Before The Parade

Before The Parade

Stores Closed.
Sidewalks empty.
The river flows.
Chairs hold their owner’s spots.
The streets are quiet in anticipation.
They wait for the parade to begin.
A street cleaner readies them.
A lone person swings in the park.
Coffee drinkers buy their morning brew.
Flowers, fields, and structures seem unconcerned.
Soon, the quiet will cease.
Drums will beat.
Children will dance.
Flags will wave.
The parade will pass.
We will celebrate and be proud.

Happy Memorial Day friends!

The Swamp

I made my purchase in 1989. My purchase being the house that I still live in. Four bedrooms, two and one-half baths. It was considered nice in the day, now deemed modest, dwarfed by the new multi-million dollar mansions just up the street.

I was drawn to my town. I knew that I wanted to live here since I was a teen. I remember traveling here in the 1970s. Then a small farming community of about 20,000, it was separated from metropolitan Chicago by miles of corn and soy. Now a far western suburb of almost 150,000, it is connected by urban sprawl. Often on top 10 lists of best place to live in the country, it was carefully planned with beautiful parks, great schools, and a charming downtown. It still draws me.

The downtown is an easy walk from my house, a walk that I take multiple times a week. Sometimes for purpose, often for ambiance. My town has a river that runs through it. It runs through my neighborhood, through my downtown, and beyond where it eventually empties into the great Illinois river.

My river has been gentrified with cobblestone paths, shepherd hooks streetlights, artistically arranged flowerbeds, and even a carillon. People travel to its Riverwalk from surrounding communities for the flowers, sculptures, restaurants… the well-crafted package.

An army of workers make sure that the paths are litter free, the flower beds are weed free, and the grassy lawns are trimmed to perfect regulation height. I love the Riverwalk, and when I walk along its prosaic paths I feel fortunate and blessed. Beautiful people, happy children, street musicians, food cart vendors. The experience is more akin to a Norman Rockwell painting fused with a Hollywood creation like Pleasantville, rather than a Chicago neo-suburb.

It is easy to get caught up in the well-planned magic. It is easy to set a high standard of expectation. It is easy to assume that by some type of osmosis I am part of this picture perfect community, part of the picture perfect beautiful people that gracefully shop in the little boutiques, dine in the fine restaurants, rejuvenate in the spas. It is easy to disconnect from the real world and to assume an artificial specialness about myself, among the herd of artificially special residents. Cohabitants synthetically elevated by their SUVs, impressive wardrobes, and high-limit credit cards.

My reality is disconnected from this fantasy. A blue-collar kid with a gift for science who pursued graduate school, then medical school. A kid who never took a psychology class as an undergrad, then exposed to the novelty and complexity of human behavior during his 3rd-year psychiatric rotation. Impressed by this complexity enough to change his plans of subspecialty internal medicine to psychiatry. My outward appearance now white-collar, my inner core still blue-collar; a core that finds excitement and wonderment from honest labor and earned dirt under my fingernails.

There are other places in my town. Places that can reconnect me to my real self, and the greater world. Places to re-educate me, to reground me. One of those places is the swamp. The swamp is along the Riverwalk, but away from the gelato shops and fusion cookery. It is in a wild area, less managed, more natural. To find the swamp you need to veer off the cobblestone paths and onto one of crushed ash. Not very far, but a world apart. A wild place dotted with fallen trees, covered with a carpet of blue-green algae and surrounded by wild flowers.

A place teeming with life. Frogs, snakes, insects that can dance on its surface without sinking. Listening, I can hear the sound of the swamp. Deep rich sounds of insects calling each other, splashes of swampy creatures, songs of birds.

The vegetation wasn’t planted. The swamp wasn’t sculpted, the fallen trees weren’t artistically placed. They just are. They make me feel alive, they fuel my soul, ignite my creativity. Most importantly, they ground me. They make realize that beauty comes in many forms. One not better than another.

How easy is it for me to judge others based on their outward appearance, their social standing, or their credit card limit. How foolish of me to do this. How grateful I am to have my swamp to visit. A place to experience a different kind of beauty. A place to appreciate the benefits of diversity, the greatness of difference. A place to understand that the world is a better place not only because of carefully architected landscapes and personas but also because of wild places and people whose outward appearance reflects who they are in earnest, rather than a holographic projection of who they want you to think they are.

Today my goal is to be grateful, yet grounded.

