INSIDE OUT

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Last week, the Inside Out art project came to my town. Their truck rolled up in front of the library and we, local residents let them take 4’ by 3’, black and white photos of us. These were then pasted on the walkways in front of the library. I was amazed at the diversity of faces. Our art statement didn’t last long as it rained the following day and all became a gray mush. It was a great reminder, though, of the brevity of our lives. That is why it is so important to shine while our light still flickers!

Recently, I spoke to a group on Alzheimer’s. Since all had been (or were), caregivers, I assumed they would ask questions about the disease and its’ progression. Instead, I faced a room full of people terrified that it might happen to them! In fact, one perfectly, healthy woman was actually taking an Alzheimer’s medication in hopes of preventing it before it started!

Considering that 1 million people will have dementia in some form by 2025, their concerns are valid. So, here’s what we know so far: there is NO cure or drug that can really help yet. No. Nothing–so don’t fall for those TV commercials. However, here are a few things we DO know that will give you the best prevention possible:

  1. Smoking increases your dementia risk 30-50%.
  2. Drinking one Coke a day ups your risk by 30%.
  3. Although few of my readers likely play football–watch for blows to the head—they cause inflammation to the nervous system and increase the tau proteins that cause Alzheimer’s.
  4. Keep your blood pressure low.
  5. Playing a musical instrument lowers your risk by 36%. Taking up the harmonica can’t hurt.
  6. Yeah get off your butt—stub out your butt—and no more ifs ands or buts. THIS is the MOST important one!  

 Here’s the mystery of life: the things we plan for rarely happen and the ones we don’t expect often smack us right between the eyes. Considering that 24% of boys born today and 35% of girls will eventually develop dementia, starting healthy behaviors now will have a more beneficial effect than any medical treatment or preventative procedure. Plus, if you wanna see your face plastered up real big, track down the Inside Out Project! Smiling increases longevity and makes you feel good inside and out!

 

 

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YOUR FRIEND, ME

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A friend of mine in his 80’s pulled me aside to talk this morning. He lifted his pant leg to reveal a huge, gauze-covered dressing over his entire shin.

 “I was caught in the middle of a dogfight,” he said. “The doctor can’t stitch it because there’s simply no skin. I have another bandage up here,” he said, indicating his thigh.

 His skin is even thinner than mine and he’s also on blood thinners. I cringed, imagining the pain of that huge, open wound.

 He then confided that his lady friend of late has decided to fly solo. After a long sigh, he simply said:

 “My life is over. I’m in too much pain to move. I have no companionship and there’s nothing to look forward to. Really, nothing.”

 For a moment, I was flummoxed. We’re pals. We’ve worked out together, gone to many a lunch, had tons of talks about love, life, books (he loves murder mysteries) and he has nothing to look forward to? I wanted to give him the pep talk that one normally gives when a friend is feeling down but no words came simply because I know how he feels. I really do.  What could I say?

 Finally, the words come to me tonight, as I ready for bed. So, I dash off this email. Maybe it will help him feel a little less alone.
Hey, kid:

I know you are in a lot of pain and that life isn’t fair.  It’s hard getting older and not snapping back into step the way you once used to.

But I just want you to know how happy it makes me feel inside every time you wave at me when I come to the gym.

Want you to know how much I love your ‘joke of the day,’ cuz even when it’s not funny, it still makes me laugh.

Want you to know that I admire how you’ve kept yourself active and in shape all these years. That takes real strength and persistence.

 Mostly, I just want you to know that my life is just a bit richer and warmer for having you in it… so hang in there.

“This, too, shall pass.”

 Your friend,

Me

 P. S. A real friend is like a rainbow. They appear after a storm and dazzle you with such beauty that you forget the fear of all the thunder and lightning that went before.”

TOUCHDOWN

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You may find this hard to believe but I just saw my very, first, live, professional football game! The last time I sat in the bleachers was in 1974, during a first date in college. However, by halftime, I told the guy that I’d had enough. (It was also our last date). As for Super bowl parties? I never attended them unless coerced and even then spent every conceivable second in the kitchen or outside listening to the leaves rustle. Anything was better than watching all those big guys run after a ball that I couldn’t even see and then jump on top of each other so hard that it made me wince.

