Author: pascal

Christ-following friend of Russell. Polymathic autodidact in digital Alexandria. Learning with skeptical colleagues by safe, honest dialogue.

Morning Person

1200px-Ermita_de_la_Virgen_de_la_Peña,_LIC_Sierras_de_Santo_Domingo_y_Caballera,_Aniés,_Huesca,_España,_2015-01-06,_DD_08-09_PAN

Dear Russell & Friends,

As usual, I titled my post before visiting Wikimedia Commons to find an appropriate photo.  This was the photo of the day and it was perfect in every way but one.  The sun is setting.  I think and write the best before the sun rises.  I pray best while running trails or climbing stairs.

Here is the story that accompanied this image:

Sunset view of the Ermita de la Virgen de la Peña (Hermitage of the Virgin of the Rock), province of Huesca, Spain. The village of Aniés is seen on the left. The oldest parts of the sanctuary date to Roman times, while much was built in the 13th Century. The hermitage is only accessible on foot, via a steep path in the forest and through caves in the mountain.

A hermitage.  In a mountain.  Overlooking a beautiful valley.  Accessible only by foot.  Through a forest. Sigh.  I can relate to the hermit and to her temptation to allow solitude’s reign.  But a hermitage is something else.  Alone together.  Isn’t that the motto of an introverted friend?  We are so happy to see you, to listen, to radiate your warmth back to you.  We just recharge alone.  My favorite saying about love and marriage comes from Rilke as I describe my bride in his words, “the guardian of my solitude”.  I’m in the mood for quoting, so to do it justice, from Letters to a Young Poet:

“The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”

So, this morning and in my mind, I hiked that path, jogging here and there and approached that hermitage in the civil dawn.  Coffee was brewing as I arrived and I sat to a rough hewn table to eat simple bread and drink a clear, cold water.  Thirsty parchment and an old pen waited as I sat to write you.  Morning in the hermitage, awaiting the rising of the sun.

Why do I like the mornings so much?  It may be my neural wiring.  It may be the training in my profession that required long hours deep into the nights and shallow into the next mornings.  But everyone works long at times.  Some prefer to work and talk and play deep into the star dotted night.  I find night is best for sleeping and dreaming and recharging a body that is frequently depleted.  But morning!  Morning is my best time.  So that is the time I give to God, and will be the time I give to others.  Don’t run for exercise if you don’t love running.  It will never stick.  And don’t read or write in the morning unless it is your best time. You won’t have the same joy.  The internet is gleefully asynchronous and the world so small.  My dawn may very well be your dusk.  Let’s just find each other in the infinite space between, and enjoy our fellowship alone together.

Pascal – – 1:16

 

photo credit:  “Ermita de la Virgen de la Peña, LIC Sierras de Santo Domingo y Caballera, Aniés, Huesca, España, 2015-01-06, DD 08-09 PAN” by Diego Delso. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Unwell

 

moon

I’m not crazy.  I’m just a little unwell.  I know, right now you can’t tell.   Matchbox 20

Dear Russell & Friends,

My oldest son and I joke that the best thing for writer’s block is to write about it.  Perhaps that’s why the musician strums and plunks, the sculptor abstracts, and the poet zooms into the mundane.  One week ago I took the first two pills of a z-pack, the five day course of needless antibiotic that I sometimes retreat to after several days of sore throat, low grade fevers, and general crumminess.  Whether it was placebo effect, anti-inflammatory property or response to a true bacterial bronchitis I do not know.  I do know that the rest of the week felt progressively better.  And that I was able to take two hour naps with vivid, forgotten dreams. Unwell.  Why can’t I be thankful in the interregnum?  Why must illness remind me of health?  I can’t be alone.

This season has been more of intake and thought than output.  I’ve read more, written more in my journal, and prayed more on long runs that I hadn’t been capable of in some time.  I lost two colleagues in sudden death.  In career, in family, in calling I’ve been asking that classic middle-age question:  what do I want to be, who do I want to be, when I grow up?

One concept that came back to me was you.  This is only my second foray into digital life.  The first was a blog called The Breakfast Table that neither Russell nor I can find even with the internet wayback machine. I abandoned that blog as the cognitive load of corresponding with strangers was more than I could handle. What is different ten years later?  I have not Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.  There is just a friend who no longer believes, his family who may, and many people like him.  There is just my family and me who do believe, and a deep desire to find the intersection.  I need something that will last past fifty even though I am more aware than most that I may not.  You see, I’m an oncologist.  I have more experience than many with those who live with an awareness of the end.  And more recently with those who live life fully with no idea that today’s dawn is their last.

