Sunday, February 28, 2010

2010: The Eve of Closing Ceremonies

Vancouver's Olympic Flame

It always makes me sad to see the Olympic flame extinguished and that's what will happen this evening during the closing ceremonies. I know, it's the signal for the party to begin, kind of like taking the tree down after Christmas in anticipation of New Year's. But, like Christmas, the Games never last long enough for me to grow weary of them. This year has been especially meaningful because, for the first time, I've written about my impressions and posted them here.

While that's not daring, it is risky. Sharing what you think, especially in a public forum, means you've got something to say and aren't content to keep it to yourself. It involves considering how you want your ideas received and whether or not you want them appreciated. Sometimes I say things in the first draft that come across to me as ungenerous or harsh, and that's where editing comes in. Even if I have strong opinions, I don't want them to alienate before they've even left the chute, so to speak.

Some writers rant, hoping someone else will identify with their rising column of steam. Most of the time I'd rather get people thinking in new ways or looking at themselves and the world differently. If you'll permit me an occupational hazard, it's kind of like preaching. A good sermon shouldn't make you walk out of church feeling worse than when you came in -- unless, of course, there's a good reason for it. The preacher talks about honesty in business dealings and you're cheating your customers. In that case, you ought to feel worse.

Generally, however, the point is not to moralize but to stimulate. Get the wheels turning, make you ponder alternatives, clarify what you believe. How does all this apply to the Olympics? Well, someone may not agree with my assessment of the athletes. What I find inspirational, they consider commonplace. Then again, one might take a look at Kim Yu-Na and see her struggle as a mirror of their own. In that case, how she copes might help them cope more effectively.

I suppose I could be accused of idealizing the people I write about. And the truth is, like humorist Will Rogers, all I know of Apolo Ohno's personal life, for instance, is what I read in the papers (or on the web), and I don't pay a lot of attention to that, anyway. Because he's human, I know he has to deal with some of the same issues that frustrate me. He's far from perfect but he doesn't have to be in order to skate well and exhibit true sportsmanship. The fact that he demonstrates integrity in his work tells me that, despite any flaws he may possess, he's basically a decent guy, and that's what appeals to me. Would I like to have a beer with him? As a matter of fact, yes, a beer or cup of coffee would suit me just fine.

So, on the eve of the closing ceremonies, when USA takes on Canada in hockey -- and with all due respect to my Canadian-born medical school pals, I'm hoping for another miracle on ice -- I feel enriched by the past two weeks. It's been great, seeing "old friends" again, and making new acquaintances. I've bookmarked their websites and I'll check in with them, periodically, to see how they're doing. It's going to be fun. Who knows? Maybe I'll write and maybe they'll show up here, checking in on me, too. That would be a nice turn of "events."

(Creative Commons image of Vancouver Olympic Flame by photojesse via Flickr)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Kim Yu-Na: Great Expectations

Kim Yu-Na (KOR) during the medals ceremony at ...Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday I wrote about the my admiration for Joannie Rochette, skating through grief, her performance expressing her depth of feeling. I've also come to admire South Korea's Kim Yu-Na, whose Olympic struggle hasn't focused on the real presence of loss as much as its potential. Young, beautiful, famous and financially secure, she is a hero whose accomplishments have been incorporated into her country's sense of national pride. The pressure to win has to have been dizzying.

For us medical students, meeting the expectations of family, peers, or ourselves is difficult enough. We spend long hours in the lab, library, and exchange the warm embrace of lovers for late nights with warmed-over coffee, trying to learn what seems like ten thousand details for each exam. Forget the honors grade, sometimes a simple "pass" is cause for celebration.

It's no where near that easy for Kim. In a recent volume of essays, she wrote, "
"If my performance falters, not only people around me but the whole nation might turn their back on me.(1)" Under normal circumstances, one might be tempted to ask if it could get that serious, but her own experience says otherwise. When she only received second place at an event in 2008, she said, "I got a flurry of text messages, but I felt sad and disappointed after checking them. Not a single message congratulated me.(2)"

I don't know about you, but I've never experienced anything quite like that.
To say there was a lot riding on her performance this year is putting it so lightly as to be embarrassing. A personal best was out of the question; she had to be the best. And, thankfully, she was.

A recurring theme in my posts this week has been the meaning of Olympic participation aside from actually winning a medal. In a situation like Kim's, where the investment in one's performance is almost immeasurable, I'm in awe of her ability to cope and find courage and strength in what must have seemed at times, like a very dark place. For me, that's what the Olympics are all about. Life is too, sometimes, come to think of it.

(GNU Free Documentation image of Kim Yu-Na at the 2008 World Skating Championships via Wikipedia)

(Citations: (1) "Korean Skater Copes With Nation's Hopes," by Evan Ramstad, The Wall Street Journal, 2/22/20. (2) "Figure Skater Bears Weight of S. Korea's Expectations," by Nick McMaster,

Friday, February 26, 2010

Joannie Rochette: The Results Don't Matter

Joannie Rochette performs a spiral at the 2006...

It was a sunny June morning in 1997 when I received a call from my father, saying my mother had been hospitalized and wasn't expected to live. At first, I wasn't sure I'd heard him correctly; I'd seen her a couple of weeks earlier and she was fine. Apparently, she'd choked on some food at home, he'd taken her to the ER, and during the night she aspirated fluid into her right lung, and was now in the ICU with a rapidly developing case of Respiratory Distress Syndrome. A few days later, she was gone, and the following week I found myself performing her memorial service.

All of this came back to me when I learned of the unexpected death of Olympic skater Joannie Rochette's mother from a heart attack one week ago. My first thought was, Why now of all times? She's in shock, what's she going to do? Of course, as you know, she skated anyway and went on to win the Bronze medal last evening in Women's Figure Skating.

The past few days I've been writing about athletes who've inspired me in one way or another because of their mental balance, integrity, or their willingness to engage competition in spite of the odds against them. In Joannie's case, her greatest obstacle wasn't the presence of a world class field of women skaters, but rather her own grief. Ordinarily, I cheer for the Americans; this time I wanted to see Joannie on the podium, very badly.

What impresses me about her is the way she presented herself. She didn't attempt to draw overt attention to her distress but neither did she bottle up her feelings as though they were unimportant. She was entered in an event that meant a great deal to her as well as her mother and she knew the day would come when she would have wished she'd skated if she did not. This is an extremely mature way of thinking and it demonstrates her insight, realizing the pain of the moment would only become complicated by the pain of regret if she withdrew.

