Category Archives: Blog

Sean’s Journal: A Good Pour and Cheers to Mom

I walked the balmy walk just down the road from my hotel in Panama City to grab a late salad and a glass of wine before settling down for a needed night’s sleep. After making it to San Francisco to deliver a presentation and learn from giants, I got a call from sis and mom’s doctor’s saying, “You need to make some decisions.” She had been admitted to ICU with respiratory arrest and pneumonia. It wasn’t a good scene. High Co2, lousy performance from a host of other physiological measures, and just plain bad.

My E.A., Jan, got me on the first flight that afternoon right back out of The City for Charlotte. Landed a little after 9 Wednesday night, packed, got in my fastest car and drove to Florida. Stopped once for a power nap somewhere outside of Columbus, GA. Arrived and spent the day with this amazing mom of mine and equally amazing sister who knows her so well.

By the time I arrived her Co2 levels were better; CT’s negative; airways clearing, a bit; meds doing their wonders; and clinicians searching for a root cause. Once it was known that it might not be so dire, my self creeped in and made a weak, albeit real attempt to resent the hijacking of my “important” presentation that had been in the works for months. Then, the better part of myself, my conscience, arrived like a tornado carrying a bizarre mix of The Hulk and Mahatma Gandhi and said to me…

“Are you kidding me? Get over yourself, and love, and be present, and kick that ego to the curb and be the man you actually are!”

Whew.

After this long day was over and mom was comfortably (an entirely relative term and one only she could actually speak to) resting and breathing much better, my sister Denise and I headed out. I hopped on Travelocity and grabbed a hotel for a night or two. Showered, changed, needed a bite and a nice glass of something red before sleep.

When I got to the establishment after a little walk in the humid night, I was greeted pleasantly by Nicole, one of the servers. I asked if they had a wine list. Her reply, “Oh, we have every kind of wine you want.” I perked up and asked if I could see the list. I even went so far as to ask if they had a reserve list. In the mood for something that would offer a special “goodnight.” Nicole said, “We don’t have a list, but we have Chardonnay, Pinot, Merlot, Cabernet, and Muscat.” I paused and surely looked a little perplexed. “Do you mean you have those wines but not different labels?” She nodded and affirmed my leading question.

I smiled and said, “How about a Pinot Noir?” She said, “You bet,” and spun around toward the bar.

Moments later Nicole returned with a glass about the size of a flight glass, filled to the brim with something a little more white. I asked if this was Pinot Noir or Pinot Gris. “What’s the difference?” she asked. I offered a simple and hopefully unpretentious explanation that one is a red and another is white. She seemed to appreciate the lesson and asked if I would like a Merlot instead.

“Nope, this is going to be just right. And thank you.”

I took a sip. Really tasty. It almost seemed fitting. Something a little more chilled while sitting on an empty patio while the humidity fogged the screen of my laptop. I closed the computer and sipped on my pinot gris and reflected on the day.

This was surely nature’s way of shooting a message across the bow? Simplify, Sean! Appreciate the littlest things. Who cares if it is good vintage or poured out of a box? This day was about life. About love. About appreciating the wonders of medicine and the people who practice it. It was just as much about offering it out there for the inevitable and non-earthly realm of next real estate and the Ultimate Healer’s plan.

I sipped that little glass of pinot gris as if it were a glass of Trefethen 2005 Reserve Cabernet. And I totally dug every drop (pardon the lack of wine-snob vernacular).

Sleep was welcome. Tomorrow will bring what it brings. Maybe the merlot?


Sean’s Journal: A Weathered Rider and Turbulent Skies

Nation’s capital irony at its best. Turbulence in the skies all around the District. And on the night of the Republican debate.

It was to be a routine flight from Charlotte to Dulles International Airport. Upon our descent to Washington, D.C., the air was suddenly, but not entirely unexpectedly, unstable. Storms were forecasted.

The feeling was like that of an old wooden roller coaster. Creaks and moans from the CRJ900 fuselage, designed to move with the pressure. Speed, mixed with sudden climbs and drops.

At the first noticeable drop—probably only a few feet in reality, but always feels like a bungee free fall—a moderately intoxicated New York Mets fan in seat 19F acted like he was in a Red Bull commercial and offered a loud, “Gnarly!” The mother with the crying toddler, doing what mothers do so instinctively in an exercise in patience and comfort, offered soothing words with long vowels and rhythmic “Shhhhhhhhh’s”.

In all those years of flying this was familiar to me, but still unsettling for those moments navigating nature’s tension. I did what seems to come more naturally with age. I experience gratefulness over fear. Compromise over anxiety. It is at these times, even when they aren’t as threatening, that my book is closed and replaced with personal reflection. It is when God gets his moments missed because the distractions on the ground and the self that creeps in robs our conversations.

