Not So Random Acts and the Blessings of May

It was late night. We were headed back from uptown when we saw a woman walking down Johnston Road. She was tugging a luggage cart with what appeared to be a suitcase and other items in strapped on. She wore a reflective vest. Vera said–in her emphatic and empathic voice–“We have to see if she needs help!” I was already headed for the next U-turn. As we pulled over near the Ballantyne Country Club, I got out of the car and approached the traveler. She didn’t appear too concerned or at threatened by my approach.

I introduced my self and she said, “Hello, my name is May.”

May is homeless—by choice. She said she was in North Carolina for a time and eventually headed for Baltimore. Vee got out of the car once she knew it was safe. We chatted with May for a few moments. As I observed her broken down cart I asked if she would allow me to give her one that I had stored in my garage that might be easier to tow. She was immediately grateful and said, “Why, yes. Are you sure?” We agreed to meet in a few moments as she journeyed further north toward Harris Teeter or the even further to i485. I raced home and got the beach wagon/cart and headed back to Johnston Road.

We saw her tugging her cargo of belongings just under the 485 overpass. We made the turn and pulled over on the shoulder just ahead of her. Our new friend was a little surprised at our return. I pulled the cart out of the Subaru and we started re-packing her belongings in it. May and Vee moved some things around and tested it for ergonomics and road readiness. It was an instant hit. We chatted a bit longer about her plans to stay in a local mission and eventually head for Maryland. We wished her well, gave her some money for meals and whatever else she might need, exchanged hugs, and got in the car and drove away. We worried about her, but we were grateful to have perhaps done something nice for someone in need.

Fast forward two weeks and our trip to Oak Island. We were driving on Interstate 74 on the outskirts east of Monroe, NC. We were actually talking about May and wondering how she was doing. Not five minutes later, Vee yelled (and I do mean, YELLED), “Look, look. It’s her. It’s May!” We couldn’t believe it. There she was, almost 80 miles from where we first met her, on the opposite side of the highway, pulling her green wagon toward the city.

I made an immediate U-turn and found a parking lot in front of an appliance store just ahead of her trek. We both jumped out and approached her. She looked a little surprised until I enthusiastically said, “Maaaay…It’s Sean and Vera…your friends from a couple of weeks ago that gave you the cart.” Her face lit up with the most delightful smile.

We gleefully expressed our joy in the serendipity. She said she was on her way to the library and working on getting some of her belongings shipped to Baltimore ahead of her upcoming quest. A few more moments of chat, another offering of some spending money, another embrace, a photo, and we went our separate ways.

We got back in the car and exchanged smiles mixed with joy and hope. This was a special moment. A reminder that we may not be able to save the world (today), but we can add something good to it from time to time. We can make new friends in the most unlikely of circumstances and we can find them again.

Godspeed, May. I hope you get home soon. Otherwise, we might find you again another day.

Sean’s Journal: Facing the Radical Bastards

It was a normal day. Not that any day is really “normal.” We gathered around the room to talk about the plans for the week. We discussed how we would lead through inquiry, narrative, rounding with purpose, and modeling what we are all about. It’s what we do.

I got a call. My dear friend and colleague asked that I take moment and be in a place that was private. The news was a diagnosis. Cancer. One that is relentless and stealthy. The news delivered almost as if a talking point in a corporate memo. Their intention was to offer it as news to those of us that are close and who care deeply before hearing it through the grapevine. I was numb. Quiet. I removed myself from my seat and stepped into the bathroom and threw up.

There were no signs. It began with a check up and a follow up with a concern and then another follow up and then the news.

Everyone responds differently. They will live fully and from a Bucket List perspective until the body says it can’t take another drop in it, so to speak. Others travel those last miles with different perspectives all their own.

I walk halls every day and see all manner of suffering and hope. I see men and women in white coats and in scrubs and in clothing dawned with artifacts and symbols that send visual signals we are there to do all we can to meet that suffering head on and be a partner in healing or transitioning. This work we do includes treatments and therapies and procedures in buildings and in rooms with equipment and beds lots of stuff aimed at making better. It also includes dialogue and support through conversations about the past and the future and the very real present.

