Drama at the Bird Feeder

An Oasis in the Backyard

It was a beautiful balmy summer afternoon and the gang was busy making preparations for granddaughter Emma’s surprise birthday party. There had been a temporary hiatus in the COVID warnings and such get togethers were no longer frowned upon.  I had escaped the chaos and responsibility associated with major decisions like whether the balloons should be tied down or allowed to escape to the ceilings by sneaking out to the back deck.  I settled into a comfortable chair hoping for some peace and quiet.  My favorite son-in-law (I can use that term without offending anyone since he has no competition for that honor) devotes nearly every minute of his spare time working in his yard.  The result is a carefully choreographed weed-free wonder of plants and flowers surrounded by patches of manicured grass in the front of the house, but my favorite place is the back yard which he has converted into a beautiful wildlife-friendly oasis.  It all began when he planted some shrubbery and small trees around his back lot line in order to provide some privacy.  As is his style, he soon immersed himself in learning all about landscaping, and the fence line around his backyard began to widen at the expense of the lawn due to the addition of more varieties of flora.  The diminutive pond fed by a trickle of water, at Jim’s behest, now got its fill from a more substantial flow which emitted a mesmerizing lullaby as it cascaded over a series of carefully placed stones into a small pool stocked with koi.                                                                                                                                                  

Indeed, as I settled into my adirondack chair, I felt at peace and somehow comforted. My knowledge about flowers, plants and trees is very limited, but I was impressed that all this stuff seemed to look as if it belonged.  There was all manner of shades of green in various shapes and sizes.  There were delicate ferns dwarfed and shaded from the assault of too much sunlight by their taller brethren who turned their leaves to face the sun’s rays head on, gratefully absorbing all they could get.  In the midst of this sea of green was the contrast afforded by those plants who seemed to compete for attention by showing off their ability to produce vividly colored flowers.  Presiding over this show was a backdrop of several varieties of tall trees silently dominating the scene. 

Let the Games Begin!

The quiet was soon interrupted as mother nature raised the curtain and the show began with the clarion call of a squirrel who was barking at me from his safe perch high up in a tree.  He was staring at me and his bushy red tail was swishing back and forth as he told me in no uncertain terms that I was invading his space.  This guy, I will call him Sammy, soon lost interest in me when a smaller version whom I named Freddy appeared on the scene. 

Freddy was aggressively attempting to access all those goodies in the bird feeder.   Never mind that the feeder was designed to be squirrel proof, Freddy was not to be denied.   He initially decided to attack from above and slid down the wire which suspended it, but with nothing to hold onto, slid off the top and fell to the ground.  Undaunted, he immediately was back up the tree.  Having changed to a strategy of frontal assault, he opted to leap from the trunk of the tree directly onto the feeder.  This time he appeared to have some success even managing to briefly reach paydirt by contorting his body around the feeder, but alas with nothing to hold onto and with the feeder swinging back and forth wildly he once again did a backflip and hit the ground.  However, his efforts had not been in vain for bird feed now littered the ground.  His good fortune was short lived however: as Sammy who had been preoccupied with my presence suddenly became aware of what was happening directly beneath him. 

Sammy had apparently decided that the immediacy of Freddy’s attempt to steal his cache of sunflower seeds and stuff represented a greater threat than did my presence consequently; he attacked poor little Freddy who was barely half his size.  Since I had been bullied as a kid, I had great sympathy for Freddy, and was rooting for him to kick Sammy’s butt, however Freddy was no dummy and took off running with Sammy in pursuit.  Their speed and agility was amazing as Freddy raced through the trees with Sammy on his tail.  Freddy’s diminutive size allowed him to leap onto small branches which would barely support Sammy, advantage Freddy. 

While those two were fighting, a flock of sparrows saw their opportunity and swarmed around the feeder determined to take advantage of the absence of those hair covered monsters.  In order to lessen the chance of being grabbed by some predator hawk or eagle, these guys opted to land, take a bite, and quickly fly away to seek refuge in the foliage of a tree.  Speaking of bullies, at this point a couple of blue jays showed up squawking and shoving the smaller sparrows out of the way, but it was not long before Sammy, after dispatching his adversary, was back at the bird feeder determined to reclaim it as his personal domain. This time he used his size to grab the birdfeeder with his front paws and somehow anchor his rear legs to the tree, thereby gaining access to the goodies.  It appeared to be a successful strategy until my little hero, Freddy, reappeared.  He slid down the wire and holding onto it with his hind legs was able to hang on since Sammy had stopped the feeder from swinging back and forth.  Needless to say, Sammy was a very unhappy rodent.  He reacted by attempting to reach Freddy, but in the process lost control and the feeder began swinging loose again.  You guessed it Sammy and Freddy both fell to the ground and took off running up, around, and through the trees.  They had barely disappeared from view when Charley the chipmunk showed up to clean up the spoils of war which had been left on the ground. 

Soon the sparrows who had been waiting unseen in the trees also showed up to share in the bounty.  Charley seemed to have no problem in sharing his find, and the birds seemed comfortable with him.  I guess they all felt there was enough for everyone.  I sat in place for a time waiting for Act 3 to begin, but neither Sammy nor Freddy showed up, besides it was time for me to return to my nest where I could participate in a different life drama which would be equally loud and raucous, especially following the arrival of the guest of honor.    

The Miracle of Life

The drama that I had witnessed on the patio merged with the realization that Emma the birthday girl was to be honored for 30 years of life, barely one third of the time I had been alive.  There was of course nothing new about this revelation, except that it awakened me from my usual lack of appreciation for the miracle of life in spite of the fact that our environment is teeming with it.  I believe most of us take our own lives for granted except for those of us who are more at risk of finishing our stint such as old men like me or those suffering from other possibly fatal conditions.   It has been said that awareness of our mortality leads to a more zealous appreciation of life, and my own personal experience confirms that to be true. 

In spite of endless speculation, observation, research, meditation, and spiritual inquiry, there is much about life that remains unknown or perhaps even unknowable.  There is not even agreement as to its definition.  I have spent nearly all of my life studying various aspects of life and the more I learn the more I become awed and humbled by its complexity.  We are told that life had its origins over 4 billion years ago, only a mere 250 million years after the earth was formed.  It is said to have originated from random chemical reactions to form amino acids which combined to form proteins. The proteins coalesced, and became encased in a semipermeable membrane.  Thus, the cell, the basic building block of life, was formed.   

Those “Why” Questions

Evolutionary biologists have provided extensive evidence as to how life has progressed from one cell to its current state of development, yet do little to explain why it all happened. Why questions only lead to more why questions and in the end can only be answered by God.  Reproduction is Job One for all living things, including the participants in Jim’s backyard drama, in order to assure the continuity of life.  An individual’s life is finite, but life goes on, at least it has on this planet. Since life began on earth there have been 5 cataclysmic events that have resulted in mass extinctions, but some type of life has always survived.  Some ecologists suggest that we are now entering into a human caused period of mass extinction. They base that conclusion on the large number of animals that are now seen as endangered mostly due to loss of habitat and climate change.  Some feel that all life including that of homo sapiens is at risk. 

No matter the current threats to our lives we need to remember Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote:

The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.

Eleanor Roosevelt

To follow that admonition is likely to earn one the epitaph of a life well lived, but for millions throughout the world such reaching out proves to be very difficult.  Ben Franklin who had something to say about everything was only 40 years old when he wrote in POOR RICHARD’S ALMANAC: “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time for that is the stuff life is made of.” When Ben wrote the almanac, the average life span was 33 years old so I’m sure 40 must have seemed old to him.  As a bonified oId guy, I can personally attest to the brevity of life and to the urgency one may feel as one’s time winds down. 

As a physician who wore many hats, first as a general practitioner and later as a Psychiatrist I have been witness to many deaths, all of which were sad, but perhaps none more so than those who died from suicide.  It is true that in spite of its wondrous qualities, life can present us with pain that can be so intense as to be intolerable.  There is also the recent phenomenon of the so-called suicide bombers who are conned into killing themselves along with others for political reasons. We Christians honor life, but ignore the Biblical commandment “though shall not to kill” by sanctioning executions and wars. 

