“My God, it’s full of stars!”

The nerdier among you will recognize the quote above as being the last words spoken by Dave Bowman as he entered the monolith in the book version of 2001: a SpaceOdyssey. The line was not spoken in the original movie version of the story.

If you were to peruse the shelves of the book case upstairs, or the inside of my everyday carry bag for work, you would find notebooks of various sizes, materials and colors. The main daily working journal I am now using is a bright red Leuchtturm1917 one, slightly wider than the usual black Moleskine or orange Rhodia that I have historically favored.

It was a gift from my loving wife, brought back in her magic black suitcase from Europe, where she is always scanning for things I might like (usually involving chocolate, but not this time). Its cover is sturdy and bright, its paper is smooth and heavy enough to be substantial, but light enough to absorb moisture form the air if you sit outside on the front porch after days of heavy rain (yes, tonight).

It takes ink joyfully. Ideas glide onto its surface. Its dot matrix printed on the page allows for minimum structural organization and maximum creativity for those kinds of days. It has a table of contents section, numbered pages (250 plus end notes sheets), and a heavy stock storage pocket in the back. I have several dedicated pages in the very front and the very back that hold contents, hikes to research, budget items, and airport codes. (Yes, I am that guy.) I usually start each day at work with items on one or maybe two pages that I work on and process throughout the day, transferring some of the pertinent information to my digital information system, some of it being completely dealt with and put to bed in the analog world by the end of the day.

I really like this notebook (thank you again, my love), but I love what it is becoming since I started to use it on 5-9-19. The words in this book tell the story of my daily grind and my work life and thought processes, sure. The best part of the notebook, though, is the inside front cover, which is telling the story of my life. You will find a quote there that I am trying to follow this year. “Eat half, walk twice, give three times and love endlessly.” You will see a visitor pass from a local hospital where I needed to go see a patient for a court evaluation, the same hospital that I used to practice psychiatry in over thirty years ago. (The doctors lounge in that hospital had the best platter of huge, yummy cookies I have ever had anywhere, but that is another story for another day) It has a small purple sticker with a nautical motif that reminds me of our recent trip to Montreal QC and the Pointe-à-Callierè Montreal Archaeology and History Complex, a place filled with history and technology perfectly combined and on display for learning and pure visual pleasure.

In the middle of that front inside cover is a large sticker from the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area gift shop, which we visited after taking a ride in a Petersburg boat with the two oldest grandchildren from Chattanooga. There is nothing like the combination of local history, water, and nature to inspire any of us, all of us.

Off to the side are two odd looking additions to this page. One is tiny Verizon SIM card from an iPhone, and the other is the paperclip-like tool that helped to remove said SIM card from its thin plastic cradle. The tool is made of liquid metal, a technology that was bought by Apple years ago, but that it has only used to build these little tools, to the best of my knowledge.

One can often be better known to others by what he says as he introduces himself, but make no mistake, in my notebooks you can learn who I am in two ways.

One is by reading what I am thinking and how I am solving day to day problems that present themselves to me. The other is to watch the accumulation of pictorial evidence of where I’ve been, what I’ve experienced, and where I will be heading next. Pictures, stickers, quotes, tools, they are all part of who I am and why I am.

Only one way to describe my notebooks:

“My God, they’re full of stuff!”

D Day +1 +1

D Day has come and gone once again, and we have remembered. It is a time to look forward as well as backward, as I wrote about this morning on my other blog, Musings.

I have another personal anniversary that I do not celebrate every year, but I do pause to remember and honor. My father died one year and one day after the fiftieth anniversary of D Day. Now, you might think this is an odd way to remember the date of your father’s death, but I love history, and the two just sort of go hand in hand for me.

My dad was sixty two when he died of a sudden cerebral aneurysm. He would have been sixty three on July 30th, had he lived. As I have previously written, I will celebrate my sixty second birthday this October 24th. Lord willing.

This year will prove to be a challenging one for me emotionally. It is hard to explain what it feels like to outlive one’s parent. (Again, I am being very optimistic and taking liberties here, assuming that I will!) I remember vividly seeing my grandmother sitting down at the funeral home at my dad’s service, making the statement that it was very unnatural to outlive one’s own child. There is a natural order to the world and to the greater universe that we all take for granted. You are born, you live, you may be blessed with children and grandchildren, you teach them to care for themselves and the planet, and then one day you make your exit in good time, as it should be. None of us, so far, has escaped that ultimate fate.

