Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Reality of Aging

Aging. It has a bum rap. It's a matter of perspective. When you're twelve, you can't wait to be thirteen. When you're eighty-nine, ninety isn't so exciting except as a triumph of reaching the milestone still above ground.

The reality is aging is not a milestone or number. Aging is loss. Loss of mobility. Loss of freedom. Loss of friends and family. Loss of spontaneity. All of those can happen at any age. None of them are a process of choice.

My dad is eighty-nine. He's far more mobile than I am. He eats pretty much whatever he wants. If he decides to walk down to the end of the little road he lives on, then he does. If he takes a notion to go to Walmart and browse, he and my stepmother, Mary Lou do that.

I, on the other hand, have a greatly restricted choice of things to eat--most of them not necessarily what I want to eat--and walking out to the car is a big deal for me. Walmart? Pretty much like hiking the Sahara. A doctor's visit can take two or three hours to get ready for, and that's before I even leave the house. Then there's the trip, the search for parking spot, and the inevitable wait in a waiting room of folks who are coughing, sneezing, and in general breathing on me. I have immunity issues so that entire scene is scary.

Ahhh. At last my name is called. I hobble to the room so the doc and I can confer about my general health. He tells me I'm in pretty good shape for the shape I'm in. I agree. We part ways until next time and I go home...where I rest up from my marathon while I contemplate the idea of a nap.

That's the difference, you see. For me and a bunch of other folks out there, just the idea of leaving our home is a major deal. Medication schedules have to be worked out. Meal schedules have to be shifted. Travel time, shower and dressing time, parking, waiting, all have to be figured out. It's stressful. That's the reality.

I remember a time when I climbed a mountain every weekend. Alone and independent. I cherish those memories because that's in the past. Aging is about facing those memories and choosing to be happy you have them instead of bitter because they are no longer possible.

Depression is a big problem in the aging population because many can't face the loss, the pain, the sheer aggravation of having to plan every nit-picky little moment. I confess there are days I would like to just pull the covers over my head and shut the world out. But I don't, not because I'm so great, but because of all those nit-picky things I have to deal with. Medications, glucose testing, meals, blah, blah, blah.

Now I live with an electronic window on the world. Every day I am thankful for that blessing. In the past 'shut-ins' didn't have the privilege of sharing in the outside world unless someone showed up to physically visit them. Oh, I know technology can be stressful if we allow it to take over, but you has an off switch. When I find it annoying, I turn it off. Boom!

I 'talk' to people who stress out over robo-calls and such. I don't answer. That's what caller ID is for. Really? Why do we think anyone has the right to annoy us just because we own a phone? It's a tool, like any other, to keep us connected when we want to be connected.

I have a lot of friends. Some I've never met in person and never will. That's okay. I enjoy visiting with them, sharing experiences and memories. Where else can you have a world-wide discussion about your favorite book? Or reach out for advice about almost any subject you can think of? And sometimes, just sometimes, reaching out to talk to someone is the most important thing you can do, especially on those days when aging becomes an overwhelming fact of life.

Know someone who is struggling? Treat them gently. Life is hard. Don't brush them off or offer them advice. Just let them know you're there. You're thinking of them. Share a good memory. Tell them they're important in your life. And please, please, please don't wait until they're dead to tell them what their friendship has meant to you. Then it's too late.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

World On Fire

The New Year is traditionally the time we reassess and set goals. This year is also a year when it seems the world around us is on a collision course with time. Folks are depressed and anxious. People want to do something--anything--but aren't sure what to do. A lot of them are under the impression they can't do anything to effect change because they're poor or have too many commitments.

It's not 'how much' you do. Your intentions are what matter. Some of the most important things are monetarily free.

1. Time. Time is the single most important thing we can contribute to the world around us. Buy or make a box of greeting cards. You know the ones...they say things like "Hope you're having a great day!" or "Across the miles...". Write a short note inside and mail to someone who is alone or confined to their home. Send one every couple weeks.

2. Reach out and touch. Know someone who is having a terrible time? You may not have the money to help out, but many times, a compassionate listening ear is far more important. Call and be prepared to just listen.

