Reflections Archives

The pit crew of wounded healers

What do physicians have in common with NASCAR racers? What are the 3 essential skills today’s doctors need that don’t have anything to do with medicine? Read this from the New Yorker and find out.

Why is the Republican party no longer a comfortable fit for many doctors? Why do many doctors now support health insurance mandates and no longer care so much about limiting their own liability? Read this from the New York Times and find out.

As an aside, I’m always drawn to articles like these, partially because my paternal grandfather was a physician from the 1930s-1970s, but mostly because my mother was a RN in the 1960s-70s and told me countless nursing stories while I was growing up, which were far more enthralling to me than any story book she could have read to me. I suppose it’s not surprising that while I was in high school I picked up brochures from the guidance counselor’s office about anesthesiologists, oncologists, nursing, EMTs and physician’s assistants and fantasized about those sorts of medical careers. My father worked in insurance and those stories weren’t nearly as interesting, so that wasn’t on my list of things to do when I grew up.

Somewhat ironically, the closest I ever came to working in the medical field was when I worked part-time for an insurance company, of all places, during most of the 1990s. I was a unit leader and helped make sure the claims processors did their job correctly. I was certified as proficient in medical terminology and knew the most common procedure codes and ICD-9 diagnosis codes by heart. If only I had a dime for every 401.9 (hypertension), 250.00 (diabetes mellitus), 311 (depression) or 473.9 (sinusitis) claim I processed. I haven’t worked in that field for more than a decade but still remember many of the numbers and have visions of rattling off such numbers when I’m old and can’t remember the things I did five minutes ago. “Do the doctors think I have 290.20?” I’ll probably repeatedly ask my daughters. ;-)

Anyway, as dry as all that sounds, there were times I was able to glimpse the patient behind the insurance claim. When a claims processor in my unit would come upon a difficult claim that was as thick as a doctoral dissertation, he or she would usually slip into despair because processing that claim would take so much time it would make their speed percentage plummet (claims processors had to maintain high accuracy and speed percentages or, eventually, get demoted to the mail room). As a unit leader I was exempt from maintaining such percentages so I would usually take the claim off his or her hands and process it myself.

There were a few times I discreetly cried while processing those claims because the story the procedure codes and diagnosis codes told was a medical nightmare. I would feel terrible for the patient and his or her family. I carefully read those procedure codes and DX codes as if I was reading a novel. Page after page after page the story unfolded through the numbers. I made sure to process such claims with extreme care so that the claim would be paid correctly and the patient wouldn’t receive an erroneous bill, which would only have added yet more stress to their lives. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to taking care of a patient.

So I can see why the doctor in the New Yorker article I cited above says it’s pit crews today’s patients need. It can’t all fall onto the physician’s shoulders. And as Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen said in Kitchen Table Wisdom, “We are all providers of each other’s health… we are all wounded healers of each other. We have earned the wisdom to heal and the ability to care.”


Slow Resurrection

Her small Easter. Resurrection came slowly. – Six Word Story #37

The phrase “slow resurrection” has been much on my mind the past week or two, after reading the text of an Easter sermon Rev. Dr. Victoria Weinstein posted on Facebook.

Everyone loves a dramatic resurrection story, whether it’s a story of a spontaneous remission from cancer, a runner who falls flat on her face during the final lap of a college championship race yet somehow bounces back up and not only manages to catch up with the rest of the runners, but wins the race, or an actress who catches a big break early in her career and goes on to fame and fortune.

Most of our resurrections are of the slow variety, however. The fractured relationship with a family member that doesn’t show signs of healing for years or even decades. Living on the financial edge through a lengthy bout of unemployment. The quiet, daily tending to the maintenance of a disease that will never go away.

Of the tending of diseases I have much experience. For example, ten years ago at the age of five, my second daughter gave herself an insulin injection for the first time without the slightest hesitation.

