Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Rules for an Old Woman Thriving

A good friend called recently to share news of the wonderful celebration her family surprised her with for her 90th birthday.  A well deserved celebration for a life well lived.  For a woman who continues to live enthusiastically. One of my role models.

Our conversation got me questioning how I am living today, whether I live with the same zest I so respect in my friend.   And it sent me back to a remarkable book I have read twice now.  Rules for Old Men Waiting, by Peter Pouncey, is the fictional story of an old historian and recent widower, who realizing that he is dying, compiles 10 rules by which to live his final days with as much dignity and intention as he can. 

Pouncey's old man, MacIver, is living alone in a cabin that has fallen into disarray and disrepair, as he himself has, while in the midst of overwhelming grief.  So his rules, are, of necessity, very basic.  "Keep personally clean.  Make the bed every morning, and clean house twice a week.  Dress warmly and light fire when necessary, burning least important things first.  Eat regularly.  Play music and read.  Work every morning.  Nap in the afternoon if needed."  Eventually he refines his Rules for Winter Watch/Rules for the Inside Game and settles on writing a novel as his last piece of "work."  And the result, a moving novel within a moving novel.

I am not ill, not dying.  But I am now 76, in the midst of the Age of Distinction as Michael Gurian describes this stage of life in The Wonder of Aging. ( I much prefer his term to "the old old" that many gerontologists now employ for my age group.)  I want to live the rest of my life with as much dignity and intention as I can for as long as I can.  If I make it to 90, I would like to be a role model for someone else behind me in the stream.  I want to thrive, not merely survive, with "passion and compassion and humor and style and generosity and kindness."

Therefore, my "rules", for now, a work in progress:

  • Learn something every day - how to use the computer more effectively, something about aging, something about another country, current events (within mental health boundaries) - something.
  • Simplify our home or life style in some way - reduce, reorganize, recycle, restrain.
  • Prepare one vegetarian meal each day - alright, it's one step in the right direction.
  • Read good literature every day.
  • Spend at least 30 minutes outdoors each day.
  • Do something special and enjoyable with John every day and make contact with one friend  - thank heaven for e-mail.
  • Move - as in walk.
  • Find a way to laugh - laugh out loud.
  • Spend at least 30 minutes a day on an activity that requires creative expression - writing, drawing, decorating. 
  • My work - to engage in an activity that contributes to someone other than myself - right now, that's this blog (hopefully this contributes to some folks), coaching, and some day, my own book.
Now, I realize in reviewing this list that there are some things here that I already do with great regularity.  I realize that there will be always be days I don't do all of these things, can't do all these things.  There will be naps and movies and lunch with friends and catchup telephone calls.  There will be doctors' visits and emergencies.  There will be other options, others opportunities.  In six months or a year, I may add something, delete something, or expand something.  But for now, this feels appropriate, and doable and satisfying, a structure for thriving.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Nevertheless, He Persists

John is my husband of 34 years, my best friend, my partner, my love, and my hero.  My hero, because over the years, I have watched him endure three bouts of skin cancer, five hernia operations, the gradual loss of hearing, and a stem cell transplant for non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.  Each time with perseverance, courage and a belief that he could handle whatever was thrown at him.  And he did.  And so, we did.

Last September he was diagnosed with Therapy Related MDS, ironically brought on by the transplant he received 15 years ago, the result of a mutating chromosome impacting his ability to produce red blood cells. One of his first questions was whether there was a gene for orneriness, for though we have been told his condition is currently incurable and the prognosis for survival is approximately two years, he is determined to prove the experts wrong.  After all, the original lymphoma prognosis was three years and he made it for fifteen!

His determination and his persistence are remarkable, and perhaps the most critical reason he has survived so many physical challenges with a modicum of grace.  I watch him as he gets chemo shots for five consecutive days each month, wait with him to hear if he might need another transfusion (we've lost count of how many now) and marvel that he can get yet another round of Neupogin shots for declining white blood cell counts with calm acceptance. The most he has ever complained is to say he is feeling like a human pin cushion. The most impatient he becomes is when he has to wait more than 15 minutes for an appointment.  I can almost predict the moment I'll hear, "C'mon doc, I'm ready," 

I have always ascribed his survival to resiliency or to pure stubbornness, to that hypothetical gene for orneriness.  Today we had an exchange that made me reconsider.  We were driving back from an appointment with the eye doctor, because on top of everything else, John was diagnosed with macular degeneration earlier last year.  The diagnosis today confirmed our observations that his eyesight is worsening, perhaps the result of the chemo, and our decision to curtail his driving, though difficult, is appropriate. I told him how much I respect him, how much I admire his inner strength.  How much he inspires me to remain optimistic, to stay strong, to fight the good fight.  How much he is my hero.