In spite of its difficulties, life is a marvelous state of being as evidenced by the fact that even those whose lives we consider to be horrible cling to it.  As a matter of fact, during my stint as a shrink I witnessed so much unremitting pain that I was surprised there was not more suicide, but nothing was more satisfying than to see one who had suffered that torment return to experience joy in their lives. The human spirit is indeed resilient.

As for me, every morning I look on the wall of our kitchen and read a plaque which was given by a Grandson.  It is the best advice I have ever been given:

            THIS IS THE DAY THAT GOD HAS MADE

            LET US REJOICE AND BE GLAD IN IT

Justin Fields Quarterback for the Ohio State Buckeyes

The Power of LOVE

The new year began with me finding a new hero.  He happens to be a marvelously gifted athlete, but that is not my reason for choosing to honor this young man. His name is Justin Fields. It is true that I am proud of his exploits on the football field, and in particular his thrashing of the enemies of my treasured Ohio State buckeyes, but it was a single comment made following his sustaining of a potentially very serious and obviously painful injury on the field which I deemed heroic.

During the recent New Year’s Day game with Clemson, when sliding to the ground at the end of a run, my hero, Justin, was struck in the right lateral rib cage by the helmet of a 24-pound linebacker who dove into him as they both were running all out.  The force of the blow doubled him over and left him writhing in pain.  The force applied and location of his injuries left me concerned that the damage could be life threatening.  Although quarterbacks usually wear padding on their torsos, I couldn’t imagine him surviving this trauma without sustaining a few broken ribs or lacerating his kidney. Consequently, I was amazed to see him walk back on the field after sitting out one play, throw a touchdown pass, and be escorted into the treatment tent (more about that later) shortly before the first half ended. 

This game had received more than the usual amount of hype. It was the semi-final game in the quest for a national championship, but also was a repeat appearance of both contestants in identical circumstances.  The prior year’s game was won by Clemson with a last-minute score, and my Buckeyes had been forced to look at a poster showing the final score of that game every time they entered their practice facility.  If that were not enough motivation, there was also the fact that Ohio State was considered the underdog, and best of all, there was a recorded quote from the Clemson coach that they should not have been ranked high enough to be selected to play in the tournament as there were at least 10 other teams better than Ohio State.  He would be widely criticized (especially by the Clemson fans) for motivating an opponent, especially after losing by 21 points.

At half-time the OSU coach, Ryan Day, when asked as to the condition of his quarterback responded with the following non-answer: “He’s got the heart of a lion, and he’s gotta play for 30 more minutes.”  I would have been more comfortable with reassurances that he had been examined thoroughly by the team doctor who determined that it was safe for him to play.  I was shocked to learn that there were no X-rays taken, or what, if any, procedures were done to determine his fitness to play.  It seems to me that such an injury warranted rib films at the minimum.  I dare say that in most any other situation an X-ray would be routine, and the neglect to do so would be considered malpractice. 

At his post-game interview Justin was a model of humility. Link to YouTube Video and Link to Google Search of all Interview Results.  When asked the inane question as to how he felt about the win, he responded that he felt blessed.  He heaped praise upon his teammates, his God, and his coach, whom he said treated him like a son.  When asked how he felt about the Clemson coach’s disparaging comments, he simply replied he didn’t want to talk about that. 

However, it was the answer to the question about motivation leading to his setting sugar bowl records, that got my attention.  He mentioned that his team had been beset by disappointments throughout the season due to the pandemic, and that he was happy for them because “I love those guys.”

Deeds of valor have been favorite subjects for authors and poets throughout history.  There have been instances when soldiers have thrown themselves on hand grenades in order to save the lives of their comrades.  Soldiers who request return to combat following injuries usually do so out of concern for their buddies.  As a matter of fact, nearly all episodes of heroism arise out of concern for other people.  Psychiatrists, psychologists, philosophers, and self-endowed experts of all kinds have discussed, analyzed, and categorized the phenomenon of love ad nauseum, which usually means that they don’t have a clue.  When I was a kid, I was taught that love was a word that should be reserved for use when describing a human relationship with the possible exception of feelings for the family dog or God, but now we profess love for food, music, cars, clothing, and all kinds of inanimate objects.  We were taught to love our country, certain ideals and core values all of which had something to do with mankind.  Although love had not the exalted status of the F word or the N word, it was treated with respect. I now find the definition in the Google dictionary to include “affection for someone or something.”

My favorite definition of love is: caring for another as much or more than for oneself, but then I am a person who likes to simplify.  There is little doubt that there were multiple factors which contributed to Mr. Fields’ remarkable performance, but I was struck by his demeanor and his use of the word love.  As with most emotions, love is a word that defies description.  It can cause euphoria and unbridled pain when taken away, but is an effective antidote to hatred.  Love heals and hatred destroys.  We have all heard testimonials of people who have suffered grievous injuries at the hands of others relate how they could only find peace by forgiving those who had harmed them or their loved ones. 

My Favorite Definition of LOVE

The power of love has been recognized by the ancients, even before Jesus Christ, whose philosophy of love was first learned about by me in perhaps the most quoted of the scriptures ………THE GREATEST OF THESE IS LOVE.  It was enhanced by a quote from of all people, an ancient Taoist philosopher, Lao Tzu, who long before Christ is alleged to have said:

TO BE LOVED DEEPLY GIVES YOU STRENGTH, TO DEEPLY LOVE GIVES YOU COURAGE”

Lao Tzu

He also said: “LOVE OF ALL THE PASSIONS IS THE STRONGEST, FOR IT ATTACKS THE HEAD, THE HEART, AND THE SENSES.”

Can the power of love be misused in unscrupulous ways?

Ironically, it was while writing this little essay that I heard about the assault on the Capitol.  Perhaps that is more timely than one might think, for it illustrates a thought that had occurred to me about how the use of love is often used as an unscrupulous way to influence others to do bad things.   Although these insurrectionists were involving themselves in a hateful enterprise, most of them would undoubtedly report they were doing it out of love for their country and in many cases for their revered leader who had directed them.  Their thought processes have been so distorted by the lies of Trump and his sycophants that they refer to themselves as patriots.   After all, they were simply following the instructions of the commander in chief.  Such strategies have long been the bread and butter of charismatic cult leaders. 

Indeed, Trump misused the sentiment of love in his taped message during the siege on the Capitol.

“Go home. We love you, you’re very special,” he said as the rioters attacked the legislative branch of our government, our sacred institution of democracy, and the “thin blue line” that loyal Trump followers had previously and consistently supported without question–even when police blatantly killed citizens of color without cause.

These rioters were willing to check all of their principles and values at the door for one man. Fortunately, for us, our founders knew the danger of allegiance to one man, to a king, and set up our Republic to keep that in check. Therefore, each public servant, swears an oath to The Constitution of the United States of America, not the President. Democracy is messy, often inefficient (by design in some respects) and while ours is not a perfect system of government, it is exceptional and has always been the model for countries around the world who fight for the rights these rioters obviously have taken for granted.

To the best of my knowledge, there are no anarchists or militia groups operating in this small midwestern town of mine. Nevertheless, our local paper reported a busload of 67 of our citizens heeded Trump’s call and traveled to Washington to join in the “demonstration.”

These followers heard their Dear Leader encourage them to walk down to the Capitol and fight. Unfortunately, some of Trump’s followers take him at his word….led by one man who has tapped into their anger, their need to feel important, their need to find an excuse for all of their problems, their hatred…all for “the love of Trump” which they translate to their love of country.

Link to 3-minutes of video from Trump’s Address to his followers at pre-riot rally January 6th. [Video in full is at the bottom of this post]

Who Could Have Imagined the Danger A Narcissistic Power-Driven Trump Could Cause as POTUS?

It has been a little over 3 years since I used this blog to express my opinion about what I considered to be the serious mental problems of our President when I posted the blog entitled Trump’s Mental Health. I was not alone for I was joined by approximately 80,000 other mental health professionals who shared my concerns, and published an open letter on the subject.  There had been blowback from our parent organization, The American Psychiatric Association, that decided following a lawsuit many years ago, by Barry Goldwater, that to express such opinions without a one-on-one evaluation was “unethical.”  I had predicted that when cornered, Trump was apt to decompensate and become psychotic, which indeed seems to have occurred since losing the election, as rumor has it that there are a number of indictments that await him once he leaves office. There is also the fracture of that fragile ego as he watches his cadre of sycophants abandon him.    