A year previous, while in the hospital after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, she screamed in terror whenever the nurse would prick her finger to test her blood sugar and give her a shot.  It was heartbreaking for me to have to answer her “Why???” questions with “if you don’t take insulin, you will die.”

Helping her get over the certainty of having perfect health, and accepting that diabetes management would require discomfort several times a day for the rest of her life, were daunting tasks. This is why my memory of her bravely giving herself a shot a year later stands out in my mind, even though there was no audience to applaud, and no one to give her an A for effort. It was a slow resurrection moment. Her life force was triumphing over her fears.

To be sure, there would be other times down the road she would be incoherent while in the throes of a high blood sugar and I would again have to trot out the “if you don’t take insulin you will die” line in order to get her to see the gravity of the situation.  Or I’d have to stand over her in the aisle of a store or other public place while she was in the midst of a low blood sugar episode, order her to drink a sugary beverage, lean over her for quite some time to ensure she drank it all, all the while drawing “what the hell is that mom doing forcing her kid to drink a Mountain Dew?” type looks from passers by.

I guess all slow resurrections are like that. They either go unnoticed or look weird to outsiders.

Come to think of it, even the dramatic Easter resurrection story shows Jesus initially going unnoticed by his disciples. The first signs of his resurrection were emptiness…the emptiness of the tomb and the empty burial clothes. Then when they ran into the resurrected Jesus they didn’t recognize Him for a while and were more preoccupied with their fishing. Even in the midst of that epic first Easter, their own personal Easters were small, as are many of ours.


Tick Tock

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Late last night I read a post by one of my favorite bloggers, Andrew Sullivan, in which he linked to living will documents for all 50 states.

This was part of an ongoing discussion of his about how it would be wise if more of us gave some thought to living wills, as it would help reduce health care costs, among other things.

I clicked on the Wisconsin living will document and felt a bit overwhelmed while thinking about which instructions to choose. I quickly closed the browser window and went to bed with thoughts of persistent vegetative states dancing through my head.

Shortly after waking up this Good Friday morning I happened upon a poem by Mary Oliver:

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

Later this morning I drove past a funeral procession that blocked traffic for a while. One of the cars had a license plate that said “TIK TOC.” How appropriate, I thought. Funeral processions are a reminder that life is tick tocking away. I recalled an afternoon when I was eight-years-old and sat down and contemplated death for the first time. I thought to myself then, “each day I’m one day closer to my death.” Tick tock. Death seemed so far away and I was more content to live in the present then.

Pascal said:

The present is never our end. The past and present are our means, the future alone our end. Thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning to be happy, we are never actually so.

Actually living vs. hoping to live… As I pondered that while running on the treadmill this morning, it became clear that filling out a living will won’t be so hard after all.

And as Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen says in her book Kitchen Table Wisdom, “Human being is more of a verb than a noun.” Be-ing vs. being. “Be — and at the same time know the implication of non-being,” said the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. That makes the living will questions easier to answer too.

I’ll close with one more quote from Dr. Remen:

Death has been referred to as the great teacher. It may be the great healer as well…All life paths may be a movement toward the soul. In which case our death may be the final and most integrating of our life’s experiences.


There, there you poor super rich people

Image and video hosting by TinyPicIs there anything harder to have sympathy for than the burdens of the super rich? Yet I keep stumbling across articles about how the super rich have lots of anxieties and problems these days.

According to a recent survey by Fidelity of 1000 millionaires, 42% of them don’t feel wealthy. Because their investable assets total “only” $3.5 million, perhaps their anxiety is understandable, so surely the super rich (those with assets of $25 million or more) have it easier?

Not according to the article Secret Fears of the Super Rich in the current issue of The Atlantic.

A super rich person’s closet of anxieties is stuffed to the gills, according to this article, which analyzes a study of 165 super rich households, who average a net worth of $78 million.

Here are some of their anxieties:

They are frequently dissatisfied even with their sizable fortunes.

