities began on Thursday and only finished about an hour ago (we only participated on Saturday).

This one included a tiny little lesson in cultural respect. In all honesty, the effort that Beth and I made to show respect for the Sikh religion and traditions was really rather modest: we wore traditional clothing, took off our shoes, and covered our heads. Hardly worth mentioning, except that it must not be the norm, so effusive and sincere were the compliments and thank-you’s sent our way. Similar, but different (I was 31 or so) at my first Indian wedding.

All it takes to do the right thing with this kind of stuff is to ask a couple of questions and then make an honest and heartfelt effort. Heck, that should go for any situation where one is confronted with the opportunity to demonstrate your respect.

4 Clock. Nice little op-ed in this morning’s Plain Dealer by a former journalist honoring the memory of her recently deceased single Dad. Sounds like he was quite a guy. Union card-carrying auto worker who raised his daughter alone, gently guiding her away from danger while helping her find her way. When her marriage was over and she declared that she’d done all she coulde, he encouraged her to walk away and begin again.

“…life is too short to run out the clock.”

I love that. Just love it. I wish I’d read it before writing any one of my “seize the day” essays over the years. It’s just the kind of everyday poetry each of us needs to hear every now and again. RIP Mr. John F. Palfy. It would have been an honor to have known you, Sir.

5 Happiness. This is what happens when you don’t sit down to write every Sunday: lots of prompts back up in between your ears and you just have to put ’em all down to make sure you don’t forget them. Maybe come back and expand on them later, or maybe not. Whatever. At yesterday’s wedding one of my dear professional friends dropped this one on us at lunch:

Happiness is reality minus expectation.

Another 5 word poem. Think about it a minute. If you live your moments fully engulfed in them, without the “filter” of expectation, the wonderful among them are much more likely to generate happiness. How often are we disappointed by something which, from the outside, is nothing short of spectacular, but it wasn’t the exact spectacular we expected. Deepi was using examples from our specialty (we sat a a table of physician families), but it was clear that she meant pretty much everything.

This one I’ll come back to for sure.

6 Pain. Funny how two identical body parts can fail is such disparate ways, and along the way give you a totally different experience. When my left hip fell apart it did so rather slowly across several months. Even toward the end, when surgery was already scheduled, the degree of pain that was life-altering only occurred if I was particularly active. Pretty normal, un-extraordinary stuff like walking a couple of miles with Beth fell apart within 200 yards or so. Work, sit around, watch TV…no problem. It’s been 3 years since I had my left hip replaced and since the end of rehab it’s been a breeze.

This time it’s a totally different gig. Roll over just a bit too quickly? Yeah…zero to 8/10 in 2 seconds. I can’t stand still for more than 5 minutes without the same thing happening. Heck, I was getting a massage for goodness sake and had to cut it short because I couldn’t lie flat on either my back or my stomach. In less than 6 weeks this one is imposing itself on every waking minute.

Now, I’m not writing this seeking sympathy. Nope. With only a tiny bit of luck I’ll be just as well a month after surgery, and I only have 6 weeks or so to go before this other hip gets replaced. What’s of interest is this little glimpse into what a life with constant pain might be like. As far as I can tell the pain has changed neither my outlook on life or on the future. I’ve been pretty good at maintaining my sunny outlook (still Lake Dad, Mega!), but it has made me think about what a life with pain always there would look like. My level of respect–awe, really–for folks who soldier on despite debilitating chronic illness has tripled over the last few weeks.

How fortunate am I, are we, to live in a time when at least some of the pain can be cured.

7 OK. Honestly, the quick 90 degree turn in the conversation took me totally by surprise. I’d casually mentioned to Beth that one of my Williams email buddies had shut down his blog, an endeavor that he’d really seemed to be enjoying. It made me wonder if he was OK. If anything was going on. Instead of sending in a batting practice fastball and asking why I was concerned about Thunder (none of us have “real” names on that thread), she tossed a knuckleball:

“Are you gonna be OK? I’m worried about whether you are going to be OK if I’m not here.”

