IF ONLY . . .

 

 sky in the icebox

‘If only I were taller!’ That is exactly what I imagined my pup was thinking this morning when she spied the carrots in the icebox. (Yes, that is what I still call it. So much simpler than its’ five syllable counterpart.) It got me thinking about all the “If only’s” in my life when I was that young: If only I had different colored hair, lived in this house, in that town, or came from a different family.  If only this hadn’t happened and that had.  Then life happened and I grew up, accepting that sometimes you just have to appreciate those carrots from a distance.

Therein lies the single, best thing about being a Boomer: we managed to get to this age in spite of all the things that didn’t happen. We survived the disappointments and have long resigned ourselves to the fact that we are what we are. And what are we? Resilient. That means that we have been ‘bent, stretched and compressed,’ yet still have ‘sprung back.’ It’s not just a matter of having developed thicker skin. We are tougher on the inside. That’s a gift but it was hard earned over time.

When 20 something’s tell me that they are ‘devastated’ over a breakup or have just lost a job, I think to myself, ‘Well, what’s the big deal? I’ve had dozens of those.’ At their age, though, it IS a big deal because they have no history to draw from. They are experiencing things for the first time and it can feel crushing. They are just starting their foundations while our roofs are fully intact!

So, while the young are making memories, we are remembering ours. Hopefully, they are rich and full, heartwarming and bittersweet. We have terra firma under us. Gravitas.  I confess, though, to still having one, ‘If only’ left: “If only time didn’t go so very, very fast.”  Still munching on that one.

 

 

 

HALLOW YOURSELF TONIGHT!!

50 years ago Halloween

An old friend just sent me this photo of me taken on Halloween exactly 50 years ago. I had chosen to be a boy beatnik and even painted a mustache on my upper lip with black, eyebrow pencil. Not only do I remember the photo being taken, I also remember vividly wanting to be a boy at the time. Why? They had more fun.

A year later, I recall playing tennis in the middle of summer with a boy my age. After a few minutes of play, he took off his sweat-soaked T-shirt. I followed suit. Within minutes, a man in a golf cart showed up and demanded that I put my shirt back on.

“Why?” I asked indignantly. “He took his shirt off, too. Why doesn’t he have to put his back on?”

“You’re a girl,” the man replied. “You can’t take off your shirt. Those are the rules.”

Reluctantly, I did put it back on but I was mad and not one bit embarrassed. Why did a man have more freedom than I did? And besides, the two of us looked exactly alike shirtless!!

I suppose I should have become a feminist and burned my bra but truth was I didn’t wear one. Besides, by the time women’s rights were the rage, I had long decided that my gender would NOT define me. In hindsight, it did, though I was not conscious of it at the time.

A few days ago, while listening to Goria Steinem on NPR I understood why. She is 81 now and was reminiscing about turning 60. “Remember how you felt at 9 or 10? When you could just go out and climb a tree and not think about anything else? You were just free to be yourself? That’s how I felt at 60.” 

She talked about the role expectations of women in their 20’s, “to be beautiful and sexy” and their 30’s “to be accomplished” and their 40’s, to be “parental role models.” But as the 50’s fly by and hormones go south, (along with the anatomy) there is no longer the pull and tug to act or be in the mainstream of those social, gender expectations.

So, I’m thinking now that one of the BEST perks of getting older is a ‘Gloria’s’ sense of freedom. So youngsters, take note of who you dress up as tonight. It might just be the real you. 🙂  

WANTED: STRONG SENIOR!

wanted senior1

Here is the Ad I posted in our local paper last week: “Wanted! Strong, hard-working, high school senior who wants to earn extra money after school, moving heavy boxes, cleaning roof gutters and other yard work. $15/hour.”

Only ONE person answered my ad. The guy pictured above. Yup. Not only was he older than I am, he arrived at my doorstep wearing a back brace AND a knee brace!

“Um,” I smiled as I opened the door. “You aren’t exactly a high-school senior,” I said.

