“I cannot live without books.”

I arrived at the base of the mountain and could not really see much.  Everything was cool. leafy and green. I parked and made my way to the visitor center, a complex of stores, ticketing office, interpretive theater and cafe, waking up slowly to meet the onslaught of new visitors who would want to make the trek up to Monticello. Pretty soon, our guide for the Revolutionary Garden tour was there. It was obvious that this lady knew her stuff, as she had a bit of informative Jeffersonian trivia that connected every single visitor in her group to the great man himself. We walked up a few steps to the bus loading area, where we were met by a life-size, six foot two inch statue of Jefferson, keeping watch over the morning’s activities.

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A trip to Monticello is by default a study in contrasts, in ideas expressed and presumed and in the mind of a great reader, thinker, experimenter, documenter, and statesman. From the time I set foot  on the drive in front of the house, I was aware that this was a special place, and that the man who built it loved the mountain top.

For the next eight hours, I was immersed in Jefferson’s world, first walking along a one thousand foot garden that is an exact replica of the one he himself planted in 1813, two hundred years ago. Seeing the variety of plants, the neat rows, the methods of staking and covering and blanching and weeding and documenting successes and failures, precipitation and sunshine, reaffirmed that this man missed little in the world around him. At the end of the garden tour, we were treated by the professional staff to a wonderful mid-morning brunch of the fruits of the garden, literally. We saw sesame plants and heard how TJ experimented with at least three or four presses to extract sesame oil. We saw a ninety year old stand of fig trees, loaded beyond measure with green, not quite ripe figs, the branches bowing under the weight.

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The tour of the house was also a wonder. It was furnished just as it was in President Jefferson’s time, with the very artifacts of his time there. No photography was allowed inside. From the Jefferson designed clock and Lewis and Clark artifacts on the walls in the foyer to the copy of the Declaration of Independence on the wall of the bedroom-turned-schoolroom to the study with its rotating book stand, Jefferson’s beloved house served him and his family and guests in a fashion that was ahead of its time. He was said to have written more than 19,000 letters, and the manual, mechanical copier on his desk faithfully reproduced, in his own handwriting, a copy of each one he wrote. Since he had given his first library of books away (these later formed the nucleus  of the Library of Congress), he had accumulated another large library of volumes, stacked floor to ceiling in the “book room”as he called it. The dining room, the bedroom where his friend James Madison often stayed the night after an evening of conversation and dinner, and the exquisite gardens surrounding the house all made this experience a very pleasant one indeed.

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The slavery tour, learning about the hierarchy of life on a Virginia plantation, and seeing how the hustle and bustle of life on the mountain was maintained were all enlightening. It struck all of us, I think, that the man who, at age thirty three, authored the document that outlined inalienable rights for all equally-created men owned over six hundred human beings in his lifetime. He freed less that two dozen of them at his death, and the rest were sold to help pay off the $107,000 in debt that Jefferson left behind. Jefferson was intelligent, brilliant even, with boundless energy and creativity, but he was also human. He shaped history, but he was also heavily influenced by his times.

A short stroll down Mulberry Lane from the house, past the gardens, lead me to the Jefferson cemetery and gravesites for the third president of the United States, his wife, his children, his mother, and other members of his family. Seeing this site, and knowing that he and John Adams died only hours apart on July 4, fifty years almost to the hour that the United States had declared its independence from Great Britain, still gives me chills.

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Monticello is a place of great beauty, stark contrasts, wonderful stories, and exquisitely detailed accounts of a time two centuries gone by. If you are in Virginia, it is well worth your time to make the trek to the mountain top and take in the view that drove Thomas Jefferson to carve out his place in the world there, a legacy that will live on forever.

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Operation Overlord: Planning, Execution, Sacrifice and Victory.

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I was headed down the interstate highway, ironically one of the brainchildren of President Dwight David Eisenhower, towards home when I spotted it. A clearly visible sign announcing the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia. I had seen this sign before when traveling this same road home from Washington, DC, a few months ago, but I did not have the time to veer off and explore the site. This time, I decided that I did have the time, and I drove the two dozen extra miles to reach it. I am so glad that I did.

The mission of the Memorial is to preserve the lessons and legacy of D-Day, June 6, 1944. It was officially dedicated on the fifty-seventh anniversary of D-Day. It is described as a “sacred precinct”, and once on site it is easy to see why. 

Why Bedford, Virginia? Bedford provided Company A to the 29th Infantry Division when the National Guard’s 116th Infantry Division was activated on February 3, 1941. Thirty Bedford soldiers were still in that company on D-Day. Other Bedford soldiers were in other companies. 

