Rare Gems in the Rolling Seasons of Life

http://journals.lww.com/em-news/Fulltext/2016/10000/Life_in_Emergistan__Rare_Gems_in_the_Rolling.15.aspx

My column from the October edition of Emergency Medicine News

It’s August. I’m looking out the windows of our log house and across the immense variety of green leaves, on oak and birch, mountain laurel and sycamore, magnolia and honeysuckle. It’s a rain forest here. Indeed, after a long dry spell, we’ve had days and days of soaking rain, with breaks in the clouds so that the sun can raise steam from the earth like water coming up in the garden of Eden.

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But the greens have hints of yellow. And the clouds are not just summer thunderheads but low, fast, and broken. The dogs are lazier than normal, as their crusted red-clay coats begin to flake off to reveal the fur underneath. Even the cats seem less mobile, if that were possible. The evenings, despite the blast furnace of August, cool more than in July.

All in all, the signs are there for those who watch. I grew up watching the weather, watching leaves flipped before storms, listening to the sound of winter winds, smelling storms on the air. I know Autumn is hiding across the Blue Ridge Mountains, a child peeking over and shaping the weather, teasing us, reminding us that summer will soon go on its own vacation and the wind will chill us and drive down the leaves, their red, orange, and yellow as varied as summer green.

But for all my love of Autumn, for all my desire for cool air and the smell of wood smoke, Autumn hurts me. It is the end of summer and the beginning of fall that takes my children from me and forces them back to school and schedules. It’s difficult enough to leave them for work, more so to know that my schedule and theirs conspire to separate something so vital, so elemental, as the time families spend in communion with one another.

Even as I write, my daughter Elysa, a high school sophomore, is finalizing her summer reading. Her brother Elijah, a high school senior, is spending his last days with his girlfriend Tori, who leaves for the University of South Carolina all too soon. My oldest boys, Sam and Seth, will return to Clemson in a few days, closer and closer to independence. The leaves change, the sky is darker, the children are growing up and moving on, with the imperatives and requirements of their own lives, their own passions, their own needs and desires, their own loves.

As difficult as this can be, I recognize that I did the same, as did my wife Jan. And our parents and theirs. This is the cycle, the natural history of the world. We raise and guard our precious children and launch them forth to do the same. And we hope that the chords that tie us remain intact; that the circle remains unbroken.

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Time is Fleeting

What has any of this to do with our work? Our physician lives? The lesson is this: Time is fleeting; life and love are precious. Wives and husbands and children are rare gems in the rolling seasons of life. So waste not, want not, as it were.

The seasons will turn. The clouds race, the school buses arrive, and the graduations loom. In the midst of this, we must never delude ourselves that our money, our directorships, even our retirement accounts will ever be sufficient solace if we look back and feel that we did not use our time wisely with the ones who mattered most of all.

Our work, our patients, our skills all matter to the extent that they help others to live long and well, that they help those parents and children to enjoy the passing years together. Beyond that, they are important but less so than our own people, the ones we are committed to, bound to by vows and rings, by birth and blood, by adoption and choice.

So as the year turns and new opportunities and shifts arise, be honored. But be circumspect. Keep before you the fact that everything changes, but with attention and love, all of our connections can remain intact despite years and geography. If only we value them more than we do our certificates, degrees, incomes and positions.

The clouds will roll and the leaves will fall, my friends, and we might as well watch them pass with joy, not regret.

Copyright © 2016 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.

Back to School Blues for a Former Homeschool Family

Lately I’ve seen a lot of photos on the Internet of parents cheering and jumping for joy as their kids were packed off to start a new school year. Mom is giddy and the kids sour-faced as summer comes to an abrupt, but long-expected, halt.  Sure, they’re staged but the message comes through.

http://www.today.com/parents/moms-celebratory-back-school-dance-goes-viral-8C11041602

http://www.fox13news.com/trending/187237945-story

I used to hear parents say the same.  ‘Man, I can’t wait for school to start!  I have to get these kids out of the house and get things back to normal!’  I found it interesting.  I mean, I get it.  Kids, all kids, are loud and messy; grumpy and dirty, sometimes sick, always eating or sleeping.  But then again, they’re kids.  They can be equally funny, happy, joyous, entertaining, sweet, kind and helpful.  On the balance the good far outweighs the bad.

The way I see it, we signed on for it.  OK, maybe it was a romantic date and a glass of wine, but one way or the other, we brought them into this world and they are delights.  Not only so, they are the future.  The future of our families, our very DNA.  And they are certainly the future of our nation, our civilization, our various faiths or ideologies.

