A BIRD IN THE HAND

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Recently a juvenile cowbird sat squawking on my windowsill with its mouth wide open. Suddenly, a smaller bird of a different species altogether flew in and stuck food in its’ mouth! I was shocked to watch this happen several more times. Clearly, the bird doing the feeding was not its’ ‘real’ mother. It was a black-headed gnatcatcher!! Apparently, the cowbird likes to drop its eggs into the nests of other birds and skip parenting altogether. The beauty is that those ‘other’ birds do their best to raise someone else’s fledgling.

It’s a great lesson for me in this time of protecting my neighbor by wearing a mask. Never have I been more acutely aware of our collective breaths! And I am not just referring to the pandemic but to all of those who’s lives intersect with our own. We inhale and exhale each other with a connectedness that stretches around the world. Just like those surrogate birds, we are responsible for lives that we don’t know, may not understand and may never even meet!

As a kid who was raised by my grandmother, I appreciate the value of being parented by someone who really wants you. It is the same kind of devotion that hopefully all adoptees receive. Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela and Babe Ruth were all adopted and clearly thrived. So have storks, monkeys and seals, often nurtured by parents other than their own. Giving life is one thing but nurturing it takes a different kind of devotion altogether.

This morning, a young woodpecker with a broken leg showed up on my doorstep. For a moment I wondered if I should just let nature take its course but the thought of a hawk swooping down to devour it made me cringe. Carefully, I scooped her into my hands and settled her on a large, comfy towel inside a box. She was terrified and so was I. I didn’t know how to care for her. After calling wildlife rescue, I was eventually able to leave her in far more capable hands than my own. Now if only we could leave the world that way for those who come after us.

ALL IN

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less.” Marie Curie (1867-1934)

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10 years ago, I was so terrified of dogs that I rarely visited friends who had them. Then this little one came home. Skylar weighed less than a pound. She’d been taken from her mother too soon so I had to feed her with a dropper around the clock. We had high hopes that she would be a companion for our children who begged us to get her. Within a few weeks, however, she became my sole responsibility.

Having never owned a dog, I didn’t relish the task. My ignorance was boundless but she was patient with me. The first time I took her for a walk, I put an old cat leash around her neck and almost strangled her. When I dropped a sock out of the laundry basket and she brought it back to me, I thought she had super powers. “Look what my puppy did!” I bragged on Facebook. “It’s called fetch,” my friends replied. Apparently every dog could do it.

Skylar watched my hair turn from brown to gray. She transformed from a rascal who chewed up shoes into an obedient pup who thought sunflower sprouts were a treat. She was there through high school then college graduations, followed us into three, different homes in three, different states and hovered at my side through two, major surgeries. She made me laugh over little things like the face she always made when I brushed her teeth. When I played the piano, she howled along as if we were in it together and we were. At night, if I tossed and turned then sighed, astonishingly, she did the same. Yes, she barked at most everything from falling leaves to FedEx trucks. However, after she alerted me to a midnight prowler, I came to respect her every growl.

I often marvel how I ever managed to live so long before finding such a grand companion. Few humans are as unabashed in both their affections and distresses. Skylar was ALL IN for everything and everyone was a potential friend. For several thousand days, I have held her close against my heart and then, last week, as she took her final breath. The house is pin drop quiet now. Our long running conversation has ended but I will never forget how wonderful it was to have.

 

 

 

100 STEPS

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Since lockdown started, I’ve been walking a three-mile loop in my neighborhood. In the middle of the walk, there’s a very, steep hill. My iphone says it’s 5 stories high but it feels more like 10. The first time I tackled it, the temperature was 90 something, my heart was pounding and my legs felt weak. I thought I’d never get to the top and kept looking up to see how much further I had to go. The second time, I tried not to look up but curiosity got the better of me and every step became agony. The third time, I forced myself to look down and counted each step instead. It came to exactly 100 left-right steps! Not looking ahead and just focusing on my feet made the ascent much easier. Now that hill doesn’t seem so steep anymore.

I’m using this same strategy for our present pandemic. I say ‘present’ because this, too, will pass. Wjust don’t know when that will be or what life will look like when it does. Living in this masked and distanced universe is enough to send anyone over the edge. A federal emergency hotline for people in emotional distress registered a more than 1,000 percent increase in April compared with the same time last year. Nearly half of Americans recently polled say they are experiencing mental health issues.

There is a bell curve to anxiety. At the top of it, we are motivated, focused and energized. We wash our hands, wear our masks and keep a proper distance from others. On the right-hand tail of the curve, however, we become overwhelmed and paranoid which actually weakens our immune system. We obsess over cleanliness, are terrified to go out in public and fill our heads with negative news and grim statistics. Look around. If someone is driving all alone wearing a mask, the protection they need is likely from themselves.