Transported by the British Navy’s 551st Assault Flotilla, Company A of the 116th Infantry Regiment landed on Omaha Beach in the first wave of the First Infantry Division’s Task Force O. By the end of that terrible day, nineteen of the thirty Bedford men were dead. Bedford’s population in 1944 was only 3200 souls. Proportionally, this tiny Virginia community suffered the nation’s severest D-Day losses. Bedford instantly became emblematic of all communities whose soldiers served on D-Day. Congress decided that this would be the perfect place to establish the Memorial. 

The site is laid out in three plazas. The lower-most is dedicated to the planning that went into Operation Overlord and the men who made it all happen. Most notable of course was General Dwight David Eisenhower, architect of the plan that covers the canopy above his head in his own corner of the monument. Image

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The landscaping, flowers and color scheme in this part of the Memorial tell the story of the flaming sword that would point towards Hitler’s Atlantic Wall on that fateful day. 

ImageThe middle plaza is dedicated to the assault. Just walking onto this area was an experience like I’ve never had before. Quietly, powerfully, I was able to feel what it must have been like to jump out of a Higgins boat in choppy seas, carrying an eighty-one pound pack on my back, run the length of four football fields in wet sand, and immediately be raked with machine gun fire from the low brown bunkers atop the cliffs in front of me. I looked to my left and saw a comrade wading ashore. To my front a medic helped an already wounded comrade to safety. To my right, a friend was already down, awash in his own blood, his battle over. Hedgehogs, made to upend Allied boats and cause drowning deaths, became places to hide behind to dodge the murderous enemy fire that spit and zipped all around me, making little geysers of water to my left and right. The architects of this Memorial got it right. I could feel it as if I were really there. Powerful stuff. 

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The upper plaza is dominated by a multi-ton granite monument to Operation Overlord. Imposing, stark, and perfectly colored to blend with the gunmetal gray skies the day I visited, it overshadowed everything in its purview. The alternating black and white stripes atop the arch pay homage to the part the air corps played in the success of the operation. Directly in front of this massive structure, a Ranger tops the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc, symbolizing not only that critical piece of the assault but the victorious spirit of all the Allied troops who pushed ahead against all odds to secure a beachhead that day. Just in front of him, a lone inverted rifle and helmet pay silent tribute to the 4400 members of the Allied Expeditionary Force who were killed on D-Day.

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I love our American military history, whether it is Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War II, the Vietnam Conflict, or other engagements. Visiting well-executed monuments and memorials like the National D-Day Memorial make me think, really think, about the men and women who risked their lives so that I might be free today. These wonderful American treasures help us to see, feel and experience this history and what it means to us like no history book ever could. The fact that D-Day was a well-planned cooperative effort among twelve countries just made this even more fantastic. 

Looking back down the hill towards General Eisenhower, knowing the planning that went into the assault, seeing the expanse of beach that had to be taken by Allied forces, and then seeing the look of sheer triumph on the Ranger’s face as he crested the cliff made it clear to me how much these brave soldiers added to our rich military history. 

We owe our freedom to soldiers, sailors and airmen who serve bravely, fight valiantly, and execute when the cost of failure would be just too much to bear. 

If you are ever in the Bedford, Virginia area, please make time to stop by and experience the National D-Day Memorial. You will see that day, June 6, 1944, in a way that you have never seen it before. 

 

It’s Only Words

“It’s only words, and words are all
I have to take your heart away.”

The Bee Gees

I have noticed something very interesting as I talk and write and interact in the social media space lately. 

I have made some new friends on Twitter and Facebook, many of whom live in countries far from the United States and speak languages that I am not fluent in. Most all of them speak very good English, so we have no problem communicating at all. We are also using the medium of pictures in one FB group, a universal language of beauty that almost everyone understands with very little prompting or coaching. 

Although I do not speak French or Italian (well, I still understand a little in that I lived near Rome for two years in the 1970s), am not fluent in Portuguese, cannot read Spanish even after my obligatory two years of high school exposure to it, and default to my native tongue, I have seen something fun happen. 

I will use small snippets of language, one or two words, one phrase here and there, to respond to my new friends. They do the same to me. We feel our way through conversations and micro-exchanges one small phrase at a time, and it is quite lovely. 

I know I have misused many a word in another language. That is part of the territory. 

The other thing that comes from that is that my new friends are so embracing and inclusive that they never laugh or correct or cajole or belittle. 

Language is a vehicle. It allows us to share, to laugh, to compliment, and even to love.

The Bee Gees were right.

 

Gracias.

Grazie.

Merci. 