Perhaps I’m coming from a different perspective.  By way of full disclosure, we spent a lot of years home-schooling.    Some years, school was all year long, even if in lower doses. (Latin or geography in the pool, etc.)  But one reason we did it was that we knew our time with the children was ultimately short, and we wanted to make the most of all of it.  And we did, whether having class at home or visiting National Parks, every bit was a delight.

Fast forward.  One went to college, then another. And our youngest two are in public high school, a sophomore and a senior.  Mornings are no longer times of lavish breakfasts and learning/laughter around the table.  The clock is ticking, the bells waiting to ring.  The school year is not open for our exploration and delight; it is determined by the state and woe-betide anyone who runs afoul of the sanctum sanctorum of the 180 days of learning!  (Even if the last twenty or so are often spent doing remarkably little.)  Our lives belong to the state, in a sense.  Our trips can only happen when others take trips because everyone is on break together; on the approved break.

Our dining room, formerly known as class-room, is lined and packed with books and notebooks.  With old science kits and well-worn texts, as well as novels highlighted and annotated.  There are files with test papers kept for records or nostalgia.  The desktop computer once shared by four kids is sleeping; as it has for probably a full year or more.  The kids have moved on to their personal lap-tops. Perhaps the desktop dreams of those days gone by.

There are living remnants.  Our youngest still do homework under the bright lights of the dining room.  They still work on that expansive table which once housed our own kids and visiting co-op homeschool students, who were taught Latin by my well-organized and gentle bride.  (The same worn table where many holiday meals have been shared.)

Backpacks still lie about, and the two who remain at home still laugh when they aren’t stressed over AP exams or some other crisis.  We still go through food; and the older two visit and leave their mess, their empty soda cans, their laundry.

It’s still sweet.  But it changes every year.  As it should, I suppose.  But having watched the transitions, having seen our school house population shift and dwindle, I can tell you that every year when the kids go to school I am anything but joyous. I am broken and sad.  My playmates leave; as if I were the pre-school sibling, wishing I could go along, nose pressed to the window, counting the hours until their return.

 

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I walk around the yard, looking for them; for echoes, foot-prints, fleeting memories of summer delights.  In the house I sometimes walk past empty rooms; but seldom look inside at first.  It makes me miss them more.

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Every year I reflect; did I do it right?  Have we prepared them?  Did we miss something?  How could I have used the time better?

Yes, I know. It’s probably pathological.  But my point is merely that when the kids leave, Jan and I don’t celebrate.  Oh, we celebrate their growth and learning.  But we mourn just a bit every time.

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Sure, most of the photos and videos are just jokes.  Everybody, I think, misses their kids at least a little when school starts back.  But I wonder if any parent, jumping for joy as the bus pulls away, considers the chiral image of the scenario.  Will there be a day when you visit the adult kids, and as you leave they cheer? They post photos:  ‘mom and dad finally left!  We’re all so happy to get things back to normal!’  Maybe.  Kids remember.  And they know when they’re wanted, and when they aren’t.

Enjoy every minute. Celebrate the good times, the successes and joys.  Remember the hard ones.  But maybe, just maybe, it’s best not to cheer when the kids go away.  Because they’ll really go away, and go their separate ways, before you can play ‘Celebrate’ and dance your heart out.

And I suspect that if they feel welcome, it’s more likely they’ll come back to visit in years to come.

 

 

Churches Shy Away From Hard Questions

My column in yesterday’s Greenville News.  While primary responsibility for teaching our children rests with us as parents, the church often drops the ball in its mission to the young.

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/01/24/churches-shy-away-hard-questions/79054658/

I have a problem with the church. It’s not the music, or the ‘mega-church’ concept. It’s not the donuts or the coffee or any other petty issue. The problem I have with the church is that I fear we are doing a poor job of preparing our kids for life.

What troubles me is the way we dumb things down for Christian young people. Maybe we don’t want to frighten them, maybe we don’t want to confuse them or cast any doubt into the faith we’re trying to mold. But frankly, we are failing them. Because it’s a world of hard times and hard questions, and unless we teach kids how to answer them, they’ll have grave difficulties believing all of the stuff we tried to teach.

One of my kids used to come home from Sunday School and we’d ask, ‘what did your teacher talk about?’ He’d shake his little head and sigh. ‘Moses…again.’ Like all of my kids he wanted more than stock stories designed to get through a study guide every year. In fact, our family has often used the term ‘Sunday School answer,’ when having discussions. For example: ‘why is it wrong to steal?’ Answer: ‘Jesus.’ We all laugh at that, but we all know that Sunday School answers don’t always cut it.

The problem we Christians tend to have is that we have a kind of global ‘Sunday School’ answer for the world, which usually comes down to ‘it’s in the Bible.’ Which is great for established believers to say to one another. But at a certain point in time, thinking Christian kids will start to ask about that book we hold as sacred and about that God we worship. And they’ll wonder whether to believe or consign their faith to myth.