“Oh,” he countered. “I didn’t see the ‘high school’ part. I just saw ‘senior’….and I’m definitely that!” Understatement. 

According to Fact Tank, by 2022, 31.9% of the work force will be people over 65! If my gentleman caller today is any indication, they are right.  Putnam Investments recently published a survey, which found that 7 million previously retired folks have even returned to the work force! That rate is projected to jump to 67.5 percent by 2022.  

Scientific studies prove that when men, in particular, retire their risk of clinical depression and even suicide rises sharply. The research shows that, “A man is about as likely to ask for help for depression as to ask for directions, and for much the same reason.  It’s part of the male code, part of masculine culture.”  So I’m glad that my retiree showed up for his sake, as much as mine.

Well, my ‘senior’ spent about 4 hours at my place and did one heck of a job. (Though I was a bit nervous when he first headed up the ladder). In fact, he was far more thorough than the last high school senior I hired. Not only that, we had interesting, thought-provoking conversations and given our ages, we certainly had lots in common.

But here is my real concern: how come not one, single teenager responded to my Ad? Are they over-booked? Or do they just not need the money? If things were ‘right’ in the world, people over 65 would not HAVE to labor for $15/hr. If things were even ‘righter,’ teenagers would!!!

 

UPSIDE DOWN

handstand

 Well go figure. Apparently I have been doing something good for my body and brain for the last 40 years and I didn’t even know it!! I guess you could say it started in my 20’s and I just sort of kept it up.  I do it at home and always when I’m travelling. You name it. Anywhere I find the space, I  simply just do it. Like how it feels. Love how it gives me a different perspective on things.

I’ve done it in SO many hotel rooms your head would spin.  I’ve done it in public, in private, under bright lights, in pitch dark, against fences, bathroom doors in shopping malls and smack on the beach in broad daylight.  What am I talking about??  You guessed it:  handstands.

Now, science says that what I have been doing several times a day for all these years has 5 beneficial results:

  1. Builds core strength.
  2. Makes the upper body strong.
  3. Increases balance
  4. Helps with bone health, circulation & breathing
  5. BOOSTS YOUR MOOD!!

Here’s the crazy thing: anyone can do them. It just takes a little practice, a little confidence and a nice strong wall to fly up against. Place your hands about a shoulder’s width apart; aim them about 12 inches from a nice, sturdy wall…and GO FOR IT. The worst that could happen is you chicken out half way up and come back down.

One word of caution: in the thousands and thousands of handstands I have done over the years, only once did I have a disastrous result. As I recall, I was staying in a rundown Motel 6 and there was no room to do one. So, I closed the bathroom door and did a handstand against it. Well, the door didn’t latch tightly.  So as my feet landed on it, I had the lovely sensation of going all the way over and both feet landed smack in the toilet. Thank God I was only 20 at the time.

Give it a try….it just might change your mood AND perspective on things. 🙂

P. S.  Yes, this was me this afternoon at the YMCA.

PATIENCE IS NO VIRTUE

sky waiting on the chair

Honestly, I could take a few lessons from my dog. Sure, some are obvious, like:

  1. When you first get up, always S-T-R-E-T-C-H.
  2. If someone enters your house unannounced, BARK!
  3. Snooze often and anywhere.
  4. Lick the hand that feeds you.
  5. If someone throws you a bone, FETCH it!

But others are subtler like, “Wait patiently.” She does. I do not. Nor have I ever been patient, particularly with myself. I am driven forward with an inner angst that has remained un-squelched for 62 years. What good has it done? Not much. Being impatient has cost me time, money and stress, whether in speeding tickets or simply making dumb, impulsive decisions.

