The Race is O’re…

The race was Saturday. After hints of rain earlier in the week, the day turned out to be absolutely beautiful. It was dry, about 60 when we started and 70 when we (well, I) finished. A little over 1100 in the half marathon, so the traffic wasn’t too heavy, but there are always people around you. A flat, flat, flat course, but at about 4500 feet altitude.

It all went pretty well for me. No problems (except for too little speed training and too much age). I was really happy that I was over 4 minutes ahead of my schedule at 5 miles, and a little further ahead of schedule at 10 miles. My downfall was the last 5k (a half marathon is 10 miles plus a 5k). I really slowed down in the last 5k, and lost the 4+ minutes I had banked at the beginning. The final result was a finish that was right on schedule: 2:37:30.. Just to show how bad the slow down was, I talked with a woman I had been running with in the first half of the race. She picked up in the second half and finished around 2:23. That’s a big difference

Overall, I was still pretty happy with my performance. I finished 4th in my age group. I’m still pretty unhappy to realize that I was running 2:10 less than 10 years ago. But, abdominal surgery and age took care of that.

I’ve largely accepted the age related decline I’m experiencing. But there is still that voice in the back of my head that says “more training and you’ll be back where you should be.” Another case of high expectations meeting reality, I guess.

Do you notice age-related declines in performance or ability? How do you deal with it?

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Where Were You?

This is a question we ask each other about events that are so horrendous (in our view) that we vow we will never forget, even though we do. 9/11 is one such event. It is one of three such events that have (almost) occurred within my lifetime. It it the only one where I can say exactly where I was. (Not quite true, but close enough.)

The other two events were the assassination of JFK in 1963, and Pearl Harbor Day in 1941. In the case of the JFK assassination, I know approximately where I was, but not exactly. In the case of Pearl Harbor Day, I do know exactly where I was, but I don’t know the location of the womb I was residing in.

We are struck by these events and vow permanent memory, and we assume that they had the same effect on everyone, not realizing how culture-centric they are. But, the events are centered on us and do not have the same significance to other people in the world, just as their horrendous events do not affect us in the same way that they are a affected. You can bet that the people of Hiroshima talked for decades about where they were on August 6. But, they probably don’t spend too much time on where they were on 11/9 (different date format).

On 9/11, I was in England, having arrived there that morning. It was a big deal in England. The government put a Book of Remembrance in every post office so that the citizens could record their feelings. We had many conversations about the events. (We couldn’t hide because my wife grew up in west Texas and sounds like it.) Every conversation, with one exception, had the same two parts. Part A was “Oh, how terrible. We’re with you all the way.” Part B was “We certainly hope that your President doesn’t go and do something stupid on his own.” Part B was not an unreasonable fear given that our President was, and is, known for letting his swagger get in the way of his thinking. The one conversation that was different was with a postal worker from India; it had Parts A and B and also Part C: “Well, you know that terrorist attacks are a daily occurrence in India.” We will remember the 9/11 events for a long time. but, why this event and not others?

Why do some events rise in our consciousness while others not so much? Why the 9/11 bombings, but not the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City–the 20th anniversary of that bombing was in April of this year? Why not the Boston Marathon bombing? It has already started to fade from our consciousness. Do we get exercised about 9/11 because the perps were foreigners, but not about the Murrah Building bomber because he was one of us? Do we not remember the Waco siege 2 years before (the reason for the Murrah Building bombing) because it was done by us?

Why do we get exercised about school shootings, but it doesn’t seem to last? After the Sandy Hook shootings we got really upset, but it lasted less than a month. It lasted exactly until the Congress said officially that they were not going to do anything. It was reported later that there had been 74 school shootings in the 78 weeks after Sandy Hook–that it is a once a week occurrence. That number was challenged, and factcheck.org looked at it carefully. They determined that the number was greatly exaggerated. There were, in fact, only 34 mass shootings at schools in that period. Not one a week. Not quite one every other week. I feel much better now that that has been clarified. Why do we not get excited about this? Maybe it’s because we know in our hearts that we will never, ever have the courage to do anything about it.