His response was to repeat a quote I had never heard before.  "Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent." ~ Ray Kroc,  the founder of MacDonald's. Persistence, determination, not stubbornness, not orneriness.  I asked when he first came across the quote; he said many years ago.  He had to look omnipotent up in a dictionary, but the quote has been one of the most important in his life, and consequently in ours.  I asked if it has become a silent mantra.  He paused and said no, he just has tried to live his life with those values at his core.  And in my experience, he has.

There are many people who, over the years, have commented on my strength.  I know I would not be as strong as I agree I am were he not as strong as he is.  As persistent and determined as he is.  He is my best friend, my partner, my love, my hero.

Thank you, Ray Kroc.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Sounds of Silence

Silence has not always been comfortable or comforting for me.  Silence - not merely not talking or being alone, but true silence, no music, no TV.  No computer, no digital reader, no background noise, no distraction.  Just me, my thoughts, my surroundings.  Quiet, stillness. Quiet enough to hear my breathing, to feel what I'm really feeling, to hear the inner dialogue that I would rather ignore.  Silence for a great part of my life was disquieting.

I have a long history with trying to cultivate a friendship with silence. I cannot count the times I tried to meditate and gave up, unable to still what Buddhists aptly call my "monkey mind" for even a nanosecond, unable to resist rebuking myself for my inability. It was challenging 40 years ago when I first tried, virtually impossible, even without the many distractions available today.  I was newly divorced , living alone for the first time, overwhelmed by conflicting emotions and an uncertain future.  So I turned to journaling.  To slow down the chatter, to capture it on paper so I could see what I could not bear to hear.  

Over the decades now, I've written on loose leaf paper, in college composition books, in Italian leather journals with gilded leaf edges.  I've written snuggled into the corner of a couch or a favorite comfy chair.  On airplanes, in hotels, late at night when I couldn't sleep, in the middle of the day when I found myself obsessing with an idea for a project or a problem that needed resolution.  Initially I had to have background noise, other people nearby, the TV, eventually soothing music.  

But I wrote almost every day.  I wrote when I didn't have anything special to say.  I wrote when I thought I had something profound to say (on rereading some of it, I only thought so.) I wrote when I had cancer and I wrote volumes when John had cancer.

Along the way, journaling evolved from habit to routine to cherished ritual and without realizing it, I learned to slow down the chatter, turn down the volume.  I became comfortable with discomfort.  I turned off the TV,  turned off the music.  I remained quiet after I stopped reading or writing.  I discovered solace in the sound of a distant mourning dove.  Came to hear the breeze in the trees outside our home before I could feel them.  Began to listen for the spaces between sounds.

Maybe I assign too much credit for this to journaling.  Maybe this comes naturally with age, with weathering personal loss, with being unwilling or unable to endure the assault of modern technology, the incessant noise.  Maybe I would be welcoming silence without all those composition books and gilded journals.  Or maybe it's that the distractions have become something to distract myself from?  But I look at the folks with their earbuds, and phones and tablets and wonder if/when they will make friends with silence. 

Sometimes, in the total silence of the night, when John reaches out to take my hand, or I reach out to reassure myself that he is still there,  the sudden thought that I might face this silence alone can take my breath away.  But now, more often that not, I reassure myself that I can.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Dancing in the Rain

You'd think I'd have learned this lesson sooner in life.  Heaven knows, I/we have had plenty of opportunities, but it took a wise and gentle doctor to bring it home recently.  

John's hematologist must have some psych courses in his background because he has an uncanny ability to deliver information in a direct, yet compassionate manner at  the most opportune moment. It is one reason we so trust and respect him.  From the day he delivered the diagnosis and prognosis of John's disease, he has never failed to be forthright and considerate, consistently striking that tenuous balance between reality and optimism, a balance too few physicians have yet learned.

