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Not named after Nomar

An ordinary life. Just strolling along the Cochituate Rail Trail in Natick, the town I grew up in, was part of my weekend. While I grew up in Natick, a suburb of Boston, and was always a Red Sox fan who loved learning the statistics about them, from an early age, ever since I was a little kid, I had never heard that Worcester Road aka Route 9 was named Route 9 after the venerable Red Sox slugger Ted Williams. For those of you who are not diehard Red Sox fans, Ted Williams wore jersey 9 on his back. Of course, Route 9 wasn’t always named after Williams. The road was built in the early 1930s before Williams’ playing days. And it was June 16, 1988 when Ted Williams was the guest of honor at a ceremony dedicating a section of Route 9 in Natick as “Ted Williams Highway”. The Red Sox have had some colorful players like Pedro Martinez, Bill “Spaceman” Lee, Nomar Garciapara, Pumpsey Green, Mo Vaughn, Wade Boggs and Hall of Famer David Ortiz … but nobody other than Williams has a major highway named after himself.

it wasn’t until this past weekend when I was walking the Cochituate Rail Trail did I read on a kiosk there that explained the story off how Route 9 was named after Ted Williams. Upon some reflection after wards, there are probably some diehard Patriots fans who are looking to rename a portion of Route 1 as Route 12 to honor Tom Brady’s GOAT status. I hope he doesn’t get his number 12 as a permanent marker for any road in the Commonwealth. He lost me as a fan before he moved to Tampa. He lost me as a fan when he sported a red MAGA hat on the top of his locker during the 2020 POTUS campaign.

Route 9 had other noteworthy claims to fame. It was the home of Shoppers World, the first and largest outdoor shopping mall when it opened in 1951, a year before I was born. Shoppers World’s address was Framingham, but it straddled into Natick too.

Near to Shopper’s World was Speen Street where we lived. Speen Street’s claim to fame was not that we lived there but the Natick Army Labs was situated on one end of it. The Army Labs developed freeze-dried foods used by astronauts. Natick now boasts a population of 37,000 according to www.city-data.com, only about 10,000 more inhabitants than when I was growing up in the 1950s and ’60s. This doesn’t sound right, but that’s what the Census reports.

Walking around the rail trail, learning more about the history of the town felt real good after spending so many weeks cooped up in hospitals, away from ordinary or regular life. Not far from where we were walking, 1984 Heisman Trophy quarterback Doug Flutie lived. He made football history in 1984 when he threw a “Hail Mary” pass that was caught with seconds to go, and led to Boston College beating Miami in the Orange Bowl 47-45. There is a road in Natick named after Doug Flutie and for good reason. Flutie Pass, bisects Route 9 near the Framingham Express bus station and Cinemas.

It was chilly outside walking but a good chilly and immensely enjoyable. It is true that so much of life is enjoyable if one takes the time to be present with it. I like hanging out in regular and ordinary places like an asphalt paved rail trail and learning about the history of the town.

I’ve been thinking a lot about ordinary living. One does not have to be the greatest slugger of all time – the last one to hit above 400 – to have a truly nice enjoyable day. It’s enjoyable when simple pleasures like a stroll on pavement occurs.

And do you know why a segment of Worcester Road was not named after Nomar? Though he was a colorful player, he wasn’t a beloved Red Sox when he left.

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Losing one’s place in the world

“Love is a many splendored thing” a poet or philosopher once said. It could have also been “life is a many splendid thing”. So much to discover, learn, share, explore and do. Every day has its surprises if we’re open to watching for them. But not all the surprises are really splendid. When things are going well, one hopes and makes plans for them to continue. As if man has control over these things. So it was with me this summer.

Some of the highlights were sailing off the coast of Mattapoisett the day after July 4 with a couple of other guys. After that, I biked with other friends on one of the rail trails in Massachusetts.

My wife and I joined some Maine cousins at Moosehead Lake in Maine and enjoyed them and the quiet calm waters. A long weekend was planned in August to go to York, Maine with some other friends I’ve known for over forty years. Next, after that, later in the month of August, I had plans to visit with my brother who lives on the Shenandoah River in rural Virginia.

A couple of beautiful summer months, June and July were filled with sports and athletic activities like biking, skiing, hiking and nice long walks on my own and with others. I’ve recently started playing pickleball, a new sport for me, easy to learn and enjoy. It is not intense like tennis; it’s more like ping pong, social and easy to enjoy. Some people drink wine while playing.

But then came July 29. On a really hot, humid morning, I drove to the next town over to play an hour’s worth of pickleball. It was wicked hot even at 8:30 in the morning. In the blink of an eye, somehow I lost my footing and fell, hitting my head on hard pavement in a parking lot. The joy of being physically active came to a sudden catastrophic end.