Where were you?

Cold Mountain

The Santa Fe opera is producing the World Premier of Cold Mountain by Jennifer Higdon with libretto by Gene Scheer. We saw it last Saturday.

It is, in many ways, a very modern production. Dissonant music. A set consisting of a “pile of scrap lumber”, sort of like a giant pick-up-sticks. The set was intended to convey the destruction of the South after the war was mostly over, and it did a good job of that. Interesting lighting and spectacular projections (i’ve never seen anything like that). There was some sort of invisible screen at the front of the stage on which they projected things like a starry sky and falling snow. The screen must have been there all the time, but it was neither visually nor acoustically in the way. Spectacular, but not at all like projecting things on big screens like the side of a building.

I had never read the book, so I started at the beginning of the week. I don’t have much reading time and am a pretty slow reader, anyway, so I only got through about 130 pages by opera time. My impression was the book presented colorful, poetic, and interesting impressions of the characters, but there wasn’t anything I would have put in an opera. That only shows you how much I know about being a librettist–several episodes from the early part of the book appeared in the opera.

Cold Mountain is in southwest North Carolina. At the time of the civil war, it was very remote, and by the end of the war, life was very hard there. Not knowing where it i located, I looked it up with a mapping program. From looking at the map, one could guess that things haven’t changed too much since the war. There are still very few roads, but some of them are now paved. Much of it is National Forest land and few people live there even today. I imagine life is still difficult and government still has difficulty being relevant.

Saturday was another beautiful summer evening. We drove our little motorhome up to stay in our friends’ driveway so we wouldn’t have to spend the hour or so to drive home after the opera–I’m getting too old to like getting home and going to bed after midnight, so the driveway surfing option was very attractive and worked out well. Getting up and going to breakfast with our friends was also very nice. I think we’ll do it again this week when we go to see “Daughter of the Regiment.”

Cold Mountain is a very intense opera. It took so much concentration on the singers that it was midway through the first act before I realized I hadn’t really been paying any attention to the orchestra. It takes work, but I think a second hearing would be very enjoyable. There were also a couple of male chorus pieces that were spectacular. If you get a chance to see it, you should do so!

Mountain Top

One of our sons, the outdoor adventure guy, wrote to offer to lead us on a backpacking trip into the Grand Canyon. My Muse and I were floored. First of all, we were floored that one of the kids would want to do something like that with us—after all, we are their parents not their BFFs. Then we noted that we haven’t done anything like that before (at least not together), so we immediately began to wonder if we are actually still able to do such a thing. Adventure Guy argued that we are still doing half marathons, so surely we would be able to do this. For some reason, this argument sounded plausible, so we bought in to it and agreed. Yes, the half marathon distance is similar (actually greater than what the planned canyon trip would require), but I don’t usually do a half wearing a big pack or those damn boots.

We may not be experienced or have the skills needed to do multi-day hikes (or the equipment), but we are smart enough to realize that different muscles will be used, so we found a friend who would show us some of the local trails. We have also heard that the Grand Canyon involves some up and down, but we are lucky to have a mountain in our back yard, so we figured that up followed by down might suffice as training for down followed by up. We haven’t proven that yet, but I still believe it.

We started bravely, once a week, an hour up hill and then an hour down. It worked pretty well for the first couple of weeks. We’re tolerating the booPhoto Apr 29, 10:18:55 (HDR)ts but carrying only light packs—we’ll get to more weight than just 4 pounds of water, but we have time. Then our friend took off with her husband for a real hike—3 weeks on the Camino de Santiago in Spain—and we are suddenly on our own. We’ve used the excuse of busy schedules to explain why we are waiting for her return.

We haven’t gone as far as the mountain top. That would be about 3000 more feet of up, but we have certainly gone far enough to see why people get hooked on this. There is a feeling of altered reality up there that is hard to describe. In this picture, the “civilization” we came from is not quite visible at the bottom of the mountain. It was a little hazy or dusty on this day, but it is really much clearer than the picture would suggest—the next mountain west (the picture faces southwest) is just out of the picture to the right, 80 miles away. It would be clearly visible if the camera had been pointed in the right direction. The mountain is beautiful, and, most especially, it is not the city. You can experience it alone, even with other people around you.

