The Long and Winding Road (original post august 21, 2010)

Today was my “long run” day. It’s all relative when it comes to working out. Up in the mountains of Eastern Tennessee, getting away to re-discover quiet. A chance to read, think, strum a six-string, write. No television. Out of the range of my Blackberry’s wide net.

It was early morning. The birds still pushing the snooze button. The spiders were pissed that I interrupted them spinning in their silvery hammock. The Sun barely peeked through the the pines and water oak that cover these mountains like Kudzu.

I stretched, tightened my laces, and began the trip that would meander through these mountain roads. Hoping my natural global positioning system (a landmark there, a mailbox there, a torn down road sign) would lead to a safe return.

I have grown to love the run. I love the ride more, but my Trikke was not built for mountain roads and their treacherous turns. At first, the mountain air and the mild burn was exhilarating. It felt great and I knew this would be a memorable run. I rounded a bend to negotiate my first incline. “No problem,” I said to myself. I reached to turn up the volume on my iPod and leaned into it. Minutes later I was saying, “This isn’t a Smoky Mountain road. It’s freakin’ Mount Everest.” I thought I was going to die right there become Nike roadkill. Just when I thought cardiac arrest would set in, a turn, a mild decline, an aerobic slide. It was just long enough for me to tackle another uphill trek. With each uphill stretch I cursed the mountain and my decision to take it on. With each decline or leveling-out I told myself I was King of the World.

I made it back to our little cabin without tire marks on my back or any known injury. The birds laughed and greeted the morning. The spiders were working the morning shift webbing away. I sat on the porch and overlooked the creek and thanked my God for His nature and for allowing my body to endure and grow from the mountain. My mind went immediately to this world and its challenges.

You see, we have had this place of comfort for so long in this country. For many, we were comfortable with our own roads and paths and porches and neighbors. It wasn’t that hard for a lot of us. The world’s problems were only as close as the paper or nightly news made them. But  the mountains were always there. Just not as close. We could take the easy route; ignore or dismiss or rationalize that things are “their problems…we have our own.” I don’t understand anymore why we define ourselves by our geography, by our borders, by our language. The floods in Pakistan, the poverty in the Congo, the violence in Somalia, the unrest in the Middle East, the human rights violations across the globe should all be MY problem; OUR problem. The Long Run may be the one outside of my neighborhood. Outside of my state, my country, my continent, my fictional boundaries.

My prayer: Lord, take me on the Long Run. Prepare my heart. Give me courage and endurance and a great pair of shoes.


That Kind of Love — Part 2 (original post november 7, 2011)

I was overwhelmed recently by the enduring expression of love from the man in the booth at Hardees. His wife, gone for months, but he still showed up on their special day each week to have breakfast with her and chat as they always had.

Equally enduring and so incredibly beautiful, I was introduced to the Childress couple last Friday. Lynnette, one of our patient relations reps at Presbyterian Hospital emailed to tell me about a couple who was with us and she heard it was their wedding anniversary: 61 years.

Well, she and the crew, Tiffany, Lindsey, Steve from Food Services, the unit manager, Anne, and others jumped to action. If this couple was to spend their anniversary with us it was to be as special as we could make it. I had to be there.

It was to be a surprise. A rolling table and white tablecloth. A beautifully prepared meal for husband, wife, and their son. Flowers and a card.

We gathered and wheeled in together at 5:30. Once they realized this was a party, their faces beamed in gladness. Mrs. Childress stood by her husband’s side and they bathed in celebration of their long life together.IMG_0499

Lindsey said, “I hear you are a singer, Mr. Childress.” She went on to ask if he wanted to serenade his wife on their anniversary. He pointed to his throat and mentioned something about his voice being a little “crackly” at the moment. We understood. His comment had barely landed on our ears before he began to croon for his beloved. The Desert Song (Sigmund Romberg / Otto Harbach / Oscar Hammerstein II). His voice broke  just a little and he searched for a lyric now and then. As she watched lovingly, she offered a part of a line when it didn’t come to him, which he finished for her. It was a sort of handoff. “…Its voice enthralling…WILL MAKE YOU MINE” he closed in a romantic crescendo.

Smiles and tears filled the room. This was their moment. We got to be there. I wish they could have been in their home for this special day, but it was our honor…our privilege to celebrate their life together and care for them both. Happy Anniversary to the Childress couple. You are what is possible.


Blue heaven and you and I,

And sand kissing a moonlit sky.

A desert breeze whisp’ring a lullaby,

Only stars above you

To see I love you.


Oh, give me that night divine

And let my arms in yours entwine.

