LEST WE FORGET

In a previous blog I mentioned our local newspaper, and recounted “the good old days” when our small town had three competing daily papers. I subsequently made a number of disparaging remarks about our one remaining paper which was purchased some time ago by Gannett. Nevertheless, my day usually begins with a cup of coffee and a perusal of the Times Recorder. It doesn’t take long. The front page usually has some local human-interest story which I don’t find very interesting so I usually proceed to page 2 and the obituaries which is the real reason I continue to subscribe to the thing.

WHY THIS SUBJECT?
Barb insists that it is absolutely morbid that I choose obituaries as the subject of this blog, but I feel it is both important and timely. Long before he had reached my present age, my Father wrote his and my Mother’s obituaries. He was always one who liked to be in control and I am sure he did not have much faith in anyone getting it right. Regardless of his motivation, it turned out to be a blessing for we survivors.

As you may have surmised motivation for my daily obituary searches has much to do with the fact that at my age I now see more familiar names on page 2 than I have in the past. Indeed, my contemporaries are dying at an alarming rate. I have no plans to write my obituary as we have an experienced obituary writer in the family. Before leaving for less green but more lucrative pastures in the big city, Maggie was in charge of obituaries for the TR (don’t you hate acronyms?). She tells me it is standard practice to assign that job to cub reporters, which says much about journalistic priorities.

BORING!!!
Sadly, most obituaries are boring recitations which are little more than death notices which say little more than when and where he or she was born and died along with a brief chronicle of their life with a focus on their occupation. This is followed by a list of family members living and dead, and information about funeral arrangements. It does appear to me that those traditions are gradually being swept away as I see many instances in which there is only a graveside service restricted to family members, but that’s another story. For many families cost may be a factor in the length of obituaries as they usually charge per line of type. In larger cities it is much more expensive. For example, the New York Times charges $263 for the first 4 lines and $52 for each subsequent line. Each line contains only 28 characters and is printed in very small (7 point type).
WORTH REMEMBERING
In spite of the brevity of the average obituary in our paper there are some which give hints as to the nature of the subject’s life. Just this morning I read the obit of a 96 year old woman and found the loving portrait inspiring. She was said to have had a “long well-lived life.” She was described as a “feisty woman who lived life to the fullest and enjoyed the thrill of playing slot machines.” She also enjoyed her grandchildren, great grandchildren and great great grandchildren. She had worked in a factory all her adult life and attended church which was “just up the road from where she was born.” Most important was the statement “She was a loving woman who will be missed by family and friends throughout Morgan and Perry counties.” In my opinion, to be missed allows one’s life to continue in others’ thoughts; consequently no one wants to be forgotten.

FORGETTABLE
Throughout history it has been important to immortalize our heroes with statues and other icons so they will continue to inspire us, and not be forgotten. It is also not unusual for the living to build their own monuments. Likewise, it is common for people to prescribe in detail the hymns to be sung, the burial method and even the entire process of the funeral with the possible exception of the eulogy. This is done in spite of the realization that they will not be a witness to the festivities. In the old days one could easily identify the most affluent buried in the graveyard by the size of their gravestone. Now modern cemeteries are devoid of monuments expressly to be more egalitarian, but coincidently eliminating impediments to mowing the grass.

In spite of our best efforts, we will in all probability soon be forgotten. The odds of our being remembered for longer than a couple of generations is probably much less than winning the power-ball jackpot. Millions have gone before you and failing extinction of the species millions will follow. You will need to be very, very famous to stick out in such a crowd. Even a famous blogger is not likely to make the cut. Although your name will be recorded in various places you will have been long forgotten until someone encounters your name as they work on their genealogy, and they will wonder what it would have been like to-know you.

FAVORITE OBITS
It is true that obituaries have a certain utilitarian value in that they not only announce the death but list those to whom you might want to send a sympathy card, provide the time and place of the funeral, etc., but I find little information which would help me to know the person. There have been some examples in which anecdotal information has provided me with an idea as to a person’s identity, and a feeling that I would like to have known them. One such case was a single statement in an otherwise generic obit of an elderly woman as follows: “Edna’s family gathered at her home for Sunday dinner at 1 o’clock every week for over 60 years and welcomed all guests with open arms. Edna will be remembered for her peach-pecan and pumpkin pies, noodles, and birthday cakes, her patience, kindness, and unwavering and unconditional love for others, and most of all, her heart of gold.” In the annals of motherhood, it is difficult to imagine anyone topping that record of nurturing. I felt as if I would like to have known Edna. Maybe I could even have wrangled an invitation to Sunday dinner.
My all-time favorite obituary was one which kept me laughing. It was written by a daughter who began with a quest for anyone interested in dinner plates. It turned out that her mother had been a collector of all kinds of different items, including dinner plates, and the daughter was overwhelmed. She went on to describe all her mother’s quirks in a most loving and tender but funny way. It was my all time favorite and I consider it a masterpiece. I tried to save it, but since we have a rule in this house to never lose anything unless it is important it has disappeared.
WHY THE IMPORTANCE
For those of us who will not have a bronze likeness in the courthouse square, our obituary will be the most lasting chronicle of our lives. It will probably be written or directed by someone who loved us and thus emphasize our better natures providing a template for living a full life. Obituaries remind us of our mortality which is not always a bad thing as such awareness can be a powerful motivator.
Obituaries have been with us since Roman times but as print media is replaced by the internet, obituaries are likely to follow suite. One such example is “The Blog of Death” written by Jade Walker who was formerly a chronicler of the deaths of the rich and famous in the New York Times. She was also hailed for producing a publication of the obits for all the victims of the nine eleven attacks. She describes her blog as: “…featuring the famous, infamous and interesting unknowns.” Undoubtedly, major newspapers will continue to publish obituaries deemed newsworthy. One often cited example is the Los Angeles Times preparation of Elizabeth Taylor’s obituary two years before her death presumably in order to be ready for the great event. Ironically, the person who wrote it died before it was published.
With the demise of local newspapers throughout the country, I assume that their archives containing millions of obituaries will be lost. There are organizations which profess to have access to nearly a century of published obituaries; however I am not sure how that is done, e.g., do they simply access newspaper archives? For most of us our obituary is all that remains of us to be remembered for longer than a few years.