I fully expected to see my parents live to ripe old ages, well into their nineties and beyond. My mother is still working on that, thank God. She will be eighty four next month, and she is a young octogenarian at that! My father’s fate was different. He was cut down by a physical abnormality that no one saw coming, at a very early age. He had just retired, was trying to do other things to stay active and busy and was trying to find a “new groove”. It was not fair, of course, but what about life is, really?

I am happy, busy, working, writing, reading, hiking, traveling, driving, visiting with family and friends, planning vacations (Japan in October!) and assuming that life will go on, if not forever, then for a few decades to come. My wife adamantly and confidently predicts, no, commands, that I will live until I am ninety six. She also commands that she will exit this life first, but I think we both know that the odds of that are slim to none. I am reminded of that scene in the John Adams miniseries when President Adams is at his wife’s bedside in her last moments. “I can’t believe I am going first”, she says, resigned to the fact that she will leave her husband, who loved her dearly, behind.

I do not want to merely be somber and sad as I think on these things in this space in the coming year. No, I am realistic as I grow older, but I am also wishing with all my might that I might have the thirty four more years that my dear wife promises me (maybe she has God’s ear or some other inside track not known to me?) so that I can love her, my children and grandchildren and this life that I have been blessed with with all my heart and soul and mind and body.

Yes, that is the goal, my friends.

To live long, if that is possible.

To live and love well, as long as one is given to do so.

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Sleep is way overrated.

At least that’s what I used to think, before I met my wife and before I started to get older and began to feel the very real consequences of not sleeping well or enough.

I went to college for three years, medical school for four years and then did a residency in psychiatry for four more years before I could start to work as a “real” doctor. All during that time, sleep was a very real luxury that one very quickly learned could be sacrificed for something else, like last minute cramming for a final, research that helped avoid a tongue lashing by a picky attending on morning rounds, or more coffee. We were basically trained by medical training NOT to sleep. In addition to my regular academic duties, I worked a third shift lab job in the hospital, had to go to class, had clinical rotations and had to read, like, all the time. Little naps were good, but an unbroken eight hours of sleep never happened.

Somehow, and I still don’t know quite how, that lack of sleep, perceived need for sleep, and inability to understand the need for sleep carried over into private practice and starting a family. As time went on, sleep deprivation became the norm. I’m sure it deprived me of some experiences and some moments of being fully awake.

As I age, I know in my head and my heart that I need more sleep, but I still begrudge the time lost. I love to sleep, but I hate to end the day and get to bed!

Funny thing is, if I get at least seven or eight hours of good sleep now, I can tell a night and day difference. I am sharper mentally, I feel much better physically, my tolerance is better and I am more creative.

I am trying to learn these key points:

Sleep is good for me. I need to sleep. A lot more than I do. Every night possible.

Routine is important, not just for my little grandchildren, but for me too. Get up at about the same time each day. Get to bed. Let the day end. You’ll have another brand new one tomorrow!

I have a feeling that if I do NOT learn these important lessons on my own, my aging body and brain will let me know in good time….

Growing Older

I have often heard people say, “I’m getting so much older”, or “I feel so much older!” They lament the aging process and rail against it, as if that is going to stop it in its tracks or make it any easier to get through.

I prefer to think of it as “growing older” and not getting older.

We have a lot of potential for growth as we age. We learn a lot about relationships, money, travel, work, children, grandchildren and a myriad other things almost by default. If we put even a little effort forth, we can maximize these growth areas and enrich our lives many fold. Simply deciding to age gracefully (or not so much!) is an option, but not the best one. Aggressive learning and growing as we age is much better.

A lot of this is based on attitude. When you wake up in the morning, are you glad to be alive? Are you excited about the coming day? Do you relish the challenges ahead and have a plan to attack them with vigor? A positive attitude can go a long way as we try to maintain an upbeat demeanor going into our senior years.

I have to do a certain amount of continuing medical education every year in order to maintain my medical license. Most years I do many more hours above the minimum required to meet the goal. It’s fun to learn new things or just to confirm that I’m on track with what I already do to treat my patients! You know, continuing education is not just for doctors or other licensed professionals. Anyone can continue a learning program, and make it as structured or unstructured as they like, all life long. If you never stop learning , you never stop growing.