 Until last week I had no clue how the game even worked. So, let me tell you what I learned after just one match: Football is a perfect metaphor for Life.

  1. Once the whistle blows, you only have so much time left.
  2. When you have the ball, you’re always heading for the ‘end zone.’
  3. If you get caught holding the ball, you’ll be sorry.
  4. As you inch towards your goal, some folks will knock themselves out helping you get there. Others will flatten you like a pancake.
  5. There’s always somebody faster, bigger, stronger and younger gaining on you.
  6. If you’re outflanked, you pass the ball to someone else and hope they don’t fumble.
  7. You can play an entire game and never touch the ball once.
  8. You can actually knock people over on purpose and jump right on top of them, if it’s done just so.
  9. You can’t hold on to someone—no matter how much you want to—if they’re not actually holding the ball.
  10. It all starts with a coin toss.

If you can’t play, you can always sit on the sidelines and bark orders at the guys on the field, like the crazed fan behind me did the entire game.  As it happens, I was there to watch a young man I know realize his dream to play in the NFL. Now, the only thing better than chasing your own dreams is watching someone else bring theirs to life. That’s a thrill in itself! My friend played well and as his teammates slapped his butt and gripped his helmet with congratulations, it reminded me of one, more thing:   you don’t do any of it by yourself. Nope, not one, single, solitary yard. Like football, life is a team sport.      

 

 

 

 

FINDING JOY

 

FINDING JOY

I ran into this fabulous, 94 year-old at the Vegas airport last week. Her 10 year-old, great-granddaughter, Gianna, who clearly adored her, was pushing her in a wheelchair.

“Whatcha readin’?” I asked her.

 She grinned and said, “Finding Joy.” Then she thumbed through a few pages, turned the book upside down, shook it and added, “But I can’t find her in here anywhere!” We both cracked up.

Ironically, on the same flight was another woman, also in a wheelchair, who appeared to be at least 10 years younger. She met my attempts to chat with both indifference and a nasty scowl on her face. When it was time to board, she had to wait for an attendant to take her in, so the gate attendant motioned me forward ahead of her. A few moments later as the woman was wheeled towards me in the gangway, she suddenly yelled, “I’m going in there first, you know!”

 “No worries,” I said a bit taken aback. “You’re welcome to go first but believe it or not, we’re all going to get there at the same time.” Others laughed but she didn’t find that funny at all.

 Just then, my new friend, Elaine came rolling up with Gianna.

 “Let’s all sit together!” she said with a big grin.

 “I’d love that,” I replied. “Now are we gonna sit in the cabin or do you want a seat on the wing? It does get a bit windy out there but the view’s much better.”

 “Oh, Let’s sit on the wing!” she said with glee, playing along with my silliness.

 And in a sense, we did sit there.  For isn’t it the wings that lift you soaring into the clouds? Without them, a plane would never leave the ground. Likewise, without joy, we are inexorably left with the heaviness of our own sorrows like that bitter woman. Some folks can find joy under a dusty rock. Others wouldn’t know it if you dumped it in their lap but my new friend, Elaine?  She carries it with her wherever she goes. 

 

 

 

 

NOW WE SEE THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY

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Company was coming. As I rushed about tidying up, I noticed that the large, picture window in the dining room was spotted and filthy. Actually, I’d known that for several months but was used to seeing through the smudges when I looked out into the garden. After half a bottle of Windex, I was amazed at the difference. The sky was bluer and I could even see the edges of the red and yellow flowers with clarity. How had I grown used to peering through all that grunge?

 It reminded me of the two famous suicides in the news this week. A man and woman, both in their 50’s, both parents and hugely accomplished, killed themselves. Their closest friends didn’t see it coming. I imagine that the windows in their minds were caked with grime and obfuscated with smudges. Their horizons were so muted and obscured that only the tiniest bits of light shown. Without light there is no hope.

 As ‘free’ as we like to think we are, we are only as liberated as our thoughts. It is easy to pull the trigger of a gun but much harder to understand what put our finger on it in the first place. Our lives are as full and rich as the garden through my window but sometimes we can’t even see the flowers. We get fixated on a single weed or notice only that a brick is crumbling or the rocks have fallen onto the path.