Following the medal ceremony, she said the results didn't matter,
"I'm happy to be on the podium. It was a lifetime project for me and my mom and we achieved that." I think she's an amazing young woman. Whether she continues to compete or chooses to finish her education, she's already established herself as someone possessing a depth of character that far exceeds her years. As for me, I can hardly wait to see who she reveals herself to be in four years. I'll be cheering then, too.

(Quote via Associated Press; GNU Free Documentation image of Joannie Rochette at the 2009 Skate Canada International via Wikipedia)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Isabel: Doing What You Love

Upper Peninsula Sled Dog Race

Well-meaning neighbors suggested she be put down. Since she was blind and would require assistance, it might be the kind thing to do. She'd been a sled dog, a member of a team, and it was assumed her disability automatically precluded the life she'd always known. At the advice of their veterinarian, her owners tried to make her the family pet, but she'd been a working dog and in its absence, eventually refused to eat or drink and became listless. Putting it in clinical terms, you'd say she was depressed.

Through a happy set of circumstances, it was discovered she was still interested in interacting with other dogs and eager to harness up with them. Her owners decided to give her a try and found she did quite well, following the other dogs' cues. Five years later, at age nine, she's retiring at last and it's anticipated she has another four or five good years left.

If you watched the Olympics last evening, you may have seen Mary Carillo's segment about Isabel, who's story proves once again, that disability often exists only in the eyes of the beholder. I'm mentioning this story today, not only because I'm a dog owner and lover, but because I think it says something about Olympic competition.

I've heard some suggest the Games ought to be considered a venue for the best of the best. As such, those individuals who have yet to prove themselves on the world stage ought to be excluded from participation. I have a problem with that, as you might imagine, and it stems from my belief that, while the Olympics are about excellence, they also go beyond it, raising athletes, coaches, and the rest of us to a higher plane.

What I mean is, we've gotten to the place where winning is measured in hundredths and thousandths of a second. In terms of performance, there is virtually no difference between athletes at this level of performance. Measured by the clock, yes, of course there is, but in terms of ability and training, how do you quantify it? Under these circumstances, there has to be something else to this kind of competition, something that gives significance to every effort, win or lose.

Athletes I've known (including at least one Olympic hopeful) tell me it's the awareness of having been a part of something that encompasses, and then transcends, personal interest. Maybe this is experienced especially by those who go home empty-handed, without a medal to validate all they've endeavored to accomplish. But like Isabel, they want to do what they love, giving everything they have. In some ways, that is as meaningful, if not more so, than any piece of metal they could hope to wear about their necks.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Olympics Skeleton and Me?

I think Luge would make me lose my cookies before they were even out of the oven. I don't mind the idea of flying down the track at 90 miles an hour, but doing it feet-first makes me queasy. It's too easy to imagine crashing into a wall and collapsing like an accordion. The next thing you'd see is a helmet resting atop my shoes as they waddle off the track, imitating a cartoon character who's been walloped with a mallet the size of Nebraska.

Maybe Skeleton would be a better choice -- at least it's more like sledding and you can see where you're going from the top of the run to the bottom. I'd have to beef up my paraspinal and cervical muscles (the ones that support the neck), though, because your head doesn't rest on the frame. You have to hold your neck in an extended position and the G forces can be so strong as to drive the chin into the ice on the way down. Jay Leno would have trouble there, I suspect.

Another good thing is, Skeleton seems to be flexible about participants' ages. The oldest member of the Japanese team at this year's Olympics is Kazuhiro Koshi and he's 45. Make no mistake, he's not doing this on a whim or because he wants to be an inspiration. "I'm in it to win it," he says, "I'll show you all what an old man can do -- you wait!" In the final statistics, his average time was a little over six seconds off the leader, but he competed and finished in the top 20.

Okay, then, what about the danger? Skeleton riders claim it's the safest of the three events that use the bobsled track. For one thing, the sled's steering mechanism is more subtle and refined than the one used in Luge, so there's more control. When you crash in a bobsled, you've got 500 pounds of metal to worry about; on a Skeleton sled, you just keep on sliding until you stop, assuming it's not a wall that stops you.

Naturally, there's the concern that we break more easily as we get older, but this is partly predicated on the notion that physical fitness has to decline with age. That's not a myth, it's a downright misconception. Fitness can be achieved and maintained at any age, depending on one's willingness to work at it. It may take a little longer to get there when we're older, but it doesn't mean we can't get there at all.

All of this is not to say you're going to see me at the next Olympics trials, clad in a skin-tight body suit, and sliding down the track. For one thing, I'd have to do a great deal in order to look good in one of those outfits, though I suppose that's not the point. But the last thing you want to do is look bad in one, so there's that. And there's also residency, but Eric Heiden's experience demonstrates the virtue in taking a calculated risk. I suppose any residency committee would look pretty seriously at a guy my age who'd at least tried out for the Olympics. Mm, well, you never know. If I could find a body suit that went well with my eyes, maybe I'd give it a try.

(Creative Commons image of Kazuhiro Koshi at the World Cup via Zimbio)

(Citation from
"Japan's skeleton master makes no bones of age barrier," by Alistair Himmer via Reuter's)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Eric Heiden: Making Your Own Way

I really liked it best when I was a nobody. ~ Eric Heiden

There was a time when an Olympic athlete could pretty much vanish if s/he wanted. Opportunities for fame and fortune were relatively limited unless you participated in high profile sports like figure skating or downhill skiing. If you played hockey, there were always the pro leagues, but you couldn't quite count on being mobbed by Madison Avenue for your face on a Wheaties box. Of course, a lot of that changed in 1980. That was the year the Winter Games were held in Lake Placid.

I wasn't there but I watched with tears streaming as the American team entered the outdoor stadium, wearing cowboy hats and western-style leather jackets. Waving and smiling, they were having the time of their lives and the crowd went absolutely crazy. It had been 20 years since the Winter Olympics had been held in the United States and we were hungry. The American hockey team was a group of college students facing down European professionals. It was the year of the Miracle on Ice, when our guys won gold.

It was also the year Eric Heiden became the only athlete in history to win all five speed skating events in a single Olympics and take gold in each one. If it had been 2010, he could easily have become wealthy through endorsements. My take on him is, he tends to go his own way. He didn't much care for the limelight, and having apparently accomplished his skating goal, he finished college and went on to medical school. If he'd followed the typical career track, the next step would be residency. But like I say, he seems to go his own way.