Sculptures adorn the Riverwalk.
Covered bridges dot the Riverwalk.
Cobblestone walkways and even a carillon.
Paddle boats on the Riverwalk.
The swamp is beautiful and wild.
Fallen branches and algae.
Flowering trees.
No artfully planted flowers in the swamp.

The Wedding

When I got the news I thought it may be an adventure, but I had some trepidation. There was the distance, the unfamiliarity, and even the concept to contend to. However, my attendance was assured. My niece Emma was getting married, I would attend. The event made sweeter by the passage of time; the last wedding on my wife’s side of the family was ours. The distance measured by 25 years, three children, and the loss of my hair.

My niece met her husband when they were both counselors at a summer camp in Michigan. A Swedish Covenant Bible camp, to be specific. She hailed from Minnesota, her husband from Michigan. Joined by a mutual heritage, they found each other among the cabins and fields in a place that they initially attended as campers, metamorphosed by time into camp counselors.

Their shared friends, experiences, and memories from that epicenter; it only made sense that they marry there.

I only attended summer camp once as a child. It was a Boys Club camp somewhere in Wisconsin. Barren uninsulated cabins, metal cots, and a community bathroom were the biases that I brought with me. My biases were wrong, as biases often are. The beautiful setting was picture perfect with clean and neat bunkhouses, grassy lawns and a sparkling lake.

We had been assigned a room in one of the cabins that was jam packed with beds. Our room was one of four in the building, which also contained two bathrooms. The camp also functions during the winter months as a retreat center, and there are comfortable spots to meet, discuss, and exercise. It even has its own coffee shop, a perfect place to purchase my early morning Americano.

It was clear that my niece had put a tremendous amount of work and planning into making her wedding memorable. Clever homemade signs, packets of information, strung lights, these were just a few of her special touches. The officiating minister had known both Emma and Luke for years, so his sermon was heartfelt and personal. The music performed by friends.

The reception was held in an all-purpose building at the local county fairgrounds. Classic in presentation with food, music, and the now ubiquitous photo booth. The music got me dancing. The dancing made me grateful that I had been jogging and going to the gym. Overall, I was able to keep up with the younger attendees, at least in endurance if not in style.

The event warmed me. I was warmed by the love that the newlyweds radiated. I was warmed by family, who traveled long distances to celebrate with my niece and her new husband. I was warmed by their friends: fellow campers, college connections, childhood besties. They all came to be part of the momentous event. I was happy to be there. Happy to witness the genesis of their marriage. Aware and happy that their union signified the passing of one generation to the next.

Weddings are happy times. Weddings are serious times. Their wedding was unique in a wonderful way. Stamped with their personalities, dusted with their experiences, and filled with their connections.

As I drove the long drive home I savored the sweet aftertaste of the event. A smile on my face as my imagination projected forward into their coming weeks, months, years, and decades.

Today I am grateful for the opportunity to be included in great events in the lives of others.


On Being An Introvert

The problem with placing people into broad categories is just that. It is conceptually easy to attach a label to someone, or even yourself, and allow that label to define. Often a group category has enough merit to grant this deception to occur, but it is limiting to define anything or anyone based on criteria of 5 to 10 facts.

Categorizing a person, or group of people can also have a very dark side. Negative connotations have been assigned to groups for millennia, typically in an us versus them mindset. In the land of the free, there have always been different rules for different people. Gender, race, sexual orientation, immigration status, weight, religion; these are just a few of the categories where it has been acceptable practice to attack and denigrate individuals who are different. Dear reader, it can be easy to place someone in a box, and define who they are based on that box. Remember, a box is just a container, and containers can hold many different things.

I have placed myself into categories many times. One group that I have identified with is the introvert group. Indeed, I can check off many of the canned introvert characteristics. However, I’m am more than a list of 5 to 10 elements. You can put me in a box, but to know who I really am you need to look inside that box.

I have always been comfortable being in my head.

I can get distracted easily by noise and other abrasive stimulation You may find me sitting in a dark room thinking. Thinking seems to energize me, and the process itself seems to serve as its own end. I have come up with a number of good ideas thinking, but the majority of that effort is simply done for the pleasure of the activity.

I don’t want to impose on you.

I’m not sure if this characteristic is part of my introversion, or if it reflects a childhood where I felt that I was more of a burden than a blessing. I almost always let people come to me. This is not out of conceit, rather the opposite. I would never want to take up someone’s time. When someone engages with me I am more certain that they want to make the connection. Are there exceptions to this rule? There have been very few, and I believe that those exceptions were the result of forces outside myself.

I am a loyal and true friend.