3. Donate. Find a cause and donate. Five dollars a month adds up to sixty dollars by year's end. Almost all of us can afford five dollars a month. Don't have five dollars? Donate two...because that saying "every dollar counts" is completely true. Send money because the folks in charge are the ones who really know what's needed. Don't know where to donate? Food banks, homeless centers, rape support centers, hospice centers. Or mentor a couple children by paying for their school lunches. Volunteer time to watch the children of a caregiver. Most never get any downtime.

4. Get in touch with your local animal rescue and ask what they need. I know our local place has requested clean used towels, blankets, and pet food.

I bet the opportunities to contribute to the world around us are endless. We may not be able to be on the ground to fight fires or help with the aftermath of a tornado or hurricane, but there are many lesser catastrophes happening around us every day. Choose one. Help put out the emotional fires around us.


Thursday, January 2, 2020

New Year Options

New Year's Resolutions for any year:
1. Don't kill anyone.
2. Stay out of jail.
3. Don't eat worms or crickets.
4. Get dressed at least once a week.
5. Read as many books as possible.
6. Survive.
I was wildly successful last year. Onward!

Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Almost-Christmas Child

Christmas 2003. It was a busy, busy year. In June we moved from New York to Maryland because the house hunk was transferred. Moving is always stressful, but this time it was particularly so because we lived in our last home for nineteen years. So much stuff. So much stuff to sort and get rid of or throw out! Then in mid-September Hurricane Isabel roared into Maryland. Fortunately, we were not near the flooding, though one of the trees behind our building ended up on our balcony.

Our youngest daughter was pregnant, due in late December. We made arrangements to stay with our oldest son. Our daughter and her boyfriend were staying in a small room so Christmas was celebrated at our son's apartment. No baby. It appeared that the baby was in no hurry to arrive. We made arrangements to wait the baby out, but by December 29th, we were running out of our medications and reluctantly made the decision to go home the next day. That afternoon our daughter called, "Don't go yet! I've started labor!"

In a little while, her boyfriend called. "She wants you to be here when the baby's born." So we hopped in the car and made the forty-five minute drive across the Hudson River to the hospital. When we arrived, he was waiting for us and ushered us up to the maternity floor.

She didn’t quite make it for Christmas, but on December 29th close to midnight, the househunk and I were with my daughter and her boyfriend, present when Daisha Monet made her entrance. Witnessing the miracle of a new baby never gets old. The precious gift of a new life—especially at Christmas—is a reminder of the real reason we celebrate Christmas.


Happy 16th Birthday, Daisha!

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas Eve Tacos

We have tacos every Christmas Eve. Why? As a remembrance of friendship above and beyond the usual. In this vignette, I tell the story.

Christmas 1981. We lived in Houston, Texas, far from our families. My dad called to tell my husband that he needed to come home. My husband's father was very ill. We could not afford for everyone to go and our daughters were both in bed with the flu. We decided that he would take our sons with him (mostly because I knew that he would have to make frequent stops if they were along). When they arrived in Chicago, my parents planned to take the boys to Indiana to stay with them.

I was fine until Christmas Eve. Then the loneliness engulfed my. My friends were all busy with their extended family gatherings. My extended family lived far away. My daughters were sleeping the holidays away, too sick to care if they had gifts or not. I was feeling underprivileged and deprived as I stood at my kitchen counter eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

The telephone rang. My friend, Linda, inquired about my plans for the evening. I admitted that I did not have much planned except a shower and bed. She told me to get my purse and coat ready. Lester, her husband, was already on the way over to pick up my girls and me. We were invited to her home for the evening. I protested that the girls were sick. She pointed out that they could sleep at her house as well as mine.

When Lester arrived, we wrapped the girls in blankets and carried them out to the car. The trip to their home was short so the girls slept through the journey and were soon cozily asleep in bed. We spent the evening quietly, playing board games, eating tacos, and singing along with Handel’s Messiah. It was a lovely peaceful evening. Just after midnight, Lester drove us home.

On Christmas Eve our family has tacos as a remembrance of that Christmas Eve spent with loving, compassionate friends. Of all of my friends, they were the ones who saw my need and acted. It was an action made more remarkable because they don't celebrate Christmas.

A miracle.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Gift Certificates

Our last Christmas in Texas was grim. The oil crisis was in full sail. We wavered month to month, robbing the power bill to pay the mortgage. And there just wasn't any money. None. Christmas miracles depend on someone else having the wherewithal to share what they have. In Houston that Christmas, no one had anything to share.