They do not consider themselves financially secure. I can’t resist quoting this example:

One respondent, the heir to an enormous fortune, says that what matters most to him is his Christianity, and that his greatest aspiration is “to love the Lord, my family, and my friends.” He also reports that he wouldn’t feel financially secure until he had $1 billion in the bank.

Consumption becomes so commonplace that it loses all psychological benefit.

They have lost the right to complain about anything for fear of sounding ungrateful.

They are expected to give really good presents.

They worry about screwing their kids up and that their kids will lack the motivation to work hard and will lack empathy. Their #1 anxiety is their children.

They know many despise them or envy them. According to one of the researchers:

Often the word rich becomes a pejorative. It rhymes with bitch. I’ve been in rooms and seen people stand up and say, ‘I’m Bob Kenny, and I’m rich.’ And then they burst into tears.”

Relationships with people with little wealth are difficult for them, and efforts to keep up with people even more rich than they are often leave them financially depleted.

Not having to work for a living is often a curse – their co-workers resent them for taking a job a less affluent person could have and if the don’t work their days have less meaning.

Then there’s all the complications of romantic relationships. “Does he only love me for my money?”

Are you going, “there, there you poor super rich people” yet? Neither am I.

The super rich have the option of giving away much of their money if it’s such a burden to them. The poor do not have such a quick fix for their problems.

It’s fun to imagine a reality show like those hoarding shows, except instead of the hoarding of household stuff, it would reveal how much money a particular person is hoarding and show what could be done with that excess money instead.

While accepting the Nobel Peace Prize ten years ago, former President Jimmy Carter said that the greatest problem of the 21st century is the growing gap between the richest and the poorest people on earth. Citizens of the ten wealthiest countries are now 75 times richer than those who live in the ten poorest ones (contrast that with the early 1800s when the gap between the wealthiest region of the world and the poorest was four to one).

The results of this disparity are root causes of most of the world’s unresolved problems, including starvation, illiteracy, environmental degradation, violent conflict, and unneccessary illnesses that range from Guinea worm to HIV/AIDS.


But tragically, in the industrialized world there is a terrible absence of understanding or concern about those who are enduring lives of despair and hopelessness. We have not yet made the commitment to share with others an appreciable part of our excessive wealth. This is a potentially rewarding burden that we should all be willing to assume.

Now that’s a burden worth carrying and one all of us can share, not just the super rich.


Deceased yet Consolation

It’s something of a coincidence that this week, of all weeks, my 8-year-old daughter had to master the pronunciation of the words “deceased” and “consolation.”

Today, which is also coincidentally the day 9-year-old Christina Taylor Greene was laid to rest in a casket handmade by monks in Tuscon, AZ, it was my daughter’s responsibility to stand at the lectern of the Catholic church associated with the school she attends and read the petition for “consolation” and “for all the deceased” during the morning mass.

She landed this gig a week ago after playing Rock/Paper/Scissors with the neighbor boy, who also wanted to read this petition. She won and had been elated about that ever since, working carefully with me every evening to make sure she pronounced “consolation” and “deceased” correctly, over and over again.

A perfect refrain for the week, as it turns out.

She recited the petition perfectly this morning and I thought of Obama’s speech last night (perhaps the first time I’ve ever been deeply moved by a presidential speech) and the part where he said we see ourselves and our children in the victims:

For those who were harmed, those who were killed – they are part of our family, an American family 300 million strong. We may not have known them personally, but we surely see ourselves in them. In George and Dot, in Dorwan and Mavy, we sense the abiding love we have for our own husbands, our own wives, our own life partners. Phyllis – she’s our mom or grandma; Gabe our brother or son. In Judge Roll, we recognize not only a man who prized his family and doing his job well, but also a man who embodied America’s fidelity to the law. In Gabby, we see a reflection of our public spiritedness, that desire to participate in that sometimes frustrating, sometimes contentious, but always necessary and never-ending process to form a more perfect union.