He also is a natural mediator, sensing when to speak directly to either of us or both of us as the case seems to warrant.  So, whenever John wants to do something that I fear may be detrimental to his well-being, or I want him to do something that he does not feel ready to do, we turn to Dr. W. and ask him to arbitrate.  

One of those occasions occurred a month ago, when John wanted to go to a nearby casino to celebrate his 75th birthday.  As infection is a threat to John's survival, I have been adamantly opposed to any large group gathering for either of us, and especially so to the casinos.  And John has been remarkably agreeable, a great patient.  This time, however, he persisted.  It was, after all, his 75th birthday, or as he puts it, the 50th anniversary of his 25th birthday.  Fortunately, we had a doctor's appointment within a few days of his birthday, and we agreed that if Dr. W. gave the ok, I would concede to John's wishes.  If not, he would comply.  

The day arrived.  We went through all the preliminaries, weight, blood pressure, temperature, blood test results, the list of typical questions and answers.  And then John posed his request.  Dr. W. paused, looked at John, looked at me, paused again and then - first to both of us, "I don't want to cause any marital discord here."  Then, at me - "We're not keeping John alive at the expense of his quality of life."  Then, at John - "So, I think you should go, but do it wisely.  Take intelligent precautions.  Have a good time and happy birthday."

We did go to the casino.  We went early and he wore gloves while he played.  A few days later, my sister and brother-in-law surprised him for his birthday with a visit from NY.   We had a small party with his Starbucks buddies and a get together with friends. He received several cards and calls and e-mails.  All in all, he had a great birth week.

I've returned to that conversation several times in the interim.  I realize that I've been hoping this storm might pass.  If we are vigilant, if there are medical breakthroughs, if I can protect him.  But the reality is it might not.  So, I'm not throwing away the umbrella or rain gear, but I'm trying to splash in the puddles.  To consider every day some ways to celebrate that we can still go out in the rain together.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Escape Is Not a Dirty Word

"None of us can face what's happening head-on all of the time."
~ Sheldon Kopp
What Took You So Long?

Reading Sheldon Kopp's If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him in the 70's was life-changing.  I came upon the book on a bookstore table while on a mission to get past the anger and self-recrimination following a painful divorce, convinced that someone smarter than me, wiser, could provide a road map out of the angst and confusion that was overwhelming me.  I think I had read a half dozen self-help books by the time I came upon Kopp (easy to do in the 70's) and still hadn't found that map.  And there he was, telling me I had to create my own map, that there was no guru, no Buddha out there to show me the way. Or as he stated pretty succinctly in an 'eschatological list' at the end of his book - "it is so very hard to be an on-your-own-,take-care-of-yourself-cause there-is-no-one-else-to-do-it -for-you adult." I had to chart my own course.

Initially, I threw the book across the room.  Then, picked it up and read it again.  And over the years, have revisited parts of it several times.  Whereas he never intended to be another Buddha, his exhortation to take charge, to take responsibility for my life has never left me. 

So, it was intriguing, to say the least, to discover while recently culling my library, that I own another of his books, one that I hadn't revisited for many years.  What Took You So Long ? An Assortment of Life's Everyday Ironies is a slim volume of photographs illustrating simple, insightful statements written by Kopp in the late 70's.  Whereas The Buddha contains language and references that definitely are dated, this little book could have been written yesterday.  

Consider - "You wait for everything to be all right, knowing all the while that the next problem is in the mail" or "Not everything worth doing is worth doing well" or " Unable to get our own way, often we settle for trying to prevent other people from getting their way" or "If we allow pain more of our attention than it requires, we miss some opportunities for joy."

Any of these - and several other - statements continues to ring true for me, perhaps even louder at this stage of my life, but the statement about escape is a welcome reminder, a suggestion that it may even be necessary to take a break, to escape for awhile, without feeling guilty.  Because "often things are as bad as they seem" and yes, "no one can face what's happening head-on all of the time."  So, I'm taking a recess from Facebook for awhile, from all the petitions and surveys, from all the outrage and angst, the venom and the vitriol, from all the requests for contributions.  I'm reading a new mystery series, potting some succulents, redecorating the guest bathroom, working on a jigsaw puzzle, starting a new still life.  It'll all be there when I check in again.  All the worry, all the outrage, all the divisiveness, all the drama. all the challenges.  For now, I choose to escape - for awhile.