The desert song calling,

Its voice enthralling

Will make you mine.


That Kind of Love (original post september 27, 2011)

imagesSometimes the stars align.  An alarm clock set accidentally to an hour earlier than usual.  A last minute change in schedule. Road construction forcing an alternative, and quicker route, to my destination. I was headed to a funeral. Running about thirty minutes early, I decided to grab a bite and some coffee. I stopped at a Hardee’s down the road from the little country Baptist church where the service was to be held.  After ordering a low-carb breakfast bowl and a medium coffee I took a seat at a booth. I can’t remember the last time I actually dined-in at a fast food place. It was meant to be.

I sat and scanned the perpetually streaming emails scrolling in the window of my Blackberry.  Just a few booths away, next to the window, was this guy sitting and enjoying breakfast. He was engaged in conversation. A laugh here and a comment there. At times he was animated and then serious and quiet.

Here’s the thing, though — he was alone.

I tried to appear inconspicuous as I looked for what must have been his bluetooth device or earpiece and a cell phone.

Nope. He was just talking and listening … to no one. My mind went immediately to what must have been a troubled or mentally disabled older man. I wondered what psychological condition could be attributed to his imaginary conversation.  I also thought maybe he just enjoys his own company and might be a little eccentric. Who cares?

I tried to drink my coffee and pay attention to my own small world.

One of the servers was wiping down tables. She smiled as she approached mine and said, “Good morning.” I returned with my own greeting and wished her a happy day. She glanced over at the man by the window and turned back to me.

“He’s really okay,” she said as she grinned. She went on to tell me his story. She shuffled salt and pepper shakers and promotional place-holders while she talked.

“You see, he and his wife came in here every Tuesday and Friday for as long as I’ve been here. That’s been at least ten years. He ordered black coffee and a biscuit and gravy for him, and a raisin biscuit for her. They shared the coffee.” She went on to say that they always sat in the same booth. “They stayed for about an hour and always seemed to have the best time.”

“She died about four or five months ago. We didn’t see him for a month or so after she died. But ever since, he comes in at least once a week, orders his biscuit and coffee. He sits and at some point just starts talking to his wife, like she’s sitting right there.”

“At first we were a little worried, but then I thought to myself…‘What’s wrong with that?’”

I smiled and thanked my new friend for sharing this story with me.

That kind of love…

She is still so much a part of his life that he meets her for breakfast and talks and laughs and shares his morning with her.  It’s the stuff of movies. No, it’s the stuff of life for a loving husband on a morning in a small country town.

The stars aligned and I got to be a spectator in this sweet and enduring adventure of love.

That kind of love…This kind of love.


Strange Is Just A Different Point of View (original post february 27, 2011)

acoustic_guitar_valiha6smWe hadn’t spoken much since college. Close friends in those days when carefree mixed with the looming reality of a world waiting for citizens who thought beyond guitars and beach bars and life’s cadence being a force of the gulf tides.

We found each other through the web waves. There was the thrill of connection followed by the soundbites of a history twenty-five years in the making. He spoke of the “missing years,” sometime between our undergrad days and about a decade ago. My friend struggled to describe how his mind kind of left him. While those around us had experienced bodily demons of their own, his attacked his mind. Left him “different.” It cost him a job or two; it carried with it an addiction or two; it stole much of his normal existence.

Meantime, he found the only thing that added clarity to an otherwise obscure and chaotic world. His art. Its form in painting and song and lyric. He shared a bit with me. I listened and wept. I viewed in awe.

I didn’t see a man who had lost a thing. I saw a man who might have just found what few of us do in this marching ant existence. While we try so hard to define reality through science or religion or laws and codes…this man just allowed his reality to define itself. Honestly. He had no choice but to surrender. It found him. The drugs were a chemical warfare on something so natural. No more.

Today my friend is a tradesman instead of an architect. His days require his hands and tools more than math and angles and physics. His nights and weekends open to his mind and his craft. He tells stories of his kind–those misunderstood tribes of beautiful people who might be a little different from the rest of us. These people who are stereotyped as “ill” instead of “blessed” with a different point of view.  Our messages were anchored with a phone call. In his voice I heard peace. I sensed a depth of understanding of life and his unique place in it. I found myself a bit envious that through his battles he might have just discovered a better place without having to leave this one. Your mind, my friend, is art itself. Your place here has made me a better person.

Thank you for allowing me in your “stained glass rooms.”

