Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Coppertone Kind of Day

I don't know what happened to summer in Maine this year but I think it missed its flight. Today is the third day of temperatures in the 50s with rain, fog, and no prospects for anything better through the end of the week. We had a lovely spring but on my calender, at least, spring is followed by summer -- you know, sunshine? Somewhere?

If I was living on the coast, I could make exceptions. The ocean does funny things, most of it unpredictable to this land lubber. But I live inland where there are trees and fields and dirt. You know, good old dirt. The brown stuff that grass and things like that grow in. I have farmers for neighbors. They plow it, inspect it, smell it, they practically act like they love the stuff -- must be in the genes. Anyhow, they need sunshine too, right? So, where is it?

I know, April showers bring May flowers and a sunny day is always just rou

Disney - Great Movie Ride Mary Poppins
nd the corner. That's fine if you're Mary Poppins, but I'm not and my umbrella doesn't levitate, at least the last time I tried. Besides, April has come and gone and the flowers were lovely, thank you very much, but I'm ready for some warm sun, iced tea with fresh spearmint, and an afternoon in the hammock under the ancient apple tree. I'd even be grateful if I had to bathe in bug juice to keep the pterodactyl-sized mosquitoes away. And trust me, they not only look that big, they act it. I've never seen mosquitoes as fearless as the ones up here. It's almost like they drink DEET for breakfast or something. Can't you hear it? "Forget the coffee, Mable, give me some more DEET -- I'm headed for Beggar's place this morning and he's ripe for picking."

Well, I'm sure things will change and the next time I write about the weather I'll probably be complaining that it's hot and muggy. I don't mean to be a nudge -- I'm just from a state where folks brag about 300 days of sunshine per year. Not that we really have 300 cloud-free days, but as long as we can see blue sky, we figure it's close enough. On a day like today, close enough makes me want to get out the Coppertone and make the neighbors blush.

(Coppertone is a registered service mark. It's use here does not constitute a commercial or personal endorsement.)

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Dream Girl

We were introduced by a friend. I called the next day, we talked a while and agreed to meet. It wasn't really a date, just a walk in the late autumn evening chill, but that's all we needed. It was my last year in high school and I've never forgotten her. She was just seventeen (if you know what I mean - thank you, Lennon and McCartney), I was a year older, and she was the love of my life.

It only lasted a few months, but the memory of sitting as close as humanly possible in darkened theaters, losing track of the story line because we were too busy looking at each other, is as fresh as the mist falling on the hayfield as I write. I can see her face, upturned to meet mine, with snowflakes in her hair. It's funny how these things stay with you.

We ran into each other once after graduation -- it was by accident in a shopping mall. She was dating a sometime friend of mine and for all I know, they married and had eight kids. We stopped, said hello, and then she was gone; that's the last time I would see her.

But every now and then, long after I'm asleep, she appears. Never saying a word, she takes my hand and we walk in the silence. I never quite know what to make of these nocturnal visits. They come when least expected and leave me with questions. What she knows is secret -- her lips are sealed as only a dream girl's can be, but her face is always upturned and I'm glad.

(I Saw Her Standing There, by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Capital Records, 1963)

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Would You Like A Latte???

There is a name for it, but we'll get to that later. In the meantime, you've seen it and have most likely experienced it at least once. It's the guy or gal in the office (or wherever) who just can't seem to resist you (and of course, who could blame them, right?). They wear attractive or even slightly seductive clothing, always smile and speak, and perhaps wink or give you "the eye." Pretty soon you've got it in your head they're interested and only a complete idiot would pass this up, so you decide it's time to make your move.

You ask them for coffee -- nothing serious, just a little afternoon latte. Or, if you're feeling daring, a mocha with extra chocolate but hold the
shavings because that might be a bit much. Okay, okay, you don't want to come on too stron
  * Description: Coffee cortado (An latte...Image via Wikipedia
g, so how about a simple cup of Joe -- the coffee of the day. Black, no sugar, and by all means, no cream. We're only talking coffee here, not dinner, not a movie, and definitely not the rest of our lives. Not yet, anyway. Maybe after coffee.

Now, here's where things get baffling. Instead of the bright and cheerful "Why, I'd love to!" that we are absolutely sure is coming, they quickly say something like, "Oh, I'm so sorry, but..." And that, my friend, is the end of the delightful office banter that had you convinced you'd reinvented the concept of sex appeal.

What happened? Well, you've just had a close encounter with a personality Wilhelm Reich calls the hysteric. Hysterics manage their interpersonal anxiety by exuding a kind of sensuality that says, "I have to know if you're interested in me. If you are, then I'll feel anxious. If you can be around me without being seduced, you're okay and we can be friends." It's weird, I know, but if you've had this happen, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

When we get the rebuff it's natural to ask ourselves, "Did I say something wrong? Are they morally opposed to coffee? Should I have offered tea, chai, or a glass of warm tap water instead?" You wonder if you've accidently fallen through the door of Alice in Wonderland and Ms. or Mr. I Seem To Be Right is the Mad Hatter instead.

