Stayin’ Alive and Not the Bee Gees

Sometimes I forget how fortunate I am to be alive. First, half of me fought it out in my mother’s womb with thousands of brilliantly swimming spermatozoa. That half could have easily lost the battle.

Then there was that birth thing nine months later and 909 moons ago. That’s a lot of moons.

Good thing I have no memory of that birthing, given all the trauma involved. Had my memory been functioning well at the time, I’d be dealing with PTSD in addition to my OCD.

Then there were my kindergarten and first grade teachers, who were so memorable I can’t remember their names or faces. Ah, but then along came my second grade teacher, Mrs. Spangler, my first bout with unrequited love. Many bouts were to follow but fortunately, at some point, nearly 44 years ago my wife said, “Yes.” That helps account for my stayin’ alive.

The Best Letter I Ever Received

It was the springtime of either 1972 or 1973. I had been asked in writing to arrive soon for a draft physical while in residency at Emory University. With the ongoing Vietnam War it was a matter of serious concern to me.

Then, a week or so later, another letter from my draft board arrived in the mailbox. I couldn’t imagine why, but thought perhaps it was a duplicate. I slowly opened the letter. Basically, it said, the draft board regretfully was informing me the Physician Draft had ended and my appointment was cancelled.

It was as though two lead weights had been lifted off my shoulders. That was followed by a smile as wide as the Golden Gate Bridge.

The letter obviously changed the trajectory of my life. I gained two years in the civilian workforce I would have lost to military duty. I missed the conflict with the highest rate of injury and death to physicians in our history, as I understand. Looking back, it must have meant I would have never met my wife in Baltimore, MD in March of 1977.

To say this was the best snail mail that ever slimed into my mailbox would be a vast understatement. This was exquisite escargot!

I have a writers’ group that meets weekly, now, some fifty years after that difficult war. Ironically, one of the writers, a retired intelligence officer in the Marines, was involved in the creation of the peace treaty that was signed in Paris ending the Vietnam War.

An Anniversary in the Season of Discontent

In the midst of the Pandemic our days are a little different than they have been in our 42+ years of marriage. We, of course, have experienced varying degrees of restriction. Being 75, unlike my younger spouse, in the midst of a Covid-19 crisis, I am a little more hog-tied than she is.

On the other hand, give the average, American man chips, salsa, and three televised NFL games, and, he can remain stagnant for hours. I am in that category. My spouse would find that a variation on medieval torture.

The night of our 43rd anniversary she asked me to wear a tuxedo shirt and black tie while she too dressed more formally. I kept the restaurant where I planned to pick up dinner unexposed. Even a Mossad agent would have been pleased with my effort. My spouse generally from my expressions and tone of voice can deduce any of my secrets in about 3.5 minutes

It was a wonderful French restaurant about 15 minutes from our house, that, we had managed to avoid for reasons I cannot fathom for a quarter of a century. The three course meal was at its essence the finest chateaubriand imaginable with the richest escalloped potatoes that we had ever relished. It was worth the 43 year wait.

We were blessed with a memorable, delightful evening in our own dining room despite the crisis. Thank God for loving favors.

I Need to Be More Real

God did make creatures great and small. Our dogs have a capacity to provide unconditional love. The pups also have a unique, ingratiating ability, unlike wolves, to have the most appealing expressions. These furry creatures dream, which, strongly suggests they too have a subconscious mind.

But we are unique in God’s magnificent tree of life. Each of us is made in the image of God. Isn’t that enough?

Despite that, my ego requires an audience like you to view my written thoughts. I need to dramatize my stories. That ego also requires three books of memoir to ensure that at least somewhere I will not be forgotten.

But if deep in my soul I appreciated how much God loves me, all this self-stuff would be unnecessary. Wouldn’t it?

Writing for You; What is it Like?