Not gonna lie, I wasn’t expecting that one. For sure we’ve talked about what it will be like to grow old together. Stuff like my recent pain, when we might need to leave Casa Blanco and what that may look like. Statistically it’s much more likely that I’ll shed the ties to this life long before Beth. We middle-aged men are definitely the more fragile version of the species, medical progress regardless. Still, it was, is, a fair question. I’ve made no secret of how much I love my wife. Love to be with her, even if it’s just in the same space while we do totally different stuff (like now while I write and she plays a game she loves).

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that she chose to ask if I’d be OK. Not if I’d be happy or sad, but if I’d be OK. Between our very brief conversation and sitting down to write I learned that my buddy Thunder was just fine; he just wasn’t getting what he wanted or needed out of his blog and decided it wasn’t worth continuing. “Just fine” is what he said. Would I be just fine without Beth? Nope. Not fine and not truly happy. Maybe not even content. No matter how much I try to make the integer “expectation” in my friend’s equation “zero”, in this case I can’t even visualize my world without Beth.

But what I WOULD be, what I’m sure of, is that I would be OK.

You see, I have spent a life, already quite long at 62 years, a life that has been grounded time and again by unconditional love. Love from people who time and again told me that I was OK. That I had it within me to be OK, even when other people might not have been. Same with Beth. Our parents loved us since I was old enough to know and remember, however much they may not have liked us at times along the way. So, too, my maternal grandparents, Gamma and Gramp. They are there in my earliest memories as well, always letting me know that I was, and would be, OK. Probably gave them fewer reasons not to like me I’m sure. The same type of unconditional love has been with me for all of the years Beth and I have been together. It grounds me, still.

So, happy? No way. Content? Fine, like my friend? Unlikely. Will I be OK though? Yes my Dollie, I’ll be OK. I promise. The unconditional love will still be there. Unconditional love will be there forever.

Living Is More Than Just Being Alive: Sunday musings…7/10/2022

“S/He’s living her/his best life.” Seems I hear some version of that phrase to describe someone pretty much everyday. Most times I just smile, or maybe chuckle if it was said sarcastically or if the speaker was aiming for irony, but hearing it usually leaves no impact of any significance. What does it even mean, you know? Best in what way? Best possible for them? For anyone? What does it take to live your best life, anyway?

I am home after sneaking away early from a conference this weekend. Among my professional colleagues I am famous for making all kinds of plans to stick around to the bitter end of a meeting and then pulling an “Irish Goodbye” a day or two early. This time was kinda funny because you could reasonably said the it was an example of me “living my best life”. Or at least one version of “best life”. I was among many professional friends, some of whom I’ve known for decades. They were happy that I was there, and I in turn was quite happy to see all of them. The topics covered were in my wheelhouse, and happily every question lobbed in my direction came in as straight and true as a batting practice fastball.

Yes indeed, professionally I was living my best life.

Among this group of colleagues is a smaller group of people who are, or are becoming, friends without a qualifier. People who I would try to see and hang out with every week if we lived closer. One of them–I’ll call him Mark because, you know, that’s his name–is someone with whom I’ve been exploring two of my pet themes: friendship and happiness. Mark and I are close enough in age and life stage that we cone to these topics, and the vocabulary necessary to discuss them, with a kind of ease and comfort. We’ve talked about the Harvard Class of ’55 study that showed that, outside of being married, the only thing that consistently results in happiness is the presence of three close friends.

Mark is a very successful executive who has moved around a bit during his career. Beth and I moved a bit during our younger years before settling in Ohio 30-some years ago. Despite this pattern deviation between us, Mark and I agree that our jobs and our commitment to family have made it difficult for us to cultivate those local friendships. I’m not sure how Mark views his situation, but I’m pretty sure that I bear more than 1/2 of the responsibility for mine. Since our dear friends Bill and Nancy decamped for Cincinnati I’m sure that my side of the effort equation has been lacking hereabouts.

