Every day is different from every other -- and every month, and every year. But the past 12 months have been more unusual than most for my wife and me. Family events both happy (weddings and engagements) and sad (the loss of both of our fathers, and other issues) have meant that we've repeatedly left China at short notice, for open-ended stays in America, after having barely set foot in the US the previous year. I have been on United Flight 888, Beijing-San Francisco-LA, more often than I would have thought possible.
This is as it should be; these are the most important life obligations. But while trying -- as I also should -- to keep up my day-job duties with the Atlantic, I've made up the difference by basically neglecting everything else. Specifically: I watch email pile up, unviewed and unanswered, in the inbox. I have a big pile of phone calls to return. There are manuscripts to read, invitations to respond to, people I'm supposed to keep up with and organizations for which I'm supposed to play a role -- and especially in the past eight months none of that have I done.
I actually feel most alive and engaged when juggling challenges on all fronts, a trait clearly inherited from my father. I believe in the David Allen gospel of feeling freest and calmest when not burdened by long lists of overdue chores. So while having no doubt about the rightness of setting these tasks aside in recent months , I look forward to "catching up," and re-engaging. I am not ready to give in to the temptation to declare email bankruptcy, just pushing "archive" or "delete" for the thousands of unanswered messages and "to-do"s to start afresh. But I wanted to say two things "in public," this way.
First, if you sent me a suggestion, a manuscript, a comment, an invitation, a question in the past eight months and never heard back, it was nothing personal, nor was it haughtiness. I was otherwise occupied.
Second, if you sent in the last two weeks a note about my father, please know how much I appreciate that, and that I will try to respond. It is truly heartening to me to think that people who never knew him could have some sense of the kind of life that he lived. I am grateful for these kind thoughts.
And I will close this note, and wind up public remembrances of my dad, after the jump with an anecdote from my close childhood friend Steve Jensen, who conveys what it is like to grow up in a doctor's family -- or at least this doctor's family. Then, back to work.
From my friend Steve Jensen, with whom we'd spend weeks in the summer bodysurfing at Newport Beach -- which often meant getting driven into rocks or being rolled along the rough bottom:
I got scraped up at the beach while staying there with you and your family. I assumed [your dad] would "doctor" me up, but he pointed out to me that 99% of the ailments to the human body are repaired by the human body, and the other 1% can't be fixed by doctors anyway. He advised me to go back and jump in the salt water and everything would be fine!
This was the same "tincture of time" theory under which, at age eight, I spent two days with a broken ankle, after I'd jumped stiff-legged from the top of a fighter plane onto the tarmac at the local Air Force base air show, before my dad would allow me to get it X-rayed. (He was saving his attention for patients who really needed it, like the one I previously quoted here.) As my ankle grew to the size of a watermelon, his policy may have been a mistake, but in general this outlook has served his offspring well. We assume that most things will get better on their own, and view the medical establishment as a last resort.