Fortunately for me, a bystander saw me slumped down near my car, called “911” and I was picked up, transported to the ER of a local hospital. But upon seeing the extent of the damage I suffered, the hospital personnel sent me by ambulance to one of Boston’s premiere hospitals where their ER and Neuro ICU staff took me in and saved me.

And then, all I know is I woke up …. and was surprised to be in a hospital. After some time I opened my eyes and saw my wife and brother staring at me a few feet away. What were they doing here?

It was a totally unreal feeling to find myself in a hospital bed staring at them, unable to do much of anything or know much of anything. I didn’t know what happened or how I got there. I didn’t really know which hospital I was at, or know how much time had passed or much of anything else.

It’s really no comfort to lose one’s place in the world. I had plans to play tennis, travel and see some good friends who were staying on the east coast during the summer, returning to Arizona at the beginning of fall. I hAd my routines that I practice every day and that was nowhere in sight.

Life is full of wondrous events for sure. But accidents happen too. Things don’t alway go according to plan. I don’t believe that G-d has a “plan for me”. I believe life is just full of incidents, some random, some not, but all together it just happens. On July 29 I somehow fell, hit my skull on the hard parking lot pavement and suffered a brain bleed, a very serious traumatic brain injury (TBI). At the hospital I didn’t know what happened but I slowly came to realize my joyful summer had come to an end. The only good part was I was in an air conditioned room and I didn’t have to suffer through the August humidity nor watch or listen to corrupt narcissistic Donald Trump.

Instead, I was very fortunate to hear from numerous friends who reached out to me, to check on my situation and recovery. I didn’t feel much like talking at first but as time wore on I engaged with them all.

I learned that a brain bleed is a major medical emergency; I was lucky to be treated by a medical treatment team that knew what to do and how to treat me.

And now it’s wonderful to be home and just do the simple things: walk, cook, read, watch Netflix and talk on the phone. It is comforting to not being woken up at 4 am to measure my vitals. It’s wonderful to be home and not to have to ask for assistance to go to the bathroom or ask permission to go. Being in two hospitals was necessary at the time, but that was then and now it’s a different time. I’m working on strengthening myself and returning to sports/activities. These things will hopefully return soon to my life as I recuperate. That’s the plan I’m working on. Check in with me in a couple of months, or I’ll check in with you as I’m still off the hook.

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The laugh of the deeply insane

It was the later part of July and we four were hiking at Little Wilson Falls near Moosehead Lake in Piscataquis County, Maine, the least populated county in the state of Maine. We were on a woodland path, part of the Adirondack Trail with a stream that cascaded into a series of small waterfalls and pooled together to become part of Big Wilson Stream. It was midday and looked like we were in the middle of nowhere at the end of the earth. It was quiet, serene and peaceful.

The next day we motored past Deer Island and Sugar Island and past Big Moose Mountain. Big Moose Mountain located at Moosehead Lake, the largest lake in the northeast United States. Life was good.

After hiking and motoring around the lake, we were back at our home base in the early evening hours. It was quiet and dark and very still. We stood on a dock and looked up at the stars and were entertained by the sounds of the loons. I couldn’t see them but could hear them chirping away to each other. Whether one was marking his territory or trying to scare away unwanted intruders, one would not know. One thing was certain: the sound made was like a crazy laugh. Once heard, it is easy to see why naturalists consider their chirps like a laugh. One can easily understand the phrase “cray as a loon”. The sound made by the loons has been described as “the laugh of the deeply insane”. (If you’d like to learn more, read The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Sign. by Tristan Gooley).

Common loons are famous for their eerie, beautiful calls. Among these are the tremolo, a wavering call given when a loon is alarmed or to announce its presence at a lake. The yodel is the male loon’s territorial claim. And each male has its own signature yodel. If a male moves to a different territory, he will change his yodel. The wail is the hunting call that loons give back and forth to figure out each other’s location. Hoots are soft, short calls given to keep in contact with each other. You can hear the wail of a loon at www.academy.allaboutbirds.org at the Bird Academy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Loons also tremolo when they fly from lake to lake or in circles above a lake. Their necks stick straight out and feet trail behind them. They can be very vocally active with nocturnal choruses. Loons are monogamous and pair bonds typically last about five years. If one year, one of the males doesn’t return, the other will quickly pair up with another male. It is the male who defines his territory by yodeling. Courtship consists of swimming in circles and synchronous dives. If nesting is successful, loon chicks can be seen going for a ride around the lake on a parent’s back.

The universe works in the most unusual ways.

About two week after enjoying the quiet and sounds of Moosehead Lake, where all was good, one Friday morning I was in the neighboring town of Medway in Massachusetts. Somehow I fell down, fractured my skull. “911” was called and I was transported by ambulance to the ER of a major Boston hospital for diagnosis and treatment. Thus began the beginning of a lengthy rehabilitation and recovery.