You’d think at my age I would know better. You’d think I’d have figured out that of my 62 years, probably 60 of them have been spent WAITING: in the doctor’s office, the post office, the line at the restaurant or the bank.  Everything is a wait as if reality is just out of reach, put on hold by some operator who has yet to connect you.  Waiting…for the check to clear, the light to change, the pot to boil or the shoe to drop.  Probably the ONLY thing I have NOT been impatient for was the birth of my first child. Why? Because I knew exactly how long that wait would be!!!

sky waiting outside

But Skylar does not need to know such things. She waits patiently for me to get my coffee in the morning before we walk. Then, she waits for me to unload the dishwasher before I feed her. She sits patiently on the couch whenever I leave the house and jumps with excitement and a wag of her tail at my arrival. All her waiting is an act of simple grace and ease.  Not mine. I do not snooze when it suits me or distract myself chasing butterflies (though I probably should do more of both). At day’s end when hunger grips me, I do not merely nibble at a bone to appease the pangs but lunge instead for the icebox.

Patience is not a virtue. It is a necessity as crucial as breathing. Without it, we succumb, sometimes by our own hand.  We humans must work at it, but Skylar?  Just look at her: a thousand words worth waiting for.

waiting on the porch

WHY I WOULD NOT WANT TO BE ’20 SOMETHING’ NOW

silent crowd at starbucks

Take a good look at this picture of a group of 20 somethings at Starbucks this morning.  I watched and photographed them for several minutes, during which time not one of them looked up or even acknowledged one another.  Welcome to 2015.  I would not want to be their age for anything right now.  Why?

1. I wouldn’t be able to talk to my friends as conversation now is done primarily via thumbs. (The last time I actually used mine was to hitchhike).

2.  I would never feel the heart-palpitating anticipation of waiting days for handwritten letters from someone I love.  (Instead, I could ‘hook-up’ or ‘break-up’ instantly via Facebook.)

3. I wouldn’t be able to get the 6 o’clock News in one, nicely, digestible, half hour. (It would bombard me 24/7 on Twitter.)

4. I couldn’t say the bill ‘got lost in the mail, ‘ as it would be sent directly to my Inbox.

5. I couldn’t have a wild time at that private party knowing it would stay private. (By morning, my hat dance routine would be viral on Instagram.)

6. My boredom tolerance would be zero, my curiosity likely non-existent and my sense of allegiance to country, place and home not even a memory.  (Now, thanks to politicians and lawyers, I can’t say the Pledge of Allegiance but can read Lolita– just not the Bible– in class.)

7. Most anything I say would be politically incorrect. (Now I would either have to pretend to like everybody– no matter how wacky– or simply remain mute.)

8. I would neither be able to remember nor mourn my innocence. (Thanks to the Internet it would never exist.)

9. My moral compass would be all screwed up. (Instead of making a bowl of popcorn for the movie, I might well, ‘smoke a bowl’ instead.)

10. I would likely still be living with my parents! (My college degree wouldn’t get me a job and even if it did I still couldn’t afford to live on my own.)

It seems that a sense of gratitude has now been replaced with a sense of entitlement.  Many of my friends say they wouldn’t want to be younger simply because they have, “Been there.  Done that.”  Truth is I haven’t been ‘there’ or ‘done that’ at all.  And I sure wouldn’t want to be there doing it NOW. 

HANDS DOWN!!!

Alberta Hands 6-2

My grandma used to say that you could tell a lot about a person just by looking at their hands. Once, she was asked to be the “palm reader” for our church group’s fundraising fair and was quite the hit. As a kid, I thought maybe she had magical powers. So, I asked her to teach me how to be a palm reader, too.

hands

Turns out there was no magic, she was just a good observer of people. She taught me the difference between weak and strong handshakes and how you could tell if someone worked hard or hardly worked. Long, lean fingers showed artistry. A thumb with a waistline indicated self-discipline. She even said that someone who walks with their thumbs inside their fist are, ”not their own person and feel controlled by others.”

hands1

By looking at the palm itself, she said you could discern even more. A strong, deep Heart line showed emotional expressiveness but a wavy, broken line might mean impulsiveness in love. One who made a living with their mind as opposed to their body would have a long, straight Head line. Lines that were weak, faint or broken could mean ill health, a change in career or move across country. Even the mounds at the base of the fingers had a story to tell. A puffy one under the ring finger might mean the person was given to depression. Pretty fascinating stuff when you’re a kid.