“I write because to write a new sentence, let alone a new poem, is to cross the threshold into both a larger existence and a profound mystery.” Poet and essayist, Jane Hirshfield

Although I am not in this award- winning writer’s league, the writing process is the same for me. A good analogy is watching Jeopardy, answering a question and not having the vaguest inkling of where that response came from.

It is just something you get lost in. That is, at best, a deep immersion. It is a place of serenity and by the grace of God, shalom.

Fernando Tatis, Jr. and Lightning

I haven’t seen a young ball player this talented since I watched Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle in their early careers. Perhaps it should be Matis.  

Even more impressive is Tatis, Jr.’s humble, appreciative attitude. He appreciates the blessing of making a colossal living in a sport he absolutely loves.  

Having seen all three players in their youth, I have a strong suspicion I won’t see the end of Fernando’s 14 years. Nonetheless, all the enjoyment of watching him play have made my summers more exciting.  

The heat in a lightning bolt is four times the temperature of the surface of our sun, per, and, this 22 year old  is ELECTRIC.       

Art’s Inestimable Beauty

“In a world that for the most part steers clear of the whole idea of holiness, art is one of the few places left where we can speak to each other of holy things.” Frederick Buechner, originally published that in Whistling in the Dark.

Art is about speaking a thousand words with one photograph. It is about concisely speaking directly to the heart in a line of verse.

Questions arise along those pathways of connection like: What is love? Why am I here? If I am just an animate being, lost in a huge universe, why is justice so important to me? Can the serene, stillness in a forest in winter be an accidental phenomena? Can a universe with such tight constraints on its very existence be an accident in time? What really is consciousness?

Whether they admit it or not everyone’s life is, in part, guided by beliefs they cannot prove with chemicals and a Bunsen burner in a laboratory. Everyone worships something or someone as Bob Dylan’s so cogently pointed out in verse. For me that choice is of paramount importance. It’s what makes me whole.

Another Level for Djokovic

Who is this remarkable Serbian who just won his ninth of nine Australian Open finals? It’s Novak Djokovic, who, has an edge lifetime against both Nadal and Federer. Even though Novak lost his last three out of four against his opponent today, Daniil Medvedev, he beat him relatively easily in three sets.

Daniil had won 20 straight matches. Half of them had been against the top 10 including a win in the ATP finals against this remarkable Serbian tennis player. Today those recent victories meant little.

Djokovic is a complicated man. Although he’s fiercely competitive on the court, he has a remarkable sense of humor that we’ve seen frequently. It surfaced today in his speech at the award ceremony. When practice partners become key rivals, the partnering ends. Although Daniil had once been his frequent practicing partner, Novak said he hadn’t seen him lately on the practice court.

What Djokovic has done to this point is to set a new standard for champions in this sport. He is the man to beat alone at the top of the mountain.

A Day in LA

It was a picturesque day in LA in about 1980. I was about to go for lunch in Century City as I crossed an open plaza. 

In that plaza in a boxing ring with many strands of gray hair, was Muhammed Ali sparring with another fighter. When he was young his trainer said he floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee. There wasn’t much floating and no one was getting stung. At 38, he was a mere whisper of the fighter he had been.

One of the iconic figures of that century had met his match, Father Time. I only saw him again when he lit the torch at the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta, still, loved by people in every corner of the earth.

A Handshake of a Different Kind

Sonny Liston was a towering figure in boxing from 1962 through early 1964. During that period and prior to his first fight with Muhammed Ali in February of 1964, my father took me to see him train at a gym in Miami. I saw Sonny jump rope to the rock number Night Train. At the end of the workout we all lined up to shake hands with this bear of a fighter.

I was about 5 foot 6 and 130 lbs, soaking wet. Sonny at 6 ft 1  towered over me and was built like a gladiator.

I trembled as I put out my hand to shake. He gently shook my hand to the melody of my great relief, particularly as it was my right hand that I might well need for the rest of my life.

Other than a little arthritis, the hand works well these 57 years later, at least the last time I tried to slice a cabbage.