YIKES!! I’M DISAPPEARING!

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I’m a lousy candidate for depression or suicide. Sure, I have my gloomy moments but they never last long. There’s just too much to look forward to. It’s like my brain thinks I might win the lottery even though I haven’t even purchased a ticket!  Now science will tell you that’s because my endocrine system secretes more positive chemicals than negative ones. Science might also say that it’s because I exercise every day and thus increase my endorphins. However, I actually think that it is the creative, if not wacky, way that I think.

 Case in point: Last week, while sitting in the sauna, I stretched out what used to be a long, lean muscled leg and noticed that the skin was slack.  By pressing my hands on either side of my calf, I could actually push it together creating the bellows of an accordion.   Around my thigh, there was a small pooch of hanging skin which resembled a shriveled, turkey breast that wasn’t quite firmly stuffed. Where had the fullness of that muscle gone?  At that moment a young girl walked into the sauna and I shrieked, “Look at this! I’m disappearing from the inside out!” She stood quite still; confused I am certain, as to whether or not she was safe alone with me.

“Look!” I said again, “I can make my calf look like an accordion.”  I demonstrated.  “And, my thigh used to look just like yours but now the muscle has shrunk and there is this cute, sagging sack left behind.” Poor thing was at a loss for words, but she sat down at the far side of the sauna anyway.  I continued my observations: “Not only that, look what happens to your upper arm as you age.” I held out my right arm and poked the loose flesh of the upper part with my pointer finger. It wiggled. “Cool, huh?” I said to her.

 The girl was quiet for a moment then said, “Well, I guess I have something to look forward to.” She did not say this with much enthusiasm.

“Yes you do,” I agreed. “In fact, see all these little, brown spots on the back of my hands and on my arms?”

“Yes,” she replied quite confidently. “Those are old age spots.”

 “Oh, no, dear, you’re wrong,” I assured her. “Actually these are little chocolate drops that appear on your skin as you get older. You see, the more chocolate that you eat when you are young, the more that come up to the surface when you’re old.”

“Guess I’d better cut down on my chocolate,” she finally said with a big smile.              

 

 

 

 

 

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GOING, GOING. . .

going, going, gone

Much ado has been made about Alzheimer’s.  In the Netherlands there is even an entire, self-contained village where people with dementia live like ‘normal’ people.  Denmark has a community called, “Life in the 50’s” for those boomers who want to retire in nostalgia.  However, while championing the cause of the moment, we are neglecting entirely the real problem facing us right now:  our elderly.  Every 7 seconds someone in the US turns 60.  In 5 years, one-third of the population will be over 55.

 So what are we doing?  Building thousands of nursing homes instead of designing our present cities so that we can age gracefully in them.  I live in a lovely, long-established neighborhood but there is not a single sidewalk so that I can walk through it safely.  I could move to one of those retirement communities where everyone drives around in golf carts but that would get ‘old’.  Besides, I would miss seeing and learning from young people and though they don’t know it yet, they would miss me, too.

Since one-third of us will soon be in that special milieu just how ‘golden’ will those years actually be?  Our culture STILL has a fascination with all things young and Madison Avenue continues to sink millions into glitzy Cosmopolitan advertisements.  But who wants to be sold high heels when they have trouble climbing the stairs?  Who will buy the next high-tech gizmo that takes 20-20 vision and fast, nimble fingers to operate?  And while collagen may plump up your lips, it takes joy to really make them smile.  That feeling springs from a nurturing community, not a divisive one.

 We need to stop creating separate spaces that divide us and design ones that incorporate both young and old.  Imagine a park where Maya Angelou strolls with Miley Cyrus discussing poetry as Jack Nicklaus shows Justin Bieber how to swing a 9 iron. Hard to imagine?  Yes, but not so long ago that was how life in America looked.  People were connected face to face—not cyberspace.

Am I sounding political?  You bet.   If we continue devaluing the old while placing premiums on the young we will create a restless, impatient and mentor-less society.  Unemployment figures would shrink to zero if focus were put on aiding the elderly:  building one-level homes, designing smaller cities that are walkable, creating abundant parks, planting greenery and simply caregiving our real ‘antiques;’ the ones so priceless they cannot be sold at auction.

LOOSEN UP!!!

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Do you know who the most uptight people are??  The young.  Go figure.  While they are telling the rest of us to, “Chill out,” they are trying so desperately to, “Fit in,” they can’t see straight.  There is NOTHING more anxiety producing than trying to get somewhere fast without a map.  Worse?  Most of them don’t even know where they’re going yet.

 Do you know who the most ‘chill’ people are?  Us.  Yup.  You and me baby.  We don’t need Google, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter or Instagram to affirm our self worth.  We figured that stuff out a long time ago.  We also figured out that most of it useless and utterly unimportant.  We KNOW where we FIT—and it isn’t “IN”—and frankly, we don’t give a D—.