I have many acquaintances, but only a select group of deep connections. I have never needed to be the most popular kid on the block. To be clear, I have avoided such aspirations as they would compromise my integrity. With that said, when I make a friendship it will often last for decades. Ed note: I was tempted to use the phrase, “for life” in the last sentence, but that phrase would assume that I could foretell the future, a capability that I have not acquired. A great advantage of having a select group of connections is that you have more time and energy to devote to enriching those relationships. I am sure that this latter fact is one of the reasons that my friendships tend to be meaningful and tend to last.

I don’t mind small talk.

I like having light conversations, but I often have to recharge after attending a large group activity, like a party or conference. While many extroverts gain energy from many contacts, I lose energy. I recharge by getting back into my head, either by thinking or doing a solitary activity.

I think best when I am alone.

There are exceptions to this rule, and I have had many brainstorming sessions where new ideas and concepts grew with the help of others. In addition, there is a very select group of individuals who I love to think with. I feel so close to them that our thoughts seem to connect in a subconscious flow where the creation process is more akin to a Vulcan mind meld. Even with those individuals there are times when it is best for me to think alone. This is especially the case with technical problems, as I have found that I can process such exercises more quickly if I can direct all of my energy to the topic, and also allow myself to make mistakes as I acquire the solution.

I really like people.

You may want to categorize introverts as antisocial. If so, this does not apply to me. I love connecting with people, and I find them endlessly captivating. I like the fact that we are a varied species with a wide variety of interests. I’m am always learning from others. Important facts to trivial information, it is all interesting to me. I feel that it is a great privilege when someone trusts me enough to share a part of their life with me.

I like public speaking and have no fear of talking to a group of 100.

People have told me that I am a natural teacher, and it excites me when I can expose someone to a new idea or concept and have them jump on board. Giving a lecture, or teaching one-to-one has always been pleasurable.

I am never bored.

One of the benefits of being comfortable in your head is that you don’t need a lot of external activity to feel content. Thinking, taking a bike ride, walking in the woods, taking pictures, figuring out the problem of the day, these are just a few of the many activities that keep me company.

I have a child’s heart.

Small, common things make me happy. A beautiful day, a sincere hug, a new adventure. I’m not sure why my decades of existence hasn’t calloused me to such things, but I often view life with the excitement of an eight-year-old on Christmas morning. I get immense joy from simple things. I’m happy to vacation in Paris, but I’m also happy riding a bike along the lakefront.

Since I tend to be quiet I sometimes am afraid that I will easily be forgotten.

I went to the funeral of a relative who was very extroverted and popular in his community. The condolence line was so long that it extended out of the building. It is likely that hundreds of people offered their sympathy to my cousin, who was his wife. I sometimes wonder who will come to my funeral. I sometimes wonder if my presence will just fade into the ether once I am no longer providing a service to others. I believe that this fact drives me to attempt to be a positive force, no matter how small. We are all just grains of sand on an immense beach. With that said, this grain of sand wants to stop erosion, not contribute to it.

I need to constantly create and constantly learn.

I get joy from acquiring any knowledge. I get joy from taking any knowledge and turning it into something. A thought, a lecture, a photography, a video, a blog. The creation process itself is as exciting as any acknowledgment that I may gain from the end result.

Dear reader, I am more complex than the few paragraphs above. But I hope they define me outside a canned checklist found on Facebook or in “Psychology Today.” I wrote this piece with the hope that you would look beyond any person’s categorization. When I have made efforts to do so I have almost universally found that I have more in common with them than I have differences.

Today my goal is to celebrate who I am.
Today my goal is to celebrate who you are.

Even in a large group I often live in my head


The Walk

I didn’t go to the gym today, I walked.
It was cold, rainy, and gusty, I walked.
The umbrella snapped in the wind, I walked.
My ears were frozen, I walked.
I walked and I thought.
I thought about my day ahead and walked.
I thought about my close connections and walked.
I thought about my walk and walked.
How grateful I am to be able to walk.
How grateful I am to have wonderful people in my life.
How grateful I am to live in this beautiful city.
How grateful I am.

Walking downtown in the rain.

The Garage

It didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen last month or even last year. But, it happened. Slowly, like creeping urban decay, until it became overwhelming. I had lost the battle, I had lost my garage.

I have never been one of those spotless garage people. Those individuals with a gardening implement or two neatly hung on a wall. The ones with the epoxied floors, and painted rafters. That was never me.

