Seventy-one and a woman who’s seen mighty change—internet, cell phones, and one step for mankind on moonscape. Veterans of WWII branded their stories on my young soul. That damned McCarthy caused me to look for communists neath my bed. Viet Nam tattooed my innocence. Patriotism, plated as political righteousness, challenged the rage against dying and peace movements—Gandhi dared Patton philosophies wrestling for ethos. No winners, just battle-worn heroes. Now drums the social-till-doomsday-shrill-media robbing weak heads of free thinking—new mind control. Fear like rain cuts rough, new gullies of hate, fear and rage. Peace lost not on a battlefield, love in surrender to hate. Godly abandoned in rallies, the modern lion’s den, truth’s death. Long serving soldiers dismissed for truth-telling. A Medal of Honor bestowed on a bigot. Romney the lone statesman. Loyal, weak servants rewarded and righteous, strong saints defiled. Labeling knowledable elitist. Labeling brown other. Labeling good hearts feeding hungry folk socialists. Villainous! Rise up you virtuous patriots. Be the strong voice of right. Rise up still Christians and claim the mantle of kindness. Rise up to speak! Rise up to vote! Rise up!
Eyes greet her eldest.
“Goodbye,” she utters. Eyes close.
(Written after yesterday’s visit with my 97-year-old mother-in-law.)
It is not the length of life, but the depth of life—Ralph Waldo Emerson
I had a routine colonoscopy a couple days ago. The doctor entered my recovery cubicle where I was sipping a lemon-lime soda on my too hard bed.
I expected to hear, “We removed some polyps and all is clear.” I expected to go on about my business with some jokes about the preparation ordeal. I expected my body to not fail me at age seventy—young enough to volunteer, create art and travel.
The doctor betrayed me by saying, “We found a mass.” She showed me pictures. I could not determine whether the mass was the size of New England or the size of a pin head. In my stupor, I did not have enough sense to ask questions.
At home, I looked up symptoms for colon cancer. I missed them all, including this incredible tired feeling I pushed through daily. I assigned the fatigue to aging and refused to let it dominate my agenda.
I am prepared for death more than for a fight. My mother, who lost her own mother when she was five and her father when she was seventeen, was determined her children would not fear death. She told me each time young me went to a funeral or visited great aunts in nursing homes, “I will not have a child afraid to see a body at a funeral or disrespectful of the aging!”
Mother and I walked through the cemetery each Memorial Day. She told me the stories of dead relatives, their tales real and alive above the bones lying in caskets. Mother was embracing them mentally as she had physically in life.
Mother dealt with her own decline in a pragmatic way. She first told me she was no longer allowing herself to drive to Salina forty-two miles away, then Abilene a distance of twenty-two miles, then Herington eight miles from home. When she struggled to maintain her house, she moved to an apartment a block from me. Her last years were spent in my home in her own bed with the pink quilt she created decades earlier.
So, I am waiting for direction to know what decisions are to be made – fight or surrender. The decision already made is to have a joyful end whether a decade or a season.
As is my pattern, I will write it out on my blog and paint it out on canvas.
Fall takes on new meaning as we age – the thought of the approaching cold, final winter of our being. Not a depressing thought, just part of the journey.
We have seen many changes over the decades, especially the relationships between men and women. As a liberal woman championing the women’s movement over the decades, I am pleased with the changes. My husband Ken, a conservative libertarian, defends a man’s liberties and finds himself in conflict with a woman’s rightful discernment/definition in a relationship.
This morning over a hotel breakfast, Ken and I listened to the news. The “Me Too” movement is celebrating their first anniversary today.
I said, “The problem with men is that they see everything as ‘all about me’ rather than listening.”
Ken looked at me with that you-have-two-talking-heads-and-neither-one-makes-much-sense side glance.
“For example,” I said as I added syrup to my waffle, “My hip hurt last night, so I rolled over about 3:30 a.m. to sleep on the other hip. You decided to cuddle. By 4:00 a.m. I am unable to sleep and lose an hour playing Sudoku while you continue your blissful rest.”
“You nudged my back twice. You wanted to be held.” Ken looked hurt.
“At 3:30 a.m. I am not thinking about you or being held. If I were thinking at all, it would be about sleep. Which proves my point. You thought when I rolled over in bed it was about YOU! Really?”
“What does this have to do with the Me Too movement?” Ken asked.
“Everything. I remember working when I was young and attractive. I was busy with office work all morning – filing, typing a report, preparing for a meeting. About noon a man in the office said, ‘I love the way you flirted with me all morning. What a turn-on!’ I barely knew he was present because I was focused on my work. It was all about him. Idiot!!!”
“Maybe you were not aware of the vibes you were giving off,” Ken insinuated.
I snapped back, “I win. I have the blog.”
Ken said, “Yeah, SHE who writes the history wins.”
Ken reached over and stroked my chin. We both started laughing.