The assessment from those who have met him recently that he has become “unhinged” is borne out by his incitement of riotous and what some say is treasonous behavior in a direct assault on his own government.  Dr. Lee, the psychiatrist who wrote the criteria for narcissistic personality disorder in the diagnostic manual insisted that Trump did not fit that diagnosis because he suffered no distress as a result from his aberrant behaviors.  I wonder what he would think now, and does he still believe that as psychiatrists we have no “duty to warn” when we see the so-called “leader of the free world” is dangerously deranged with a high probability of becoming psychotic.  (Sorry, but I couldn’t resist doing an “ I told you so thing”).

In addition to the serious damage done to this country which may take decades to overcome, there is also the loss of 5 lives at last count.  (By the way why have we not heard who they are other than the murdered policeman or of anything about the circumstances of their deaths).  Trump’s brainwashed followers are not likely to be deterred at least for a long time, the experience of this assault is likely to whet the appetites of the really bad actors of this bunch.

Can We Heal?

In spite of all this doom gloom and despair, I was able to grab onto a glimmer of hope this morning as I tuned into my favorite guy on CNN, Fareed Zakaria.  He did an in-depth interview with Colin Powell, the guy who was conned into delivering false information about Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction which led to the Iraq war.  In spite of the long list of problems caused by Donald Doofus and his assault on democracy he was hopeful.  Although a lifelong Republican, he was convinced that Joe Biden was the right man for the job of pulling us out of the messes created by Trump.  As for the divisiveness we now experience, his answer was simple.  “always tell the truth and love each other.”

To finish where we started…O-H…

I-O…GO BUCKS!

Editor’s Note: The italicized text was written by me when the author suggested I add information about Trump’s declaration of love to his followers during the siege on the Capitol.

Links of Note:

Eshrink’s Blog Post December 2020; It’s Not Over Yet: The Last Days of Trump

Eshrink’s Blog Post September 2020: An Attempt to Understand Trump Fans (Cult Followers)

Eshrink’s Blog Post: April 2018 | Trump Fatigue

Eshrink’s Blog Post: Feb 2017 | Trump’s Label

Eshrink’s Blog Post: August 2020 Is Our Republic in Danger?

Eshrink’s Blog Post: Let’s Learn from Our Past | The Most Dangerous Man on Earlth

WORDS MATTER. Transcript of Trump’s Speech at Rally that Preceded the Assault on the Capitol

Members of Hate Groups Identified at the Capitol Riot. Article by Frontline and PBS

Link to Video of Trump Speech at Rally Prior to Capitol Riot

Link to Entire RALLY held prior to Trump Speaking is below.

Floyd the dog

The Annual Christmas Letter

Editor’s Note: The holidays are typically so busy, I intentionally decided to post Eshrink’s Christmas letter AFTER Christmas. Yes. That’s it! I didn’t forget to post it. I’m not suffering from menopausal A.D.D. or anything like that. I decided Eshrink readers deserved a good laugh to end this crazy year of 2020.

Dear Friends, Family and Christmas letter afficionados,

We are living in another one of those times which “try men’s souls”.  In our case both our souls survive in spite of the isolation imposed by this damnable virus, and we remain in possession of all necessary body parts.   Our efforts to avoid the bug have included cancellation of the annual Smith vacation, and Thanksgiving by Zoom.  It is not looking good for Christmas either.  The kids did conspire to throw a big outdoor family party for the old man’s 90th B-day complete with balloons and posters, but lacking in hugs.  When I am not hobbling around the house with my cane complaining about my aches and pains in fruitless attempts to elicit sympathy, I can usually be found at my desk writing a blog, a stupid Christmas letter, updating my obituary, or dealing with Floyd the devil dog. 

That latter activity has become a full-time job.  Those of you who have visited us have undoubtedly met Floyd whom we rescued from our local dog pound 3 years ago, for he is a very gregarious outgoing mut of undistinguished lineage.  As a matter of fact, his welcomes can be overwhelming at times, as it was for a rather staid elderly widow who after seating herself on our couch was enthusiastically greeted by Floyd via his leaping over the coffee table to land directly in her lap (did I mention he is very athletic?).  His other favored method of greeting a visitor can be even more problematic.  Some who read this may have been conned into helping Floyd exercise his fetish of having his belly rubbed without realizing that when he enters into that state of ecstasy his bladder sphincter also relaxes and the one who rubs will find themselves in the direct line of fire.   

In a previous letter, I believe I mentioned some of Floyd’s past exploits.  I could tolerate his digging up a well-manicured lawn, constant barking, burying our newspapers, and even the embarrassment of his leaping into the mail truck, but those behaviors are minor compared to his more recent attempts to kill me.  He is quite capable of feigning affection while possessing the heart of a cat killer (another story).   He has even attempted to break up my marriage by refusing to allow me to even come into contact with Barb.

Floyd’s bona fides as a devil dog were confirmed by his ability to make Barb and I the neighborhood pariahs.  Although he is in many ways very gregarious and welcoming to other dogs, he has decided that they are not to be allowed to walk on our street, and he routinely stands guard barking at the many dogs that are walked past our front yard.  Until last Memorial Day he was contained by an underground electric fence but on that day which will live in infamy he decided to brave the shock to run through it and launch a vicious attack on a neighbor’s dogs.  Needless to say, our neighbor was not happy.  A week later, in spite of my cranking the fence shock level up to the max, he again attacked the same dogs – this time drawing blood.  I learned that the middle of a dog fight is not a good place to be nevertheless; I managed to pull Floyd away from his victims but ended up flat on my skinney butt holding onto his collar.  I barely had time to get up off the ground when an ambulance arrived followed minutes later by two cop cars and the dog warden.  The ambulance guys seemed disappointed that I was not hurt, the sheriff deputies were amused, the neighbor was only mildly homicidal, and the dog warden gave me a serious lecture and a ticket to appear in county court.  All the players in this little drama were unmasked, by the way. 

Peter, always the good son, insisted on accompanying me to the court appearance even though I assured him I would be allowed a phone call before they locked me up.  The court appearance was an illuminating experience.  The room was packed with fellow criminals, but I decided to play the gimpy  old geezer card and made sure my cane was on full display as I hobbled up to the podium to plead guilty.  I was surprised to learn the judge had a rather comprehensive description of the events leading up to my appearance, and was impressed that I had paid my neighbor’s vet bill ($242.90).  I assured him that we were lo longer depending on the underground fence and were in the process of hiring a dog walker.  He seemed impressed and suspended my sentence and told me I would only pay court costs of $50.00, but when I checked out I was told I owed $98.00.  I didn’t complain out of fear that I might be charged with contempt of court or something equally disgraceful.

Floyd’s absolute favorite activity is riding in a car, and a recent episode in which he attempted to engineer my death explains why.  With the covid thing, Barb and I have spent time exploring some of the less traveled back roads of the county.  Though he feigns ignorance when convenient, Floyd seems to be electronically gifted for he learned some time ago that he could lower the car window by tramping on the button.  On this one particular trip I neglected to set the window lock button, and when I slowed to turn off the road, he was instantly out the window and racing down the middle of a heavily traveled 2 lane country road.   As soon as I could turn around, I succumbed to Barb’s pleas by going after him, but when I caught up, he turned and ran in the opposite direction.  I turned again, and this time he had stopped to investigate something in the middle of the road.  With deep ditches on each side of the road, I was forced to stop in the traffic lane.  Barb got out to retrieve the scoundrel, but found we did not have his leash.  It was obvious that a gimpy old fart like me would be of little help, but as I attempted to extricate myself from the car, I was saved by a guardian angel.  This person was not your stereotypical angel.  He had no wings, but of course you can only know an angel by what he does, not by how he looks.   He stopped his pickup truck in the lane opposite mine, and stepped out – a man mountain with biceps the circumference of my thighs.  Meanwhile, cars were backed up in both directions, but amazingly no one was rear-ended.  I knew this angel must be heaven sent when he got his female boxer dog out of his truck,  Floyd found her irresistible.  When the devil dog approached to check her out, my angel scooped him up, dumped him in my car and drove away before I could even thank him.