Coincidentally, it was another American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Nashville years ago that felt similar. The Red Eye. At around 2:00 A.M., I was awakened by the oxygen mask falling from the compartment above and brushing my face. This was followed by the captain announcing that the bags had deployed only as a precaution and to await instructions from our flight attendants. The cabin had an eerie quiet. Moments later, the attendants asked that we place them on as a “precautionary measure only.” Then began the nervous conversations. Seconds later the captain announced that we were going to make an emergency landing in San Antonio, Texas, and that we please follow the attendants’ instructions. We were asked, in a calm, but serious tone, to “assume emergency landing position.” Then, the cabin changed. It was a blend of soft crying; prayers for safety and prayers for deliverance; wide-eyed silence mixed with shaking knees and hands. The two ladies next to me, first time fliers, asked me over and over, “Are we going to be okay?” My response was that we were in good hands and the pilot is just keeping us safe by landing the plane so we could take care of any problem. One held my hand—rather crushed it—the rest of the way down.

Following a very rapid descent, we landed without incident . There were hugs and clapping hands and “Sweeet Jesus’s.” After deplaning, almost every passenger waited in the dimly lit and empty terminal to greet the pilots and the attendants with a welcome rivaling that of a confetti filled city street parade for the winning team. We learned later that a hydraulic problem could have led to other more serious problems and the landing was, in fact, a “precaution.”

I had said my goodbye’s to the kids. I wondered about those things left undone. I inventoried and was exaggeratedly saddened over my regrets. I had remained calm, but I do recall watering eyes and an escaped tear or two. I clutched my journal. I scribbled a few words.

This time, over D.C., was less extreme. The danger less eminent, but still haunting for the moments. My response was that of a more seasoned rider. One who is familiar with and respectful of the danger, but also has an idea of where the story might go. Kind of like a rodeo cowboy, I guess. The older, and perhaps wiser rider knows the bull’s fury, but also has some idea of his moves and the probable outcome.

Instead of being afraid, there was a bit of mild pleading mixed with, “Wouldn’t it suck if’s”

Wouldn’t it suck if…
…I didn’t finish recording Mom’s song?
…Lisa and I never got to spread her father’s ashes on a NASCAR track?
…I never got to hear the little victories and major breakthroughs in Chelsea’s career of helping others through their grief and loss? Or to be taught by her, inspired by her, and challenged by her?
…I missed more time sharing the littlest things with Logan that were missed for so long and now consume me with gratitude because they were there in those months stationed nearby? Or to watch the young love with his Jenny become what it is sure to become.
…We didn’t dive and experience the wonders of the sea I write about and that has eluded me all these years.
…I didn’t finish my book(s), or those songs, or those poems?
…I didn’t hear the voices or see the smiles and wipe the tears of a next generation?
…I didn’t ride that mountain pass that has been taunting me these last four years?
…I didn’t ask the questions, or acknowledge the fears, or make the statements, or live as well as I planned to?
…I didn’t shake my pain and fear and embrace the love and affection that, like a rising and magical tide, is all around me.

It’s funny how the bumps and rocking in the sky jar memories that were gathered quietly in my mind and heart, as if data portioned on a drive waiting to be recalled. The smallest things that mean so much flood immediately like a time lapse trailer. Laughs; lots of laughs. Quiet affection. Friends who love so deeply that whether known for months or years are always there, and when you least expect it. Forgiveness. Healing. Riding. Talk of the unimportant and the so very important. Fearfully and then courageously and respectfully facing my own mortality Rowing. Missing my family so much. Grateful for the family I have found. The books and the wine and the dreams. Grasping the vulnerable and staring down the ego that so plagues joy. The predictable moments in the same seats with the same servers and the same dishes and the same or the new conversations that seal and then open the the goodness of these days of mid-life.

And so much more.

The sky calmed around us. The groans and the soft prayers and the anxious conversations acquiesced to talk of flight connections and business deals. Books reopened. Laptops awakened. Cabin lights dimmed.

We landed.

I offered thanks, but didn’t allow the gratefulness to wane as I made my way to the rental lot and took the rainy drive to my hotel in this great city.

I don’t know how long I will walk and ride and and row and hold hands on this planet. I know I am making my peace and learning about it at the same time. I know love and I offer it back. I find life more mysterious and wonderful and interesting and live-able than in all the years before.

Bring on the storms. We land!