And yet, despite that, I’m really quite happy at the moment, however much I may worry about what is to come, and I think Mark feels the same. Why? Well, we are both married for one thing, and anyone who reads my pabulum here knows that I am blissfully married at that. As much as I like my professional friends and colleagues, I do have a small tribe of buddies whose company I throughly enjoy, who have thus far continued to welcome me as a tribemate. As I flew home on my secret ninja express yesterday, thinking about Mark and our latest exploration of middle-aged mandom, I realized that not only am I not alone, not even remotely, but it is more likely than not that I will spend much more time with this tribe as we all leave our working lives behind.

Mark and I both have people we live with, and who we live for.

Flying home I realized how lucky I am to have these people. Beth, my kids and grandkids. Siblings and their spouses, all of whom I would love to see every week. My little tribe here locally and all of my professional friends I see over the course of a year. Bill and Nancy, who we still see every couple of months. It made me think of a man I once met at work who had no one, and what I wrote about him after we met.

Billy Ray (not his real name, of course) turned off his implantable defibrillator (ICD). Billy Ray is 44.

In my day job, in the days that I did in-house consultations, I was asked to evaluate Billy Ray for a problem in my specialty. I was told he was about to enter hospice care and assumed that he was much, much older and simply out of options. I admit that I was somewhat put out by the request, it being Saturday and the problem already well-controlled. Frankly, I thought it was a waste of my time, Billy Ray’s time, and whoever might read my report’s time, not to mention the unnecessary costs. I had a very pleasant visit with Billy Ray, reassured him that the problem for which I was called was resolving nicely, and left the room to write my report.

44 years old though. What was his fatal illness? What was sending him off to Hospice care? I bumped into his medical doc and couldn’t resist asking. Turns out that Billy Ray has a diseased heart that is on the brink of failing; without the ICD his heart will eventually beat without a rhythm and he will die. A classic indication for a heart transplant–why was Billy Ray not on a transplant list? Why, for Heaven’s sake, did he turn off his ICD?

There is a difference between being alive and living, having a life. It’s not the same to say that one is alive and that one is living. It turns out that Billy Ray suffered an injury at age 20 and has lived 24 years in unremitting, untreatable pain. Cut off before he even began he never married, has no children. Each day was so filled with the primal effort to stop the pain he had little left over for friendship.

Alive without a life. Alive without living. Billy Ray cried “Uncle”.

I have been haunted by this since I walked out of the hospital. How do you make this decision? Where do you turn? Billy Ray has made clear he has no one. Does a person in this situation become MORE religious or LESS? Rage against an unjust God or find comfort in the hope of an afterlife? Charles DeGaulle had a child with Down’s Syndrome. On her death at age 20 he said “now she is just like everyone else.” Is this what Billy Ray is thinking? That in death he will finally be the same as everyone else?

And what does this say about each of us in our lives? What does it say about the problems that we face, the things that might make us rage against some personal injustice? How might we see our various infirmities when cast in the shadow of a man who has lived more than half his life in constant pain, a man alone? The answer, of course, is obvious, eh?

The more subtle message is about people, having people. Having family, friends, people for whom one might choose to live. It’s very easy to understand the heroic efforts others make to survive in spite of the odds, despite the pain. Somewhere deep inside the will to live exists in the drive to live for others. The sadness I felt leaving the hospital and what haunts me is not so much Billy Ray’s decision but my complete and utter understanding of his decision.

Billy Ray gave lie to the heretofore truism that “no man is an island”.

Find your people. Allow yourself to be found. Go out and build your bridges. Build the connections to others that will build your will to live. Live so that you will be alive for your others. Be alive so that your life will be more than something which hinges on nothing more than a switch that can be turned off. Live with and for others so that you, too, can understand not only Billy Ray but also those unnamed people who fight for every minute of a life.

Be more than just alive. Living your best life means living with, and for, your people.

Thanks to my friend Mark for the inspiration. I’ll see you next week…

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