Now, if Christian kids ask that, what will non-Christian folks ask them, or say about it? If they don’t recognize the book, or the faith, or the rules, then all of our ‘but it say so,’ and ‘Jesus loves you,’ may fall on deaf ears. So, when our kids go off to work, college or the armed forces, it won’t take long until someone easily shatters their beliefs; not even intentionally, but simply by asking hard, honest questions.

Kids in many churches today are very kind and good. They go on mission trips and they work in the food-bank. They teach the younger kids in children’s ministries, etc. But all too often they aren’t being asked the hard questions in church, or being taught how to deal with them. And I don’t mean that they aren’t being taught how to ‘make the sale.’ I mean they aren’t sure how to face the issues themselves.

What questions do we need to help them answer? Here are some: ‘Why am I here? Do I have a purpose? What is my purpose? Is there such a thing as truth? Why can’t all of our truths be equally true? Did Jesus exist? Does God exist? What do we need Him for? Is there evil? What is sin? Is the Bible reliable? Aren’t all religions the same? How can we be scientific and true to our beliefs? Is Christianity cruel and mean and oppressive? What if I screw up? Why is there pain, suffering and loss? If there is, what does it say about God? Can I have hope in trouble? What happens when we die?’ (Incidentally, many of the same questions are asked by every kid, whether their families are Christian or atheist.)

That’s only a short list. But if we love our kids then we’ll sit down with them and address those life-shaping uncertainties. We’ll do it using the Bible, and by taking from philosophy and history, art and music, biology and physics and every other area of human endeavor, so that they will go into life equipped with solid answers, not fragile platitudes that blow over at the first wind of disagreement.

They’ll ask other questions; sometimes questions we hadn’t imagined. And may of them will have serious doubts. They may walk away from their faith. But they deserve our patience, love and prayers. Because a faith shaken by honest skepticism will be better in the end.

Church leaders and parents, let’s prepare our young people. They need depth to face the world and transform it. They need truth to help them endure life’s struggles. They need to know they are loved and that their lives have meaning.

But Sunday School snippets aren’t enough anymore.

 

Learning to Love Freedom

I have to admit that I’ve become a bit of a freedom junkie.  As a native West Virginian, there’s this desire, deep inside, to be unfettered.  When I was a child I expressed it by wandering all day long through the hills and valleys around my home.  No phone, of course, and no radio.  No way to contact, or be contacted by, anyone else.  I remember being about 13 or 14 when my dad let me go off into the woods with my single-barreled shotgun to hunt.  I never shot anything.  But I was free.

Later I was encumbered in some ways by college, medical school and residency.  But when my wife and I moved to South Carolina, and ended up in our rural, hilltop log-house, I rediscovered the deep inner peace of freedom.  Our family roams at will through the woods around our home, the state forest across the road.  On July 4th and New Year’s Eve we set off fireworks as long as we want.  On Halloween our bon-fire roars high as the tree-tops.

We throw clay-pigeons over the back yard and shoot them; we have lost untold arrows in the woods, and have behaved like barbarians for years, simply for the joy of doing what we wanted to do.  Our five dogs and three cats collude in our freedom, and have furry smiles as we sling dinner scraps over the back deck into their un-caged, happy mouths.

In 2005, my wife and I discovered a kind of liberty that we had never imagined.  We began to homeschool.  That adventure liberated us from the constraints of state-determined schedules, curricula and ideology.  It allowed us delicious, lavish time together, whether the kids were playing in the pool while rehearsing Latin declensions with my wife, or traveling to the Grand Canyon during the off-season.  We were unencumbered, and while the children learned much and learned well, we had precious little oversight to pester or constrain our wild, free time together, when we rolled about in our fragrant love for one another.  If we had known how it would be all along, we would have started homeschooling much earlier.

Two years ago, I found more freedom.  I took the plunge, left my partnership of 20 years and Jan and I started a small corporation, LeapMedicine.  I began working as an independent contractor.  I worked where, and when, I wanted.  I still do.  If I don’t want to work a holiday, I don’t.  If I want to work, I do.  If I work a shift and don’t like it, I don’t go back once my committed shifts are over.

There are costs to freedom.   It’s magnificent but unpredictable.  The cost of owning a business is sometimes daunting in America today, although I wish I had done it sooner.  There are others.  We recently tried to refinance our mortgage.  We discovered, to our chagrin, that large companies want people in communities of boxes.  You can refinance a house in a subdivision.  But a log house on a hilltop is unnerving to banks and lenders.  It isn’t the same as everyone else.  It’s less predictable, and understandably.  It may not sell.  Only so many people are comfortable away from the crowd, away from the comfort of commonality.