Eckhart Tolle encourages us to appreciate the, “power of now.” The Bible cautions, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow.” So, here is to realizing that the constraints we find ourselves in will eventually lead to something better. As Victor Hugo wrote over 100 years ago, “The pupil dilates in darkness and in the end finds light, just as the soul dilates in misfortune and in the end finds God.” It is only a few steps away. Count them with me.

 

STOP….LOOK…LOOK AGAIN

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 On my walk today, I happened upon this sight. It seems a perfect metaphor to our present situation. We’ve been stopped where we are but as we pause, let’s notice the beauty around us. Life will never return to the way it was before. Ultimately that may prove to be a good thing.

 I’m not just referring to the fact that crime has gone down world wide or that the bear population in Yosemite has quadrupled. It’s wonderful that residents in Punjab, India can finally see the Himalayas again after 30 years of obscurity behind air pollution. My real hope for our new future comes from the transformative way my neighbors, fellow citizens, scientists and world leaders have embraced this crisis and are carrying on.

 Health care workers are on the job despite lack of proper equipment and inordinate stress. Scientists are working globally on vaccines and cures. Educators have moved their teaching programs online. Our goods and services are being delivered and everyone is taking disinfection seriously. No longer will my guests roll their eyes when I ask them to take their shoes off at the door. All this creative restructuring may be our salvation.  

 Consider the future of a visit to the doctor. Last week, I ‘saw’ mine on my telephone from the privacy of my bedroom. He called me at the exact agreed on time and I had his undivided attention. After examining me via my handheld iPhone, he sent a prescription to my pharmacy, which was delivered to my mailbox.

 Imagine education if online schooling becomes the norm. Our over-priced colleges may well have to rethink their usefulness. Will students really want to suffer the enormities of overwhelming debt when they can get the same degrees for a fraction of the cost? Might congressmen stay in the districts they represent instead of commuting to Washington?  Can we foresee a time when we value our farmers more than our politicians?

 Although we are now wary of our neighbors we also realize just how much we need them. Experts warn that the coming recession will pale against the impending wave of depression and mental health issues that are likely to follow. As unemployment soars, so will the divorce rate. Maybe that’s a good thing. This has forced us to truly examine those we’ve chosen to share our lives with. Kindness will be king, (along with cleanliness of course). The loss of any life is hard.  The losses now are brutal and devastating.  For now, let’s just put one foot in front of the other and look for beauty anywhere we can find it.        

 

 

 

 

PEACE OUT!!

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As someone who’s often made her living entertaining others, this isolationism has been torturous. Yesterday, while standing outside Trader Joe’s in a long line, loud music began pumping in the parking lot. Prince’s, “When Doves Cry” came on and I instinctively began to dance. Now, this is not unusual behavior for me but simply how I’m wired. Even in the dentist’s chair if a song with a good beat comes on, I cannot sit still. (I imagine it’s why I was always on a first name basis with my school principals).

 As I grooved to the music, I became aware that both the person in front of and behind me were visibly wincing. Although they were each six feet away, they acted as though I might somehow splash the virus on them with my outstretched arms. So, I abruptly stopped. Moments later, a van unloaded several people in the parking lot. They looked around at all of us as if trying to decide what was going on. “Don’t worry,” I called out. “You’re in the right place. This IS the audition line for the Rockettes!” Finally. . . laughter.

 Ours is an unprecedented time. We haven’t quite figured out how to handle this invisible terror that blows through our streets. We are told to stay home and then bombarded on the TV by constantly updated death statistics. How healthy is that? Where are the Lassie re-runs? As I walk in my neighborhood now, other walkers actually cross the street to avoid coming too close to me. If I smile and wave, some respond but a few actually put their heads down and seem to hold their breath.

 I have immense empathy for the young people among us who must shut down their energetic, vibrant lives. At their age, I’d likely be building a backyard trapeze and teaching myself to juggle. Yes, this is a tragic pandemic but we must not lose our joy! Let’s help each other get more creative in finding it and count our blessings.

 Here are some of mine:

 1.  My hearing has improved! I can actually hear a sneeze or cough from about 20 yards away.

2.  My house sparkles—even under the washer & dryer.

3.  If I nap, I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.

In the above picture, please note that I have turned my back to you. This is for your protection.

 

WHAT, ME WORRY??

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I hope no one in my town has to pee. There’s not a store for miles with a roll of toilet paper. I just watched several, young women load up their carts with hundreds of rolls of the stuff at Wal-Mart. Some even backed their pickups up to the front door and carted off entire flats of it, along with rolls of paper towels and tubs of antibacterial wipes. Who knew that Covid-19 caused issues with THAT end?