Instead of residency, he took time off and tried his hand at professional bike racing, becoming a founding member of the famed 7-ll cycling team that included names like Davis Phinney and Lance Armstrong. Following an injury that eliminated him in the final days of the 1986 Tour de France (American Greg LeMond's first year on the victor's stand), he finished his medical training.

Now Dr. Eric Heiden, he's an orthopedic surgeon and specialist in sports medicine, practicing near Salt Lake City. He's still not one for notoriety but he's gotten more comfortable with his Olympic accomplishments. You may have noticed him in a segment about speed skater J. R. Celski who was injured last September; Eric is his doctor.

It takes a lot of nerve to follow your own sense of direction. Aside from the fact that he's a colleague, although we've never met, I think this is what I respect most about him. Rather than beat his head against a wall trying to turn his skating career into wealth, he got an education. Taking a break between medical school and residency is risky from the standpoint of competing for training positions. Nevertheless, he wanted to race bicycles and so that's what he did. He's made his own choices and he's made his own way. From where I sit, that's not a bad way to go.

(Image of Eric Heiden at the 1980 Winter Olympics by Sarah -- licensing unknown)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Chris Del Bosco: It's About Perseverance

When I was a kid, my favorite parts of a movie were typically the action sequences. I still feel that way, though to a lesser extent. I've grown to appreciate the stories behind the characters and therefore, what it means to them to be participants in the action. Their passion gives it significance. I feel the same way about the Olympics. The personal interest segments that interrupted my childhood absorption in the events, are now the very things I want to hear about most.

Ordinarily, these involve a family member with a chronic illness, the loss of one or both parents, a family overcoming financial difficulties and making sacrifices to drive hundreds of miles one way so a child can practice their sport. They're about people you'd like to have for neighbors, relatives, and best friends. People you talk about over dinner and wonder how they manage to do it all. Chris Del Bosco's, however, is one you don't generally talk about. Chris Del Bosco's story is about addiction.

He was fourteen when he had his first drink. At 17, he was kicked off the U.S. Ski Team for testing positive for marijuana. Over the next few years, he was arrested three times for driving under the influence and might have died one evening when he fell into an icy stream in his hometown of Vail, Colorado. A passing stranger saw him, called emergency services, and he awoke in the hospital with no idea where he was or how he'd gotten there.

Eventually, he got into treatment and has been sober the past three years. A chance encounter between his cousin's wife and a representative of the Canadian Ski-Cross team led to an offer and now, at 27, he's at the Olympics, his life beginning again, one day at a time. Keep in mind, there is no "ed" at the end of recovery, only an "ing." The process is ongoing with the end never in sight. But don't feel sorry for Chris; recovery isn't a burden, it's freedom. For the first time in a long time, he's in a position to address life on his own terms, not those dictated by alcohol.

Endurance measures how much we can take. Perseverance, how many times we get back up after we've been knocked down. Chris fell during his final run in the ski cross last night. As John Lennon said, "Life is what happens when you're making other plans." Not so very long ago, he might have resorted to drinking. That's no longer an option, not if he wants to live, and it looks to me like he does.

Recently, he said,
"People were there when I needed help and told their stories. I'm in a place where I can help." Considering how far he's had to come, simply being in the Olympics is huge. Winning can be inspirational and falling at the critical moment heartbreaking, but that experience gives him just one more opportunity to get back up and show us we can do the same. It's another way of helping.

Perseverance. That's what he's about now. Go, Chris.

"For ski cross racer Del Bosco, new sport offered a fresh start," by Vicki Michaelis, USA Today, January 14, 2010,
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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Apolo Ohno: A Good Sport

Apolo Anton Ohno at the Short track speed skat...Image via Wikipedia

I must have been around eleven years old and starting out on the horse show circuit, when my father took me aside and said something I've never forgotten. "What you're doing is a privilege. Always congratulate whoever gets first place and, even if you don't win a single thing, be sure to ride out of the arena with a smile on your face. It will make you look like a pro and people will respect you for it."

Kids notice a lot more than grown-ups give them credit for and I noticed that not everyone had gotten my father's message. Not even the adults were consistent about it, but I knew there was a difference between those who were and those who weren't, and I liked the former better than the latter. They just seemed happier.

I don't know if Apolo Ohno's father ever gave him similar advice, but I was proud of Apolo last night. Paired against two Canadians (brothers no less) and two Koreans, he was on his own for the 1000 meter speed skate. It was one of those times I wished I'd been on the team if only to run interference for him. As it was, despite finishing in medal position, what happened off the ice impressed me more than what happened on it.

He'd just covered his skating blades and was exiting the arena when a reporter caught him and asked about the race. He smiled, said he was satisfied, and had "left it all out on the ice." Later, he explained he felt he could have done better, but was happy with the outcome. The reporter mentioned that he now exceeded Bonnie Blair's previous Winter Olympics record for the number of medals won by an American, but Apolo seemed more interested in his performance in this particular race, one which he'd never won previously.

During the interview, he didn't blame the other competitors nor did he berate himself or indicate a bronze medal was somehow beneath him. He was gracious and every bit a pro. As much as I admire the snowboarders' ability to maintain perspective, I also admire Apolo's maturity and determination to be professional, especially when he might have every reason to feel disappointed.

The Olympic broadcasts are selective. There's only so much air time available and it has to be carefully budgeted so as to highlight the elite athletes. We're accustomed to the instant debriefing in which private thoughts and impressions are made public; inquiring minds want to know. When someone like Apolo responds with gratitude for his opportunities, acceptance of responsibility for his mistakes, and a gracious appreciation for what he's received, it raises the whole process to a higher level. It reminds us that we're never so accomplished or successful that we can opt out of being a good sport. Someone is always watching.

(GNU Free Documentation Image of Apolo Ohno at the 2006 Winter Olympics via Wikipedia)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Dear Shaun White

shaun white takes bronze in slopestyle

Hey Shaun:

I've been thinking about how hard it is for me to picture you on skis. Don't get me wrong, I love watching you on the board, but your temperament is too sunny, too fun loving, too boyish (in a good way) for the straight life. You're better suited for flips and somersaults on the half-pipe than the high-level tension of Men's Downhill or the Super G. The guys in those events are classic Type A personalities, tied tighter than sutures on a heart transplant. For you, all that stress would simply interfere with having a good time.

But it's not just you -- it's your buddies, too. Take Louie Vito, standing up there on the rim of the pipe, preparing to take his run. He's got his tunes on, digging the music, and he's cool. Sure, he's focused, but his head's in a different place. As much as he'd like a medal, he doesn't consider it worth the price of an ulcer. Then there's Kelly Clarke -- she's into her music and dancing before sliding down the slope. When she received her score, even though it wasn't high enough for a place on the podium, her smile said, "Oh, well, there's always next time."