As I mentioned above, one can passively accept the fact that aging will occur and do to us what it will, or one can choose to fight back, stay in shape and not go quietly into that good night! This includes staying healthy in mind, body and spirit. I worked my Telepsychiatry job the last three evenings in a row, so when I got off work today I was very excited about getting outside and walking in the heat and sunshine. I am very fortunate to live near a river and in a conservation community, so it is not unusual to encounter wildlife and birds and other creatures on a walk.

It was 97 degrees and humid today, brutal for this time of year, but I changed clothes immediately on arriving home (so I would not chicken out!) and went right out the back door toward the river. I was lucky enough to see a couple of hawks, a giant white egret, a blue heron, came within six feet of a beautiful doe standing in the swamp plants just off the boardwalk ( she didn’t move a muscle and stared me down as I walked quietly past her), and then on the other side of the neighborhood I saw a mother and the cutest tiny little fawn you could ever want to see. Although these beautiful creatures sometimes nip at our new lilies in the middle of the night, I still thrill every time I see them up close. I got back to the house after a three mile walk, overheated and tired, but so pleased that I am able to get out and feel my physical body straining against obsolescence.

If we are going to age gracefully, we must be positive, never stop learning, push ourselves in mind, body and spirit and always choose active growth over passive acceptance of aging.

Memorial Day

One thing about starting a new blog that celebrates getting older is that I, as the guy getting older and writing the blog, am allowed to have a good old fashioned old man rant every once in a while. It’s just the right thing to do. It must be done. This will be a small but important one. Please bear with me.

I love holidays. I really do. Holidays are usually fun, festive and bring people together to eat, drink, be merry and give each other gifts of some sort. Some holidays are religious, some are spooky, some are silly, and let’s face it, some are simply made up by the card companies to sell more greeting cards. That being said, today is Memorial Day in the United States. It is not Veterans Day. It is Memorial Day. Are they different, you ask? Read on.

Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the US that is designed to remember and honor those who have died while in the service of the armed forces of their country. It is observed on the last Monday of May. It is also considered to be the unofficial start of summer. Read more about the sometime controversial history of the start of Memorial Day here.

There are two other holidays that celebrate veterans and their service. Veterans Day celebrates the service of all US veterans. Armed Forces Day honors those who are currently serving in the armed forces of the US.

A couple of facts that you may or may not know about Memorial Day as it is currently observed: in the year 2000, Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act, asking people to take a moment at 3:00 PM on Memorial Day to stop and reflect; on Memorial Day, the flag of the United States is raised vigorously to the top of the staff, then solemnly lowered to half-staff, where it should remain only until noon, after which it is raised to full-staff once again; parades are held across the land in big cities and small towns on Memorial Day weekend, usually involving marching bands and displays of vehicles used in our various wars; volunteers place thousands of flags on the gravesites of fallen warriors in national cemeteries across the country on this weekend.

Now, my rant.

Memorial Day honors those who have died while serving in the armed services. Thus, in my humble American old man opinion, it is not appropriate to wish anyone a “Happy Memorial Day”. Those who visit the national cemeteries, gravesites of their loved ones, and place flowers through their tears are not celebrating anything happy. They are grieving a painful loss, one that in no small part is why we have the precious freedoms we all enjoy today.

Thus, we do not celebrate Memorial Day, but we observe it, with respect and honor for those who died, and with a profound sense of gratitude for all they did to keep us free.

Veterans Day? Celebrate your heart out. That day, November 11th, will be for all veterans past and present, living and dead. It is also the birthday of my oldest granddaughter, so a doubly celebratory day for us! Thank a veteran for his or her service, give them a hug, salute them if appropriate for you to do so, and let them know that they are loved, cherished and valued by all Americans. (You may do this for my granddaughter as well if you see her. I kid….)

Enjoy the unofficial start of summer today (Lord knows where I live it is plenty hot already), but remember why we observe this solemn holiday in the United States. Take a moment to acknowledge the ultimate sacrifice that some of our men and women in uniform made in order to ensure that we keep and enjoy our many freedoms.

Thin Places

As we wrapped up our final meeting of the year in my Education for Ministry group this week, we went around the room sharing how we might approach things differently going forward, given the insights and inpact our studies had made on us. I thought about this, and decided that what I wanted to do was pay more daily attention to seeing and feeling the thin places around me. Read more about these places here. You may be familiar with this concept, which originates in Celtic tradition and denotes those places where the separation between earth and heaven is quite thin. Heaven and earth, the Celtic saying goes, are only three feet apart, but in thin places that distance is even shorter. The article above also says that you don’t really plan to go to a thin place-you stunble upon one. I agree and disagree, as you will see.