We talked about it all. In the most ironic of twists, they also comforted me as my sadness and anger were clear in the moments together. Then, a few laughs at this mortality which is both villainous and heroic.

Cancer. A terrorist. It begins with a radical cell and moves through the urban streets of the body and consumes life. We fight back. We will, relentlessly. As many times as I visit its victims and its survivors, this beast does remind me of how precious and fragile life is. I am also reminded of how strong we humans can be in body and spirit.

To my dear friend—you inspire us all with your gift for healing others, through your leadership of those who hope to make their own mark in that healing, through your vision of care that looks beyond the barriers of bureaucracy and politics and the petty and the necessary pieces, and through your humanity and advocacy of the very patients of which you are now one. Fight. Live. Know you are loved. Know we will fight with you and fight for all the others who share your pain and your hope.


Sean’s Journal — December 22 “The doors behind me”

As the holiday approaches the meetings are fewer. Decorations and gifts and well-wishes lead to smiles and random acts of kindness. I finished one of those meetings with five of our clinical leaders. We spoke of what is possible and ideas around an early ’17 project that will effect people for the better. I left the nicely furnished and comfortable conference room and offered Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday wishes to the incredible executive assistants that line our suite. It was to be one of my last meetings of the year. As the sliding doors from the hospital to the garage closed behind me I heard the unmistakeable sound of grief.

the-healing-touch-jpg_sia-jpg-fit-to-width_800_trueThe sounds of prayer and weeping came from a family in a huddled embrace at the end of
the walkway. The gravity of sorrow brought two of them to their knees. It was clear they had just experienced a loss unimaginable and most likely unexpected. I approached and asked if I could offer them a place with some privacy. A woman turned and offered a muted smile through her tears and said, “Thank you, but we will stay here for a moment more.” I reached for her hand and she clutched mine as if we were old friends. We released and I slowly walked to the corner of the garage to make my turn for the line of cars waiting for those anxious to finish their rounds and their surgeries and their meetings and their small talk about plans and gifts and the little slice of joy that this time of year so often brings.

I glanced back at the family and offered a prayer for peace and comfort. As they so often do when I round and visit, my eyes welled up. I opened my car door and just stood. In just a few moments of uncharacteristic quiet, my mind raced through this last year. Its victories and tragedies. Its highs and lows and even the occasional uneventful.

My first thoughts were of those who were lost. Those whose lives ended so early and those who lived theirs out so well and just said, Farewell. No matter how expected or not, death takes away from the whole we know. The images of times we knew and experiences we had flood back in. There always seems to be a moment of doubt that they have actually “left”us.

My replay reminded me of how the depth of friendship can carry through the hardest times and complete the joy that comes with a milestone of good. I was awakened to the more shallow and fragile side of relationships when our flaws are exposed. I got to sing, and speak, and learn, and grow, and paddle, and pedal, and grow up how I hoped I would. I have loved well and have been loved so well. I realized how much I take for granted, especially with family and love, and I was ashamed. I became equally determined to change that; not in a New Years Eve kind of way, but in one of dialogue and awareness. I will battle cynicism and remain an idealist about this life.

To the family in their loss, I have thought of you every hour since walking through those doors yesterday. Peace be with you. And, in the most tragic of ironies, I am struck by how your loss—and tha
of so many others—gives me this grateful and grounded perspective.

Live well.


Sean’s Journal: Chronic pain and a little victory dance

We hold up in high regard those warriors on the athletic field who play through injury and pain. Impressive? Admirable? Sure.

But I see daily those whose pain is constant. Dull and then biting. Chronic. Genetic or illness-born. A product of a physiology fragile. Complex and mysterious.

sad-maskThey are among the heroes. They wake and face the day. Moving and stretching and finding ways to negotiate with their nemesis. They shower and make breakfast and raise their children. Go to work and labor through the tribulations of the day. They exercise to heal or to thrive in spite of the trials or to balance the pain here or the pain there.