Again, I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere …. but this time, instead of feeling relaxed and rested, I felt alone, in physical pain and distressed. I suffered a serious medical emergency. Fortunately, I received medical attention in a timely manner and while I wouldn’t say life is good (right now0, I am fortunate to have received superb medical attention, and life is getting good again.

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Digestion digressions

“Welcome to the place where shit happens” . That was the sign above the urinal at the restaurant washroom I stopped into one evening just prior to ordering a meal.  Digestion was on my mind as I had just had a colonoscopy a week prior.  It was my first colonoscopy in a decade and it got me thinking ….

The bathroom is the one place designated in one’s home where one goes to do one or more of three things: defecate, urinate or conduct personal hygiene at the start and/or end of day. The bathroom is not the place to eat a meal, watch The Bear on Hulu or discuss weighty political or moral issues with others. Its function dictates specific room behavior not common to other rooms of the house. Bathroom behavior also holds the distinction of generating all kinds of euphemisms, jokes and slang. Guys call the bathroom “the head”, “the can” or “the crapper”, whereas others consider it “the library”, “my office” or “washroom”. Plenty of jokes are created due to the bodily waste functions like urination and bowel movements:

Have you seen the new movie “Constipation?” Probably not, as it hasn’t come out yet.

I like toilets for two reasons. No. 1 and No. 2.

While sitting on the can reading a magazine, I realized that there’s an entire industry, or more accurately a “movement” that concerns bodily functions in the service of digestion. It’s a field of study for medical practitioners but for reasons that are not entirely understood, the words that describe it often cause embarrassment, consternation and/or shame.

The truth is a bowel movement is the last stop in the movement of food through your digestion tract. Your stool passes out of your body through the rectum and anus. (I believe this is considered the asshole, another derogatory word). Another name for stool is feces. Technically speaking, feces are the solid or semi-solid remains of the food that was not digested in the small intestine, and has been broken down by bacteria in the large intestine. It is made of what is left after your digestive system (stomach, small intestine and colon) absorbs nutrients and fluids from what you eat and drink.

Obviously, we “go to the bathroom” away from the privacy of one’s home bathroom. At the playing field there are portable toilets. But they are not simple called “public toilets”. Marketers have gotten into the act and named these portable toilets “Pee Palaces”. A big green and yellow sign bolted into the side names it “Pee Palace” at the field where I play tennis. Another digestive digression popped into my head: how did someone end up in the portable pee toilet business?

Portable pee toilet proprietors exist and make a living at it and probably have a family too, like other workers. I wonder if the proprietor’s children speak well proudly of their parents’ line of business. “My daddy sells portable toilets … what does your daddy do?”

Growing up, I knew the employment of my friends’ fathers. (It was the 50’s and most mothers didn’t work outside the home). One was a journalist for the Christian Science Monitor (newspaper), one sold insurance, one was a podiatrist and another manufactured men’s adult raincoats. My father manufactured snack foods. These were all jobs that seemed normal. But being a portable potty proprietor sounds demeaning. But I guess someone has to do it. (Larry Bird was a garbage collector before he became a Boston Celtic and one of the greatest basketball players of all time). Somebody’s got to do it.

There are other consumer products in the bowel movement industry. Consider Travel John disposable urinals. Convenient personal urinals contain a patented biodegradable polymer substance that serves as a pouch, absorbs liquid waste, and turns it into an odorless hardened gel.

A marvel of a product, Travel John came in handy during the pandemic. A driver was able to go to the bathroom without leaving the car. One is able to dispose of the waste by simply driving up close to a waste basket, throwing the gel pack into it without getting out of the vehicle. It is ideal for car travel, motion sickness, potty training and bathroom emergencies of all types.

Boaters too have purchased products associated with bodily waste. Gulfsweeps are installed to ward off gulls from messing on one’s boat. “The finest bird deterrent for boats” is the slogan. Easy to mount, the gulf sweeps have been used for roof tops, camper/RVs and billboards too. Wherever one wants to ward off excrement from birds, gulls and other flying creatures.

Besides these consumer products it’s the medical field which deals with feces in a serious way. Fecal microbiota transplants (FMT) (also known as stool transplants) have proven to be an effective treatment for clostridioides difficile infection (CDI), a condition characterized by severe diarrhea and colitis or inflammation of the colon. Restoration of colonic microflora by introducing healthy bacterial flora through a stool infection via colonoscopy – or by mouth as a capsule CONTAINING FECES is proven to help. This is not a joke!

Attention to the value of stools may have started back in 2012 when MIT researchers founded OpenBiome, the first public stool bank, a frozen site for human stool used for FMT therapy. A few years later, in 2015, Personal Biome, a stool banking program was started. It was where individuals could store their stool for future use in fecal transplants. This sounds like a much more respectable profession. “My daddy or mommy manages a stool bank… what does your daddy or mommy do?”