Indeed, we are nationally obsessed with being members of a herd.  Ask a kid in school if it’s OK to be different, the way every kid book with a quirky penguin and a sad skunk says it is.  It isn’t.  There’s a price, and it’s paid in bullying or marginalization.  Maybe it’s good training, because the same dynamic certainly exists in the world of adults.  Try saying the wrong thing, wearing the wrong emblem, believing in something unpopular, standing for a viewpoint on principle not popularity.

Bullying just takes different forms; like social media campaigns, or lawsuits.  Being marginalized means ridicule by a professor, lack of promotion by a boss, firing by a corporation.  America, the land of the free, doesn’t really like freedom these days.  Freedom means you might hurt someone’s feelings, crush their fragile self-esteem, say something shocking.  Freedom of ideas is a beautiful dream, but the kids on the adult playground of modern thought are like the bullies from our childhood, dressed up in suits, with law degrees and political offices; and with the same fragile sense of self the old bullies had.  But they have more power to punish the free, more power to torment the outlier.  Fortunately, truly free people relish their freedom so much that they become hardened to the ways of bullies and go on living in joy and liberty.

I set out to write this as an homage to homeschooling.  But as so often happens, I discovered that homeschooling, and even business ownership, are merely some of the sweet fruits of an attitude, of a decision, to be free.  It was what made America, once upon a time, a great country.  It’s what real Americans long for, live for and are willing to defend and die to preserve.

I hope that my children, and their children and all the rest can remain free.  I hope that they can thumb their collective noses at those who silence, subjugate, manipulate and ridicule those who just want to live and be left alone.  I hope they take their children on trips and walk away from unnecessary constraints.  I hope that they forge new ways to be free and remake this nation.

Freedom.  Take every step necessary to preserve yours, and your children’s.  Because once it is surrendered it does not return easily.

And once enjoyed, perhaps the most addictive thing in all the world.

Homeschooling Offers Families a Great Option. (My column in today’s Greenville News.)

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2015/06/13/ed-leap-homeschooling-offers-families-great-option/71132414/

I have, in my house, a rising Tiger. Our second-born, Seth, begins his college career at Clemson this fall. He has always been, and remains, an amazing young man. He is filled with both passion and compassion, he loves learning, reads voraciously, is strong as a bear and is an outstanding musician. He makes our parental hearts swell with love and pride. Oh, and for the record, he looks like me and is thus incredibly handsome. What? His mother tells us that all the time so it has to be true!

Like a growing number of college students, Seth comes to the university from the home-school world. From the time he was in 4th grade, he was educated by his awesome mother (with a little help from me), and over time by wonderful teachers in several co-op groups, culminating in a few semesters at Tri-County Tech, receiving college credit as a ‘dual-enrollment’ student.

It appears to have been a good experience for him. His college acceptance letters came without a glitch, giving him several choices for his university education. And despite the constant protests to the contrary (by those outside the home-school world), Seth does just fine in the mystical ‘socialization’ arena.

I have always said that education can be accomplished with great success in any of several ways. Public school, private school and home-school all work just fine. But they only succeed to the extent that parents care and are involved in the educational process. All can fail miserably if parents are dismissive and believe ‘that’s someone else’s job,’ and particularly if moms and dads suggest that learning is drudgery, unnecessary, boring or somehow a form of oppression.

However, for anyone considering home-schooling, I would say that it is a fantastic way to spend time with, and really know, your children. Jan and I have emphasized learning from the beginning. But home-schooling allowed us to tailor the learning to the child. More than that, it allowed us that precious, ever dwindling commodity, time.

You see, our schedule was our own. Yes, the state mandates 180 days of school per year. But we could accomplish that in any way we desired. If we had a schedule conflict, learning could take place in the afternoon and evening. If we had the opportunity to take a trip during the ‘school year,’ we took it and learned in the car, in the hotel or at the National Monument. If I was working evenings, we could play and visit during the day and they could finish up later; or I could help with school during the day while Jan took a welcome break for lunch with friends.

Furthermore, we could design curricula for the interests of the children, whether it was learning Biblical Greek or taking bagpipe lessons. BB-gun team was a credit towards PE. Jan once applied for, and received, a grant of beautiful copies of art from the National Endowment for the Arts. The entire process was, in a word, flexible.

The reason this matters to me, as a parent, is that the world grabs our kids so quickly these days. They have school, of course, but culture tells us that if we want our kids to succeed, they have to engage in a vast array of activities. Beyond academics, clubs, teams and the ubiquitous Internet conspire with parental work and home responsibilities and seem to drive us ever further apart.

