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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Stanley, My Sidekick

The news media today love to tout elderly people who do things younger ones would be proud to do such as bike-riding, playing tennis, running marathons and sky diving, to name a few. Just this morning the TV has a story about an 80 year old woman who went sky diving and the last minute her pro-partner had to force her out the door of the plane. That was painful to watch but she had told him to do so if she chickened out. It happened that she soon slipped out of her harness but the pro caught her and they descended safely, albeit with her in a most awkward position.

Whenever I hear about things like this I wonder why people of any age do things that seem crazy to me. What must motivate anyone to take chances like that? Is it pride, self-will, a dare, or do some senior seniors just keep on doing what has always been enjoyable to them? If the latter, then I say more power to them, but if it’s the former, then I say, grow up as you grow old.

Perhaps more often than this kind of resistance to old age, one tends to avoid doing the practical thing like getting glasses, hearing aids, or using canes and walkers. In any case pride may be the reason for action or inaction. No one wants to look old and so often we’ll resist age by tackling more than is sensible or failing to use the aids needed. I was reminded of this yesterday when, after a spell of painful walking because of a sore hip, I decided to get myself a cane. What a difference that extra “leg” makes! My complaining hip says, “Thank you, girl, for making me ever so much more comfortable! You didn’t give in to pride or will-power, and now I plan to reward you by shaping up and healing myself.”

Only about a year ago did I feel the need to get glasses and when I did, I got some.  No one had to push me into it and I was glad when it came time to renew my driver’s license because I’d not have passed the eye test if I hadn’t. I’m enjoying using my glasses, and now I’m also enjoying “Stanley,” my new cane and sidekick. He’s not only a great help, but I know he’ll gladly go into the closet if I should find I don’t need him anymore. In the meantime I wear him like a badge of honor knowing that He can make me look sporty if I think of him that way, stand erect and walk in gratitude.  What’s the shame in being sane?

There are numberless angels who help us all when we acknowledge their presence. Slowing down to notice the beauty and wonder of everyday miracles is the best of medicines. Being cheerful by choice becomes natural when we focus on the good in life. A happy heart, a hopeful outlook, a mind full of good thoughts, - these are the best of helpers. But if in our daily walk we could use a good cane, then why not get one? I’m already walking a little straighter and steadier and more spritely. My cane is a sporty tool!

It’s a beautiful summer afternoon here in my neighborhood. Guess I’ll take Dolce 
the dog for a walk and Stanley’s coming along too. I think he makes me look like one smart cookie!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Is Older Really Better?

Having started this blog I find myself coming to grips occasionally with the title of it. “Your blog has to have a name, Mom,” my daughter said as she set it up. The whole idea of blogging was new to me but I thought, what do I have to offer in words? The answer was ideas. Especially ones I’m most wrestling with today. That way I get to keep a record of some of my conclusions and share them with others who are my contemporaries. I suspect that would include everyone since no one can escape the clocks and calendars of life.

A big part of the senior senior’s life is getting to know oneself. It’s inescapable. Eventually most of us have to face living alone. No longer do we live to support another, be supported by another, live with another, keep company with another. Some have lived alone most of their lives and know what that means. Only when you experience independent living do you face up to yourself.

Tommy, my canary, is a case of that. At the pet shop where I found him he shared the cage with another male canary in the vicinity of other cages occupied by other birds. Then I brought him home where his cage stood next to another cage with two Gouldian finches I’d had for a number of years. After about a year Freddy and Fannie left for bird heaven or bird hereafter. Now Tommy is alone. He doesn’t seem to know it though because he hops up to a small toy’s mirror the first thing every morning  and talks to it. I’d give anything to know what he’s saying.

Just so, my pen and journal or the computer keyboard and monitor serve me as mirrors to my thoughts. I am alone in my house, but these “mirrors” keep me company. They keep me on track. They demand a certain standard of thought. I cannot treat them like our writing teacher tells us to by letting every shabby thought that passes by get written down randomly and then torn up. With me, pride or self-protection or propriety, whatever, has kept shabbiness at such a distance that I never dignify it by my pen or keyboard. The TV and newspapers do a good enough job for that. 

No, my kind of word-company is one of elucidation, problem-solving, getting things right in my mental household. This spills out in my little condo too. Like yesterday. Starting out with a shampoo and shower, I proceeded to tidy up my rooms. I don’t stick to some dogged rule about housework. I let myself get side-tracked freely and it’s all fun and games. A darling photo of my latest great grand-baby boy needed to be framed. I did it in a charmingly innovative way. Side-tracks like that in housework make the job go happily. 

Life is full of puzzles, unsolved problems and inequities. I’ve found that taking them one at a time and writing about them in a positive way helps to sort things out in my mind. It’s a lot like taking life’s perplexities to a sage and talking them out. That’s the way it is with the subject of age.

“Older,” let’s face it, has a bad reputation because of its accompaniments, not its substance. Taken in substance it should mean all kinds of good things. Like getting older is getting smarter. Getting older is getting wiser. Getting older is getting sweeter, riper, gentler, kinder. Getting older should not be getting lonely but rather getting better acquainted with one’s truer self. This can result in making small and large changes for the better in one’s person, in one’s mind, in one’s house, in one’s attitudes, in one’s habits, in every way possible. It’s art. It’s entertainment. It’s fun.

As I write this Tommy is no longer sitting in front of his mirror. He’s no longer chit-chatting as he was the first thing this morning. He’s bursting in song. He’s seen himself and liked what he saw. He’s enjoying his own company and that is not narcism, it’s simply that he is the only company he has. Except me. He likes me because I take care of him, talk to him once in a while, and put him in the best spot in the house. I do the same for myself. 