Then, one day, after sucking it up and smiling through it, after finding ways to get the most out of life when the body says “I don’t want to,” after navigating through the maze of symptoms and root causes and the plethora of treatments, your patience and determination pays off. For the lucky few there is a potion in a script. A chemical cocktail that finds its paradoxical match.

Then, there is the victory dance. Hands moving freely. A morning wake without the long moments of adapting to the body’s need to move and greet the challenges ahead—holding a cup, writing a sentence, grabbing the wheel of a car, holding a hand, lifting a bag from the store. Things most of us take for granted.

Watching the ebb and flow has its emotional rhythm. Your quiet fight does not and did not go unnoticed. It isn’t the entertainers or the entrepreneurs or the athletes who command the respect stored in me. It is those who fight for our lives to live, and those who live to fight their own battles. You who war against demons that strike the mind or the toxins that grow and invade and steal us away. The spoils of injury. The aching that loiters and occupies the space between.

I watch with a quiet and empathic awe.

I am glad for you. I am inspired by you. I will do this work that might bring others to a place with less suffering and remember your example. Just wanted you to know.

Sean’s Journal: Godspeed (little man)

I looked in my son’s eyes at this reunion. Images flood as I retire to journal after the first day of time again. I see Lincoln Logs and Lego. Ninja Turtle moves and chasing a butterfly as goalkeeper while other 5-6 year olds mold around a soccer ball and move like tug-o-war somewhere at midfield. Laser Tag birthday parties and Pop Tarts after school. Later, at 15, walking in the den as I played and asking, “Dad, will you teach me that song on guitar?” One of my favorite moments. School plays where this peaceful teen transformed into animation and song. Baseball, football, wrestling and all things athletic while the arts tugged alongside. Books filled with the fantasies of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and of a boy named Harry. Flying in to Nashville just in time to hear him play his first gig and his first (and perfect) original. Pranks and bonfires and time with friends who stay friends. All boy. Always kind. Playful and pensive. Destined for something great

Then, the middle years. Somewhere between 11th grade, through college, and to this day. The years when when hobby and interests turn to passion and mission. When values and ideologies and philosophies are tested and changed. Or affirmed. A love. Vows, to a mate of a lifetime and vows to his country. And there are the dogs. Oh, the dogs that always seem to find a home in a Keyser pad. The decision to be a healer and a soldier. A leader of men and women. Between the studies, the weddings, the funerals, the contracts, the moves from base to base, the training, city to city, and hospital to hospital, we find ourselves here.

In these few days we did what we do. We talked about being human, being an American, a citizen. Politics and fast cars. Healthcare from the perspective of healers and administrators and advocates. We journeyed through the broken years and the moments and the days that have healed along the way. We laughed at the stories and how they are colorfully garnished with time. Watched a movie, and then another, and then another. Shared time in worship and song. We visited wineries and tasting rooms that line the hills and valleys of this pristine state. We offered our own tasting notes and made fun of the ones penned by others whose taste is something of another planet or palate (“graphite?). We placed targets along a pulley at a gun range and tested our skills and then watched my own Bonnie and Clyde at work. We went to the woods and gathered and chopped wood and built a fire and watched it light up the cool Washington night while the dogs chased and tirelessly played. Cheese and fruit and a bottle of Syrah. We walked through the personalities and the eccentricities of those we love and those we acquaint. We rested.

Then came time to leave. Breakfast and coffee. Small talk. A ride into the city and to the airport. A nervous look around the car for things forgotten just to add seconds or minutes. They never knew. An embrace and parting words like those as if returning in days. I walked into to a terminal full of hurried bodies. A glance back and the little Honda was gone. The tears find their release and the deep breaths keeps them at bay.


I don’t know if I have ever actually said those indelible parent’s words, “All grown up now.” But today, of all days, I find myself quietly offering them as my attention is fixed on the pictures on my phone while ignoring the TSA agent patiently motioning me through PreCheck, as if she knew.