The simple answer is there's nothing wrong with you and your perceptions were correct: they seemed interested and maybe they really were. But, since this is their way with nearly everyone of the opposite sex, you can't ever be quite sure. One way to find out is maintain a friendly distance. If their attention represents intention, they'll likely make the first move and ask you for coffee. Whether they do or they don't, once the music starts playing, remember: this is a dance they need to lead. So, polish your shoes and try not to step on their feet.

Where is Arthur Murray when we need him?

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

A View from the Life Raft

MV Doulos Memorial Clock printed words below: ...

"Hope," he said, "is what keeps me going."

"Going where," she asked, teasingly. "And how soon do you expect to arrive?"

"It's not where or when, but how," he responded.

"How? I don't understand."

"You don't have to understand when you have hope; you just know."

In first century Greek, the word hope refers to confident expectation, the certitude that transcends appearances and rationality. We don't usually get this close in modern speech. Wishful thinking, optimism, sure, but confident expectation? We want things to make sense, we prefer likelihoods and probabilities. Throwing ourselves onto a life raft without proof it can hold is a little too ify.

That is, until a person's got nothing else. Suddenly their perspective changes and the raft looks pretty darned good. When the diagnostics are done and the prognosis is poor, all we want is a chance and we hope because that's how we get one. We're afraid to anticipate because the storm surge is wearing away the sand at our feet faster than a speeding bullet and the last thing we want is to be let down -- not at a time like this. Terrified every word will be "no," we're desperate for the tiniest "yes."

And then something happens. Out of a deep, dark, hidden and unknown place -- a place we've never visited, never dared trust it might exist -- comes the awareness that we can hope. With neither rhyme nor reason nor explanation, we still hope. We hope for hope's sake. We believe because we can. We take hold at the center of our being, pull ourselves up by the bootstraps of courage, and hope with all our might.

"But you have nothing to hope for, it makes no sense." And that's why, because we have nothing to hope for. Hope is reason enough, and there are times when hope is an end in itself. That's what keeps us going. If it's all we have, then it's really all we need.

(Creative Commons image via Wikipedia)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Stampeding Angels

There is a humorous story (best not repeated here) I heard while living in Texas with the punchline, "That dog'll bite you..." It's a line that I often use to remind myself some things are best treated like sleeping dogs. Don't just step over them, walk all the way around if you have to. My father was great at this. I don't know whether it came from a lifetime of experience or he simply had a gift, but dad was an amazing judge of character.

That's something I miss about him being gone. I can't simply ring him up and run something by him knowing he's got the perfect answer. The things we take for granted, you know? What I would give for heaven to have phone service -- I'd be happy for him to call collect.

Maybe what made him so good at figuring things out was the loss of his father, when like me, he no longer had the benefit of presence to help. Over time, I noticed he was less inclined to rush in when angels would have literally run, if not flown, th

Winged AngelImage by Sumlin via Flickr
e other way. He stood back, observed, and became a little more cautious. If something's right, he began saying, it will be right tomorrow or next week. Seems to me I heard my grandfather use those very words.

I used to marvel that dad could be so patient when I was so impatient even sitting still was scarcely bearable. Now, as is so often the case, I realize he knew what he was talking about. Perhaps it's not so much relying on our own judgment but learning to suspend judgment that makes the difference. In any case, getting out of the way of stampeding angels can be a pretty good idea, too.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

An Explanation

I wanted to let you know, on Thursday of this week, I'm taking the first half of the osteopathic medical licensing examination. For this reason, I'm giving myself a forced absence from writing until Friday the 26th. If the spirit moves and I can still move, I'll write Thursday evening. In the meantime, thank you for stopping by and thanks even more for your patience.


Monday, June 22, 2009

I Always Know Where You Are

"When I see myself, I always know where you ar
The Goo Goo Dolls perform their song 'Slide' f...Image via Wikipedia
e..." I love the Goo Goo Dolls (photo). The blend of John Rzeznik's voice together with acoustic guitar has always appealed to me, partly, I suppose, because of the way I came to music.

I started playing the guitar in earnest when I was a teenager. Years earlier, my parents had given me an inexpensive one that I could learn on, beat up, and generally have fun with. But, as sometimes happens, mine gathered a lot of dust before I "got the bug." You may remember, my father played guitar and sang; I guess he pretty much assumed I'd pick up the passion eventually, and of course, he was right.

At first all I knew was a few chords that I strung together in no way resembling a song anyone had ever heard. When it was clear I was serious, my father sat down with me, showed me a chord progression, how it reflected a song's structure, and the lights came on. I used to spend hours in the barn, playing and singing to the horses. One of them had injured himself and my job involved soaking his hoof in a bucket of warm water with epson salts. I'd turn another bucket upside down, get comfortable leaning back against the wall with guitar in hand, and play away.

