Packet Sea Foam: 60 years of knowledge helps man appreciate citizenship

May 30, 2011 

Thanks to Dr. Howard Rankin of Hilton Head Island for sharing an essay he sent to friends in April on a milestone day in his life.

'On Turning 60'

By Howard Rankin

I turn 60 today. I've been anticipating this day for some time. More understanding, more memories, more appreciation. But today is a special day for another reason.

On this date I became an American citizen. It was the proudest day of my life and something I had been aspiring to since I was 11.

As a young boy in London I had found the American Forces Network radio and initially taught myself about baseball and football and along the way fell in love with the concept of America.

And so many years later, in a small room at the immigration office in Charleston, along with my wonderful wife and nine other new citizens, I was sworn in as a member of this great country.

That I then had to drive home and write a check to my new government for my taxes in no way tarnished the day. In fact, it seemed only fitting to underscore my new responsibilities that I make my contribution on the very day I became a citizen.

I started my birthday today by going to Mass. I like to start the day by centering myself and reminding myself that I am, most of all, part of the cosmos and that my greatest responsibility lies in my connection to God, nature and my fellow man. To reach that centeredness, where all material matters dissolve into irrelevant obscurity, is my spiritual goal. Sometimes I can reach that place, but I always have to work hard against the cacophony of the material world. Going to church helps me get there.

Then I came home and ran. I've been a jogger for the past 30 years, and I remember 15 years ago, when I was regularly running three or four miles five times a week, I vowed that on my 50th birthday I'd run five miles and on my 60th I'd run six miles. Today I ran eight miles. Ever since I have become more involved in understanding the brain, assessing it and training it, I have become convinced that exercise is the single biggest activity you can do to preserve your brain function. So now I generally run a minimum of 10k. People who see me running across the Cross Island bridge say, "Howard, what are you doing to your knees?" I accept that at some point I might need knee replacement, and that's OK with me because I know I won't ever be able to get a brain replacement.

Next, I had some fun rewriting some 1970s lyrics for a Boston band called World Gone Crazy, created by two talented friends of mine, Gary Marino and Mike Coleman, the latter being especially good at Jim Morrison impersonations. The band doesn't have a roadie, but it does have a shrink and this shrink enjoys rewriting lyrics. You should check out World Gone Crazy band on YouTube. You always have to put some fun in your life every day, a distraction that takes you away from the struggles and blocks that frustrate your everyday life. I call this sort of activity, "thinking outside the blocks."

And I get to spend most of this day with my lovely wife, M.J. She has been a real blessing in my life. We've been married 20 years. I don't know whether being a marriage therapist really helps your own marriage. In some ways it doesn't, and I always remember that I am her husband not her therapist. But we are very good at keeping things in perspective. One of the important things for partners in a marriage is to constantly ask themselves, "Do I want to be right or happy?" Life is not a math quiz and often there are no right or wrong answers. You must respect your partner's reality even if you don't agree with it or understand it.

And looking back on a life and a career in therapy, what are the other two most important lessons that I've learned?

Life can only be understood backwards but you've got to live it forwards. So says Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher. How true. You never know the true meaning of events until time has unfolded them.

Reality is perception. (Yes, that way around). Consciousness is a metaphor, and the brain works in metaphors, which means life is more story than "reality." (Which is why so often there isn't a right or wrong.)

And finally, a word about my sons. My experience of fatherhood has spanned the continuum. Josh is autistic, almost 27.

He has taught me much about myself and life, despite the fact that we've never really had a proper conversation. He has a fantastic memory, especially for birth dates, so today is a special day for him. I think of Josh as one of God's secret shoppers. Some people warm to him, others avoid him, some smile, some mock. People's souls are revealed when they interact with the disabled or marginalized. Are they compassionate or are they self-absorbed? Caring or cynical? There's no better mirror than a disabled person.

And then there's James, 19. He is my hero. You should raise your children to be heroes. Push them to do hard things, develop character, instill integrity. James is an engineering student at a leading university and he is in the Army ROTC. He will make an outstanding officer and wherever he goes, people will say that's what an American should be, that's what any person in this world should aspire to be.

And one day, he'll be on a base somewhere in a far-flung outpost listening to the American Forces Network radio. And just maybe, there will be a young man somewhere else in the world also listening with wonder about the land of the free and the home of the brave.

It's great to be here.

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