All of you seem more committed to being yourselves than winning at any cost. I admire that, I really do. I know you spend hours working like a dog in the off season up in Vail and I'm sure the others do likewise. You've got your own brand of intensity but it doesn't make you crazy (I know, you're thinking, with that big grin of yours, We were already that way). Nor does it make you so myopically competitive that you act like snow-mobsters, each one trying to take out the other for good. You remind me of what I like to call real rock climbers, those who are more interested in climbing for its own sake than using it as an opportunity to show off their spandex.

You see, here's the thing. I'm a medical student, as are most of my friends, and we live in an environment known for being competitive. I think we could learn a few things from you. Achieving a personal best is a goal in itself. No walking away from the half-pipe after falling and then making a face like you've just had a spoonful of Robitussin PE cough syrup or worse. Sometimes you get a medal and sometimes not, but each run has its own value. If you keep on trying, eventually you'll get it right. You guys are balanced, you've got perspective: it keeps you healthy and sane.

You're all right, Shaun, you and your pals. You'd make good medical students if we could get you away from the board long enough. On second thought, forget medical school. You're too good at what you do.


(Creative Commons image of Shaun White by Hometown Invasion Tour via Flickr)

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Kick in the Pants

Christmas gifts.
It has taken a while, but I've developed a whole new respect for my family and friends. Not so long ago in a galaxy not so far from this one, I was angry with them for waiting until after the divorce to tell me they feared I was about to marry "Jacqueline the Ripper."

"Gee, thanks, why didn't you tell me?!" I asked.

"You were so much in love, we didn't think you'd listen. Besides, we wanted you to be happy and we hoped we might be wrong."

That wasn't much comfort because it shifted responsibility back to me and I would have liked to transfer some onto their shoulders for a change. We do that when we're grieving -- it doesn't help but we try anyway. But they had a point and even on the best of days, the best relationships can get messy.

Since then, I've had a few experiences of my own along this line, and realized how damnably difficult it can be, telling someone what they really don't want to hear. It happens a lot in therapy, as you might guess. Therapists are paid to tell the truth even when it hurts -- it's our job. Of course, when a patient asks why you've delayed telling them their particular truth, your response is usually a variant of, "You weren't ready to hear it." I know that sounds like a cop out, but waiting until a patient can bear what you have to say without being overwhelmed is critical. Even the most well-intentioned and skillful of scalpel strokes can inadvertently nick the wrong tissue.

We're cautious because we only have an hour -- 50 minutes is more like it -- and the patient has to walk out of the office able to cope with what's been discussed until their next session. In the meantime, you want to be as certain as possible they're going to be okay. If not, you have absolutely no business speaking up. Just because you can handle telling them, doesn't mean they can handle hearing it. And if you can tell them without it hurting you, it helps to wait until it does. Words to the wise, for budding therapists, counselors, and members of the medical community.

An unnamed eight year old has said, "Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas, if you stop opening presents and listen."For the love of those closest to us to express itself, and for us to hear it, we might have to be willing to take a step back from our preoccupation with romance. That's asking a lot, I realize, and I'm not sure I could have taken my own advice back in the Dark Ages. It would have helped immensely if I had and therein lies the blessing of experience. As it is, I've become a lot more empathetic with those who were hoping for the best. That was love, too -- though, in retrospect, a kick in the pants might have been better yet.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Living in a Big Universe

I could get you the UNIVERSE.

It's the sense of irreversibility that brings despair. What has been said can't be taken back, what has been done can't be undone. There's no going back, only looking back as words and deeds, tossed like rocks into the stream running behind my house, ripple away with the current. Reason whispers, let them go, and we wish we could, but we can't. There's neither reason nor rhyme to regret.

I thought I was done with Lindsey Jacobellis yesterday but there's something about her experience that hangs on. It's the idea that she could have done things differently four years ago, and her spontaneous move to grab the board was to blame for her poor landing. Well, what if it wasn't? What if her landing would have gone awry no matter what she did? I don't recall anyone asking these questions.

Am I saying she was destined to slide out of bounds momentarily? Trust me, I'm not that foolish. But I am suggesting that sometimes we search for explanations when there are none to be found. What happens, happens, and there may not be any satisfying way of saying it doesn't have to. Among the billions of conceivably possible events, determining which will occur may truly be out of our hands.

We can take turns with our conscience, blaming and criticizing ourselves for failing to anticipate, failing to know. Yet there are only so many places we can be and it's not everywhere at the same time. Even when all the signs are in our favor, the universe is a pretty big place. Learning to live with a mistake entails accepting we can't control nearly as much as we like telling ourselves we can. We prepare to the best of our abilities and then take our chances.

It generates a feeling of vulnerability, knowing there is much that lies outside our influence, but if we allow it, it can create a feeling of serenity as well. We don't have to predict every outcome. I think regret gains much of its power when we forget we can only act within the boundaries of our knowledge and capability at any given point in time. If you think about it, it's probably good that we can't take back some things because many of us would get so caught up in trying to redo them perfectly, that we'd never move on to what's next. And then we'd really have something to regret.

(Creative Commons Image by Xanetia via Flickr)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lindsey Jacobellis: In the Public Eye


"I make my living off the evening news, just give me something -- something I can use, people love it when you lose, they love dirty laundry." ~ Don Henley

My heart goes out to Lindsey Jacobellis, the snowboarder who, the media tells us, was seeking gold in this year's Olympic Women's Snowboard Cross in order to redeem her failure in the
same event in Torino. According to one commentator, she's had to endure four years of questions about why she celebrated her apparent victory too soon, slipped, and came in second, instead. As if the experience itself wasn't enough, she's called upon to relive and then explain or justify it to one reporter after another who believes they're going to uncover something we don't already know.

Following her accident yesterday when she struck a gate in the same event and was disqualified, the announcer said, in effect, there goes her opportunity for redemption. And now she'll have to cope with questions about that loss as well. I suppose it's the price one pays for being in the public eye, but that's often said by those who never take such risks to begin with. It takes a lot of nerve to put yourself forward, especially when you might fail and the whole world is watching.

I imagine there must have been times recently, when she wished there was a witness protection program for people who make simple mistakes. I've not only felt that way, I've been grateful no one from NBC or CNN was around to chronicle some of the one's I've made. It's bad enough wishing the ground would open up beneath you without having to dig for explanations you're not sure you can even give yourself.