The angels who look after my family have also done a good job.  Barb is still a delightful companion (most days) and everyone has escaped the ravages of the covid virus except for Emma whose case was mild.  Caroline’s roommate has contracted the disease and Caroline is in quarantine but so far remains negative.  Everyone is gainfully employed in spite of the pandemic.  Barb and I remain perplexed as to how we managed to end our lives surrounded by such a marvelous group of people, and what I have done to deserve the longevity with which I have been blessed.  We can only assume divine intervention was involved.  Therefore; with love for all and in the spirit of the season Barb and I  WISH FOR YOU THAT YOUR ANGELS WILL KEEP YOU SAFE AND BLESS YOU WITH THE MERRIEST OF CHRISTMASES AND THE HAPPIEST OF NEW YEARS.

How to Survive Loss

Life can be defined as a finite period of time characterized by continual change. Consequently, since nothing is permanent, we all experience losses. Some are trivial, others are devastating. We are now living in a time of great turmoil with millions of people subject to losses beyond their control. Thousands of homes and businesses have been destroyed by the effects of climate change with fires, floods and storms throughout the world. Many more have been displaced by wars and political upheavals with thousands having lost their homes, possessions and way of life, but the most immediate and tangible threats are due to the COVID-19 pandemic where in addition to the loss of over a quarter million lives, several million remain unemployed, and self-imposed isolation has taken a toll on mental health.

According to the CDC, 8 out of 10 deaths from the virus have been in those over age 65, but they noted even those in their 40s and 50s are at higher risk than younger folks. Many studies have documented that widowhood carries with it a mortality rate of well over 30% during the 1st 90 days of bereavement and 15% thereafter, powerful evidence that loss of loved ones has serious consequences for survivors. The pandemic has limited traditional mechanisms of dealing with grief since last goodbyes are often denied due to isolation policies, and funerals, wakes, and life celebrations are limited. Time will tell if their lack will result in an increased prevalence of unresolved grief.

Grief | Loss due to death vs Loss due to breakup

Meanwhile, we are still subjected to the ordinary losses associated with the process of living. Much of my time as a psychiatrist was devoted to helping those afflicted with the pain of losses, as I am sure is true for most clergy, counselors, social workers, psychologists and bartenders, etc., but it is only recently that the Board of directors of the American Psychiatric Association has recommended that unresolved grief be considered a diagnostic category. Although death of a loved one may seem the ultimate loss, in some ways it is easier get over than the termination of a relationship via other means, such as divorce or breakup of an important personal relationship. The finality of death encourages one to move on, but when the object of one’s affections is alive a relationship real or imagined will persist. Thus, Don Jackson, a renowned family therapist said there is no such thing as divorce. Or as I have often said: divorce is like a death in the family, but you can’t bury the corpse.

Our nature requires relationships. Relationships help to define our identity, i.e., who and what we are. For example, I am often introduced as Barb’s husband which provides considerable information about me. Our identities are also shaped by those with whom we associate even the organizations to which we belong or those we choose to lead us. Long term relationships invade one’s personal space to the extent that we often absorb some of the involved person’s personal characteristics to the extent that they become part of who and what we are. Consequently, their loss may result in what I call a psychological amputation. Thus, in the face of such losses, one is left with the feeling that a part of one’s self has been taken away.

As with the loss of a physical body part, a psychological amputation can result in myriad feelings and reactions in addition to sadness. There may be anger, at times even rage, directed to whomever one blames even him/herself. Instances in which rejected suitors have stalked, assaulted, or even murdered, are unfortunately not rare, which naturally leads one to question the nature of such alleged love. There may be feelings of betrayal at the deceased for being abandoned or for behaviors thought to have hastened his/her death. God is often a target for anger, especially in deaths, and in such instances the Biblical quote: “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away” rarely provides solace. Although I have found that referral to the patient’s pastor or Rabbi is frequently helpful.

GUILT

Anger may also be self-directed resulting in guilt. In such cases, the patient may spend endless hours ruminating over what he might have done to prevent the loss or even worse how he could have caused it. A close friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, continues to have pangs of guilt over her Grandmother’s death nearly 80 years ago because as a child she had “sassed Grandma” shortly before her sudden death.

There are instances in which survivors may feel guilty for not grieving enough. One case from many years ago, which has stayed in my mind, involved an elderly lady who was referred to me by her family doctor with the complaint that she had lost the strength in her right leg. An extensive workup had not yielded a diagnosis and the referral appeared to be a hail Mary. She walked into the office unassisted. Although using a cane, she appeared to walk quite well. Her story was that her husband of many years had recently died following years of a debilitating illness for which she had been his primary caregiver. She reported that she rarely left the house during all that time, having obviously taken seriously the vow about “in sickness and in health.” Shortly after her husband’s death, she was excited to visit a friend in a neighboring village whom she hadn’t seen since her husband became ill. After starting her car, she was unable to move her leg to the accelerator in order to drive away -a classic case of conversion reaction, resulting from the guilt she felt over enjoying her new found freedom.


The Affect of Death on Children’s Development and Attachment Theory

It has long been noted that children who become orphaned are at risk for significant relationship or mental health problems later in life. (This is a relevant post from Psychology Today). Konrad Lorenz’s studies of imprinting demonstrated the importance of relationships in young animals, and Bowlby, with his Attachment Theory, came to similar conclusions regarding humans. When the process of attachment is interrupted prematurely it may leave the child lacking in skills necessary to develop healthy relationships, and leave them impaired for life.

Much has been written about the stages of grief. However, I have not found that concept particularly helpful, for in my experience people do not always follow a particular pattern of behavior when they have lost something or someone, though I have found that denial is frequently present especially when the loss involves another human life. Although at a conscious level there is realization that a person is gone, a survivor may behave as if expecting them to return. In such cases there are frequent slips in which the deceased person will be described in the present rather than the past tense. There is resistance to disposing of clothing and other personal effects, or to removing the voicemail greeting from the family phone. Frequent trips to the cemetery are common and may involve imaginary conversations with the deceased. The survivor may be said to have “held up” surprisingly well during the burial proceedings.

Perhaps, the most painful loss of all is the death of a child, and in my experience the most likely to result in denial. Although at a conscious level the parent knows their child is dead, they may continue to insist that their room will remain untouched as if they are waiting for him/her to return. Deaths by suicide usually introduce a series of unanswered questions which further complicate the healing process, often leaving survivors blaming themselves.

It goes without saying that it is very difficult to resolve a problem without acknowledgement that it exists, and in my experience, denial following the death of a loved one is quite common. It is usually the first hurdle that must be overcome in order to find resolution of grief. There are numerous exercises which may be ordered to help one achieve acceptance. My favorite is to arrange a visit to the graveyard with a close friend or pastor, simply say goodbye, and have a good cry. For those in denial, there is usually a great deal of resistance to using that word, and the mere suggestion to carry out those instructions is often met with tears.

Loss of Relationship by means other than death can be even more complicated.

The break-up of young lovers, especially first loves, is complicated not only by the level of passion involved, but their lack of experience in dealing with loss. They should be taken seriously as such losses can result in serious suicided attempts especially in teenagers. But for anyone the loss of a love object can be devastating for with it go dreams of an idyllic life with the hope of loving and being loved. It may result in sadness, depression, anger, or even violence.

How to Survive Loss

Hope is invaluable with the loss of things which are replaceable for it inspires one to action. The streets of our big cities are littered with homeless people most of whom have lost hope, while those who have lost their homes in fires or other calamities, although saddened and depressed by the loss of all their possessions, need hope if they are to replace that which has been lost. However, with abandonment by a loved one hope can hinder resolution. It goes without saying that one cannot live in the moment if they are stuck in the past, which happens when we continue to dwell on recovering something which is beyond reach.

Recovery from loss is simple but not easy.

We must “let go” if we are to “move on.”

We let go by grieving. Grieving is the process by which we allow ourselves to grapple with and purge intense disabling emotions following a loss. Grief can be initiated by the loss of anyone or anything to which a person has a personal attachment.

