Adversity

I have never met someone who enjoyed schooling that I would see as interesting.  Adversity breeds invention, and one needs to invent the self in order to find who they are.  You are not born with a personality, but it is created in a curiously fateful way.  We are born with genes that give us talents, impact behavior, intelligence, and a physical state.  Likewise, your environment is the creation of your parents genes in the places you live, the food you eat, and the experiences you have had.  We are a combination of nature and nurture.

The introvert is part of you as well.  You are a fourth generation introvert as far as I know.  The introvert will not make you the life of the party or the popular boy.  Both of you are terribly handsome and intelligent, yet that is not what makes someone popular.  Good looks are necessary but the other is a charisma that can be stupid and cruel.  How do these people become popular you may ask?  The popular kids speak to the lowest sense of ourselves.

There is a part of everyone that likes to see someone have a bad day.  We like to see someone fall, especially if we did not when we approached that spot.  It is part of the basic human condition to elevate oneself by debasing others.  Popularity and the win is all relative and that is why the popular are not extraordinary individuals.  They simply know how to debase everyone else around them.  Their extroversion and stupidity help as they can loudly protest your worth as their feeble minds can.

You are not wrong in hearing my own debasement of their character and worth; nobody is perfect.  I have lived through the torments and issues that meekness will provide a man.  That is why you were always taught to step forward.  The safest way through is at the head even if it is against your instincts.  If you cannot make it to the head, at least try to land mid pack.

Popularity breeds in itself the mundane.  It is with adversity that we come to invent and in the process build our story.  The cruel of this world is what builds heroes. Keep that in mind as you build yourself.  If you accomplished something, what was it that inspired you?  Did you move in spite of that voice that told you not to?  That is where growth happens.  It is slow and painful, yet should be steady and celebrated.  Never stop finding your next adversity.

Savage

The Last Of the Greatest

I sit at the bedside of the greatest man I have ever known. He is of the greatest generation and that generation will be gone for me very soon. This Staff Sargent was in the army at 16 (Germany 1946), Air Force 1949 including two tours in Korea, and Air Force intelligence working under the NSA. He was twice demoted and returned to Staff Sargent for speaking out against things he did not like.

He believed in God but not religion. He was a patriot but a skeptic.  He was a tough man, but not afraid to chase his grandsons around yelling “I’m going to get me a fraggle!” He believed in solving grievances with a fist, but did not spank children ever. He loved Florida but had no use for the beach. He loved the mountains and met his sweetheart there but did not return until his 80’s. He liked good country food and just assume throw away sandwiches. A decent meal utilized utensils. He disliked extra plates. All cars should be Datsun or Nissan or at least Japanese. Knives are Swiss and tools plentiful.

As I await his passing I think on my life with him.  My father taught me solely about career, but my grandfather laid the foundation for life. I remember once I was angry and said I would hit my mother after being spanked. He had me punch a bear until my arms were tired. He told me “there it’s out now, so we can just forget about that. We never hit girls and never our parents.” “You don’t want to do that. You’re a great guy.” He began lessons like this from the time I was maybe six, which is the age of my son now. He spoke to me as an adult my whole life always explaining things simply but slightly beyond my comprehension. I find myself as I remember his words knowing this was the basis for how I teach my son.

When I had a knee infection as a child he was at the beside with me holding my hand telling me to squeeze it while distracting me from the injection I was yet again to get in my knee. He taught me patience while I was off that knee for nearly a year. We had lessons in life while swinging beneath an oak tree in his back yard. 

He taught me how to deal with bullies saying, “in a group always swing at the biggest, the rest will scatter.” He taught me when knife fighting “watch out for the little guy as he’s faster than tall guys like us” and wedge yourself in a corner if there is more than one if running did not work. Both of these he learned in Puerto Rico watching a sailor fall to some locals. He commented that the sailor died because his pants were too tight; the sailor’s uniform does not lend to weapons.  He was full of seeing simple solutions to tragedies.

He was invited to Mensa after seeing a test and mailed it in. He said it sounded like a group for bragging and had no interest in it. He never went to high school as he was the youngest child and his father died as a result of an accident on an oil rig in Texas. He had to support his mother and was also eager to kill Nazis. He made only meager money before that collecting grass seed. If he could not earn it, he hunted.

He read everything he could. He taught himself algebra, geometry, trigonometry, rudimentary calculus, astronomy, electronics, classical physics, and he studied all forms of history. I had moved him three times in his life and discarded well over 400 books he had read. Some were manuals for trades he never practiced. When asked, he said he just wondered about that and then encouraged me to read the manuals as well. He was a person of theory and did not test or build a working knowledge.

He could recall quotes and lessons from a book he had read several years earlier and the exact page it was on. No one knew of his intelligence but his grandchildren and their spouses. His eccentricities masked his underlying genius. He was never fostered around academics or I believe his scope could have been much more focused and possibly his beliefs more mainstream.  He was radical because he was isolated. He had read much of Greek literature for example but had not heard anyone pronounce the words and nearly always mispronounced foreign words.  He lived in his own head and was isolated because of life: PTSD, war, and introversion. 