And in Christina…in Christina we see all of our children. So curious, so trusting, so energetic and full of magic.

So deserving of our love.

And so deserving of our good example. If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost.


Imagine: here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation’s future. She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.

I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us – we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.

After my daughter read the petition, the priest addressed a recent conflict at the school by encouraging the kids to not lash out in anger when hurt, to instead seek healing and to help heal others. That, along with Obama’s speech, are small steps in the direction of consolation, along with the stories of the acts of heroism that occurred during the shooting.

My daughter doesn’t really yet know what the reality of being deceased means,  as she hasn’t lost a loved one. She can pronounce “consolation” now but has yet to express it or experience it at a deep level.  When that day arrives, I hope, along with Obama, that this country really will live up to her (and all our children’s) expectations and that she’ll have reason to say, “We are so blessed. We have a good life,” like Christina used to say to her mother.

Memory Eternal, Christina, Dot, Dorwan, Judge Roll, Phyllis and Gabe.


In protest of the high level of toxins in our civil discourse

In the chatter in my Twitter, Facebook and Google Reader feeds I’ve noticed very few posts about the shooting in Tucson AZ, other than reports from news outlets.

This doesn’t seem right, so I thought I’d post here about it.

Perhaps it’s far too easy to dismiss this as the lone act of a lunatic. Or, if you’re a conservative, to blame the harsh rhetoric of leftist sites like Daily Kos or, if you’re a liberal, to blame Sarah Palin’s “reload” rhetoric.

So far the worst statements I’ve heard are from Fred Phelps, a former three time Democrat gubernatorial candidate. Today he praised the act of the shooter and announced he plans to disrupt the funeral of nine-year-old Christina Greene the same way he disrupted Elizabeth Edwards’s funeral last month. This is beyond horrifying.

Rev. Dr. Victoria Weinstein, a Unitarian minister in Massachusetts,  gave a sermon today about the shootings and posted it on Facebook. I’m posting excerpts of it here because I think it gives us much to think about (the complete text is here):

…The evasion begins almost instantly. “We don’t know if this is politically motivated,” I see written in many places.  What a strange thing to say, I think.

Whatever Loughner’s political affiliations or ideas are — and as of this writing I don’t know — his crime was most certainly political.  Politics does not mean merely one’s party affiliation and policy-making. Politics comes from “polis,” Greek for “city,” for a group of citizens. Politics is what we do in public, how we behave in the act of living together as citizens under one government.

There is almost no public act I can think of that could not be construed as political. Everything we bring to public attention is political.

…Undoubtedly trying to inject some perspective and calm into the mounting furor, MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow says, early on in the evening, “There is nothing to be gained from speculating on the motives and affiliations of AZ shooter without facts.” I disagree.

…I feel that America is in a schoolyard fight, behaving at barely above a toddler level of maturity but with much more serious weapons and power.

Just like most people watching the story unfold, I think I know what the problem is. I have my theory just like everyone else does.

My theory is that society has long ago declared open season on decency and that we are becoming ever more addicted to and enthralled by the gladiatorial style of interaction that inevitably ends with a shot to the skull at point-blank range, bodies in the street.

… We have accepted –and accordingly become desensitized– to the blood sport of hate and violence-promoting sound bites on talk radio, television and the internet.

To win the sport one must land on the front page and promote one’s an agenda through the nastiest means necessary.

What I decry as most immoral and despicable about this sort of rhetoric, this violent play, is that it is deeply cynical. It is coldly, intentionally manipulative, engineered by strategists, funded by big money interests, and unleashed on a public that actually has some heart left, some emotional connection to the fate of our nation and its people, and who do not see that we are being played by cynical opportunists who exist in a rarified realm of power and influence that we naively hope or believe might concern itself with the actual common good.

Cynical manipulation of the public – something I believe has a profoundly upsetting effect on unstable minds like that of Jared Lee Loughner —  is becoming more and more prevalent in our age because it is working. It works for the left and the right. It is a huge moneymaker for the news media, which once had journalistic standards including a commitment to objectivity that has not existed for several decades.