To our beautiful Jenny—I love you. And I love the way you are.

Logan—I love you with a full heart and thank God every day for the treasure that is you.

“Godspeed, Little Man.”


Sean’s Journal: Personal Best(s)–More Lessons from the Trails

Personal best? The weekend’s rides were a series of little ones—not one overall. Getting to the best part of me as a son, a father, a partner, a businessman, a citizen, a musician, a writer, a paddler, a friend, or a rider, takes training and practice and a little gutsy resolve.

The trails are Nature’s mentor in many ways. Learning where the lines are cleanest and where the roots and jumps can be most treacherous. Constant attention and familiarity reduces risk and offers up a predictably better finish. But taking the familiar and continuously improving on the same path lures one into staying on that path because we know it. Living life, I mean living it, has much to do with trying, and failing, at the proverbial “less traveled.” I am drawn to the unknown. I love it best when the woods are quiet and deep and absent of other humanity, but full of an audience of wildlife whose bleachers are the trees and the creeks and under the logs and around the fallen things.

I rode various trails over the tGoatHillPosterPersBestwo days. For whatever reason, with each approach to the places that offered the safer (bypass) or Expert options, I chose only
the more challenging path. There are times I want to glide and enjoy the maturing of a faster outcome for the whole. But these two days were more about getting a little better at the edges, the hazards, the precarious. It was an attitude. I wanted to explore both new terrain and new potential.

So I pushed. I never clocked my overall time. I did find that my turns were sharper, some of my landings more solid, my acceleration out of the turns faster, and a little more air was under the frame.

Ramp2PersonalBestHippieAt the top of Whitewater’s Goat Hill, I smiled. The burn in my thighs was matched by a rapid pulse and mild gasps for the Spring air. I tried, and succeeded at single-gearing it all the way.

The next day, on the ramp at Beatty I did what I thought I would never do. I jumped off the down ramp instead of carefully leaning back and sliding through the descent. I landed hard but never lost stride. There is this adrenaline that is rooted in fear at the pull of the bars heading into the jump, then, an equal amount that turns to a rush of “Holy Shit, I just did that.” This chemistry of opposing highs mixed with the familiar racing through clean lines and the known paths made for a day to remember.

A blueprint for life.


Sean’s Journal: Practice, practice, practice…clear my head of that damned little bridge

What can a 20″ wide bridge over a small creek teach me about leadership and life. Riders ride and train on these trails all the time. There is

BeattyCreekBridge1this one bend that leads down to a short bridge over a tiny creek that, for whatever reason, is the nemesis for so many. I have watched for years and even succombed myself to flying around the bend only to throw on the brakes just prior to the bridge. There are MANY more technical elements on this nice set of trails. But THIS ONE gets in a rider’s head. The fear of not hitting it just center and possibly sliding off to a two-foot drop (not much even if it happened, but would require dumping the bike) is enough to almost give it a nickname.

On those days when I’m not thinking about it–or about the 3 or 4 other challenging ramps or drops–I fly right over it. Then on other other days when feeling less confident and thinking too much, the anxiety builds 1/4 mile away and often results in a redo.

I recently parked my jeep at the trails near the ballfields at the park. I stopped to watch the kids in practice and was taken back to the best times in the best places. The diamonds of my early and late youth. Those proverbial fields of dreams that so shaped me and caused me to love the sport … and all sports. As I watched the infielders taking grounders and the batters taking pitches I was reminded that skill may come naturally to some, but much of the game is about practice. As a second baseman and shortstop most of my baseball career I have taken thousands and thousands of grounders. It built a sense of timing and led to an almost intuitive response to the dance between the ball and the grass and the dirt and the velocity off of the bat. Kids in T-ball or the pros whose season began only days ago have the same routine. Grounder after grounder. Pitch after pitch. Swing after swing. Throw after throw. The result is confidence and continuous skill improvement.

