Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Archive for September, 2023

Calling from a Place of Love: Sunday musings…9/17/2023

1 Books. I prefer to do my reading the old-fashioned way. It is so much more comfortable and enjoyable to pick up a book or a newspaper or a magazine and read. I have to admit that my reading printed material habit has exposed an essential problem, especially for those of us who live in small homes:

Unless you give away everything you’ve read it is necessary to own bookshelves.

2 Pajamboree. A festive occasion or party at which everyone wears pajamas. It comes from a line in a simply delightful song “Blue Pajamas” by Jonah Werner. Should be a word.

Do yourself a favor and give it a listen.

3 Scars. “Scars have the strange power to remind us that the past is real.” Cormac McCarthy.

Now Mr. McCarthy the writer is notable for the scars incurred by the majority of his characters, not to mention the scars on the souls of his readers. Seems to me that he has more experience with scars than most of us. Says here we should take him at his word on this one.

4 Boat. In the office many of my patients have been lamenting that the coming and going of Labor Day means that the summer is over. I, on the other hand, being an empty nester, declared that summer for me is over whenever I say it is!

I own a tiny little boat. A New England boy, still, it fills me with a silly, entirely unreasonable pleasure to be the owner (with Beth, of course) of a classic New England runabout, a working waterman’s boat. We have a 17′ 1971 Boston Whaler docked on our deck in back of our little cottage. Whereas most Whalers are some version of the classic Montauk, ours is a Sakonnet, a relatively rare Whaler made in small numbers and seemingly long out of production.

Why bring this up today? It’s been a lousy boating season here on Lake Erie, especially for us. Our boat only draws about 8″; it’s gotta be pretty smooth out for us to have a comfortable ride. Most hours of most days this summer haven’t fit our particular bill. Indeed, even the big boats haven’t been out and about all that much this year. To make things more challenging we missed some of the better water days for about a dozen really good reasons. My boat made precisely one voyage all summer.

Our Whaler comes out of the water today. Summer is over.

5 Phone. As I prepare to muse I typically review any notes that I’ve jotted down over the week, as well as any my prior missives that may have surfaced and caught my attention. You’ve no doubt noticed that a very significant percentage of my internal RAM has lately been taken up by my Mom and her move to Cleveland to be closer to one wing of her extended family (we have the highest and densest concentration of family members at the moment, a bit ahead of the growing South Carolina contingent).

I stumbled across an essay from 5 or 6 years ago about Mom’s need for a new phone. Pretty timely in that all of us who are in possession of iPhones more than 2 years old are now trying to determine if it’s time to upgrade to the newest version from Apple. Anyway, while Mom was still in Rhode Island a couple of months ago it became clear that our quest to obtain a better/best phone for Mom was futile. Where once her telephone was literally the string that held together all of her social ties, she was no longer talking on the phone.

Mom had lost the ability to make and receive phone calls.

Mom connected to everyone on the phone. Although she was once famous at Williams College (and presumably the alma maters of my siblings) for the daily postcard she wrote so that I wouldn’t have an empty mailbox, in retrospect it was the freedom that she (and my Dad) gave to the four of us to make long distance phone calls on the family’s dime in the days of exorbitant charges for those calls. Mom seems to have instinctively known that hearing our voices, and my parents in turn hearing ours, was crucial in maintaining our relationships.

The phone was also how Mom stayed in touch with everyone. Her parents and her sisters. Friends from college. All of her local friends. Mom loved talking on the phone. Remember, back in the day the phone was a handpiece literally wired to the wall. Even with the gift of a “mobile” phone from Dad she could still be found on a little stool in the kitchen, sitting at what was effectively the desk from which she managed the family. Over the last several years she has slowly gone from landline/mobile/iPad/FaceTime facile to a single hard-wired phone that she often needs help dialing.

