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Carmelization and the co-evolution of relationships

One of the mantras of my life and career has been an appreciation that life is about relationships and retirement has given me a little extra time to contemplate how important it is to devote time to those relationships.

In relationships, we all have biases.  My biases in this unfolding contemplative journey have been influenced by my initial training as a scientist (biochemist), then as a physician (reproductive endocrinologist), and eventually an exposure to issues of community health, poverty, and theology that I encountered in Haiti.  Haiti opened my eyes to the intersection of medicine and theology and it sent me on a quest that involved teaching ‘issues of healing’ in the medical / divinity school at Duke for 10 years and spending a semester with Stanley Hauerwas pondering issues of conflict between the church and medicine.  My brain tends to filter its beliefs through the lens of science.  I see science as a self-correcting discipline that is based on testing hypotheses and revising beliefs based on evolving new observations.  Interestingly Karen Armstrong, in her book The Case for God, recently reminded me that religious leaders gave birth to the discipline of science.  This insight also reminded me that science and religion are both searching for truths about the universe as we perceive it.  At times these seemingly distinct disciplines seek answers to questions that are expectedly far apart but also at times overlap and sometimes in unanticipated ways.

The concept of evolution has, at times, been one example of contention between these disciplines.  The word evolution derives from the Latin ‘evolvere’, which refers to things that change gradually.  There is no question that lives and cultures do evolve.  Radio stations often reference music by its decade of origin.  Given that life is about relationships, I like to think of these changes as a process of ‘co-evolution’ where one thing changes and influences changes in another in ways that evolve harmoniously (or not).  One point of contention in evolution between medicine and theology seems to be whether we, as humans, evolved from common ancestors or whether we were created and placed on this earth.  Where there is contention, there is an intersection of differing beliefs and often different perspectives.  It is interesting how differences in beliefs can either send us off exploring those mysteries together or divide us.  Sometimes, our ego-centric perspective forgets that we are on a tiny blue dot with limited knowledge and resources, and how rich life becomes when we search for ways to live in harmony, grow from exploring different perspectives and trying to heal (restore broken relationships) when our belief systems don’t align.  In 2023, it feels like science is seen as an exploratory discipline that is acquiring new knowledge at an accelerating pace while religion seems to be facing an existential crisis as some extreme factions claim truths that can’t be known and divide society.  However, life is a pendulum, and no human discipline is perfect.  Recent discoveries from the James Webb telescope are providing observations that seem to challenge our long-held beliefs about how and when our universe began.  Humility and tolerance would seem to be worthy endeavors for all of us recognizing that all disciplines have the potential to enrich our lives in different ways.

My wife and I recently had friends and colleagues over for dinner and I wanted to make something special.  I decided that would be dessert and in the process of making the dessert, I discovered an analogy to the dilemma of wrestling with contentious beliefs.  In September of 2022, while traveling with my wife to celebrate our time together in my retirement, I discovered gelato.  It became a new love.  Upon sharing this news, a close friend (named Michael with Sicilian roots) sent me a gelato maker and a cookbook.  The gelato recipe that I decided to make that week was caramel with salted butter.  As I prepared, I decided to try to make the caramel from scratch, which involved slowly heating and stirring granulated sugar, powdered milk and butter to 185 degrees Fahrenheit.  Doing a little research, I discovered that the chemistry of caramelization is not completely understood but what is known is that the simple sugars and dairy mixture are transformed by a host of chemical reactions (enolization, dehydration, etc.) into over 1000 new complementary aromatic, flavorful scents and flavors of nuts, butter, etc. as the ingredients are slowly heated and stirred.  As I read the warnings in the recipe it became clear that heating too fast without stirring would cause everything to burn and all would be lost.  Pondering this thought, it occurred to me that we are living in an increasingly, heated society with limited mixing where evolving changes and differences might benefit greatly from going slowly and stirring so that we might recognize how our differences might harmonize and keep us from burning things that we value.

As we ponder our diverse perspectives and our actions in the time that we have left on this planet, I dream of a day when we might realize that there is much to learn and much at stake in the world that we will leave for our children and grandchildren.

So how does this relate to the fertility journey?  Here is one thought.

The acronym for ‘assisted reproductive technologies’ (the science / medicine term) is ART (art is the non-science perspective that includes our emotions, philosophy, theology, etc.).  When you come to Atlantic, you become a member of a family that is dedicated to ‘building families together’.  Atlantic becomes your family of support, and you are their raison d’etre.  Every member of that family exists to caramelize the relationships in a way that will transform your lives (yes, theirs too) and bring new life into the world that enriches our lives together.  Like the process of caramelization, we don’t understand everything, there are many possible outcomes, and the best results come from warming the relationships slowly and working together with loving-kindness.  The journey is the destination and heating the process too quickly does run the risk of burning things that we value.  It isn’t easy, but it is worthwhile.


–Uncle Dave