|Sat, Mar 08, 2014 10:10 AM
A hope noteDr. Wayne Willis reflects on life and hope.
March 05, 2014 | 10:35 AM
Eunice and Bessie were sisters. When their father died, they came into a considerable sum of money. Bessie, who was younger, let Eunice know that she wanted to do some traveling, but Eunice balked: "Dad was a saver. He would roll over in his grave if he knew we squandered his hard-earned money."
The sisters purchased a small store. During the next few years they made the store very profitable. One day Bessie suggested: "Let's close the store for a month next January and visit a resort. It might be fun using some of those cosmetics and clothes we sell. We might even meet some gentlemen." Eunice nixed the idea, explaining that they would lose loyal customers who would take their business elsewhere.
After many years, the sisters had made enough money to put themselves on easy street. "Come on," said Bessie, "let's sell the store. Let's visit Mexico and Bermuda." Eunice explained: "We can't sell now. In this economy, no one would pay us what the store is worth."
One day Bessie had a stroke and died.
Eunice never entered the store again. She gave Bessie the most expensive funeral the town had ever seen, sold the store and went into seclusion.
Several months later she asked and was granted permission to dig Bessie's casket up and fly her to Mexico. After personally supervising the reburial, she rented a little cottage not far from the grave.
Three weeks later, Eunice obtained another disinterment permit and had Bessie's body dug up and flown to Bermuda.
She bought a little bungalow on the beach. She hired engravers to etch on Bessie's tombstone two rosebuds that bracketed six words: "Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May."
Eunice and Bessie finally made it to those places they had longed to see.
Dr. Wayne Willis
February 26, 2014 | 10:36 AM
A resident in a nursing home developed a rash that itched. Word got around that she had scabies. Before long, many staff and residents who had been around her started itching and scratching. Skeptical that the rash was scabies, her physician called in a dermatologist. Sure enough, the patient had a non-contagious type of dermatitis, and, as soon as the word got out that her rash was not scabies, everyone's itch went away.
"Belief," William James said, "helps create the fact."
Just as negative beliefs help create negative facts (itching from presumed scabies), positive beliefs can help create positive facts (itching ends).
Consider the placebo. When a trusted physician prescribes a placebo, 30 percent of the time the patient gets good results. A placebo, or "sugar pill," has nothing medicinal in it. Drug companies, as a rule, don't even manufacture a medication that gets less than 30 percent satisfactory results because they know a sugar pill can accomplish that.
The classic placebo study was conducted by anesthesiologist Henry Knowles Beecher. In his 1955 paper, "The Powerful Placebo," he examined 15 studies involving 1,082 patients and concluded that 35 percent who were given a placebo got "satisfactory relief" for everything from post-surgery pain to headaches to anxiety. Belief helps create the fact.
The great teacher, Sir William Osler, was wont to tell his medical students: "What happens to a patient with tuberculosis depends more on what he has in his head than what he has in his chest."
"One of the very first things I figured out about life," novelist Barbara Kingsolver ruminates, "is that it's better to be a grateful person than a grumpy one because you have to live in the same world either way, and, if you're grateful, you have more fun."
You may be healthier, too.
Dr. Wayne Willis
February 19, 2014 | 11:25 AM
"An aged man is but a paltry thing/A tattered coat upon a stick" —William Butler Yeats
A friend asked me to visit her dying father. For the 30 minutes I was there, he coughed and sputtered and spit and wiped his nose and paced the floor and shook his head and lamented his wretched state. I left feeling thoroughly spent and, worse, fearing that my time there did him no good and even some harm. I went away feeling profound pity for an inconsolable, miserable, old, dying man.
When I read his obituary a few days later, I was dumbfounded. The pitiable old man I had known only in his death throes had once been an honorable, mighty man. He served for three years in World War II, fighting on D-Day, fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, earning the Combat Infantry Badge and four battle stars.
He came home from the war and started a family, founded a successful business that expanded to five offices, taught in a university, was elected chairman of the board for two hospitals and served as treasurer and chief fundraiser for a number of charities. He was a charter member of his church, where he served as elder, deacon, teacher and Sunday school superintendent. He served without pay as a director on the board of several organizations.
He was Tom Brokaw's quintessential "greatest generation" man who, through intelligence, love for community and Calvinistic work ethic, moved heaven and earth to improve things. But all I could see — to my discredit — was a decrepit old man.
Because of him, I am learning to see beyond labels like "aged" or "dying." I want to consider that disguised inside the most tattered coat upon the most brittle stick may be a noble, exemplary biography.
Dr. Wayne Willis
February 12, 2014 | 09:43 AM
Robert wrote to Elizabeth in January of 1845 to praise her poetry: "I love your verses with all my heart."
