plant a tree 3 old man young girl

If you have not yet read, “Why I hope to die at 75,” by Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel in this month’s Atlantic, don’t bother. He may be a distinguished scientist, head the Department of Medical Ethics at U Penn and be a primary architect of Obamacare, but frankly he’s not too swift.

At first I thought he was humorously flipping the numbers of his own age, 57, around. Nope. He is dead serious. Not only does he list the various reasons why 75, “is a good place to stop” including physical, mental and creative decline. He also spends a good many pages telling us exactly what he WILL have accomplished by that age: “will have loved and been loved,” will have “contributed his best work” to his field and will have “seen his children grown.” Is he a fortune-teller, too? He may or may not live long enough to see any of those things happen!

The single worst part is his wanting to be remembered, “as vibrant and engaged, not feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.” Wow. Does narcissism come to mind? Look, getting wrinkled, frail and whatever else is part of the journey. If you can do it with an eye open for what magic lies beyond the bend, hooray! And if some young idiot thinks you’re ‘pathetic,’ shame on them.

It’s good for the young to be around the old. It’s even better they learn to take care of them, so they can truly understand their own aging one day. Emanuel says, “Our living too long places emotional weights on our progeny.” Yes, partially, but it also builds strength, character and teaches valuable lessons otherwise lost. He thinks the young need more time, “out of our shadows.” To do what? Indulge in their own self interests so they, too, can leave behind a ‘youthful’ legacy?

Garbage like this makes my blood boil. And to think the Atlantic actually prides itself on over 150 years of exhibiting a, “moderate world view.” Moderate? The bottom line is that despite his Harvard Ph.D., Emanuel is a sad victim of the “fixed mind set.” If you don’t know what that is, get a copy of “Mindset” by Carol Dweck right now and start reading.

Geez, the ancient Greeks were wiser than our present day intellectuals. They said: “Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”  To that, I say “AMEN.”




man with flag

I had a BLAST being young. At 18, flying north on the Black Canyon Freeway headed out of Phoenix I remember the rush when I floored the car to 100 mph. It was thrilling and scary but once I hit 100 I eased off the gas. I wanted to live to tell about it. Still do.

Frankly I don’t ‘get’ this bucket list thing. Why wait until you’re old to do all the things you wanted to do? By the time you’re my age, they’re all gonna be harder to do. I went skydiving in my 20’s but you couldn’t get me in a plane with no door and push me out with a parachute now. My knees couldn’t take it, let alone my failing heart.

That’s why TODAY is so important. You will never be this young again. If you want to climb Kilimanjaro or go “Dancing With the Stars,” go now. If you want to change careers, change NOW. There is absolutely, unequivocally nothing to lose; nothing, of course, but time. And we all know who IT waits for: NO ONE!

I love that I took chances when I was young. Sometimes they were teeny ones like asking a boy to dance. Others were done out of mere curiosity, like that weekend at the nudist colony. But each little risk grows you and gives you more confidence. They add up day-by-day, year-by-year until you have this crazy, wonderful sense of ‘been there, done that’ in your bones. It is unshakeable and freeing!

Being older is a blast, too!  It means that I can walk into Starbucks and tell the barista he’s cute. Or flat hang up on that caller who tells me, “I’m not selling you anything.” It means I can show up at a gala event sans makeup and wear white when summer is long over. At my age, there is simply no one I care to impress—except me.

Right now, I have a friend who wants to buy a van and drive across country, hitting all the sweet spots at just the right season. I told him, “Do it. No time like the present.” Better to die with your flag unfurled than live at half-mast. Live so you have something to TELL about later.  Oh, and if he takes my advice?  I’ll post some pictures because that ‘friend’ happens to be my own husband!


man in casket

“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.


How dare TIME magazine announce:  “Alzheimer’s:  At last, some progress against the most stubborn disease.”  Imagine my disappointment to read merely the same old stuff:  It’s hereditary.  No drug cures it.  Some have side effects worse than the disease itself.  We still spend 5 billion a year on cancer research and only 500 million a year on Alzheimer’s.  So where’s the progress?  Slow in coming.  “Ironically, it is the one disease that most of us are likely to get,” says Dr. Peterson, head of Alzheimer’s research at the Mayo Clinic.  One in ten of us if you want the exact statistic.

Now I don’t need statistics to tell me my own prognosis is not looking so hot.  My grandmother lingered for 13 years in its stranglehold.  My mother may well have had it but other ills took her sooner.  This week, though, brings another blow:  my aunt, the one with the doctorate, who edited my college papers and never let me get away with ‘shallow thinking,’ has just been diagnosed with it, too.

The signs were there:  Last year, she sent me a copy of her Will along with a partial recipe for shortcake with the last paragraph inexplicably cut off.  The year before, after her recent visit to China, I invited her to visit.  She was always independent, so I rented her a car.  However, after watching her turn the ignition two more times while it was already running I returned it and kept her with me for the rest of our visit.