I don't know what Lindsey wanted out of this year's Games, but it only seems reasonable that she might have liked to compete, do her best, and enjoy herself. I hope she's back in 2014 and able to forget the medals, the questions, and the expectations that don't matter anyway, and for a few shining seconds, sail down the mountain at break-neck speed, doing what she loves, with hope in her heart and wings on her heals. That would be sweet to see.

(Image of Lindsey Jacobellis at Vancouver by Getty Images via Daylife)

Monday, February 15, 2010

When Life is Unfair

If fate had played fair for a change, he would have been a cowboy. As it was, even though a back injury incurred on a troop train put an end to the dream of life in the saddle -- and nearly his ability to walk -- he just didn't know how to quit. So, he became a maker of saddles. 

In those days, saddle making was a "guild" craft. You began as an apprentice and eventually, became a master craftsman. As an apprentice, working under the guidance and instruction of journeymen and master saddle makers, my father learned the basics. But he had his own ideas, one's he'd developed riding the high country and laying in a hospital bed. It was inevitable he'd break out on his own, making saddles by hand, each one unique and bearing his signature, not that of another.

It wasn't an easy life and he frequently came home for dinner only to return to his shop until midnight. There were occasions he hated the pressure and limits on his time. When asked about his days off, he laughed and said, "I don't get them. I have to work Sunday to buy a Saturday to take my son fishing." But every Friday evening in the summer, he got out his coping saw and a plywood board to make the sword or pistol he couldn't afford to purchase.

He had faults, sometimes glaring ones, and he would have been the first to enumerate them, but not in public and not for the sake of the spotlight. You know how some revel in confession. As if commission wasn't enough, they hang their sins to dry for the whole world to see. But the most difficult absolution to obtain is the one we need to give ourselves. It took some time for him to figure that out, as it does for most of us. What he did afterward is worth remembering -- he looked for opportunities to do things differently.

The word repent comes to mind, a change of attitude that produces a change in behavior. For him, there was no wallowing in the muck of self-remorse, instead get up and get moving again, no matter how badly it hurts, because eventually it will stop hurting and you'll realize you're okay after all.

That's the lesson he lived, learning from apparent failure how to avoid the same mistakes if not twice at least thrice, deciphering how to make his place in the world and not merely find it -- whether anyone else approved or not. Making saddles that would eventually take his name where he'd never go himself and sharing the faith he discovered in mid-life as the father of a recalcitrant teenaged me. It was never hard to know which of those was most important.

The saddle you see in the photo (go ahead, click on it) was ordered as a gift by the Mountain and Plains Appaloosa Horse Club for the late Larry Lansburg, director of the film Run Appaloosa Run (1966, Walt Disney Pictures). Dad made many more before he was done, some for rodeo or horse show competition, others for roping, pleasure, or ranch work. but I think he regarded this one as his best. It was certainly his favorite.

Near the end of his life we talked about what it all meant for him, especially when life is unfair. By then we both knew the mixed blessing that comes with self-employment and I wondered if he had any regrets. His response led me to believe it was something he'd been thinking about and waiting for the right time to reveal. He said he'd come to view saddle-making as an extension of his faith. It was the way he'd been given to show gratitude for his life and the family he'd been allowed to raise. I realized at that moment, there would always be so much more to him han I'd ever know. He was still growing and I, as always, would have to do my best to keep up.

(Photo copyright 2013 by the author; saddle by The Conway Saddle Company, William L. (Bill) Conway, maker)

Note to the reader: Although web search engines connect my father's name with the Frazier Saddle Co. of Pueblo, CO, my father was never professionally associated with them. Either the reference is in error or there was, in fact, another Bill Conway with whom that connection ought to be made.  

Please feel free to leave questions, comments, or relate personal experiences with my father in the comment section, or if you prefer, send them to me by email: Thanks!
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The Price of Procrastination

Eastern white pine hit by lightning 23 years a...

It seems we're finally due for some snow in my neck of the woods. Up until now, we've enjoyed a reprieve from a typical Maine winter, apart from the fact that it's been cold. But not that cold -- not the kind of wind-whipping, face-freezing, temperatures dropping off the base of the thermometer cold that, by spring, we're eager to see off at the bus stop. Just ordinary, put on your coat and gloves before you go outside, cold.

Anyway, having heard bad weather was looming, I decided to stop procrastinating about cutting down one or two of the standing dead white pines at the edge of the forest -- this was yesterday afternoon, shortly before sundown. I got out the chain saw, picked the one I thought most likely to fall easily, and went to work. I got through the trunk, stood back, and nothing. It stood there staring at me as if to say, "What? Did you think I wouldn't get caught in the other trees? Puhleeze."

At first I stared back, thinking it might concede defeat, and go on its own. No such luck. Then I leaned on it and it broke away, falling with a whump! trunk-down onto a patch of thick ice, as if it had grown there, its top still mired in limbs of a live neighbor. I couldn't believe it. A sit-com couldn't have arranged it better. For a minute, I considered leaving it for a breeze to finish off, but what if it came down during the night and took the power lines with it?

So, I caved in, cut another section and the scenario repeated itself. Mumbling to myself about this being like the second line in a joke -- the first sets up the story, the second builds tension, and the final one releases it -- I attached a rope to the tree, wrapped it around another for leverage and pulled. All that did was make my tree sway along with its captor and make me wish I'd never gotten started in the first place. Sigh, the price of procrastination, you know?

Finally, I made one more cut -- what harm could it do -- pushed again, and this time things came together. I was so relieved watching it fall I allowed myself to shout Timber! even though I was the only one around to hear. By now it was getting dark, I was tired, and further efforts seemed likely to result in my getting hurt, so I left sectioning the tree until this afternoon. That portion of my project was also work and when the top once again became entrapped, this time in the undergrowth, I thought about letting it go for all of two seconds. Then I said, "No -- I've worked hard for this tree and by golly I'm getting the whole thing!"

And I did. And now it's warm and snug in the barn. And I'm happy.

Creative Commons image of Eastern White Pine by musseyrobert via Flickr)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Human Connection

Bull riding
Watching speed skater Apollo Ohno last night, I thought about how few sports heroes I had as a child. Part of it is context. If one or both parents are into sports, you're going to be exposed to what they enjoy. Mine weren't and it wasn't until fourth grade in a country school that I had physical education. By then the die was pretty much cast. I idolized rodeo cowboys, though, like seven time world champion bull rider Jim Shoulders.