First rule of writer’s block rambling?  Keep it less than 500 513 words.  So, what?  I’m reading Francis Schaeffer, Thomas Paine, Isaiah and Leo Tolstoy.  I’m thinking of the 2,000 people who follow this blog and the 6 people who joined Charity Miles.  I’m thinking of why this effort matters to me and why it is okay to pause and grow and even to decay.  I’m thinking of fifty and how not to fail.  I’m thinking of a book called failure at fifty that I’ve been writing in my head.  All chapters start with an “f” word of more than four letters.  I need help with one for career.  More soon, I hope.  Just a little unwell.

Pascal – – 1:16

photo credit: Russell, his telescope & the 2015 blood moon

Agreeing On Nothing

Dear Russell & Friends,

Good morning.  I’ve missed you and thought often of you as I fire up the Charity Miles app.  Our RussellandPascal team has 6 members now with a total of 169 miles.  If my math is correct, that is over $41 donated to various charities that move us.  If my musing is correct, that is new money that we had perhaps intended to give but had not acted on.  Please join our team if you are able.  We would like to see half the blog followers join in the next one year and our goal for mileage is >10,000 (time to goal uncertain).

Russell and I had breakfast a week ago and after two hours we agreed upon nothing.  Don’t despair.  The reason I led with the Charity Miles collaboration is to remind you of how much we do agree on.  And, one cup of coffee in, it is quite possible that my insistence we agree upon nothing is a double entendre.  We talked about this book that I lent to Russell over Christmas break – –

the information

I loved the book and further thought that it might help me to understand my friend.  It did.  Here is another book that I’m reading with an extended quote below.

schaeffer

Love is not an easy thing; it is not just an emotional urge, but an attempt to move over and sit in the other person’s place and see how his problems look to him.  Love is a genuine concern for the individual.  As Jesus Christ reminds us, we are to love that individual “as ourselves.”  This is the place to begin.  Therefore, to be engaged in personal “witness” as a duty or because our Christian circle exerts a social pressure on us, is to miss the whole point.  The reason to do it is that the person before us is an image-bearer of God, and he is an individual who is unique in the world.  This kind of communication is not cheap.  To understand and speak to sincere but utterly confused twentieth-century people is costly.  It is tiring; it will open you to temptations and pressures.  Genuine love, in the last analysis, means a willingness to be entirely exposed to the person to whom we are talking.   —  Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There

How did these two books relate?  Gleick, in The Information, helped me to love my friend Russell.  I read the book with fascination and took notes in the cover.  I think I took notes – – Russell still has the book.  I read it around the same time that Russell introduced me to Sean Carroll and Howie and began to think – – why don’t I think this way?  It is quite a beautiful way to think.

Information theory then has become an area of interest for me and obsession for Russell (I’ll ask him to correct me if I overstate; I frequently do for effect).  Information theory found its way into our taco breakfast last week and helped us to agree on nothing.  Please accept a brief paraphrase.

R:  Even in the outer boundary of the known universe there is information.

P:  I don’t see it.  Quantum fluctuation maybe . . .

R:  But, that is information.

P:  I’m tracking – – I just didn’t consider that useful information.  So you’ll accept the noise and not just the signal?

R:  Yes.

P:  Remember how we’ve had a hard time agreeing about the definition of nothing?  How I insist that the Universe can’t naturally be made from nothing?

R:  Yes, but that has never bothered me.

P:  You know it bothers me?

R:  I do.

P:  So would you accept the complete lack of information as nothing?

R:  I would.

There are not many readers of this blog who will recognize the milestone that this represents in Russell’s and my communication.  We have gone to great lengths to understand each other, deconstruct straw men and yes – – to love each other.  As Schaeffer says, it has not been easy.  But this agreement, on nothing, meant the world to me.

Where will it lead?  Do I jump directly to an apologetic based on ex nihilo nilo fit?  Absolutely not.  I finish the post and prepare to run a 10K trail with two of my sons, thankful that I’ll log 6.2 more miles for water.  On that run I’ll thank my God for my friend and thank him for the love that lets us to talk to not past each other.