And once again, wherever you are, Sheldon Kopp, thank you.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Soul Searching

"I didn't do enough."
~ Oskar Schindler, "Schindler's List"

The more I do to voice my displeasure and dismay with this political regime, the more I realize that I didn't do enough to help prevent it in the first place. 

I had thought I'd done enough.  I voted, as I have every presidential election since I cast my first vote for JFK.  I consider voting a privilege as well as a responsibility.  I am, relatively speaking, informed.   I've read the Constitution, not only in high school, but as recently as two years ago.  I continue to read a variety of material across a wide spectrum of political belief.  I've never been reluctant to talk about politics nor unwilling to listen to others' points of view.  

But I left the heavy lifting to others, even when I sensed, as early as a year ago, that he could win.  Even though, I believed he would do exactly what he is trying to do.  Even though I called him narcissistic and unwell from the get go.  I know I could excuse my sitting on the sidelines with "what can one person do" or "my vote won't count anyway as I live in a red state" or "John needs me more."  I could fall back on believing what the media was predicting (I didn't).  I could blame everyone else, and heaven knows, there's plenty of folks to blame.

I don't excuse myself.  However, I also do not mean to chastise myself, but rather to let this awareness fuel taking action.  I am beyond feeling guilty, but am committed to look for ways to encourage others to take action and to support those who do.  I've been calling my (theoretical) representatives, almost daily. I've e-mailed and continue to engage with staff as long as they stay open to alternative points of view. I've signed so many petitions that I suspect I've signed some more than once.  I've spent hours on FB, probably too many, but strive to interject a call to action wherever I can.  I take time to acknowledge the efforts of others who are marching, deciding to run for public office, moderating groups (what a job!), offering new ideas, standing up in their own party, etc.  

And, yet, I continue to ask myself, "What else can I do? Tonight, I'll read the next chapter in Don't Think of an Elephant by George Lakoff and keep recommending it. Tomorrow, I'll send another check to ACLU - they have the lawyers, they have the grit.  Next week, show up to the nearby coffee shop to help write postcards of appreciation as well as postcards of protest.  I'll post this.  What else? What works?  What could work?

If, as you read this, especially to those of you in France who are learning from our mistakes, you have other ideas for effective resistance and change, I would be delighted and ever so grateful to receive them.  I will pass them on wherever I can.  I will do whatever I can. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

I Don't Get It

"Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education."  
~ Franklin D. Roosevelt


"The aim of education is the knowledge, not of facts, but of values. "  William S. Burroughs

"Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family."   Kofi Annan

"A quality education grants us the ability to fight the war on ignorance and poverty."   
Charles B. Rangel

"It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers."    James Thurber

"The goal of education is the advancement of knowledge and the dissemination of truth. "  John F. Kennedy

"There are many problems, but I think there is a solution to all these problems; it's just one, and it's education."  Malala Yousafzai

"Education's purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one."    Malcolm Forbes

"Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence."   Robert Frost

"The illiterate of the future will not be the person who cannot read. It will be the person who does not know how to learn."    Alvin Toffler

"I believe education is the great equalizer."   Dave Heineman

"Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe." H. G. Wells

When did education become suspect?  How has it come to follow that being educated automatically means you must think you are elite or better than anybody else?  When did being educated become a threat, or something to be belittled, demeaned or dismissed? How could the President of the United States boast that he loves the poorly educated?

The more I see that his lack of character and his immaturity, his blatant hypocrisy and outright pathological lying are condoned or tolerated by his followers - or that his weekly golfing excursions, executive orders, and proposals clearly benefit himself and the wealthy and yet, they still think he cares about the average American, well, I can understand his boast. Why wouldn't he love the poorly educated?!

I am a second generation American whose paternal grandmother did not learn English and whose father did not graduate from high school; yet  I was the first female in my family to go to college. I not only became an elementary school principal but also went on to create and manage a boutique consulting firm for 25 years. I know the power of education. Not only a formal education, for I have met many learned individuals who didn't go to college and much of my education has occurred since graduating.  But a good formal education can also inspire -where it has been absent - curiosity, creativity, thoughtfulness, tolerance, a questioning mind, critical thinking skills and perhaps above all, the desire to keep learning. 