As I get older I am happier. Especially in the morning. That’s all I need to say today.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Judgment Day

I can’t speak for others of my generation but, for myself, not a day goes by but this one niggling Shadow taunts me: “Why are you here?” Like shadows do, it changes its position, rephrases its question: “How are you going to make up for lost time?” Or: “Do you deserve to be so contented?”

Then there’s the most recurring question of all: “What are you going to do today to warrant your good fortune?”

 It’s not to impress the world I write down my thoughts in a blog. It’s more like launching a bottle out to sea with the message in it: “Whoever finds this bottle, please get back to me if you are of a kindred spirit. Or, even if not. But if the person who finds this is in their eighties or nineties and would like to share your life story, all the better.”

This morning I filled out another of those ubiquitous surveys that ask your occupation. “Retired” and none of the other usual answers seem to fit me. Somehow they don’t capsulize adequately my unique (I’d like to think) occupational categories. Here’s a run-down (not in order of importance) of some titles I could claim:
Canary keeper, dog sitter, housekeeper, world-watcher, clay sculptor, writer, reader, grandmother, mom, friend of a few, enemy of none, and glad-to-be-alive grateful citizen of the USA.
Somehow the niggling Shadow I mentioned above tags along with me asking those questions of accounting without actually accusing me. He, she, whoever it is, does not deny me the pleasure of just savoring the joy of any given moment. It never takes over like a schoolmaster or life regulator. It seems to know I’ll do just as I please anyway, but doesn’t give up in urging me to do better whatever I choose. 

It’s been said that every day is judgment day, but if there is to be some final judgment, I’d dread most the one that would parade in front of me all the things I could have accomplished in life and didn’t because of wrong choices, lack of motivation, or simple selfish desire. I've had my share of sins of commission, but it's the sins of omission I most worry about.

I have a couple of friends who are slightly older than I and someday I may talk to them about this. For now we just enjoy each others’ company, reminisce about the olden days, and share a few outings now and then. In between our infrequent get-togethers I keep nearly daily company with a dear daughter who lives in this same block, enjoy occasional visits with one son, a weekly Skype hour with another son, a gathering of grandchildren and sweet great grandies on holidays, and daily exchanges with my Muse in a journal. The latter have become increasingly more public with blogs like this. (I laugh at the word “public” when I remember how few even read them. And that’s OK. It helps me open up.)

So, when my niggling Shadow asks what on earth I’m good for now-a-days I just say, “Sit down here beside me. Look around at all the beauty you see, be grateful for relatively good health, have a bite of lunch on the patio next to the creek, give tasties to Dolce, your granddaughter’s little dog, listen to Tommy the canary sing, and quit talking!” Then I pat the little fellow on the shoulder and apologize. “I’m sorry, my friend, you’re doing a good job keeping me enough on track to not fear too much any kind of judgment day, whether daily or final, and I’m grateful to you for not being too hard on me.” 

As for the occupational query on that survey? I just wrote: "Read my blog." 

Friday, May 11, 2012

About Time

Some years ago I discovered Jack Finney. He’s an author who writes about bridging over time when the desire to do so makes it possible. He’s a great story teller who has no problem at all getting me to suspend my disbelief. I’m like a child again listening to my father tell bedtime stories. No book or pictures were necessary with Daddy’s stories. I was all ears and my imagination drew pictures. I knew Daddy’s stories were made up in his own heart and mind and memory and that made them all the more real for me. 

Finney writes like my Daddy talked in that half hushed confidential way so no one else can hear. He draws me in comfortingly so that everything he says becomes totally believable. His longing for another time, a  gentler time when news came in newspapers and was not so in your face. He wonders about old buildings, old houses, old streets where today you might find occasional remnants of the past. And it’s not just nostalgia. There’s the element of wonder, romance or mystery, even the possibility of stepping into the past that clutch’s at the reader. Where will the story end?  

I remember when first the sound barrier was broken in aviation. It had been believed impossible; that going beyond the speed of sound would suddenly cause a plane to disintegrate. Silly, we say now. So, why can’t we break the time barrier? Or any other barrier that we labor under in belief? 

I’ve always been fascinated by the probability that the so-called impossible is a mere illusion. I admire those scientists and engineers who make dreams come true. I’m told that airplanes these days practically fly themselves and in time pilots will become unnecessary altogether. Just this morning I saw on TV a car driven entirely by a computerized piloting system. We’d all be dumbfounded, I’m sure, by the things on the drawing boards of those who know how to make the “impossible” possible.

Can’t you imagine how it would be to slip into some other time frame? Once, when we owned a sixty acre ranch along the Applegate River in southern Oregon I dreamed of creating a place exactly like an 1800’s spread. It would have dirt roads along the river bank (about a mile amidst tall trees and blackberry bushes.) I’d have antique cars, horse drawn wagons, and pony carts. The house would be large and rambling with porches and swings. Fruit and vegetable gardens. Milk cows and sheep, chickens, ducks, pigs. One caveat: we’d have the animals lead a life of pleasure with no violent end, no ending up on the dinner plate. I loved that dream. We’d invite paying guests to enjoy stepping into the past with the uglier aspects of ranch life removed. But never once did I entertain the idea that we could actually go back in time there. Nor would I have wanted to. After eight years on the ranch I realized that the past might not be so idyllic after all.

Certainly today’s world has a long way to go in achieving the ideal. What if the next experience after this turns out to be a mere skip in time? What if, when I appear to die, I’ll go to sleep and wake up in another age? Will it be like changing channels on the TV or frequencies on the radio? Jack Finney's book has stirred my imagination but right now I'm willing to let "reality" stay right where it is.