But once I did have a functional garage, a usable space that could house cars. That was decades ago. Before marriage, before kids, before swimming noodles, before sleds, before junk.

I coped with the garage by no longer thinking of it as a place for cars, instead, it became a storage shed. A shed that would get organized about once a year. The organization was a paltry event, I pushed things around the floor, and swept the dead leaves out to the curb.

The lack of order bothered my friend Tom, who is a bit more OCD than I am. “Wouldn’t it be nice if you could park a car in here?” He would say. Tom approached me on this topic with two irrefusable offers. The use of his personal dumpster, and the gift of his construction knowledge.

The project started a month ago by getting rid of two old and rotting dresser. They went from housing clothing to holding junk long ago. Into the traveling dumpster they went, so decayed that they fell apart on removal.

A week ago Tom had completed a demolition of a customer’s bathroom. His traveling dumpster revisited, as it had some extra dumpster room. More junk was thrown away.

Off to the curb went useful things for the garbage pickers. Old framed pictures, small electrics, a kerosene heater purchased in 1999 on the Y2K advice of a prominent engineer who was my patient at the time. But there was so much more stuff.

Tom offered to help build some shelves for me. Not the flimsy ones that I could probably assemble myself, but sturdy ones strong enough to hold a man standing on them (we actually tested this). Easter Saturday started with the buzz of power tools emerging from my garage.

Enter my wonderful teenage kids, who offered only a little resistance when I asked for their help. Will, overtired from late adventures with his friends. Grace, trying to finish up some homework so she could go to a party with hers. Despite their personal needs, they gave me their time.

I truthfully asked for only 40 minutes of effort. That effort actually stretched to over 2.5 hours.

Both kids questioned every item. “Dad, do you really need this? When was the last time you used it?”

Piles started to form. Items decayed by the garage’s unheated dampness. Useless parts that could no longer be paired with their mates. Outright garbage, saved for no apparent reason. These items went into the garbage pile.

There was also a lot of good, but useless stuff. An outdoor TV antenna, duplicate camping gear, a kerosene lamp, and so on. These items created a huge pile. That pile soon to be transported to the curb on Monday garbage night. Hopefully, to the garbage pickers delight.

Dirty and dusty work that caused my skin to itch, and my nose to run. My kids never complained, they just helped. I was proud of them.

We eventually reached a point where there was no more floor space. The piles had overtaken it. I said one last time, “I think we have done enough for today.” Gracie chimed in, “It will be easier to continue once all of this mess is taken out, and we have more floor space to work with.” My wise Gracie, who always seem to know the right thing to say.

At this moment the garage looks worse than ever. The below picture was carefully angled to only show the new shelving unit. Despite the mess, I know an order is near, perhaps in another weekend or two.

I am very happy with the idea of having a clean garage. However, I am happier with having kind and wonderful people in my life. Cleaning and organizing the garage seemed as impossible as climbing Mount Everest to me. It was easier to shuffle things around and sweep the floor than to really dig in, throw stuff out, and make the garage functional again.

The garage made me think of my life. How often do I allow business as usual, simply because I believe that it would take too much work for me to change? How often is my present life less functional because of old trash from the past? How often do I rely only on myself, when it would be so much easier if I shared my burden with someone else? I have people in my life who care about me, but their efforts only count if I let them in. My garage helpers are giving me a functional garage. A practical offering of help. An offering that I am most grateful to have.

When I have a rough patch in my life I can feel unlovable and unworthy. Sometimes the help that I get from people who care about me doesn’t fix anything. That help simply lets me know that I’m worthy of love, concern, and attention. It lets me know that I am still valued despite my problems, flaws, and imperfections. For me, that is the most powerful and valued help of all. When I truly connect with others, the impossible becomes possible. Our combined strength is not additive, instead, it grows exponentially.

Today, gratitude is my goal.- Happy Easter from Dr. Mike

The shelves that Tom and I built. So strong that a man can stand on them.

The Home Show

“Do you want to do it, it will be fun,” Tom said. Without thinking I said, “Sure.” It was 5 AM on a Saturday morning, and I was sitting on the long bench that served as a chair for Tom’s massive office desk. It is not unusual for me to hang out with my friend Tom early in the morning. However, what I had agreed to was both unusual and unorthodox.

Without thinking, I had committed to helping man a booth at two home shows with my general contractor friend. Clearly, a new experience for a physician of 30 years. I thought my new role would be interesting, but my main reasons for doing the shows was to hang out with and be supportive of Tom.