Pascal – – 1:16

Action Required

Our Team

Dear Russell & Friends,

Forgive my absence from the blog.  I completed a difficult assignment at work where I primarily work in the hospital with sicker patients.  I then traveled for committee work and experienced the wonders of perpetual delay in the flight back home.  That said, I read, considered and ultimately liked Russell’s last post very much.  What do I mean like?  Yes – – I hit the like button after reading the post and thinking carefully about it.  Perhaps for another day, but I think that you choose love and don’t necessarily choose like.  I like my bride and that has made all the difference for us.  I would love her from choice and obedience to a standard that is greater than me.  Love can be, often is, painful.  Like is pleasure of the purest form.  Diversion complete.

I liked Russell’s post because it really does reveal who he is – – one of the most moral and compassionate people I have met.

So what?  I downloaded the Charity Miles app.  I’ve begun to use it.  I pray for people who don’t have water as I marvel at how blessed I am to go to any sink or hose bib in my home and know that the water is potable.  I’ve stopped using distilled or filtered water and my tastes and thoughts have changed.

For the people who have joined us in this blog, would you please join our team?  You have many choices besides water – – that’s just the one that moved me on a base level.  The screenshot above is our team.  You can see that my friend Russell is more kinetic than me.  As a believer, do I welcome an atheist challenging me to put action to faith?  Oh yes I do.  I’m so thankful that my friend called me to action.  And will you join our team?  Please do.  I really don’t know why our follower count increases daily.  Perhaps our generation is ready to respectfully reason together.  Could you help our charity miles team grow as well by downloading the app and joining RussellandPascal?  You could.  Will you?

Pascal – – 1:16

The Cliff, part 2

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Dear Russell & Friends,

I lost another friend to the cliff last week.  This was a literal cliff, challenged by a colleague my own age, because it was there.  This was a man who kept his promise to only leave his marriage by death, and did.  As we gather again to support his family and to embrace the community at work I grieve in a very different way.  I understood his sense of adventure and his pursuit of fitness that allowed him to do hard things.  I last spoke with him 4 weeks ago when he welcomed me to CrossFit and explained why he did it.  I understood, as a hiker, the draw to climbing rocks that I was just too cautious to embrace.  I admired him for taking the risks that I would not take.  And when he fell I do not reproach him.  I don’t ask him to do it over, to live a safer life.  Could my perspective be that of his bride or children the age of mine?  It is honestly too soon to contemplate asking.  Yet I know that her husband did not break promises.  And I know that their father was a hero.

The cliff of infidelity is avoidable, and I strive to live away from its ledge.  The cliff of death will touch us all in a free fall or slow slide.  I honor my friend for his choices, his bravery, and his life.  I grieve that we won’t enjoy his company for longer here.  Our family will seek practical means to comfort and support his.  In 6 weeks I’ve lost 2 friends to traumatic death.  Friends within 2 years of my age.  In my profession, half of the people I meet know that they are dying sooner than they expect.  So yes.  I think much about death even when it doesn’t brush this close.  And yes.  That is one of the main reasons I believe – – the hope that the dead will rise.

Pascal – – 1:16

 

photo credit:  David Hiser, 1937-, Photographer (NARA record: 3651517) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Goodbye to a Man I Admired

Oliver Sacks

photo links to NYT obituary

Dear Russell & Friends,

Oliver Sacks, the neurologist whose work inspired Awakenings with Robert De Niro and Robin Williams, died today from metastatic ocular melanoma at the age of 82.  I read one of his first books, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat last year.  Soon after I completed the book, which still has me thinking, I saw Dr. Sacks’ New York Times op-ed piece about his pending death published 6 months ago.

I admired Dr. Sacks for many reasons.  The two foremost were his ability to communicate and his desire to empathize with his patients.  He was one of the first to write in the popular media about neurobiology.  In a way he was a forerunner of Dr. David Eagleman, but a clinician responsible for meeting and comforting broken people.

The link below is Dr. Sack’s TED talk from 2009 – – an excellent primer and a fond memory.  I say goodbye to a man I never met, but who touched me nonetheless.