I jumped on my bike and took the shortcut to the bridge. Not a rider in the woods this early evening. A cool breeze swirled around the trees just getting fitted in Spring’s green. The trail’s dirt just moist enough after the weekend’s rain to offer a little extra grip.

I got some speed, looked ahead at the descent and the bridge, took the high route and flew right over it. I had no sooner taken the bridge and the subsequent 90 degree turn uphill that I grabbed a shortcut and headed back to run it again. Two, three, ten, twelve times. With each turn and brake adjustment and gear change this tentative annoying 8 foot stretch over moss covered rock became insignificant.

There are these things in our lives that get in our head. We avoid them or go around them or excuse them away. The rear their ugly self and try and rob confidence. They wake me from time to time and attempt to distract me from the good.

I choose more these days to lean into them. To practice. To take the speedy grounders that hit me in the chest or brush my arm and leave a leather burn and, more often, land in the sweet spot of my life’s glove.

Practice, practice, practice. I will.

Sean’s Journal: Brainstorms Against Humanity…Touchstones to a Better Day

So many good things happened this week in my little world of healthcare delivery for patients and families and our guests. I spent time with new and seasoned providers in dialogue about compassion; I spent time with fellow administrators planning for a year or two or three to come in design of capital and operational needs for a system in transition; I learned from thought leaders and from my pals in the experience playground.

But, the lessons and the motivation and the inspiration and the growth could only go so far. My mind and my heart was pulled on to the world stage as well. The sadness and the grief in Paris and in other pockets of the planet wouldn’t leave me. My head was fogged by the responses from the right and left and all over the directional and ideological map.

I cannot entirely begrudge the emotional, and often ignorant responses to the terror that has taken place. My hope is that reason, accompanied by compassion, and mercy, and open hearts will prevail. My hope is that we find a balance of caution and servitude; empathy and protection; hope for the hopeless and care for those in our lines.

For those who continue to deny the truth and hold fast to their ultra anti-muslim rhetoric, I hope for enlightenment over sick prejudice. By now, we should know that ISIL or ISIS or whatever acronym given to these petty thugs has NOTHING to do with Islam. They use it as a cheap cardboard sign to gain a proverbial radical dollar at a traffic light of world order. “Will inflict terror for attention.”

A short course in history will reveal that terrorism has its roots in ideology, be it political, economic, religious, or other causes or themes. In this case, political motive is wrapped in a perverted and fictitious connotation of Islam. But, understanding that would actually require learning beyond what a Fox News anchor offers in seven seconds or a Ted Cruz or Donald Trump grandstand for cheap votes and a wall. It’s a little more complicated than throwing down a nationalist moat.

Terror, as we know it today has been around as long as humanity. The Nazis inflicted terror through an Aryan claim to justify “scientific” racism and anti-semitism. Fascists terrorized in the name of nationalism. Leaders and regimes have engaged in terror through ethnic cleansing in order to achieve ethnic homogeneity. And yes, less than a couple of hundred years ago our own thugs engaged in the terror (yes, “terror”) of slavery and justified it as an economic and evolutionary right.

Today these displaced and misplaced freaks are brilliantly hijacking a religion to mask their apocalyptic and narcissistic agenda. And we are buying it. And so are some of the potential leaders of the “free” world. Ironically, our freedom comes with risk. One of those risks is that we might go into a “Judeo-Christian” foxhole and display the antithesis of freedom in order to shelter from the possibility of radicalism. The ultra-Christian who blows up a women’s clinic is no less a terrorist. The white-supremacist who stones and hangs and shoots and burns is no less a terrorist. The anarchist who blows a building in Oklahoma is no less terrorist.

Yes, pause and consider what danger is among us. Blend defense with humanity. It is where we began. In our short history—and I do mean, “short”—our experiment in democracy and a better exercise in equality has such promise. I still believe in most politicians, believe it or not. I still hope that the men and women in congress and in other office will reach deeper than a sound bite or the fear of an idea so much that we abandon our own origin.

touchstonesAt the end of Friday’s retreat, we reached into a bag to retrieve touchstones as a token from the event. I couldn’t help but offer a smile and prayer for hope at the gifting irony.