As the shows approached there was planning to be done. Tom did most of it, but I contributed my ideas as well. A slide show had to be prepared, a banner made, and display ideas had to be pondered. Before we knew it the shows were upon us.

Tom had done most of the booth’s set up on the prior Fridays, but there was still some work to be completed. I spend a lot of time with Tom, and so I have gained a limited working knowledge of home products and remodeling procedures. Not enough to actually do anything, but at least enough to capture a potential customer, and then hand that customer off to Tom. “What will you say if one of your patients sees you here,” Tom asked pensively. The implication was that I was working below my station. “I’ll tell them I’m helping a friend,” I said, unconcerned.

Dear readers, by now you know that I’m an introvert. Where others gain energy from crowds and random social interactions, I become quiet and exhausted. However, successful introverts have a powerful secret weapon, we can temporarily don the persona of an extrovert when needed. The price we pay is post-event exhaustion, but after many years of execution, I’m pretty good at putting on the cloak of sociability.

I’m one of those people who enjoys learning for the sake of learning and experiencing new things for the sake of experiencing them. I learned a lot from my four days manning a home remodeling booth.

There were so many presenters. In some ways, we were in competition with each other. In some ways, we were allies with each other. We were we all in it together, but we all wanted the same business.

The lady across the way was running a booth for a different home remodeling company. She was having a great deal of difficulty getting a slideshow up and running. I offered my services, which were met with a little surprise. Ten minutes later her company’s remodels were flashing on her booths TV screen. “I owe you,” she said. “No, you don’t,” I replied.

There was the guy who drove up from St. Louis to sell his “miracle” pain relieving pads. He engaged Tom and me in an effortless pleasant conversation for about 5 minutes before he asked if he could use our AC connection to charge some of his devices. His conversational motives now clear, we let him use our AC anyway.

Next to us was a pleasant Hispanic family of three who were hawking timeshares. Home shows are their livelihood. They work 3 days a week procuring leads that can later be converted to sales by another team. They live in a neighborhood in Chicago with a high crime rate. “It is OK,” the daughter said. “I don’t leave the house much, and if we hear anything we turn on our police scanner.” A silent shudder ran through me.

There was the guy selling prefab bath enclosures. He had brought along “booth bait” in the form of three pretty girls dressed in plastic hardhats and open flannel shirts.

Down the way was the gutter leaf protection guy. He was decked out with a flag pin, a Christian cross, and a US Marine ball cap. If you were patriotic, a vet, or a Christian, he had an instant “in” with you.

Asking any of them about their products instantly turned them into sales mode, and a well-rehearsed pitch would effortlessly gush forth.

You may think that these folks were despicable, carnival style hawkers, but you would be wrong. They were mostly nice people, trying to make a living as best as they could. They were hard working and tried to do their job to the best of their ability. “We get $2 a lead, you can make good money,” one person told me. In my mind, I calculated how much I got paid for a single psychiatric evaluation and felt guilty.

Some of the exhibitors knew each other from previous shows. They would chat and mingle with each other in a way akin to family members reconnecting at a wedding or funeral.

I felt comfortable with them. They seemed to believe in their products. They seemed to feel that they were doing a service, which in turn gave their jobs meaning.

Then there were the attendees, and a wide and varied group were they. Old, young, lonely, angry, friendly. Straight couples, gay couples, families, random wandering kids.

It seemed like some of the people who attended were there for no apparent reason. They didn’t want to interact or look, they just wandered around. Others seemed lonely and grateful to hear any pitch just for the sake of having a conversation with another human being.

I work with patients every day, and in many ways, I also sell. However, I sell a method to think differently, or perhaps a medication treatment. People come to me, and they pay a hefty price at that. Most patients are at least a little receptive to my ideas, otherwise they wouldn’t be sitting across from me.

The attendees at the show were different. Some were suspicious, some condescending, others more willing to listen. Initially, it felt very awkward to even consider approaching a person with a pitch, but after a couple of hours of booth time, I became more comfortable with the idea.

I was helping my friend, who I believe in. Tom did several remodeling jobs for me before we became friends, and I genuinely believe in his character, quality of workmanship, and high standards. Now, as very close friends, my high opinion of him has only grown.

Once I adopted the above mindset I moved from awkward salesman to someone who had something to offer. Just as I believe in the work that I do in my professional job, I believe in the quality of the work done by Tom and his company.

There was a price to pay for being “on” for two weekends in a row; I was pretty useless for any other activity during my off hours during those four days.