Some guys memorize baseball statistics -- I knew the RCA (Rodeo Cowboys Association) championship statistics, who had been All-Around Cowboy or Saddle Bronc Champion, how often, and so forth. The afternoon I encountered Shoulders, my father had arranged to take me behind the bucking chutes at the National Western Stock Show -- it was like having access to the locker room of your favorite pro football team at half-time. While he visited with a friend, I wandered, looking for faces I'd memorized from the pages of Western Horseman magazine.

In my mind I can see the scene unfold and recall the delight I felt meeting one world champion after another. I was thirteen and close to six feet tall, but around them, I felt much younger and they seemed much taller. It was as though I'd been transformed into a seven year old, four feet something version of myself, just making my way through the crowd. Maybe it was the atmosphere or maybe heroes really are larger than life. It's hard to say, but that's how I felt.

Although I must have the autographs in an album somewhere, the only name I remember clearly is Shoulders'. Since he was retired at the time, I hadn't expected to see him, and my father told me, "Don't get your hopes up." But I had them anyway, you know? No reason to believe he'd be there, just hoping he might. The way a kid hopes while looking for an autograph from someone he wishes to emulate.

I never did get on a bull, nor do I think there's enough money to convince me to do so now, though there have been times when medical school has certainly felt like one. Still, I haven't outgrown the delight in meeting someone I've come to admire. A few years after John Denver died, I ran into his manager at a book signing and introduced myself. Naturally, we began to talk about John, how he and I had met and gotten to know one another a bit, but that I'd never considered myself a fan. He replied that was okay, not everyone cared for his music. I said, "It wasn't that -- I loved his music -- it's just that I always felt like a good friend that, up until meeting him, John didn't know he had."

My eyes swam, he choked up and after a few seconds silence, said, "John would have liked that." It's the human connection. That's what I love.

(Creative Commons image by Jami Dwyer via Flickr)

P.S. Reading over this post I realized I never told you whether or not I met Jim Shoulders that afternoon behind the chutes. I did and that's something else I've never forgotten.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Canada: The Gold and Beyond

Statue of Ilanaaq the Inunnguaq, mascot of the...
We really are different countries, the United States and Canada. Before you say, "Well, duh!" let me tell you what I mean. While watching the opening ceremonies of the 21st Olympiad last night, I couldn't help but marvel at the emphasis placed on the role of Canadian First Nation aboriginal peoples. The entire show was incredible and the creative dance depicting a young man soaring over the plains of Saskatchewan had me in tears.

I love the Olympics, particularly the winter games, and am an unabashed fool for heroism. Give me a story about someone overcoming the odds knowing full well they'll likely accomplish only a personal best, and I'm on my feet, cheering. Show me a medal winner overcome by emotion and I have to reach for my handkerchief, no matter which country they're from. John Denver said it, "There's a fire in the heart and it feels like a hunger, the spirit is burning consumed by the flame, to be one of the best of the best in the world is its name."

But as I watched the First Nations dance and celebrate their wide-ranging heritage, I couldn't help but think how difficult, if not impossible, it would be to have a similar presentation in this country. To begin with, America is very much a melting pot, to borrow a well-worn phrase. Most of us, at some time or other, have come from somewhere else. And, at the same time, our history, with respect to Native Americans, is complicated.

The settling of the American West was accompanied by encroachment onto tribal lands and the subsequent outbreak of war. Although I hesitate to use the word, "conquest" does seem applicable. Manifest Destiny -- the belief that America was destined, even divinely ordained, to expand to the Pacific -- provided sufficient justification for eliminating interference by native cultures. As a consequence, I think it's safe to say our national identity is not substantially rooted in the contributions of those who were here first. And certainly not in the ways Canadians demonstrated in Vancouver.

My intuition tells me that a similar broadcast in the United States would require some alteration of our national consciousness, lest it appear as little more than entertainment. While films like Dances With Wolves go a long way toward enlightenment on a popular level, we need to pay closer attention to what our children learn. If education can be the magic bullet, then the history of Native Americans should comprise more than a few pages in social studies. By the time a student graduates from high school, s/he ought to be familiar, not only with who lived where, when, how, and why, but who they are today and how they define themselves, for themselves.

That nearly all of us can trace our ancestry to another place and time, doesn't change the fact that we are here, now. Who we are as a People is marked by two hundred plus years of slavery, a Civil War, and our country by several thousand years of habitation by individuals who, at one time, also came from someplace else. This land was their land, to borrow from Woody Guthrie, and in many ways, it still is -- theirs and ours together. It does us all well to honor that relationship

(Creative Commons image of the statue of Ilanaaq the Inunnguaq, mascot of the 2010 Winter Olympics via

(The Gold and Beyond, words and music by John Denver; This Land is Your Land, words and music by Woody Guthrie)

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Onions, You Say?

The Simpsons onion heads

To say it stank is being generous. On a continuum between body odor and something dead, it was closer to dead. My dog and I had been out on our daily walk, hitting just a tad under four miles an hour on an undulating road. Since we beat that on the flat, I'm feeling pretty good, though I'd love to see us crank it up a little more.

We'd just walked in the door when the scent was like a brick wall I'd run into in graduate school, watching a group of Tri-Delta sorority girls instead of where I was going. Though this one was invisible, the "impact," shall we say, was similar. I'm sure my dog wasn't perturbed -- he likes sweaty old socks and cross-trainers. Our tastes do tend to differ from time to time and this was one of them.

Just then the cat sauntered out of the bathroom with a satisfied look on his face -- how cats do that escapes me, but they do. Figuring he was to blame for the rich organic aroma that seemed to perfuse the entire house, I decided to empty his box a day early. Falsely accused -- it was clean. Or at least, there was no evidence of any fresh offerings -- believe me, my cat can clear a room without even trying.

Scratching my head and wondering whether the septic tank had backed up, I decided to check on the status of the furnace repairman in the basement. He'd arrived just as we were leaving, so I left him to his work and promised to return before he finished. Walking down the wooden steps to the basement, the sounds of a tremulous baritone warbling an off-key rendition of Maggie Mae assailed me along with the utter proof that whatever stank was coming from the basement.

Noticing me, he stopped in mid-phrase and said, with a thick, Southern Maine accent, "Ah'll be done in a second, just need to pack up mah tools."

"Sounds good to me -- say, have you seen anything down here that looks dead or rotten? There's one heck of a smell upstairs."

"Oh, uh, that," he said, turning away, "Ah 'pologize for that. Ah had a Philly for lunch. You know, Philly cheese steak sandwiiich? With onions. Lots o' onions."