The past few days I've been writing about fathers and Rzeznik's lyrics are a reminder: I'll always have my father with me. When I pick up his guitar and let it take me to a place I've never been before, he's already there. I think about the people I care about the most, knowing they will never meet my father on this side of eternity, and I'm sad. That is, until I remember they do see him, just as I do, whenever I look in the mirror.

"When I see myself, I always know where you are."

(Always Know Where You Are by John Rzeznik)

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Me and My Big Mouth

I think he wanted my approval. What he said was, "What do you think?" But when I told him, he looked down, his lips forming a line crinkled at both ends like a piece of salt water taffy wrapped in wax paper, and then he asked again, "Yes, but what do you really think?" Certain I'd spoken the King's English, I decided to take the advice of my psychiatric instructor: if at first they don't understand, try it again -- only slower. It must have been as frustrating as watching The Babe miss an easy hit. His face assumed its previous expression and, like a child who wants to believe "no" means "maybe," he tried once more, this time the temperature rising noticeably in his tone. "Okay, I get that, but you still haven't told me what you think!"

Readers who are or have been parents of teenagers are probably thinking, "Been there, done that." Except I'm not writing about a dialogue with a teenager; this conversation took place with a grown man. And I gave him my honest opinion -- really, I did. The problem was, what I thought was at odds with what he expected.

Somewhere along the line he'd gotten the idea that he was more acceptable as a person if he approached others somewhat submissively. If he appeared respectful, friendly, and admiring, others would respond in kind while offering advice, leadership, and affirmation. Makes sense, I guess. It must have worked for him. I'm also guessing his growing frustration rose out of his unspoken (and unconscious) belief that because I was older, I would naturally respond like his father might in a similar situation.

How does a guy get like this? I'm betting if we got father and son together, we'd see similarities. "Like father, like son" holds true for more than a love of baseball. Always the nice guy who wished to be affirmed, even by his children, his father probably gave approval easily. Junior learned by watching a master at work.

Enter the unsuspecting Beggar. Mistakenly, I thought I was addressing a friend who wanted my perspective. With each succeeding question, however, it became clearer that I was being set up: You're older, you're like my dad, and because I'm a nice guy you should be forthcoming with the answer I want; if you don't, I'm going to be mad at you. Well, I tried and see what it got me?

Me and my big mouth.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

What My Father Taught Me

The Bonding - Father and son take a walkImage by Ange Soleil ( a.k.a Tweng ) via Flickr
Three days from now, writers everywhere will tell you all the things they wished their fathers had taught them. I think I'll save that for later and instead, tell you about some of the things my father did teach me. But first a word to my father: Dad, you were right, you really did get a whole lot smarter when I turned 21.

A couple of days ago I mentioned an aging black Shetland pony I had as a small child. Well, he died when I was in fourth grade and I was bereft. He'd been my companion at a time when, living in the country, I had few others. Despite my desire for "another black pony," my father sensed my real need was for a horse I could bond with. We'd planned and saved for a family vacation -- the first dad would have taken in years -- when one Sunday afternoon my father and I came upon a sorrel gelding for sale. When I'm asked if I believe in love at first sight, I remember him, and say yes. Our vacation paid the bill and I rode him home. Fathers make sacrifices for their children.

The camera advances twenty years or so and I'm in the kind of marriage you rarely hear about, where the wife is abusive and the husband barely gets out alive. Although it would eventually (and thankfully) be annulled, there had to be the obligatory divorce and mine took place out of state. My father insisted on making the trip with me, having told my mother, "My son's been through enough hell all alone, this time I'm going there with him." Fathers stand by their children.

Another thirty years and now, my father has leukemia, no doubt the result of chronic exposure to carcinogenic chemicals in the leather industry, but back then, who knew? Nevertheless, given six months at the very most, my father looked his disease and his doctor in the face and said, "We'll see about that." He would not live to see me enter medical school. But just before his death, two and a half years later, he said, "I can tell you were meant to be a doctor." Fathers never give up on their children.

St. Paul writes, "Now abide faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love." I didn't realize it until just now, but these are the lessons my father taught me. Love simply and freely loves, faith walks us through the deepest darkness, and hope takes hold of a blade of grass and turns it into a lifeline.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Children Climbing On My Arms...

John DenverImage via Wikipedia

"Now the dawn is breakin', it's early morn', the taxi's waiting, he's blown his horn..." Well, there's no taxi out here and no horns either, thankfully, but everything else fits. John Denver was Leavin' on a Jet Plane while I'm just starting my day. There's a light breeze and out my window I can see the grass barely nodding in recognition. A small plane just flew overhead -- beyond that, it's silent. Now my neighbor's car on her way to work. I imagine my friend heading for her clinic.