What was the outcome of our efforts? Pretty good for two “show newbies.” Tom and I work well together, and it was no different at the home shows. As I write this he already has gone on a number of show acquired business calls, and many of them look promising.

I am proud that I could help my friend, and I’m happy that I exposed myself to an experience that I would never have imagined having a few years ago. You can be a doctor and still push your comfort level envelope every now and then.

Today my goal is to embrace new experiences with the wonderment of a child, and the maturity of an old salty psychiatrist.

I crashed my car!

Dear Readers, we have had a mild winter in upper Illinois.  In fact, this is the first time in recorded history that there was no snow in January and February.  March started out similarly, and then there was last Tuesday. It didn’t snow a lot on Tuesday, but enough to create icy and slippery roads.  

As some of you know, I get up very early, 3:50 AM to be exact.  Because of this, I have my morning schedule down to a science.  I stumble out of bed, clean up, throw on my gym clothes, eat a simple breakfast, drink a cup of coffee (a must!), pack my car, and head off to the gym.  Not too exciting, but exacting.

Last Tuesday started like any other workday. With my wake-up routine completed I headed out the door and into my Ford Flex.  I really love my Ford, it is roomy and very comfortable.  However, the anti-lock braking system does not seem to work very well on snow.  

I drove the 15 minutes to the gym and pulled into the parking area.  The gym that I belong to is located in an office building with an attached parking tower that is accessed via a down ramp.  I turned onto the ramp and started to brake.  Instead of slowing down the brakes locked and I started to slide forward.  Moving ever faster, I had one of those “movie moments” where time seemed to advance in slow motion.  I could feel my panic rising as I realized that I was going to crash my new car, and there was absolutely nothing that I could do about it.  

Crash! Jolt!… Silence.  My car crashed into a high curb on the side of the ramp. The computerized panel on my dash flashed to inform me that one of my tires had deflated.  I was in a perfect spot to be hit by another car coming down the ramp, and so I decided to back up and drive the 50 feet or so into the parking garage.  I put my car in reverse, but nothing happened.  I checked the front-end of the Flex and saw that the left-front tire was perpendicular to the fender.  The force of the impact had severed the connection between the tire and the axil.  A sick feel welled up inside of me.  My panic feeling amplified.

Dear reader, as a doctor for over 30 years I have learned how to compartmentalize my feelings.  In a crisis, I can usually push them aside and attend to the business at hand.  For some reason, I was having trouble doing this on Tuesday morning.  Thoughts rushed through my head. Do I need to call the police?  Where is my insurance card? Will State Farm call a tow for me?  It is cold!  I am cold!  I have a full day of patients, will I have to cancel the day?  Where will I put those patients, I’m already booked out for weeks?  Will my staff be upset with me for causing them all sorts of inconvenience? On went my thoughts, as my heart rate ramped up. I started to force myself to pull myself together.  For many reasons I have trained myself to be self-sufficient. It has always been hard for me to ask for help.  Dear readers, I have earnestly been trying to change that behavior.  I have been actively erasing childhood tapes.

My friend Tom comes to the club at the same time that I do.  A quick text message to him, and a return phone call to me, and he was parked behind me.  A minute later and I was sitting in his car calling State Farm.  In many friendships one person is the leader, and the other is the follower.  This is not the case with Tom and me.  We are equally comfortable leading and following.  Our roles determined by need.  On Tuesday Tom jumped into the leadership role… “Don’t forget to ask for a tow.  Make sure you get the operator’s name. Don’t worry, it can be fixed.  It is only a box on wheels.”  And so on.  I know I could have done it on my own, but it felt comforting to know that I didn’t have to.

After I had made the proper arrangements Tom drove me back home, as I still had to shower and change for work.  At that point my wife Julie took over.  She was able to drive me back to the crash site so I could wait for the tow truck.  In her warm car I was able to call my office and alert them to the fact that I may have to cancel out my morning (which I dreaded).  At my office Lynn, our accounts person,  picked up the phone and reassured me that she would do whatever was needed.  “I’m glad that you are OK,” she said. “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.” Around that same time I got a call from my personal trainer.  He somehow heard about my incident.  “Are you safe?”  He texted.  

The tow truck arrived and the driver assured me that I would not have to go with him back to the dealership.  Julie checked her schedule and told me that she could drive me to work and pick me up at the end of the day.  The timing worked out so I didn’t have to cancel any patients, I arrived on time for my first patient, who ironically failed his appointment with me.

In my driveway sits a little Ford Focus, the rental paid for by my auto insurance.  Rosie, the Ford Flex, waits to be repaired. Life goes on.