Fall is in the air. Change seems to be slower to reach fruition than the winter of my days. Understanding may never be fully achieved, but surely we can continue to love good men and good women throughout the journey.
For younger women, seek justice as I once did through organizations, politics and personal conviction; but do not lose patience with kind men who only want to hold you on a cold night in October.
who I am and all I’ve known,
engraved experience on a fleshy pallet,
those bylines ᾽round my eyes
Ownership of and living happily with our aging process is existential. Either we have done our character homework over the years or we struggle to find joy and maintain relationships.
I have given this a great deal of thought with the political campaigns. Hillary Clinton was born 10-26-47 and Donald Trump on 6-14-46. They are not going to evolve into anything more than who they are. Character set. Game on. The best they have to offer us are their flamboyant examples of what happens to people who choose certain paths early in life and become exactly what they wanted to be. Goals accomplished. In the petri dish of life, we are viewing specimens who prove how set character is by this age.
I worked for a gerontologist years ago. He said the elderly are extremes—the happiest or saddest, angriest or kindest, most generous or stingiest, most judgmental or forgiving, absolutely honest or dishonest, loudest or softest, etc. When our beauty fades, intellect dulls a little, and the power afforded us by work or community involvement is lessened, all that is left is our personhood—the real us.
I have worried since my 20’s about who I was going to be as a grown-up at age 75 or 80. Some of my work has been successful and some of my character flaws were baked into my DNA. I’ve arrived at this senior status with gray hair and extra pounds—far from the 20-something in a bikini and shag haircut. I like this older me better.
My friends are present with wisdom, creativity and an interest in leaving the best world possible for the next generation. They understand we have two responsibilities: mentoring and expression.
The past cannot be rewritten. The future is short compared to where we were a couple decades ago.
Be joyful. It is good for who you are becoming.
I read at a nursing care center every two weeks. From the hearts of people who never remember me, I receive amazing gifts.
What is to be learned from Alzheimer’s or other dementia patients?
Sharing: Some people enter into relationships with a requirement for memory retention. They need verbal reflections of their own value from those who have fully-functioning memory banks and verbal fluidity. Without empathy, the face of a person with dementia is constant frustration—the “all about me” need never satisfied. Pure charity (love) is giving without the expectation of reciprocation.
The Existential: In reality, all we have is the moment. We tend to forget the present as we rehash the past and plan for the future. Moments are lost as our busy minds run wildly. Visiting with someone with dementia quiets our minds when we allow ourselves to be still as we hold loved ones’ hands, look into cloudy eyes, and offer kind words. Moments become a celebrations larger than the indulgences of memory or mind-preparations for dinner or other non-monumental planning.
Recognition of Personhood: Society, as a whole, has corrupted how we celebrate personhood. We are asked to admire the crazies on reality TV, boorish politicians who devalue segments of our population, and advertisements defining beauty and success. Reality TV vs. reality: people get old or have disabilities and they still have value. Political rhetoric vs. reality: there is more value in a person who has worked for many decades, raised a loving family and done their best to be honorable than any politician who ignores the many needs of the elderly. Advertisement vs. reality: no model is more beautiful than an elderly man or woman with a smile—with or without teeth.
What inspired this post? I always greet and hold the hands of each resident as they come to my readings. Again, after I finish my 20-minutes of readings and humor, I tell each person goodbye and hold their hands.
Last week, one woman pulled my hand to her lips and kissed it. Her eyes were clear. I bent down and kissed her white hair in need of a brush. In that existential moment, we connected as women on a journey together.
I grieve for all those young people who are not learning from their elders. Learning may be wisdom imparted or the acceptance of an elder who only has “in the moment” to offer.
Forty-six years ago I lived in Savannah, Georgia with husband number one. I frustrated him because I loved walking in the rain, spontaneous day trips, and shared humor that buzzed annoyingly around his head like hornets looking for a place to land. We were not well matched.
This morning, I remembered those walks in the rain when I left HEB (the local grocery store) in a downpour. The rain showed no signs easing up; so, I took a deep breath and rushed outside. I was surprised by a sudden dip in the parking lot pavement and my jeans were soaked to the knees.
I waded forward pushing my cart. Shoppers joined me in the large puddle with surprise on their faces and utterances of exclamation: “My shoes!” “Oh, no!” “I’m soaked!”
I had to do it. I kicked water. I felt twenty again; so I splashed my way to the car—each step an exercise in freedom. Pure joy. I laughed at the absurdity of my appearance.
Once home, I placed wet boxes of crackers on the shelves, wiped pooled water out of the canvas totes, and lowered the car windows so no mildew would form on the seats.
When we recapture our youthful indulgences, we confirm our lasting connections to our inner being, our non-judgment of others living large, and our insistence on seeing with our hearts all the puddles, pets and petunias. Even hard pavement can make room for soft, cool splashes of joy.