An Outer and Inner Journey

After my retirement from emergency medicine in March of 2022, I have enjoyed a softer, gentler existence. Besides spending more blessed time with my wife, Sheridan, and our dogs, Karma and Buddy, I can now enjoy added moments with my grandchildren, especially since the misery of Covid-19 has at long last waned. With that in mind, I decided to drive to Enid, OK, to see my granddaughter Sawyer play a soccer game with her rather incredible team, the Stingers, little knowing the inner journey I was about to experience.

And so, on that fateful afternoon, I hopped in my rattly, but still loved 2004 Honda CR-V, and headed north on I-35, expecting a drive of about an hour and a half. I love quiet moments in my car, as while my outer mind is focused on the highway, my inner mind can wander unfettered. Before long, I approached the first of two exits to Guthrie, and my consciousness was unexpectedly flooded with bittersweet memories. Guthrie was the town where I lived for a number of years on nine wooded acres, and where I was a devoted father to my three daughters, Sarah, Megan, and Hillary. I was married before I moved to Guthrie, and while there, I was divorced, with all the inherent emotional trauma. Guthrie was where I began my healing pathway, not realizing at the time how long it would take to approach normalcy.

I recalled taking my daughters and their friends to the Guthrie Country Club lake during the summer and frolicking for endless hours on our family jet ski. I thought of when I coached Megan and Hillary in fast-pitch softball. At the time, I wasn’t the laid-back person I am now, and I approached coaching with a fire and intensity that eventually led to a number of championships. I loved all my players deeply, and, at the same time, I did my very best to prepare them to win.

In Guthrie, I took the “Back to Earth” movement quite seriously. I raised dairy goats and milked them twice a day, maintained a large organic garden, and tended a flock of chickens, not for their meat, but for their delicious eggs. Besides all this, I was a beekeeper, oh, and yes, amidst all this busyness, I also happened to be an emergency physician. The days I labored at the hospital, I drove almost forty-minutes to get there, and the drives back home after my challenging shifts were tiring and difficult. Perhaps it was because I was younger that I tolerated so much simultaneous, frenetic activity, though even now, I honestly don’t know how. Continuing down the highway, I wondered what thoughts and feelings would come up next.

As the exit ramp to Stillwater approached, I remembered my three years as a student at Oklahoma State University, a place that admirably prepared me for my eventual medical training at the University of Oklahoma. I thought of the fact that my parents met at OSU and were later married in my mother’s hometown of Claremore. I recalled my three years of living at the now-demolished Willham Hall, where I roomed with my old U.S. Grant High School football chum, Phil Dean. Years later, my brother, Jim, and sister, Connie, also attended OSU. Being a longtime fan of sports, I loved OSU football, as well as intramural athletic events, including wrestling, softball, and volleyball. These were formative, explorative years for me, as it was the first time I had been away from the my parent’s protective mantle for any extended period of time.

Before long, I approached the exit to Perry, and I was reminded of the deep friendship my family had with the Paul and Lois Edmundson family. Paul was a veterinarian, and he and his wife, along with their two sons, Wade and Todd, lived on a small acreage just northwest of the interstate exit. One memory that came to mind was when Wade and Todd, along with my brother Jim and I, went swimming in their murky farm pond and made the questionable decision to scoop up and throw mud pies at each other. All went well until Wade hit Todd in the face just as he emerged from the water, and his irritated mother had to clean copious amounts of mud out of Todd’s eyes. Wade was in big trouble, and he knew it. Isn’t it odd how these memories can resurface when you least expect it?

Of course, the clear highlight of the day was seeing my granddaughter Sawyer’s team play soccer against their archrival, Enid. Here I am seen proudly wearing my official Stingers hoodie as I stand next to her.

The final score of the thrilling match was 1-1, but the main reason I was there was not to see a victory, but rather, to give my full and unwavering support to Sawyer. Isn’t that what grandparents are for?

After the game, I drove back toward my home in Edmond, deep in thought, my contemplations accentuated by the gorgeous sunset pictured at the beginning of this post. As I thought about it, it’s natural to have reactions to places of importance and intensity in our lives. Yet, it was hard for me not to have a sense of melancholy, after all, much of my life has passed me by, so much quicker than I ever could have imagined. While I hope to still have a number of healthy, happy years before my time on Earth comes to an end, the simple truth is that most of my life has already taken place. I feel joyful in the knowledge, though, that God has blessed me with such an interesting, productive, and service-oriented existence. Not that it’s all been peaches and cream – it hasn’t – but the hard lessons blended with many beautiful, sacred moments have helped me grow into a better person. Scarred, perhaps, but definitely an improved version of myself. Jimmy Stewart might pat me on the back, look in my eyes and say with his distinctive timbre, “Gary, It’s a Wonderful Life!”

And it has been.

In the meantime, when Sheridan and I enjoy an occasional glass of wine, I now pick out one of the best bottles we have, following the dictum of the French phrase, joie de vi​vre, “the keen or buoyant enjoyment of life.” Another way of putting it is the Latin adage, carpe diem, “seize the day.” Given the limited time I have in this incarnation, as we all have to one degree or another, I plan to do everything I can to experience life fully and completely, not delaying my joy for a nebulous and unpredictable future.

I love seeing the happiness on my grandchildren’s faces, travel with Sheridan to faraway places, singing with the Edmond Community Chorale, small-scale organic gardening, and deepening my relationship with God through meditation, living in the Present Moment, and simply being as kind as possible. The Dalai Lama once wisely said, “My religion is kindness,” and I couldn’t agree more. John Denver, in “Poems, Prayers and Promises,” said, “I have to say it now, it’s been a good life, all in all. It’s really fine to have a chance to hang around.” Amen.

The next time I need a growth experience, hopefully, it won’t require a trip to rural Oklahoma, but I’ll take any opportunity that God so graciously gives me.

What’s next? I wonder.

Only God knows.

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