I had a similar experience decades ago sailing off of Los Angeles. When you get a mile off shore, the city is beautiful, but you can’t hear it, and you can’t smell it. You can be alone on the ocean even when in the company of other boats. What a glorious experience.

So, much more than conditioning is happening as I walk up and down this mountain. I feel the silence. I see and feel the beauty of the world. The cares of life fall away. The pressures of our civilized world do not reach here, and I find I can love people again (as a whole) when I’m not constantly reminded of the senseless things we do to each other. My mind fills with loving kindness, and I can feel it begin to pervade the space around me (read this to understand the reference).

I am not of the generation that wants to measure and document every detail of my life. I am often content to absorb what is happening around me and weave it into my story. I don’t need to conquer the mountain, and I won’t have a need to conquer the Canyon. I won’t preserve everything I see in either pictures or words, but I will see it all and I will bring back stories, some of which I will relate. I might even relate some of them to Adventure Guy, just in case he didn’t see the right things. The Canyon, at least, will be full of loving kindness when I leave.

Concert Week

I sing with a men’s ensemble called de Profundis, Latin for Out of the Depths. We have concerts this weekend, which means 3 rehearsals this week. We are 14 singers plus a director who perform a wide variety of music from the renaissance to last week (sometimes even the arrangement of the hour–our director is a composer and arranger), and in a wide variety of languages. This concert, for example, includes an Indian raga, in some language from the Indian subcontinent, a Russian church piece (many of those are Old Slavonic, but this is composed and is actually Russian), a Palestrina piece in Latin, a Schubert piece in German, and a piece in Georgian. We also sing in a variety of venues, and did a preview of some of this repertoire a couple of weeks ago at Ghost Ranch and the Benedictine Monastery “across the road” (“across the road” also includes the 15 miles down the dirt road on the other side). Look here for more about those events.

The language component is an important part of the group’s personality. We live in a Spanish speaking area, so there are many pieces in Spanish. At the winter concert, there is always Hebrew. We have sung Chinese, Japanese, and Tagalog; French and Italian; African languages, Eastern  European languages; Inuit and other Native American languages, and, sometimes, even English. Last spring, we went to Wales, so we sang several pieces in Welsh (surprisingly hard). A few years ago, we did a Christmas piece in Slovenian. At intermission, a couple appeared who identified themselves as Slovenian. They said they thought they were the only Slovenes in the city, and they were so grateful to hear their language in an unexpected place.

This concert is about Transformations, one of the most familiar being death. For example, I do not sleep (“Do not stand by my grave and weep. I am not there. I do not sleep…”) by Darryl Lynn Wylie, Sing to me of Heaven by Daniel Gawthrop, Come Sing to Me of Heaven arranged by J. Aaron McDermid, and Loving Kindness by Stephen Paulus, which I wrote about here a few days ago. I found that I resonate strongly with several of them. I even said “I want to hear that at my funeral” a couple of times (not that I am expecting that any time soon).

I have enjoyed preparing this concert. I love the group. I love the music. And, I love presenting the concerts, but this week is very intense, and I will also love being past the concerts.

Primary Health Care

Today’s New York Times had an interesting article featuring Iora Primary Care, a startup with a business model more like Starbucks than your current primary care facility (except that you can’t walk in off the street and buy a cup). You can read the article, A Starbucks for Medicine, in the Business section.

Iora is a subscription service that only works with employer partners (not with individual patients), so your company has to buy in. The value proposition to the partner is lower costs that are more or less fixed. The value proposition to the patient is more individualized customer service, and, sometimes, service that goes well beyond what we have come to expect from primary health care providers.

One of the features of their model is a “health coach”, a much lower cost person than any of the medical staff, whose function is to help the patient with not-necessarily-medical, peripheral issues, such as transportation, diet, exercise and advocacy—at least within the practice office.