On the road to safe

I kinda tripped along the way

It just seemed like a nasty hassle

The path was greener on the one less traveled

That’s where I remained

People so high they think

I can’t hear the whispers

I can see it falling off their face

Their trying to shoot down my plane of grace

It seems like it’s already hard enough

So tell me what it is about me

Where did everybody go without me

So, I like to fantasize

And watch the sunrise like it’s a big surprise

Life moves and I stopped to taste it

I drank it up till it left me wasted

But my rains have bled

A softer red

Oh you should see the world inside my head

I feel better when I paint my days

With purple seas

And left out grays

Strange is just a different point of view

— Sister Hazel

As the River Flows (post February 11, 2011)

“It’s just the end of the beginning, Sean,” exclaimed my Egyptian friend, Ahmed, during a Skype conversation following a trip from his home in Alexandria.

He was there. “Cairo was a circus.” My good friend had predicted this years ago. This land of people, whose blood traces to the most significant times in civilization, would experience another transformation in their grand journey. A warm people. A land that is home to one of the Seven Wonders and home to great oppression.

Like much of the planet, the gap between those with means and those without is more of a chasm. My friend, a healer, sees the political sea change as an opportunity to affect a better life…design a next era in the rich history of this beautiful place. People stood and voiced and yelled and chanted. With each day there was a renewed energy…momentum. The leaders, including our own, hoped it would just wane and eventually be a rolling headline skipping along the bottom of CNN.aborignal1

Sure, it was likely to influence the leader’s–and the world’s policy—but much of the world hoped it wold just “go away” and get things back to “stability.”

There’s nothing stable about not being able to feed your family. The grandeur of the Pyramids cannot mask the void of dignity that accompanies joblessness. Thousands, hundreds of thousands said what needed to be said. Peacefully–as peaceful goes. Several hundred lost their lives in the end. One was too many. The price to pay for revolution? History would suggest it.

There comes a point when humans have no choice but to put their very lives on the line to stand up for what they believe. Human rights and civil rights run deepest. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness should be global values.

During my own lifetime, good men an women gave their lives in speaking out against the beasts who wanted them to separately dine, be schooled, be transported, and have no voice in their own government. They stood. We still have miles and miles to go before we sleep. To our brothers and sisters in this desert place that gathers its life from the Nile … Peace, Prosperity.

To my friend, Ahmed, thanks for making a point to let me know how you were and for being a voice in a revolution for human rights and patient rights.

Looking for Pennies (posted May 19, 2011)

It was seventeen days ago. I was running along the shoulder of Johnston Road headed for the Greenway.

A single penny, tails up, caught my eye as the sun hit it just right. I stopped and picked it up. I’m not sure about the whole “luck” thing, but I thought to myself, “I could use a little right now, it can’t hurt.” I tucked it in the small pouch of my running shorts and headed off.

The day was good. It got better. The next day rolled around and I went for a long bike ride. At one point I hopped off and walked a bit. There again, just at the turn into my little village, was a beaten and battered penny. I smiled and picked it up and once again dropped it in my pocket. It was a good day. It was a good night. Pic104

The next day I wondered if another penny would be discovered along whatever path I chose. I found myself paying attention. Sure enough, I found two. The day was good. That was fourteen days ago. Since then, I have found a penny on the street every day since.

Yesterday was the first without a copper find. I resisted the temptation to get all superstitious about it. The days have been better.

My pennies were teaching me. Be aware. Create good fortune along with the days serendipity. They are all around. Everywhere. I just decided to pay attention. For me, I want to be aware of the good things around me. Look for them. Anticipate that discovery. Expect good fortune ~ not the stuff of economic wealth, but of the heart and the soul. The “value” of these one-cent wonders was in their symbolic message of what is out there if I look for it. That is some pretty valuable stuff, right there.

Good luck.

Haiti, Limbaugh, Robertson, O’Brien, LSD (posted January 23, 2010)

A restless earth centers its energy on this tiny country during this few minutes in time.

What was an already poverty-stricken island was virtually leveled. Staggering numbers dead. More missing and injured. Lives forever changed.

Meantime, Pat Robertson links it to a nation that is “cursed.” Rush Limbaugh suggests no support should be given since it was already via our income tax. And Conan O’Brien – this Irish Gumby – uses his own network to wax on about the loss of 1/2 hour and wants sympathy over his 40 million dollar mess.

What is the face of tragedy? What is more tragic, the sight of a young boy who can’t see his future through the dust of a collapsed city, or the sight of Rush Limbaugh leveling his twisted agenda at the expense of a suffering people. And Pat Robertson...don’t get me started  on this self-described “humanitarian.”
What is the face of tragedy? What is more tragic, the sight of a young boy who can’t see his future through the dust of a collapsed city, or the sight of Rush Limbaugh leveling his twisted agenda at the expense of a suffering people. And Pat Robertson…don’t get me started on this self-described “humanitarian.”

