Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘hawaii’

Is There an Optimal Age?

Last week I got a bit sidetracked with the main focus of Sunday musings. Nuclear attacks will do that to a body. I’d run across an article on WSJ.com in which a fascinating hypothetical was proposed: If you could stop the aging process at a particular point in time, at what age would you do that? At what age do you feel that you are close enough to your physical peak that you are comfortable balancing that against your intellectual capacities and maturity? Great question, that.

My physical fitness has been slipping for at least several years. Despite this I remain generally stronger than I was at any time other than my years as a college football player. When did I peak? At what time was my overall physical fitness, when my capabilities across the 10 general characteristics of fitness at its highest level? Although I didn’t know it at the time I probably peaked somewhere in medical school. My buddies and I managed to cram in marathon hoops sessions, round robin squash fests, and an admittedly conflict of interest laden exploration of 1980’s aerobics classes (most of my friends were single) while we finished up school. I supplemented this with pretty standard issue weight training (Mrs. bingo like lifting, even back then). Make that peak age 25 or 26.

Believe it or not, from there the slow age and career inflicted decline began in earnest. Had it not been for that Men’s Journal article in December 2005 I’d likely be a typical 58 year old desk jockey, broken by my job and the various and sundry weekend warrior injuries I would have doubtless suffered. Ah, but this CrossFit thing not only saved me from that but also gave me another peak somewhere around age 48. To be truthful I’m back on the descent now, but at least summited another (slightly lower) peak before starting the slide.

How about the other half of the equation? The part where you have a certain amount of intelligence, experience, and maturity? Well, for sure I was whip smart at 26. Every doctor is simply brilliant on med school graduation day; we have no idea what we don’t know, and no idea how to actually be a doctor, but hey, we just crammed for 4 straight years and our brains are busting at the seems with, you know, smart stuff. You know where this part is going, of course. At 26 I’d yet to acquire the maturity and experience that is necessary to create what I’d like to call “actionable intellect”. Such a thing could also be called “judgment”, and in short the ingredients you add to the mix are mileage and the accumulated humility that one acquires “on the road”. Like every other 26 year old I was pretty sure I knew it all already, but we all know how much longer the story is at that point, don’t we.

So it must be age 48 then. Another physical peak achieved. lost of miles under my belt including the humility of a struggling business and the grounding effect of nearly losing a child. Must be 48, right? Well, to be quite honest, I would really love to return to age 48 in a physical sense. My 58 year old bones are more than weary, and I’ll admit right now that I’m slow-rolling writing this because I’m dreading the WOD that’s gonna happen right after I hit “comment”. A funny thing happened on the way to my “final answer” though: I realized that my non-physical growth over the last 10 years has been extraordinary.

It’s not that you have to forgo all of the wonderful things in life at your chosen “stop age”, but the proposal in the exercise is to choose an intersection where the combined peaks were some kind of best. The truth is that my non-physical fitness has continued to grow at a rate which is far, far greater than the rate at which my physical prowess has declined. I have learned, and become so much better at things like empathy, acceptance, caring and the like that there are times that I wonder how anyone ever put up with my younger version. 10 more years of loving and being loved by Mrs. bingo. Of learning how to continue to love other people in my life despite their (or my) faults.

And joy. Oh my, learning that there is joy to be had out there if you can spend just a moment and let it come to you. My little Man Cub has taught me that. At 48 I really had no idea just how much joy there could be. No, for me at least I don’t think I’ve hit that magical intersection of mental growth and physical decline at which I can say I’m at the optimal point. So it’s off to the gym for me so that I can stave off decrepitude just a little bit longer, to give myself a chance to enjoy whatever non-physical growth I have in me yet.

The Man Cub is bringing his family over to play later on and I’ve gotta be ready.


On the Beach 2018

(Surely you knew this was coming) This weekend begins the Royal Hawaiian Eye Meeting, an annual gathering of eye surgeons that I have thus far managed to avoid attending every year of my career. Why, you ask? Meh. 6 time zones for 3 days of work is the best answer. If that doesn’t do it I’ll add that Mrs. bingo won’t join me for the trip, and I really dislike most travel without the company of Mrs. bingo.

As you may have heard there was a bit of excitement in Hawaii yesterday. Seems a rather fumble-fingered employee jabbed the “alert all” button when taking his turn at the helm of the Emergency Response Center and sent off a 1960’s style, death from the air is coming, curl up under your desk kids and kiss your ass goodbye nuclear attack warning. Funny (funnier?), the doof figured out what happened when he got a text on his own cellphone.

Note to Expedia: this guy needs his own “Wanna get away” commercial.

