MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WALL

mirror mirror

 There was an article in the NY Times this week entitled, “Do your friends actually like you?” Research shows that only about half of perceived friendships are mutual. The study was done on 21-34 year-olds. Turns out that while those young people were 95% certain that their besties really were their besties that was only true about 50% of the time. Whoops.

 If this research were done on older people, my guess is that the results would be vastly different. We are not so easily deluded. Time has made us infinitely wiser and more humble in spite of ourselves. Once you hit 50, you likely know the difference between the friend who will visit you in jail and the one who will actually bail you out. (Don’t ask me why this particular analogy is right at my fingertips).

 When I was 5, there was a TV show called, “Romper Room,” which I loved. “Miss Sherri,”** was the hostess on our local station and I was pretty sure that she was my friend. She was sweet, loved kids and always taught us to be, “Do Bee’s.” The best part of the show was at the end. She held up her ‘Magic Mirror,’ “So that I can see all of you at home.” I knew that she could see us because she even said our names like, ‘I see Mary and Jenny and Johnny and Tommy and.” But in all the times I watched, she never once said, “Helen.” Not once, although I often yelled at her, “Miss Sherri, it’s Helen! I’m here. Right here. I’m watching, too!”

 Somewhere between then and now I found my very, best friend. She knows everything about me and still loves me. She brings me up short if I stray and praises me when I follow the straight and narrow. We have no secrets and no hidden agendas. She’s not perfect but some parts of her are just awesome!  We understand and accept each other as we are.  No matter where we are, we are there for each other, always and forever.   I don’t even need to call or text her. I just have to look in the mirror. As Granny used to say, “You can’t ‘love your neighbor as yourself,’ if you don’t love yourself first.”

**Sherri Finkbine made headlines in the 1960’s when she accidentally took a common sleeping pill containing Thalidomide early in her 5th pregnancy.  Her doctor suggested a therapeutic abortion, but it was illegal at the time.  She and her husband were forced to go to Sweden instead.  It was determined that her fetus was so badly deformed and damaged from the drug that it would not have survived.  Now in her 80’s, Sherri is the mother of 6 children.   

 

  

 

 

 

FOLLOW THE ANTS. . .OR NOT

 

ants

I started watching ants when I was six and Granny took me outside to ‘observe nature.’ I caught all kinds of insects from the garden and studied them closely. Along the way, I also discovered that one spider in a jar with six grasshoppers is not outnumbered. You’ll end up with one, very, corpulent spider.

 Ants were too small and quick for me. No sooner would I corral one into a jar and go for another, when the first was already crawling out. So, Granny put a sugar cube on the patio and told me to wait. Within minutes, that little, white square was solidly black with ants. I watched fascinated as ants from seemingly nowhere suddenly appeared and swarmed the sugar.

 What intrigued me the most was how they handled obstacles placed in their path. I often laid a twig or stone in the middle of their line to see what they would do. At first, there was always a bit of confusion. Eventually, a few ants went up and over the obstacle. Most, however, went around it, even if it took longer and even if they got confused and ended up back where they started.

 Today, I laid a sheet of paper across the middle of their line. As usual, on either side of it, the ants swarmed together instead of moving forward. Eventually, a few began to crawl up and over the paper. However, they did not go far and always turned back. This was a BIG obstacle. I waited. Finally one, single ant, after several hesitations, made the journey across! He must have said, “It’s safe,” because one, single ant on that side then walked across the paper to the other side!

 10 minutes later, a very, sparse line of ants were making their way across the paper. Where had the others gone? I lifted up the paper to discover a perfect rectangle of ants making their journey around the 8×10 sheet. In fact, they continued marching in that rectangle, with the paper gone, a full half-hour later!

 So, next time you encounter an obstacle, take a lesson from the ants. Be the one who goes over it and continues moving forward. Whatever you do, don’t waste your time going around something that isn’t even there.

PUT ON YOUR GLASSES!!

glasses4

A few years ago, while looking at pictures from a trip to Colorado, there was a gray-haired woman in a red sweatshirt who I didn’t recognize. I knew it wasn’t me. My hair is not that gray and I don’t own a red sweatshirt. Finally, I asked my husband.

“Honey, who is that?” I prodded. “That woman in the red sweatshirt.”

He looked at the photo then looked back at me.

“Are you serious?” he said as if I were wacko.

“Yes, that woman with the gray hair. I don’t recognize her at all.”

“Wow,” he said. “Put on your glasses.”

It WAS me. I had borrowed someone’s shirt because it was cold.

            This also happened some 30 years ago when I received proof sheets from a photographer who had taken my headshots. At first, I thought they sent someone else’s photos: someone infinitely younger and prettier. Nope. They were mine but all were shot at the perfect, flattering angle under great lighting with a plethora of makeup!

          Last week, a 60-foot tree fell in our yard, brought down the power lines and ripped out a portion of our roof. THAT I saw clearly. What I missed was, ‘the fine print’ in our homeowner’s insurance: “You are responsible for the first 6,000 in damages accrued.”

        There’s an old adage that says, “Believe NONE of what you hear and HALF of what you see.” Maybe whoever wrote it realized that things aren’t always what they seem, no matter how they appear. Or maybe he was looking through a pair of squashed glasses like mine above.

       When Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals, he didn’t patent them. His feeling was that, “As we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously.”

      Now the most common eyesight problems over age 60 are: macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts. So, visit your eye doctor! Then, put on your glasses! Remember, you don’t have to be old to miss the fine print or not get ‘the whole picture.’ It just means you’re human.

      Tonight, my husband couldn’t find an entire head of lettuce staring at him from the fridge shelf. (Normally, the ketchup eludes him). So, I said, “Put on your glasses, Dear. It’s not like the lettuce is disguised and wearing a red sweatshirt.”      