In only two generations, our family rose from among the working poor to solidly middle class.  My brother became a dentist and then a master wood worker, my sister a choral director and now a clinical social worker.  Each of us has learned from teachers, scientists, books, the arts, friends, strangers, each other.  Learning formally and informally.  Learning to love and appreciate learning.

It is because of our educations that we have realized the American dream of having it better than our parents did. It is with the help of our educations that each of us made career changes mid-stream, that we have weathered the vicissitudes of life. It is with the help of our educations that John and I are managing his health care today.  

That this President loves the poorly educated rather than encourage them to become educated, that he has a Secretary of Education whose intention is to gut public education, that he boasts that he doesn't read, that his vocabulary is that of an average 4th grader, that he tweets reactively and irresponsibly in the middle of the night- is an embarrassment at best, a disgrace at worst.  That he does not believe in climate change and demeans the scientific and intelligence communities, that he supports defunding the arts and educational opportunities for the disadvantaged bodes harm for our economic and cultural future. 

Yes, I am concerned, upset, even fearful.  But  I will continue to write, to call my representatives, to express my concerns and share my observations.  I will continue to read, to learn, to challenge my assumptions and challenge the assumptions of others who are willing to learn with me..  But when I am overwhelmed by the magnitude of this disaster, I will rant awhile.

And last, but definitely not least...

"Education is our only political safety. Outside of this ark all is deluge."
~ Horace Mann

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Going in Style

"Cinema is entertainment and people go to the movies because they want to feel good and forget about everything."
~ Vincent Cassel

I'm pretty sure not everyone would agree with Vincent Cassel.  Do you?  Many movie producers must not, given the plethora of movies that could not possibly leave people feeling good.  This is a point of view about movies that my dad had, and truthfully, so do I. So I was surprised to find that the French actor, Vincent Cassel, who I thought was probably of my generation, was born in the 60's, just a couple years before Midnight Cowboy arrived on the scene in l969.  R rated, gritty and certainly not a feel good movie, Midnight Cowboy won the Academy Award that year and ushered in a more realistic approach to movie making.  An approach that left my dad, and I suspect others of his generation, wondering how Abbott and Costello, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, Crosby and Hope could suddenly go out of vogue. In the years that followed, I think the only movie he went to see in the theater was The Sound of Music.  All other movies he and Mom saw were rented and probably not produced later than 1950, the exception being Philadelphia, but that's a story for another time.

I was raised on musicals, comedies and film noir.  Every Christmas we watched White Christmas, The March of the Wooden Soldiers, and the black and white version of A Christmas Carol with Alistair Sims.  Not surprising, when I battled breast cancer, I turned to old Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly musicals, the Crosby and Hope Road movies, and anything with the classic female actresses of the 40's, to help me forget. Movie marathons, especially during the weeks of chemo when I could barely lift my head off the pillow.  More than once, I thanked heaven for TNT and the other channels that show the oldies but goodies.  Not that I don't count Schindler's List, The Color Purple, and Philadelphia among my favorite all time movies, but the last thing I wanted when I was sick and frightened was another heavy dose of reality. 

Why am I giving all this background?  Because I am about to praise a movie John and I saw this past weekend and if you do not share the opinion that a good movie is one that leaves you feeling good, and forgetting about everything else, at least for those 120 minutes or so that you stare at the screen, then this endorsement won't mean much.

The movie - Going in Style.  The cast, Michael Caine who plays Joe Harding, Morgan Freeman who plays Willie Davis, and Alan Arkin who plays Albert Garner.  Caine and Freeman are now in their early 80's, Arkin is 79 - the perfect casting for a tale of three old friends who had worked together for the same company for 40 years, live across from one another, and share most evenings watching TV.  When they learn that the pension each needs for basic survival is being raided to pay off company debts, and the bank that will help restructure the debt is foreclosing on Joe's mortgage, they decide to rob the bank.  Just enough to cover their pensions and save Joe's house.  The rest to go to charities.

You can go on-line and read more about the plot, and check out the reviews.  I'm glad I did after I saw the movie, because the reviews, probably written by folks 20 to 30 years younger than I am, were lukewarm.  While the reviewers unanimously applauded the  skill and experience of the cast, many called the plot formulaic and for the most part, predictable. And, I would admit, it was, with one exception.  