A single day’s pay for any of these lunatics would probably take care of a significant portion of this country’s pain. It won’t happen. Ego is a powerful thing. Pat wants to scare people to a God who I’m convinced would rather operate from a place of grace. The God I know is probably disgusted with him.

Rush is so lost in his own lunacy that he would probably justify the holocaust if he thought it would make our President look bad. There is nothing American or Godly about these media monsters.

Call me out-of-touch; call me crazy, but I have this fantasy: something terrible happens… people die … a world is collapsing… and those behind the mic come together and leverage their position power to rally humanity. Then I wake up. Someone snuck in my room and put CBN and Rush on my pre-selects.

I change stations. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds … what’s the difference?

A Confederacy of Dunces…or Angels…Take Your Pick (posted July 21, 2011)

It was a grand conference in a grand hotel in a grand city. I was there to learn; to engage in a national debate over the future of healthcare. Thousands of attendees milling like cattle with their badges placed in colorful lanyards and hanging neatly around their neck. Celebrity speakers motivated and challenging, pitched their latest books. Breakout sessions ~ with all manner of topics ~ adult forms of show-and-tell. One went so far as to speak for thirty-five minutes about all of their industry accolades and devoted less than fifteen to what they were doing to affect patient care.

I politely walked out prior to the wrap-up in silent protest.

We began early and ended late. The wisdom-thirsty few (me among them) listened for insight, solutions, nuggets of innovation and possibility. There was precious little of any of it. More questions that answers. Perhaps that is where we begin though, with dialogue. I felt lost in a sea of self interest in an industry so desperately seeking selflessness. There was more discussion of margin that mission; more debate over partisan agenda that patients; more selling of goods than challenge of what might actually create value for the sick, diseased, and struggling. Expensive suits, expensive rooms, and expensive meals and nights on the town seemed to have more attraction than the agenda so much in need of attention.

All the while I thought of my daughter. During these same days she is volunteering at a hospital in the mountains of Nepal. A hospital devoted primarily to leprosy patients. A condition, highly treatable and even curable, but not so among those living in ignorance and poverty. She spends her days providing wound care to an outcast segment of society. Those with little to no means. She spends her hours assisting a staff of physicians and nurses with precious few resources to treat the condition of their calling. They are grateful for the most basic and crude of medicine, supplies, skills, and those with a sense of humanity in a place people go to die or, at best, survive. I thought how the price of one attendee at this mega conference would likely fund the hospital’s operations for a month, maybe more.

I thought of how providers and insurers and operators and the legislators fight and jockey for political position and debate and joust just to create paper trails of speeches and the illusion of a campaign promise honored or a protection of an element of “liberty.” It made me sick (pun intended).

We have much to do in this country to make healthcare something that is offered with equity and dignity and good evidence and compassion. We have miles and miles to go in offering healthcare that is WITHOUT judgement, disparity, extraordinary waste, and harm. We can do this, but it will come at a cost. The cost of ridding ourselves of the idea that healthcare is a source of profit without dividends paid out to society. Our technological, pharmaceutical, informational, and human innovations may not be producing a healthier planet. Granted, we know more and can treat more than ever before in history; but are we healthier?compassion

Today, in a southern California city, executives and providers alike are leaving sessions early to attend group galas and local shows. Today, in Nepal and in the urban and rural and even suburban pockets of this great country patients are arriving with hopes for care that is offered without motive other than to return quality of life for the patient.

I expressed my internal struggle to a new colleague during a Vendor Sponsored Continental Breakfast prior to listening to the keynote session from a speaker known to draw $20K for a speech. His response: “You must be a socialist.”

The response in my head was a mash up of Jesus and what I imagine Jon Stewart of the Daily Show might offer: “Forgive him, for he knows not what an ignorant moron he really is.” Yes, I get angry at this. I watch the debate in congress ~ a form of self torture ~ and wonder if there might be a drug or protocol for the symptoms I experience: nausea, dizziness, brain cell dilution, spontaneous laughter coupled spontaneous crying, and the strange feeling that I am actually living as Bill Murray’s character in the movie Groundhog Day.

I am here to create change. There are days when I wonder if my DNA was even present. There are days when I feel I facilitated a proverbial dent in the rusted steel of a system that is failing, but has such possibility. This week, I found purpose again. Not because I was inspired, but because I was disgusted at what I saw among my peers. My revolutionary self is riding a treacherous and beautiful path. I am surrounded by a posse of gifted, equally committed and passionate humans who show up every day to make a difference.