As one ages, new medical procedures and conditions arise, causing one to rethink one’s assumptions and to learn new behaviors to stay fit and/or ward off medical ailments. At the age of seventy, medical appointments breed all kinds of thoughts. Now I’m more frequently aware of my own mortality. I watch what I eat and stay informed about new medical discoveries and treatments. While thinking and writing about bodily waste is not terribly exciting, it is a part of life, so thinking and learning about it and its effects on quality of life are all good.

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Maya, Mixie, Martha, Daisy & Shayna

It was just the four of us living together in my family of origin. I wish I had another sibling but most all of our cousins, aunts and uncles, only had two children as well. No living things on four legs joined us in the den or welcomed us home after school or work. No dog to beg for scraps or to take to the vet for shots. No one can certainly call goldfish, a pet, and they always seemed to die before one could get emotionally attached.

Ants don’t cut it either. One night, the ants streamed out of my ant farm while I was sleeping, and the next morning I got into a lot of trouble for not squaring all pieces of wood, glass and dirt when assembling it.

When anyone asked my older brother if we had any pets, he would smile and say, “yeah, my little brother”. Ha ha. Friends next door and around the block on Robin Hood Road had a black Labrador and he was part of the family. But I knew the chances of my parents buying us a dog were slim to none.

The closest we came to having a dog was a snapping turtle, but you can’t walk a snapping turtle down the street or cuddle with it. You don’t even see his head most of the time. You get too close and you’re liable to lose a finger! My brother captured it from a swamp, and carried it home in a large cardboard carton, quite pleased with his achievement. It was left outside on the brick patio screened porch adjacent to our house, but my mother made us return it to the swamp the next day. She didn’t care for it, and she’s the one who ran the house. I can hardly blame her.

Our cousins in the next town over from us had a dog named Mixie that barked and jumped on mom whenever we visited. We visited them practically every Sunday. Mixie, a mixed breed, never quite got adjusted to her, or maybe it was the other way around. Mixie was a harmless scruffy mutt that just wanted to be petted and given a dog biscuit. Then she would saunter back to her corner and watch, sleep and dream.

Mixie was given her name because she was a mixed breed, but also because my uncle owned a busy liquor store and enjoyed his daily mixed drink, especially martinis. A number of my uncles owned liquor stores in the area.

My cousins who were the same age as me enjoyed Mixie and played with her, but I don’t know if they ever took her out for a walk. I know I never saw them walk her. But she was an accepted member of the family. She jumped in the back of the station wagon and went on rides with the family to New Hampshire and Bath, Maine too, my aunt’s childhood home.

Maya is my older son’s dog. She’s a basenji. The notable and attractive feature of Maya is she doesn’t bark much at all, nor does she shed. She’s low maintenance. In this regard, my mother would probably have approved. Maya is always well-behaved. She is sleek, with brown and white hair, and a tail that curves up. When a new person enters the space, she does not jump, she does not bark. Whenever we’re visiting I walk Maya around the neighborhood. I give her a good workout. She will also jump up on the bed, lie at my feet and hang out with me. She’s a silent partner; we’re buddies.

There’s also a large grassy field right next door. Basenjis like Maya love to run and she is allowed to run free off her leash, as long as my son is with her. She needs the fresh air and large expanse of land too. She thrives on the freedom. Occasionally she will throw herself down on the grass and shake back and forth as if she has an itch. We don’t know what that’s all about, but she seems to enjoy it. Maya likes to sleep a lot as well. To each his own! Got for it!

Martha is Paul McCartney’s English sheep dog that he wrote about in his 1968 song by the same name, Martha My Dear : “Martha, my dear … You have always been my inspiration …. Please, be good to me … Martha, my love … Don’t forget me …. Martha, my dear.”

I would be remiss if I didn’t include Daisy, my younger son’s pit bull, that lived with him on the second floor of an inexpensive walk up two-bedroom apartment in a factory town. Daisy was not one to mess around with; no one ever challenged her about anything. She was aggressive, always on leash and was a good home protector. Calling her Daisy instead of a name like Butch or Rocky I found hilarious.

And then there was Shayna, a collie-husky mix of a dog whom we had in the 1980s. She was a medium-sized dog, kind of handsome you could say, but not the sharpest tack in the drawer. She was our first child before our son was born. Shayna was a little too rough with our infant son and had to be given away to a farm in Western Massachusetts because of his behavior. Shayna was not the cuddly type. She was the right size for my tastes, but she lacked the warmth of Maya or Martha. I used to take her out for walks but she pulled me more than I pulled her.

I like the idea of a dog, especially one that is cuddly, house broken and very friendly. One that is well-behaved, doesn’t jump and doesn’t beg. I understand four-legged dogs and even cats can be great companions. I just can’t get used to the idea of organizing my life around caring for any dog or cat, taking him/her out in the. snow, ice, rain or sleet. That wouldn’t be consistent with my being off the hook.

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Getting my head examined

Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh on Pexels.com

“You’re crazy … you should really get your head examined!”