This cynicism is soul-killing.

What particularly galls me this Sunday morning is that these cynical manipulators are counting on me, and other American clergy,  to call for peace today, to call for quiet reflection, prayer and mourning, to call for remembering the families of the slain and the wounded, keeping our mouths shut and focus on our “flocks” (note the connotation of sheep!) while they take care of big, important things.

Shut up and pray, is really what they’re saying. Keep your minds in the stuff that happened thousands of years ago.  Don’t make connections between religion and reality.

But who will speak for the soul? asks Diana Butler Bass.

Exactly. The soul is at stake here.  The soul of a nation, in this case, which is worth fighting for, and fighting about, with as much passion as we can muster.

…In the Green Movement, we have a form of activism that recognizes how harmful toxins in the environment are for our health: We protest harmful additives to our food, we have outlawed lead paint and remove asbestos from buildings. We test for automobile emissions and don’t allow cars on the road that are unsafe or that emit more than an acceptable level of gasoline vapors.  It is time for a form of activism that protests the level of toxins in our civil discourse and that imposes public disapproval, shame and consequences for offenders.

For too long, good people have kept their complaints to themselves or their close circle of friends, fearing to be labeled “politically correct.”

Political correctness concerns itself with sensitivity to language and with inclusion. Not only should we be totally unafraid and unconcerned with being labelled politically correct — who cares!?– I think we need a communal and all-inclusive movement that ramps it up a few notches. Call it the Civility Movement. Call it the CCD. Citizens for Common Decency.  Call it something catchier than that — have a bunch of fascinating, funny, entertaining and impressive people promote it.  Set up something more attractive and sexy and exciting to counter the hate and trash and violent talk.

Bring respectful conversation back, call the folks who are so horrified and disgusted by the ugliness and ignorance and cynicism of the current discourse back to the table… and expect this movement to make absolutely zero profit for anyone.

Who is willing to make that kind of investment?

Who indeed?


Autumn Meadow Missive

On Wednesday the temperature was in the 60s.

When you live in Wisconsin you don’t tend to take 60 degree November days for granted, so I determined to spend some of it outdoors, figuring this might be the last 60 degree day for months.

I decided to take a walk in the meadow at Aldo Leopold Nature Center. I hadn’t been there for a couple of months and looked forward to a mosquito-free walk.

In recent years I’ve realized I prefer rustic trails through woods, meadows and prairies over pristine gardens, like those at Olbrich.

This was made apparent to me a couple of years ago while gazing at an extraordinarily large and elaborate backyard flower garden. There literally wasn’t a weed anywhere. No visible dirt either. The lack of weeds was so distracting I couldn’t see the flowers for the lack of weeds.

The flowers were nestled atop beds of mulch. The gardener told me he adds a few dozen bags of mulch to the flower beds every month during the spring and summer.

I dunno… as beautiful as the flowers were, it seemed unnatural for all of them to sit in flower beds with no dirt or weeds in sight, just the mulch. Give me unkempt flora over the pristine kind any day.

Then again, I’m one who favors a purple yard, so you may want to take my opinion on such matters with heaps of salt.

Anyway, I set out for the meadow, with fantasies of a nice stroll through the meadow one last time this fall. I thought perhaps the colors would be similar to those in the painting at the top of this post. (I know. Silly me.)

I’m sorry to say I didn’t even set foot in the meadow. As I approached it, the grass looked scorched and uninviting. I didn’t hear any birds or honking geese. I realized then that fauna is as integral to the meadow experience as flora, which is another reason I prefer meadows to pristine flower gardens.

Like the recent time change, the autumn meadow was too much of a reminder of the approaching winter.