But I, for one,  appreciated the presentation of these aging characters, who still feel strong emotions, think significant thoughts, and can strategize to solve a problem.  Joe and Willy and Al are far from the stereotypical image of elderly who need walkers and hearing aids, sit around commiserating on their aches and pains, and count on the largess of the young.  Although, they do face other challenges of aging that usually are not given much big screen time, like taking care of family in their old age and wondering if they will have enough money for another ten or fifteen years, they are charming, and occasionally funny enough to evoke laugh out loud guffaws.  Above all, they are still vital, still relevant.   And it was such a joy to watch these veteran actors demonstrate their craft, so well that one would wonder if the on-screen camaraderie could possibly be just an act.

So, last Saturday, John and I sat in a darkened theater and watched three of our favorite actors do their thing and do it so well that for 1 hour and 36 minutes we forgot that we are fighting for his life, that he had a tough week, or that North Korea is threatening to bomb us. We laughed out loud now and then, held hands in the darkness as we first did over 30 years ago, and walked out of the theater feeling better than when we walked in.  That may not be enough for sophisticated movie reviewers, but for us, this why we go to the cinema.

If you give this film a shot, I'd love to know your reaction.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Thank You, I Needed That

"Perseverance is failing 19 times and succeeding the 20th."
~ Julie Andrews

This past weekend, I watched the Masters Golf Tournament with John.  I'm not a golfer, not even a sports enthusiast, but I enjoy watching golf.  And I think John enjoys having me watch with him.  That's a good thing, because as our world becomes smaller and smaller, and we are with each other almost 24/7, finding things we enjoy together has become more imperative.  

I'm enjoying learning more about golf, about the nuances of the sport, its rich history and protocols, the various tournaments and courses, and above all, the golfers.  Perhaps, its the legacy of growing up with Arnie and Jack, their ups and downs, their families, their charities, watching them age along with us. Perhaps its the relative absence of scandal and notoriety in the sport.  (I did say relative absence.)  And the presence of families, in some cases generations of families.  This sport speaks to my values as well as my history.

I now root for a couple youngsters - Ricky Fowler and Jason Day - and am particularly fond of the Spanish veteran, Sergio Garcia, who has had the reputation of being the best golfer who has never won a major PGA tournament.  So Sunday found me cheering for him, hoping against hope that he would finally win his first major, and not just any tournament, but the revered Masters, the tournament that has plagued him for the 19, yes, 19 years, in which he has competed.  "I hope he wins.  Please let him win.  Come on Sergio.  You can do it, Sergio."

And he did.  He played his way into the lead, was overtaken, fought back to a tie, and finally won by two strokes in the playoff.  And the crowd roared - Sergio, Sergio, Sergio. 

In the days since his victory, I've considered why I like him, I'd even say that I admire him. Why did I become so invested in his win?  Why did I take such pleasure in his joy and celebration?  (And I did. You would have thought I knew him personally, that he was my kid brother or nephew.)

The obvious answer is that I often cheer for the underdog, but in this case it is more than that, much more.  I admire his perseverance, his tenacity.  Nineteen years and he plays with the same competitive passion as he did the first year I watched him.  I respect the respect he shows for his mentors.  Proteges often forget those who taught, and supported, and encouraged.  He never does.  I applaud his loyalty - his coach is his father, always has been.  Even when Sergio grew discouraged and almost quit the sport, he never abandoned his dad, just worked harder.  And what he apparently worked on was his mental game.  That may be what I admire the most.  That he looked inward, and grew not just as a golfer, but a man.  Perseverance, respect, loyalty, hard work, personal responsibility. 

In this day when the news is filled with dysfunction and greed, venom and vitriol, murder and mayhem, it was such a joy to watch someone achieve his dream because he is talented and diligent. To hear him graciously, sincerely acknowledge his family and mentors.  To see his joy and gratitude.  To see the respect shown between the players and the crowds.  To listen to thoughtful, nuanced commentary.  To celebrate.  To be reminded that this is still possible.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

A Gentle Reminder

This week, rather than a single quote, I offer a poem.  It was just the reminder I needed while waiting in Houston, struggling to stay positive while I feared the worst.  If it speaks to you, too, you might find the book from which it was reprinted worth a read - The Last Gift of Time by Carolyn Heilbrun.  The poem, "Otherwise",  was written by poet Jane Kenyon

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise.  I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless 
peach.  It might
have been otherwise.
I took a dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon, I lay down
with my mate.  It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver 
candlesticks.   It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

But not today.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

As Good As It Gets

"Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so let us all be thankful."
~ Buddha

We returned last night from John's six month checkup at MD Anderson in Houston, on the brink of being too tired to go to sleep, on a high from having had better news than we had feared we might receive.  