 hands4

Funny thing is, I still look at hands to see what I can learn about someone. And while palmistry is hardly an exact science, there are many clues the casual observer might miss. Are the nails short on one hand and long on the other? Guitar player! Are they bitten down and chewed to the quick? Nervous Nellie. Are they laden with jewels or tattooed on the knuckles? Draw your own conclusions.

hands3

Most of all, I try to make mine stay active because Granny also warned that, “Idle hands are the Devils’ tool.” So, whether playing scales, peeling vegetables, walking the dog, folding laundry, gardening or typing, these ten guys are most always on the move. Wouldn’t want to be a ‘tool’ for you know who. Above are some of the hands that I encountered today. What story do your hands tell?

GO GET ‘EM BOYS

tennis captain

I feel sorry for boys. Salon Magazine, (December 7, 2013) writes, “Adult, white, heterosexual men have the fewest friends. Moreover, the friendships they have, if they’re with other men, provide less emotional support and involve lower levels of self-disclosure and trust than other types of friendships.” (December 7, 2013).

Even science says that once men retire, unless they’re still involved with team sports, community groups or meaningful activities with others, they just lose their connections. It may be the main reason that of all the nursing homes I’ve visited over the last some 50 years, the percentage of men compared to women is miniscule. Why? They die younger. Why? They don’t have friends.

Perhaps the hidden message is that they have no reason, ‘to hold on.’ Consider this: two thirds of all nursing home residents are female. In some areas, that number even reaches 80% according to the NY Times (“The New Old Age,” January 30, 2012).

So let me share this: I am grateful for the women in my life; the ones who laugh, cajole and commiserate with me; the ones who encourage me to be my best self and truly care about the ups and downs in my life. They are a blessing beyond measure. I wish my husband had the same support network.

I wish ALL men had the same potpourri of wonderful, wild and deeply concerned human beings in their lives. Friendships like these go beyond time and distance. They persevere and give you hope as the days dwindle shorter.

In the last 17 years, I have played tennis with hundreds of women. The two pictured above are on my latest team. The gal on the right is our captain. She has come to EVERY match I’ve ever played and cheered me on, every, single time. Once, she even drove out of her way to buy my coffee as I entered a 3rd set after several hours. That is devotion. That is love. That is as good as it gets in this brief, and very, short lifetime. May every man find a friend as good as that.

EMBRACE OR ERASE

Image

Exactly two weeks ago, my beloved and favorite uncle sat down and hand wrote me a lovely two-page letter. He included, as he often did, an article of interest from the local paper. Then he mailed it, drove to a deserted parking lot, put a gun to his chest and pulled the trigger. And while I wonder if he aimed perfectly at his heart, I also wonder why he would never want to see his granddaughter’s face, taste the sweetness of a fresh-picked strawberry or even hear my voice on the phone again.

Aging is as hard as growing up once was. There is no vade mecum to tell you how. You stumble, fall and brush yourself off ad infinitum. You just have to keep going and learn how to take the curves. That mindset was especially hard for my uncle who had always been an avid and highly competitive athlete. Too many botched hip and shoulder surgeries later, he was a shuffling shell of himself and he knew it. Plastic surgeons are skilled at raising our faces, but it is our minds that need the real ‘lift.’  In the end, that is something that only we can do.

The only real way to prepare a ‘face for the faces that you meet’ is to strengthen your inner thoughts. Bench press your brain when your limbs fail you. Pull up your focus on the beauty of today. T. S. Eliot said, “April is the cruelest month,” but I choose to find it the loveliest—even now–as spring begins to unfold after a too, long winter. Dogwood flowers burst into bloom from the backyard and daffodils shake their heads in the breeze out front. It is hard to find spring when the mind is mired in darkness. We are our thoughts. Ultimately, they become our actions. May you make them ones you want to embrace, not erase.

TEN FEET TALL

Image

 

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.