Peace. Dream. Charity.


Sean’s Journal: No Strings (cables) Attached and What I Don’t Expect

Part one: This was an experiment. I had a T.V. go out a little over a month ago. My auto response was to run to Best Buy and get a bigger, higher definition, smarter one. I didn’t. Instead, I cut off cable for a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not on some cause to leave a less electronic footprint. Just curious about where my attention lands when there aren’t 500 plus channels, like dogs and cats in the pet store vying for my gaze and adoption.

Part two: I packed up one stack of books last year and donated them to Goodwill. The second stack is waiting on the bottom floor of my townhouse waiting for the same transfer. There are over 100 of them. Today might have been the day. Returning from Florida after a trying and joyous and scary time. Feeling a need to continue to purge and return to simpler.

Part three: Listened to an interview with theoretical physicist, Lisa Randall. Among many things she spoke to, one quote grabbed me. “We often fail to notice things we are not expecting.” This comment, from an author I truly enjoy and think has a beautiful balance of matter and what matters struck me about where I am right now.

Dénouement: Returning from a time in which mortality and meaning hit me in the face, I want even more to be distracted less. I want to slow and notice and not be so programmed into what is expected and miss the things I will ultimately love the most. I read a lot late at night following hospital visits and family time. I wrote. I walked and listened to singer-songwriters who capture these very things.

I returned home to conversation I missed so much, proximity of love, a shared glass, time with friends in celebration of life and birth, to no plans and letting the day carry us where it will.

And on the way out the door this morning for a crisp November ride in the woods, I saw my stack of books. There are passages and titles asking me for a little more attention before they are off to their new home. I wasn’t expecting that.

“To want what I have and to take what I’m given with grace.” ∼ don henley



Sean’s Journal: Remembered things

There’s not much good that can be said about dementia. In fact, there is nothing, unless it could be called on selectively to remove those things not worth storing or that hurt.

This journey with Patti (that would be Mom) has taught many lessons on the wonders of the body and the mind.

She has said as far back as I can recall, “Always have something to look forward to.” In this curious case of visiting her while an ICU and telemetry patient, dementia has a bit of twisted benefit.

It’s the short term effected the most. Questions asked and answered over and over—some with less patience than others. Names and even faces that leave almost as soon as they arrived.

If there is silver lining to the loss of fragments of memory in this case, it is that each visit becomes new. An unexpected and positive surprise. A big smile breaks through the tubes and the vapor of the breathing treatments and past the blinding lights of a room occupied by precious life and inanimate machines keeping the precious life precious for a little longer.

Memory has its blend for evil and for good. There is a neurological yin and yang about it. The recall can allow grudges to never die; for pain or sorrow or anger or all manner of negative emotion to be reignited. Whole wars have happened because of a collective or individual memory. It can haunt and stay, even if begged to leave. It can also remind us of the best parts of life. The births and the dates and the songs and the quiet moments and the celebrations and more. It can fill the mind’s canvas like a colorful and beautiful montage.

Mom’s memories are vivid. They are offered in headlines repeated over and over and with the same enthusiasm as if delivered for the first time. They are mixed with pride and melancholy. They are the best of what she wants to remember, and that is good enough. Some have become a little exaggerated over the lifetime. So what? What’s the harm in refreshing or adding a hue here and there to a life recalled?

We walked into the semi-private room tonight. Her eyes moved from the window the to the door as she could sense our approach. “Ohhhhhhhhh, it’s youuuu,” she exclaims with a smile. It had been only an hour or so, but it was new now…and so appreciated.

Using this time to reflect (as I always seem to do when trials present) leads me to consider changes or reinforce the best of my current path –which is so strong and hopeful. I am more determined to design and create and fulfill those moments that will become the memories of good. Equally determined to fight harder against those memories that intermittently plot a coup to create the dark moods and times quiet neglect.

Always have something to look forward to (and back on)!

Love you, Mom.