SAVED BY THE CLOUD
As Jade Walker points out, the internet provides opportunity to include pictures, personal anecdotes, and experiences which could allow us to relate to lives that are gone. In an era when there is data available to unravel the human genome, keep track of who and where we are, who we talk to, and what we buy, it does not seem unreasonable to catalog obituaries. Perhaps the information could be managed by the Library of Congress, and the millions of wondrous stories which are now literally buried could be available for all to see. It could even contain the recipe for Edna’s peach-pecan pie

LIFE AND DEATH

Last night I happened upon a documentary about death on PBS. It included an introductory presentation by a woman who reports that she had found resolution to her fear of death by directly confronting it. She had made a point of viewing dead bodies at every opportunity and had even taken a job at a crematorium, which seemed like overkill to me. To complete her story, a vignette of that entire process was shown. I did not find watching the incineration of bodies as particularly entertaining, and Barb left the room saying she was repulsed. In spite of my interest, (I had always wondered how this procedure was done), I shared Barb’s feelings perhaps even more intensely for this is the method I had chosen for my disposal.

 

THE BIG QUESTION
Many years ago, I think it was the late 60s, Peggy Lee recorded a song titled: IS THAT ALL THERE IS? which has haunted me all these years for it expresses to me the most fundamental existential questions. What is life, where did it come from, why are we here, how did it happen, who or what caused it? When the answers to these questions seem almost within our reach, new questions arise and we end up confounded all over again. We humans are undoubtedly unique in our ability to even ponder such questions. As a matter of fact, we have no clear idea what life is let alone what it is all about. Our definitions of life are simplistic and do little to help us understand what it is. For example, for some time there have been efforts underway to actually synthesize a living cell, but those involved in such efforts cannot agree on the criteria for determining when something is alive.

 

WHAT IS DEATH?
Death on the other hand is defined as the absence of life, but is it? At this time of the year, one third of the world’s population is celebrating their belief that life is eternal. Muslims likewise hold strong beliefs in an afterlife as do many other religions. Freud described religion as a symptom of neurosis or in some cases psychosis. Karl Marx famously insisted that religion was the opiate of the masses. Both saw religious dogma as a defense against the vicissitudes of life: for Freud, defense from anxiety, and for Marx defense from the pain of domination. In spite of his atheistic beliefs Freud was reported to have said during a prolonged, and painful terminal illness that he envied those who had strong religious beliefs.
As our brains evolved to become huge cauliflower like globs of neurons, we developed the ability to not only perceive reality but to predict future events. This ability has served us well, but there is a down side in that we became aware of our mortality. Floyd, my dog who sleeps at my feet as I write this, is able to predict certain outcomes. For example, he has learned some of the routines of the house and knows when I put on a coat that he might be able to bum a ride. He will undoubtedly see dead animals during his lifetime, may even experience grief, but I feel fairly certain that he does not realize that in a few short years he will die.

 

RELIGION AND THE DEATH PROBLEM
Back in my younger days when as an academic I knew almost everything about everything, I found that death was one of those things even I did not understand. I was especially interested in how our awareness of mortality affected our thinking, values, behaviors, personality development, and even our mental health. My research on the subject of attitudes toward death indicated that certain diagnostic categories of psychiatric patients had attitudes significantly different from the norm. All very interesting, but I was left with the classic chicken egg dilemma, did their illness cause their unique attitudes or did those attitudes contribute to the illness? But that’s how it is with any scientific endeavor, to answer one question will only lead to more questions.
The study did tend to confirm what everyone already knew in that some people look forward to death while others fear it. In the former category is the late Billy Graham who on multiple occasions insisted that he was looking forward to his earthly death, and the beginning of a new (much better) life. Muslims are so convinced of an afterlife in paradise that they are willing to martyr themselves to ensure their admission. As a matter of fact, all religions seem to have in common the pursuit of a solution to the death problem. Those of strong faith have been shown to have less fear of dying, but in one study those adherents uncertain of an after-life were even more fearful than atheists who were convinced that there was nothing after death.

 

DEATH OR RELIEF?
Death may also be attractive to those suffering from extreme pain either physical or mental. Patients whom I have known to have suffered both serious physical and emotional distress at various times in their lives invariably report the emotional pain to be more difficult to endure. When combined with feeling there is no hope, for such people suicide may seem their only option.

On one occasion in the days before Google, I was approached by a patient asking what would be the lethal dose of phenobarbital. He reported that his mother had been ill for several years with several surgeries leaving her without ability to speak, a horribly disfigured face, and severe pain. She was on large doses of pain medications, and her illness was terminal. She had told her family that after careful consideration she had decided she wished to die sooner rather than later and wanted her family to be with her as she died. Had she been a family pet her assisted suicide would have been declared merciful, but in her case it was criminal. Go figure. On the other hand many agree that to countenance euthanasia is to start down a slippery slope.

 

CLINGING TO LIFE. FIGHTING DEATH.
There are others for whom life is so precious, or is it that death is so threatening, that they cling to life in spite of enormous pain or disability. Such was the case with my daughter who shortly before her death said: “I don’t want to die Daddy.” Was she afraid? I will never know for my response was to reassure her she was not dying rather than to address her feelings about the death she knew was imminent. Thus, her cry for support was brushed off and she was left to deal with the most difficult time of her life alone. I should have known better. Sometimes it is difficult to practice what you preach.

 

A recent example of one who chose to follow Dylan Thomas’s advice to “Rage, rage the dying of the light…….” Is exemplified by the late Stephen Hawking, who was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis as a graduate student and told he could not be expected to live more than two years. In spite of total paralysis and the loss of his ability to speak, he went on to become a major contributor to the science of cosmology and was described by some as a modern day Isaac Newton. He was a prolific writer in both the scientific and lay literature in spite of limited ability to communicate. In his later years, he gave lectures all over the world with the use of a voice synthesizer operated by his only remaining functioning muscle group which was in his cheek.

 

LETTING GO
Sometimes death can be viewed as an opportunity to be reunited with a loved one. One very personal example of this was with the death of my Mother. My Father had been dead for a couple of years and Mother was staying with us. Her only known medical problem was a few episodes of cardiac arrhythmia one of which had resulted in hospitalization and successful treatment. I suspected she would be discharged the following day and stopped in to see her as I made morning rounds. I was surprised at her response when I asked her how she was feeling when she said: “I am feeling just fine, but I have been thinking a lot lately and have decided it is about time for me to be out there (the cemetery) beside your Father.” I thought little of her comment and went on to my office. A short time later I received a call from her nurse telling me she had died. We should all be so lucky as to go that way, in charge and at peace. This and similar stories have led me to believe that we have more control over our demise than is apparent.

 

SEX AND DEATH?
Perhaps the weirdest thanatophilic attitude toward death is in its libidinization which was not only observed in my research but in Greek mythology. In the story of “The Rape of Persephone,” Pluto, guardian of the underworld ascended from Hades to seduce the maiden Persephone. Throughout history this theme has been repeated many times in different iterations. You may be thinking: how can there be anything sexy about death? I told you it was weird. This brings me back to the young lady who was interviewed extensively on the PBS special. She not only presented her story of how she overcame her fear of death, but was filmed giving a lecture to a group of alleged thanatophobes. It occurred to me that she possibly could have gone overboard as she talked of the joys of death in a husky voice accompanied by a sexy smile. But in case you want to learn about even weirder stuff you might want to check on the necrophiles who enjoy sex with corpses. There is also John Wayne Gacy who admitted to having orgasms as he watched his victims die.