 This sudden hysteria makes me anxious so I head to Trader Joes. I’m shocked to find the aisles jammed with people pushing baskets packed high with loaves of bread, cartons of eggs, cereal, rice, beans, peanut butter and massive amounts of frozen food. I feel as if I’m in an old episode of, “Supermarket Sweep.” I’m so terrified that someone might smack into my brand new knee that I walk gingerly with my elbows arced out wide. In this manner, I ‘hurry’ to the vegetables. Only green beans remain but as it happens, they are my favorite! At the checkout counter, I watch astonished as one woman purchases an entire shelf of chocolate bars.

 Now, I feel like a dog that has just picked up the scent of a fox. I must race against both time and my fellow citizens. Off I go to the health food store. There is not a single potato left in the bins! A young man with three bags of them in his cart, actually smacks right into the back of me and keeps going. Fortunately, I’m stopped and he hits me where I’m padded. Desperation is palpable in the very air.

 And then this happens: I lift the top of the nut bin to scoop some pistachios into a bag. However, the top will not stay open and keeps closing on my hand. I’m about to give up when an older gentleman appears at my side, takes hold of the top and says, “Go ahead. I’ve got it.” Now on a normal day, I might well have hugged him. Instead, I mumble my thanks while trying not to breathe on him.

 Remarkably, I suddenly feel as light as a slip fluttering on a clothesline. His thoughtful gesture has erased my anxiety completely. Only now do I realize it is glorious outside! I will walk in the sunshine. Kindness is clearly the ‘peace that passeth understanding.’

 

    

 

 

 

SIGNS I’VE TAKEN TOO MANY PAIN MEDS

 

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Recently, I had my 2nd knee replaced. Considering I’d done this once before, I thought I knew what to expect. Nope.

  1. The first night in the hospital, I’m given a dinner menu. I’m surprised to even have an appetite and attribute my complete lack of pain to a masterful anesthesiologist. Since I don’t have my glasses, I peruse the colorful pictures with deep intent. I finally settle on a lovely, triangular concoction with a fan of white at the plates’ edge. I pick up the phone, dial room service and calmly ask for, “One, white swan, please.” She asks me to repeat myself. “One, white swan,” I repeat louder, thinking she must be deaf. “Um what number might that be?” she asks sweetly. Turns out it was a club sandwich with a white, folded napkin perched next to it.
  2. The next morning I decide to call a friend. I pick up the TV remote, press the center button and patiently wait for a dial tone, which never comes. Instead, the TV magically goes on! Confused, I push the button again and hold it closer to my ear. The TV goes off and still no dial tone! It slowly dawns on me that perhaps I should use an actual phone.
  3. An hour later, my nurse informs me that they, “need my bed and (I’m) well enough to go home.”   “I’m not budging,”  I say. Several minutes later, another enters and says, “It is hospital policy to discharge a patient if the doctor says it’s OK.” (That’s what I get for pretending to feel better than I do.) “No, I am staying right here,” I say firmly. Finally, a third person enters. Before he can speak, I burst into tears and scream, “I am NOT LEAVING THIS BED!   IF YOU DARE SEND ONE, MORE PERSON IN HERE, I AM CALLING THE NEWSPAPER TO TELL THEM YOU’RE THROWING AN OLD LADY OUT OF THE HOSPITAL LESS THAN 24 HOURS AFTER MAJOR SURGERY!”   “Um, I’m just here to get your vitals,” he says meekly.
  4. Midway through my first week home, I develop debilitating nerve pain so intense it leaves me screaming, sweating and breathless. I up my meds. I am now binge watching a bizarrely, imbecilic TV show, which I find utterly compelling.
  5. At 2 AM, I actually thank God for, “not having a third knee because I could never go through this again.” Then it occurs to me that no one has a third knee.

I toss my meds.

P. S. Above is my Physical Terrorist. There is a reason he has a black eye.

 

HAPPY NEW DAY!!

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I have never made a New Year’s resolution. Not one. Not ever. It just feels stupid. Even as a kid I thought, ‘Why would I suddenly decide to do something for a whole year that I should probably be doing every day anyway?’ As the years passed and I watched countless friends give up on their own ‘resolutions,’ my resolve grew even stronger: “Do today what I should be doing every day. Don’t wait for January 1st!”

So, here are my daily resolutions. Maybe they will resonate with you. One thing I can promise is that if you do a little bit of the right thing every day it will add up by next December 31st.