I am still keeping her with me though ‘she’ is vanishing fast.  The authors that she insisted I read in college: Whitman, Frost, Voltaire, and Shakespeare, still stand tall in my bookshelf.  Believe it or not, I can still do a perfect cart-wheel just the way she taught me when I was 12.  ‘Now hold your arms and legs into a perfect ‘X,’ she commanded, ‘then roll straight over like a wheel.’   My aunt didn’t just outsmart me at Bridge and Scrabble when I was a kid, but always showed me how she did it.  She questioned my answers until my answers became questions themselves and I loved her for it.  Still do.  Always will.  The important thing is that when she was here she was HERE.  May the rest of us be so fortunate.  (Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” an Alzheimer’s memoir.


     Today may be a celebration of our country’s independence, but fireworks on this night have always reminded me it’s Granny’s birthday.  She would have been 110 today.  I said “Good-bye” to her at 95 but the truth is she left me in body only.  Every hug, tear and piece of advice she ever gave me is still intact in my memory. 

      On this date in 1845, Thoreau moved to Walden and wrote the book which would define him.  He would remind us that man and nature are inextricably connected, so we must preserve it.  The same holds true of the invisible threads which bind us to each other.

      As I waved my youngest off to New York yesterday and reminded her to “drink plenty of water,” it was really Granny talking.  When I hugged my oldest at the gate en route to look at colleges in California and my tears began to fall, I remembered Granny doing the same when I left her.  My children are already navigating that long road that we all have walked— to independence.

      We repeat ourselves generation to generation.  We do it in different languages, under different skies and in different times but the pattern doesn’t change.  We’re born, make the same mistakes our parents did (or invent our own), have children, watch them grow as we age and then we die.  Some of us die fighting like those who won our independence.  Some of us have no fight at all.  Most of us lie somewhere in between.

      What all of us have is a teeny, tiny window of time to look out on the garden of Life.  “It will only be as beautiful as you make it,” Granny once said, “and it takes work.”   Someday, if my children remember me on my 110th birthday, I hope their gardens are as full of color and rich with possibilities as mine is.  I learned how to tend it from a woman born in 1900; the same one who also said, “Plant lots of seeds.  They won’t all take.”  (Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” a memoir of the years before and after her grandmother’s descent into Alzheimer’s.


     I saw my first dead body up close when I was 12.  It happened quite by accident.  I was walking home from school in New York City and happened to pass by a church.  There was a long line outside, and always curious, I stopped to find out what was going on.  “It’s a funeral,” someone said.  “But why is everyone lined up out here instead of going inside?” I asked.  “We’re waiting to view the body,” another added.

     That gave me pause.  “View the body.”  What exactly did that mean? How do you ‘view’ a dead body, with a special magnifying glass or something?  Was the person dressed?  Were they stuffed?  If they were already dead why would someone want to look at them?  All I could think of was that if I were dead I certainly would NOT want anyone “viewing” me.  That would be pretty embarrassing. 

        Now I was really curious.  I just had to see what this was all about.  Casually, I sauntered to the end of the line.  Since everyone else had on a serious face, I put mine on, too.  We moved soberly toward the front door of the church, then down the aisle towards a large, glossy, wooden box.  One by one, the mourners ahead of me stopped in front of the box, looked down briefly, crossed themselves and then left.  I was getting closer.  My heart was beating so fast that I could hear it in my ears. 

     There was a man in there!  He was all dressed up in a nice, new suit and really, shiny, leather shoes.  He looked perfectly fine with a nice haircut and everything, only his eyes were closed and he wasn’t breathing.  I know because I stood there long enough to be sure of that.  I had never seen anyone so completely still before.  Then I noticed his hands.  They had been placed on his chest in a way that I imagine he had never put them in real life.  His fingers were stiff and awkward as if they had been sculpted by a very, bad artist.  Indeed, they did not seem to belong to his hands at all! 

     I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.  I didn’t even stop to wait for my bus home and ran all 27 blocks.  As long as everything was still moving on me, I planned to keep moving it.  Gotta keep your eyes open as long as you can.  Someday, someone else will be closing them.  Until then, there’s always something around the next corner and it might just change your life.  (Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes.”           


     I pretty much have an answer for everything and even when I don’t, I pretty much come up with something.  Every now and then, though, I get thrown.  Today, I was at a loss for words not once but twice.  A gal in her 80’s asked me what it was like, “to feel that young,” as I swam past her in the water.  What the heck did she mean by that?  I certainly don’t feel ‘young’ in any sense of the word.  I scrambled for a suitable reply,  “Well, about the same way it felt for you when you were my age, I guess.”  Not a great answer, I know.

      Later, my 13 year–old asked me, “Is it scary getting old?”  “Nope,” I replied quite honestly.  “Looking in the mirror and SEEING that you’re old can be scary but getting there just happens.”  She thought about this a moment and then asked:  “Well, is it scary dying?”  “Um,” I replied scrambling for words.  “I’m not sure that I can answer that one quite yet.”   (