This is not a lament over the sadness of watching the slow deterioration of a loved parent–well, not ONLY a lament–but rather another entreaty for all of us to understand how important it is almost everywhere in our lives to communicate with those around us in a way that allows them to participate. I’ve written before that learning the “new norms” will make it more likely that a middle-aged parent will continue to have interactions with their young adult children (e.g. text to ask if it’s a good time to call your kid/pick up the phone and call your Mom), and that failure to do so shows a certain lack of respect and, yes, love (insisting that your grandmother not only respond to your texts, but that she text at all).

There was once a time when I found it frustrating that I couldn’t just send my Mom a quick text when I was thinking of her, or thinking of something I knew she would appreciate. Totally guilty. I’m not sure when I realized that it wasn’t just a choice she was making, but sadly a sign of how she was aging. Phone calls we DO receive now are as often as not either false dials or panicked “urgencies” despite the fact that she now has round the clock nursing coverage.

What to do now? Same as always: meet Mom where she is now. Communicate with her the way she is most comfortable now, face to face, within hugging distance. She still slips back into a time in her past if someone calls and she makes it to the phone on time, or if one of us is with her and we dial up a friend or family member. It was really nice to see her face light up when I called my sister and handed the phone to Mom for a chat. As long as the journey has been it is apparent that she has come back full circle.

For all of her love for the phone her REAL desire was for friends and family to be right there with her for a chat. She is now here in town with us; one of us gets to do that almost every day. For those who are not right there with her we once again have a phone connected to the wall, set up right next to the chair from which she manages her life and can talk to everyone still a part of it. We, her family and friends, will all express our love by going where she is to chat, face to face or over the phone with just a little bit of help.

As it turns out, just the way we have, forever.

I’ll see you next week…

Marriage, Career, and Happiness

Beth and I celebrated our 38th wedding anniversary (and our 41st year together) last week. It’s been a really, really great run! Whenever I’m asked what my greatest accomplishment is, the thing I’m most proud of, I instantly answer “our marriage”. Our wedding was fantastic; friends and family still tell us how special it was and how much fun they had. On that day a friend wished for us that our wedding day would be the day that we would love each other LEAST, because every day from then on would be the day that we loved each other MOST.

Until the next day.

So it’s not the wedding we celebrate on our anniversary, it’s the marriage itself. Time and again over the years we have had decisions to make, life decisions like where to live or what we might choose to prioritize in our family life. Like so many couples we had work-related decisions come up, especially when we were younger. Each time we chose “us”.

In my day job I have the sincere privilege of working alongside colleagues who are 10, 20 and sometimes 30 years younger than I am. (It is a privilege to work with colleagues senior to me as well!) They are so talented I am regularly awestruck. I thought of them as I read an extraordinary opinion piece by David Brooks in the Sunday Times 2 weeks ago, “Marriage, Not Career, Brings Happiness”. When I chat with them about plans, commitments they anticipate, I find myself in a similar position to that which Mr. Brooks described: most young adults give lots of thought to their career plans, but very little to how marriage (or a committed relationship of any kind) might be a part of their lives. Indeed, if you ask about how they are looking at the future you are likely to hear about not just career but the “where” of the career before you hear about marriage.

If you hear about it at all.

This is striking, probably because it is pretty much exactly the opposite of the way I, we, approached life as a young couple. Mind you, no one advised us on this, and for sure there wasn’t anything like the research now available to convince a young professional or couple to put marriage first. I’ll borrow a bit of information from Brooks. Sam Pelzman of the University of Chicago found that married people were 30 points happier than the unmarried. University of Virginia professor Brad Wilcox found that the odds that men and woman say they are “very happy” with their lives are a “staggering 545% higher for those who are happily married” compared with a matched population of peers who are not married or are unhappy in their marriages. The Harvard Study, the longest study of adult happiness, found similar results over the last 60 or so years (see: The Good Life by Waldinger and Schulz).

Does this mean that you can’t be successful in a career, or find happiness in your career if you have made your marriage your most important commitment? Of course not! I’ve had a great career, kind of like a play in 3 (so far) acts. Busy stay in town partner in a big group; stay in town building a new practice; busy (again) in town with a growing out of town speaker/consultant gig. I just made all of my career decisions in a universe centered around our marriage, and I feel awfully lucky that the career thing has turned out OK.

