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Thanksgiving And Your Priorities

Here is my column in [the November 21st] Greenville News:

This Thanksgiving we will have 32 guests at the table. Rather, at the tables we scatter about the dining room…and living room…and kitchen. At our house, food is practically a sacrament. And obviously Thanksgiving is the high holiday of American eating. So we will be honoring the tradition by feeding everyone as much as we can.

Because the guests are all beloved to us, we will also have a variety of foods, in a variety of presentations. For instance, there will be fresh cranberries for organic purists, as well as a maroon gelatinous mass of cranberries for those who feel that cranberries indeed spring from aluminum. The turkeys will be divided perfectly among dark and light meat lovers. And for the carb-loving, there will be sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and potatoes soft, but cut into chunks. (In deference to the texture-challenged.)

We will have assorted dressings, casseroles and vegetables. And more types of sweets than any of us really need. All of it because we love one another, friends, family, young and old. And we want everyone to have something that they love. The sheer pleasure of eating is one (but not the only) reason that we love the holiday so much.

I think we also love it for a few other reasons. For instance, we (and I mean all Americans) love it because it slows us down, just a bit, before the Christmas madness sets in. Yes, the day after Thanksgiving it’s “game on.” But on Turkey Thursday we stop, if only because we are too full to move. So much of our lives involve rushing, hurrying, competing. Thanksgiving is a food-stuffed, sleep-inducing speed bump in the frantic activity of the season.

We also love it because it is tangible. Today so much is virtual. So much of our lives are borne on the airwaves, across cell-towers or satellites. Our pleasures are so often intangible, insubstantial — distant sounds and images on movies, television shows, or the Internet. Even our work is often virtual. Thanksgiving is a time when we can touch and taste, listen and embrace. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at*

Mental Health: Too Many Pills, Too Little Truth

This is my column in [the September 17th] Greenville News. It’s a follow-up to a recent column I wrote on the mental health “crisis” in America, as seen in our emergency rooms.

My last column addressed the unfortunate truth of the overwhelmed mental health system in South Carolina, and indeed in much of the U.S. While I lament the fiscal condition of our mental health system, and while I feel for those who truly need the help we are often powerless to supply, I would be a poor observer if I didn’t report the truth. And the second truth we must face is that much of what we call mental illness is neither truly “mental,” nor even “illness.”

Let me first state the obvious: The brain is an organ. It is incalculably complex and truly a wonder of design and engineering. But, it remains an organ despite its wonderful capacities. Therefore, it requires energy, its support structures feel pain, it may be injured and swell, it can bleed and parts of it can die when its owner has a stroke.

Sometimes the dysfunction of this fantastic organ, or of the chemicals which course through it, is manifest[ed] as mental illness. In certain cases, medications can restore the brain to normal function. Therefore, I am not suggesting that true mental illness is wicked, or reflects character flaws. I have met too many sweet, confused schizophrenics to believe either of those things. I am suggesting that too often we allow character flaws, unpleasant personalities, remorse over bad choices — and even, yes, wickedness — to masquerade as mental illness. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at*

The Game of Life & American Tragedy

A game worth learning

Three of my children love to play the game ‘Life,’ where players choose college or career and are paid, take out loans, pay taxes, have families and all the rest as they navigate towards retirement.  I especially love playing with them when they each become frantic, not for the highest income, but to finish the game with the most children.  Along the way, my daughter is even naming her kids as the tiny blue and pink pegs fill up her little plastic car.  (Talk about your parental validation!)

But after playing, then thinking back on my week at work, I fear that we could easily make a new game that was more familiar to many modern kids.  I suppose we’d have to call it ‘The Game of Death,’ or maybe just ‘The Game of Pain.’ Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at*

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