If it's okay with you, I'm still thinking about children this morning. My first genuinely positive adult experience with them occured when I was the pastor of a small church high up in the Colorado Rockies. We had decided I should invite the children to gather with me at the front of the church for a "children's sermon." The first time I tried this, instead of them sitting in a semi-circle as I'd expected, two tried to share my lap, others stood round with a hand on each of my shoulders, and I was almost buried in children. Disbelievingly, I looked at the congregation and grown men were dabbing their eyes. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before.

Previously, I'd thought of myself as the guy who scared little kids. I had nothing to base that on except the fact that I'd never been too successful at making babies laugh -- they usually cried instead. But something must have happened to me that day in the church. Those kids imparted a blessing or did whatever it is they do. All I know is, since then kids and dogs find me. It doesn't matter where I am or what I'm doing. If there's a little kid around, s/he can be counted on to come up and smile, wave, or say "Hi." Kids I've never met, kids I've never even seen before -- they drive by with their parents and wave.

I can't figure it. I mean, it's not like The Santa Clause -- I've lost weight, do not have a white beard (or any other color, for that matter), and reindeer don't follow me when I visit the zoo. Whatever it is, though, I can tell you it's something I'd never change. Of all the things I could or would do differently, this one I'd never touch. It's too good, it's too precious. To those children who climbed all over me that wonderful Sunday morning all I can say is, thank you.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Clock is Ticking

How many people do you know who, when choosing spouses, took a long, hard look at their parenting potential? I'm serious. Do you know anyone who did that? I'm pretty sure I don't. I'm not sure I ever have, as a matter of fact. I know plenty who've said (after the divorce), "S/he would have made a lousy parent." Why didn't they think about that before they said "I do"?

Maybe it's because we're in love and figure we'll work out kids later. Maybe we don't know what to look for -- we had poor role models and all we know is, we don't want to repeat our parents' mistakes. Maybe we're so enamored with what s/he is like with us we can't see through the forest to the trees. Maybe we're just too darned young.

Sorry, I don't mean to drag out age once again. No, wait a minute, yes I do. Not that age means "wiser" because I know more than a few who not only missed the train, they were never on the right platform to begin with. I'm referring to experience and that's neither a part of the gene pool nor does it come attached to any diploma I've ever seen.

Spouse-picking is less about native talent than hard work. And too many of us have relied on the former when we would have been better served by the latter. "I want a girl just like the girl that married dear old dad," might sound good but is it really? We tell ourselves because we turned out okay, someone like our parents will be just fine for our children. A little reflection on what mom or dad was really like can puncture that balloon. This is not to say we experienced bad parenting, it's just there are times we might wish we had different parenting.

I know, the biological clock is ticking -- for all of us. Because of that, it's even more important to figure out what we're doing sooner rather than later. Subtleties are important and I've learned to look for them. It's taken longer than I would have liked, but anything worth doing, as they say, takes time.

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Fair Play

I woke up this morning thinking about fair play. Well, not really fair play, but empathy and they're kind of alike. I mean, to play fairly, you need to be able to imagine how someone else might feel, right? I know how I might feel if you don't play fairly and I can imagine how you might feel if I don't. The person who refuses to play fair either doesn't know or doesn't care how other people feel. They wouldn't know empathy from Auntie Em.

Oh, they know how they feel, and their needs are so paramount that nothing else matters. Furthermore, they can't imagine we would feel any differently. It's one of those "I'm so weak and you're so strong, so let's take care of me," things. So, we take care of them and take care of them until we can't stand the sight of them. And when we've finally had enough and leave, they end up in therapy trying to figure out why we were so selfish. Duh.

What makes things even worse is when there's a layer of narcissistic entitlement underneath all that neediness. This surprises some people. I wrote the other day how narcissists are extremely image-conscious and endeavor to appear self-confident, successful, and frankly, superior to the rest of us. Well, they can also be dependent and demanding. The man or woman who always seeks approval or affirmation and when it's not forthcoming feels deprived, becomes angry, flies into a rage, gets vindictive. And just as you're contemplating an affair with anyone from the butcher to the baker to the candlestick maker -- anything to retain your sanity -- they become possessive and suspicious and hold onto you like grim death.

You're hesitant about being assertive, though, because you don't want to appear unfeeling -- the last thing you want is to become like them. The problem is, any humanity you show is taken as a sign of weakening resolve. Eventually, you get to the point where, like Kevin Costner's Wyatt Earp confronting his female partner's laudanum abuse, you tell yourself, "I don't care anymore." I know, that's cold, but the alternative seems more like another season in hell and you're fresh out of sunscreen.

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Thursday, June 11, 2009


He never said a word. He just opened the glass door and stood back solemnly, while his mother reached in, took two scones from the tray, and dropped them in the bag he held open. She smiled and said, "Thank you, dear, that's a good helper." They turned and walked away, exiting my presence as casually as they'd entered it.