Brooks admits to “an unfortunate urge to sermonize”, and I feel a bit uncomfortable that this might be or get a bit “preachy”. I like Mr. Brooks’ advise on the front side of marriage: “Please respect the truism that if you have a great career and a crappy marriage you will be unhappy, but if you have a great marriage and a crappy career you will be happy. Please use your youthful years as a chance to have romantic relationships so you’ll have some practice when it comes time to wed…read books on how to decide whom to marry. Read George Elliot and Jane Austen. Start with the experts.”

Once you have married or entered into that committed relationship Beth and I do have two “not so secrets” that have worked for us these 38 years. The first is that marriage and all that goes into a marriage is NOT a 50/50 thing. You’re not splitting anything. It’s 100/100. It works best when both people in a committed relationship, marriage or otherwise, are each 100% committed to the success of the relationship. All of your chips in on the marriage bet every time the wheel spins. The second is never stop dating. You don’t have to stop courting your spouse after you say “I do”. We used to say that the Honeymoon isn’t over until you say it is. Starting with the birth of our second child we have been out on a date (without children) at least once a week, not Mom and Dad, just a boy and a girl in love. We celebrated 38 years by going out on a date, holding hands as we walked into the restaurant, more in love today than any day before.

But not quite as much in love as we will be tomorrow.

I’ll see you next week…

Friendship and Home. “Sunday musings…” 9/2/2023

1 Calumny. Slander with the express purpose of damaging someone’s reputation.

Lotta that going around in the news these days, eh?

2 Parakeet. A young Parrothead.

3 Parrothead. Devoted fan of Jimmy Buffet. An implied homage (or rip-off depending on your POV) of “Deadhead”.

Buffet, who died early yesterday morning, was arguably one of the most beloved musicians of the last 40+ years. He, and his songs, evoked a life lived with few cares, usually near or on a beach, often “three sheets to the wind” after consuming several tropical drinks. His more famous songs portrayed an idyllic existence driven by nothing more complex than sunrise, sunset, and which way the wind might be blowing. He parlayed his music, his image, and his fame into a business empire that included restaurants (seems like every airport south of the Mason-Dixon Line has a Margaritaville in Concourse B), apparel, and real estate (over-55 communities called…wait for it…Margaritaville).

And yet, such was the depth of his goodwill that no one seemed to begrudge him the spoils of his success.

I think that’s because deep down Jimmy Buffet really did realize how lucky he turned out to be. On top of that, I really do believe that he would have lived a less opulent version of the same life (like, for example, my college pal Herb I, the journalist/sailor) had he not been quite so financially fortunate. It’s easier to think this if you dig a bit below the Top 40 surface of his musical canon and listen to some of the quieter, more introspective pieces known only by more ardent fans like my friends DSJ and Starsky. Search Spotify for “The Captain and the Kid” or “Death of an Unpopular Poet” and you’ll get an idea.

In a world littered with the unseemly behavior of the ultra-rich, so many of whom were born on 3rd base and thought they hit a triple, Jimmy buffet never seemed to lose sight of the fact that it was less the pursuit of an endless bounty so much as an endless summer. He once said “If [summer] somehow ended tomorrow I could somehow adjust to the fall,” a fitting epitaph, especially for those of us who lost a little bit of our own summers with his passing.

Fair winds and following seas Mr. Buffet. Thank you for sharing your endless summer. May you have an eternity of sunshine, and may it ever be 5:00 in your somewhere.

4 My folks uprooted me (and my siblings of course) after my freshman year in high school. In so doing they gave me a “bonus” reunion opportunity in perpetuity. Forevermore I would have the opportunity to choose between my two home towns every 5 years to visit with my oldest friends and acquaintances. This year brought a 45th reunion in one of the towns (the other passed), the one from which I graduated, but as I noted last week the last vestige of “home” in Rhode Island is now living in an assisted living community next door to my office.

This weekend I chose to visit that version of home each day, and hope to be forgiven by the 50 or so classmates who made the trip to Smitty’s spread.