This endless motion sometimes robs us of the simple joy of being together; of eating and laughing, telling stories and just sitting quietly, basking in the presence of those we love most. My schedule has always been pretty malleable. But I feel deeply for the loving mothers and fathers who work second and third shift, and for whom any time with their children is rare and precious. For them, in particular, online or home-schooling could offer unimagined opportunities to enjoy their children while they can.

I wouldn’t trade a day of it. And Jan and I would do it all over again; and hopefully do it even better. But as Seth goes off to Clemson, and my remaining two children likely transition to public school this fall, I just hope that parents keep their options open. Even a year or two of home-schooling, strategically placed, can offer opportunities, memories, and bonding that they’ll never regret.

And never forget.

 

When the children return home, it’s a blessing

My column in this weeks’ Greenville News.  Enjoy the kids when they’re home!  And Merry Christmas!

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2014/12/05/ed-leap-children-return-home-blessing/19972293/

My children, about whom you have read for nearly 20 years now, are growing up. The oldest will turn 20 this month; the youngest will turn 14 next month. And there’s those other two, in the middle, how old are they? Oh yeah, 15 and nearly 18. (The curse of the middle child.)

Our firstborn is in college nearby, living with friends. The others are so busy with coursework that even though they live at home, as autumn passes I seem to see them less and less. They are forever consumed with papers and tests, reading assignments and other projects.

And yet, despite their advancing ages and exploding maturity, they love home. They love home because they love familiarity and comfort. Because they love to eat and sleep and relax without being in charge of everything. They love sitting by the fire and playing games; times when they can slip comfortably into sweat-pants, t-shirts…and childhood.

During these times of rest and relaxation, they occupy themselves in many ways, from staring at the many screens in their possession to simply and joyously tormenting one another. A favorite game? ‘Tiny Punches,’ wherein three corner the fourth and hit him, or her, repeatedly with very short punches. I have received this treatment; and when I find myself in a corner with three of the children around me looking at one another, I know what’s coming.

In years past, there were others. Avalanche involved building a huge wall of pillows and blankets and collapsing it on one another. Another game required that they jump from the landing onto a pile of pillows; beneath which one might find a concealed dumbbell for an extra soft landing. And there was the static torture. Wrap a sibling, or parent, in a fluffy blanket, in the dry air of the basement, then rub it as hard as possible. I swear, I wish I knew how much charge that generates. I recall the pain and the sparks. (Works well on a trampoline also.) I’m just glad I didn’t have a pacemaker.

I am not suggesting you play these games; unless you’re feeling bold. (Like one-legged kick-fight, it can end badly.) I am suggesting that our children, even as young adults, are still children. As we should all be, I believe. It’s at Christmas that we recover those simple joys and simpler times.

Modern culture likes to pretend that high school and college kids are the end all, be all of worldly wisdom and education. To which I say ‘nuts.’ They’re bright and articulate and culturally aware. But they’re still, in so many ways, immature. To us, their parents, they’re still children. And they always will be. It’s why we constantly ask them if they need anything, it’s why we load them up with everything from food to toilet paper when they leave. And why we hug them out of the blue. (A thing they secretly love.)

Granted, at 18 they can vote and go to war. And they can, at 21, drink alcohol. (An odd and probably inappropriate dichotomy in my opinion, but that’s another column.) But they don’t know enough yet. Nowhere near enough. Because a huge part of successful learning is simply born of living through a lot of things. Thus, sadder-but-wiser parents share wisdom with enthusiastic-but-vulnerable offspring.

This Christmas, as the kids come home, as they unwind from exams, as they look for the comfort of friends and laughter and as they seem to sleep like the dead, remember that they are also seeking the wonderful joy of the familiar and the safe. They want to let their guards down and know the simplicity of childhood once more. Best of all, in the process, they are giving us a gift as parents. They are saying, without so many words, ‘I still need you and I’m glad I’m yours.’

So if you find yourself in a house suddenly bereft of chips and soda, if you find the television occupied by video games, and notice that you are being ambushed by large kids who look vaguely like the little ones who lived there not so long ago, take it for what it is.

It’s a blessing of the first order, to have children who still need you. Please proceed to enjoy every second. Because if you do, they’ll just keep coming back. And eventually, they’ll bring more with them.

 

The Best Way to Learn Tolerance? Raise a Teenager.

Here’s my latest at the Huffington Post!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/edwin-leap-md/the-best-way-to-learn-tolerance-raise-a-teenager_b_6149546.html

 

If you want to understand tolerance, it’s helpful to have teenagers. I have four of them. Four wonderful, brilliant, engaging creatures brought to this earth by their mother and me. They are entertaining, they are well-read, they are courteous and insightful. And they are each, at times, surly, self-centered, lazy and stubborn. (You know; like every human ever born on this earth.)