"Onions, you say?"

"Oh yeah, Ah dearly love onions, but they don't love me, if you know what I mean," he added with a grin and a wink.

He didn't have to say anymore; I knew exactly what he meant.

(Creative Commons image of The Simpsons onionheads by Dangana via Flickr)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Lexus in the Bedroom

Parts of a Western SaddleImage via Wikipedia

Last night I slept on a new mattress pad, one made of memory foam. I'm not sure what I was expecting, though the television commercial with a couple in matching pajamas and a glass of wine comes to mind. He's sitting cross-legged, smiling and watching her jump up and down on the mattress next to him, while the glass of wine rests benignly at the foot of the bed. Apparently, the space-age foam is supposed to absorb motion so that one sleeper doesn't disturb the other, as depicted by the wine glass that remains upright.

Not wishing to have to change the sheets, I didn't try the wine part. Since it was only a pad and made of cheaper material than the one advertised, I thought it wise not to push my luck. Aside from that, I slept rather well. The idea that I should
awaken in the same position I fell asleep was a bust -- that's only happened to me on a water bed, anyway. The cat and dog also fared pretty well, it seems. There's much less prowling and growling this morning, suggesting they awoke feeling "alert and refreshed." I should write the manufacturer and offer their endorsement; maybe we'll get a commission large enough to pay for the thing.

I contemplated the mattress version, by the way, having sank deeply into o
ne while visiting a patient in a local hospital last year. Her roommate had been discharged and the only chair in the room was occupied by my partner, so I took a seat on the empty bed. "Sank" is definitely the word because I quickly found myself wrapped in foam nearly to my waist. It reminded me of an old time Western saddle with a high cantle and wide swells (see photo), designed to keep a cowboy on the wildest bucking horse. Despite the temptation, I refrained from breaking into song, "Oh, give me a home, where the buffalo roam..." It just seemed a bit out of place.

At any rate, that was my only previous experience with this kind of thing, but since my pad came from a discount store, I assumed it would be lower tech to begin with. Still in all, as you can tell, I wasn't disappointed. I didn't feel drawn into the tender embrace of luxury, but it doesn't make sense to anticipate the comfort of a Lexus from a Honda Civic. You get what you pay for and I was willing to be understanding. I figured the least I could do was give it a chance. Besides, if I'd wanted a "Lexus" in the bedroom, I'd have had to repaint to make it feel at home and all I needed was a better night's sleep.

(Home on the Range, words by Brewster M. Higley, music by Daniel E. Kelley, arranged by David Guion; Public Domain image via Wikipedia)

(Note to the reader: the photo depicts a modern Western saddle with the parts labeled rather than the older style mentioned in the text.)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Kid and I

Early Supermarine Spitfire Mk I, 19 Squadron

First, we go to Mutts, then The Argyle Sweater, and finally, Red and Rover. That's how we start our day -- after getting up, I mean. You probably recognize these as daily comic strips and I freely admit I need a little visit with my inner child in the morning. It's always been hard for him to get jump started. Even when I was younger he had trouble. Mornings just aren't his best time, so we sit down to the computer and check out our mutual favorites. It's good for us both, I suspect.

Mutts, by Patrick McDonnell, has a couple of things going for it, a cute strip and a meaningful quote, which sometimes manages to find its way here as inspiration for writing. A good friend turned us on to The Argyle Sweater, which reminds me of Gary Larson's, The Far Side. It's got the same quirkiness that finds humor in the obvious. Of course, to truly enjoy it, you have to have gotten to Piaget's stage of formal operations which means the brain can process abstractions. My kid is still at concrete operations, so the Sweater sometimes goes over his head. Fortunately, not mine.

Red and Rover, however, is the one we enjoy the most. Since we share our living space with a Yellow Labrador, it's a simple matter to see ourselves in the characters, a dog and his boy. I don't know where Brian Bassett, their creator, gets his ideas. Surely, it's about him as a child and he draws on those experiences, but to come up with something new every day leaves me in awe. I wish I had his brain, now and then, just on loan, to shift mine in new directions.

So, once we've visited our comic friends, I turn to a website that nurtures me, the adult, for a few minutes, and then we come here. You might think my kid retires to the chair near the window with a book or to daydream while I work, but it's not that way. We have a genuine collaboration with him offering suggestions for new words or the occasional ingenious phrasing. He really amazes me at times. I'll look at what appears on the page and know I didn't write that.

Sometimes we stop in mid-sentence, me wondering what comes next, and him gazing fondly at our calender of World War II Warbirds, those timeless crates that flew over the Pacific and Europe. This month's is a British Spitfire, the same one "flown" by Ben Affleck in Pearl Harbor. He wants me to add, they also flew Hawker Hurricane's in the film, but I'm drawing the line at describing their differences. We can only digress so far.

Anyhow, so that's how this works. He indulges my proclivity for periodically delving too deeply into esoterica and I do the best I can to listen when he tells me it's time to play. All in all, I think it's a good relationship. I heartily recommend it. Oh, sorry, we heartily recommend it.

( Mutts, The Argyle Sweater, & Red and Rover are under copyright protection; Public Domain image of a Supermarine Spitfire Mark I via Wikipedia)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Fisher King: Finding One's Center

Holy Grail in Valencia, Spain
Holy Grail in Valencia, Spain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When we left him in yesterday's post, the Fisher King was doing the only thing that gave him relief from suffering -- fishing. As it turns out, he lives in the Grail Castle of Arthurian legend, wherein resides the Holy Grail. Every night, a procession takes place in the castle and the Grail, along with the lance that pierced the side of Christ, are brought forth. Anyone who is served from the Grail receives whatever s/he wishes, even if their desire has never been put into words. Anyone that is, except the king.

Unfortunately, there are some wounds that are unresponsive to simple solutions. A few weeks of cognitive-behavioral therapy might be sufficient to learn basic skills for coping with depression, but some things take time and deep cultivation to overcome. Wounds to the feeling function such as the king received as a youth are like that. Even a sip from the Cup of Christ cannot touch his pain.

Legend has it a young man will come, view the procession, and ask a question that has the power to alleviate the king's suffering and its effect on the kingdom. In other words, instead of focusing on the king's symptoms, he will direct attention to the core issue. The time for symptom management is long past; we need to find the cure.