 Here’s the rub: no one is inside our head but us. If we want a clear view, we must erase the clutter, the negative thoughts that cloud it and dwell fully on the beauty before our eyes. Perhaps it is merely flowers, but it may also be children who still need our nurture, a partner we’ve come to take for granted or even a cause that we could champion.

Recently, I read that one day, we will actually be able to diagnose all of our ills from simply analyzing the sound of our own voices. It will even be able to detect both depression and Alzheimer’s. That’s all very nice but knowledge is irrelevant if we can’t make full use of it and our thinking is clouded. What we really need is clarity; a clean window. Otherwise, it is all just a sad and silent shadow box, little more than a handbag or bowl of Thai noodles.

 

ONE CLICK AWAY!

 

baby owlPhotos:  Dan Weisz

Did you know that just three minutes of contact with nature not only reduces your stress, anger and fear but also increases your positive feelings?  That’s about how long it takes me to walk outside and snap a photo of the clouds. Looking up literally lifts my spirits. At present, I have some 1,600 pictures of the sky and so far have not yet tired of the habit. Neither has my neighbor, whom I’ve not met but know I will like. He is a professional photographer who captures the birds and animals in our desert habitat and shares them online with the neighborhood. Recently, I told him that I had discovered an owl nest nearby, so he went, camera in hand, and captured the owlets with their mom.

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Science has proven that hospital patients who have a view of a landscape outside their window recover faster and students who can see countryside from their classrooms learn better. Even workers who can see the outdoors get tasks done faster than people in windowless offices. Diet and exercise are important but we are profoundly affected by our environments. Want joy and inner calm? Open the curtains, paint the room a pretty pastel and add a green plant or bouquet of flowers.

Last Sunday night, 60 minutes ran a spectacular story on nature photographer, Thomas Mangelsen. At the end of the piece, he is shown with Dr. Jane Goodall, now 84, as they watch Sandhill cranes migrate along the Platte River in Nebraska. She has joined him on this adventure for the last 20-some years. There is something transcendent about people who love nature and animals.  While both are in the autumn of their lives, they look as radiant as springtime. 

 There is nothing more life giving and sustaining than Nature itself. No worldly accolade or amount of money can touch the splendor and magnificence of a waterfall, a hummingbird sipping nectar from a flower or a child emerging from its’ mother.  If you treasure the world through which you walk, you will hold even more precious those who walk beside you. So, grab your camera or phone, look for a beautiful moment around you and click. Or, simply enjoy these photos and appreciate the sensitivity and patience behind them.  Happy Mothers’ Day!!

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MY INSPIRATIONS

94Recently, a young man came backstage to chat with me after a performance. As he left, he suddenly gushed, “Ms. Hudson, this was great. I just love talking to old people!” While the others around me were a bit shocked, I was quite tickled and replied, “Well, Jason, I just love talking to young ones!”

 Growing up, my grandmother was always my greatest inspiration. She was drinking carrot juice and doing yoga long ahead of her time. One afternoon, when she was 70 and I was 17, she suddenly appeared in the kitchen wearing tap shoes. I’d been moping around the house and knew that she was trying to cheer me up.  She began to hop-step-flap-ball change her way through a very, nifty, ‘time step.’  That vision of her with her gray ponytail bouncing up and down still makes me smile.

As a kid I looked up to older people and sought them out for advice. Now that I am the ‘older’ person, there are a lot fewer ahead of me than there used to be. Nevertheless, I still look to them for both encouragement and hope. Here are just some of the inspirations in my life right now: a 94 year-old with the figure of a teenager who chats everyone up while sipping her iced chai latte and grocery shopping; an 80 year-old who took up daily workouts for the first time ever after her husband passed away and a 70-something couple who only recently found each other and are now inseparable.

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Recently, I had the happy fortune of spending the weekend with three, young couples. One has just had their first child. The other is expecting their first and the latter are engaged to marry. It was déjà vu as I, too, once walked those very roads. I marveled at their energy and fresh faces despite sleepless nights. I was hugely impressed by the equality with which all three seem to navigate their relationships. Mostly, I just gasped at how quickly I went from their age to mine.  At the end of the weekend, one of them told me that I was, ‘an inspiration’ to him because of my energy and enthusiasm for life.  At first, I was surprised but then very grateful. For his compliment is now a great motivation to keep me charging forward with a big smile on my face!!