Speaking of winter, in a fit of optimism a few weeks ago I actually pondered the possibility of acquiring used snowshoes so I could snowshoe in the meadow during the winter. (I know. What was I thinking? I hate the cold.) But I fully expect my next meadow missive won’t be until next spring where, I hope, there will be white-throated sparrows waiting for me.


The best kind of trouble you can get into

It’s been said a good ad/sermon/speech should “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.”

This podcast succeeds on both counts.

It’s a sermon called “Thank You For Talking To Me: Encounters on the Street” by Rev. Victoria Weinstein, a Unitarian minister in Norwell, MA.

I’ve never met her (I follow her on Facebook and read her blog) and this is the first time I’ve heard her speak. It doesn’t matter what religion you follow (or even if you’re atheist) – I think you might find this thought-provoking as well.

I’ve told a story before about how I tried to stop my daughter from giving money to a homeless person and, fortunately, my effort failed.

I’ve almost always hesitated in giving money to a beggar. My justification for not giving them anything is based on the assumption that they will just waste the money on drink or cigarettes.

It didn’t occur to me until reflecting on Rev. Weinstein’s words that we so often feel a sense of responsibility toward a beggar we don’t know (“I don’t want to encourage his drinking!”) but don’t feel this same responsibility toward people we actually know and care about.

For example, we don’t want a homeless person to have a drink on our dime, yet we probably don’t hesitate about bringing a bottle of wine to a social gathering or family holiday dinner when we know at least one alcoholic will be in attendance.

We hesitate about handing over cash to a homeless person for fear they will spend it on something other than food or shelter, yet when we slip cash in a graduation or birthday card we don’t stop to wonder if the person will spend it frivolously.

When asked to bring a casserole to a sick neighbor we don’t tend to say, “She brought that sickness on herself, so if I bring her a casserole, it will only enable her and not teach her to take better care of herself.”

I recall back when I was in college 20+ years ago and took the train home from somewhere. The station was about 30 minutes from my home in Madison. Due to a miscommunication there was nobody at the station to pick me up.

I approached a middle aged couple at the station and asked if they were driving to Madison and, if so, could they give me a ride?

The woman looked at me and said, “Sure, as long as you don’t have any drugs in your backpack!”  I was a clean-cut looking college kid and was taken aback at being sized up so incorrectly. I wanted to say, “No, but there’s a Bible in my backpack!” but didn’t.

I managed to chat companionably with her during the ride to Madison. As I got out of the car she apologized to me for her earlier comment, which I appreciated. It’s a tiny example of how we easily become suspicious of a stranger who asks us for assistance. I’m sure I’ve done the same thing a bunch of times.

Rev. Weinstein says the best kind of trouble you can get into is getting pulled into other people’s messes and helping them out of it.

Last summer she helped a homeless beggar in DC who approached her. After treating him to lunch and encouraging him to take better care of himself, he admitted that he drank to much and was in his sorry circumstances because he was “lonely and scared.” Rev. Weinstein admitted to him that she likes interacting with beggars because she is lonely and scared too.

She realized she (and all of us) are really no different than the beggar. We just can’t admit it most of the time and refusal to give to a beggar might be more about refusal to acknowledge our real selves than it is refusal to acknowledge the beggar.

Anyway, don’t let all my blabbering detract you from listening to her podcast. It’s 20 minutes long. If time is short, begin at the 10 minute mark.


One day last week while walking my daughter home from swimming lessons at the pool, a 5 or 6-year-old girl biked past us on the sidewalk, politely saying “Excuse me” as she confidently whizzed on by.

She was wearing a swimsuit and shorts and had clearly just come from the pool too.

I noticed that no other kids were with her and there wasn’t even a parent in sight!

My mind immediately flashed back to the early and mid-1970s, when I and the other kids in the neighborhood routinely rode our banana seat bikes all around the neighborhood…and beyond.

Ahhhh, banana seats. Remember those? My bike was early-1970s shades of green and yellow with a floral banana seat, white basket and streamers coming out of the handlebars.

