Sunday, January 22, 2012


I read this morning on Yahoo that Joe Paterno had passed.

Besides making me think about this great coach who, annually, took his team to prestigious games and won some remarkable games--(beating Miami when they were loaded in 1987 stands out)--I am thinking this morning about the connections between emotional and physical health.

We know from nothing about so much. Who would have predicted ten years ago that I could be typing on a machine without a wire and will be able to, whenever I so choose, broadcast my words to whoever anywhere on the Globe is interested in reading what I write. One hundred years ago who could have imagined phenomena we take for granted: air travel, television, superhighways, youtube.

Joe Paterno, aka JoePa to his supporters which numbered hundreds of thousands, was abruptly fired during the middle of this past football season. Tarnished not because of his own deeds, but because an associate has been accused of being a pedophile. According to detractors Paterno reported this only internally and should have done more to arrest the behavior of his associate.

It is difficult for me to imagine that one could work with another for ten years and not be aware of someone's predatory habits. Yet I have heard stories about couples who are astounded to discover something about their sleeping partners that is shocking and reprehensible. So maybe it is not beyond possibility that Paterno did not know of his associate's alleged behavior.

His awareness, however, may be peripheral to the point I make here. Within three months of being ignominiously removed from a post that he had held for forty years, Joe Paterno is dead. Reports indicate that he died of cancer. Earlier reports, though, suggested that the cancer that he had was minor and that he was being treated effectively for it. Of course, cancers can escalate unpredictably. I wonder, though, if what brought on Paterno's sudden demise was the emotional jolt he has endured over the last weeks. Once respected and exalted by all, he now--in some circles at least--has been criticized as being a tacit enabler.

What kinds of infections can emotional jolts exacerbate or create? My non medical opinion is that very significant physical trauma can be fueled by emotional distress. Emotional bruising does not just make an illness worse; it creates the physiological distress. We have all heard of psychogenic illnesses but these seem to suggest that emotional distress created a vulnerability which allowed carcinogens or some other infection to gain purchase. Makes sense, but in the same way that cell phones were inconceivable during the mid 20th century, I would not be surprised if in the mid 21st a blow like the one that Paterno endured would be acknowledged as not only what accelerated an illness but an insult that begat that illness.

I never met Joe Paterno, but whatever I have read suggests that he was a man who had earned the love that fans sent his way. To have some of that disappear, and to have in its place the sense that perhaps others were considering him in an antithetical light could have been the cause of his abrupt decline. He deserved better.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


How do we respond when people in our lives disappear?

I just finished a book called, The Leftovers. The premise, at face value, is preposterous. What would happen if people in our lives abruptly disappeared? How would we react? Who would we become?

Tom Perrotta, the author, has written a number of books that I have enjoyed reading. The best, Little Children, was made into a movie that was nearly as good as the book. But this one seemed to have an absurd premise.

I am not giving anything away with this, since what I am about to relay has already occurred at the beginning of the book. Throughout the world on October 14th, people just vanish. Not all people vanish (and not necessarily good people--so despite what some of the "leftovers" claim this is not a Rapture). A teenager is looking at a yearbook with a friend and when she looks up, the friend is gone. A mother goes into the kitchen to fetch a towel to clean up her child's dinner spill, and returns and her husband and children are gone. Throughout the world, people just vanish.

The plot is so other worldly that while I was reading I was often shrugging my shoulders in a "this is ridickalus" motion.

So, I was startled when about fifty pages before the end, I got the, duh, point. How do humans react when love and life vanishes and we are bereft. Do we buck up and forge ahead? Do we try to make sense out of what is inexplicable but find our sense making apparatus off kilter and therefore skid precariously away from a healthy path. Life and love are so central to our essence, so much more important than wealth and even food--so if life and love just disappears is it inevitable that our society, our families, and each of us individually behave as if we are malnourished?

I like the way the author writes and enjoy reading his books because they are fun and descriptive in a way that makes me marvel at his talent, in the same way I might marvel at an athlete's skill. But this book is not for entertainment purposes only. It is unsettling as a reflection of how we individually and how we as a society respond to loss of life and love.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

triumph and disaster

In the movie Back to the Future the main character is able to reverse an event in the past and change the future. He leaves the present and a home that is depressing, intercedes in the past, returns back to the past's future and finds a home that is bright and uplifting.

We can probably identify some pivotal events in our past and see how our successes had positive effects on our current lives. And the opposite is also true.

It would be great if we were strong enough to move on in the past's future--our present--unaffected by our past successes and unencumbered by our past failures. Difficult to do. At least it is difficult for me.

And tonight it will be difficult for a fellow named Williamson who plays football for Stanford University.

Rudyard Kipling's great poem If contains the lyric, "If you can dream and not make dreams your master; if you can think, but not make thoughts your aim. If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same."

Tonight at the end of a thrilling game, Williamson--a freshman kicker for Stanford, had an opportunity to win the game by kicking an easy field goal at the end of regulation. He hooked it wide left. At the beginning of overtime, he also missed a field goal. His counterpart made a field goal at the end of overtime to win the game for the opponent, Oklahoma State.

This is a recurring incident in college football. In earlier blogs I have written about a kicker for Boise State who also missed field goals which cost the team dearly.

Our present and future is benefited, I believe, if we can treat triumph and disaster as two imposters. And I hope that Williamson, a 19 or 18 year old, who at this moment must feel terrible, will be able to move on.

There is another line from the poem which goes like this. "If you can make a heap of all your winnings and risk it on one turn of pitch and toss--and lose--then start at your beginnings, and never breathe a word about your loss." Tough to do, but something to keep in mind when you feel like Williamson does right now. I know for myself I try to hold onto that wisdom when there has been a loss of what seems like a heap of winnings. But it is not easy. And it will not be easy for Williamson.