Sean’s Blog: Pompous and Circumstance

I watched my recordings and news recaps of the Pope’s visit to New York City well into the morning hours . I finally dozed off, I had a dream. More of a nightmare really. Vivid though :). In my dream Pope Francis met with Donald Trump just after Trump said to John Boehner, “You’re fired.”

Trump:
“Yo. Give me a high-five. I mean the highest five. Get it?”

Pope Francis: (obliged and then turning to Vatican Security detail).
“Please get me a handi wipe.”

Security Detail (offering handi-wipe to the Pope):
“Here you are, your Holiness.”

Trump:
“Thank you. Oh, sorry, I thought you talking to me?”

“Frank, may I call you Frank? I want to welcome you to my City.”

Pope Francis:
“It is a lovely city. The Statue of Liberty is a beautiful reminder of an open heart to needy people around the world.”

Trump:
“Yeah, I closed Ellis Island years ago. You know what happens to the neighborhood when the immigrants come in. It’s one thing to have to take them, but hell—oops, excuse me—it’s another to have a whole island that actually invites them.

Trump:
“Did you enjoy offering mass at Trump Tower last night?”

Pope Francis:
“I’m sorry, I offered mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.”

Trump:
“Of course (winking) I guess it’s P.C. to call it that. I bought it years ago. Got a great foreclosure deal. I wanted to do the right thing though and kept the look and the vibe. The condos above the Baptistery and alongside the sanctuary brought in over 3 million a pop. The Baptistery is a hot tub after visiting hours.”

Pope Francis:
“Oh, I wasn’t aware. Well, thank you for opening it to people gathered for worship.”

Trump:
“Oh, that was just one of my staff meetings. But they were glad to see you there too. I added you to the agenda.”

Pope Francis:
“I particularly enjoyed speaking to world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly. Mr. Trump, can you just imagine what good we could do by moving the hearts and minds of leaders in one hundred and ninety three member states? We could make a difference in poverty, inequality, world peace, and so much more.”

Trump:
“Yeah, well, when I become King…I mean President…at this point it’s just a formality, I’m planning on legislation requiring each state leader speak english. I mean, we do host this thing and I just think it is kind of rude not to speak the King’s english—no pun intended—when on our soil, you know? Plus, the cost of all of those translators…

As a matter of fact, your own english isn’t all that great, your Popishness. No offense, but I would have expected more.

Pope Francis:
“I will try and do better.”

Trump:
“And, another thing, I want to apologize for the little felon that jumped the barrier along your parade. You know, had I been in charge my big wall along the border would have stopped her and her parents from stepping foot here to begin with. Then, I would have had walls along all the streets high enough to prevent these breaches during visits from my guests.”

Pope Francis:
“Do you mean little Sophia, the precious one who ran to see me with gifts and a hug and a message of love?” I asked to have her come to me.”

Trump:
“Oh, I thought she was trying to smuggle something through your Papamobile, or whatever it’s called. In any case, that little rug rat should have been holding immigration papers, not a letter. What has happened to kids these days?”

Pope Francis:
“This has been an interesting visit, Mr. Trump. Thank you for the latte and the signed picture of you.”

Trump:
“Oh, of course. And next time you’re in town let’s put our heads together for a book. We could sell millions. I’m thinking we could call it The Art of the Heal. Clever, eh?”

Pope Francis:
“Peace to you. Christ our Lord loves you and so do I.”

Trump:
“Of course you both do. Everybody loves me.”


Sean’s Blog: This cloth in the wind

I’ve read and listened. I’ve been amused. I’ve been saddened and disgusted. I’ve been reminded of the flaws and the possibilities of us humans. All over the conversation about a flag. A symbol. An iconic reminder of a time and a shared value…albeit a sick one.

Finding a seat in the bleachers has offered the opportunity to hear the ludicrats and armchair philosophers and their positions. Mine isn’t right or wrong I suppose, but it’s mine.

Whether inductive, deductive, Socratic or other employed methods of inquiry or reasoning, or if wrapped purely in circumstantial evidence, I have found there to be a striking relationship.

Mine began as a 7th grader at Rosenwald Jr. High School. A new student arriving mid-year, an Air Force brat having lived in California for the previous four years and in central America before that. Two days into school I was introduced to the social cancer of racism. I was surrounded at my locker by four guys in flannel shirts, jeans, boots, and, yes…caps with a confederate flag on 3 of the 4. The spokes-boy said they were gonna kick my ass after school because I sat at lunch with “that nigger girl.” My new friend, Angela, had welcomed me when I walked into my first class. I was grateful. Upon arriving in the cafeteria I saw and her friends. I approached and asked if I could sit and join them. She offered an awkward and coy smile, looked around and said, “Sure.” It never crossed my mind in my thirteen years of life that this would be seen as a crime of treason.