It was a quick turn-around trip, there and home again in three days. It requires a shuttle drive of a couple hours to Vegas, using a wheelchair to navigate the airport, a three hour flight to Houston, another wheelchair, and then a long taxi ride to the hotel, a stressful trip under any conditions, anxiety laden under present conditions.  Prior to the trip, John had experienced a sudden drop in his white blood cell count and I had read that such a drop could indicate progression in the disease, even indicate the onset of leukemia.  

John was to receive a bone marrow biopsy to determine how well his current chemotherapy plan has been working and whether he would need a more aggressive chemo as suggested by his St. George hematologist, a treatment plan that would require stronger medication that carries possible serious side effects.  Treatment we were hoping to avoid, nevertheless treatment we feared we might be returning to St. George to initiate.  

Following the biopsy, we were scheduled to meet with the hematologist who is consulting with us, Dr. K, a Russian-trained, rather austere, cool and contained woman who had been almost two hours late for our initial consultation in September, known for her tardiness, but thankfully also known for her expertise.  Thursday, she was on time, greeted us warmly, reassured us that John's blood work looked good, that the white blood cell drop was a minor glitch, and that she did not feel the aggressive chemo was necessary.  Just like that, in 20 minutes, the air in the balloons of our anxiety was released.

Relieved, we recognized that John was stronger this trip than our initial visit six months ago. We recognized that we had managed the trip with grace and competency.  We recounted, once again, how grateful we are to have access to this wonderful organization, to another fine doctor, to the collaboration our health care team is exhibiting, to having one another.

We learned a lot in that 20 minute consultation, not the least is that I should not be doing my own research.  I don't know enough to make distinctions about the information.  I don't have the necessary training to understand all the vocabulary.  I am too close to the situation to take in the information neutrally,  too quick to jump to the worst conclusions.  Almost as valuable a learning as what Dr. K shared with us.  Almost.

This is as good as it gets...and that's pretty good.  We are grateful.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Work in Progress

"Routine, which I used to scorn as next door to incarceration, holds new appeal for me."
~ Carolyn G. Heilbrun
The Last Gift of Time

First, before I go any further, a few words as to my short hiatus from posting.  Given John's illness, I want to reassure anyone following the blog for some time now, we are fine.  Just have been busy fending off the imps of technology.  First, the printer, then the computer, and even my Kindle acted up.  But, and I say this with some pride, I handled it all and did so with patience, a modicum of grace, and success. (And yes, with the help of some patient, competent technicians.)  Not bad for someone who not long ago was afraid that I would break the computer if I hit the wrong key.

Now, for the Heilbrun quote.  I've been reading The Last Gift of Time for a few days now - one of my new habits, reading inspirational material as part of my morning routine.  Among the many sentences that caught my attention for its clarity and significance, this one captured an awareness I have had for some time now, but could not express with such eloquence or brevity.  

Like Heilbrun, I have a long history of resisting routine, seeing it as impeding my sense of freedom.  Lacking creativity and spontaneity, "next door to incarceration."  A psychologist might suggest this was a normal reaction to being raised by strict disciplinarians and taught by even stricter Catholic nuns.  I told myself that I needed more choice. I loved the individualized teaching methods of the 70's and 80's, no fixed curriculum for me.  And when I led my own training courses, I took pains to be sure no one course ever looked like another.  I could redecorate every month and have had to work, really work, at not starting yet another project, pursuing another hobby.

Upon retiring, however, habits and routines  took on a new meaning. The most obvious reason I began to concentrate on developing habits was to compensate for my " normal aging brain," as my doctor labeled it.  You know - where did I put my keys? What's her name, what's that word?  Why did I come into this room?  Surprisingly, it didn't take very long, well longer than 21 days, to recognize that habits and routines could actually increase my sense of freedom rather than confine it.  Freedom from worry and anxiety, freedom from stress, freedom to put my attention on something other than retrieval.  