I would give my life for any one of my children if they needed. I would stop a bullet, stand in front of a train or give them a kidney. I believe I’ve already demonstrated my love by watching ‘ironic’ sit-comes with them for hours on end.

But sometimes, well sometimes, they drive me absolutely crazy. And never more than when they think they know everything. Which is pretty much every, single day. It’s a huge conflict because their mother and I, in fact, know everything.

Not a week goes by that they do not remind their parents about another social injustice in the treatment of women or minorities, another philosophical quandary (are chickens sentient and if so, what about factory farming?) or the latest research suggesting video games are good for mind, body and soul (and give you a shiny coat as well). They quote statistics on global climate change, they argue with one another about licensing parenthood. And they seem to go out of their way to pick ‘hot-button’ topics to challenge the apparently irrelevant education and moral authority of their parents. In our house, ‘because I said so’ is a long lost trump-card.

This is particularly interesting because my wife and I are what you might call ‘conservative.’ Or what others would no doubt call ‘right-wing, Bible-thumping, Southern nut-jobs.’ In the colloquial, that is. And it’s even more interesting because our children were home-schooled. (I know! Can you believe it?)

Our children were raised in the Baptist church, in the sultry, Confederate Flag waving ‘Buckle of the Bible Belt’ (where damned progressives would go for eternal torment if they believed in such things). Our four kids, stewed for years in all things Southern, are each deeply concerned about their pet causes, among which are included social justice, renewable energy, global climate change, animal rights, fairness, equality, racism and feminism.

So as you might guess, we disagree on certain issues from time to time. But here’s the remarkable thing. Their mother and I may not always share their opinions, but we don’t love them one iota less. Nor do they love us less! Dinner conversations are always fascinating. We all learn from one another. They lift their Baby Boomer parents to new ways of viewing old problems. And hopefully (can you hear me Lord?) we anchor them in traditions and truths that have remained relevant for thousands of years and hundreds of generations of their ancestors.

I am so proud of them. I see in their eyes, and hear in their passionate words, the fire I first saw in their mother when we met in college. Their mother, who still has a t-shirt from the first Earth Day, and who was aggrieved to be born too late for Woodstock. Their mother who learned to tolerate a staid, gun-loving, tradition following Republican, who became their father. I became more like her and she became more like me. We ‘tolerated’ each other so well we ended up with four children in about seven years. And they’re like both of us. We all tolerate one another in abject, breathless, unquestioning love.

This is how it works. We can banter about the word ‘tolerance’ if we want. But it’s too easily a weapon of suppression. Tolerance is the word we now use to say ‘you have to agree with my views.’ However, as one sees with teenagers, tolerance in truth means to disagree, but to respect. And in it’s highest, most beautiful incarnation, to disagree and yet love.

We all change over time. I don’t know exactly how my kids will end up; where they will lie in the political, moral and spiritual spectrum of the future. But I know that even when we disagree, I’m proud of the people they have become through this wonderful mixture of reading, listening, arguing and discussing. (And no small amount of parental prayer.)

The thing is, if a bunch of rural home-schooled kids can grow into the kind of people who can endure the views of their parents without screaming, and if those parents can face the emotional and intellectual wanderings and pilgrimages of their children without shipping them off to boarding school, then there’s hope for a world of tolerance. As long as we understand that tolerance doesn’t have to mean agreement. But it does have to mean love.

Let’s not devalue mothers this Mother’s Day.

This was my column in yesterday’s Greenville News.  Happy Mother’s Day to all of the wonderful mothers out there!

Let’s not devalue mothers this Mother’s Day.

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2014/05/10/devalue-mothers/8919973/

Women today have choices about their future careers.  There’s hardly a field where women aren’t prominent, and that’s a wonderful testament to the diversity of our culture. But often, when a young woman states that her goal is to be a mother, there’s a kind of disappointment leveled by others.  ‘Do you mean after you go to school and have a career?  I mean, don’t you want to accomplish something?  For you?’

I understand.  Everyone has dreams and goals, plans for greatness.  And the friends and family of these future mothers have their best interests in mind.  They don’t want their loved ones to subvert themselves and give all of their efforts and talents, all of their youth to someone else.  And yet…

Who among us does not?  In a very real way, most of us are ‘ancillary.’  I think about myself and my fellow physicians.  We are not the end purpose of medicine.  We’re here to allow everyone else to stay healthy and navigate illness and injury, in order to go back to their families, friends and jobs.  We succeed to the extent that they need us less and less as they grow stronger and more robust.

The same is true in business.  If our young woman, with dreams of motherhood, should climb the corporate ladder first, well good for her!  But for whom is she climbing? First of all for her supervisors, maybe later for the board of directors (all of it financially rewarding, we hope) and in the end, even if she is CEO, she works for whom?  Her customers and clients.