How many times have I heard that in my life? More times than I would like to admit. I suppose I’ve said some zany and unexpected things over the years, causing someone to criticize or complain about me. Not crazy, “cool” like some enviable hip slur, but crazy like “you’re weird”; that kind of crazy. I’ve been admonished many times for sure and when young I let it get to me. Growing up and being told I’m crazy was one thing, but at my age today, it doesn’t bother me anymore. I’m crazy, … so what? Your opinion is just that – an opinion. Not fact.

So I’m finally doing it … I’m getting my head examined. Earlier in the week I had a brain scan. The doctors are finally looking under the hood to see if there’s anything in that noggin of mine that shouldn’t be there or is causing some trouble.

Aside from this medical matter I’m becoming a subject in other ways as well. I’ve sought out research studies and become a paid volunteer subject. Being a subject is pretty neat in my opinion. It certainly makes the day a lot more interesting, being a subject in a well-conceived scientific or clinical research study. Vials and vials of blood submitted, along with questionnaires filled out, measurements and vitals recorded and under the auspices of Institutional Review Boards (IRB) is my way of helping brainy PhDs work towards developing new therapies that rid the world of debilitating ailments or diseases. My contributions are all anonymous of course.

The older I get the more mysterious life seems to be and the greater appreciation I have for it being so. And to try to understand the fundamental building blocks of the secrets of life holds even more wonder and more awesomeness about science and scientific achievement.

Just a drop of blood holds all kinds of secrets, and a few ounces of salvia holds enough DNA to map out one’s genetic profile. A year after I was born (1953), Watson and Crick discovered how instruction for building every cell in every form of life were encoded by the four-letter sequences of DNA: Adenine, Thymine, Guanine and Cytosine, or (put them all together and what does it spell?): ATGC. Deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA is the repository of genetic information that transmits inheritable transformations. Getting to know DNA means to also get to know the mysteries of heredity. But it is RNA, DNA’s close cousin (another nucleic acid) that does the real work. Like DNA, RNA is a chain of nucleotides, but unlike DNA, RNA is found in nature as a single strand folded onto itself – not a paired double strand you may be familiar as being a helix.

You may have heard of RNA. RNA molecules began to be understood in earnest in the 1970s, and became the molecular system that helped develop vaccines against coronaviruses a couple of years ago. That’s because many viruses encode their genetic information using the RNA genome.

A couple of weeks ago I donated eight vials of my blood to a study at a Boston teaching hospital in hopes of developing a diagnostic test for a particular ailment. I was one of thousands of volunteers and I received a token cash payment which I immediately used it to pay for dinner for two at a trendy Thai restaurant in Chestnut Hill.

I’m not likely to give away one of my kidneys nor am I willing to subject myself to a painful invasive spinal tap, but as long as the giving of myself, be it my blood, bone, tissue, saliva, urine or otherwise is there for the taking, I’m all “in”.

I’ve also been on a tear lately giving away my thoughts, perceptions, opinions and beliefs through online focus groups and discussion groups. I’ve been a subject for focus groups for years.

Many years ago I was in one organized by my alumni relations office to learn why certain class graduates did not participate in alumni activities. Another time I drove into Newon, looked at several print ad mock ups from Fidelity Investments, citing my preferences for this one or that one and why. At the end of the evening, I was handed two crisp uncirculated $100 bills along with a parking voucher.

Last week I participated in a 75 minute digital only focus group sharing my views and opinions about environmental conservation and messaging for a prominent Massachusetts-based non profit. I received a $250 gift card for my participation. I like these discussion groups because there’s no one right or wrong answers; they are only polling for opinions, likes and dislikes from a qualified consumer base.

Fortunately, none of the research scientists asked if I had ever been called “crazy”; instead they sought me out as a suitable candidate who happened to be the kind of human being that’s just right and appropriate for their studies. I don’t have the brains for being a scientist but I share with many others the wonders of nature and the joys of discovery made possible by those who do. I’m glad to be a small part of any scientific endeavor that may lead to transformative breakthroughs. In my career, most of my time was spent in high tech hardware and software start ups in the digital world, and in my later years as a paid volunteer, I’m doing a very small part in the sciences working to more fully understand the code of life.

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Trauma begets trauma

We’re watching Hell on earth on our screens play out every day from Lviv, Mariupol and Dnipro, cities and town in Ukraine. I had never heard of any of these cities until February 24 when the Russians invaded … causing unimaginable brutality and pain perpetrated on the innocents. Imagine civilians like you and me being bombed, tortured, raped, throats cut, killed by invading soldiers dropping bombs from the sky or by soldiers on the ground. War is usually avoided at all costs because was is Hell; fortunately, I’ve never had to go to war.

