Hat Trick 2014

My friend, fellow physician, and fellow blogger Bryan Vartabedian posted his Three Words for 2014 today, as he has in the past. Another physician friend, Deanna Attai MD, has also done this in past years. I figured that it being January first, I should throw my hat (trick) in the ring. Here goes.

My first word is exploration.

exploration |ˌekspləˈrāSHən|nounthe action of traveling in or through an unfamiliar area in order to learn about it:voyages of exploration | an exploration of the African interior.• thorough analysis of a subject or theme: an exploration of the religious dimensions of our lives.DERIVATIVESexplorational |-ˈrāSHənl| adjectiveORIGIN mid 16th cent. (denoting an investigation): from French, or from Latinexploratio(n-), from the verb explorare (see explore). The current sense dates from the early 19th cent.

I am at the point in my life, squarely and firmly in middle age, where I am fairly confident about what I know and don’t know. I move smoothly through most days in my work life, I feel that I can usually make good decisions, and I am a deliberate thinker. I don’t like surprises. I make lists. I plan. I use technology to help my life move forward in predictable ways that keep me sane. All that being said, life can very quickly become dull, boring and stifling if one does not ask certain questions from time to time. What would happen if I learned about this new subject? What would it feel like to take a trip to Australia?  What if I change jobs (again) just because I need more challenges? I plan to learn to use some new software programs this year, or take some of my standards to the next level. I will be traveling. I will not be still for very long. I’m happier when I’m on the move. I do know that. Vasco da Gama got nothing on me, baby.

My second word is expansion.

expansion |ikˈspanSHən|nounthe action of becoming larger or more extensive: the rapid expansion of suburban Washington | a small expansion of industry.• extension of a state’s territory by encroaching on that of other nations, pursued as a political strategy: German expansion in the 1930s.• a thing formed by the enlargement, broadening, or development of something: the book is an expansion of a lecture given last year.• the increase in the volume of fuel on combustion in the cylinder of an engine, or the piston stroke in which this occurs.ORIGIN early 17th cent.: from late Latin expansion-, from Latin expandere (seeexpand) .

Exploration is one thing, but if one does not use what is learned in the experimentation and the travel and the doing, then of what use is exploring at all? The next word, and the next logical step, is expansion. Just as gas that is heated expands and is powerful enough to fill and lift a great balloon and gondola off the ground and take it downwind to other locales, so can exploration expand one’s mind and body and world to the point that things will never look the same again. The mundane is not enough. Broadening and development should happen, must happen. I want to expand my horizons this year, physically, mentally, spiritually and in real space and time.

My third word is empowerment.

empower |emˈpou(-ə)r|verb [ with obj. and infinitive ]give (someone) the authority or power to do something: nobody was empowered to sign checks on her behalf.• [ with obj. ] make (someone) stronger and more confident, esp. in controlling their life and claiming their rights: movements to empower the poor.DERIVATIVESempowerment noun

This is a word that can very easily become tired and overused in my field of mental health. Clinicians, patients and advocacy groups wield these terms like so many badges of courage, talking of empowerment as if it is something that is magic fairy dust or unicorn tears to be sprinkled and poured over afflicted souls, imparting new energy and wisdom and power that they never had before. Wrong. Re-read the definition above. Once one is empowered, one must actively, actively, make a confident and purposeful decision to take control of life and claim their rights to explore and expand their horizons.

Exploration.

Expansion.

Empowerment.

These are my three words for 2014.

Watch this space for a picture from the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge sometime before New Years Day 2015.

Who knows what else I might be able to share with you.

We’ll see.

Promises, Promises

At the close of 2012, I made a promise.

I was going to concentrate less on what I spent on myself, what I bought for myself, and what I thought I had to have to be happy.  I was going to de-emphasize the physical and the material.

Instead, I wanted to make a conscious effort to experience more things, do more activities, be with people more, and just simply be more in the moment in 2013. I wanted to feel myself move through the world in 2013, to see exactly what it would feel like to get back in touch with the old me and those around me.