 So now that we have that straight, how are we flaunting our chillness?  How are we showing the world (and those young people) what it’s like to be totally cool and groove in your own skin?  Are we dancing to the music wherever it plays?  Are we waving to strangers and starting up random conversations?

 Last night I was dancing in line at Chipotle.  Couldn’t help myself.  The music was loud and had a great beat.  By the time I got to the counter, the whole crew was giggling.  So, I said, “Hey, you guys.  If I lift my leg straight up over my head right now, will you give me the guacamole free?”  They looked askance.  Probably thought I had been drinking but frankly, liquor can’t hold a candle to my own ‘spirit.’  “Sure,” one dreadlocked kid said.  “Go for it.”  I did.  Got a double scoop—for free.

 Now tell me the last time YOU had that much fun?  Go ahead.  Feel free.  Post it right here.  Right now.  Be BOLD:

 “Kissing Tomatoes,” is now available in paperback.

DON’T DIE WITH THIS REGRET

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“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me,” is the regret most often heard from the lips of the dying.  Those were the findings of an Australian palliative nurse.  So, if this is true about us, does that mean the primary reason for our personal sufferings in life is because we are too fixated on pleasing others?  Can it also be the root of our obsession with youth and beauty?  Is this why so many people who should have rich and happy lives simply don’t?

 This morning I watched a boisterous group of three year-olds play, “Red light.  Green light.”  They had trouble getting started.  By the time the teacher had the last ones properly lined up, the first ones were already wriggling out of their places.  Some hopped on one foot, others giggled and twirled, and one little boy never did get in line.  Corralling them was like trying to stop 18 grasshoppers from twitching and leaping; an impossible feat.

 For the half hour that I watched, the teacher pleaded for them to “stand still,” “listen to me,” “don’t push Sally,” “stay on the blue line,” “get back in order,” “no talking,” and on and on.  When I left, I realized that of the 30 minutes they had for the game, they only actually played about 10 of them.  Maybe our lives are like that:  two-thirds of the time we align ourselves with the group, or are forced to.  The other third we try desperately to be our unique selves and navigate our independent joys.

 One would hope that with maturity, we ‘grow out of it.’  However, if that list of regrets is accurate, we just may not.  So, I wonder.  When my own children reach adulthood, will they have found the unique qualities which make them individuals and pursue them?  Or will they, like many, be so influenced by their peers and society that their own true selves get lost in the shuffle?

 My grandmother always said, “Example is the greatest teacher,” and she was a great one.  These days, though, the young take theirs from computer screens, not flesh and blood people.  They are better ‘talking’ with their thumbs than their voices.  So, what will be their dying regrets?  That they didn’t speak up?  In the end, maybe that is the very, same thing.

Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” a non-fiction memoir of her grandmother’s Alzheimer’s.

TEN FEET TALL

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Okay, so maybe I was putting off my new gym routine workout.  Or maybe I was looking to add that ‘new hobby’ all the experts say is important at my age.  But the way I see it, that 8 year-old making baskets all by himself at the Y last week just needed a little friendly competition. . .and I was ready. 

 He was watching the six-foot plus guys play pickup.  His big-eyed stare lingered on every swoosh and lay up they made.  Then, with a slight sigh in his shoulders, he dribbled and shot a few hoops of his own at an adjoining basket.  Considering he stood little more than four feet, he was pretty darn good. 

 I opened the door and stepped inside.  He looked up at me as if I had just walked into the “Mens’” room by accident.  Naked.

 “Hey,” I said, trying to sound as normal and casual as possible.  “Want someone to shoot with?”  Imagining how out of place I must have looked to him, I was completely prepared for rejection.  To my utter surprise, his eyes opened wider and he said, “Sure.  Wanna play H-O-R-S-E?”

 Oh boy, did I.  Back in elementary school, I had a pretty mean “granny shot.”  Even the boys were envious of my rather impressive string of baskets made from the foul line.  Granted, that was 50 years ago, but still how hard could this be?  I had already lived more years than he weighed! 

 He didn’t pause for introductions or rules.  He just started dribbling like mad and banked the first shot right into the basket.  Then he threw the ball my way.  “Now you have to do the same shot I just did,” he said with a serious look.  I took a few steps and dribbled.  I eyed the spot on the backboard where I knew I needed to hit, and in it went.  “You’re not bad,” he informed me as I passed him the ball.  Then, he dribbled straight to the foul line.  When he missed, I actually heard myself breathe a sigh of relief.    

 Ten minutes in, we were tied at, “H-O-R-S.”  I figured that was a good place to stop.  We said our farewells and he went back to his own game with a slight lift in his shoulders.  I left feeling the same way and headed towards the dumbbells, (which are aptly named by the way).  Neither of us had the satisfaction of winning nor the deflation of defeat.  That’s a nice place to be.  Funny how ten minutes can make you feel ten feet tall.    

 * Read an interview with Helen in the September 2013 issue of Counseling Today.