Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

Returning to the Scene of an Epiphany: Sunday musings…6/34/2023

1 Rapstallion. A cheeky, poorly behaved horse. Should STILL be a word.

2 Obituary. James R. Hagarty is the obituary writer for the Wall Street Journal. We communicated a couple of years ago about an article that he’d written suggesting that each of us should consider writing our own obituaries. He is a lovely writer, and at least per my experience via email, a lovely human. We talked about the obituary I’d written for my Dad. Mr. Hagerty talked about his plan to update his own obit every 5 years or so. All in all, a rather nice discourse.

My brother-in-law, with whom I am very close, recently lost his Dad. His Dad’s obit was very nice. I’m not sure if Steve had a hand in writing it. Mr. Godin’s passing has really put the thought of my Mom’s eventual passing in the very front of my mind. Really, all of our minds to be truthful. There’s a part of me that wants us to start the obituary process. Heck, we need to think about who is going to stand up there on the altar at Sr. Ambrose and do the eulogy!

Writing the obit for a parent or a friend is one thing, but Hagerty’s assertion that we should draft our own is a whole ‘nuther kind of tightrope waltz. I mean, who do you write about? The person you were 2, 5, 10 or more years ago? Whatever person you ended up as after all of your life happened? Then again, it’s you doing the writing. Maybe you use your obit or your own eulogy to ‘splain yourself. Perhaps the autobiographical eulogy or obituary is how you saw yourself. Kinda the last opportunity to align the images in the camera and the mirror so to speak.

Mr. Godin’s obituary was simply lovely. I’ll bet his eulogy was the same. I’m not sure if I’m ready to draft my own obit or eulogy, but since chatting with Mr. Hagerty I’ve been willing to at least think about it. Weighing in on my Dad’s after he’d passed was more stressful given the “deadline” we had. Maybe when we chat about my Mom’s next steps this week I’ll gently suggest we take Hagerty’s advice and have a draft on hand.

Just in case.

3 Epiphany. An epiphany, by definition, is like a lightning strike. Out of the blue. Powerful. Transformative. Have you ever experienced one? I’ve had a couple over the years. This weekend I found myself in the place when one of the most impactful epiphanies of my life occurred. One that was not obvious to me prior, or apparent to anyone else as it related to me. The experience, and everything I felt, came back to me yesterday as I sat on the porch of the clubhouse that sits as the entrance to The Ocean Course on Kiawah Island, a golf course that is pretty much universally beloved. The view from the porch pretty much defines the term “bucolic”. It’s really quite beautiful, to be honest. I sat there in a gentle breeze under a bright blue sky and thought back to the first time I gazed across the 18th green and over the Atlantic Ocean beyond, and I remembered.

God, I really hate the Ocean Course!

Now you might find it odd, might even declare that my epiphany couldn’t possibly rise to such lofty status, given that it rests on the “discovery” that I didn’t like a golf course. Bear with me; it makes sense. My brother Randy, my brother-in-law Steve, and I had been taking my Dad on an annual golf boondoggle. It was our way to thank him for not only golf, but for, well, being who he was. He was my Dad, and Randy’s Dad. Steve had a great Dad and didn’t need another one, but my Day was good to Steve, and Steve was very good to my Dad. We were four adult men who had golf in common, but more than that, four men who used golf as a vehicle to be together. We’d gathered on Kiawah Island on Thursday 9/20/2001 to spend a weekend together on the golf course.

9 days after 9/11.

You might think that this is all about the existential time that was post-9/11. I admit that there may have been a bit of additional openness to an epiphany if one were to be had in those days following tragedy, but my sense is that I would have had the same exact experience that weekend, regardless. Nonetheless, it was a profoundly weird weekend, one I’ve written about before. These were the days pre-dehubbing. Continental was still the dominant airline in Cleveland and I could fly direct to some 137 or so cities including Charleston, the gateway to Kiawah. The airways had been open for maybe two days when I was dropped off at Hopkins. As far as I could tell the only other people there that day were at work. It felt like I was the only passenger in the entire building. There were four of us on the plane. The pilot, the copilot, the flight attendant, and me.

“Ready to go Mr. White?”