I watched this little episode unfold from inches away. I was about to reach for the same door when they approached and seeing his intention, withdrew my hand politely and waited. He was about four or five, with blond hair and his mother struck me as calm and deliberate. She took him as seriously as he took his task and the tone of her voice revealed it. I was in awe of them both.

Seconds later, when I'd finally managed to stir myself out of my reverie, I claimed my two scones -- a chocolate and maple walnut -- and wandered away. I couldn't help but wonder about their husband and father, hoping he knew just how lucky he was. Surely he must. How could he not? For the briefest of moments his greatest treasures had been a part of my life, and I was grateful.
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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Competitive or Narcissistic?

A friend once asked, "My ______ (spouse, significant other, you fill in the blank) says they're competitive, a 'winner,' and I thought that meant they'd be glad when I was successful, too, but it hasn't turned out that way. Sometimes I think they almost want me to fail. Am I crazy or what?" Get a question like that at a cocktail party and you immediately start thinking of increasing your malpractice insurance coverage. The reason is there's no single best answer and anything you say might be as much wrong as right; the last thing you want to do is pour gasoline on a smoldering campfire. We all know what that can do.

On the other hand, since I'm not offering any advice, counsel, or even going near a campfire with anything other than a bucket of water, I feel pretty safe here. Sometimes (not always, make no mistake) a person describes themselves as competitive or a "winner" when it would be more accurate to say, they're narcissistic. The problem is, narcissists are notorious for being completely unaware of their narcissism. If you're "in the business," it's called an unconscious process. The rest of the world sees it in their attitudes, behavior, and manner of speech, but the narcissist wouldn't believe it if you held a mirror to their face.

I'm speaking metaphorically, but don't let that fool you. One of the most powerful images of narcissism in literature is that of the vampire, and I'm sure you know, vampires cast no reflection in a mirror. To see yourself, there has to be a self to see and the only one that matters to a narcissist is the image that secures admiration or envy. The kind of self-awareness you and I take for granted is foreign to them. In computer language, it's a system, not a software problem.

So, here's where the squeaky wheel gets totally irritating. They really don't like competition, unless winning is guaranteed. As long as that's the case, everything's fine, but if there's an outside chance of coming in second, forget it. Being less than the best is too damaging to their self-esteem; better not to compete at all than risk losing, and anything less than first place is considered just that: losing.

When the spouse, significant other, or child begins to show potential or demonstrate their own uniqueness, the narcissist usually prefers to take credit for it themselves. If they can't, they'll ignore it or attempt to minimize its significance. They may compliment you on your initiative or proudly describe themselves as your "cheering section," because that makes them appear magnanimous. Anything to look larger than life.

My favorite joke about narcissists goes like this: "Well, enough about me, let's talk about you. What do you think about me?" Their first, last, and only love (if we can even use the word) is themselves or more accurately, the image of themselves they see reflected in the attention you pay them. The rest of the world is nothing more than an audience. We are resources for them to draw upon and our usefulness extends only so far as our willingness to applaud. And there's never enough applause, the play is never over, and there's never room on the stage for anyone else.

(Creative Commons image "Me" by Dade Freeman via Flickr) 
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Sorrow That Satisfies

My title this morning is a little odd, I agree. What on earth is satisfying about sadness and what kind of masochist would find it so? I'd ask those questions myself -- oh, I guess I just did (blush). Okay, now that I put my foot into it, what do I mean? I think sadness would be satisfying if it reflected my true feelings. If something was troubling me, if I felt like I was holding back tears, it would be satisfying to say I was sad. Does that make sense?

In the marketplace of emotions, I think sadness gets shifted to the bargain basement. I mean, when was the last time you saw a television ad for sadness? It's hard to imagine the guy who hawks the miracle scratch remover, the holds-fifty-tons glue (like I need that much holding power), or the cuts-tungsten-steel knife (I've never had a steak that tough in my life) offering sadness for $19.95 and if I act now, he'll send me two for the price of one along with a free hankie -- just pay shipping and handling.

Somewhere along the line we learn that sad is bad and happy is good, even if you have to buy yourself into bankruptcy to prove it. But there's an element of flight involved in that and I don't mean frequent flier mileage. More like flight in the sense of avoidance. The problem is, I'm addicted to reality and when it comes to emotion, I simply must have the real thing.

It's taken me a long time to get to the point of insisting on getting what I ordered instead of accepting what's put in front of me. I guess that's one advantage of life experience. Once you figure you've eaten enough corned beef sandwiches
(apologies to corned beef lovers everywhere) instead of the BLT you ordered, you learn to demand to see the chef. At twenty or even thirty-something, I was either too embarrassed to say anything or I didn't know the difference. Now I'm not and I do.