Enter Parsifal, the innocent "fool" (see 1/24/09), who has been traveling the country, engaged in knight errantry much as the young king, years before. Seeking shelter one evening, he encounters an old man fishing in a lake who informs him there is no inn for miles. Should Parsifal wish, he may ride down the road a little further, take a left turn and cross the drawbridge, and stay the night in the castle. In order to fulfill his destiny and open the way for the king's healing, he will have to "turn left" and enter the realm of the unconscious mind (see 1/16/09).

Parsifal accepts the offer, witnesses the procession, but fails to ask the question. Why does he hold back at the critical moment? It may be because he does not know the question. He is still a youth and hasn't experienced the kinds of things that keep us awake at night, wondering what if? But there is something else, something
beneath his armor, that works against him as well. Parsifal wears a garment of homespun made by his mother to protect him against the wiles of the world. Though he wishes to appear a man, the homespun signifies a desire to be nurtured and cared for by mother that is more appropriate to a younger age. He is not yet ready to ask the deepest questions of life.

Twenty years later, Parsifal once again finds himself in the woods near the Grail Castle, seeking shelter. He has spent his life rescuing maidens, slaying dragons, and living out the Knight's Tale. Now grown, he has finally put off his mother's homespun and learned to meet the world on its own terms. Once again, he is encouraged by a curious old man fishing in a lake, to ride down the road, turn left, cross the drawbridge, and spend the night in his castle. This time, however, he possesses the maturity to ask, "Whom does the Grail Serve?" At that moment, the king is healed of his wound and the kingdom is restored to vitality. Three days later, the king dies.

Boyishness is a wonderful quality and its spontaneity, exuberance, and delight in living can be vivifying in a man. But it needs to be coupled with depth and experience to be effective in dealing with such things as a wounded feeling function. Some men are never quite able to shed their homespun. There have a quality of indecision or uncertainty about them, especially in the clinches, that seems to say, "Life is too much for me." Having never let go of reliance on mother or mother figures, they are virtual boys in a man's body.

For most men, however, mid-life arrives carrying the baggage of loss -- perhaps a divorce or the death of a parent. Loss can be a gift that drags a man out of self-absorption, showing him how he may have wasted precious time, or missed important opportunities. He begins asking what has motivated him and how does he wish to spend the rest of his life. Questions like these place him in a position to ask whom the Grail serves. The answer, as you might have guessed, is something or someone greater than oneself.

When the young prince took a piece of salmon his thinking was ego-centered: "I'm hungry, there's no one around, why not?" He was untrue to his own sense of what was right -- in the grandiosity of youth, we often do things we come to regret, that wound us for years. Healing comes about with the recognition that living for ourselves, to appease the demands of our own appetites, isn't a sufficient basis for a meaningful approach to life. There has to be something more, something that transcends us, and gives life significance, savor, and meaning. The mature Parsifal could ask the question because he'd gained confidence, learned to provide for and care for himself, and knew what it meant to have his own questions.

When a woman or man finds a center outside themselves, whatever they choose that to be, they are in a position to gain the perspective to help identify what is truly important for them. Misplaced priorities can be clarified and the regrets associated with what is beyond recovery can be addressed, mourned and let go. The consequence of this curative process is a feeling function that can actually serve, rather than oppose us by generating weariness, anxiety, and depression. Uncovering and befriending our capacity for feeling enables us to become more human, more humane, more the persons we'd like to believe we are.

Or have always wanted to be.

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Monday, February 8, 2010

The Fisher King: The Nature of the Problem

Knight in Armor
When The Fisher King is mentioned, most people think you're referring to the 1991 film starring Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges. Williams portrays a delusional derelict, tormented by the memory of his wife's death and Bridges is a former disc jockey struggling with guilt over a terrible mistake. Together, they work toward healing. The fairy tale, however, taks us in a different direction, albeit to the same goal. It is a powerful tale of masculine growth, wounding, and the attainment of maturity.

Once upon a time, there was a young prince riding about, doing deeds of knight errantry. One day he stumbled across a camp in the woods where a fire was burning with salmon on a spit. Seeing no one around, he was hungry, the salmon smelled wonderful, so he reached for a piece. It was so hot, it burnt his fingers and he dropped it. Putting his fingers in his mouth, as anyone might do, he got a taste of the salmon. This wounded him so badly that he was in agony the rest of his life, up to his final three days. Eventually, he became king of the realm, but his suffering was so great that he could not govern and the kingdom languished. The only time his pain became bearable was when he went fishing, so that's how he spent his days, fishing in a boat in the castle moat. Hence, the name, Fisher King.

In some way, the young prince was stricken at the point of his masculinity. Other versions of the story have him wounded by an arrow in the testicle or injured in the thigh when the campers return. In any case, his ability to be generative was affected and the wound left him feeling cold throughout the remainder of his life. The German version describes him as too ill to live and yet, unable to die. The King's wound represents impairment in his feeling function. 

Feeling is what gives life meaning, joy, and creates a sense of purpose and fulfillment. When feeling is wounded, it is as though the flavor has gone out of life and no amount of achievement, material success, or extravagance will restore it. Furthermore, a man's "kingdom," i.e. his family, job performance, and overall well-being suffer along with him. His wife may describe him as emotionally unavailable, his children complain dad is never home. Although this kind of wounding affects men at any age, it shows up most often from the mid-30s onwards.

Recent reports suggest men are more satisfied in mid-life than ever before. This makes sense from the perspective that we're generally established in a career, the kids are either in or soon will be in college, and we have new possibilities ahead of us. However, men I know and have known -- doctors, attorneys, corporate officers, teachers, ministers, and blue collar workers -- all admit, when the news media has gone home and we're being completely honest, to an inner sense of emptiness despite all they possess. There just doesn't seem to be enough doing to fill up what's missing. They know they have opportunities or feel they should, and they're mystified over the fact that attaining the American Dream has left them wondering, "Is this all there is?"

We'll get to the cure tomorrow; for now, we have to address symptoms. Just as for the young king, fishing is our treatment of choice, speaking metaphorically. Whatever puts a man in touch with his inner self will do. It may be writing, music, running, or walking the dog. It doesn't matter what form it takes as long as it permits a man to get a feeling for what's going on under the surface of all his activity.

For some men, awareness of the interior self is more accessible by noticing how their bodies feel. It may be a tightness in the gut, persistent muscle aches, disrupted sleep, loss of sex drive, or an ongoing sense that something isn't right. What the mind can't express, the body will. However we approach it, healing the feeling function begins with the knowledge that something is wrong and gain that insight by paying attention to ourselves. Men can be resistant: at times it takes a crisis to get us off the dime, but once we're listening, there's hope.

(Creative Commons image by Jeff Kubina via Flickr)

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