Do teachers accomplish their great works for themselves?  They may find their work rewarding, but they teach so that children can move off into the world and find their own work, their own families and lives, can support themselves…usually by working for others.

Women in the military serve the nation.  Women in higher academia serve the future of the institutions, their academic disciplines and their students.  Hard working women in small businesses or large serve the ‘customer,’ who is always right.  And in public service, police, fire, EMS or others, heroic women serve the good of the public at large.

As artists, whether in music, visual arts or literature, women may be very independent, but they still hope to please critics and buyers, and hope to advance the quality and expression of their particular art media.

So I wonder, if a woman says that she wants to stay home and raise children, why is that somehow a lower path in so many minds?  That woman, who may or may not have worked for any of the industries or groups I’ve listed (a small sample of the whole) will turn her attention to caring for, serving the children she bears or adopts.  They will be her customers (although not always right), her public, her industry, her small nation, her medium of expression.

The markers of her success will be theirs. Their health and happiness, their ability to care for themselves as adults, their entry into the world and into their own families. Those will be the metrics by which she will judge success or failure.  And in some cases, when children are very ill or disabled, their comfort will be the product she produces for years…or for a lifetime.  This isn’t just emotion.  The intact family is a very clear and validated predictor of future health and success for children.

I’m not in any way suggesting that women who work are failing their children; not at all.  I’m saying that motherhood is more than cribs, cuddles and laundry, diapers, mini-vans and soccer practice.  It’s too easy to reduce it to a set of visual cliches, so commonly attributed to motherhood in our society.  What I mean is that motherhood is not a lesser path, or a mere supporting role.  There are no mere supporting roles, for we almost all support someone, work for someone, help someone or produce for someone.  Even the President is a servant of the people.

But the role of mother, in developing the children of the nation, is foundational.  And her work, for work it is, is essential to the future of the nation and the well-being of our citizens.

So when young women choose that path, at reasonable ages, with husbands and sufficient financial resources, we ought to encourage them.  Motherhood, you see, is a choice the world cannot afford to devalue.

Happy Mother’s Day!

 

A degree isn’t all there is. (My column in today’s Greenville News.)

My column in today’s Greenville News. Do we determine our ‘worth’ by the degrees we hold?  I hope not.

 

back view of graduate student girl hug future

 

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/article/20140223/OPINION05/302230016/A-degree-isn-t-all-there-is?odyssey=mod|newswell|text|Opinion|s

My wife and I spent a lot of time in school.  Jan has a Master’s in counseling. I have a medical degree. Our poor kids are saddled with parents who really believe in higher education.  We were both driven, hard-working students who were horrified at the idea of failure.  Ultimately, those traits helped us to navigate the winding labyrinth of higher education from high-school on up.

In our culture, a college education is held in high regard.  Many Americans define themselves by their degrees.  And within that universe of degrees, many define themselves by their Alma Maters.  This is so much the case that parents spend shocking sums of money for their children to attend ‘the right’ pre-schools, so that they can go to ‘the right’ grade-schools, high-schools, and can then spend even more impressive amounts on ‘the right’ universities and graduate programs.  To many Americans, education is the essence of identity.  While I’m less concerned with the ‘name-brand’ aspect of the school, I want my children not only to go to college, but to have at least a four-year-degree.  And frankly, I’d prefer for them to have graduate degrees.  But I think I need to ask if I want that for the right reasons.

For quite some time, the political and academic policy-makers of our nation have been operating under the assumption that everyone should go to college.  We have student loan programs, grants and quotas and we go through all sorts of machinations to encourage college education (and its unfortunate natural association, indebtedness).

It’s a nice sentiment.  Certainly, a college education is a wonderful, valuable thing for some people. I’m not trying to discourage or devalue it.  But what I’m wondering is this:  do we associate individual worth with level of education?  And if so, why?

A college education hopefully teaches students useful skills and widens their perspectives on other people, on the past and the future.  But does it make anyone…better?  Does it make us moral?  Does it make us more valuable than anyone else on some fundamental level?

If our kids don’t go to college (and I address this particularly to those parents with degrees), will they disappoint us?  And if so, why?  Will we tell our friends that we keep hoping they’ll go back to school one day?  Will we (God forbid) give our ‘uncolleged’ children the ‘I’m so disappointed in you for not reaching your potential…’ lecture?  And if we do, will it be based on their earning potential?  Or their social status?  Or on our own pride?

Some in America believe that the way to stop people from committing crimes is for them to be financially successful…and educated.  Is that why we focus so much on college? Because if so, it’s a fallacy.  Rich, learned people have always been as capable of wrong as the poor and unschooled.