Sure enough, as promised earlier in the day and dismissed by me, three of these guys turned a corner as I exited the building toward the bus line. They pushed me against the wall by the tennis court and punched and kicked me for about 10 seconds before running—like the cowards they were. I survived and filed no report to the seemingly apathetic “teacher” first on the scene. The bus ride home was filled with confusion and anger over a new found social norm I had just discovered. While my memory clouds a little more these days then at those times of youth, I don’t recall any of these junior high militia members punching me in the name of States rights or tariff objection.

The behaviors and the attitudes continued through my years in this North Florida city, often perpetuated by a group of four-wheeling, hell-raising kids whose sense of identity was proudly displayed by the rebel yells, the after market mufflers—a four wheeler’s version of Viagra—and yes, a confederate flag tethered to an antenna or its likeness on the front bumper plate.

The tension was always there. It seemed to pause for a time among the athletes. There was a kind of jock armistice during football and basketball season. In a some situations, the players who tackled, dribbled, shot, ran, huddled, and practiced together became friends. Some changes of heart occurred before my eyes. Those brave souls would most certainly be given some grief over the repeal of their prejudiced convictions. Courage mixed with logic will always be a powerful brew.

Larry Wilmore, host of the Nightly Show is certainly not a politician or an historian. He is not fanatic activist. He is a humorist, a black man, an informed citizen in a position to offer information from a place of passion and actual facts. He offered some of the most important—and largely absent from the media—facts about this banner waving. The following excerpts were pulled from wsj.com.

“For the record, the Confederate flag is not a proud symbol of tradition or heritage, it’s a symbol of oppression and intimidation. That’s not my opinion, that’s an objective fact.”
Wilmore used quotes from Confederate vice president Alexander H. Stephens’s March 21st, 1861 “Cornerstone speech,” which stated that the Confederacy was based on “the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man” to help get his point across: “You don’t get clearer than that,” stated Wilmore.
The “Nightly Show” host also called South Carolina on its “heritage” argument, because the Confederate flag had only been flying over the Statehouse since 1961 – “to mark the centennial of the Civil War, and, coincidentally, right around when the black people started with the wanting of the civil rights.”
If that wasn’t enough to convince people otherwise, Wilmore brought it home with his closing remarks: “In 1961 [the flag] was a reminder to black people that they should know their place. It has always been used as a symbol of intimidation and terror. And that’s what it remains today. In fact, because displaying the swastika is illegal across much of Europe, skinheads and neo-Nazis often adopt the Confederate flag in its place. It’s such a racist symbol that it does double duty as the backup racist symbol for another racist symbol!”

If there were no flag, what remains a strong spirit of the confederacy represented in this banner of bars and stars. I’ve seen it, felt it, heard its voice and just as loudly the silence of many under its streaming. This was not limited to my days as a teen in a Florida school. It was as recent as a few years ago while living in Savannah, Georgia. A beautiful and historic city. Good, God-fearing people. Charming and mysterious. Steamy and stocked with a full cupboard of culture. From my earliest days in this place I struggled with a clear sense that there remains a “way things are” environment of quiet and sometimes stark segregation. Less though with proximity (although it is there too) than an “understanding.” Of course there were the usual suspects of diversity and inclusion efforts; policy and reforms; enlightened leaders and citizens; and pockets of progress—however defined. But the separation and complacency with where each “belonged” was both disturbing and sickening for me.

Free speech aside, I just wonder if something—an icon, a relic, a symbol, a flag—serves as much a reminder of pain and sadness and oppression, why not just remove it from stages that suggest it is worth celebrating?

I know is this: Racism is a choice. It may be culturally founded. It can be just as easily cured as it was contracted. As I have written in this space before, I saw it happen before my eyes in a little house in Panama City. My grandmother, a lifelong bigot whose daily use of the proverbial “n” word was a source of great tension with me and the rest of my family, was single-handedly and single “huggingly” released from her prejudice by my dear friend James Lyles. He was introduced to her in the living room of my home. He wrapped his arms around her and said, “Granny!” In a moment, in a flash of perfect humanity, she found a friend and a symbol of what is right in this world. She loved this good man to the day she died an spoke of that moment many times.

We have these choices to make. Honoring our heritage is one thing. Promoting it, celebrating it as if its intent can somehow be washed from the color, is a moral felony. I hope the attitudes and motives of that awful time in history change sooner than later. In the meantime, draw down this cloth in the wind.

Sean


Sean’s Journal: Time sighs

The moments became hours and they turned to days and months and years.