 

HAND OVER YOUR HEART

 flag

I hung our flag outside today. The older I get, the more memories it carries. My first was at age 10, when I became a ‘naturalized citizen.’ Since I was born in Australia, this was something that I needed to do if I wanted to be a ‘real’ American. I did. As I timidly walked inside the Phoenix courthouse, the flag flapped briskly outside.

 My first question was, “Who is our current US President?”

“John F. Kennedy,” I answered confidently.

 Then, they asked me to recite the Pledge of Allegiance with my hand over my heart. My grandmother, perhaps worried that I might flunk, had also insisted that I memorize the Preamble to the US Constitution, “just in case.” While I can quote it to this day, they never asked.

 10 years later, that same flag was draped over the coffins of all, those soldiers coming back from Vietnam. 10 years after that, our flag waved mightily over the 26 baseball stadiums as I sang, “The Star Spangled Banner.” Never have I felt the awe and humility of being an American as deeply as that summer. 20 years later, I watched our flag go up in flames in Kabul.  

 Real freedom has nothing to do with color or country, gender or age. It has little to do with a piece of cloth sewn with stars and stripes and everything to do with how we think. Since psychologists say that we are prisoners of our own thoughts, we need to choose them carefully. I believe that there are two kinds of freedom: ‘freedom from’ and ‘freedom to.’ If we have the first, we must use the second wisely.

 Now my dog’s idea of freedom is to bolt from the leash and head straight into oncoming traffic. I have known many people just like her. They’ll take that inch so impulsively that they never make it a mile. So, on this July 4th, don’t take after my dog. Remember the words of a great man who understood what freedom really meant:

For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”  Nelson Mandela

 

TOP TEN CLUES YOU’RE NOT A KID ANYMORE

smiley face2

 

  1. Everything hurts and if it doesn’t you’re just waiting for it to.
  2. “Your Body is a Wonderland,” in every sense of the word. Skin has gone south from your forehead to your ankles leaving a series of tiny, folded wrinkles that you can move around willy-nilly.
  3. Instead of tanning, you become covered with a splash of brown spots right out of a Jackson Pollock painting.
  4. Your teeth get bigger but your mouth gets smaller. (This is likely purposeful so that you will chew better and eat less).
  5. Everyone you see driving is entirely too young to be behind the wheel.
  6. You ask people on the phone to “speak up,” often more than once, and you still don’t know what they said.
  7. Complete strangers routinely ask if you have grandkids.
  8. Your mailbox is filled with ads for retirement homes, nursing facilities and funeral companies.
  9. You’re always looking for ramps.
  10. You can actually make a smiley face with the extra skin around your knees! (Test this by lying on your back and raising your leg in the air.)

 

REMEMBER ME IN BLOOM

 

 

Magnolia bloomI am now at the age where I attend more funerals than weddings; a time more defined by loss than achievement. And while the years have crept slowly they seem to have passed overnight. One moment I was running barefoot for miles along the beach and now? Climbing a simple flight of stairs is agony for my knees.

 A friend of mine recently passed away. As I entered the church for her visitation, she was lying in an open casket at the far end of the room. Her face was translucently whiter than it had ever been in real life and her lips were pressed together as if just about to smile. They had dressed her in a blue suit and wrapped rosary beads delicately around her hands. She seemed so lifelike that I stared at her chest thinking any moment she might possibly take a breath. The longer that I looked, though, the more it bothered me. I did not want to remember her like this.

 As my friends and I waited to speak with her family, I asked them what their own plans were for their services someday. What surprised me was that all of them had plans. One gave a detailed description of every song and Bible verse that would be played and read at her service. Another said she wanted a simple funeral but no cremation. The last not only described her memorial but also asked if I would sing her favorite hymn when the time came!

 I excused myself and returned again to my friend’s body. Instinctively, I reached into the casket and took hold of her hand. It was something that I had often done when she was alive. We often squeezed hands when greeting one another. This time, however, her hand was cold, so cold, that even when I let it go, my own remained distinctly chilled for several minutes afterwards.

 As I drove away from the church, I realized this: I want no memorial, no funeral, or even casket. Do not stitch my lips shut or lay me stiffly like a mannequin. Cremate me and scatter me to the wayward wind. Then, I will become a part of the good earth again and perhaps even bloom in someone’s garden. Remember me with a flush of color in my face, a big smile on my lips and a hand warm to the touch.

 

 

 

  

YOU’RE NEVER TOO YOUNG…OR OLD

Helen in locker

 Yup. That’s me, playing, “Hide and Seek” in the pool locker room this morning. Couldn’t resist. Two little girls had been hiding and finding each other as their mothers pretended to knock on all the doors in search for them. The longer I watched, the more that I wanted to play, too. Finally, I said, “Hey you guys, can I play, too?” They both looked at me with wide eyes and open mouths. Neither spoke. They just stared. Finally one said, “You’re way, too big.” I love a challenge.

 “Well, let’s see,” I said, stepping inside.

 “She fits!” the littlest one squealed with delight.

 Unfortunately, I rather filled the space and couldn’t close the door behind me. As I pondered what to do next, one of the mothers kindly said, “Go ahead. I’ll close the door for you.”

 As soon as it shut, one of the girls said in a voice that mimicked her mother, “Where’s the old lady?”

 The other one chimed in, “Where’s the OLD, OLD lady?”

 Both squealed and giggled upon opening my locker door.

 “Found you,” they said in chorus.

 I giggled, too. It is just as much fun hiding as it is being found. In all the trials and travails of aging, it never hurts to be silly now and then. Here is to you finding your ‘inner kid’ today.