As a physician, one would think I have met many great minds; yet he is by far the most intelligent man I have ever met despite 13 years of higher education. He had a superior intellect and a photographic memory that I will never match.

He gave away all money he ever had to family only keeping a few thousand for himself and relying on his pension. He gave away well over $300,000 in his lifetime. He bought a car for me while I went to college, a house for my mother giving up his own, and numerous monthly donations to everyone around him. 

He was a stoic man and an introvert. War shaped him with PTSD to avoid groups. He was a solitary man most of his life until his twilight. Assisted living made him accept community for the first time in his life. He handed over control of his life completely to me after becoming paranoid living alone in Florida. The ghosts of war never really leave you. 

I have asked myself if I could have done better. I should have see him more, brought him to the house more, and taken the kids to his assisted living apartment more. I never got to show him my property in the mountains.  I wonder if I ever told him that he was my hero. I don’t think I did until today. I hope he understood. I am a man of principles, kindness, ethics, stoicism, patience, wonder and rules because of him. I remember all his lessons right along side of great writers that have taught me so much. I know I will never be as pure intentioned as he was or as intelligent. There were no limits to how far he would go to help family. 

This is an end of a geneneration, through the days of writing this the old warrior, grandfather, and best buddy has gone. A generation that went to war for the greater good, had a career to support family, and were true men by birth. We emulate this generation of gentleman in fashion, hobbies, and mindset as a poor imitation of what they were. That is what heroes are for us though. They set an example with faults and all for us to measure ourselves against. We learn from them in youth, compare ourselves in our early adult life, and respect them when it is our turn to carry their torch. He was a man of major impact for the few fortunate people that new him. He truly was the last of the greatest.

Defeat

Medical school was a trying time. I have of course pushed you through focusing on medicine for each of you since you were two. I want greatness from both my sons. I had once looked into going into investment banking in college but looking into my future I looked at work/ home lifestyle, money, flexibility, as well as job security. They were few options but I chose wisely and have always wanted the same for you, which is why you have been steered.

There was time I came very close to quitting. I have always been an introvert and coming to the wards was difficult. Attending are usually extroverts who push you to speak in front of assemblies and conferences. There is also much constructive criticism and just plain criticism. As both introverts, you know that sometimes you just need to recharge when you have been out in public. The long days and call nights caused me anxiety with no time to wind down. This lead to run away anxiety and a desperation to escape. I became depressed and withdrawn. I decided to speak to the dean about leaving. I was ultimately given a month to think about my future and decide.

The first person I told as I had this breakdown was your mother. She was supportive and left me dignified in an empathy only a female can provide with no other words on my future. I wanted to leave town and forget this place. My father was not understanding but was panicked and rushed to force me to get better. There was only talk of ‘not good enough,’ ‘not for everybody,’ and ‘why not just keep going.’ He was disappointed and did not seek to help me but rather judge. 

I did not speak on the future for two weeks. My mind and nerves calmed. I went on anti-depressants for a few months. I broke free of Memphis and got back to Florida. I felt free but unfinished. I have an inner sense of duty and it told me to get better and get back to work. Your mother trusted that I would come to this conclusion on my own eventually. She supported until I pulled through.

I attacked the wards with an outgoingness. I spoke first and often. I did not allow myself to feel the judgement of others as I just unplugged from emotion at work. I got used to long bouts and long recoveries when I had time off. I adapted and found myself stronger for it.

During that month, I made a decision that could have greatly impacted my life. I could have quit and gone back to business, but I felt an urge to conquer my fears and win. I wanted to quit; I wanted to be absolved. Still I could not look myself in the eye in the mirror. There is an inner drive that makes you move eventually. If we strive and listen and pull together, nothing can stop your greatness. 


If you succumb to what is easy, possible, or comfortable you will find yourself a nameless faceless person as you will not recognize yourself in weakness. I had a glimpse of ultimate defeat, and I do not want to experience it again. Defeat comes not from losing, but from giving up. Losing is part of life, but defeat is a choice. You cannot be defeated if you choose to get back up. Persistence will lead to victory. I do hope this begins the path to getting your legs back underneath you when you read this one day. I know you will. 

-Savage

The Crooked Road to Success

In applying for medical school, I was in need of research as it is one of three pillars to applying for a career in medicine.  One must have exemplary grades, basic science research, and medical volunteer experience to make it through the door for an interview.  I had crossed over from a business background to biology and was therefore lacking in contacts.  I needed research fast.

My grades were always A’s throughout most my endeavors, but the other top students had greater favor with the professors. They had been around the tenured professors since the beginning, and I had been rushing through classes as I had already been in college 3.5 years at this point.  I found an evolutionary biology teacher who crossed into psychology that was willing to give me research blindly without really knowing me after he was impressed with a paper I wrote.  I was relieved and grateful as I was already prepared to beg.