I missed a lot of them, justifying absence through noble pursuit of giving them “more than I had.” Looking back, what I had wasn’t so bad. My house through junior high and high school was (and remains) a 1500 square foot, 3 BR, 2B house with a garage and a little dining room and an added porch. I had no idea we weren’t rich. Perhaps that is because, we were.

Logan’s firsts were many. Some I experienced through pictures and tales. Others as a participant. A fan. First days in class; baseball and soccer and football games; wrestling matches and theater; guitar and song writing; holidays; proms and graduations and spring breaks; pinning and patches and salutes and ceremony; a toast with a single malt. Movies and movies and movies. Talk about everything and anything. Through all those firsts and seconds and others, I cried and laughed. I lost my breath a few times. I held my tongue and I also lashed out. I shared and cheered and defended and stayed silent every now and again.

Then, this day. This glorious day of sealing a life with a love and a promise. The plan was set. I was to walk out from the little chapel holding room with Logan and Will–the pastor and friend. We were to exchange words and an embrace or a handshake (whatever) and I would find my place at the alter area behind the wedding party to sing for them in a duo with my sweet daughter, Chelsea. We walked out on time, paused, we exchanged a strong hug and he said, “Thank you Dad…for everything.” The two steps up and short walk to my place might have been miles. Time moved in slow motion.

I looked at my guitar sitting on the choir bench. It was my bearing point. “Focus, Sean. Focus.” I walked toward it and sat on the oak bench with its light blue covered cushion. It hit me like no other time or event or moment or milestone. He was about to be…off…away…for real, this time. I wasn’t ready for that feeling and definitely not at THAT moment. Suddenly, the words and the chords to the song we were to sing left me. My eyes welled up and I smiled. I looked down at Chelsea as she stood so beautifully as a bride’s maid. She smiled at me with an affirming and empathetic smile.Jenny and Logan Out 1

The anxiety of loss quickly turned to joy for a moment–THE moment. The words returned. My hand stopped shaking. There was a prayer and and selected passages and then personalized exchange. Chelsea, on cue, stepped up next to me. We smiled at each other and sang the song of our life. The strings flowed. Her voice was majestic. I think I harmonized like we planned. Can’t say for sure. I couldn’t take my eyes off of Logan and his beautiful Jenny. Then, I would turn my eyes to Chelsea. I lost concentration and let the rehearsal take over while I felt overwhelming joy and privilege at being a part of these beautiful beings lives.

Now it has moved to a new place. This man, still my little boy, has his new place as a husband, a soldier, a citizen, and a hero to me in every sense of the word.

All my love, Logan. All my love, Jenny. My cup is full.


Sean’s blog: Cloudy with a chance of sane

Sitting on a patio reading. Early morning. It is a favorite pastime and a favorite nowtime. The way I see it, the math says I’ve got two or three more decades on this grain of sand in the ever-expanding universe. So many words to find.

My books don’t provide an escape from reality. If anything they help me put current reality in context. Will my learning make me a better and more just citizen? It is my aspiration.

The headlines don’t offer a lot of hope for a life of liberty or happiness for our little bit of space, much less for the rest of the planet. Turf wars and ideological terror consume the attention. All seem to propose a cause and effect based on their world view. A Christian sees it one way and a Muslim or a Jew another. A conservative and a liberal see different stories. A Second Amendment advocate and a pacifist contrast and conflict. Those in poverty and those with means have world views miles apart. The bifurcations abound. That is part of the problem. The world really isn’t black and white (pun intended). It is full of gray and loaded with color that changes depending on what truth is sought and what truth is “found?”

telepathy_logoI’ve landed, or at least am temporarily moored in a place where my truth doesn’t have to be yours. Yours doesn’t have to be mine. Truth—as one definition would offer—is a “verified or indisputable fact.” Not much fits here. Hell, we can have a first hand account and iPhone video of an event 5 feet in front of us, and what happened is seldom indisputable. How is one to believe that something someone wrote thousands of years ago, based on accounts passed down, and then translated into a different languages, and selected based on criteria of a committee is, in fact…fact…or truth? How does science render fiction that which we have faith in. And visa versa? We make these choices to follow an idea or a faith or a principle or a creed, sometimes blindly and sometimes informed. Our truth might come through our family or cultural traditions and beliefs. It might come through our personal learning and choice. There’s always Kool-Aid. Whatever our source, it is ours.