I remember distinctly during the Vietnam War there was a Draft Day. Birth dates were randomly picked and announced live on the television. My birth date received No. 250; most pundits thought a number that high would not be drafted into the armed forces. That’s not to say I didn’t know a little about the trauma that war has on its participants. My father in law who at age eighteen was dropping bombs during WWII could never talk about his experiences decades later as a husband and father to his wife or children. It was too much pain to remember and describe. An unusually happy go lucky kind of guy, he was tormented by his memories.

My mother was an eleven year old refugee, one of the 110,000 Jewish refugees who settled in America in 1936 escaping from Nazi Germany. As an adult she too still could not talk of her traumatic past when she was separated from her parents as an only child, and all her childhood friends were sent off to other countries around the world never to be seen again. For her the trauma was best buried. She too never talked about her pain and fears and unease to anybody, her friends, her husband (my father) and naturally, not to her two sons. She was depressed her whole life; two post partum depression episodes followed her into adult life as a new mother.

Whenever my father travelled out of the country on business, this separation set off a sense of melancholy in her. It was in her bones and in her mind even though she was safe in America. The 1963 movie The Pawnbroker left a mark on me; I was eleven when I saw it. Rod Steiger played the part of a sullen man who survived a concentration camp, but struggled to live a life in New York City. Flashbacks haunted him.

So here I am in Massachusetts, in my townhouse, relaxing and well nourished, browsing news on my MacBook, having returned from my daily walk around the neighborhood. I’m far, far away from the relentless bombing and fears and screams in Ukraine. I’m incredibly grateful for the comforts I have even thought the culture wars between the Dems and GOP are causing great concern.

I think of the millions of refugees displaced by the damn Russians and how despite the welcoming received in their new countries, I wonder, won’t they still be scarred for life? Few people, it is true, can go through life without encountering some kind of trauma, but isn’t the trauma from war more severe than other kinds of trauma? War effects one’s sense of self, safety and security even after the violence ends.

According to Psychology Today magazine: “Trauma is a person’s emotional response to a distressing experience … Unlike ordinary hardships, traumatic events tend to be sudden and unpredictable, and involve a serious threat to life – like bodily injury or death – and feels beyond a person’s control. Most important, events are traumatic to the degree that they undermine a person’s sense of safety in the world and create a sense that catastrophe could strike at any time. Parental loss in childhood, auto accidents, physical violence, sexual assault, military combat experiences, the unexpected loss of a loved one are commonly traumatic events.”

It seems that war is the ultimate traumatic event: of the examples listed in the last sentence above, all of them occur during a war; and all of them can easily occur to one person at the same time, or over a brief period of time.

Not all refugees from a war conflict recover well, and others can’t even make it into adulthood. A former manager of mine, Gwynn J., adopted through her church a couple of the “Lost Boys of Sudan”, a group of boys of the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups who were orphaned during the Second Sudanese Civil War (1987-2005). These children, many of whom were only seven or eight years of age when they were forced to become child soldiers (armed with guns instead of playing with their toys) “were the victims of the largest systematic program of child genocide since the Nazi Holocaust”. One day, Gwynn returned home from grocery shopping to find one of the boys trying to hang himself in the basement.

I believe the violence and trauma inflicted on the refugee adults and children will become a breeding ground for more disturbances, unease and trauma as pain and disturbance breeds violence. Recovery is not attainable for all. Some may be resilient and some may be able to recapture a sense of meaning and fulfillment in their lives whether they are reunited with their loved ones in Ukraine or not; I don’t know; I hope so. It is my hope that they may be able to recover and have a meaningful life.

It was Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust concentration camp survivor himself who as a psychotherapist recognized that people who suffered trauma could find new meaning and fulfillment by devoting their lives through a cause or a deed. There are many amongst us who have survived traumas and been able to remake themselves with the support of mental health services and love of their family and friends. Some say if there’s a will, there’s a way. Hopefully, humanitarian aid, faith-based and mental health services will be afforded to all the Ukrainian people for as long as they need them whether they settle in their new countries, cities and towns, or are able to return to Ukraine and continue their journey.

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Something anyone can do

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Even before I turned seventy I was thinking about how to live my best life, whether I might live a long, fruitful life, and whether I had any control over the matter. It was with these concerns that I picked up the book The Art of Aging by Dr. Sherwin Nulland, author of an earlier book published ten years earlier called How We Die, an exploration of disease states we might succumb to at any point in one’s life. (Think heart disease, cancer, AIDS, etc.). While both are written by a doctor, neither is a clinical book nor were they depressing to me. Instead both are moving accounts of how our bodies and organs function, how they may break down as we age, and how to deal with it.

In the Art of Aging, one chapter in particular stood out: “Approaching a Century: Michael DeBakey”. At the time of the book’s publication in 2007, Dr. DeBakey was recognized as the leading cardiovascular surgeon in the world. He invented his first cardiology-related device as a twenty-two year old medical student in 1931: a pump for the propulsion of blood through flexible tubing, it became “the crucial component that enabled the development of the heart-lung machine for cardiac surgery.”