 

NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCES
None of those interviewed in the PBS documentary seemed more certain of life after death than those with histories of near death experiences. Their stories were consistent and the interviewees were very credible. Many others speak of witnessing from above the attempts made to resuscitate them, and report seeing a tunnel with a bright light in the distance. There have also been some who have reported very unpleasant experiences, and following their recoveries vowed to change their ways. There is one neurologist who suggested these experiences were simply the result of cerebral ischemia (diminished blood supply to the brain), but there is little doubt in the minds of these survivors that their experiences were real. One such survivor suffering from a terminal cancer reported she was looking forward to her death and we were told she died two months following the filming of the program. The others all said their lives had been changed since the experience, and that they had developed a kind of serenity they had never known previously. Although not mentioned in the broadcast, I am also aware of at least two books written about going to heaven and one describing a 20 minute visit to Hell, accounts which I found less credible.

 

CREATING YOUR OWN AFTERLIFE
Spookiest of all in my opinion was an in depth look at the so-called cryogenic procedure in which bodies are frozen in liquid nitrogen with the hope that in future years technology will allow their illnesses to be cured, and they will be able to do a secular version of the Lazarus trick. Cellular biologists believe it is impossible to do even a very quick freeze without doing permanent damage to the body’s cells. Nevertheless, there are people who are willing to pony up large sums of money to have their bodies frozen and stored in hopes of being brought back to life. One website reports they have over 100 such bodies stored in huge tanks of liquid nitrogen. As for me, I think I would prefer to take a shot at heading down that tunnel toward the bright light.

 

DEALING WITH OUR MORTALITY
There are many behaviors unique to humans for which one could make a good case to result from awareness of our mortality and even the concept of death. Denial is the most powerful tool that can be used to decrease anxiety, and typically the way most of us deal with the reality of death. Those things we don’t understand are the ones we find most frightening. Freud for all his foibles had much to say about death, although discounting religion, he presented some interesting comments about our denial. One which rang true to me was his statement: “It is indeed impossible to imagine our own death, because whenever we attempt to do so we can perceive that we are in fact still present as spectators.” I can’t help but wonder if he got this idea from Mark Twain’s story about Tom and Huck attending their own funeral. Nevertheless, he does make a point. We like to give instructions as to how our funeral or lack of should be conducted sometimes with great detail, and without consideration for the idea that such services should be for the benefit of those who grieve. Do we really believe we will be able to hear what hymns are played?
In spite of our knowledge of the inevitability of death we continue to seek token immortality. We select monuments, have portraits made, buy life insurance, establish charitable trusts, write wills, work hard in order to be able to leave something behind, and even write blogs in hopes we will be remembered; and continue to live in the minds of others. Not surprisingly there are often attempts to retain control after death. I recall one example of a friend who was noted to be an in control kind of guy who liked to keep his wife under his thumb. He wrote a will in which he specified that her inheritance would go to charity in the event she should remarry after his death. There are so many other questions which have gone unanswered. For example, to name a few: why do some enjoy the thrill of risking their life, why do some like to frighten others with the threat of death, why do some appear to actually enjoy killing. We seem to be unique among the animal kingdom in those behaviors.

ARE THERE ADVANTAGES TO THE REALIZATION OF OUR OWN MORTALITY?
Lest you think I am totally morbid in these thoughts, I should admit there are some obviously useful things surrounding this mortality thing. We tend in many ways to view death as punishment. We use terms like “he deserved to die,” and “the wages of sin are death.” Throughout history, assassinations have been carried out to punish those accused of misdeeds, and the most serious crimes are still punished by death. If we were convinced we would live forever, would we behave instinctively without regard to consequences, in other words would we have developed a super-ego? In like fashion what about creativity and the urge to complete projects if time were not limited? There would be no need for monuments or for offspring to mourn. Would we feel the need to band together with others? It sounds to me as if life would be boring.

MY STRATEGY
Well, enough of this death stuff. I hope the next PBS program will be about life. Meanwhile, I plan to adopt the “eat drink and be merry” strategy. Barb recently told me she had decided to concentrate on living each day to the fullest as long as she could. I suppose this would not leave much time for worrying about such mundane issues as dying. Maybe she will be willing to give me some lessons.

Addendum by retired eshrink editor:
My dad and I discussed the topic of this blog before he wrote it. I told him of a pivotal moment during college when a marketing professor posed the question, “What if this is all there is? Despite what you’ve been taught in church or by your parents, what if this life is all you get?”

It was if a light bulb went off! Religion uses “heaven” and “hell” (the “afterlife” in general) to relieve us of the anxiety of our own mortality and in some instances, to control us. You want to get to heaven. You don’t want to go to hell. Here’s what you need to do. As if, all chaos would ensue if we thought this was the one life we get to have.

Indeed, that was the point I got from this professor. The realization that this life is the one that is real and I better be a full participant because it’s the only one I know I have. Don’t use an “afterlife” idea to put off living this life fully. Don’t get me wrong, I hope there’s something really good after this life. My version of “heaven” is being able to use the heaven TV network to check in on all my people to see what’s going on because I don’t want to miss anything! Also, I would like to create my own weather, get to choose my own “age” during my time in heaven, visit with everyone else who is dead, and most of all, get all of those big questions answered. I freely admit that I’m afraid to die because I’m afraid of the unknown…I’m with Freud, I’m envious of those people who have no doubt in religion’s teaching of an afterlife. However, I must admit I have never understood why highly religious people who think their dead family member has gone home to Jesus to the next life, cry so much at the funeral. If you truly believe that without a doubt, wouldn’t you be happy for them?

However, I do believe there is something more and hope there is something more, but no proof to date.

So, I try to use mortality to make sure I live well in this moment that I have been so fortunate to be given and even more, to put life’s perceived “stresses” in perspective. “It’s not life and death” I’ll tell myself.

Since my husband died suddenly at a fairly young age , I also use “death” as a way to live my life double for those who don’t get to be here. I try very hard not to take one minute for granted. Life’s short. It’s not a dress rehearsal. Treasure the gift. Be present. Make every minute count.

WORK (Part 3)

In the second post of this series, I attempted to enumerate only a few of the pros and cons of technology with an emphasis on Artificial Intelligence, the current hot button issue for those knowledgeable about this high tech stuff. It all began with my speculations as to the effect the total absence of work would have on people and culture. Granted, the idea of a culture where there is no work is hypothetical, but as I mentioned previously, there is some evidence that we are headed in that direction.  

WHY DO WE DO THIS STUFF?