Eventually I ditched the basket and streamers and swapped out the floral seat for an edgier black one, so I could fit in better with all the boys in my neighborhood.

Of course I coveted my cousin’s green Schwinn banana seat bike because it had five speeds and one of those cool stick shift things, like this:

I also liked those seats with the high chopper style bars in the back:

Anyway, back in my day, a young child riding a mile home on a bike from the pool would’ve been completely routine.

Now it’s not normal at all.

So I silently cheered this little girl. Kids from the Millenial generation are the most over-parented kids ever so I thought that maybe there’s hope after all. There’s at least one girl out there who gets to taste the same independence we middle aged folks (and older) did at that age.

She continued to bike down the street and, eventually, I noticed a car slowly pull up and drive alongside her.

The girl reached the intersection, turned right, and the car kept slowly following her.

Oh oh.

Was she being followed?

As it turns out she was… a parent eventually got out of the car. Alas.

Kudos to the parent for at least letting the child experience that much independence (I haven’t done that much). And, like any parent, I, too, haven’t ever let my kids bike alone at that age. Sigh.

The book Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry) talks about this phenomenon.

The author let her nine-year-old son take the subway home alone in 2008 (something that was routine in the 1970s and 60s) and caught so much flack about it she ended up on national TV shows defending herself.

She gives all kinds of statistics that show how crime rates are lower now than they were in the 1960s and 70s yet parents today marinate in anxiety.

She even shows how if you actually wanted your kid to be abducted and put him in your front yard in the hopes that someone would snatch him, it would be more than 700,000 years years before someone would come along and take him.

Here’s a map that shows how much kids’ freedom to roam has been reduced over the generations.  An eight year old boy in 1919 often walked alone to his favorite fishing spot six miles away. Fast forward to 2007 and his eight year old great grandson is only allowed to walk 300 yards away from home alone:

There are all sorts of things to blame for our anxiety – things that didn’t exist a generation ago: 24 hour cable news shows, the stories that circulate on the internet making us more aware of every crime out there, true crime shows and shows like Law & Order, etc.

Last week I spotted a banana seat bike in an antique store that was in terrific shape. I’m tempted to buy it for my six-year-old. If we can’t bring back free range kids, maybe we can at least bring back the banana seat?


Surrender as an active verb

Surrender is an idea that has become debased.

So says Brian Eno who, in addition to being one of Britain’s most creative artists, has been a record producer to the likes of Coldplay, David Bowie and U2 (my favorite band).

As a society we tend to reward control. Control is what we think successful people are all about.

But surrender? That’s what we do when we just cave in to something, defer to someone with more talent or authority than us, or treat as a luxury at the end of our career when we retire and kick back, right?

Eno thinks that’s all wrong and makes the case for surrender as an active verb:

Control and surrender have to be kept in balance.That’s what surfers do – take control of the situation, then be carried, then take control.

In the last few thousand years, we’ve become incredibly adept technically. We’ve treasured the controlling part of ourselves and neglected the surrendering part. I want to rethink surrender as an active verb. It’s not just you being escapist; it’s an active choice.”

Because Eno produced U2’s most recent album, No Line on the Horizon, and because that album has a song called Moment of Surrender, I couldn’t help but revisit that song to see if there are clues there in how to make surrender an active verb.

Vision Over Visibility

“Vision over visibility” has been U2 singer Bono’s motto for a long time. That phrase makes its debut in the Moment of Surrender song: “At the moment of surrender/vision over visibility.” He also sings about the desire “to be released from control.”

Vision over visibility is the moment when you see the place but can’t see yet how to get there.

It’s an insistence on looking past what you can see in favor of what could be. That’s surrender as an active choice.

Pack Your Suitcase

OK, so I couldn’t help but wrap this up by quoting from another U2 song, Walk On:

“We are packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been; A place that has to be believed to be seen.”

That’s active surrender too.

Walk on. Might as well rock on, too, while you’re at it.