I was close to tears when my neighbor called on Christmas Eve to tell me our local pharmacy had stuffed animals on sale...$1.50 each. We drove down there without much hope and were delighted to find four different 'safari' animals. There was a giraffe and an elephant. A lion and a tiger. They were really plain, though, but Joyce mentioned she was sure she had some red ribbon to make bows around their necks to fancy them up a bit.

Back at home, we located enough red ribbon to make fancy bows and I was thrilled that my kids would have something. Joyce went back home and I arranged the safari under the tree.

I sat on the couch, watching the tree lights blink while I pondered what else I could do to make the next morning special for my kids. They were all old enough to know the realities about money and they weren't expecting anything at all. But like most parents, I wanted more for my children. I grumbled under my breath that it was too bad we wouldn't have our income tax refund for at least a couple more months.

Then I had a bright idea. We wouldn't have the money for a while, but what if I gave them each a promissory note for the future? We had a cheap dot matrix printer, but I composed a note for each of them, printed them out, sneaked into their rooms and borrowed their crayons to color them. Finally, I folded each one and slipped them through the ribbon collars on their stuffed animals.

The next morning, I was truly stunned at how excited they were with their gifts. The girls immediately started making extravagant lists for when they received their money. The boys had a clearer notion about how far the money would go so they were more circumspect. When February rolled around with the check, everyone of them excitedly presented their gift certificate in trade for real money before we hit the mall.

The next Christmas when I asked them what they wanted for gifts, they all voted for gift certificates again. And that became the Christmas tradition. Heh. I suppose I was way ahead of the idea of gift cards.

Sometimes, we just have to think out of the gift-wrapped box.

Merry Christmas!


Saturday, December 21, 2019

All I Want For Christmas

A few years ago, I was a college student. No, not that many years! My youngest child was fifteen and I had a son in the Navy. One day early in December while walking to my car after class, I stumbled and fell face down on the sidewalk. I remember the incredible pain.

After staggering back to my feet, another student urged me to go to the emergency clinic on campus as I was bleeding and my face was pretty badly scraped up. So off I went. The nurse cleaned me up and started chatting about making an appointment to see the dentist. That was the first hint that I had damaged more than some superficial scrapes on my face. I struggled up and went to the mirror.

What a mess.

Aside from hideous bruises and scrapes I had three chipped and ragged teeth (the front ones of course!) I called the dentist and went in immediately for an appointment. And discovered via the x-rays that I'd also cracked the bone just under my nose. My lips looked like something on Botox on speed.

My daughter was away at a boarding school. I called her that weekend and told her all about my adventures with the broken teeth. She sort of giggled after a bit and sang, "All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth..."

Somehow, it wasn't so bad after that.

Update: Still dealing with those chipped teeth twenty five years later. Going back to dentist in the New Year for new veneers. Moral of the story? Don't stumble and fall on your face.