We ordinarily think of work as an activity used to gain some kind of reward. Compensation of some type is the first kind which comes to mind, yet there are obviously some emotional or spiritual needs that are satisfied by our labors. In this regard I am frequently reminded of an incident from about 60 years ago when I was working on the “yard gang” at a local factory during the summer. I may have mentioned this in a previous blog; it was one of those trivial but unforgettable experiences, which addresses some of our less negative feelings about work.

Orrie was an amiable fellow in his late sixties, and he and I had been assigned to clean out a boxcar that had carried potash.  I can attest to the fact that the inside of a boxcar that has sat in the sun on a 90 degree day is not a very pleasant place to be, especially when one is soon enveloped in potash dust mixed with sweat.  I can also assure you that placement of a bandana over one’s mouth is not a very effective way to keep  the stuff out of your lungs.  After what seemed like hours of shoveling and sweeping, the last vestige of potash had been disposed of, and Orrie stood in the door of the car, reached in his pocket for a fresh cud of chewing tobacco, surveyed our handiwork and said, “A mighty pretty piece of work Doc.” (The guys all called me Doc, as they knew I was a pre-med student.)

As you might imagine, an overgrown, snot-nosed kid like me thought that was about the stupidest thing I had ever heard. It certainly was not analogous to the creation of some marvelous piece of art. On the contrary, I thought that boxcar was the ugliest thing I had ever seen, and I was convinced that it was the closest thing to hell one could experience while still alive. If work is defined as an activity seeking a reward, the only reward that I can imagine for Orrie was the satisfaction he felt as he savored his accomplishment. I suspect that this same need to achieve is the opiate which motivates us to build sky scrapers and clean boxcars.  If such is the case, then the term “workaholic” may describe another form of addiction.    

LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE GOOD OLD GUYS

Now that I have become older and hopefully a little wiser, I have come to realize that it was men like Orrie with their incredible work ethic who have made it possible for me to sit here in relative luxury.  In my opinion, “trickle drown” economics is not what makes things work, but that the “trickle up” factor is even more important.  The wondrous plans of our great thinkers and planners would have had little chance of success without the sweat equity of the Orries of the world.   

Throughout recorded history and beyond, we seem to have been ambivalent about work. We often praise its value but at other times say we hate it.  We look forward to retirement, but when it comes, we start to look for something to do, as there are no 12-step programs to help us gain remission from this compulsion.  It has often been said that in order to have a successful retirement, one should remain active. Consequently, many of us end up engaged in activities such as volunteerism, gardening, woodworking or blog writing, which, under different circumstances, would be seen as work. In my own case, I looked forward to retirement, but I found I missed working. Since there was a nationwide shortage of psychiatrists, I had no problem finding a job and went back to work until senescence caught up with me 12 years later.  It is amazing how goofing off feels so good when you are working, but is so boring when you don’t have a job to do.

BORING!

Of course there have been enormous changes in the nature of work over the last century.  We have become much more specialized especially in manufacturing. Henry Ford’s introduction of the assembly line introduced a new level of efficiency in production at the cost of massive levels of boredom among the employees, who found themselves performing the same action hundreds of times every day. I can speak of this from experience, for I once worked in a glass bottle factory where a river of glass bottles came at me from a conveyor belt as I attempted to pack them in boxes. It was a position I felt was sorely lacking in job satisfaction. The good news is that these kind of jobs are the type which robots can do more efficiently and with fewer mistakes than can humans, but the bad news is it eliminates a lot of jobs held by those with limited training.  

The automobile industry, which has long been a major component of our economy, is a good example of the changes wrought by technology on employment.  According to a study by Washington University, the number of people employed in auto manufacturing decreased from 1.1 million in 2004 to 670,000 in 2011, presumably due largely to the introduction of robotics.  Now with the introduction of artificial intelligence to these machines, the game is changed drastically.  Fewer and eventually no people may be needed to make cars and trucks.

As mentioned in a previous blog, this work thing had its origin when Joe Caveman discovered he could make a spear point or axe from a piece of rock, which helped him to procure food for himself and his family. It wasn’t long until he found he could make other stuff, which eventually led to my being able to sit here in my nice warm house and peck away at a machine. With the development of group work, people depended upon each other to “carry their own weight,” work was highly valued by society, and slackers were looked down upon and even shunned.

A BOXCAR MICHELANGELO

However, it seems unlikely that Orrie’s motivation in cleaning out that boxcar had anything to do with social pressures, for he appeared not to be pleased until he surveyed his handiwork after the job was done. For me, though, it was all about the money. The only satisfaction I felt came from being able to get the hell out of that boxcar.  This would lead one to believe that Orrie’s sense of accomplishment was the primary source of that mildly euphoric feeling.  I doubt that it was much different than the emotions an artist would feel upon completing a painting or sculpture. As a matter of fact, I find it interesting that Orrie used the word “pretty” to describe his accomplishment, and I suspect that when Joe Caveman turned that piece of rock into an axe he might have thought it to be a pretty piece of work, too.  

THE EQUIPMENT

The human body has evolved to make us particularly suited to do things and make stuff.  When we learned to stand upright and developed fingers with an opposing thumb, we were equipped to do all kinds of things, and an enlarged cerebral cortex allowed us to learn how to do them. In answer to the question of why we work, it would seem there are multiple factors involved, including: as a means to supply our basic needs of food, shelter and the like; because of cultural influences; as a tool to ward off depression; because it is an addiction; and perhaps even because it’s simply part of our genetic makeup.

I DO, THEREFORE I AM

Since we ordinarily spend at least half of our waking hours at work, what we do contributes in large measure to our identity, e.g. who we are.  For example, if I am asked who I am, I likely will reply that I am a retired psychiatrist. Work is so important that it tends to define us.  It is difficult to imagine how different I would be had I grown up in a world in which there was no work to be done.  Would I still be competitive?  If so, for what would I compete, and how would I do it?  Would we need to have a monetary system?  If not, what tools could we use to distribute resources?  What would we do with all that extra available time?  We couldn’t all be bloggers.  There are already too many of them.  With no need to train for a career, would education be needed?  Would we become even fatter and lazier? Would our native curiosity remain intact?  Would our brains atrophy?  Would we be dumbed down?  

Those are only a few of the questions raised as one contemplates a workless society.  As discussed in a previous blog the total absence of work could only happen with the development of robotics endowed with Artificial Intelligence.  As computers store more knowledge and learn more, they become more intelligent and in some ways have already become smarter than us.  Their decision making is not influenced by emotion, they are always logical, and they never forget.