The thought of returning home to Lincoln made me smile, actually. You may remember my joyful surprise after attending my 40; Beth and I had a ball. Thinking about old friends, especially the oldest of our friends got me to thinking about friendship in general, a recurring theme as both of you who read my drivel know well. It made me think of other times when memories of friends who linger and those who’ve been lost are pushed up like so many feeder fish surrounded by “bubble-feeding” humpback whales. (Google it…so cool). I am now 40+ years from calling Lincoln home; Mom is barely 2 weeks out. What does it take to maintain friendships from long ago and far away.

During our move to Casa Blanco 10 years ago, while purging 22 years of stuff from our house, I came across a tiny note from someone who’d been a close friend in childhood. It was addressed “Hello, my Eternal Friend.” I’d not seen this friend, nor had we directly communicated, in more than 30, now 40 years. It got me to thinking about really enduring friendships. What I’ve come up with is duration, distance, and durability. The three “D’s” of friendship. There were some very nice demonstrations of all three for Beth and me this week as we moved Mom into her Cleveland home, and reminisced about the homes we left to move here so long ago.

Distance is at once the easier and trickier of the three. Once upon a time distance was almost always a deal-breaker, at least if it was applied for too very long. Air travel was not accessible to most, and all of our electronic connections were just predictions on the pages of a science fiction novel. No email, texting, or PM…folks kept in touch via what we now call snail mail and hard line long-distance phone calls. The phone calls were brutally expensive (anyone remember waiting until 7:00 PM on Sunday when the rates when down to call home?), which turned some friendship into something called pen pals. You wrote on a piece of paper with something called a pen, put it in the envelope which then went in something called a mailbox, and then you waited/hoped a letter would return. Distance was a big friendship killer back in the day. Now? Not so much.

Duration is the goal, and durability is the barrier. How durable, how resilient is your friendship? Can it withstand the challenges and demands presented by our always-on communication? Indeed, are our myriad ways of “connecting” over whatever distance exists sufficient to nurture a friendship for the ages? How about age, infirmity, different levels of success or diverging life goals? New interests that may not be shared? What are the characteristics of those truly eternal friendships that make them so?Well, judging by our experiences since my last Reunion there are probably a couple of other “D’s” that apply: Desire and Delight. How much do both parties want the friendship to endure, and how delighted are they when they actually connect, really connect, face to face, no matter how old the friendships might be?

Beth and I have friends who live in the town next door to Lincoln. Around the time of my last reunion we had our own delight in the evening when we dined with a 45 year friend of my mine (35 years for Beth), brought together by mutual desire, delighted by the lack of distance our visit created. That particular friendship is still durable enough to withstand a glass of red wine spectacularly spilled on a white shirt five minutes into dinner! Bob, my friend, reached out on the day we moved Mom to wish us luck, and to ask if we might still return to my “ancestral home” every now and again to visit. And if it would be ok if they hopped on a plane to visit Mom.

And us.

So how about my “Eternal Friend” from childhood? Is the friendship still there, a tiny ember burning beneath the cold ashes of time? Ah, we were so young. We had no concept of what “eternal” really meant. We, certainly I, had no idea what it would take to carry a friendship for an eternity, regardless of how much we might have wanted it to continue. Sometimes friendships just slip away, like my “Eternal Friend”. Those that don’t end up being just a little bit more of everything by dint of duration. They are durable. They’ve passed the test of time.

We don’t get many of these very special friendships, but when we do get one, or get the chance to forge a new one, we have every right to be delighted by every little part of whatever makes that friendship work. Like my Mom and the couple of friends she’d known for 50 years who dropped by to wish her well on her new adventure. Like my friend Bob (and his lovely Kathy), who never did get that red wine stain out of his shirt. Or my friend Bill who moved away for work but wants to know when he can come up from Cincinnati to build me a wine cellar, and my friend Rob who was on the fence about a golf trip will travel with me to Ireland so that he can be there as I return to the first tee.

You can never have enough friends, or work hard enough to keep ’em, especially if they’ve truly been around for an eternity.

I’ll see you next week…

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