Obrigado.

Thank you.

Thank you, my friends, for enriching my life beyond measure.

Do You Feel Lucky, Punk?

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Okay.

So.

I’ve worked the last twelve or thirteen days in a row. I’ve lost count because it’s been just too damn many days in a row, but there you go.

I’m leaving for Charlottesville today after clinic. I’m ready to walk around the grounds of Monticello and see the trees and flowers and sunshine and the house and the whole works. I’m ready to explore a trail or two. I want to take about a half billion pictures.

I would like to do all this without needing a poncho and umbrella.

The weather is a coin toss right now. Fifty-fifty pretty much. I’m an optimist. I have hotel reservations. I’m ready to drive. I’m going. It can snow for all I care. That would make for some fabulous pictures and a good story.

Sometimes, you just have to make your plans and stick to them. You check your weather app, you weigh the odds, and then you ask yourself.

Do you feel lucky, punk?

Pictures will follow from Virginia.

Count on it.

You are NOT Your Disease

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For those of you who are awake this morning (or this evening, for my Aussie and other readers), here’s a brief Sunday morning rant for you.

I was talking to a patient on camera last night and he made the statement that I hear, in its various permutations, many times over the course of a week.

Well, Doc, you know I’m ADHD, and so concentration has never been an easy thing for me.

Substitute anything else for ADHD. Go ahead. Try it. I’ll wait.

See how that works?

“I’m bipolar.”

“I’m schizophrenic.”

“I’m a depressive.”

“I’m a psychotic.”

Time out! Stop this!

If you have a mental illness of any stripe, you are NOT your disease.It does not define you. It is not the sum total of your existence. It does not put a stamped sign on your forehead that announces to the world that you are suffering every time you walk into a room.

I know, I know, this is a little thing, but believe me, I notice it and you should too. I have a couple of friends who are word people and words matter, people!

If you have a mental illness like bipolar disorder, or if you have a medical illness like cancer, diabetes, or lupus, you are still you.

Don’t ever forget that.

The disease may cause you great pain and suffering, it may alter your lifestyle, and it may cause you problems with jobs and relationships. It may even kill you one day. Still and all, it is a disease. It’s a thing to be evaluated and diagnosed and treated and managed, so that you may go about your life the way you want to.

You have my permission to live your life to the fullest in spite of your illness, not declare your life over because of it.

There.

I feel better.

That needed to be said today.

Enjoy your Sunday, my friends.

No-ledge

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Sometimes it’s very refreshing to realize how much I don’t know.

I consider myself a fairly smart man. I have had a modicum of higher level education, less than some and more than most. I read to find out more about things that interest me. I listen to podcasts, mostly about the tech and news that I love. I subscribe to blogs written by very bright people who teach me every day. I am constantly on the lookout for that different Twitter reference or odd link or article that pops up out of nowhere and transports me to a place or time I’ve never been before. 

What I have come to know over the last few weeks and months is the fact that there is much I have to learn and a LOT that I know absolutely nothing about.

One of my new online friends asked me the other day, out of the blue, if I liked Brazilian music. I told her that I knew absolutely nothing about Brazilian music. Nothing. 

Since then, she has given me a crash course in the music of her land, complete with references to the historical figures in the genre, the major famous performers past and present in the style, and YouTube videos of albums and performances that she thought I would like. She sent me so much information so fast that I had to create an Evernote notebook just to organize it all in one place! Your quickie course in Brazilian music from me? Listen to Gal Costa and Tom Jobim. Marvelous, marvelous, marvelous. 

I was asked by another dear friend to join a Facebook page that showcases photographs from a wonderful group of people all over the world. In the short time I have been posting to this page and watching the work of others pop up there, I have been transported in space and time from my little town in South Carolina to the streets of Finland, a sunset in Spain, the Roman baths in England, and a “tomato forest” in Vancouver. It has been an absolutely wonderful way to make new friends, see new sites and take a mini virtual vacation!

It is a big world out there.

I think we sometimes get so caught up in our own little corner of it and our own busy schedules that we forget to look up at the fiery sky, down at the gorgeous flowers at our feet, and out at the wide expanse of the horizon in a foreign land. 

There is so much that I don’t know.

There is so much that I want to learn.

I’m working on that every day.

How will you expand your horizons today? How will you find out how much you  really don’t know, and work to remedy that?

Have a great weekend, my friends. 

 

I took the picture above looking back at the adjacent pod as I rode the London Eye in 2005. 

What’s In a Name?

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My name is Greg Smith.

A fairly nice name, as names go.

One problem with it, though.

There are a lot of other Greg Smiths out there. 