THE DIGITAL ROLODEX

We all participate in the transfer of power to machines.  For example, in the past I carried a few phone numbers in my head as a matter of convenience. Now I have no need to bother as those numbers are all programmed into my phone. After relieving my brain from the job of memorizing those numbers, I found myself doing exercises to improve my cognition and memory.  How crazy is that?  A recent drive to another state would have involved studying road maps and planning a route, but now I only need to tell Siri where I want to go. I have always taken pride in my ability to spell and had even won some spelling bees as a kid, but now I am dependent on spell check and Google.  

As computers become more intelligent, we will undoubtedly become more dependent on them for more important things than directions or spelling. We will be perfectly willing to turn over more and more responsibility to robots, and to enjoy the fruits of their labors, which is certainly not all bad. Lest you think I am an anti-robotic bigot let me assure you that I feel they have the potential to eliminate much suffering in this world. Unfortunately, as Bill Gates has said, there is also a very frightening, largely ignored, possible down-side. As we cede more power to technology, we risk losing control of our world. You might think this not such a bad idea considering how we have screwed it up, but I suspect it wouldn’t be a fun place to live. I doubt many robots would be lovable little guys like R2-D2 in Star Wars.

SORRY, NO ANSWERS

With no frame of reference, we can only make guesses as to what it would be like to live in a world without work, but I feel certain it would be much different than just taking time off for vacation. IBM’s Watson and his buddies would personify the spectacle of tail-wagging dogs as robots became our masters. Speaking of dogs, perhaps robots could domesticate us as we did the wolves, and teach us to sit, stay, and roll over.

LIFE on a SUNDAY MORNING

Editor’s Note: This is a post from last year that I’ve transferred from dad’s previous blog. Enjoy!

June 8, 2014

It is Sunday morning and I have been sitting on the patio surveying my miniscule portion of the universe. It is a beautiful balmy summer morning. I am surrounded and engulfed in the sounds and sights of life. Birds seem to be especially vocal, Charley the chipmunk who has outsmarted me at every turn in my attempt to capture him brazenly runs past my feet chasing a new found friend, which probably means I will soon have an entire family with whom to contend. Lilly runs off to add her voice to the chorus of dogs probably in objection to someone’s use of the street without their permission. I notice that the Christmas tree which I planted a short time ago (it seems like a short time) is only a couple of feet shorter than the electric pole which stands beside it. The hibiscus plants which I had given up for dead due to my neglect have made a remarkable comeback and are about to shower us with more beauty.  A sprout has suddenly appeared at the side of the stump of a tree which had cut down nearly two years ago, but it has performed its Lazarus like miracle and refuses to stay dead.

As I focus more intently on my environment, I suddenly become aware that within my view is every shade of green imaginable.   There is a cloud moving toward me, and it will soon be dropping more of the blood of all this life. That huge ball of fire so powerful that we dare not gaze directly at it provides the energy to keep it all moving. What an awesomely miraculous thing, this phenomenon we call life. I have spent most of my life studying life as it exists in my own species, but rarely have I taken the time to appreciate the ways that it surrounds, engulfs and nurtures me. I do recall lying on the grass, and staring in wonder at cloud formations as a child, with a feeling of reverence almost spiritual in its intensity. Many of the questions from those days still remain without answers, but as I recently told Carter (one of my exceptional grandsons) I believe there is more wisdom in questions than in answers.

Surely as I see my own personal supply of it dwindle, life becomes more precious, and I suspect that is not unusual for we old buggers.   I hear much about “finding the meaning of life”, and such similar claptrap, and I suppose I have also engaged in such fool’s errands, when it would have served me well to spend more time simply enjoying and appreciating it, much as I did this morning.  I have in the past made the cynical remark that I would rather go to a funeral than to a wedding. But as with most cynical statements there was a grain of truth in that with funerals I was forced to confront my mortality, and come away vowing to make the most of my time. Those promises to myself however were short lived and I soon returned to my charge through the trees while losing sight of the forest.

Take it from a guy who has been there “the good old days” were not all good, but in my opinion one of the traditions worth saving was the Biblical admonition to use the Sabbath as a day of rest, and as a time to reflect on things beyond our control and understanding much as I did this morning.   In other words there was more to Sunday than just going to church.   There were the “blue laws” which actually made certain activities illegal when carried out on Sunday. Since all religions did not use Sunday as their Sabbath, these laws were obviously discriminatory; however they did serve to promote time for reflection, and family cohesiveness. But, it was not only the blue laws that limited activities. In those days my soliloquy would not have been interrupted as it was this morning by the sound of a neighbor mowing his lawn. It was considered very poor taste bordering on sacrilege for one to engage in any kind of work on Sunday. There were exceptions of course for positions vital to the community functions such as medicine, law enforcement, firemen etc.

There was an oft quoted saying that one should “make hay while the sun shines’; however if the sun was shining on Sunday the hay would have to wait until Monday. No farmer “worth his salt” would want to be seen working his fields on the Sabbath. Some women were so extreme in their views that they even refused to cook on Sunday; consequently would spend much of Saturday preparing food for the Sunday after church meal which was usually the grandest of the week.   Even though the industrial age was in full swing, factories were expected to shut down unless there were compelling reasons not to do so. Business transactions were to be avoided on Sunday and almost all businesses were closed. It was a day for family activities such as picnics and visiting, though often the afternoons consisted of sitting on the front porch watching what could be seen of one’s own part of the world.

If I sound nostalgic, it is because I am, but I suspect most octogenarians suffer from some degree of that malady. Sundays now seem to be a time to catch up on all the work not finished during the week. It has become the favorite time for shopping. The only thing restful about the “day of rest” is that some may get to sleep in a little longer, that is if they don’t have a job which requires them to work on Sunday. I miss front porches which seem to no longer to be necessary, and if present rarely used.   I miss seeing children playing out in their yards on Sunday. I would like to see them abandon their electronic toys occasionally to lie on the grass and look at the clouds, maybe even play hop scotch or hide and seek. I have no desire to go back to those days of my youth, for undoubtedly this is the best time to be alive in the history of man at least in this part of the earth, but I do believe we have much to learn from what has gone before. During my brief time on the planet, I have seen many so called innovations which were actually recycled from the past, and I believe there is still much to be learned from our ancestors. One such lesson could be regarding the value of a weekly day of rest and contemplation. If readopted, such a tradition might even result in some reconciliation of the tree huggers and money grubbers which would undoubtedly help us to become better stewards of our planet.

Those who know me will undoubtedly note a bit of hypocrisy in this essay for I have been a chronic violator of this biblical injunction since my teen years. I too felt that I could not “waste a day”, but now am convinced that a regularly scheduled goof off day would have served me well.

Love Good

 

The Big C and Me

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from the book “Reflections for the Future” that includes many of my dad’s writings (e-shrink). You can order it on lulu.com (hard back) or download the pdf of the book for free. Dad referred to this article in a recent blog post so I’ve copied it here.

