Category: Health


Our monthly meeting, pre-pandemic, was for lunch and discussion. Now, we meet for 60 minutes via Zoom. Yesterday’s 20 attendees came from Alabama, North Carolina (2), Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas (the home of yesterday’s presenter).

The group began many years ago as an informal gathering of laity and clergy, skewed toward older adults. Yesterday, one attendee was 92, one was 91. We have a strong 80s contingent. We’re living into our somewhat whimsical name, the Elders.

The largest group by vocation is clergy, mostly United Methodists, but yesterday’s group included two Baptists and an Episcopalian. Present were educators, engineers, counselors, a psychiatrist, an attorney, a financial advisor, and a military retiree.

We’re exploring the privilege and challenge of rapid technological change. How can we collaborate from our various disciplines for a healthier, more humane planet? I’ll share more in coming posts. Click the link below for a brief book review.

From a Kirkus Review of The Power of Crisis, by Ian Bremmer, 2022

Big, strong, fast, acrobatic precision

It’s hard to keep up with all the bowl games. We’re down to the national championship game on Monday night. We watched UT/Clemson and Bama/Kansas State, then bits and pieces of other games. By the time the semi-finals came around on Saturday, we recorded, then fast-forwarded through the TCU/Michigan and Georgia/Ohio State games. I caught the last minutes of Tulane/Southern Cal.

We never watched the British drama series The Crown, so we’re catching up. Queen Elizabeth II was two years younger than my mom and I’m two years younger than King Charles. I grew up closer to Mayberry than Buckingham, but The Crown brings back many memories. Last night, weary of football, we opted for two episodes of The Crown in lieu of the Bengals/Bills game.

A news app on my phone alerted me that Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field in Cincinnati, was given CPR and rushed to a hospital. As of midnight, he was in critical condition. Today’s players are big, strong, fast, and acrobatic. The sport’s leadership is trying to preserve the amazing precision of athletic skill while making the game safer. That’s a difficult task.

From “More than $1 million donated to Damar Hamlin’s foundation Monday night,” Fox 19 News, Cincinnati, January 2, 2023

Humbly confident adaptability

How can we use technology for ethical, healthy purposes while limiting its destructive uses? The daunting nature of rapid change can keep us humble while we muster the confidence to face the future with adaptability that is purposeful and flexible.

John E. Kelly III, in Thomas Friedman’s Thank You for Being Late, describes three eras of computing: (1) a tabulating era (1900s-1940s), with single purpose mechanical systems to count, sort and interpret data; (2) a programming era (1950s to 2007) of computers, the Internet and smart phones; and (3) an emerging cognitive era, with the capacity to write multiple algorithms that could teach a computer to make sense of unstructured data … and thereby enhance every aspect of human decision making.

Three examples: (1) the rise, fall and re-purposing of IBM’s Watson; (2) Nick Saban’s complex “process” that adapts to changing excellence in athletic acumen and skill; and (3) the Internet of Things (IOT) via the “cloud,” a word for connected data storage systems. The insurance industry is excited about self-driving vehicles because this technology will be safer than human drivers. I’m excited because it may get here before the kids take away my keys,

From “How Champions Think: Coach Nick Saban and the Process Thinking Mental Model,” by Ryan Duffy, Knowable, April 4, 2022.

Breakthrough markers

In the “Future of Christianity” summit (mentioned yesterday), Richard Rohr said: To pass on anything that lasts, you need a healthy container. … Until the middle of the last century, we lived almost worldwide in tribal consciousness. It was easy to build a container because we lived and thought as members of a group.

But this … began to fall apart. We made too many friends, we met too many holy and healthy people outside of our container. Consciousness itself has moved beyond tribal consciousness in many parts of the world. … Pope Francis talks in a universal, nature-based, natural religion, psychologically and anthropologically astute. There’s no reason to reject that if you’re healthy. There’s no reason to react against that.

There are clearly those who want to hold onto their tribe and that’s okay. I had my tribe most of my life. I dressed like my tribe. I don’t need that over-identification anymore, and I dare say none of this group does. But we don’t hate it, do we? We don’t laugh at it. We don’t reject it. It’s quaint, and sweet, and nice, and good. But, it’s over.

Brian McLaren responded that Pope Francis wants his message to communicate with Catholics, but he wants to communicate more broadly, which can be an example for us: Going forward, we’re continuing some old tribal identities but we’re also trying to transcend them. Rohr said, We’re doing both: the particular and the universal.

Can we live authentically rooted in our particular tribe while connecting universally with others as we affirm our common humanity and embrace the best principles of our various faiths?


Waking up grateful

Today I was introduced to Kristi Nelson, the director of A Network for Grateful Living, which was the focus of “Gratitude is a Practice,” today’s Daily Meditation from the Center for Action and Contemplation. Her opening three sentences:

At 33 years old, I was diagnosed with stage IV Hodgkin’s lymphoma that had metastasized to my spine. After going through 18 months of hospitalizations, surgeries, chemotherapy, and treatments, I asked my oncologist, “When will I be out of the woods?” He answered, “You will never be out of the woods.”

The heart of her message is this:

The first few years of uncertainty and remission put the blessings of my life in sharp relief. I was in super-soak mode—every experience was saturated with new meaning, and I was absorbing it all fully. I did not know any other way to live the moments I had than to greet each one as gratefully as I could. Not sure how much more time was mine, I was awestruck by every moment, every person, and every thing.