So, I started with the obvious, the same place for my keys and sunglasses.  Grouping items by function and always, always returning them to their home.  Making lists and checking them twice.  Keeping one master calendar.  Developing schedules to address my needs rather than someone else's.  The behaviors organized, disciplined folks develop at a much younger age.

Last fall, when John was diagnosed and our lives took on chemo treatments, doctors' visits, medications, a state of hyper vigilance, these habits sustained me even as new habits and routines were demanded.  Sterilizing surfaces and materials often, communicating with friends and family more consistently, checking for potential obstacles, asking for help, etc., John's physical health and my mental health depend on them. They keep us grounded and provide a sense of stability and normalcy when any day can present a new and unexpected challenge.  They keep me tethered to today rather than floating away in sea of future uncertainty.  A computer glitch is just that, a glitch, not the cause of a meltdown.

Have I become a creature of habit?  Hardly.  Not after decades of denial and outright resistance.  But I can see the fruits of my labor.  I can feel the shift in my thinking.  Do I wish I had learned this sooner, well, maybe.  For now, let's just say I'm a work in progress.

Saturday, March 4, 2017


"the most wasted of all days is one without laughter"
~ ee cummings

As someone who can be too serious and thus, tend to worry and fret, laughter, even a simple smile, is a lifeline to a modicum of serenity.  Especially these days in this world with the health challenges we are facing. Laughter brings me back to center.  It reminds me to be grateful for what I have.  Who I have in my life.

I thank my lucky stars that I married a man who values humor and sends me laugh out loud e-mails almost every day.  And I thank my lucky stars that I have friends who share silly FB posts that always bring a smile if not an outright belly laugh.  (Pat, that's for you!) I'm so grateful for the late night comics who can find or create humor from a situation that otherwise stirs up angst and anger.  And special thanks to all my friends and my brother and sister who, when we speak, manage to get me to laugh at something, anything.  My days would be darker without all of you.

So, I conclude this brief post with one man's witty observations on aging.  Hope you get a laugh or two, or at least an occasional smile.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Just Another Candle

"Age is a case of mind over matter.  If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."
~ Satchel Paige 

I recently turned 76, and, somewhat surprisingly, the number took my breath away.  It's not that I didn't know it was coming.  I usually look forward to celebrating my birthday for an entire week. I'd been saying for some time that  I was going to be 76.  Yet, when the day came and I said the words, "I'm 76", it suddenly struck me that I'm on the downward slope to 80.  And however, you look at it, 80 is old.

Most of the time I don't feel old.  I don't think of myself as old, unless, until -
  • I know all the words to songs younger folks have never heard of.  Happens all too frequently on The Voice.
  • I catch a glimpse of myself in a store window and wonder who that woman is.
  • Or look unexpectedly in the mirror and see my mother staring back at me.
  • I have to struggle to get up if my butt is lower than my knees.
  • I walk into a room and can't remember why I went there.
  • I see a celebrity from my youth and am shocked at how old they look.
  • I can recognize all the gadgets and appliances on a quiz about golden oldies - skate keys, ice boxes, party lines, even mimeograph machines.
  • I hear myself saying I could be someone's grandmother.
  • I notice that none of the heels in my closet are over 1" high and I dress for comfort rather than style.
  • I refer to someone in their 50's as young.
  • I have to say I'm 1/2 inch shorter on my new driver's license. (At this rate, I'll need a car seat if I make it to 90 and am still driving!
  • The news arrives that the last of my Dad's siblings has died.
  • I watch a contemporary decline.
For the most part, however, I don't mind.  After the initial shock a few days ago, I did celebrate.  All week.  I celebrate that I take no meds.  I can do much of what I did 20 years ago, though I must confess it takes longer.  I love to learn and strive to learn something new every day, deriving more from what I read than I ever did.  I am overcoming my fear of this technology, even have a FB page.  I enjoy people of all ages and particularly enjoy conversations with young people.  Though I may cry more easily, I also laugh more easily.   Though I get angry and fearful, I don't reside there as long as I did when I was young. Though John is ill, we have great medical care.  And we continue to fight the good fight together.  Not bad for 76, if I do say so.

So,I agree with Satchel.  Age is a case of mind over matter.  If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.  The secret is to continue to not mind.  It is after all, just another candle.