It’s time to take stock. How did I do? Did I reach the goal I set? Well, let’s see.

In February, I visited my old hometown of Shannon, Georgia and drove around the southern mill village where I grew up. Lots of memories there, even though parts of the place are almost unrecognizable to me now. There was the brick ranch house where I lived as a kid, the window I could look out of at this time of year and see the lighted Santa Claus bobbing up and down out of the chimney on the grassy circle across the street. IMG_4934There was the mill where my father worked for years in the textile industry, now being torn down and sitting in huge piles of rubble, waiting to be hauled away like so many discarded memories. There was the little white house I lived in as a toddler, only a memory to me because of what others have told me about it. There was my old school, now a shadow of itself, fading into time like an old tin type, monochrome and dusty and one dimensional. IMG_4938So many happy times there, so much dancing and singing and learning and loving and growing for all of us.

While in north Georgia, I met up with thirty or more friends from high school in an impromptu reunion that started out as an idea to have dinner with three or four folks. It quickly grew to attract old chums from as far away as Louisiana and Michigan, thanks in no small part to Paula Selman Sanders and her unflagging energy and ability to track people down. 1208648_10151953119863653_2008792662_nThis was so much fun, to hear the stories about good times and bad, hijinks and accomplishments, and to catch up on the lives of these kids, these friends of mine, who are now senior in their jobs and grandparents and husbands and wives and piano teachers and writers and tradesmen and administrators and teachers and nurses. It only took a simple meal to bring us all together. Years of time apart were gone in an instant, and conversations picked up right where they left off more than three decades ago. It was a kind of simple magic. IMG_4992Capped off the the visit with a Vikings basketball game with Paula and Diane at the Cage Center on the Berry College campus, watching the team, telling stories, grieving losses and remembering loves gone by. Even got to see the Berry eagles and the nest at the corner of the parking lot, an entourage of birders and photographers camped out behind the yellow taped boundary marker. It was a nice visit, one that I would recreate in varying forms a half dozen times this year, to my great pleasure.

In March, a feeling that I needed to reconnect with some family members in middle Georgia hit me, and I called up my aunt Madge. Once again a small, quiet visit turned into a dinner party for two dozen, good natured ribbing and how-do-you-dos and fare-the-wells abounding from folks I hadn’t seen in quite a while, including my father’s brother Tom and his wife Pat.

“You have to get up and talk to everybody while you’re here, you know,” one of my cousins chided.

“Do you remember whose son I am?” I retorted, grinning. My father could work a room like nobody’s business, and I have always tried to emulate him with my own meager social skills. Sometimes, I almost succeed. IMG_0011

To my great pleasure and surprise, when I went back to my place to pick up my bill, it had already been paid. The same thing happened with my hotel room up the road when I got back to my parents’s hometown. I have a wonderful family who  showed this prodigal son that coming back, anytime, is a thing to be celebrated. I must get back down there this coming year!

There were surprise birthday parties in March and Easter egg hunts in the park in Athens with grandchildren.

In April, I packed up my Mazda and headed north to Virginia and Washington, DC, to visit with friends who had been nice enough to invite me to stay with them. Normally, I would have been hesitant to do this and impose, even on good friends, but this was the year of the experience for me. I needed to push the envelope a little, they gave me a reason to come, and I went. It was a fabulous visit, with train rides, long walks around the Tidal Basin, A Capitol Steps show that was funny as hell, visiting Mr. Jefferson and seeing more cool stuff in the Smithsonian than you could shake a flagpole at. IMG_0019The original Star Spangled Banner. Whoa. The original Wright brothers plane. Double whoa. Wonderful food, wonderful loving, welcoming company and a nice warm bed at the end of the day. I couldn’t ask for much more. Thank you, Jan and Lindi and Harpo.

There was the day in May that I drove to Columbia to the South Carolina State Museum and wandered around with about a zillion and a half school children for several hours, looking at the huge shark hanging from the ceiling, checking out the Hunley replica and seeing shiny old cars from decades gone by. IMG_0064Museums are always fun, especially on days when you have no place else to be.

