Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Jim Brown Lived A Long Life: Sunday musings…5/21/2023

1 Arhoolie. Field hollers. Now, I have no idea what a field holler is (Google is kinda cheating if I’m pulling these musings out of my own Restless Mind, eh?), but that’s just a very cool word.

2 Phonics. “Fa-aw-nah-icks been good to meh. Meh.” –Brian Reagan

NYC schools will return to the use of phonics to teach school children how to read. After some 30 years of using something called “balanced literacy”–what does that even mean?–the country’s largest public school system will return to the program that turbocharged the increase in American literacy in the 50’s through the late 80’s. Heck, we were taught how to read French in middle school using phonics.

‘Bout damn time.

3 Reunion #1. I had a chance to chat with the third leg of my friendship triumvirate in college yesterday. Ricky V was in CT visiting his MIL, who is sadly preparing to shrug off the chains of our earthly lives. While there he dropped in on my closest friend from college, Rob, and the two reached out on Facetime.

It was a wonderful visit.

Tiny lesson here: never let go of the memories of a wonderful friendship, no matter how long it’s been since you were able to actually, you know, be IN the friendship. Always take the opportunity to reach out if you happen to be randomly in the vicinity of an old friend, and always say “yes” if an old friend calls up and asks you to get together.

I’m really looking forward to seeing Ricky (and Rob) in real life, soon.

4 Reunion #2. My closest friend from high school, Tom, called me out of the blue yesterday morning. I’m home, minding the dogs while Beth celebrates her middle sister’s 60th birthday in VT (Happy Birthday Lisa!!). Tom and I had spent a few seconds texting about a possible trip to his summer home and he grew frustrated by the act of the text, picked up the phone and called.

Lesson: calling trumps texting. Not even a close contest.

We caught up on our kids, my grandkids, and his now three year old relationship, the first real one since losing his wife to pancreatic cancer some years ago. You may recall my pieces here about my friend Ken, lost to the same cancer in his 40’s. My FIL and his best friend both died from variations of pancreatic cancer, and in a very strange coincidence the woman Tom is dating lost her husband to, yup, pancreatic cancer.

Even though this was a very tiny part of our delightful 45 minutes or so together, it does give me an excuse to tell you about a new genetic test that can detect markers for some 50 of the most deadly cancers, including pancreatic cancer. Tom and I had both read the same letters to the editor in the WSJ that describe both the test, Grail by Illumina, and the idiocy transpiring at the FTC surrounding a merger that would make the test more widely available. The test is not covered by insurance, and since it’s pretty expensive I’m not sure how I feel about that. But if you have pancreatic cancer in your family, you should know about Grail.

5 Encore. “What ya gonna do when the music stops?” Encore, Graham Nash.

I’ve reached the point in my life and career where seemingly everyone wants to know when I will retire. Patients concerned that I’ll lay down my diamond blades and sit back from the laser before I can operate on them (a sentiment I’m personally familiar with since my hip surgeon retired before my second hip was ready to go). Industry partners who feel I’ve made a contribution to new products and would like me to remain relevant by staying in the game. Friends and family who very kindly and sweetly have made it known that my day job is interfering with their plans for us to have fun together. It’s all very nice, and it makes me feel good to by honest, to be asked in this way.

I just don’t know what’s next after the music stops.

John H., a very famous cataract surgeon some 15 or 20 years older than I, started to experience the same phenomenon in his mid-60’s. When an industry friend asked his response was, at least to me, rather sad. “I don’t know how I can ever give this up, Tom. I’m only special in the operating room.” Like the musician in Graham Nash’s song, Dr. H. only felt truly alive, only felt that he was seen and that he mattered when he was sitting at the microscope doing surgery.

Jim Brown died this weekend. Arguably the best running back in the history of football (with a nod to the greats Gayle Sayers, Walter Payton, and Barry Sanders), and with at least a seat at the table of the greatest football players irrespective of position, Brown was a man who was much more than just a football player. Athletically there are still those who argue that he was the best college lacrosse player ever, though it’s very hard to compare players across literally centuries in which the game underwent substantial, fundamental change. Brown played professional football because it gave him the means to live the rest of his life.

This was a man who walked away from the endeavor that brought him fame and fortune, literally while he was at the peak of his skills. Unlike Sanders, who also retired when he was the undisputed best pur running back in the game, Jim Brown did not just fade away. On the set of The Dirty Dozen, his first major acting job, he was given an ultimatum by Cleveland Brown’s owner Art Modell: abandon the movie (it was running way behind schedule) or face daily fines until you show up. Aware that he could very well have a long life ahead of him, and that he could act for much longer than he could play football, Jim Brown called Model’s bluff and retired. He would go on to make some 50 films and make 30 or so television appearances before leaving his SAG card in a sock drawer.

Jim Brown always had another encore in him.

While still acting Brown became deeply involved in the Black power movement of the 60’s and 70’s. he is famous for organizing and participating in the so-called “Cleveland Summit” of Black athletes supporting Muhammed Ali, ne: Cassius Clay, when he declined to report for service after being drafted. Standing alongside the likes of Ali, Kareem Abdul Jabbar ne: Lew Alcinder, and Bill Russell, Brown launched himself into both the “big ideas” arena of race relations, as well as the tiny gritty details of the daily struggle (he is famous for directly, personally engaging gang members in an effort to reduce gang violence).

Jim Brown was hardly a saint. His legacy is marred by allegations of physical abuses, and he admitted his problems with anger, and expressions of anger. This part of his life is beyond the scope of my Sunday Ramblings. If interested in a deeper look into more things Jim Brown you would do well to Google “Tim Layden Jim Brown” and read the 2015 Sports Illustrated interview.

What interests me about Brown and his life is that he seemed to sense something that I’ve been thinking about, and writing about, as I start to think about what my next act might be, whenever the encore may be called for. Jim Brown somehow knew that life is long. That he, we, might live a very long time after he retired. After each time he retired. Like Dr. H. above but on a much grander scale, Brown felt the adulation of an admiring crowd, a crowd that, for him, never dispersed. What of the rest of us, though? What will be next? Will we also be called back to the stage for an encore, or two, or three?

“How you gonna feel if the music dies? How you gonna live with the soul sadly sighing, into the wind that is our life? Encore. Encore. The last song is over.”

I don’t yet know what my next act will be. What song I will play if I am called to do an encore.

I’ll see you next week…

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