Unlike this weekend, Kiawah had a 99% cancellation rate in September 2001. The four of us pretty much owned the place. We sauntered up to the first tee at our leisure at every course we played. The reservations I’d worked so hard to secure at the island’s best restaurants were laughable. We just walked in and chose a table. There were no other paying customers. Every meal was “bonused”. An extra lamb chop. Twice as many shrimp in the cocktail. Captain’s List wine at enlisted men’s prices. We were feted at every venue.

We teed off on the Island’s gem, The Ocean Course, alone again except for our caddies, both of whom were great. It was a perfect day for golf. Bluebird blue sky and a 12 mph wind to give us the whole links golf experience. Literally a perfect set up for a signature golf experience. Remember, this is a course with significant historical significance, the site of an epic Ryder Cup battle that golfers talk about to this day. We were all very good golfers; our collective handicap was well under 10. Total. No matter how well any of us played it lined up as another of our wonderful family experiences.

There was only one problem: I loathed everything about the Ocean Course and my experience playing it.

It was just me. Dad, Randy and Steve had a ball. We all played fairly well. Hit the ball well. Putted well. My score was by far and away the highest, but that had happened before and had happened to each of us on these trips, even my better-than-scratch brother. That wasn’t the point, not at all. Do you play golf? Some courses set up in such a way that you look at each hole and you can visualize the perfect shots. The holes reach out before you and what you see is beauty. Art. You feel exactly what the course designer meant for you to feel. Even if you play poorly you can’t really blame either the course or the designer; you just played poorly.

Not me. Not at the Ocean Course. Not a single bit of it “fit my eye”. I really didn’t play all that badly. I was just a tad off. 3, 4 yards on most shots. But, not really “seeing” the course, I was 1 or 2 yards too far off on almost every shot. It’s one thing to be 3 or 4 yards too far left and giving yourself a 50 ft. putt for par. Nope. I was consistently 3 or 4 yards too far left, which made me 1 or two feet into disaster. Seriously. A shot 3 yards off line that put me 1 foot into a briar patch that even Br’er Rabbit couldn’t wiggle himself in to take a shot. Over and over again. I would hit putts that traveled the precise distance to the hole, but misread them so badly that I ended up with an 8 ft. second putt. I played well enough to break 80 in most circumstances, but I was 3 or 4 yards off in the wrong way enough times to shoot 90.

I just didn’t like that course, even a little bit.

How does this add up to an epiphany, then? Remember, we were like princes who’d rented the Island for our personal pleasure. Unlike a typical weekend where you get your one shot at an iconic course like the Island Course, on that immediately post-9/11 weekend we could just pay our greens fee and saunter up to the first tee as many times as we wished. At dinner after our round my three partners were all about playing the Island Course again. Me? Nope. No desire. Not one iota, and I said so. I declared that I didn’t find the course enjoyable enough to play again, but that I wouldn’t stand in their way if they wanted another go at it. I had a book along, and the porch at the clubhouse had a rocking chair with my name on it.

My guys were aghast. Why, in the name of Bobby Jones was I not going to play the course again? Herein lies my epiphany: the things that make me unhappy make me more unhappy than the things that make me happy, make me happy. I intuitively knew that one cannot access at will the things that make you happy, but that once identified you can, indeed, avoid those that make you unhappy. As much as I liked golf, and as much as I like playing with my Dad, my brother, and my BIL, the Ocean Course made me unhappy. It being the week after 9/11 I may have been more open to a random epiphany, but I think I would have had this particular one regardless.

And so it was that I found myself this weekend in a rocking chair, alone, sitting on the porch of one of the most famous golf courses in America, missing my Dad, Randy, and Steve, with not a single molecule in my body wanting to tee it up. I thought back on those days, good days, and how a not so great day turned into a pivotal day in how I viewed the world. Once identified I can often avoid things that make me unhappy; I know that they usually make me unhappier than the happy things bring joy. I seek the happy things, to be sure. Always. I just do what I can to avoid the things that make me unhappy.

That’s why I snuck away from work and went out to the Ocean Course. That’s why I stuck around. You see, even though I didn’t like playing there, even though playing the course, however famous, made me unhappy, everything else about it brought me joy. Three of the most important men in my life shared a day with me, one in which they were quite happy, and I got to see them, be with them, in their happiness. And at dinner when I shared with them why it was that I didn’t want to play that course again, after the incredulity and subsequent ribbing, they all chose to play another course so that we four would be together. They heard me.

And that made me very, very happy.

I’ll see you next week…

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