Cultures have developed various traditions which seem designed to promote resolution of grief following deaths. In a previous blog I have written about those I experienced in a rural midwestern village 75 or 80 years ago, but my favorite funeral celebration is the traditional New Orleans jazz funerals in which the funeral procession is led by a brass band to the graveyard while playing a funeral dirge, then following interment the band marches back toward the decedent’s home playing a lively Dixieland tune. The message could not be more evident. There is acknowledgement of the sadness of death followed by the celebration of life, a perfect example of letting go and moving on.

Other Types of Loss

In addition to the loss of loved ones, since the word pandemic entered our lexicon, we have been subjected to losses of some of our most precious possessions. It has been said that you don’t fully appreciate the importance of something until it is gone. Granted, it has been catastrophic for those who have lost jobs, housing, or businesses, but the isolation and cumulative effect of the loss of activities which we previously would have considered mundane have also taken a toll.

On a positive note, if there is one, perhaps we have learned to know the value of some of those things we previously took for granted. There is also hope that constriction of our social activities may result in more family cohesion. Who knows? Maybe kids and parents will even start talking to each other. Losses of all kinds are bound to get our attention, and there is often a lot we can learn from them, especially those we create by our own mistakes for failure is the great educator.


CATHARSIS

Although in rare instances, loss may result in a sense of relief, in nearly all cases, there will be strong feelings elicited as previously mentioned. Such emotions are disabling and must find expression, a process which we call catharsis. It is not a good time to do the strong silent thing when consumed by grief.

As I have mentioned many times, we are herd creatures, which is hardly a new concept having been the subject of John Donne’s poem, “NO MAN IS AN ISLAND” written in 1624. As such, we are dependent upon others whether we like it or not. In the face of intense emotions we can become overwhelmed and confused. In such times more than ever, we need validation, i.e., someone who we trust to listen, be supportive, and reassure us that our feelings are rational. Indeed, the process of attempting to communicate those feelings verbally helps to organize one’s thoughts, and a recent study in the American Journal of Psychiatry, has confirmed what we already knew, which is that confiding in others helps prevent depression. After all, that is how I made a living.

Surviving Loss is a PROCESS

Usually catharsis is not a one-time thing and there will be triggers that will resurrect some of those feelings in milder form from time to time, but most will learn to let go of past traumas by focusing on the road ahead. Hopefully, they will come to understand that to look back over their shoulder will likely cause a stumble, and that they must let go of the past in order to move ahead.

With millions all over the world facing serious losses, we are not only “all in this together,” but we are also very much in need of each other and there has never been a better time for us to be our “brother’s keeper.”

ANNIVERSARY REVIEW by ESHRINK


This morning, I happened to look up at the top of a tree growing next to my patio and was amazed to see how big it had become. I guess it must be nearly 50 feet tall. It stands in full view of its lower half from this little office where I compose my literary masterpieces. I have probably spent hours looking out at the lower portion of that tree while trying to organize some great truth, yet today is the first time I remember looking up at its top.

 

It has been 35 years since I planted it. It was a scrawny thing with a bulbous out-pouching around its base. I have no idea as to its species, but it has become a good friend. It has used all that energy from those years in the sun to grow into this magnificent specimen which now shields me with its shade. One of the reasons I was shocked to take in its full size is that its trunk does not appear to be large enough to support a giant upper body.

 


Fortunately, I had preempted Barb earlier in the day by wishing her a happy anniversary before she had an opportunity to put my failing memory to the test for, I have a history of forgetting such important dates. Barb on the other hand has one of those minds which has allowed her to catalog not only birthdays and anniversaries of immediate family, but of anyone else we have ever known. Actually, I had prepared for the event by squirreling away an old card which I planned to recycle for the event, but I misplaced it–thereby losing my opportunity to be a real hero.


The day held little promise of anything exciting, especially since there is not much about the number 67 to generate enthusiasm, but just as we were on the verge of declaring this anniversary a washout, son Peter called to say he and Sue were on their way here. They brought flowers, Pete did some of my chores, and got takeout from Bill’s Barbecue, which we enjoyed on the patio. Trudy had called previously to tell us they would be coming to spend the weekend of Father’s Day with us, and after Pete and Sue left we retrieved a voicemail from Maggie and a text with her flattering epistle about us old buggers and our marital style.

 

As for Maggie’s analysis of our “discussions” she mentioned, I am sure most of them ended with my surrender for I am still no match for Barb. But on the bright side she fights even harder FOR me. It is easier to find a lover than a friend, and to spend my life with someone who is both makes me a very lucky guy. Later Barb and I did some reminiscing, which was sort of like looking up at that tree to see whole thing.

The view was pleasing.

 

 

 

The Smith Crew circa 1969

The Smith Crew circa 1967

 

60th Wedding Anniversary Dinner

Prepping for 2020 during Christmas 2019 Photo Shoot!

The progeny: The only thing better than perfect children is PERFECT GRANDCHILDREN

 

Barb and Darell Smith wedding

Happy Anniversary Dr. and Mrs. Eshrink | 67 YEARS!!!!

Barb and Darell Smith wedding Mom and dad circa 1978

 

Editor’s Note: Hello Eshrinkblog readers! Today is my dad and mom’s wedding anniversary and I’m hijacking his blog to share what I’ve learned from watching mom and dad as a married couple. I learned about loyalty, respect, appreciation, but also about the secret to effective arguments and all the red flags that come from ineffective arguments between couples or even the lack of arguments: resentment, emotional distance, loneliness, etc.

 

But before I share my perspectives, you might check out earlier Eshrink blogs about Marriage and his Valentine (the post “My Valentine” is the winner for the most read blog post on the eshrinkblog.com network)

LESSONS I’VE LEARNED from MY PARENTS’ MARRIAGE

These are just my perspectives from watching an incredible couple grow, change, and adapt throughout their life together as a married couple while taking that “death ’til we part” thing to heart.

 

ARGUING with a PURPOSE

It’s been my experience that I’ve learned more from the bad stuff than the good stuff so I’ll start there. My mom and dad argued. I hated it when they argued, but they didn’t hide it, which I guess made my little kid brain think it was okay or normal. I found out later that my parents’ style of arguing wasn’t the norm. I would hear about double binds, put downs, identifying the source of the hurt feelings, owning your feelings, etc. I didn’t understand half of it, but the arguments were usually at the kitchen table and lasted a long time (at least in little kid time it seemed like they lasted a long time). Somehow, listening to those “discussions” (that’s the term they would use when I would bring them a picture I drew and tell them I didn’t like it when they argued), I learned the “action” or incident that sparked the argument wasn’t about the action at all. Rather, it was about the feelings that action generated (i.e, leaving the dirty socks on the floor isn’t about the socks on the floor it’s about inconsideration…how it can make the other person, the one who is the primary “cleaner in chief” feel like they’re not important or appreciated or their role is undervalued somehow). Mind you, mom and dad never argued about socks on the floor…but you get the gist. The argument has a root cause that is about feelings associated with a particular action.

 

More importantly, I got to see them make up and resolve the argument. Even if a resolution wasn’t total and complete, it seemed the argument was worthwhile in that it was not only an opportunity to share grievances openly and honestly, but it allowed them to reach a renewed understanding or different perspective. It wasn’t about who was right and who was wrong. It seemed their process actually made their bond stronger.

 

RESPECT for the INDIVIDUAL. RESPECT for the UNIT.

As for the good stuff: my mom and dad have always seemed to have a deep respect for each other as individuals and an appreciation of their differences. Mom is an artist at heart. My dad has always been more practical and technical. They were equals who were different. Not equal as in the same, but their interests and differences were equal in importance. While I would say mom and dad had traditional gender roles for the time in most ways, it seemed they supported each other in broader interests; my mom’s belly dancing classes, art classes, bowling league, her decision to start a small business, The Tortoise Shell, etc.

 

And even though I don’t think I ever saw my mom mow the lawn or fix a leaky faucet, I do remember my dad cooking and doing dishes when it needed done…and not in a begrudging way, but just because it needed done…to boost the other half of the unit who needed a respite (since raising four children and keeping a house is more than a full time job). As I discussed in the argument section above, I sensed they had a respect for their choice to be a married couple…respect for the unit…and had decided the whole was greater than the sum of the parts (not sure I have that quote right, but they were better/stronger together as a unit than individually).