Onward his scientific mind and innovative spirit took off: he developed the Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals (MASH units) and founded the National Library of Medicine. He became chairman of surgery at Baylor University in Houston and became the pioneer in surgery for aneurysms in the chest and abdomen, as well as treatment of occlusions in the carotid artery to the brain that commonly causes stroke.

Over the years Dr. DeBakey developed a huge surgical practice, eventually numbering over 60,000 patients, 95% of whom he maintained long-term follow-up studies.

He operated until the age of 90 (though could have continued) because there were so many other things that he felt “needed to be done”. He traveled the world as a speaker, author, and consultant continuing to develop new devices to aid his patients, conduct laboratory research, and mentor others. But he was more than a cardiac surgeon. Even at the age of 96 he could hold his own to discuss at length subjects like the origins and theology of the world religions, the Reformation, the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution and democracy.

What drives a man like DeBakey to be so full of life even in at age 96?

His wife said the chief driver for him was “love” …the love of his patients fed his work and it was love and his work that gave life its meaning”. Kahlil Gibran, author of The Prophet, who was also Lebanese American like DeBakey said “work is love made visible.” DeBakey’s wife maintained that he approached his work with love and it fed him. It was his commitment to his patients and their outcomes that kept him going strong into his nineties.

There was nothing he didn’t enjoy more than “giving hope to others, and to maintain it, to save it.” As a surgeon he was in the perfect position to do just that.

Whatever one’s constitution, intellectual or physical state, this man’s approach to living and working is inspirational. It is in the giving to others that meaning is attained, and it is apparent to me, in my quasi-retirement, in this particular time in history that we live that alleviating concerns of others, giving hope to our fellow man is the most important things to do. It pays off for both giver and receiver.

I’m particularly aware of how fortunate I am as a white guy living in America. While not in perfect health, I do my best to maintain a good weight, walk daily and eat healthfully, stay informed and self-advocate as necessary. Apparently Michael DeBakey ate like a bird; that’s not my way, but I do my best to stay clear of sugar and processed foods. I’m far from perfect; I really enjoy muffins, hermits and M&M’s, but try to substitute healthy choices whenever possible.

We’re living in the midst of an existential threat to our planet (and quality of life). We’re watching an unspeakable cruel and destructive war in Ukraine. We have on our hands an energy crisis, a humanitarian crisis, a financial crisis, a democracy crisis and a mental health crisis for the children and adolescents fearing the future of living on a planet on track to warm up to over 3 degrees Celsius in the not-so-distant future.

We’re living in a world that continues to finance dirty coal-related projects at a pace that is more than two times last year’s pace, and a world where greedy fat cats in the largest financial institutions like JPMorgan Chase (which is the worst of the dirty dozen) continue to pour money into dirty fuels investments which spew even more carbon dioxide into the air … to what end? These are not times for the faint of heart. No pun intended.

What better time than now to be kind and to extend a helping hand to others? Dr. Nuland maintains: “One hardly need be a doctor in order to do the giving. The gratification comes from the feeling that you’ve done something for people.”

Apparently, DeBakey’s genes have something to do with his longevity.

His father lived to be ninety, and his mother into her late eighties. He, like his parents shared similar values, exercised, ate healthfully and sought out intellectual stimulation from one day to the next. While we may not be blessed with the same genes as DeBakey, we have control over our own attitudes and many of our choices and communications. Humans have the ability to reflect on one’s own behavior and can make adjustments over time.

He also made clear in his late nineties, that aside from the philosophical and social interaction and love shared between himself and his patients, “curiosity and the seeking of knowledge is a transcendent life force … it drives you intellectually and to an extent, physiologically.” When he goes to bed at night “he is looking forward to the morning so that he can do those things he was unable to accomplish on that day.”

I would add that I have gotten into the habit when I go to sleep to remember at least three things that I am grateful for at the end of the day. And, like Dr. DeBakey, I sometimes look forward to the simple things like having cereal the next morning, or doing Wordle or Spelling Bee. But I no longer do Spelling Bee while walking at the same time. I don’t think Michael DeBakey would encourage that, plus I’ve learned my lesson (See “Solo Trip” blog post in “off the hook” if you haven’t read it already).

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Just sittin’

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I’ve been doing a lot of nothing during the month of February and it’s been liberating. Doing nothing, just hanging around, watching Netflix or just wasting time is not wasting time. There’s a first time for everything and for the last few weeks I’ve really enjoyed doing nothing; for me it’s been surprisingly worthwhile. It’s something that I have not allowed myself to do do very often. I’m used to having a number of “must do” activities to accomplish during the day in order to feel good and productive, and if not accomplished during the day, sometimes continuing in to the night. So much to learn, so much to take care of, so much to prepare for, so many perspectives and subjects to understand as a way to understand my perspective.