What was your reaction? Mrs. bingo is away visiting her ailing Mom so I was alone chez bingo to contemplate what I would have done (interestingly, I would have been alone in Hawaii as noted above for real). The good folks of Hawaii and their 10’s of thousands of weekend guests were handed the dubious privilege of contemplating, if for just 30 minutes or so, how they would spend the last couple of hours of their lives knowing that they were about to spend the last couple hours of their lives. Did this occur to you, too?

Yesterday also brought me a couple of articles in a similar vein. One, from the WSJ, was not quite so stark. It asked when you would take a pill that arrested the aging process. At what age would you decide that the balance of physical prowess and age-begotten wisdom was optimized? (N.B. this was going to be the main topic of “musings”…) I also stumbled across a review of a book or a movie or something in which 3 siblings are told as young children the precise date of their deaths. What followed was the decisions these young children made based on that knowledge. Gotta admit, I went right to that place when I heard about the Hawaiian modern air-raid siren.

T’was a time when this type of inquiry was a rather commonplace occurrence. You could do worse than reading Neville Shute’s novel or the Stanley Kramer movie “On the Beach” based on it to get a sense of what a nuclear fraught world felt like. Both the novel and the movie depict a world destroyed by nuclear war, and life in Australia as the end-of-life nuclear cloud approaches the continent. How and what normal people decide to do in the face of an unavoidable expiration date some weeks ahead is central to the story. Yesterday’s equivalent would have been some hours ahead it seems.

What would you have done? Would you have sought shelter, as suggested, and hoped to somehow miraculously escape incineration if you were at ground zero? (As an aside, can you even imagine the horror of taking part in the effort to get off the islands to escape the radiation? We’d learn what savages we actually are, I fear) Would you go all Sartre or Beckett and choose an earlier “departure” of your own making as did so many in “On the Beach”? If it were real, what do you think you would have done?

As it turns out this kind of hypothetical is not solely the enterprise of the nuclear age. In fact a Parisian newspaper asked essentially the same question of its readers in 1922, long before the dawn of the nuclear age. Marcel Proust, the famous philosopher, offered perhaps the most lovely response I’ve heard before or since. “I think life would suddenly seem wonderful to us if www were threatened to die as you say. Just think of how many projects, travels, love affairs, studies, it–our life–hides from us, made invisible by our laziness which, certain of a future, delays them incessantly. But let all this threaten to become impossible forever, how beautiful it would become again!”

I surely know not what came before, as surely as none of us truly knows what, if anything, comes in the end. Questions that arise from the (usually) hypothetical “what if you knew when” scenarios lack the urgency to force an honest appraisal. Again, Proust: without the cataclysm “we find ourselves back in the heart of normal life, where negligence deadens desire. And yet we shouldn’t have needed the cataclysm to love life today.” It will be interesting for me to have a chance to chat with folks I know who are in Hawaii right now (a couple are close friends), but for now it was enough for me to have undergone this thought experiment for the umpteenth time and come to the same conclusion: I would have sought my people. Some how, in some way, with my last dwindling moments I would do whatever it took to be with my people.

Greater personal meaning will come from Proust: I will seek my people every day, for it is with them where lies joy. It is for others to seek the greater societal and geopolitical meaning and impact of yesterday’s blunder.


Work to Live/Live to Work: Surf Version (Adopted from Sunday musings)

1) Red eye. Ugh. How do you road warriors do it?

2) Maui. OK. I get it now. Mahalo to everyone there who took such good care of us.

3) Snorkel. Ditto. Never did it before, at least not where/when it was worth doing. Imagine, 55 and never saw coral.

4) Companions. It’s always a bit of a risk when you travel with friends. Are your travel styles compatible? Do you eat the same stuff at the same time? Are you the type who worries about your funds running out the minute you land, or do you just go with it? Can you stand either the back seat or the driver’s seat for the whole trip? Will you still be friends at the end of the trip?

Mahalo to Kathi and Scot for being such wonderful travel partners as we shared Anniversaries and Birthdays 6 time zones from home. 8 days together and Frida made it out alive.

5) Bunk. “I’m giving you an inexpensive bed on the beach; what you do with it is up to you.” –Bob H.

My Father-in-law is a time share maven. I may have shared this before. Over the last 20 or 25 years he has accumulated 3, one for each of his daughters. Two are rather opulent, and one is in a rather opulent location. As with any place you visit when you don’t need to wake up and go to your job, each day is special kind of opportunity. Hang out at that inexpensive bed, or get outside the walls and explore?

Traditionally I’m a bit of a slug on vacation. Hang on the beach or by the pool, restaurant and bar near at hand. Mrs. bingo is much more like her Dad. No adventure, no opportunity to explore is too small to miss. On my Anniversary trip I channeled my wife’s philosophy so completely that I literally have no idea where the restaurant attached to that cheap bed is.