What all this comes down to is I'd rather feel sad if I am than accept a cheap substitute. Sure, like anyone else with a lick of sense, I'd prefer to feel glad, joyful, cheery, upbeat, and all the other synonyms. But those feelings always come back around, just like the ice cream truck that passes my house every weekend, spring through fall. In the meantime I want to know that even if I'm sad, it's genuine. And that's satisfying.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Looking for Harrison Ford

It seemed like a harmless question. "Have you noticed so and so?" Almost anytime a group of men or women get together, it's bound to come up in one form or another. Well, this time, a young guy I knew was asking it of me.

"Are you kidding?" I answered, "She's smart, attractive, great personality -- if I were single, I'd have wasted no time asking her out."

"Aren't you a little old for her?" he responded, wide-eyed and breathless.

"Things visible to the eyes, are immaterial where the heart is concerned," I replied, adopting a professorial tone for emphasis.

"Yeah, but you're going to die sooner than me, right?" He then added, suddenly aware of what he'd just said, "Statistically-speaking, that is."

I looked at him, wondering what madness had possessed me to call us "friends" in the first place, and said, "Not necessarily.
Young men die as surely as older ones, sometimes much sooner. As the ancient Greeks used to say, no one knows the length of the thread of his own life. Which would you prefer, to marry someone because you thought they had a statistically greater chance of long life or someone you truly loved?"

"You like asking the hard questions, don't you? I suppose I'd want to marr
y someone I loved, but if I thought they might die soon, I'd probably choose differently."

This is a hard question? Seems obvious to me, I thought. "You still don't get it, do you? No one knows how long they have, not even you. The issue isn't the quantity of years anyway, but their quality. I've seen how she relates to guys, what attracts her and what doesn't. She likes maturity and character. She's not interested in Brad Pitt, she's looking for Harrison Ford."

I could tell he was still unconvinced, but our conversation had ended and he walked away. Some things, I thought, just take time. Love isn't always predictable and what appeals to one may not another. We make choices that reflect who we are as persons, that honor our sense of what is truly important. For some, age is far less critical than character -- something my young friend will hopefully learn.

After a few years.

(Creative Commons image of Harrison Ford by J. Michael Miley via Flickr)
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Wes Craven and the Bathroom Scale

(whispering) Psst -- hey, don't tell anyone, okay? but the scale showed I've lost another half pound! See, I've been working on this for a couple months. Yeah, I put on, like, about 12.5 pounds between Thanksgiving and spring, and because I wasn't working out as much and I was sitting and studying more (yeah, I know I'm supposed to do that and I gave myself the very same excuse) the pounds kept adding up. And, because I was under more stress, I ate more chocolate and that didn't help either.

So, all of a sudden, there I was, looking at myself in the bathroom mirror (where else?) and I saw a terrible, horrible thing, worse than Wes Craven's worst nightmare on any street, including Elm. I saw my waistline expanding before my very eyes. As it did, my internal calculator went into action and my Body Mass Index (the measure of body fat compared to height and weight) suddenly looked threatening. And then something happened. I stood up straight and said to myself, "Self, you don't want to look like this anymore."

I got on the web (How do we get "on" the web, anyway? Has anyone ever really done that besides Jeff Bridges in the 80s film Tron?) and searched for a cure that was specific for my particular symptoms. I found relief in a site for Navy Seals (don't laugh -- if it's good enough for Charlie Sheen, well...).

And no, just visiting the site didn't do a darned thing, dang it, but doing the exercises consistently and reminding myself that I like this kind of pain, has. I've dropped eight and a half pounds in the past two months. I'm sleeping better, wake more refreshed, and when I look in the mirror I snear at Wes Craven.

But the best thing of all? Well, I haven't heard any wolf whistles -- at least not yet, and believe me, I'm listening for them -- I certainly have been getting more than my share of "lovely smiles" lately.

Why didn't I think of this sooner?!

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Monday, June 8, 2009

One Turtle at a Time

So, there we were, three people, three cars blocking the road, all because of a turtle. If anyone had seen us, they'd have thought we were "touched in the head." And we were touched, but in a way we didn't anticipate. This is how it all happened.

I was on my way to school to attend to some minor business. Nothing serious, just the kind you feel better handling in person rather than over the phone or by email. When you're asking for something, "no" is less easily said face to face. Turned out, I was right and I'm glad I went.

About halfway there I noticed something small and dark crossing the road. I was almost on top of it, literally, when I realized it was a turtle and I swerved to avoid hitting it. At the rate it's going, I thought, the odds are pretty good its journey will be cut short before it reaches the other side. So I turned around, Beggar to the rescue.

I happened to notice a pickup truck do likewise and I wondered if its driver and I had the same idea. We had just pulled over as a third driver stopped, got out and helped the little guy/gal across the road onto a patch of grass. The truck driver commented, "Well, we've all done our good deed for the day."

I responded, "There's something
else going on here. Want to know what it is?"