She concludes with the reality that gratitude is a practice:

After some challenging years, dramatic wake-up calls, and my share of spiritual suffering, I came to realize that maintaining a grateful perspective is a true practice…. and it is still something I need to nurture and tend daily. . . . The practice of looking at the world through grateful eyes and with a grateful heart is an exquisite end in itself. 

I commend the entire meditation to you as great Thanksgiving weekend reading.

From a two-minute video by Kristi Nelson about why she wrote her book two years ago, Wake Up Grateful: The Transformative Practice of Taking Nothing for Granted. A more recent 11-minute YouTube video is available from Grateful Living, entitled “Grateful Voices–Kristi Nelson.”

Margaret’s wisdom

Aunt Margaret has taught me by example. She faced the searing pain of violence with steadfast love and grace. She made something positive out of that pain by learning about mental illness and volunteering work in that field.

At 91, her current challenge is living with decreasing memory. After 35 years as an independent single, she is adapting admirably to community life that must feel like communal life to her. She’s taught me that brief visits are best and it’s best to talk about memories of siblings, parents, grandparents and her time at Hiwassee College.

After a brief visit in her apartment on Saturday morning, we returned to the day room shared by 12 residents. She introduced me by saying, “This is my brother, Ray Hicks.” Ray (1922-2013) was her older brother. I was honored by the promotion. He was a WW2 veteran and a retired Marine Corps Colonel.

Margaret wrote notes to herself, many of which were quotes she read or heard. I found one of her notes this week:

Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many. Live your life and forget your age.

Spending time with children is more important than spending money on children.

From a touching 3-minute conversation with mutual respect and understanding by Scott, who suffers from memory loss, and his daughter Bailey, via YouTube

We learn from each other

The above sentence has become my mantra. Rita Clagett is one from whom I learn. She practices and teaches mindfulness. Her Morning Rounds blog post “Courage” poignantly describes a visit to her dermatologist, including this closing paragraph:

In mindfulness practice we consider relaxation to be a skill. It was only by pushing well beyond my comfort zone into overt psychological discomfort that I was able to recognize how far I’ve come in relaxing: It amazed me to realize that I used to spend much of every day enmeshed in this same level of anxiety that assailed me this afternoon. What a relief! It’s no longer a steady state for me, but only an occasional trait.

Rita eloquently personalizes a dermatological experience familiar to those of us who are privileged to live into older adulthood. We need not “spend much of every day enmeshed” in a high level of anxiety. We have the power, the agency, to move anxiety from a “steady state” to an “occasional trait.”

From “Courage,” by Rita H. Clagett, Morning Rounds, October 27, 2022

Annie, a graying lab

Hair color is partly a function of age. I went from blonde to brown to gray to white. It’s my Combs genes. Grandma Combs (nee Mullins) lived to be 104. I only knew her as white-headed. She produced a flock of white-haired descendants. It could be the Mullins genes, but all my white-haired kin are or were named Combs. Sadly, some folks don’t live long enough to experience this trichological trajectory.

I feel a trichological kinship with Annie, a black Labrador Retriever, age 19. She’s pushing the age envelope for labs. She was featured on Today. I learned about Annie shortly after spending a memorable afternoon with my aunt in her new memory care facility. My aunt’s caregivers inspire me. They understand the world of those whose memories are slipping away. Annie’s inspire me, too.

Annie’s new adopted friends were told she might have a month to live. They are now into month four and Annie is enjoying an impressive “bucket list.” Love is about helping others sing their song, or experience their bucket lists–looking beyond wrinkles, limps and trichological transformations.

From “After a 19-year-old dog was surrendered at a shelter, two best friends took her in,” by Liz Calvario, Today,

The gift of time

This morning I awoke with an appreciation for longevity. The privilege of accompanying relatives and friends through the latter stages of life has taken away my fear of old age. I’ve been inspired by those who have proactively exercised their agency deep into old age.

Later this morning I was part of an Old Testament discussion with some thoughtful, insightful souls, which included conversation about this quote from Erich Fromm’s You Shall Be As Gods:

…the Sabbath is the expression of the central idea of Judaism: the idea of freedom; the idea of complete harmony between humanity and nature, harmony among humans; the idea of the anticipation of the messianic time and of humanity’s defeat of time, sadness, and death.

My friend Marnie was intrigued by “humanity’s defeat of time….” Maybe Fromm meant freedom from the tyranny of time. We feel pressed. It may seem we have not enough time. We hurry, turning Highway 280 into the Talladega Speedway. Sabbath helps us recognize and prioritize the gift of time.

From “The Ancient Greeks had two words for time: Chronos and Kairos–the difference?Greek City Times, August 14, 2022

A verdant intersection

An intriguing intersection is where psychology and faith converge. John A. “Jack” Sanford (1929-2005) lived on a corner of that intersection. He was a Jungian analyst and an Episcopal priest. Carl Jung (1875-1961) was “a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology.” Sanford served Episcopal parishes in California for nineteen years.

I know Sanford primarily through his book, Dreams: God’s Forgotten Language (written in 1968 and revised in 1989). I was helped by his interpretation of the story of Jacob’s “wrestling” on his way back to Canaan. Sanford wrote several books about the neighborhood where psychology and faith intersect. “Mysticism” is a good name for that neighborhood.

Another Sanford book is Mystical Christianity: A Psychological Commentary on the Gospel of John. One review notes, “In his discussion of the healing stories in the fourth gospel, Sanford shows how faith is that quality of soul which paves the way for healing.” That’s a good way to think about faith. Each of us, and the whole world, benefits whenever there’s a paving the way for healing.