This dichotomous quest to make things fit in one box or another cheapens the ability of a human’s potential. We come by it honestly though. Because we seek more trivial pursuits, our belief systems are often informed by the less challenging and much quicker paths. A trendy author’s latest mantra. A Fox News anchor. An evangelist or a local pastor or priest or Imam or Rabi. A blogger or friend who has “inside information.” There’s “my momma said so.” They all have their place. Their own angle influenced by lots or very little input. I respect almost all of it. Your truth is your truth. I don’t want to hurt you because of it. Well, that isn’t exactly the truth…

During a visit this week to the Holocaust museum at our nation’s capital, I had this fantasy of personally arresting the demonic perpetrators of those crimes and putting them through their own devices…literally. Then, as my emotions moved to a lowering tide after almost five hours of immersion, I simply prayed that they and those like them would just “be no more.”

Later, walking the streets of Dupont Circle, I saw the vast colors and the wears and the expressions. I heard the languages and the rhythms and the noise of the city. I felt the tension and the promise of the democratic experiment that is ours. It was beautiful and tragic. It was anxious and so full of hope.

A few hours later, on the short ride to the theatre for an off Broadway production of Laugh, I struck up a conversation with our cabbie. Gatu—ten years in D.C. after immigrating from Ethiopia—had much to say about hope. An economics and political science student in his home country, he fled because of the corruption and the destruction of the human spirit. I asked, “What will change it, Gatu?” His reply was immediate: “We can. We the U.S.” He went on to offer his theories ranging from parameters for economic aid to more extreme measures. “When I have a congressman in my cab—and I know many—I am sure to offer my opinion.” This man came here to make a difference. His idealism is strong. His belief in what we have done and how we might help others is steadfast.

As we exited the cab on this cool and rainy night to enjoy and evening of players on a small stage, I had my own nudge back to the possibilities…a better part of ourselves.

It will not come through claims of “I’m right and you’re wrong.” It will never happen by carving a wildly diverse people into segments of ideology or other man made or natural identifiers and trying to win while another must lose. There are few indisputable facts. And “these truths” are worth exploring in order to uncover the others buried, or right in front of us all.

Sean


Sean’s blog: then school and new school

I may be getting old. But I would never consider myself old school. Each of us has our nostalgic placeholders—those “better days.” For me, the eras and decades and have their own indelible place in my journey. The games, the people, the fashion, the shows, and yes…the music.

For me, music serves many beyond a rhythmic and melodic stream for a set of earbuds. It puts life into some kind of perspective by validating or contextualizing my own experience. It is therapy. A song can reach out to me and say, “I’ve been right where you are and can say it better…or differently.” When I pick up my guitar late at night on my deck or get behind a mic at a wine bar, I grow a little. I discover something around the lyrical corner that was unexpected and good. I do play or listen just for the hell of it at times. But music generally has a purpose for me, even if a small one.

Which leads me to this morning.

Every couple of saturdays I sit down early in the morning at my favorite cafe in my little village—Rush Espresso—and order up the greatest latte on the planet and select and purchase some new music. I gravitate towards singer songwriter, R&B, Americana, Indie, and World. But I dig most all of it. This day I was looking for a new work out set…spirited and full of beat.

I opened the home page and scanned the top albums. It was then that I had a “then school” moment. Of the top 10 albums, 4 of them were labeled with explicit content warnings. I jogged to the hip-hop category and 9/10 had the same warning. In a moment of irony, the #1 album, the Empire soundtrack, has no such warning. The rest just pissed me off and I actually began to have one of the correlation arguments in my head. “And we wonder why some kids—and adults—have manners and respect and dignity erosion.” I heard my dad in my voice and in my head. Yikes!

Then I paused and faced it unapologetically. This has nothing to do with being old school or out of touch. Vulgar is vulgar; hate language is hate language; disgusting is disgusting. Every once in a while there is art to it. I doubt many will agree with me, but I have case in personal point. Eminem, to me, is and was an artist…a poet with a story that could only be told in some cases through the lens of the tragedy and pain of the Detroit streets. His experience bled through his lyric and his beat. You could feel the streets and the crime and the struggles.

The list of albums with the explicit warnings seems to be less about art and expression as falling in a cultural pattern of shock expectation. It is the iTunes equivalent of Wolf Blitzer’s “BREAKING NEWS.” This guy can’t begin a show without breaking news, even if it was breaking yesterday. The programming assumption—based on my entirely uneducated guess—is that without breaking news the average Situation Room viewer will switch channels.

A striking, but even less interesting corollary here. Most of these “artists” have cleverly found a way to offer a mechanical rhyme of explicit content to appeal to a growing herd of shock-feeding sheep. Eminem offered anger mixed with sadness and a drive to get out. Extreme as it was (and is), it had certain place among its more tame community of song. Most of the posers today offer vulgarity in order to create a revenue stream through shock and “awe-t.”