Our first meeting found me in his office.  It was a dingy unkempt space with a wild smell.  He attempted to tell me what his expectations were.  I was immediately distracted by a curious brown paper bag that kept moving slightly with a scratching sound.  My mind reeled possibilities. He never looked at the bag or acknowledged that I had noticed it. He simply talked through the scratching for an hour.  Our meeting ended with a vague notion that he was interested in how hard wired self awareness was present in the brain and manifested itself as psychological oddities in the afflicted.  He did not actually give me a task but handed me a notebook full of papers and gave me an office.

In visiting the office, I found at least twenty brains sitting in jars on random shelves in formaldehyde.  It struck me that the brains were not necessarily human although humanoid.  They did not have their own jars, which seemed exceedingly strange.  I was given a computer and a meeting time one month later.

I did not use the office except to show my future wife of my rather large space.  I met with the professor once more in which he gave me nearly a completely different view of his research.  It occurred to me at this point that he was scattered and not sure of what he had told me in the first meeting.  After an hour, he struck me as possibly developing dementia.

In all, I ended up researching multiple papers on the topic and giving him a possible location for the phenomenon he was looking for.  Without any further discussion, he simply accepted what I told him and congratulated me on work well done.  He wrote an excellent letter of  recommendation and I did ultimately get accepted into medical school.  I had seen him after finishing his class and this research about a year later.  He did not look at me as if he had ever known me.

When applying for medical school, I was given an interview with a neuroscientist.  He was a Ph. D. and not an actual MD, which meant he would likely know minutia very well.  I was concerned that he might see that the research was rather vague and likely incorrect.  I did not mention at the end of the research I was convinced that his hypothesis was completely nonsense.  I discussed with the neuroscientist the hypothesis and the outcome of the research.  I was convinced that the topic I discussed was not his strong suit and he pretended to understand and show interest when he actually did not want to appear uninformed.

The point of this tale is that, when we give an account of our lives, the idea that I did research in a emerging part of a junction between neurology, psychiatry, and evolutionary science as an undergraduate sounds impressive.  Yet, the actual account is laughable and seems somewhat scandalous.  Life is like that.  Somethings are genuine.  Some are fraudulent.  When we hear of men doing great things it is important to realize that each moment is human.

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The path of even the most successful is crooked and fraught with genuine victories, defeats, and sometimes nothing more than fake showmanship.  Acquiring greatness is filled with moments less than great.  So keep in mind that no matter how long the journey seems or how difficult, it is fallible individuals that you seek to emulate.  I tell you this not to deter your journey, but to let you know that it is possible.

– Savage

Bravery and Fear

Early in high school, I believed myself a coward. Cultured stories tell us that heroes are born. Superman, Hercules, and Paul Bunyan were all born to be great and had grandeur from the beginning. I believed this for a time; there was simply nothing I could do.  So what makes a man stronger than the rest?

One cannot speak of bravery and avoid speaking of fear. Fear is not antonymous with bravery however. If one lacked fear for instance, you could not say that he had bravery. Bravery is an action in the face of fear. A coward is faced with fear and makes the easy decision. The brave man is confronted with fear and makes the right decision. So in order to be considered brave a situation that produces fear must arise and a challenge met with righteous action.

Moving from a self considered coward to one’s own hero is a difficult task. One could proclaim victory over fear without having really done anything. I think this is the way most people live.  Aesop’s fable, the hunter and the Woodsman deals with this topic where a hunter stalks a lion, but prefers to look for tracks rather than actually face the lion.  Bravery is in action not intentions.

I began by overcoming small victories that went unnoticed by all but myself. It started with a Kung Fu class. I was afraid of being hit and realized I needed to conquer it. I began learning martial arts and dealt with my fears learning that being hit is not the worst thing.  Ultimately, I realized I loved the thrill of combat. It was my first fear I purposely tackled. I dealt with a fear of rejection by dating and a fear of heights by indoor rock climbing. Overcoming fears is a practice and a way of life. You take control once fear is no longer controlling you.

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This is where bravery has a chance. A well prepared fearless mind is one that is prepared for brave acts. Bravery is not foolhardy though. There are different types of bravery. A man who is ready to fight for his family and die if necessary is one type of bravery. Another type of bravery is a man who swallows his pride and serves a boss that he does not respect for the betterment of his wife and children. It is a decision making process in the face of fear and for the purpose of righteous action is one where heroes are revealed.

Aesop has a lesser known fable, the fawn and her mother, where the ultimate teaching point is that it is foolish to expect bravery from a coward.  Although full of wisdom, I will have to say that this story was most incorrect.  We were not born to be brave.  Bravery is the outcome of a decision we make everyday to act righteously in the face of fear.  Bravery is not the absence of fear, but what great acts were are capable of in spite of them.  Become your own hero.

-Savage