Or is it our modern confidence in educational institutions and educators themselves? For the last 100 years or so, we have been conditioned to believe that education properly occurs only in a formal educational setting, and is provided by professional educators.  (Not, of course, by reading books or experiencing life or doing a job well.)  Great men and women from history, open-source online education, the home-school movement and the public library are all evidence that one can be educated in many ways, to great effect.

Maybe it stems from a belief that the life of the mind is superior to the life of physical work.  Or that if we work with our hands and bodies, we are susceptible to injury and loss of income, but if we work with our minds, we are not.  Of course, people have strokes and head injuries and any number of neurologic diseases which render that line of thinking false.

One can do any job and be intelligent, or have any degree of education and be moral and good; or bad.  The lowliest laborer can be a sage; Socrates had no degree.  He was a stone-mason.  And I read nothing in the Sermon on the Mount that says ‘Blessed are the educated, for they are better than anyone else.’ The Constitution makes no such demarcations either.

Education is wonderful and elevates the educated.  But so does reading and work and travel.  As such, America shouldn’t be a place of educational aristocracy, but of educational diversity.

And most important, we must always struggle against the belief that anyone’s degree of worth is defined by the worth (or absence) of a degree.

 

 

The cords of love will hold…graduation 2013

Congratulations Samuel Leap, and the entire class of 2013!  We love you son!  You’re the best.

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/article/20130526/OPINION/305260006/Ed-Leap-Cords-love-will-hold

I am writing this from the beach.  Many of the best times Jan and I have had with the children have been in the sand and surf of our coastline.  We carried the kids to the water where they splashed and played, terrified of waves, fascinated by every shell, every tiny crab, thrilled at the simplest sand-castle and always exhausted within an hour or two, when we carried them back to the room for naps.  Those are good memories.

They are with us again, enjoying our annual end-of-school trek to the ocean, wherein we clear our heads and sleep to the sound of the waves.  The kids are remarkably taller, faster, stronger, smarter and more handsome (and yes, beautiful my daughter). Now, if necessary, they could carry me.

This year is poignant.  Our oldest graduates from high-school.  Samuel is 18 and the future is wide open before him.  My wife handles these events with much more equanimity than I do; I fret and worry, and wonder ‘have I done enough?’  I brood and wish I could transport myself back in time and re-play all the wonder.  I dream that I could keep all the kids small a while longer.

But it’s madness and it only makes Jan shake her head in patient love.  For the waves roll on, the tide comes in and goes out, and children grow up.  It is inevitable and inexorable.  So what do we do?  We must learn to view it from a new perspective.

The long history of parenthood was not always as it is.  In ages past, our ancestors lost many children in childhood and many in youth and young adulthood. And many parents before their children were grown, as well.  Disease, starvation, war, sickness and accident were so common that it would stun us if we went back to view it all in person.  And in fact, around the world in many locales, the same fact remains.  Rebellion and hatred, cruelty and medieval cultures abound and growing up and old, is no certainty.

In essence, then, this pining over our children as they grow up is a kind of ‘first-world problem.’  A thing that matters to us most because we are so very blessed and we have the luxury of anxiety over things others would call blessings.  Our children survived childhood and adolescence.  They have possibilities and futures.  Praise the Lord!

The thing is, they aren’t going away from us really.  If we love them well and raised them well, our role has only just begun as friends and advisers, supporters and cheerleaders.  Furthermore, they were made for their own purposes, and it wasn’t to entertain us.  It was to honor God with their love, worship and service.  It was to improve the world.  To learn, to produce, to create.  Not to sit idly by in life, but to make the world better for all.  Not to be only observers and consumers, but to engage and change the universe, the culture and the lives of all those they touch.  And to make more children (also known as grandchildren), or at least bring other young people into the fold as daughters and sons-in-law.

Changes is in the air, like the smell of the sea. Therefore I have to embrace what I realized today, looking out at the ocean.  You see, we have built a lot of sand-castles down the years.  Large and small, good and bad.  Just yesterday our entire family build a veritable city and then stood by smiling as the waves reclaimed it.  It was temporary, like all of them were.  But this beach remained.  And this place.  And this ocean, with its cycle of high tide and low tide, it’s moon-drunk waves moving in and out, drawing us close by night and day.  And this pattern of ours has remained; our love of one another mixed with our love of this place.

As our kids grow up and move on, a castle rises up and falls down.  Beautiful and memorable.  But our love is the beach and the ocean, the waves, the sunrise and moonlight.  The connections we form go on and return again and again, even as the surface changes.

So parents, cry and smile as the kids graduate, whatever path they choose.  And fear not.  They are still yours and always will be.  And graduates, seize life, grow and learn. And remember you are still tied by unbreakable cords of love to your family.

It’s all as certain as the sea.