They faxed the results of my CT scan the other day, and it showed no signs of reoccurrence. Briefly I felt a sigh of relief, such as I imagine the men on death row must feel when they get a reprieve to delay their execution. This journey began nearly a year ago, only a few weeks after my brother died of a rapidly progressing lung cancer. Fortunately, he had little time to suffer as he died only three weeks after he was diagnosed. My wife insisted that I should have a chest x-ray, and there it was, “a right upper lobe mass.” My hopes that it might be a benign lesion were dashed when the follow-up scan was interpreted as “Probable bronchiogenic carcinoma” and confirmed when the PET scan “lit up.”

One would think that my training and research interests would have prepared my to deal with this problem, for back when I was an academic my colleagues and students jokingly referred to me as the “Angel of Death.” This was due to my interest in thanatology (death and dying). At least on a conscious level I was interested in how awareness of our mortality affected such things as personality, super ego development, motivation, mood problems, suicidal and other self destructive behaviors. I now wonder if much of my interest had more to do with my own personal conflicts than a strictly scientific interest. My research led me to the believe among other things that Freud was correct when he stated that people generally were unable to imagine their own non-existence. He was also quoted as having said while he was dying of a painful malignancy that he envied those who believed in an afterlife. Billy Graham seems to have something in common with the Islamic suicide bombers in that he has said that he is looking forward to death for he is convinced that he will have another one much better than his current one. I have also seen many patients who yearn for or even attempt to hasten their death in order to rid themselves of unbearable physical or emotional pain. For some my studies seemed to indicate that there may even be a sexual component to their fantasies of death, and for others a reunion with loved ones who have “gone before’. These are attitudes which I labeled as thanatophilic.

Unfortunately, I am not a thanatophile, On the contrary I am quite thanatophobic, I love my life and as is the case with most things, with the threat of its loss it becomes more precious. My education in the sciences has given me an appreciation for the awesome complexities of life, and some understanding of its fragility, but it is more than the sum of its parts. Now more than ever I look out our kitchen window and marvel at the birds as they all struggle to sustain their life and are programmed to replace themselves so that “life goes on”. I am overwhelmed with their beauty and grace. Is life just a complicated chemical process or does it house something spiritual? I am certainly not the first person to pose that question. When I attempt to understand the physicists as they theorize about the nature of matter and the vastness of the universe, it seems my life must be very insignificant; however sometimes I act as if the world could not get along without me. I guess Freud really was right in that I can’t imagine myself as being dead.

When I first received the shocking news that I had cancer, it suddenly became very clear that my musings and “scientific” investigations into how people think about and cope with death were of little use to me. Kubler-Ross was a researcher at University of Chicago who had beaten me to the punch with her book on death and dying; consequently I had always criticized her for what I considered an overly simplistic explanation of the dying process. Much to my chagrin I found myself to be a poster boy in following her descriptions of people’s behaviors as they faced death. The 1st stage she described was one of grief, and I did that one well all the while attempting to hide it out of a sense of embarrassment. Initially I tried to regain control by trying to “get my affairs in order”, but that rapidly gave way to a feeling of intense sadness which was most severe when I thought of my Grandchildren. I found myself suppressing tears whenever I thought of them. I told myself this was ridiculous, for how could I anticipate feeling this sense of loss if I were dead. If I were dead I wouldn’t feel anything or would I?

It has been said that ignorance is bliss, and also that a little bit of knowledge is dangerous. I knew my body had betrayed me and that my own cells were attempting to destroy my vital organs. I could picture them as they would look through a microscope with their bizarrely shaped nuclei, many of them in the process of dividing as they rapidly reproduced themselves. I knew the traitors had spent the last several years quietly multiplying in my lung preparing for the final assault. The obvious defense against this army was to totally destroy them, and this could be accomplished only with surgery. There would be collateral damage of course, but pulmonary function studies indicated that my body could survive the loss of a lobe (approximately ½ of my right lung). Barb made me promise to “fight like hell” and I vowed to do just that; however as the day of surgery came closer I became more fearful. My fear was that I would wake up attached to a ventilator with my arms restrained and unable to speak, or of some other complication ( I could think of many) that would render me helpless. The idea of such helplessness had always been terrifying to me. The ultimate horror I could think of was quadriplegia with right sided stroke a close second. It turned out those fears were groundless and I tolerated the surgery well for an old bugger. The epidural almost completely eliminated the post operative pain for the first few days, and other than being tethered to a couple of garden hoses protruding from my chest wall I was reasonably comfortable, after Barb had raised enough hell to get me a more comfortable bed than the slab on which they initially placed me.

The pathology report was favorable with no tumor cells found in the lymph nodes ( the most likely route through which the they could spread) and although the tumor involved the visceral pleura ( the covering of the lung) it did not appear to have penetrated into the pleural cavity. This invasion of the pleural cavity is what had killed my brother. The five year survival rate with this type and stage of lung cancer is sixty seven percent. I am told that this could be improved by seven more percent with chemotherapy: however the side effects from the extremely toxic drugs designed to kill those little devils that might have escaped can also do serious damage to healthy parts of my body. I decided to take my chances without it.

My spouse who has been a cancer survivor for twenty years has been a rock, and we have rather deftly switched roles with me now dependent on her for support. She acknowledges my fears, discourages my somaticising, and encourages me to live in the here and now. I have gone through Kubler- Ross’s “bargaining stage”. In my case this involved pleading with God to allow me to stay here to see my grandchildren grow up. I have been amazed at the number of people who knowing of my illness say they are praying for me. This includes friends, casual acquaintances, and even patients all of whom seem to know of my ordeal. I have decided that with all of the problems facing God it is presumptuous for me to expect special treatment, so I have decided to keep my eye on the ball and do what I can to follow his will as I imagine it to be. I hope to stick all these death and dying fears back in some corner of my mind. It has been my experience that one of the major problems with worrying is that we usually worry about the wrong things and the bad things that happen to us are the ones of which we never thought. The fact that I don’t want to die is a testament to how fortunate I have been to have such a wonderful life. Maybe my luck will hold and I will die in my sleep in another twenty or thirty years.

FAMILY

Does parenting make us unhappy?

In a recent conversation, I heard about a young couple who was quoted as saying that they had decided not to have children.  They had allegedly made this decision based on their belief that childless couples were happier.  It is true that one gives up a lot of freedom when they choose to become parents. Children are a long term financial liability not to mention the fact that at times they can drive you crazy.   In spite of the downsides, I strongly disagree with the premise that parents are unhappy because they have kids.  Granted, as children go through the terrible teens, they may not seem to be very interested in their parents’ happiness.  Nevertheless; in the many years I have spent attempting to help people deal with unhappiness,  I found those without children were by no means happier.  One of my patients who had never conceived once said to me that she felt “incomplete.” Conversely, I don’t recall ever hearing anyone say they regretted having children.