.

APPRECIATION

My mom’s appreciation of my dad was always apparent to me. I would hear her brag about him to other people. She would correct people when they called him Mr. Smith instead of Dr. Smith, which would totally embarrass me. However, when she explained to me, “We worked hard for your father to get through medical school and become a doctor. He IS a doctor!” I started to understand why it was so important to her. Note the “we worked”…they shared in each others accomplishments because they did “do it together”… they built a relationship with the space for each to grow and achieve and explore. As for med school, my mom worked full time as a nurse to make sure they could get through and still have food to eat (dad’s always had a big appetite…it’s genetic on the Van Horn side of the family) haha.

 

I remember dad’s appreciation of mom, too, but maybe in more subtle ways (I remember us as being a genuine and authentic family…phony accolades weren’t our thing). I remember sitting at the dinner table with us four kids rolling our eyes and grumbling about the night’s dinner of cubed steak or chipped beef and gravy (shit on a shingle was dad’s name for it). Dad would go out of his way to make sure we heard him thank mom for making dinner or say how great the meal was. He also showed his appreciation for her ability to create beauty all around us…from flower arrangements, to gardens, interior design. He appreciated, not only the talent she has always had for those things, but how she continued to learn more and maximized those talents to bring beauty to everyone she touched. Later in life (back to that growing thing I discussed, dad would tap into his artistic side with the help and encouragement of mom, when he started framing pictures for her shop, The Tortoise Shell).

 

RESILIENCE and ADAPTABILITY

My mom and dad, both as individuals, but as a unit, seem to be resilient no matter what life throws at them. I’m not saying it has been easy or equitable. Sometimes one of them seems more resilient or open to change than the other, but overall I’ve noticed they don’t spend much time looking back…at least not looking back in a “good ole days” way…When I’ve noticed them look back, it seems to be to learn from the past (somehow they taught me…if you learn something about yourself or a situation when you make a mistake, then you nullify the mistake in a sense because the knowledge you gained will serve you in the future). However, there was always the caveat that we didn’t want to “overdo” this particular method to gain knowledge and wisdom 🙂

 

My parents seem to be in a constant change of learning and growing. I used to think people got fixed and rigid as they got older, but I’ve watched my parents continuously learn, grow, and change. New interests. New perspectives. New appreciation.

They take life as it comes and grab the happy when it comes. They celebrate the wins together. They grieve the losses together, but they never give up 🙂

Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad! Thanks for being such great parents (and saddling me with all of this liberal guilt…haha!!).

Love good,

Maggie #4 and Proud Eshrinkblog Editor

P.S LAST BUT NOT LEAST | PDA

I’ll never forget how my mom and dad would show affection for one another. As a little kid, my dad’s flirty grab of my mom’s bottom while she was fixing dinner at the counter would be met with “Smitty!” from my mom. When I was younger, I would giggle during those brief gropes and of course be completely grossed out and embarrassed for them when I was a moody teenager. Hugs were and still are in abundance between my mom and dad, discrete pats, and kisses hello and goodbye and in between have always been the norm. Keep Rockin’ Matrimony M & D!!!

Below is the card I sent them for this year’s anniversary. The perfect card for the perfect couple.

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

If you have read any of my recent blogs, you may have noticed the following quote from Lao Tsu, an ancient Chinese philosopher: “to be loved deeply gives you strength, to love deeply gives you courage.”

 

The wisdom of those words explain much about behaviors I observed and attempted to treat as a psychiatrist. Feeling unloved was indeed a common complaint and the cause of a great deal of pain and misery.  Without the experience of feeling loved one is weakened, and thus may lack courage to face even the ordinary demands of life.  This may progress to a conviction that one is not only unloved but unlovable, resulting in self-loathing, depression, thoughts of harming oneself, and according to Anthony Storr, may generate violent aggression which he says is: “a complex mask for a repressed longing for love.”

WHY DO THEY DO IT?

There seems little doubt that we are now in the midst of an era of increased incidence of depression and unsanctioned violent aggression. Mass murders by otherwise ordinary people of all ages are now occurring at a level never before seen in the U.S.  Most perpetrators have a history of relative anonymity.  Neighbors usually describe them as quiet and unassuming, a person to whom they would speak to in passing but never engage in conversation.  Acquaintances when found describe their relationship as superficial, and express profound surprise that the person was capable of violence.  There is little evidence of any closeness let alone intimacy in their lives.  Could such horrible deeds be as Storr said: a result of anger over the lack of love in their life?

THE THIRD MOST COMMON CAUSE OF DEATH

There has been an alarming increase in the number of kids diagnosed with clinical depression which is not limited to those who are disadvantaged or abused.  A recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention survey of young people between the ages of 10 and 24 years resulted in shocking statistics. They report 4600 lives lost each year by suicide (most experts feel the actual number is higher due to a tendency for many to go unreported), and that rate has nearly tripled since 1940.  Emergency rooms throughout the country report 157,000 young people treated for self-inflicted injuries each year.  In their Nationwide survey of high school students, the CDC reported 13% admitted to seriously considering suicide, and 8% actually made an attempt to take their own life.  The report goes on to list a number of risk factors however; at a time in their lives when they are dependent on others to establish an identity and self-worth, it seems to me that relationships deserve to be at the top of the list.  Indeed, many teen-age suicides do implicate such problems as precipitating factors.

MORE OF THE SAME, ONLY WORSE

Rollo May in his 1960’s book LOVE AND WILL, says  “Our culture pushes people toward becoming more detached and mechanical,” but that observation doesn’t come close to what we see now that the digital age has enveloped us.  The addiction of our children to cell phones and other electronic gadgets contributes to their alienation.  Consolidation of schools and overcrowded classrooms have made it easier for kids to fall through the cracks.  Social media has become a convenient vehicle through which kids can be disparaged or bullied.  They are often attacked where they are most vulnerable i.e. their lovability consequently; the common theme “no one likes you” can be devastating to developing minds.  Now we hear there has been a dramatic increase in suicides in recent years among not only teenagers but pre-teens.   Although there is no proof of a link to feeling unloved, logic suggests there often is.

DON’T CARE? SURE YOU DO

There is ample evidence that we are herd animals, consequently; it is not surprising that I spent many hundreds of hours listening to patients with relationship problems, for when people are so very important in our lives, dysfunction can present problems.  Although we often attempt to comfort ourselves by professing to not care what others think, in truth we usually do care more than we would admit.  During all those years I spent in the shrink business I must have seen hundreds of people who were contemplating suicide or had actually made serious attempts.  Although there are obviously many factors that may lead one to seriously consider killing oneself, I recall often hearing: “Nobody cares.”

DO WE KNOW WHAT IT IS?

It would indeed be presumptuous of me to attempt to explain what love is all about.  It has certainly been a popular topic for poets, philosophers, musicians, theologians, and artists, through the ages.  The stories of wonder, ecstasy, and tragedy associated with love resonate in pop culture to this day. There have been myths, and legends and attempts to define love by categorizing it (erotic, agape, filial, spiritual, etc.), but the force responsible for this peculiar phenomenon remains a mystery to me.  My favorite definition of the term is from psychoanalyst Harry Stack Sullivan, as follows:

The validity of such explanations is confirmed by the intense love relationships experienced by warriors throughout the ages.  The myriads of reports of heroic efforts put forth by battle hardened veterans to protect their comrades, even risking or forfeiting their lives in the process gives credence to Sullivan’s ideas.  Indeed, when questioned as to why those who would in other situations have been considered unlikely heroes are questioned about their behavior, they will acknowledge that it had nothing to do with military or political beliefs, or patriotic fervor, but rather their devotion to their buddies (“No greater love hath man……”). That phenomenon has not been lost on those charged with training the military, consequently; camaraderie is encouraged and interpersonal dependency guarantees bonding.  One cannot wonder as to the part that the loss of relationships, solidified by the heat of battle, factor in the alarming rate of depression and suicide among our veterans.  Many report they worry about their comrades who are still fighting which may  also account fir the significant number who volunteer for additional tours of duty with their old outfits in spite of the known horrors they will likely confront.

WORTH THE TROUBLE?