Take, for instance, the Greg Smith who got my acceptance letter to medical school. I was a pretty smart guy, and I was confident of getting my letter for early admission. It didn’t come and didn’t come and didn’t come. I was a little miffed, then upset, then heartbroken.  When it finally did arrive at my house, I found out that it had been sitting on this other Greg Smith’s desk for a few weeks, then a month, as he didn’t open it. All ended well. After all, I do have an MD after my name now. A frantic call to a very understanding admissions office at the school set all to rights. 

And of course there’s the other Greg Smith who lives right here in River City with me. He just happens to be a Pulitzer Prize winner (no, I’m not-yet-if you had to ask or rub it in, thank you very much) Every time he goes on a talk show and speaks about brain tumors or the latest way to fight cancer or whatever, my voicemail gets full of calls from Indonesia and Spain asking that I review the case of someone’s great aunt twice removed to see if I can offer some expertise in the case. Sigh. The life of the rich and famous. Alas, I’m a working stiff doctor. 

Then there’s the other Greg Smith MD who works in a mental health center in another part of our fair state. He sees clinic patients who, surprise, surprise, end up in the emergency rooms a few hundred miles from me. Consults get written for Greg Smith MD (that would be me) to see patients that were just seen at the clinic by Greg Smith MD (that would be him) and were sent for commitment to the hospital. Reviewing those records is like peer reviewing your own charts. Possible, but very, very weird. Besides that, can you imagine how it feels to the patient, who thinks that I just saw him in the mental health center, sent him handcuffed with the police to the hospital, then raced ahead of them to the ED to see him again, just to be sure? 

This stuff messes with your head.

Sort of like having somebody else get your letter of acceptance to medical school.

Maybe there is something to that parallel universe thing after all.

Have a good day, all.

Signed,

 

Greg Smith MD

(You figure out which one)

Never Forget

http://m.usatoday.com/article/news/2622707

If you’ve never seen the documentary on the Hiroshima nuclear bombing (can be found on Netflix) you should find it, watch it, and think on it for awhile.

Even though this act may have shortened the war and saved countless lives, the story is haunting, the losses devastating, and the lives shattered numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

We are forgetting our history.

We cannot let our children and grandchildren grow up without learning the lessons of the past, any more than we can ignore preparing them for the future.

Watch.

Remember.

Learn.

Share.

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Guaranteed for Late Arrival

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At the first of the year, I made a pact with myself. This year, I was going to make a concerted effort to spend money, time, and energy on having quality experiences, both by myself and with other people, instead of spending the capital on material goods such as new computers, hardware or other tangibles.

Approaching the end of the summer, and way past mid-year now, it’s time to take stock and see how I’m doing. Where have I been, what have I done, and who have I done it with? Is there room to squeeze more quality time in before we all sing Auld Lang Syne?

In January, I attended the Poison Peach Film Festival at the Imperial Theater in downtown Augusta, Georgia. While I did not feel that I was properly dressed, rocked the pony tail or had the requisite number of tattoos, this was a fun experience. I liked the campy films, the scary one with the old house in the middle of the woods (don’t trust the pretty lady-ever) and the general creative atmosphere of the Imperial during this festival.

Reconnection with friends began in January as well, with phone calls to Jan in DC, steak dinner and world problem solving with Rob, and discussions about SC mental health at the USCA Convocation Center with basketballs dribbled on the hardwood as backdrop. I especially loved the basketball games, and I paid my six bucks and perched high up in the corner on many weekday evenings to watch the Pacers play. Watching basketball in January also extended to Athens, GA, where the Bulldogs and Stegeman Coliseum were my GPS targets more than once.

February started with a wonderful impromptu reunion of sorts with old high school friends and a stay in the Bowdoin Room in one of the student-managed cabins on the campus of Berry College, my alma mater. The Berry campus and the visit with friends (who told some stories I had never heard before!)  recharged me in a very nice way. More basketball in the wonderful new Cage Center with friends followed on Sunday.

The first of several trips to Beaufort, SC, came next in February. Sitting by the river in a swing, good conversation over dinner with friends and the one-of-a-kind salt marsh air of Lowcountry SC have a way of permeating the soul and carrying you through until you can get back down to the plough mud and bridges that span the rivers that divide the islands.

The end of February found me traveling up the road to the Newberry Opera House to see the Peking Acrobats, a highly entertaining troupe of highly coordinated people who can stack chairs to the ceiling and the sit on them to boot! A visit to my roots, Cochran, Georgia, for another visit with family was long overdue and brought more stories and laughter with those who were there when I was a small boy. Contrary to what you’ve been told by me or anyone else, you can go home again.