I always try to learn from every life event.  This is what I learned from Tuesday:

  1. I have people in my life who genuinely care about me.  They will be there for me if I need them.
  2. It is OK for me to ask people to help me.
  3. Even though I can usually do things without help, it feels so much better to have help.  It is terrible to be alone during a crisis. A little bit of kindness and concern goes a long way in troubled times.
  4. I don’t need to turn an inconvenience into a personal disaster. With a little thought and a little time, most problems work themselves out.
  5. Material things can always be replaced.  Invest in people, not in “stuff.”

-Today my goal is to remember the above.

-Today my goal is to be grateful that this old and crusty introvert has some wonderful people in his life. We introverts don’t need a lot of people, but we do need people.

The Sawzall

You are never too old to grow.

Dear readers, I firmly believe that we are not predestined by our past, but I also believe that our past does have an impact on our present.

I was a late in life surprise for my parents, and my siblings were significantly older than me. They were in the phases of their lives of personal discovery, and the attention of a little brother had little charm. My always busy mother was always busy: cooking, ironing shirts and doing other 1960s mother tasks. I believe my father felt that his family had completed 7 years before my birth, with the birth of my sister Nancy. There simply wasn’t a lot of investment in shy, poorly coordinated, always thinking, fat me.

In such a setting it was difficult to find or even know my place, which would lead me to wishing that my place was elsewhere. Out of my 1920s bungalow in the city, and into an imaginary contemporary ranch home in the country… but that is for another post.

An imagination is great for a temporary escape, but reality deems it necessary to have a more practical life plan. I did not have the luxury of a mentor to show me the benefit of the crescent wrench, or the secret of the curveball. Yet, it was not uncommon for me to be given complicated tasks, like painting the garage, without training or instruction. When the inevitable poor outcome occurred I was painfully made aware of my inadequacies. This made me pull away from such activities and pursue interests that were unique, and therefore couldn’t be criticized.

I was, and am, fortunate to have an abundance of interests that range from the arts to STEM activities. Science held a particular interest for the 1960s me. In those days technology was in vogue, the space race was on, and it seemed like my talent in science could serve me many purposes.

Science was the path that I chose, and I am both happy and unapologetic that I did. With that said, the 10-year-old boy that still resided in me felt a bit cheated of the experiences that most 10-year-old boys would normally have.

Like most 10-year-old boys, I loved handtools, power tools, and building stuff. We had a supply of various tools in the house, but they were locked up in a giant oak workbench that sat at the far end of our unfinished basement. They were mostly off limits. There were no offers to show me the proper way to use them.

As a homeowner, I have acquired some simple tools, and with the benefit of the Reader’s Digest Complete Home Repair Guide and YouTube videos, I have done a variety of small home projects. They typically turn out OK, but only with much trial and error. The satisfaction of a completed project marred by the agony of uncertainty.

If you have read other posts in this blog you understand that I’m on a journey, and part of that journey is to rediscovery myself. Remember that 10-year-old boy in me? Now imagine that he had a friend who was a general contractor and that contractor was in possession of all of the coolest tools and building gadgets. Power tools of all types, neat rows of various drivers, laser powered gadgets… even a real Bobcat!… and so enters my friend Tom into today’s post.

I see or talk to Tom almost every day, and so you will see his name mentioned in my posts now and again. Tom not only has all of the best building toys, but he also knows how to use them.

I often ask Tom if I can help him on projects, as I not only get to spend time with my good buddy, but I also get to learn a thing or two. I understand my limitations, and I have no problem taking off my “doctor hat” and offering my services as a gopher grunt.

Recently, I was helping Tom on a project in his basement. During one session I managed to get adhesive on my shoe and then onto his area rug. Bad.

The next time around things got worse. Tom showed me how to use a handheld cutting saw called a Sawzall. An amazing gadget, I must say. He had a board that had to be removed from his basement ceiling and I would have the honor of cutting it out. Tom is a little OCD (like me) and he actually did a little pre-cutting to make sure that I cut it at the exact right spot.

With focus and determination, I climbed the ladder, powered up the Sawzall and pushed it into the board. Zip!, went the Sawzall through the wood, and clank went the Sawzall when it chewed into a copper water pipe behind the wood! I didn’t cut through the pipe, but I nicked it. The nick was bad enough to require replacement.