Elizabeth Barrett, one of England's more prominent poets, was an invalid. In her mid-teens, she had been struck down by a mysterious illness that rendered her reclusive and bedridden.
A cousin of Elizabeth, John Kenyon, arranged for Robert Browning, six years her junior, to visit in her room. There began one of the most famous love stories immortalized in writing.
In one of Robert's early visits, Elizabeth was able to lift her head off the pillow for the first time in a long time. Between visits, they exchanged nearly 600 letters. Robert kept her room populated with flowers. Elizabeth became able to sit up in bed.
Twenty months after their first meeting, they eloped, permanently leaving the polluted air of London for the warmer, cleaner, therapeutic air of Italy.
Elizabeth never saw her father again. He disinherited her, as he did all of his 11 children who married. Letters from Elizabeth to her father were returned unopened.
Elizabeth's health improved remarkably in Italy. At age 43, she was able to give birth to a son. The family of three lived happily there for 15 years. Elizabeth died in Robert's arms.
Out of that relationship came some of history's greatest expressions of romantic love. One of her "Sonnets from the Portuguese" begins: "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach." The verse ends: "I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears of all my life! And, if God choose, I shall love thee better after death."
Here's hoping you'll be able to make it a romantic Valentine's Day.
Dr. Wayne Willis
February 05, 2014 | 11:05 AM
A popular television commercial features a man wearing a suit sitting in a circle with children. He asks questions like: "What's better: Bigger or smaller? Faster or slower? More or less? Now or later?" The kids give cute, impish answers. The argument the commercial makes is that more and bigger and faster and sooner are more desirable than their opposites.
Some of us buy everything we can afford and charge the things we can't. It may only be when we contemplate leaving everything, and we picture our heirs coming in and opening our closets and storage areas and recoiling at what they're going to do with all of our junk that we realize we have too much.
The opposite extreme is represented by Thoreau, who went to the woods "to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life," or Diogenes, who lived in a barrel and owned only a cloak, a stick and a bread bag. He continued the tradition of Socrates who said: "When I go to the market and see all the wares, I think, 'What a lot of things I don't need'."
Between those out to acquire all they can and those intentionally living simply is the middle way of philosopher Goethe and his nine requisites for contented living:
"Health enough to make work a pleasure.
Wealth enough to support your needs.
Strength enough to battle with difficulties and overcome them.
Grace enough to confess sins and forsake them.
Patience enough to toil until some good is accomplished.
Charity enough to see some good in your neighbor.
Love enough to move you to be helpful to others.
Faith enough to make real the things of God.
Hope enough to remove anxious fears concerning the future."
So, children, what is better: more or less?
Dr. Wayne Willis
January 29, 2014 | 10:03 AM
"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn (control) a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects." —Robert Heinlein
Heinlein is considered one of the top three science-fiction writers of the 20th century, alongside Isaac Asimov and Arthur Clark. I'm not a science-fiction fan, admittedly a deficiency of mine, but I've come to value many of Heinlein's commentaries on life. See if there's a Ben Franklinish piece of wisdom here for you.
"You have to trust people. Otherwise you are a hermit in a cave, sleeping with one eye open."
"Between being right and being kind, I know which way I vote."
"When you're rich, you don't have friends; you just have endless acquaintances."
"A motion to adjourn is always in order."
"All men are created unequal."
"Do not handicap your children by making their lives easy."
"A society that gets rid of all its troublemakers goes downhill."
"Always listen to experts. They'll tell you what can't be done, and why. Then do it."
"Courage is the complement of fear. A man who is fearless cannot be courageous. He is also a fool."
"A man who marries at my age isn't taking a wife; he's indenturing a nurse."
"Touch is the most fundamental sense. A baby experiences it, all over, before he is born and long before he learns to use sight, hearing or taste, and no human ever ceases to need it. Keep your children short on pocket money but long on hugs."
Dr. Wayne Willis
January 22, 2014 | 01:35 PM
Last fall, on his third birthday, one of our grandsons spent the night with us. We gave him his birthday gift — superhero rubber boots — just before bedtime. He quickly put them on and was not easily persuaded to remove them before going to bed.
He and I "camped out" in a tent in our basement that night. Twice as I slept I was aware of a presence looming above me. When I opened my eyes each time, there stood a grinning Clark. He spoke not a word. He just stood there smiling, proudly displaying one new boot in each hand.
Yesterday, I spent the day grandparenting Clark on his parents' farm. The day was cloudy and chilly, and the ground saturated from recent snows. At one point, he asked and got permission to put on his coat and boots to go outside and play.
He came inside less than 10 minutes later, clearly contented. I thought nothing more about his time outside until I opened my car door to go home, and there was the record of Clark's whereabouts: boot prints, half a dozen on the driver's black leather seat and half a dozen on the passenger's seat and another dozen on the back bench seat.