As I winded through my disappointment and wrote it off to a desperate clip in musical history, I dropped in on several artists whose vibe was up and spirited and fun and lyrical and didn’t have to go off color to make a point. What a concept. I landed on and downloaded the Empire soundtrack (the only one on the hip-hop chart without a warning) and then moved over to grab Olly Murs’s new album—which is a blast.

It’s one thing to express. Its quite something different to wrap your rhyme in crap and sell it as art. That’s not old school thinking. It’s an opinion about a troubling pattern that shadows the real artists out there who can say—and sing—what they have to say without a rating.


The price of membership

It was inevitable. The emotions and the insensitivity that holds hands with ignorance was sure to find its way to the halls of our places.

I was leaving one of our hospitals last night following a medical staff meeting. I stopped by the office on the second floor to grab my laptop. It was just after 8:00 PM. I prepared for the 100 mile drive through the cold North Carolina night.

As I approached the elevators I noticed a woman sitting on the bench in our alcove. Another peering out over the courtyard from the nearby balcony. Both of them donned in colorful hijab. “Good evening” I offered to the young woman on the bench. She mustered a polite smile and and returned with an almost inaudible, “Hello.” A tear clearly streaming as she sat, hands crossed and head down.

I approached and asked if there was anything I could do for them. “I don’t want to intrude, but can I help?”

She thanked me and said they were there visiting a brother who is very ill, but progressing day by day to a better state. Her mother approached and offered a pleasant greeting of her own.

She went on to tell me that the family in the room next to their loved one was making it clear that they didn’t like being around “Those people” and that one had just made the comment: “Do you feel good about what happened over there yesterday?” He was obviously referring to the tragedy in Paris.

Not one to confront, they turned and retreated for a moment to our little safe corner to gather their emotions and leave the sickening prejudice that found them in the hallway of our place of healing.

Sadness gripped me and my chest tightened. I took a deep breath and offered a sincere apology.” The girl said, “It’s not your fault…we get this.” That may be sadly true, but they were in my “house” and dealing with their own tragedy of a hurting loved one. They deserved to be here to be cared for AND cared about.

We talked for a moment more about their brother. They offered high praise for our nurses and doctors and so many others who unselfishly and compassionately offer their talent and heart to keep this good man here for those who so clearly love him.

In a moment of the greatest irony, the young lady said, “If I could, I would offer my scarf to cover your ears as you go into this night.” We all laughed. A brief and light moment in the midst of such pain. We parted with nice thoughts for one another.

I offered my own prayer for them as I drove the long stretch of highway to Charlotte. I prayed for his healing and for their peace and joy. I prayed for the other family that they too find their own peace and comfort as they were surely dealing with their own pain. I hoped that one day they might find that under the corporate dress, the jeans and flannel, or the hijab there are humans with common values and hopes and love.

As I wrote to another friend yesterday, morality (or lack of it) is not a product of religion, nor is it “faith-based.” A call to good may be a part of your faith or religion. To suggest that those who don’t subscribe to your belief system are any less “moral” is the stuff of the finest folklore. But humans will do what they do; rationalize their actions by associating it with some club membership.

I want to thank our caregivers—representing almost every known religion and faith—who come together inside these walls to be a part of making THIS life one that is as full as it can be. And for those same caregivers who lovingly put their arms around those whose time it is to leave and hold hands with those left to grieve. The God I know is disgusted with the terror in Paris…and wherever else it rears its monstrous head. He is just as disgusted with the prejudice offered in the name of said club membership—be it geographic, ethnic, religious, or ideology—invented by man for the sake of order and justification.

To my new friends…be well. You are good souls and I am honored that we may care for you and your family. To the many thousands of our people who show up every day for the better of person kind, I am honored to be with you.

Peace.

Sean


Sean’s Journal: “We choose life!” My talk with survivors and those who embrace an end to this season.

I greeted each patient. Each survivor. I had tables set up with fruit and coffee and juices and water. The conference room was lined with comfortable chairs and nice decorations. A gift and a fuel card, along with a “release” form, accompanied each seat. The elder ladies were dressed in Sunday dress, colorful hats, broaches, summer scarves and all manner of style.

I introduced myself and made small talk before our group chat. The heat of the day, the news of Winston-Salem, kids, and summer plans.

conversationThe conversation would soon move to the more serious. Life and death and the in-between.

This was a chance to learn and to grow our service to those who have lived with and do LIVE with cancer. These brave and open women accepted my invitation to meet and share their experiences. Some were new to their diagnosis. Others in remission. A few in late stages and terminal. They were all connected by these terrorist cells — pun intended — and all were more than willing to offer me thoughts on what we could do better and what we do so beautifully well to serve and love them through their trial.