Obviously, love has been a major contributor to the success of the human race.  Humans isolated from their kind rarely survive.  Sullivan posits that love is caring for others as for oneself and the old Chinese dude says as a result of love for each other, man gained the strength and courage to take on woolly mammoths and those guys in the next village who were trying to muscle in on their territory.  It is the latter part of that statement that has caused a lot of problems.  We seem to know a great deal as to the effects of love, but little about from whence it comes.  The neuro-physiologists and brain mappers continue to look for specific love loci, and geneticists will likely say that it is in our DNA, but I doubt that CRISPR will ever be able to install a love gene.  It would be great if such could be done, for we currently have little treatment for those who seem incapable of love, i.e. psychopaths.

I KNOW IT WHEN I FEEL IT

It may be that love is like the dark matter of our universe in that we know it exists and feel its effects even though we are unable to see, hear, smell or touch it.  Could it be that love is simply a product of evolution?  If so, how could we have survived long enough for natural selection to kick in?  The creationists insist that God snapped his fingers and we instantly appeared on the scene fully equipped.  Atheists on the other hand think the whole thing was an accident.  Others see love as spiritually endowed.  There are 4300 religions in the world with Christianity leading the pack and Muslims close behind.

WHAT ABOUT RELIGION?

Since I have been reared as a WASP, I have very little understanding of the other religions of the world or in particular where they stand on the love thing, but am pleased that love is at the core of Christianity.  When it comes to Biblical scholarship, I am a dunce, but I do find inspiration in those first few pages of Corinthians which are all about love.  The first 2 of the 10 commandments are also about love, and love is said to be the greatest of all, never fails, and is even better than faith or hope.  There is also that thing about loving your enemies and turning the other cheek, but most of all were the teachings of Christ who was all about love.  Of course, many see an inconsistency in a loving God who lets crappy things happen in spite of being all-powerful.  Since Christians are people it is not surprising to find they have found ways to subvert the love philosophy, and resort to violence with all sorts of rationalizations.

Loving others as much as oneself is a great idea, but very difficult to implement on a grand scale.  Excessive cheek turning is guaranteed to result in a lot of broken jaws.  Nevertheless, there have been many attempts to use love as a mechanism to provide peace and tranquility, which has been met with success in some instances.  In a rare instance of wisdom, our government eschewed the policy of gathering the spoils of war after WWII.  Instead they initiated a policy aiding even our enemies to rebuild their virtually destroyed countries which lead to their becoming our closest allies.   Of course, I was also around during the “love ins” of the sixties.  Although they seemed to have emphasized the erotic rather than agape version of love, they did call attention to long neglected human rights issues and war mongering.  There was also Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King who both emphasized reconciliation and learning to love each other.

We certainly could use more love in this world, but the chances of EVERYONE following the Golden Rule seem to be unrealistic.  Nevertheless, when I look back on our history it seems there has been some progress in the love department with more emphasis on inclusivity and acceptance.  Although it may seem that love is in short supply, it is alive in well and we can only hope the day will come when The Golden Rule is ever present. Even as millions of our fellow humans face horrors each day, there are millions of people who devote their lives to helping others individually and through organizations, which gives credence to the dictum that love never fails.

Corinthians 13:4-8 gives tells us everything we need to know: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails…”

Barb and Darell Smith wedding

My Valentine

EDITOR’S NOTE: I thought I would commemorate Valentine’s Day 2021 by reposting the most read (#1 blog post from Eshrink). Enjoy!

It was a beautiful argyle sock, but what does one do with one sock?  She assured me that she would get to work knitting its mate very soon.  That was seventy years ago, and I am still waiting for that second sock.  Granted, she has been busy during the last seven decades, but I really liked that sock and held onto it for many years expecting its mate to appear during some birthday celebration.

I have determined however; that hope does not spring eternal when it comes to missing socks, for this perfect example of period haute couture has been lost somewhere along the way.  In those days old pictures dad with familya pair of brightly colored argyle socks in a pair of white bucks (shoes to you youngsters) laid the foundation for the ultimate in sartorial splendor which usually included grey flannel pants, a navy blue “V” neck sweater with a white “T’ shirt visible in the sweater opening, and a crew cut. Maybe it was just that kind of fashion sense that caught her attention all those years ago…

She first accosted me while I was lying in the front yard with my cocker spaniel. She lived just down the street and I had noticed her from time to time, but paid little attention.  On this day, which would change my life forever, she was walking her cocker spaniel, and used the old “let the cocker spaniels meet each other” gambit to meet me.  It turned out the dogs did not like each other.  Later, she would insist that she had noticed that I looked lonely, and that she felt sorry for me.  My recollection is that during that time of my life, I enjoyed solitude; and not having reached my sixteenth birthday, I did not feel comfortable around girls.

I must admit she was a cute little thing.  Although a bit flat-chested, she had good legs, and some interesting rhythmic movements of her derriere that I found difficult to ignore.  She proved to be quite a good conversationalist, and after breaking up the fight between Susie and Cindy (the cocker spaniels) she moved on to get a comprehensive history about me.  Since, as with most people, my favorite topic is myself, my shyness soon vanished.  After a few more such visits, the dogs were discarded, and I found myself sitting with her in the swing on her front porch eating a piece of coconut cream pie.  Her mother was a great pie baker, but I will never know how Barb determined that coconut cream pie was my favorite.

Since I had not been able to find a job that summer, I had much free time and we saw each other nearly every day, went to a movie and even the county fair.  In the midst of all these platonic interactions there eventually came a day which would seal my fate forever.  Barb mentioned that she was having trouble with her bicycle.  I of course, always looking to score points and prove my mechanical prowess, immediately volunteered to look at it.  The problem was minor and the repair simple, but then I saw her standing on the second step of the basement stairs with those big brown eyes level with mine, and you guessed it. I kissed her—a bit timidly at first, but I had seen the professional kissers in the movies, and initially attempted to emulate them, but found I didn’t need lessons.  From her response, I guessed that I had done a credible job.

For the rest of high school we remained an item.  There was a brief hiatus after we had agreed that we needed to experience relationships with other people; however, that only lasted for about 72 hours.  She was a year behind me in school so after I spent a year at the local branch of OU she entered nurse’s training.  This was not her idea for her dream was to major in art.  Barb’s father, ever practical had decided she could never make a living drawing pictures, but more important was that nurses training was only three years long and about one tenth the cost.

Meanwhile, I decided to try pre-med, and was surprised when I gained admission to OSU medical school for my pre-med grades were not that good.  My excuse was that I worked a lot as a short order cook, a lab assistant in the physiology lab, and cleaning the cages in the animal lab.  The truth was that I did goof off more than I should have, and was not very disciplined when it came to the studying business.  I would nearly be undone by that character flaw.

I had received the notice of my admission to medical school during my final semester in pre-med contingent upon my completing the prerequisite courses among which was organic chemistry, not at all my favorite subject.  As usual, I had not kept up, pulled an “all nighter” prior to the final exam and overslept.  I toyed with the idea of feigning illness to get an excuse from the student health center, but Barb had already brainwashed me with that overdeveloped super ego of hers and taught me that honesty is the best policy.  The veracity of that truism was shattered when the prof said I could not take the exam in spite of the fact that I was only 30 minutes late and no one had finished the exam at that point.  I received my first “F´ ever, and began a frantic search for a summer course.

old picture mom in front of carMeanwhile, Barb had passed the nursing board exams, and was making the enormous sum of eleven dollars per day doing private duty nursing.  She had even purchased a 1947 Chevy in nearly mint condition further endearing her to me.  When as the saying goes, “I popped the question,” it was hardly a question for after six years of courtship it was not really surprising.

There are many advantages to having an aesthetically endowed wife.  Your surroundings will be made more pleasant, you will be dressed appropriately, and you will likely be made more aware of things beautiful in your life.  The down side is that you will find it difficult to find pleasing gifts unless you have remarkably good taste which I don’t, and when you produce that diamond ring of which you are so proud you may notice a raised eyebrow and hear her ask: “Is that the only mounting they had?”

mom and dad wedding pictureWe were married on a hot muggy June day.  She was beautiful and I was hung over.  I had celebrated my last night of freedom with the boys, and she would later say that I “looked terrible”.   In those days virginity was highly regarded, and sex before marriage was frowned upon.  I suspect this may explain why people married at a younger age then.   In addition to conjugal bliss, Barb had promised me a back rub every night.  She was proud of her back rubs for she had received many appreciative comments from her patients extolling their virtues.  She made good on that promise for about 2 weeks; however since then I have determined that she is behind by approximately 22,243 back rubs.