Thursday, December 19, 2019

Christmas Journey

Christmas 1989. “Please come if you can. Uncle Charles has terminal cancer and probably won’t be with us next Christmas.” For many years in my family, holidays (Christmas and Thanksgiving) have been alternated with the in-laws. This year was not a family Christmas, but the family was trying to get together anyway. It wasn’t a great year for us. The house hunk was on disability because of an accident at work. I was on unemployment because my company, Waldenbooks, had moved their warehouse operation from New York to Tennessee. The boys, recently graduated from high school, were out of work, since they had also been employed there. Jobs were scarce in our rural county with 700 unemployed warehouse workers suddenly in the job market. I was attending school as a dislocated worker, hoping to obtain the skills for a new job.
“Please come.” Our car was shot. There was barely enough for a gift for each of the kids. Friends had provided Christmas dinner components for us. The trip from New York to Indiana was out of the question. Reluctantly, I called my parents with the news.
The kids asked us if we could talk for a few minutes. “Suppose we give up our present money…would we have enough gas money to get there?” one of them asked.
My younger son offered to change the oil and do a quick check up on the car. Our oldest pointed out that we could take turns driving. The car had very little heat…but our older daughter suggested that we could take extra blankets. Slowly, one objection at a time, they showed us that we could make the trip. I called my parents in LaPorte, Indiana and suggested that they make up some extra beds.
We traveled to LaPorte, stopping only for restrooms and coffee. Our car was a tight squeeze for five small people. We had six large people. The kids said that was a good thing as we all stayed warmer that way. Meals were sandwiches eaten in the car. In Ohio, we ran into snow. The car heater didn’t work well enough to defrost the windows so they began to freeze over. There were frequent stops to clear them, but we made it. After eighteen hours on the road we arrived in LaPorte. There was close to a foot of snow on the ground.
It was a great Christmas, rendered more poignant because of Uncle Charles’ illness. There were more family members there than at anytime before or since. Close to 70 people sat down for Christmas dinner. Afterwards, there were games, carols, and visiting.
The trip home was longer as there was more snow to contend with. In Pennsylvania, the snow was so heavy that it melted on the headlights, creating a sheet of ice that coated them. We stopped frequently to clear them just so we had light. Cars were sliding off the road. It was night. Plows couldn’t keep up with the storm. The rest areas were closed. We had no money to stay anywhere so we kept moving. Twenty-six hours later, we arrived safely home.
Anyone who has traveled with teenagers knows that it’s impossible to travel far without petty squabbles and picking. However, our entire trip, bad weather, extremely uncomfortable conditions, with limited money, there wasn’t a cross word from anyone.
A miracle. Several, in fact.


Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Christmas Gifts

Over the last few days I've read several social media posts and statuses where adults are mourning their lack of Christmas (gifts, lights, tree, decorations, etc.) They're not mentioning the lack for their children's sake. No...they're speaking up for their own lack.

Since this is something I can speak about from vast experience, I had to have my say. For the last innumerable Christmases (not to mention birthdays, Mother's Day, etc., etc.) I could count all my gifts on one hand. Some years I didn't need even a finger to count. And yet, I feel blessed.

I have four reasonably healthy children with their attachments, one healthy husband, two still independent parents, and three healthy siblings with all the attachments--spouses, children, grandchildren. Speaking of grandchildren, I also have five brilliant, healthy ones of my own.

None of them live anywhere near us. But I love them and I am blessed by their very existence.

I have shelter. I have food. I have everything I need to be comfortable, plus some to spare. It was not always so. There were years when I wondered how we would feed our children, but that is not the case this year. And so I am blessed.

I have a closet full of decorations for the holidays. This year except for our tiny fiber optic tree, I chose not to haul them out. But even if that closet was empty, it wouldn't leave me less blessed. Christmas isn't about decorations or carols or gifts. It's about love.

For those of you feeling loneliness or depression, my heart goes out to you because you are devoid of the greatest of gifts--love. Love for yourself. Love for another. Love for your neighbor. If you have any of those, you are blessed.

Light a candle and give thanks.


Monday, December 16, 2019

Let There Be Peace on Earth

"Let there be Peace on Earth..."

The first time I heard this song was at my oldest daughter's Christmas pageant the year she was in fourth grade. The elementary school had no place big enough to hold the pageant so it was held in the high school auditorium. The program was creative and joyous and enjoyed by all the parents and families.

Near the end of the evening, teachers dressed as reindeer took the stage with a rollicking skit and song. As I was enjoying it, awareness of a shuffle and hiss crept in and I realized that the children were silently lining the walls around the auditorium.

The lights went out. A deep silence filled the huge room.

And then one young voice soared in the darkness. "Let there be peace on earth..." A tiny light flicked on lighting her face.

A few more voices joined in...just a few from points all around us. "And let it begin with me." More lights. More voices.

Until we were ringed in light and earnest small voices singing about peace on earth.I think about that song often. I think about how we still don't understand the underlying truth of the words..."let it begin with me" for peace does not begin with warriors. Peace is protected by warriors when all else has failed. Peace begins with each of us.

Most people believe that peace is an absence of war. That isn't true. Peace is an absence of conflict. And true peace will not arrive until we as humans refuse to countenance abuse, intolerance, genocide, greed, and famine. As long as we turn away from the less fortunate ignoring the needs of the many in favor of the wants of the few, there will be no peace on earth.

"Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me..."