In July I watched and cheered as daughter Chelsea and sister-in-law Jane competed in a sprint triathlon and did very well indeed. IMG_0016Later that month was the trip to the farm behind mom’s house, a ride with the kids in the bright red pickup truck, almost getting stuck in the mud, seeing the cows close up (Lawton kept saying “Cows! Come over here! Play!”), and loving every minute of seeing the looks on my grandchildren’s faces when they got up close and personal with nature.

In the hot summer sun of July I travelled to the Andersonville National Monument and traipsed around the perimeter of the old stockade, revisiting the spring on the side of the hill and visiting the National Prisoner of War Museum. I never tire of national parks and civil war sites like this and wandering around in the heat, imagining what it must have been like to have less than four square feet of my own space, surrounded by thousands of other gaunt, starving men from the Army of the Republic.

The end of July brought a seven mile hike, with loaded pack in extreme heat, around the lake at the Hickory Knob State park. IMG_0126I severely underestimated the strenuousness of that hike, but I was in decent shape, had lots of water, granola bars, and a banana or two, and I made it fine. Even after a hot shower, some decent food, and a night’s sleep in the air conditioning, it was  hard to get up and actually move the next day.

August included a trip to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, with all its fascinating flora and furniture and fixtures and design genius. I took a couple of side tours including one of the garden, capped off by a special picnic brunch prepared by the master gardeners themselves of fruits of this year’s garden, planted as an exact replica of the garden Jefferson planted himself two hundred years ago. IMG_0036A side trip on the way home, just on a whim, lead me to the National D-Day Memorial, a wonderful and very moving tribute to June 6, 1944, telling the story of the planning, execution and aftermath of the allied invasion of Normandy. IMG_0105Sometimes, following a simple sign to somewhere thirty miles off the interstate is very rewarding indeed.

The remainder of the summer season saw a few trips to Beaufort to visit with friends eating good food and sitting out in the back yard by the river, watching the flotilla of boats and bikini’d beauties haul their coolers up on the sand bar in the middle of the river, purposefully stranding themselves for a lazy afternoon until the tide came back to wash them back to reality. (Thank you, Penni) More birthday parties and cakes for little people followed soon thereafter.

September 7th saw the first game of the Inaugural season of the Berry College Viking football team. IMG_5656I made several trips back and forth to Rome, Georgia, this year to watch the boys play. Though they did not have a successful season as far as the W’s go, the fact that Berry had its first ever football squad was exciting enough to carry the team and all of us fans all the way though to the end.

And of course, speaking of football, there were home games with North Texas, Mizzou and Kentucky at Sanford Stadium. IMG_5695There is nothing like a live SEC football game, and nothing like Saturday in Athens.

Our Model High School 1970s reunion was in September, and it was a blast. So many people, so many stories, so much bad dancing…not really. IMG_5705It is hard to believe that four or five hours is not enough time to talk to everyone you want to see at a party, but in this case that was the truth. There was just too much time to catch up on! Another party is in the works, and I’m sure it will be better than the first.

Mountain Day at Berry College, more birthdays to celebrate, more football games including a last minute ticket buy for the Georgia-Florida game in Jacksonville, which I drove to with my daughter and her friend and enjoyed immensely.

So many events and experiences and connections and stories and dinners and parties this year.

So many ways to feel a part of something, to connect with friends and family, and to feel loved and to love others.

Did I achieve my goal for 2013? I think so, and then some. I learned that love, caring, and friendship are things that have to be watered and nurtured and cared for just like plants. If that happens, they grow and thrive. If not, they wither and die. I relearned that sometimes the best investment you can make is one that involves giving ourself to someone else, giving your time to something that really matters to you, and knowing that spending quality time with those you care for can never have a price tag attached to it.

What will 2014 hold? More of the same, and more excitement on top of that. Another grandchild coming, a wedding at the beach, a graduation from college. Who knows what else might happen in the coming year?

I know that I am excited and that I want to be a part of it all.

Dear readers, I hope that your 2014 is all that you want it to be, that your dreams come true, and that you find real happiness.

Happy New Year.