He gave me a quizzical look and I explained, "You've got a Bush sticker on your truck and I've got an Obama sticker on mine, yet here we are, brought together by our concern for a little turtle." He got the point, smiled, we said our farewells and drove away, his radio likely tuned to George Strait while I cranked up the volume on the Goo Goo Dolls.

It's a pretty good guess he and I voted somewhat differently this past November, but that no longer mattered. Maybe that's how we do this, I mused. We change the world one turtle at a time.

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Saturday, June 6, 2009

Reflections on Graduation, 2009

It's Saturday evening and I'm thinking about 125 new osteopathic physicians who took their medical oaths today. I interviewed with and was admitted to medical school with this Class of 2009 although circumstances required me to delay entrance until the following year. I have no regrets though, because it allowed me to become part of the most wonderful group of people I've ever known, i.e. the Class of 2010.

The Class of 2009 were our mentors. They taught us how to survive the herculean task that is medical school and maintain our sanity in the process. They offered advice and encouragement, we played and learned together. One fall evening a group of us put on a spoof of beauty contests, featuring male medical students competing on the basis of talent, scrub suits, and our skill at responding to "serious" questions. It has become an annual event and last year, yours truly was honored with the title of Mr. Congeniality. Miss Congeniality is the one all the guys should marry because, although she may not be the most lovely, she's certainly the most level-headed. I don't think all the available ladies are lined up at my door, but it was fun nevertheless.

In a few months the members of the Class of 2009 will scatter to the four winds, beginning residency programs in family medicine, psychiatry, emergency medicine, and all the other specialties. Some of them we may see frequently and others maybe never again. I attended this morning for just that reason. I wanted to see them together once more, to say thanks, and wish them well. As they walked across the stage and were given diplomas rolled up like ancient scrolls and bound with blue and gold ribbon, I couldn't help but imagine what it will be like for me and tears came unbidden.

The longer I'm a part of this process the more precious it becomes. Carlos Casteneda called it discovering where your heart lies. Joseph Campbell described it in terms of finding your bliss. However we describe it, I'm grateful to be a part of the community of healers -- there is absolutely nothing like it.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Dances with Wolves

I'm listening to the sound track to the film Dances with Wolves at the moment and thinking about Lt. John J. Dunbar, the lead character played by Kevin Costner. Dunbar is extraordinary for a number of reasons, not the least of which is his ability to get in touch with his feeling side. Let me tell you what I mean.

Early in the story, when he's arrived at Ft. Sedgewick, he sees a lone wolf and raises his rifle to shoot. Something within him resists, he lowers his weapon, and not soon after, names the wolf Two Socks. In mythic tales, it is the right of the King to name and thereby confer existence in the eyes of the King. By naming the wolf, Dunbar attributes to him personal significance and meaning. If I use an endearment while addressing a woman in a dream, even if I'm too nervous to use that name when awake and in person, it still reveals a great deal about how I feel.

As the story unfolds, Dunbar becomes increasingly drawn to the life of the Lakota Sioux who are camped nearby. Their friendliness, easy humor, and appreciation for the natural world draws him powerfully. He sees in them a way of living that is more genuine than what he has previously known and he not only comes to embrace it, he fights to defend it.

This is what I mean by feeling. It's not emotion, though it may be emotional. It's more the capacity to engage intentionally and with responsibility. Sometimes we engage inappropriately for reasons we come to regret. We don't really see it at the time but given enough time it becomes clear we've made a mistake. What motivates us to recognize it and find the courage to change is feeling. We come to realize our truest inner values lie elsewhere, maybe in another career, another place, another person.

Feeling-based decisions don't always seem rational, but they are. Dunbar knew full well what he was doing. It wasn't a whim or mid-life crisis; Dunbar was a man of soul living in a soul-less world and when he found his place, he chose it. Decisions like this aren't always appreciated by others. Friends or family may say, "That's not reasonable, it makes no sense, don't you realize what you're giving up," and this creates considerable pressure. I didn't say it would be easy.

It's been a long time since I've visited Dances with Wolves and I really don't know what brought it to mind this morning, I honestly don't. The unconscious has its own ways of speaking and apparently, it wants me to listen. If I've learned anything at all, its that I ignore its voice at my own risk. Not that anything bad is going to happen necessarily, but more like "it's my own damn fault" if things go awry. So, I think I should do some listening today.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009


There is a story in my family about my great grandfather that gets recounted at least once at every reunion. It's the kind of story that makes children say, "Oh, Daddy, tell it again!" I think the reason it's come to mind today is because I'm listening to Copland's Rodeo at the moment and mine is a tale of the Old West.

My great grandfather was a fast gun. Not a gunslinger, but fast with a gun nevertheless. It was a different time. My grandfather and his brothers strapped on guns with their jeans. It was something so ordinary that no one thought a thing about it. You kind of have to put yourself in that mindset instead of looking back from the advantage of a hundred years or so.