Great way to get to know someplace.

6) Surf. Live to work or work to live? Live where you find your dream job, or find your dream life and do whatever it takes to make enough money to stay? Tough call, that one. Happy are the few who pull off the double dream: job you love in the place you find your dream life.

Certain destinations always leave me with the same sense if I’ve been there long enough to get to know the locals: whatever it takes to stay. There are several activities that tend to produce this kind of mindset. I’m very familiar with the skiing version having spent some 20+ years living in, or routinely visiting snow-covered mountains. Everyone you meet has built a life around skiing or riding every possible minute; no job is too small or too hard if it produces enough income to live in the mountains and buy your season pass.

Any reader of Men’s Journal or Outside is familiar with the surfing version of this phenomenon, but this past week was my first real up close encounter with surfing culture. Everyone…and I do mean everyone…surfed. More so, everyone builds their lives around surfing. Jobs are chosen and days scheduled around the local break. There was no apparent conflict between various types of surfers; everyone was happy to be on the wave, and it seemed like everyone who demonstrated even a bit of ability was welcomed.

You need to know a bit about yourself to make this kind of call. You also need to have one or two things you do that fire such a deep passion that you are thinking about your next encounter immediately after finishing today’s. It doesn’t seem to matter all that much what it is that fires that passion, only that the result of that passion is a desire for more. FWIW I don’t have anything like that in my life, any activity that I burn to do to the degree that it would drive most of my key life decisions. The way I’m wired is to be more about who I’m with, my people, than where I am or what I’m doing.

I see it, though, that passion for some pursuit. I do see it in others and when I do I am filled with equal parts respect and jealousy. What a gift it must be to have that one thing you can point toward each day. It surely must simplify that core, question, the one about work to live or live to work, huh? Work to live seems to work, at least in the mountains and on the waves.

Imagine if you were doing exactly what you dreamed of doing in the perfect place to do it. What if you were all of that AND surrounded by people you were also passionate about?

Something to work on, that.


A Happy 30th Anniversary

Monday September 7th marked our 30th wedding Anniversary. My wife Beth has put up with her Lesser 5% for 33 years (many of my friends call her my”Better 95%”). Hence, our first trip to Paradise, otherwise known as Hawaii (and Beth’s 48th state visited). For years I’ve been teasing my father-in-law about Beth’s dowry, asking him when it was finally going to arrive. It turns out that Bob is a Timeshare maven, and we are sitting on the porch of one of his finds, watching the surf and waiting for sunset, our lodging an Anniversary gift  from my in-laws. Well played, Bob…well played.

How does that happen? How did it happen so fast? It seems like just yesterday, of course. Bright sunshine and balloons. Birdseed rather than rice (Beth was way ahead of the green curve–turns out, birdseed is good for birds). There was a week’s worth of fun on the front side with friends from far and near in town to play with us, followed by a week’s worth of fun in another version of Paradise making new lifetime friends. My bet is that Beth could fit in the same clothes she wore on the honeymoon; me, not so much.

In my day job I have the privilege of spending time with many couples who have celebrated 30, 40, 50+ years of marriage. It’s very affirming of the whole marriage thing, and puts out quite an optimistic vibe. From them I’ve learned that there is no one, true way to do that, to foster a marriage that lasts, so I can only tell you one way that’s worked so far: Beth and I have never stopped dating.

Sounds simple, huh? Might even be. Never stop dating. Perhaps the nicest gift Beth and I ever received was a phone number given to us when our youngest, Randy, was a week or two away from his grand entrance to the planet. Attached to that phone number were two teenage sisters who babysat our brood once a week, allowing us to have “date night”. Every week, come hell or high water, we had a few hours to put “mom and dad” on hold and just be the sweethearts we were so many years before.

Our world is littered with the empty shells of marriages lost to inattention. Consumed with the important and quite worthwhile tasks of raising children and making a living, it’s so often that first relationship, the marriage, that falls by the wayside. One day, after the chicks have flown from the nest, you’re eating breakfast and you look over the corner of the newspaper at someone you used to know and wonder who they are. No malice, just distance, a certain ennui of sorts.

Not for us, though. Tipped off to the risks of routine we simply extended our courtship. Once a week we made sure it was all about us. Pretty basic, actually. A couple of child-free hours holding hands. For us, the secret to 30 years of marriage, to happiness in that marriage, has been date night. It’s been wonderful, and Beth and I sincerely wish the same for each one of you who may have embarked on this journey.

Happy Anniversary to my Darling Beth. Here’s to 30 more.