The rest of that summer was a time of high anxiety. When I called the registrar’s office to check on the status of my transcript no mention was made of its big fat F.   I was only told they were awaiting notification that I had completed the organic chemistry requirement.   Initially only the University of Virginia offered a summer course in organic chemistry.  This presented a problem for I had no way to pay the out of state tuition, let alone the room and board.  There was also the relatively minor problem of the delay in enjoyment of that conjugal bliss thing. Besides there was no guarantee that I would still be admitted if I did satisfy the requirement.

At this point the same God who had engineered the cocker spaniel encounter, apparently forgave me for flunking organic, and for my murderous fantasies toward Dr. Tate (the organic chemistry professor), and arranged for the class I needed to be offered at Muskingum College which was only a few miles down the road.  Having already taken the course, the second time was a breeze and I aced the sucker.

Med school classes were to begin in two weeks, and I was still not sure whether I had flunked out of medical school before I even got there.  When I called to inquire if I were still enrolled, the secretary who was in charge of such things did not seem to know what I was talking about.  She responded saying of course I was enrolled.  Did I not know they had received the transcript of my chemistry grade.  To this day I am convinced that the record of my F had not reached the admissions committee perhaps because of someone’s carelessness.  Score one more for God, fate, or whatever you may prefer to call the entity which governs good fortune.

old picture mom and dad outside aptWith that we quickly  collected what furniture we could from various relatives, found a three room apartment a few blocks from the medical school and its  hospital and as the saying goes: “ the rest is history .” And what a history it would become.  Barb found a job at the University tuberculosis hospital where she was rapidly promoted to head nurse, and still made time to volunteer at the local planned parenthood clinic (this was prior to Roe vs. Wade).  This skinny little chick with the cute butt had morphed into a remarkable woman who had accepted the job of feeding and caring for me.  Our finances left no room for frivolity, but she never complained.

She spent all her free time making a comfortable homey environment of our little pad, and tending to all my needs (except for back rubs which were reserved for those lucky dogs in the hospital).  I recall her euphoria when we managed to buy a fifty dollar wing chair which we would make payments on for six months.   Medical school was difficult for us and internship even worse with me on duty often for thirty six hours and off twelve.  Our first child came along during my senior year, and Barb suffered a severe post partum depression during my internship at a time when I was rarely available.

It has been said, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  In our case I believe that very stressful year of internship strengthened the bond between us. I came to appreciate her integrity which was never in question.  She not only said honesty was the best policy, she lived it.  I recall an incident when we were traveling and she thought the cashier where we had just eaten had given her too much change.  She insisted that I turn around and go back that eight or ten miles to return the money.  My response was “screw it, if she screwed up it’s not my problem.” She was concerned the waitress might get in trouble if the cash in the register came up short.   As you have probably guessed, we went back with me complaining all the way.

I am sure you also have surmised that she is my best friend, one who has supported, defended, and believed in me.  Her loyalty is absolute.  She genuinely cares about people.  Those fortunate enough to call her friend are well aware of that.  I have often said that she is the only person I know who gets high on people.  When we go to a social function where she has an opportunity to talk with many people, she frequently will have difficulty going to sleep much as if she were freaked out on methamphetamine.  On meeting someone new she will get a comprehensive history, and learn all about them and their family.  Later she will remember the names of children and grandchildren while I often don’t  even recognize that person if I should run into them again.  At those cocktail type functions, she is in her element while I try to be inconspicuous.  Once you make the cut and become her friend it will be forever, and if you or yours are in trouble you will surely hear from her for compassion is as much a part of her as breathing.

Although she has shorted me on socks and back rubs, she has made up for that by supplying me with four children who are (as in the words of Garrison Keillor) all above average.  I am sure that none would report they ever lacked for love from her.

maggies 3rd birthday with family She has always been especially fond of babies, the helpless age when they needed her most.  She enjoyed being a full time mother until the kids were all sufficiently grown so she could scratch that creative itch which had bedeviled her all those years.  She opened her dream store where she could surround herself with beautiful things. Many of her customers were in awe of her good taste, and some asked her to help decorate their homes and businesses.

Lest you think all has been sweetness and light in our marriage, let me assure you we fight viciously and often.  We have managed to avoid filing any domestic violence charges, although it does require a good deal of self-control on my part.  For you see she is very stubborn while I am quite compliant.  She thinks she is always right while I know that it is old pictures xmas in 70sI who is always right.

In spite of that, we have shared a bucket of tears and thousands of laughs.  We have been there for each other when most in need.  Together we have survived the loss of our first born child, the loss of our parents and many other relatives, cancer, and all of the changes that aging brings.  She is as much a part of me as one of my limbs.  Our love transcends affection, is comforting, and without compulsion.  This remarkable woman has been my valentine for 70 years.  I plan to keep her in that capacity as long as I can.

60th Wedding Anniversary Dinner

60th Wedding Anniversary Dinner

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From eshrink’s editor and daughter: I thought I would add my own thoughts about my dad’s valentine of seven decades. Below is an excerpt from the card I gave her a few years ago on her birthday. From my perspective, the longevity of my parent’s marriage isn’t about romance or fairy tales. My parents argued, but I learned in therapy the value of what they taught me: they always made up, they never called each other names, they talked about how behaviors made them feel. My parents are incredible teachers in how to love without condition.

I love how you always have surrounded us with

beauty—I didn’t appreciate it when I was younger,

but looking back I have such fond memories of

beautiful centerpieces, holiday dinners, and I

appreciate the ambience you created in all of our

homes that made me feel loved and special.

I love how interested you are in other people—their

experiences—good and bad—and how you manage

to always connect and empathize with them.

I love the generosity and thoughtfulness you

illustrate on a daily basis—always preparing special

gi! s for people, giving people in your lives not just

things, but your time, to make them feel loved and

appreciated. And not just for family, for people

in your life, like Kathleen, Judy, the girl who used

to cut our hair from Dresden. But I especially

appreciate the generosity and love you show your

grandchildren.

I love the way you always jumped in and gave me

a path whenever I even hinted I was interested in

something—modeling, tennis, piano, horseback

riding—you were always enthusiastic and supportive.

You made sure I had the tools (and the many

lessons) to pursue my interests instead of projecting

your interests onto me. It made me feel secure to be

my own person.

I love that you always insisted on family portraits for

Christmas and usually Easter.

I love how you made me feel good about being

“different” with that wild red hair, pale skin and

freckles during the age of straight, silky, long blonde

hair and golden brown tans (the 70s).

I love how you embraced “family planning” to make

sure I was born in the most beautiful month of the

year.

I love how you always welcomed my friends and

made them feel included in our family.

I love that you took the time, energy, and resources

to plan our annual family vacations that created such

wonderful memories I hold dear.

I love that you are always “you” …what you see is

what you get. (Probably why my friends always felt

so included at our house…no pretentiousness or

phoniness at the Smith house…we let it all hang out)

I love how you have always embraced “lifelong

learning”…watching you read all the books about

antiques and collectibles, going to auctions, learning

about decorating, taking classes at OUZ, starting

your business in your 40s, volunteering at Parents

Anonymous, and just always learning from other

people during each encounter.

I love that you were so open and honest about your

experiences in life—instead of being bitter about the

bad things, it always seemed you tried to use those

experiences to make me understand why you were

doing what you were doing or why you wanted better

for us (wanting to go to art school, the SIDs baby that

died when you were a nurse, the depression you fought,

your mom not letting you learn to cook). It gave me a

good perspective on how to process stu” I can’t control,

the ability to learn from my mistakes, and taught me

how to see things from other people’s perspectives.

I hated it when you and dad argued, but I learned in

therapy the incredible value your openness gave me…

because I always got to see you make up and come

to some type of resolution (such an important gi! to

realize that confrontation is sometimes necessary for

greater understanding, intimacy, and communication).

Happy Birthday Mom. I love you!