One evening, my great grandfather was playing cards -- no one knows for sure, but it was probably poker, certainly not Bridge -- in a saloon. There was a local gambler in the game and my great grandfather accused him of cheating. A hush fell over the table and the gambler made his first and last fatal mistake: he stood and drew his gun on my great grandfather. The very fact that I'm writing this tells you the outcome.

Over the course of his life, besides having been in a real gunfight, my great grandfather drove cattle (no doubt up the famous Chisholm Trail) married my great grandmother and raised a family of five. He was a real cowboy. Not the kind associated with lawlessness in the films Tombstone and Wyatt Earp, but one you'd be pleased to have as a neighbor -- especially if you're playing cards with a cheap gambler.

His was a heritage he passed along to my grandfather, he to my father, and my father to me. We've all loved horses, known how to rope and brand cattle, learned to remove our hats in the presence of women, and seen the wonder of birth as a colt slips from its mother's womb. We've all loved the freedom of wide, open spaces, the warm embrace of family, and always, the promise of morning.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Visitor

I was living in Boulder, Colorado, when it happened. The whole neighborhood took notice, including our local newspaper, The Daily Camera. A small female deer had wandered into a field populated by about a half dozen horses and made herself at home. Now it's not unusual for deer to do this kind of thing; last evening I posted about a deer that had finally returned to my hayfield (I hope she's the same one who visited last year, that would be so fine).

What was different about this particular deer was the fact that she stayed on, rather like a relative who visits for a weekend and doesn't leave for a month. You know the type. Subtle hints like, "Gee, Uncle Bob, we're going on vacation next week, don't you think it's time you left?" bounce off like a high velocity racket ball. Not that anyone was eager for the deer to leave, mind you. She appeared quite content, not only with the dinner offerings, but also the company and the horses treated her like one of their own.

It was an amazing thing that went on for several weeks.
Then one morning, she was gone. Something must have frightened her in the night; she bolted, leaped the fence, and was struck by a hit-and-run driver. But that's not the end of the story. She was found the next morning with a neighbor's dog standing guard over her body. That's right, standing guard. The owner said her dog had taken quite an interest in the goings on in the pasture and made himself at home with the horses and deer from time to time. Unlike what you might expect, he never chased them, she said, he just "hung out." And when the deer was killed, he laid near her throughout the night, protecting her.

It's impossible to know, I suppose, what goes on in the minds of animals. Our conceptions about their cognitive abilities are in a state of flux and the old notions of purely instinctual behavior are changing. If this was a story involving humans, we would say it was about friendship. I think that's exactly what it was.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Sunset Deer

Ordinarily I don't write in the evening or at least not to post here. I don't know exactly when I got into the habit of writing posts in the morning, it just kind of happened one day and it's stuck. But something happened tonight that I'd like to share before it's gone cold.

For the first time this year, a deer appeared in the hayfield. It was near dusk, the sunlight was filtering through the western trees near the creek bank and skimming across the field to caress the tips of the trees on the eastern forest. Long shadows stretched across the new hay interspersed with equally long shafts of light. In the midst of one, near the southern edge of the field, was a golden figure bent over the grass. From the kitchen window, it was nearly one with the sunlight and seemed a figment, a specter, something arisen from the ground.

But she was real and lazed her way from one clump to another, as though she hadn't a care in the world. I have no idea where she came from and she vanished nearly as quickly as she appeared. But I've looked for her, days on end, like a sailor searching for land, a navigator for a compass point, a lover for his beloved. And behold, with the sunset, she is here.

Have a good night.


Geometry wasn't easy for me. I still remember the formulas, believe it or not, and you probably do, too. Once you learn pi times the diameter, you can always find your way around the circumference of a circle. Actually, math was never easy for me until I discovered trigonometry while doing premed studies. Trig actually made sense and it was a wonderfully validating experience.

Anyhow, back to geometry. The one figure that I liked the most was a parallelogram. Two line segments running parallel to one another, usually with legs that connected the top line to the bottom at equal, but not right, angles. They always looked to me like they were in motion. Squares, rectangles, circles -- those were either static or repetitive, but parallelograms were going somewhere.

I've noticed patterns may also parallel one another. What is taking place in one life occurs in another simultaneously, though the individuals may be unaware of it. The Austrian psychiatrist C.G. Jung used the term synchronicity to describe these seemingly unrelated elements that occur outside the realm of statistical probability. And what he meant was, things that are ascribed to chance, may not be due to chance at all. There are unseen connections, line segments that run off both sides of the paper before we see the vertical, angled legs revealing the parallelogram.

Was Jung talking about fate or destiny? I'm not certain he would describe it like that but the more apparently coincidental events pile up, the more likely it is they are not simply due to chance. He seems to suggest unconscious forces are at work and he's probably right. I just realize I'm not in Kansas anymore.

In any case, just because we can't see the connecting lines, that doesn't mean things aren't running in parallel. We just have to stick with them long enough to see how everything fits together in the end.

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