God and Jon Stewart help me.

A Better Part of Ourselves (posted August 7, 2010)

Babemba PeopleThere is a tribe in South Africa with a grasp on something that we in this country, and much of the world for that matter, have lost sight of: looking for what’s right. I discovered them through Christina Baldwin’s Storyteller. “I have read the story of the Babemba tribe in which a person doing something wrong, something that destroys this delicate social net, brings all work in the village to a halt. The people gather around the ‘offender,’ and one by one they begin to recite everything he has done RIGHT in his life: every good deed, thoughtful behavior, act of social responsibility. These things have to be true about the person, and spoken honestly, but the time-honored consequence of misbehavior is to appreciate that person back into the better part of himself.” To “appreciate a that person back into the BETTER PART of himself.” What a delightful departure from most of humankind’s response to someone doing something wrong. My days as a healthcare junkie are filled with responses to the life-changing actions of a system whose mission it is to bring people to a healthier part of themselves. When we fail, when we let them down, there is often a quest for who to blame. No question that accountability in medicine, and in life for that matter, is necessary. What is so curious to me is how quickly the default position goes to fault and blame. Does it somehow ease the pain. I don’t think it really does. To this day I don’t understand how a dollar really serves to reduce “pain and suffering.” It is a legal myth. It is our world though. It is a symptom of a society whose focus is more on managing risk than living life. What if people blow it? What would happen if instead of calling them into the proverbial principal’s office, we called them in to bring up all they have done right? Would people be less paranoid about trying to do the right thing? What if we looked at the whole person and what they bring to the planet and our work and not just what they missed? I wonder if our perspective on the world would change. What if we assumed – just for the Hell of it – for a moment that greed wasn’t at the center of corporate America; or personal America, for that matter? I think there are a bunch of us out there who believe that understanding and giving people the benefit of the doubt are good alternatives. This world is tough. For those of us in this country, this experiment of Democracy, we have a chance to believe and even live a dream. Right now the dream has too many elements of a nightmare. This isn’t created by a party or a man. Let’s dream from a place of what is right. Let’s find out how to bring people back into a better part of themselves.

à votre santé (posted November 7, 2010)

There is a scene at the beginning of the show Friends where they are sitting on a couch and watching the flow of a fountain. A simple chord pulled on a lamp suggests it’s time to reflect … be present … be quietly together.

We gathered to celebrate a lost friend at a place we had all celebrated together before. Our common bonds: friendship, great wine, great food. It was a wine dinner. A combination birthday party and passing on party. Our chef-friend J. enthusiastically brought each dish of magic to the table. We laughed, reflected, talked about the absurdity of death and life, and generally relished in the preciousness of friendship. Each plate and its wine pairing reminded me of the characters in my life. We create or stumble into likely and unlikely mixes and pairings. The whole is better because we constantly blend and invent and find what works. Each course of life gets richer and more interesting. More luscious. Like our wines, the aging of friendship adds value and complexity and something to pause and appreciate.Canvas Wall Art - Wine Bottles

We began with a reception and clinked glasses of “J” Coveee 20 Sparkling. Our friend was effervescent. It was the most perfect beginning.

First Course: Grilled Swordfish over a Pumpkin Puree with a Paresan Crisp. Paired with a Falcor Sonoma Chardonnay, 2006. Buttery and full. Smooth and inviting.

Second Course: Black Tea Braised Duck over Roasted Mushrooms and a Grit Cake. Paired with Melville Sante Rita Hills Pinot Noir, 2008. Full. Like drinking a holiday.

Third Course: Tobacco Infused Beef Carpaccio with Arugula and Shaved Onion. Fourteen Napa Appellations Meritage, 2005. My absolute new favorite red. A blend, an “invention” from the best of 13 vinters in the Appellation of Napa.

Fourth Course: Prosciutto Wrapped Tuna, Sweet Potato Medallion, and Berry Reduction. Partnered with Paradigm Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006.

Finish: Port Pot de Creme with a Nieport Colheita 1995. A toast of sweetness to say goodbye, and hello.

We raised glasses and toasted in different languages and to different elements of life and death.

Then, for just a moment, it was quiet. Not a word. Unplanned. We looked around the table of eleven. The unspoken words were of thanks and wonder and absolute awe of the temporal beauty of friendship and the hope of an eternal connection. A votre santé, my friends scattered on this planet and beyond it.