The benefits of parenting.

Some may suggest that the urge to reproduce is simply due to a pursuit of sexual satisfaction; however, I submit that the need to nurture is an even stronger emotion.   My wife frequently mentions the wonderfully warm feeling she experienced when those little guys had been bathed and tucked in for the night; although I recall she looked exhausted.  We were fortunate that it was possible for her to be a stay-at-home mom until the kids reached an age of relative independence (a situation that is frequently impossible to implement in today’s families).

Children are also useful in helping enhance our personality development.  I have long insisted that having a child is the most effective treatment for narcissism.  They teach us to look outside of ourselves.  They provide us with an opportunity for a “do over” to correct our mistakes and to vicariously act out our failed accomplishments.  Although they often disappoint and anger us, we continue to care about them, protect, encourage, and sacrifice for them.  These qualities are ones that I once read somewhere as the definition of love which went like this: “love is caring for another as much or more than for oneself with knowledge and without compulsion.”    Nowhere is this statement more apropos than in the feelings we have for our children.

Oh yes, there are glaring exceptions and I have witnessed the crippling effects of child abuse, but even in the most abhorrent of these cases one often finds examples of love gone awry.   One horrible example of this received my attention when a mother was brought to our hospital after she had drowned her two children.   She had a history of mental illness, but had always been overprotective of her children.  She turned out to have been delusional and convinced that demonic forces were coming to sexually abuse and torture her children, and that their death was the only way to protect them from the horrors which she thought were inevitable.  As has been noted by many, victims of child abuse frequently become abusers, but one might consider that by being denied a loving relationship with their children, second or third generation abusers continue to suffer by being denied the most gratifying experience of life.

Children become even more important to people like myself who have been fortunate enough to reach a “ripe old age” (when I hear this phrase I am not comforted by the thought that when things ripen they soon begin to rot).  As our limitations increase and we find ourselves spending more time in doctors’ offices and funeral homes, we become more dependent on others.  I recall responding to a young man who said he did not want children with,  “Who will come visit you in the nursing home?”  An occasional visit from social worker types is not the same as one of your own flesh and blood. The idea of growing old alone is very frightening to many people (myself included), but even when their offspring are not particularly attentive, older folks seem to find some solace in the knowledge that they exist.  Even those who have been totally neglected may continue to have rescue fantasies, and even in the midst of their angst often make excuses for their children’s neglect.

Our brains are hardwired to repress most painful memories; consequently, if you want to know what is most important in life, ask an old person to reminisce.  You will find them to be very accommodating: reminiscing is a favorite pastime for us old folks.  In most cases their reminiscences will be largely dominated by the good times in their lives.  You will also note that many of these resurrected memories will be times with family.

Family vacation

It was during a time of my own reminiscing that I was motivated to write this essay.  The process was triggered while planning for our family’s annual vacation which has become a tradition with my gang, but has become increasingly difficult to initiate as grandchildren grow older and develop more commitments. This year was especially difficult as it turned out there was only one week in the entire year when everyone would be able to attend, and then only after manipulating schedules.  At first it had seemed unlikely that everyone would be able to go, and we might be forced to cancel.  I found that thought very depressing.

Now that everything has been ironed out, and I am trying to decide whether to pack my bathing trunks and risk the derisive comments of the kids about my less than magnificent corpulent body, my thoughts have turned to all those prior vacations.  It has been over 50 years since the first, and it was monumental.  We checked into a hotel with its southern traditions intact in Nags Head.  This was a place where the family was introduced to their waiter who would care for them the entire time they were there, and dinner was a grand affair with everyone expected to “dress.”  Barb was in her glory, dressing up the kids  and showing them off.   Later there would be trips with four kids in a station wagon without air conditioning or video games, but the misery of getting there was dwarfed by the excitement of finding a motel with a pool.

Vacation from hell.

It has been more than 40 years since we went on our last sightseeing type vacation.  I had terminated my general practice, and we had decided to have a grand adventure prior to my starting a psychiatric residency.  It was destined to go down in the annals of Smith history as an unforgettable experience, and indeed to this day remains a topic often mentioned when we are all together.  The kids refer to it as the “Vacation from Hell.” It all began as most disasters do, innocently, when a friend showed me his new motor home.  Now at that time this was a new innovation in the travel business and I was most impressed.  It presented an opportunity to be closer to the flora and fauna, and would save money on hotel and food expenses.  I also was naïve enough to think that with more space when on the road the kids would fight less, and I would not need to scream as much.  Indeed, I pictured us becoming an on the road version of the Cleaver family.

Further  investigation revealed that these motor homes were very expensive.  I was convinced  I could build one myself for much cheaper.  With that in mind, I bought a retired dry cleaning truck and set about to make it habitable.  After the installation of a stove, refrigerator, and toilet, it suddenly looked a little tight spacewise.  I think one of the kids used the sardine analogy  to describe it.  There would be many other smart ass remarks before this trip concluded.   Nevertheless; the vehicle (which would come to be known as Smith’s folly) was packed and stocked with  provisions .  As an added measure of security, I hung my  motorcycle on the back and we were on our way determined to explore all points of interest in the wild west.  Unfortunately, this trip would rival that of the Griswald’s in the Chevy Chase movie Vacation.

We made remarkably good time our first day on the road.   We made it past Chicago, and I was feeling vindicated.  The kids had engaged in only minor fisticuffs, but that may have had something to do with the fact that we had managed an early start, and they had slept a good part of the day.  We had lunch in the “motor home” (some might suggest that I use that term lightly),  and the self-contained facilities solved the problem of poorly synchronized bladder functions.   As we were looking for a place to hook up to water, electricity and sewage disposal, it suddenly became very cloudy and we found ourselves in the midst of a thunderstorm with rain so heavy that it was difficult to see the road.  Suddenly the idea of spending the night in a campground lost its appeal, and we checked into a motel.

The following day began uneventfully.  It was bright and sunny, with not a storm cloud in sight.  All went well until the late afternoon when we decided to pull off the highway in Galena, Illinois, the mention of which never fails to elicit a chuckle from Barb.  Like most vehicles of its vintage, ours had a gear shift lever attached to the steering column.  While pulling away from a traffic light, I attempted to shift gears, and found myself holding the unattached gear shift lever in my hand.   Even in the face of this catastrophe, Barb was overcome with laughter at my facial   expression as I struggled to understand what had happened.   With the gear shift lever broken off at its base, the truck (at this point I no longer addressed it as a motor home ) was stuck in low gear which created some significant problems for the traffic following us and not surprisingly, they became impatient as our top speed was about 10 miles per hour.