I have been lucky enough to travel to many places in my life, I have been on many mountaintops, and I have walked in many a lush, green forest. I have seen churches and cathedrals that awed me, cities and towns that inspired me, and driven madly over roads that made me feel that I was flying on the edge of the world. Most of the thin places that I have felt were quiet, but I suppose that would not always be the case. For me, getting out of and away from the hectic routine of my world, away from the cacophany of daily life, away from the many demands made on all of us, is the way to begin setting myself up to be in a position to feel and see a thin place. Some of my past and more recent thin places involve religious sites, historical places, flying and hiking.

One of the more recent thin places I visited was the Notre Dame Cathedral in Montreal, QC. See one of my photos of this magnificent place below. When we walked into this cathedral, I was quite certain that I would immediately burst into tears. The emotion that overwhelmed me, the sense that I was so much closer to God, in an instant, was powerful beyond description. Churches are most always beautiful in their own way (we saw at least a half dozen on our recent trip to Canada) , but the history and the presentation and the sheer magnitude of the earthly, physical response to the heavenly was almost close enough to reach out and touch. If you have not seen this cathedral, and you are ever in Montreal, go there first. As our concierge in the hotel told us, “There are three things you do in Montreal. One, go to see Notre Dame. Two, climb the mountain (Mount Royal). Lastly, eat and drink!

If you look upward, you can see “Mary in Her heaven” toward the spire.

Another place that I felt I was much closer to heaven was on a high ridge along a hiking trail in the Sandia Mountains outside of Albequerque. I had flown out, rented a car, driven to the very top of the mountains, and then hiked all day along a long, dry, beautiful ridge trail that spanned much of the mountains. The highest point, Sandia Crest, was 10,678 feet. If you look at a picture of these mountains and see the bristle of radio and TV towers at the top, that was where I parked my car before the hike! I did not see another soul for the duration of the hike. The terrain was wild, gorgeous and harsh, and I got lost at the very end of my trek, but I was able to find a road and regain my bearings. The solitude one feels at 10,000 feet, the feeling of being thousands of feet above the city and the valley floor below, and the trust that one must place in themselves to get in and get out, while exploring some rarely used trails, is exhilarating. I never felt afraid, lonely or isolated. God was there, I think, and maybe even an angel or two once they figured that I was really lost, exhausted and in need of some rescuing at the end.

Looking down over the dry, brown valley in the distance. The green forest below me was where I would essentially re-blaze a little used trail and get lost on my way back down the ridge, but God and a couple of angels helped me find my way, of that I am quite sure.

Another two places in nature that were overwhelmingly beautiful were Rocky Mountain National Park and Staunton State Park in Colorado. Trina and I have hiked there together when out to visit my daughter and her family, and both are huge, wild and gorgeous. It is hard to do justice to places like these with pictures, but I have included one of each below that might give you a little taste of the sense of awe that you feel when being a very small human walking in a very large expanse of God’s creation. Again, one does not always go looking for these thin places, but once you are experiencing one, there is no doubt that you are there.

A tranquil lake about halfway into our hike, where we took off our shoes, ate some lunch and chatted with a very friendly chipmunk.
A rugged, long hike through the relatively new Staunton State Park. Our destination was just to the right of Lion’s Head, the rocky outcropping in the distance.

The last and problably most important thin place for me is one that is close to home. The Church of the Good Shepherd has been my church home for many years now. It is a small structure that is big on heart, service to the community and sharing the gospel with anyone who will hear. I love going to the church anytime, but holidays are the times that I feel the real closeness of heaven. I will share pictures from Christmas and Eastertide below, two of the most solemn and important times on the Christian calendar, and two times of year that Good Shepherd is at her finest.

The altar at Christmas.
Easter Day

Thin places are all around us. Be vigilant. Be aware. Slow down, put down your electronics and listen. Feel your surroundings. Just when you least expect it, heaven might be closer than you think.

What the Funeral (Re)taught Me

In the liturgical tradition of the Episcopal church, a funeral is an Easter service. It finds all its meaning in the resurrection. It is characterized by joy. This joy does not make the human grief we feel unChristian or wrong.

None of us lives to himself, and no man dies to himself.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” Ecclesiastes 3: 1-4

“Help us, we pray, in the midst of things we cannot understand, to believe and trust in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection to life everlasting.”

“Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

Rest In Peace, Reynolds Gracy Jarvis, M.D.