We spoke of the science and the art of care. We talked about the technology and the skills of caregivers. We talked of processes and navigation and finance.

The conversation always circled back to what mattered most: compassion. With all the appointments, chemical “cocktails,” surgeries, radiation, specialists, locations, clinics, information and so much more, what they talked about the most was…

…hands held, stuffed Teddy Bears, blankets, kind words, tears shared, open honest conversation–filled with empathy–about choices, and our presence in the way they needed it the most.

I was left with one indelible impression. They were all, every one, grateful for the life they now have. I have been around those less grateful. This fucking disease can bring extraordinary anger and sadness. It turns idealists into cynics. It changes a person. On this day, these women laughed and held hands and compared clothing and “nipple tattoos” and moments of truth.

There I sat in all my healthy state. Thinking about the times I lament over things so inconsequential. These beautiful women stare at death. Some have stared it down. Some have looked it in the eye and resigned to meet it with grace. Others look right past it and just wait and live.

Through the laughter and tears and open conversation I learned so very much about just how right we are in our mission of medicine and compassion. I learned also what we can do to be so much better.

I honor them this morning by also being grateful. I am grateful for those who surround me with love. I am grateful for the music I get to hear and get to play. I am grateful for the woods and the water and the bikes and the boats that make them my friend. I am grateful for the words of poets…words that wake my emotions and challenge my mind. I am grateful for the years I spent with my best friend, Tybee. I am grateful for work that matters…for work that adds life, comforts, and in some cases heals. I am grateful for my health, no matter how temporary it may be. I am grateful for this day. I will use it to be a better man.


Sean’s Journal: A Human Berm

I was biking today. The weather perfect; the trails covered in riders. Experts, enthusiasts, and newcomers all dawned in gear and enjoying the greens and blues and black diamonds.

There is a really fun ramp on the southern loop. I came up on it, moving pretty quickly, and then braked to a sudden stop as I found Ryan, a kid of about 8 or 9 standing next to his bike at the base of the ramp, staring at the incline. As he considered the challenge, his head bobbed back and forth between the mildly intimidating ramp entry and the sign reading “EXPERT ONLY!”IMG_2498

His dad was on the other side cheering him on. “Ryan…it’s your call. But, if you do it, you will need some speed and keep your eyes ahead of you.”

I smiled and decided to join the party.

Hopping off my bike, I asked his dad if I could add an idea. “Sure, man.” Ryan smiled.

I asked if he knew what a “berm” was. “No,” he replied. I said, “Are you nervous about going over it”. He offered a little courageous scowl and said, “Just a little.”

“Well, you’re better than me. I didn’t go over this thing until my fifth time to it.” He looked surprised since I have a cool bike and all the stuff.

“What if there was dirt that went from the ground over there and built right up to the sides of the ramp? That’s what a berm is. Would that make it less scary?”

“Yeah, I guess,” he said. “Well, let’s pretend there is a whole bunch of dirt surrounding this ramp. Picture it. Your dad and I can get on each side and pretend we are the berm.” His dad chimed in, “Yeah…we are the dirt, buddy.” He jogged to the opposite side of me. We stood there with our arms outstretched. I kind of expected him to look at me like I was an idiot and to offer a kind of “Thanks anyway (dork).” He didn’t.

Without saying a word, Ryan got off his bike and jogged it back about thirty yards. He didn’t stop or contemplate or hesitate. He tightened his helmet, placed his feet firmly on the pedals of his Specialized 26er, and headed right at us. His dad didn’t say a word as Ryan raced to the ramp…determined…excited…eyes ahead…

“YEEEAAAAAHHHH!” Dad yelled as Ryan crested the ramp, sailed through the main flat and pulled on his back break for the descent. Ryan never looked back and headed like an X-Gamer to the next element. His dad yelled, “Later, friend,” as he jumped on his own bike and chased his young rider to the next stage.

I smiled and thought of how many things I have feared in this life. How many “ramps” were just too intimidating and prevented me from crossing the thrill and joy of the passage. For those times when the courage made its way to me, there was a berm. Usually someone, or many, who believed in me and stood at the side and cheered and ensured that the possible fall would be less hurtful because they were there.

I actually dig a bit of risk. I like the unknown. I gravitate to the trails less-traveled, even with some trepidation. There might be a reason why they are less-traveled. The idea of a berm…a friend, a love, a value, a belief, a wonder makes these risks seem safer. In some cases, inviting. I want to go to those places where discovery will lead to new wonder. I am finding them, little by little…day after curious day.