It turned out that God had not totally forsaken us, for we stumbled upon a Chevrolet auto agency after “driving” only a few blocks.  I must have still had a silly look on my face for as we pulled into the service department, the mechanic who greeted us supressed a smile as I held the lever in my hand and asked if they had one of those.  Of  course they didn’t, but I was told they could probably have one by the following day.  With that we limped at 10 mph to the closest motel.  Although the savings I had projected by sleeping in Darell’s folly was taking a hit, the kids were happy because the motel had a pool. The replacement part arrived later that next day, and we were back on the road after our second night in the motel.

Are we there yet?

If you are thinking it could not get any worse, you would be wrong.  After a few hours on the road the sun disappeared never to be seen again for the next three days.  As a matter of fact, it became dark enough that I decided to switch on the headlights. One black cloud to my left looked particularly ominous, and as its funnel shaped appendage moved down towards the earth, I figured correctly that we were in big trouble.  Now, as a native of the southern Ohio hill country my acquaintance with tornadoes was limited to what I had read, which wasn’t much.  As it advanced straight across the cornfield toward us, I attempted to tone down the terror from my voice to utter some hollow platitudes. Of course as every parent knows, kids read us like a book and my attempt to reassure them only caused more fear.

It only made sense to me to seek some shelter, so I stopped under an overpass, but was soon interrupted by a siren and flashing red light which had pulled up next to me.  I was thinking, “Can this guy be serious about giving out tickets in this situation?”  Then I noted that he was waving and pointing ahead apparently wanting me to move on.  I was angry that he was forcing me to go back out into the storm, but being a law abiding compliant soul, we struck out again.  I would later learn that under a bridge is the worst  possible place to be in a tornado, and perhaps that patrolman saved our lives.

After vacating what I thought was a safe haven, I found I could only see where I was going by straddling the center line. The wind was so intense that it blew water right through the rubber seal of the windshield. Then suddenly I realized that we were traveling on the berm  of the road.   The highway was  perfectly straight and I had been white knuckling the steering wheel to keep on that white line; consequently, I was confident that we had been simply lifted off the road and set gently back down on four wheels.  In a short time the wind died down, and it was evident my promise that this trip would be a grand adventure was being fulfilled.

The tornado had moved on, but the sky still looked  ominous and once again the idea of sleeping in the camper lost its appeal.  Clouds and rain continued to dog us for the next couple of days and we continued to hear that conditions were right for tornadoes. These announcements were meaningless to us as we had no idea where we were, so the wisest thing to do seemed to be to turn off the radio and hope for the best.  The kids were not impressed when we drove through the badlands.  We did manage to catch a glimpse through the fog and mist of Mt. Rushmore but the kids were still not impressed.

Soon the sky would brighten and I was convinced that we would still salvage this vacation.  I was hopeful when we got to Wyoming, bought cowboy hats all around, and stopped at a dude ranch which advertised trail rides for five dollars.  It turned out as you might suspect: it was a short trail, which became shorter when I heard Barb scream for help.  She was bringing up the rear and her horse decided he would rather go back to the barn at a rapid pace.  Unfortunately, there was no dashing cowboy on a white charger to run her horse down and rescue her. I was having my own problems hanging on.

Our next major attraction was to be Yellow Stone park, and I was looking forward to finally testing the sleeping accomodations of the camper and awakening to the smell of bacon frying.  It was a gorgeous night and after getting the kids bedded down, Barb and I decided to sleep under the stars.  I quickly fell asleep, but was  awakened by loud clanging sounds. Upon closer observation, the sound was coming from bears on a foraging expedition and had knocked over all the garbage cans they could find. Barb beat a hasty retreat to the camper with me close behind.

At that point, we decided we had experienced enough adventure, and after an uneventful swing south to glance briefly at the Grand Canyon, and an equally brief visit with Barb’s brother in Phoenix,  we headed back north for home.   Through all her travails our trusty land schooner had performed admirably, save for the minor gearshift problem. As we rolled along Kansas, confident the rest of the trip would be smooth sailing, I noticed a lack of responsiveness when I depressed the accelerator.   It soon became apparent the clutch of the “motor home” was going out.  This did not present much of a problem in the flatlands, but as we got into the hill country , the steeper ascends were a challenge.  With the clutch slipping, and the engine racing we were barely able to top most of the hills.  In  spite of this minor impediment we were finally relieved to arrive home with no  lives lost.

Flashforward

Since those days our group has doubled in size and family vacations have consistently been for me the highlight of each year.  They were suspended for the past year following the untimely death of my oldest, yet the family T shirt commemorates this one as the 21st of such get togethers.  They have all been deliciously chaotic affairs, but none that could match the “ vacation from hell.”  We were forced to leave a day early from a South Carolina beach due to a hurricane, and there have been the usual sunburns, jelly fish bites, a broken leg, a sizeable gash from attempts to break up a dog fight, and a fall down the steps resulting in my eyeglasses having impaled my head; otherwise, they have been relatively benign afffairs.  Most have involved a week at a beach and they have all been at different places as we always seem to wait too long to make reservations.

This year’s family vacation is only a few days away, and I find my feelings analogous to those I experienced as a child a few days before Christmas.  I always look forward to seeng the progeny of course, but to witness them all together interacting not only with me, but with each other is a most exhilarating experience.

photo

Here I sit three days later with a magnificent view of the Gulf.  The trip down here was relatively uneventful.  There was a minor issue in a parking garage in which one of the grandkids who is learning to drive ( and who shall remain nameless ) backed into a parked  car.  Her Mother violated every tenet I had ever taught her by leaving a note with her phone number.   Well maybe I might have inadvertinately mentioned that “honesty is the best policy” rap when she was little, but never thought she would take iit seriously.  Meanwhile the kids have managed to trash the place in short order.  They are at times loud, argumentive,  constantly in motion, and in short wonderful.

By the way, I feel compelled to mention that one of those guys who said he did not want children was my son who is on course to be nominated as Father of the century.

NOTE FROM ESHRINK’S Editor. We recently returned from our 21st Annual Smith Family Vacation (these are the vacations dad discussed above…a tradition started when Simon and Carter were babies in 1994). Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures from the “vacation from hell” but I’ve added some pictures for family of previous trips during our 21 year vacation history.

vaca2010 group shot

This is the vacation where dad impaled himself with his glasses when he fell down the steps. Jim pulled them out, and we took the picture BEFORE dad went to get stitched…we Smiths don’t let anything get in the way of the family photo 🙂 but maybe that’s why the picture is so blurry.

 

 

This was vacation we took in Michigan. Jim proposed to Trudy on this vacation. I think it was 2005.

This was vacation we took in Michigan. Jim proposed to Trudy on this vacation. I think it was 2005.

 

vaca2005leelanaugroup

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Horseback riding at the ranch. Summer 2007.

Horseback riding at the ranch. Summer 2007.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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