Doing nothing means not to push myself, to not prod, to not try to control my time (and outcome), or to squeeze as much as possible out of one’s day. I have not squandered my time. While I don’t have a bucket list, there are some things that I’d like to do before the end, and since the end could be tomorrow, I tend to use my time to do them. In meditation or through breathing exercises, it says to use this exercise “to not accomplish anything”, to just be in the here and now. By slowing down and not pushing myself, it allows me to look within and take apart assumptions and expectations – of myself and others.

Retirement has not been a time when I do nothing. I’ve got an activity list, obligations, bills to pay and challenges to face. I find myself constantly looking at my watch and spending too much time reading emails, texts and solicitation on my phone or MacBook.

When I embarked on “off the hook” nearly five years ago, I had pent up demand to participate in activities I had often dreamed about but did not have the time to pursue: drawing and lettering (artwork), biking with friends, reading fiction. Volunteering to address climate change at the local level and defeating Trump’s re-election bid. I’ve been cooking Mediterranean cuisine, vacationing in Florida, and before Covid, traveling overseas.

Charles Darwin said, “A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life”. Much of my off the hook time has been about living (alone with myself and with family and friends), and exploring and writing and being creative. That takes time, motivation, effort and sacrifice.

I’ve grown to binge on series like Succession, The Imposters, Dirty John. While I doubt very much that I will be speaking about any of these shows while on my deathbed, I now find just relaxing with them worthwhile. I started watching Mad Men again since it first aired in 2007, and Seinfeld episodes I missed or never saw in the first place.

It feels really good to just waste time {“watching the ships roll in, then I watch ’em roll away again”) …. as the incomparable Otis Reading muses in his “Dock of the Bay”:

….”So I’m just sittin’ on the dock of the bay, Watchin’ the tide roll away, ooh, I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay, wasting’ time …. Sittin’ here restin’ my bones …. Now I’m just gon’ sit, at the dock of the bay, Watchin’ the tide roll away, ooh yeah ….I’m just sittin’ on the dock of the bay, Wastin’ time.

Fun at last

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“And we’ll have fun, fun, fun until daddy takes the pickle ball away! …. (again), and we’ll have fun, fun, fun, fun … until daddy takes the pickle ball away!!!!”

… I know I’m showing my age by referencing Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys, but it’s just that it’s springtime in New England and I’m having a ball – literally. I’m playing pickle ball, America’s fastest growing sport, twice a week, and continue playing “old man tennis” with a longtime friend every weekend. (Old man tennis is my version of regular singles tennis. It’s all the same except I can’t run out all the shots due to osteoarthritis in my right knee. My opponent is older than me but he doesn’t have any knee problems; so we usually just practice hitting the ball back and forth and occasionally play games).

I walk around town and at the Southern New England Trunkline Trail (SNETT). The SNETT runs 22 miles from Douglas State Forest to Franklin State Forest and runs through six towns end to end. SNETT is used by plenty of individuals, families and couples through all seasons.

I usually go bicycling with a couple of friends. Last weekend we did the Bruce Freeman Trail in Acton, about 18 miles round trip. (Bruce Freeman was a former local Congressman). It’s a beautiful, well-maintained paved bike path that meanders into Chelmsford and features a small lake and sandy beach about 7.5 miles in from the beginning behind Donelan’s supermarket on Great Road. I just love being outside in nature, enjoying the silence, the majestic trees and shade, the warmth of the sun and the breeze.

Pickle ball is a new game for me; it’s easy to learn, good exercise, while being sociable and downright fun! That’s the part I like: fun. Pickle ball is appropriate for players of all ages and skill levels, but where I play, it’s almost exclusively played by seniors. It can be quite challenging, fast-paced and competitive when one becomes more experienced at playing, adding spins and velocity to the returns.

Pickle ball. What a funny name for a sport. Originally invented over fifty years ago, I’ve read that Pickle was the name of the inventor’s dog. Pickle ball certainly has a more interesting name than baseball, bowling and football. I wonder where their names came from. Growing up in Massachusetts, I remember taking our boys to the Basketball Museum and Hall of Fame one weekend day, learning about the game’s featured stars in an interactive exhibitor with the likes of Michael Jordan, Bill Russell and Magic Johnson. Apparently James Naismith, a Springfield (MA) College instructor and graduate student invented basketball in 1891. His students wanted him to call it “Naismith ball”, but he preferred to name is “basketball”.

Being upright and mobile, be it walking or hiking, playing a net game like pickle ball or tennis or even badminton or volleyball, along with bicycling are all a lot of fun as well and allow one to stay healthy. Nothing quite like it compares. Life is good. I envision enjoying Florida during the winter months doing these things as well. Being outside in nature is a joy along with the chipmunks, wild turkeys, squirrels and occasional deer. There were postings at Bruce Freeman Trail to watch out for the occasional black bear and pointed out the importance of not cozying up to a black bear seeking a selfie. Good advise.

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