Iora is a startup, and there are still many issues to be resolved. They aim for a large number of practices instead of the one, or a few, that most innovators expect to have. Some things in the model scale well, such as knowing what to stock when a new practice opens. Some things scale poorly, such as the CEO interviewing most of the new staff. It isn’t clear yet whether they will actually be able to reduce costs for employers (mostly by trying to provide care that will head off trips to the hospital and ER, I think). On the other hand, the kind of care described in the article seems attractive from the patient point of view, and finding ways to move in that direction has got to be good.

From the provider’s point of view, they aim at far fewer patients per provider, allowing the provider more time with each patient. And, (here’s a note for you Victo) they have a staff of about 20 engaged in building their own proprietary EHR system. On the one hand, that means that individual providers will have more input into how it works, and more influence when it doesn’t. This could also be a cost reduction idea—EHR/EMR systems are already a very big business. On the other hand, as the number of small practices increases, this effort may be hard to sustain—another area that doesn’t scale particularly well.

On the surface, Iora looks like a good idea. I currently get primary care through a corporate entity. While I like and respect the providers and other staff, the corporation stands in the way of getting to them and pretty much controls what I get from the providers. I admit I haven’t yet had much interaction, and so far, I’m glad because the interactions have been painful or at least irritating. I’m interested to hear what others of you think of the Iora idea or other innovative delivery ideas, particularly those in the health care industry.

Silence

A few days ago, Victo Dolore published Étude to Silence. It fit my emotional state exceedingly well since I had just returned from a trip that embodied silence in several forms. This post is a few variations on the theme of silence.

Victo and several commenters talked about being alone in the car and being uncomfortable with the silence that occurs when you don’t have your usual distractions–the children, the radio, music from your phone, or whatever. On the surface, to my literal little mind, given the actual meaning of the word “silence” as being without sound, this is a strange interpretation, since the car is a pretty noisy environment. But, it isn’t a lack of sound that produces the “silence,” it is the lack of distractions. The background noise in the car doesn’t count. We don’t hear that, and if we don’t hear it, it isn’t there. Without distractions, we are in silence.

I live and work at home in a variant of the silence of the car. There is no radio or tv in my workspace, no music from a computer player or Pandora; there is only fan noise from lots of computer equipment. But, mostly, I don’t hear that. I don’t listen to it, and if I don’t listen to it, it isn’t there. Then, there is the tinnitus. I don’t listen to that either, so I work in silence. For me, this “silence” is the best work environment. I could not work with audio distractions because it would be––distracting. When I play music, I find myself listening to it.

Last Saturday, the men’s ensemble I sing with performed a concert at Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico. Ghost Ranch is remote: 15 miles from the nearest village or small town; an hour or more from anything you could describe as a city. A place of great beauty and great silence–no cell phone coverage with my carrier; no road noise; a noisy airplane 35,000 feet away every few days. At night there is no visual noise from city lights, and you can see so many more stars than in the city. One of the great beauties of the earth available only in silence.

One of the pieces we sang was Loving Kindness by Stephen Paulus. It is a setting of a text adapted from the Digha Nikaya that begins “Put away all your hindrances, let your mind full of loving kindness pervade one quarter of the world…” You can read the text here. This is not a prescription for passive contemplation–these are acts that can only be accomplished with effort in an environment of silence.

Sunday morning we sang at a Benedictine monastery that observes the rule of silence. It is completely off the grid, 15 miles off the paved road on the side of a river valley in a place that is amazingly beautiful. They have a small church–20 visitors at their Sunday morning mass is a crowd. Our ensemble sang after the completion of the mass in a room so filled with smoke from the incense that you could barely see across it. The result was a sublime interruption of the monks’ normal silence. Combined with the surpassing beauty of the location and the chill of the spring morning, it was a perfect experience breaking the silence in just the right way. For the monks, it is a small break in the silence–not an end to it. It allows the monks to return to the silence with greater appreciation.

So, here are a few variations on the theme that highlight silence as something to be sought, rather than something to be avoided. Let the silence itself direct you to beauty. Let your mind fill with loving kindness.