  1.  Move. Work out, swim, walk, stand on your head or do whatever inspires you to motion. When you start the day active the rest of your hours are likely to be more productive. Oh, and it also induces better mood, deeper sleep, lowers blood pressure and reduces anxiety.
  2. Savor what goes into your mouth. Think big, green salads, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and the panoply of delights the earth gives us. I like to think, ‘colors of the rainbow,’ when I prepare a meal. Then if you go a little haywire later, at least you already have something healthy under your belt.
  3. Answer all emails and text messages as you get them. When you do, people learn that they can count on you. Pay bills as they come in. There is no greater feeling than having nothing hanging over my head—unless it’s mistletoe.
  4. Learn something new. Today I read that octopuses can tell humans apart even when they’re dressed the same!
  5. Meet someone new or make someone smile. Often, these two go hand in hand like with the fellow pictured above. We were waiting in line at the market, so I handed him my headphones and said, “I dare you to listen to this and NOT dance.”

Life is short. Some of us won’t even have the whole of 2020 but we do have today. It says in Proverbs to, “make hay while the sun is shining.” I would add, make it even when it isn’t shining.  So with that in mind, I wish all of my curious, insightful readers on six continents not only a joyous New Year but also a spectacular New Day!

WARMING UP

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Last week, my 94 year-old, friend left me this voicemail: “Helen, would you please write my obituary? And could you come over today?” Since I’ve never written one before, I looked up a few before heading to her house. Reading them made me wish I’d known the people themselves:

 “Walt was preceded in death by his tonsils and adenoids in 1936, a spinal disc in 1974, his thyroid gland in 1988 and his prostate on March 27th, 2000. His loving wife of 57 years will now be able to purchase the mink coat which he had always refused her because he believed only minks should wear mink.” –Walt Bruhl

 “Let a dog (or two or three) share your bed. Say the rosary while you walk them. Go to a nursing home and kiss everyone. Invite new friends to Thanksgiving dinner.”—-Mary Mullaney

 “He despised phonies, know-it-all Yankees and Southerners who used the word “veranda.” He particularly hated Day Light Saving Time, which he referred to as The Devil’s Time. It is not lost on his family that he died the very day that he would have had to spring his clock forward. This can only be viewed as his final protest. –Harry Stamps

 Joe Heller told his family, “Just dig a hole in the backyard and roll me in.”  His daughter, however, wrote him a funny send off, detailing things like, “He left his family a house full of crap and 300 pounds of birdseed.” She recalled that his doctor approached her towards the end of his life and informed her that he was, “a very sick man.” “You have no idea,” she countered.

 “I was given the gift of life and now I have to give it back. This is hard but I was a lucky woman and for that I am grateful. And on that upbeat note, I take my mortal leave of this rollicking, revolving world—this sun, that moon and the memory of a child’s hand in mine.” –Jane Lotter  

I would not need any of these for inspiration, for when I arrived at her house, she was not up to the task. Days later she was in hospice. Then in a breath, gone. Words said after the fact can’t take the place of those spoken while we are still here. Tonight, warming by the fire, I remember this: she made me laugh.

 

 

 

 

 

ARE YOU YEARS YOUNG….OR OLD??

 

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I met this lovely gal at Trader Joe’s this morning. She was such a knockout in all blue that I asked her to, “Stand right where you are because I MUST take your picture!” She had just finished her 2 ½ mile daily walk, was grabbing some groceries then headed off to one of her two part-time jobs. Her gait was lively, her smile quick and her enthusiasm for life, palpable. Lani is a force and I was inspired not just because of her person but her chronological age. Can you guess it?

One of the best things about aging is that we’ve had years to learn that not only can you not judge a book by its’ cover, you can’t count on the cover to even give you a book. We make a lot of assumptions about others that are wrong and it can affect both our health and psyche negatively. Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, “Talking to Strangers,” gets at the heart of our prejudices and presuppositions about others. He writes, “When it comes to judgments about our own character and behavior, we are willing to entertain all manner of complexity but when it comes to making those same judgments about others, we are depressingly simplistic.”

Such is the case for Olympic athletes. One would assume that all three medalists would be equally ecstatic. It turns out that silver medalists are the most depressed ones on the podium. They have just missed the gold and their disappointment is much greater than the bronze winner who is thrilled to have medaled at all. Researchers have even shown higher rates of depression among silver medalists. It seems that most of us are victims of ‘counterfactual thinking.’ That is, instead of rejoicing in “what actually is,” we compare our objective achievements to what, “might have been.”

That, of course, is the toughest thing about aging: accepting what is and letting go of what was. Scientists know that what truly ages us is the eventual breakdown of our cells and their ability to repair themselves and divide. Recently researchers from the U of A have discovered that by altering the sleep patterns of cells they may be able to slow down the aging process. For now, though, that aging process is zipping by for most of us. The important thing is to shine in the moment—like Lani, who is 81 years young!!