 

Pascal – – 1:16

photo credit – – thegaurdian.com

The Cliff

Sitting_near_the_cliff

Dear Russell & Friends,

I’m writing in response to a recent post by a family friend J, Russell’s wife.  She also goes by CC, the Counterfeit Christian, to reflect her journey through the desert of doubt concurrent with her husband’s loss of faith.  In this post she mentions the cliff of infidelity and how it shocked and disappointed her that she could even let it come into view.  I found her admission to be mature, honest, and much more healthy than most of us can manage.  In light of Josh Duggar’s recent revelations I felt an obligation to speak.

Mrs. Pascal and I met at the age of 19.  She actually baked my 20th birthday cake in a dorm microwave one step up from an easy bake oven.  We jogged together (she later confessed that she didn’t like to run), played racquetball, shared meals, and grew in friendship.  We wrote a series of pre-internet letters on paper with pen in envelopes requiring a stamp.  We both still have every one.  We decided to marry after an intense argument.  I asked her for 48 hours space.  I was either going to marry her or never talk to her again.  What a wonderful decision.  We celebrated 21 years of marriage last month.

In a life driven by priorities, following Christ is first.  The second priority is loving others.  These two priorities are why I’m here.  But there is a rank to my others.  My bride deserves to be first in my esteem and affections.  My children know that I love them but that they must play a secondary role in my heart.  Other people – – our community here falls into the third tier.  So if one person is my first priority, how can I guard my heart and hers?  I consider infidelity to be one of my deepest fears.  I would likely feel less guilt with other crimes that might be objectively considered more serious.  Why?  I promised her.  I gave my word.  I said that I wouldn’t leave and wouldn’t destroy what we worked so hard to build.

The photo above is beautiful.  Mrs. Pascal just walked by and said so herself.  I explained the metaphor of the post and she wholeheartedly agreed.  We have tried to draw our stopping line one mile from the cliff.  I am not a young sports car.  I’m not fast, shiny, or sexy.  I am a middle aged locomotive.  I can carry much over great distances.  I am defined by momentum, not acceleration.  A train can take a mile to stop.

Here are my principles for guarding a faithful marriage.  I have built them with the lessons learned from my weaknesses and from the failures of those I consider friends.  In the last twenty years I have sat across the breakfast table from 7 different men who were leaving their wives and children.  Only one turned back.  All of these men had picnics by the beautiful cliff.  For what it is worth – – here is the advice that I give myself.  I ask you all to hold me accountable.

  1. Tell the truth.  Tell the truth to yourself.  You can become attracted to another.  None of the 7 men thought they could ever stray – – that was the one commonality.
  2. Friendship is more dangerous than physical attraction.  You’re not 19 anymore.  Finding someone who appreciates you and laughs at your jokes – – danger.
  3. Avoid pornography.  It is corrosive and encourages to ask, what if?  It honors neither women nor men.  How many human traffic victims?
  4. Tell the truth.  Tell the truth to your true friends.  Some men (most men) have less than 5 friends.  Find one.  Please.
  5. Do not meet privately with someone from work.  Have your meetings out in the open.  Do not go to lunch one on one.  Take a colleague.
  6. Know yourself.  I am more vulnerable to words than plunging necklines.  For me, to exchange letters with a woman who is not my wife is a crossing of the one mile boundary.  I did that one time.  I thought I had built accountability into the system.  The letters were for a noble cause.  They were openly exchanged.  I was wrong.  My bride asked me to stop and I did immediately.  She knew my heart better than I did and I’m so glad that she loved me enough to guard it.
  7. Be kind, but not familiar.  I hope that I am never rude, but I would rather be considered rude than over familiar.
  8. Do not flirt.  It is jet fuel on a camp fire.

This list is less important than the spirit behind it.  Please – – guard your own heart and the heart of the one you promised it to.  What do you think?  Have I drawn my lines to extremely?  Does this make sense, or not?  Have you successes or failures that may help us?

Pascal – – 1:16

photo credit: By Dinkum (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

First Day of School

first day

Dear Russell and Friends,

Sigh.  P1 went to college yesterday.  We helped him move in, took a tour of the campus with his brothers, went out to eat, and left.  My heart aches.  Was it only 13 years ago when the first day of school was accessorized with a lunchbox rather than a laptop?  P2 is gone for cross country practice.  P3 is packed and ready to go.  I completed my first day of class as well – – CrossFit – – fighting the middle age slide.  Russell and J are sending R1 off to kindergarten.  Sigh.

Share your first day stories with us?  Mixed emotions love company.

Pascal – – 1:16