The middle of March found me at the Koger Center in Columbia, SC, for a stunning performance of Les Miserables. The venue is expansive, the sets were fantastic, and singing of the national touring company was stellar. If you haven’t seen Les Mis, you must get tickets and see it right away. It’s a stunning show.

Family visits to Athens have sprinkled the year with fun and busyness, and the Easter Egg Hunt with grandkids at the end of March was great fun. That big bunny was a little scary though…

April brings the Masters to Augusta, but it also me heading out of town to a visit with a childhood friend who, with her partner, became my tour guide and companion on a lovely trip to Washington, DC. The picture above, outside the Smithsonian on a stunningly beautiful day, gives you a peek into the bright fun had on that trip. DC is a Metro-riding, walking town, and we logged miles from the Washington Monument to the Tidal Basin, missing the blooming of the cherry trees by only days.

Mid-April took me back to Columbia to the Koger Center for Dream Girls and some of the biggest voices I have ever heard on stage. One week later, I listened to the powerful voices of Chanticleer at the Etherredge Center of USCA, a wonderful little venue only six minutes from home.

The end of April took me back to Beaufort and Charleston. I came back with some sun and a new painting by a Lowcountry artist friend of mine, a wonderful marsh landscape that now reminds me daily of that part of the state that I love so much.

April showers bring May flowers, but for me May brought phone calls to family members, friends, and writers who were wonderfully generous with their time, expertise and advice to me as I struggled to get back to blogging again after a few months’ hiatus. Make no mistake, contact with friends and family, in person, by phone, by mail, or any way you choose costs you very little but pays large dividends.

June found me in another arts venue, this time with the Town and Gown Players in Athens, GA, for the Great American Trailer Park Musical, a hilarious show that featured my oldest daughter, one in a long line of performing Lambs and Smiths. I laughed out loud, something that I rarely do but need to do more.

In July, I visited the National POW Museum and the Andersonville National Historic Site, a moving place full of memories, beauty and stories. At the end of the month, I hiked and walked my way around lakes and parks and thoroughly wore myself out.

I think I have been true to my mission of spending time, money and effort on doing things, having experiences and branching out a little this year. I have five months left until we hit 2014. What will I do with that time?

Well, the list so far includes a trip to visit Monticello and UVA in Charlottesville, Virginia, a few more trips back to the Lowcountry to hang out with friends, taking in a few UGA football games in person to watch the Dawgs march toward a national championship, and heading back to see performances by symphony, opera, broadway companies and more in Augusta, Aiken and Columbia.

The last weekend in September will find me traveling to two reunions in one day (that should be fun!). The fall will bring the launch of a football program at Berry College and I plan to cheer on the Vikings anytime I can make it to Rome to see them.

The end of the year may bring a third grandchild, though the due date is in January. More pictures will follow, so get ready.

So.

All in all, I think things have been busy, productive , fun, and have allowed me to connect with people and places that I love and enjoy. Of note, I have not bought a new iPad, iPhone or any other shiny hardware in a number of months now.

But hey, the iPhone 5s launches in October. Can I hold out and keep my year-long pledge?

C’mon.

Are you kidding me?

Weekend Wakeup

So, I learned or re-learned some things this weekend while taking a one day hiatus from the workaday world. 

I can sing. Granted, I’m no Placido Domingo, but if Bruce Springsteen or Aerosmith pop up on my playlist with one of my favorite songs, I might just take the melody for one verse.

Road trips clear out cobwebs in my head. Roll the windows down (don’t you just love to keep using terms like that long past their viability, just because you can?), crank up the music, and enjoy the scenery. Costs you nothing but gas money.

Family is best. If you want to be around people, why not let it be your people? Getting to be around my daughters and their families as adults is a wonderful thing. 

Grandchildren are some of the best people to be around-ever. If you’re a grandparent, I don’t need to say more. If you’re not, I hope you will be someday.

Watching movies on the iPad with your granddaughter makes all your problems go away for a while. 

Cupcakes are meant to be shared. Especially the gourmet ones, and especially especially the chocolate peanut butter cream ones. OMG.

Chili is comfort food, even in the summer. Add a good beer, and it’s like whoa. 

Candyland, the game, can teach you more about dealing with life’s frustrations than any other experience I’ve had lately. I mean, how many times can you get thrown back to start again without losing your freakin’ mind?

Having your grandson smile and yell, “Chase me!” makes you feel like a little kid again. 

A hug from your granddaughter is one of the best things in the whole world. 

 

Yeah, it only takes a day to get back to what really matters.