Sunday, December 15, 2019

Grinch Gets a Heart

Christmas 1997. Well, there we were. Life, as usual, had twisted us in knots. We were short on money, long on bills, and the holiday was around the corner, nipping at our wallets. That year we had a new miracle in our family. Her name was Talitha and she wasn't old enough to know that she was a miracle.

I watched her being born back in September. My younger daughter and her husband were having tough times so they were living with us… which meant that I got to see her every day. She was nearly three months old and changing almost by the hour.

Back in my more arrogant days, among the many silly things I said, was one particular gem—that none of my children would be allowed to move back in with me once they were on their own. I’ve been forced to eat my words several times. That Christmas both of my daughters were living with us! In any case, I have found that God generally gets what he wills, one way or the other. That June, in a matter of twenty minutes, he simply removed all other options. God was determined to give me a blessing I didn’t want.

Tough times can shrivel the soul. On the outside, I carried on, but on the inside, like the Grinch, my heart was several sizes too small. And then, God sent a gift into my life. Life was still tough. There was little income and large out-go. But when I came home from work and held my granddaughter, things were okay. I forgot how precious the little children are. I harbored resentments and bitterness because of my own failures with my children. With this tiny baby, I was able at last to forgive myself for my failures and simply allow myself to love her without expectations or conditions. When I watched her young parent's faces when they held her and cared for her, then I knew that I did something right. 
Talitha is twenty-two now. Life has whizzed by, but when I look back, she was still a miracle. Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

The Christmas Surprise

The Christmas Surprise

The end of that year was an incredibly turbulent time. In November on my fourteenth birthday, President Kennedy was assassinated. It was in the beginning years of the Vietnam War. The Cuban Missile crisis was not long before that. Uncertainty was everywhere. So herewith, the story of Christmas 1963.

Christmas 1963. That was the year that Christmas wasn’t going to bring even one gift…we thought. It was a poor financial year. I didn’t exactly know that we were poor. We had plenty to eat. We had clean, warm clothes. We had a warm, sheltering apartment in Chicago that my stepmother, Maxine, worked hard to make a haven for us.

Now that I am a parent and grandparent I realize how difficult it must have been for her to sit us down a few weeks before Christmas and explain that there wasn’t any money for gifts. If all the money she had managed to save was pooled, we could have a special Christmas dinner. Back then there were no such things as food banks or church assistance.

Soberly, we considered the dilemma, and then one by one, we agreed that a special dinner was the best use for the money we had. Once that was settled, we put it behind us and life went on.

Then, a couple weeks before Christmas, Mum told all of us to hurry home immediately after school, as there would be a surprise. Friends of the family planned to bring each of us a gift and wished to be present when we opened them. So on this day, I slung my books into my locker at school and rushed home. Pounding up the stairs to our second floor apartment, I eagerly flung open the door—and froze in my tracks.

Every level surface in both the dining and living rooms was covered with gifts. Piles of beautifully, lovingly decorated boxes with bows and trinkets. A tree twinkled merrily in the corner. The melodies of familiar Christmas carols filled the air. Unexpectedly, Christmas had come to our home.

As I stood in the open doorway, I could not imagine what had happened. Certainly, we didn't get rich overnight. I shut the door before walking around the rooms gently touching the lovely boxes. Mum, more excited than I had ever seen her, urged me to look in the kitchen where two boxes of groceries, a ten-pound ham, fifty pounds of potatoes, and a five pound box of chocolates sat on the table. A special Christmas dinner indeed!

In a little while, when my brothers came home from school and my dad arrived from work, we opened the gifts. Of all the Christmases in my life, this is the one I can remember every single thing I received--not because I was a greedy kid, but because they were all gifts of sacrifice from strangers.

Our family friends were a minister and his wife with a church in Indiana. One of their church families approached them, seeking a family that wasn’t going to have any gifts for Christmas. The parents and children of this church family voted to give up their Christmas gifts so that a family, unknown to them, would have a special Christmas.

The minister and his wife undertook the responsibility of obtaining clothing sizes and special needs, plus transportation and delivery of the gifts. And they delivered our heartfelt thank you letter to the anonymous family.

As Christmas grows closer, whether we are rich or poor, I look back on that Christmas and know that we are blessed because we are together. Every year I remember the blessing of being loved unconditionally by strangers.

A miracle.