Today’s posting is in honor of one of the most incredible men I’ve ever known, Lt-Col Thomas Martin Scott Junior, my husband’s 96 year old grandfather. Grandad currently lives in an assisted living facility for retired military in San Antonio, TX. After having not seen Grandad for almost two and a half years, we travelled with the kids last month for a visit. Although arthritis prevents him from navigating the world as nimbly as he would like, I was amazed to see that Grandad remains as sharp as a tack, and is a true testament to a life well lived. At 96 years old Grandad still uses his computer where he reads email, skypes with his family, and just discovered Facebook! His latest joy is the Kindle Fire, which he received as a gift from the family this past Christmas. The ability to enlarge the print and have the text read out loud as he follows along has again opened up the world of literature to Grandad. Once again he’s tearing through books.
So as our children played board games, cards, and pool in the community room, I talked to Grandad about his life story. Born in Ellsworth, Kansas, Grandad attended the University of Missouri where he excelled in ROTC. He remembers a certain army captain that he admired and respected, who encouraged him to make a career in the service. After a few years in the army Grandad was stationed in Fort Des Moines, Iowa, where he met and fell in love with Colin’s grandmother, Margaret “Dusty” Wallace. Their relationship was a true romance. Although I only knew Grandmaloo for a short time before Alzheimer’s set in and she died in 2007, I remember how lovingly she and Grandad treated each other. They had one daughter before Grandad had to leave his family for three years when he served in Europe during World War II. Upon his return they had two more daughters and raised a lovely family.
Grandad reflected happily on his many years in the service. He appreciated the “congenial” community, where newcomers were always welcomed with social calls within 24 hours of arriving to base. He enjoyed the “exactness and challenge” of the army and the rigid demands of military life did not bother him. Towards the end of our visit I asked Grandad what he felt the biggest factor to a life well lived was. Without a moment’s hesitation he answered with one word – love. In addition to having a great love in his life, Grandad was blessed with a loving family, loving friends, and a loving community within the military.
As I celebrated yesterday’s holiday devoted to love, I found myself reflecting on why some people accrue so much love in their lives, while others leave this world very alone. I think many of the answers are described in Dr. John Townsend’s book, “Loving People”. To have good relationships a person must know both how to give, and how to receive love. When someone grows up surrounded by love, these behaviors can come quite naturally. But for those that haven’t been loved well, both learning how to love others and learning how to let oneself be loved may require conscious effort.
A true human connection is at the core of a loving relationship. Dr. Townsend breaks human connection into the following essential elements.
1. Feelings – The ability to share the emotions we experience about things and people, both pleasant and painful.
2. Dreams and Desires – Loving people can share their deepest longings and wishes with those they love, especially the things we keep protected and may even have a hard time acknowledging ourselves.
3. Fears – When we are connected we feel safe to share our fears openly.
4. Failures – No one is without mistakes, and when we connect, we let others in on the darker parts of our lives.
5. Our Past – When we connect with someone we bring them into our personal history, sharing both our losses and joys.
6. The Other Person – Loving people have the ability to honestly communicate to the other person how they feel about their interactions with each other in a way that does not threaten, but rather strengthens the relationship.
One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is the opportunity to connect with so many wonderful people through the art of medicine. I know I’m doing my job well when patients share their feelings and fears regarding their current health issues with me. When people open up to me, I know I’ve made them feel safe. My weight management program has resulted in particularly satisfying connections. By meeting weekly with people struggling with the very sensitive and emotionally complicated issues relating to obesity, we have the opportunity to develop a safe platform from which to discuss past failures, desires and dreams, and can develop the good communication skills required for a productive patient-coach relationship.
Dr. Townsend points out that “the best connectors are the ones that have been on the receiving end of connection.” I feel very blessed that I have been loved so well in my life. When I encounter someone who is selfish, unkind, or hurtful, I try to react with empathy instead of anger, because that person is most likely acting “unlovable” because they are nursing an emotional wound from some prior relationship. These are the people most in need of grace, acceptance, and understanding.
Grace can best be defined as an undeserved favor. Forgiving a person for behavior that they are not proud of is the most wonderful gift you can give a person. Just yesterday I had a tearful patient in my office because she returned three months later than instructed because she was ashamed at her inability to meet her weight loss and exercise goals. Her relief when I reached out and hugged her and said those magic words “it’s ok” was palpable. I often hear from patients, “I was afraid you would be mad/yell at me”. I always find this statement shocking because why would I scold when I know we all live with the most merciless critic of all – ourselves. What people really need when they act in self destructive ways is support and forgiveness. A person can break through the iciest shell with these methods!
So in this week devoted to celebrating love I will close with my favorite paragraph from Dr. Townsend’s book. “Connected people are people who are grateful for what they have taken in and do not want to waste it. When we use our connections good things happen. Spouses feel like less of a failure, people take career risks that are fulfilling, kids move on from sports defeats, lovers develop closer bonds, single people resolve fears, and books get written. Connection requires movement and response when we experience it. Connection takes time and energy from someone you care about, even if it is freely given. That is not a guilt motive; it is a reality motive. Take ownership over connecting with others, and help it help you to be a better and more whole person.” – John Townsend
Please feel free to reach out to Grandad by email email@example.com
He’s always open to making a new friend!
Loving People, John Townsend, 2007, Thomas Nelson Publishing