Tom was kind about my misadventure, but I see Tom almost every day and can read his body language pretty well. The best way that I could describe his posture was one of sadness and weary reflection. “What’s going on Tom?” I asked. “You cut through about ½ of the tubing wall. I’ll need to replace that portion of the pipe, and I’ll need to drain the water from the entire house to do it. It will be at least 2 hours of work.”

My head sank to my chest. It was the sinking of both the adult me and the 10-year-old me. I can tolerate not being good at everything I do, but messing up two for two made me feel terrible. I really wanted to help my friend, and even doing simple gopher tasks would take some burden off of his job. However, any benefit that I could have possibly given was wiped out by my unintentional and foolish actions.

The 10-year-old in me was also devastated. I resisted the initial panic that I felt. It was the panic that took me back to all of the times that I didn’t do things right growing up. I flashed back to the looks of disgust, the name calling, and the humiliation from my past failings. A terrible and sickening feeling.

I sincerely made my amends to Tom, but inwardly I felt bad. I have spent much of my life being good at things. Here was something that I wanted to be good at, but I simply wasn’t. No one was yelling at me, no one was calling me names, no one was humiliating me… I was doing all of that to myself. An old and forgotten tape was playing in my head, and frankly, I hated it.

There are some benefits of being a psychiatrist. The same understanding and techniques that I use to help patients can also be applied to myself. Cognitively, I knew that Tom wasn’t angry with me. He showed me that by his actions. Mentioning my misadventure would instantly have Tom holding up an imaginary Sawzall while making a loud buzzing sound. “You didn’t need to Rambo it Mike.” He would laugh. I also knew that I was inexperienced. I may not have it in me to became a master builder, but I certainly would improve with practice, and making mistakes is part of that process.

In the past I would have retreated and returned to my comfort zone, doing things that I’m good at. However, I am in the present and not in the past. That 10-year-old boy needs to be heard. I need to be heard.

I also realize that as an adult I am not limited in the ways I was limited as a child. Not only could I try again, it was also OK for me to ask for help from Tom again. My past doesn’t have to be my present. I don’t need to be perfect for others to like me. I can be imperfect and still have worth and value.

Tom is good natured, and he has agreed to have me help him with the next phase of his project. I am excited about the prospect of sweeping a floor, and perhaps doing a real tasks or two. I can’t guarantee that I won’t screw up again. I will honestly try to do my best, and I will continue to strive and learn with each task that I do.

I don’t have to listen to the tapes of my past, I can create my own new MP3 of who I am. There is a certain joy and there is a certain freedom that I feel by not having to be perfect at everything. I can’t wait until I get my hands on a power tool again. Why? Because I love that 10-year-old in me, and I want to nurture and take care of him. As he grows, so do I.

Today my goals are to face my fears, move forward, accept my imperfections, and allow myself to be helped by others.

20 Characteristics Of A Good Relationship: Forgiveness

Most mistakes are trivial.

As a human, I am guaranteed to mess things up now and again. I am an imperfect creature.  I miscalculate.  I misjudged.  I plan poorly.

Even with the best intentions, things can go awry.  Sometimes my errors are trivial, and sometimes they are near catastrophic.  Sometimes my mistakes impact me, sometimes my mistakes impact my relationship, sometimes my mistakes impact the connection between me and my relationship.

If a pattern of problems occur I need be willing to admit that pattern and do my best to correct it.  If my mistakes are due to carelessness, I need to be more careful.  If my mistakes are due to errors in judgment, I need to slow down and think before I act.  I am imperfect, but I should still strive to be the best that I can be.

Some mistakes can be so significant that they overpower my connection, and end it.  

Most mistakes are trivial.  They are like an annoying swarm of gnats that distract from the true connection that I have with my relationship.

It is easy for my relationship to focus on my trivial mistakes, and to turn something small into something large.  It is easy for me to focus on my big mistakes, and turn something large into something small.  Either polarity can strain a connection to the point of breaking.

How much better it is to acknowledge my error and to genuinely ask for forgiveness.  How much better it is for my relationship to forgive.  By doing so we join together instead of pull apart.  Our connection becomes stronger, not weaker. We grow wiser.

As important it is to forgive, it is equally important to allow myself to be forgiven. As I allow myself to be forgiven, I also learn how to forgive.  Connections are dynamic,  today I may need to be forgiven, tomorrow I may need to forgive.

My goal today is to genuinely ask for forgiveness when I make a mistake.

My goal today is to try to correct my mistakes honestly and fearlessly.

My goal today is to forgive with compassion and kindness.

Random thoughts and my philosophy of life.