No, I do not think I would have been amused if his father had done that when he was 3. And no, I would not have been happy if it had been our other car with beige fabric instead of easy-to-clean leather seats. And yes, the thought has crossed my mind that next time I go to the farm I should lock the car.
No, I have not removed the boot prints yet. Maybe this afternoon I will. Or maybe I won't.
I understand why Gore Vidal said, "Never have children, only grandchildren."
Dr. Wayne Willis
January 15, 2014 | 10:01 AM
Grace died at 89, her mind as clear and heart as loving as ever.
She grew up poor, even by Great Depression standards. Her only Christmas memory from childhood was having her little doll bed repossessed because her family could not pay for it. She never had more than two dresses at any time, one to wear while the other one was being washed.
Grace married Charlie, her one true love, and soon birthed, according to the song, "a boy for you; a girl for me." She never missed a game played by her son, who became an athletic superstar. She relished every success of her daughter, who became an academic superstar. Grace never once bragged, and she indoctrinated her children to be humble: "Just let your deeds speak for you"; "Don't ever get too big for your britches." Both children took those sayings, embodied by their mother, to heart.
Once, when their daughter took a busload of Latin students from Louisville to Nashville, Tenn., for a Greek Festival at the Parthenon, Grace and Charlie greeted the teacher and 50 teenagers, as they stepped off the bus, with cases of iced-down sodas, 100 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and tons of cupcakes.
Grace always championed the underdog. Whenever she heard someone being spoken of disparagingly, she interjected: "Well, honey, you just never know what other people may be going through."
The word grace has a beautiful meaning. It's the word for something wonderful that happens to us that we did not earn. Grace is pure, a gift, an unmerited, unsought, undeserved freebie, like the unearned gift that Grace's children got in a mother and her grandchildren got in a grandmother, the 50 teenagers from Louisville got when they stepped off the bus and I got for a mother-in-law.
Dr. Wayne Willis
January 08, 2014 | 11:51 AM
Benjamin Franklin believed in setting aside one week for the perfecting of a new habit. At the beginning of every year, he listed 52 faults he wanted to eliminate or virtues he wanted to cultivate and then worked hard on one a week.
To be realistic, perfecting a new habit is going to take most of us longer than one week, but trying on that new behavior, like a new pair of shoes, for one week, could become that difficult first step to getting where we want to be.
In Sartre's "No Exit," when the doors to hell are flung open and the captives are free to leave, no one steps out. Hell's denizens have settled in.
What keeps us in our private hells? Most often it's a shortage of courage. The word courage comes from cor, the Latin word for heart. It takes a lot of heart to take that first step out of our private prisons into the great unknown where we know something even worse could be lurking.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote: "Is there anything as horrible as starting a trip? Once you're off, that's all right, but the last moments are earthquakes and convulsions, and the feeling that you are a snail being pulled off your rock."
Courage isn't the absence of fear. Courage is defined in the Free Online Dictionary as "the ability to do something that frightens us." It's Charlie Brown working up the nerve to walk over to the little red-haired girl's house and deliver the valentine he bought her. It's little David going after Goliath with a slingshot and five pebbles. It's Moses, the reluctant leader, ordering the most powerful man on earth: "Let my people go."
John Wayne said it best: "Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway."
Dr. Wayne Willis
December 31, 2013 | 09:26 AM
"We can't go back and make a brand new start, but we can start now to make a brand new end."
Is this a piece of sophomoric, pious drivel? Surely it was written by someone oblivious to the world of suffering, someone hermetically sealed high above the fray in a comfy tower.
Actually, the writer survived three years in Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps where his father, mother, wife and brother perished; where everything he possessed got taken away and destroyed; where he daily faced hunger, cold, brutality and the second-to-second possibility of getting exterminated like a cockroach.
Following liberation by Americans from the concentration camp on April 27, 1945, Viktor Frankl dedicated the remainder of his days to encouraging people in extreme circumstances to persevere and find enough meaning in life to carry on. After "The Diary of Anne Frank," Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning" is the most bought book in Washington, D.C.'s, Holocaust Museum.
Frankl's message? "Don't expect happiness as your right. You waste your time asking, 'Why am I unhappy?' or 'What is life's meaning?' Ask rather, 'What is life demanding of me right now?' Then get busy doing it. Do good things, honorable things, responsible things, magnanimous things, and not just as means to some end. Do them just because they're right. In doing the right, you are forging within yourself the only thing you completely possess, what no one can ever take from you: your attitude."
At 90, losing his vision, Frankl told interviewer Matthew Scully that with every new physical challenge he draws a deep breath, pauses a second and then says to himself: "What I would have given then if I could have had no greater problem than I face today."
Choose to make this a good year.
Dr. Wayne Willis