MY INSPIRATIONS

94Recently, a young man came backstage to chat with me after a performance. As he left, he suddenly gushed, “Ms. Hudson, this was great. I just love talking to old people!” While the others around me were a bit shocked, I was quite tickled and replied, “Well, Jason, I just love talking to young ones!”

 Growing up, my grandmother was always my greatest inspiration. She was drinking carrot juice and doing yoga long ahead of her time. One afternoon, when she was 70 and I was 17, she suddenly appeared in the kitchen wearing tap shoes. I’d been moping around the house and knew that she was trying to cheer me up.  She began to hop-step-flap-ball change her way through a very, nifty, ‘time step.’  That vision of her with her gray ponytail bouncing up and down still makes me smile.

As a kid I looked up to older people and sought them out for advice. Now that I am the ‘older’ person, there are a lot fewer ahead of me than there used to be. Nevertheless, I still look to them for both encouragement and hope. Here are just some of the inspirations in my life right now: a 94 year-old with the figure of a teenager who chats everyone up while sipping her iced chai latte and grocery shopping; an 80 year-old who took up daily workouts for the first time ever after her husband passed away and a 70-something couple who only recently found each other and are now inseparable.

84 rower

 cap couple

Recently, I had the happy fortune of spending the weekend with three, young couples. One has just had their first child. The other is expecting their first and the latter are engaged to marry. It was déjà vu as I, too, once walked those very roads. I marveled at their energy and fresh faces despite sleepless nights. I was hugely impressed by the equality with which all three seem to navigate their relationships. Mostly, I just gasped at how quickly I went from their age to mine.  At the end of the weekend, one of them told me that I was, ‘an inspiration’ to him because of my energy and enthusiasm for life.  At first, I was surprised but then very grateful. For his compliment is now a great motivation to keep me charging forward with a big smile on my face!!

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SURPRISE!!!

Broken Chair

Last week, one of my tennis partners and I found ourselves in a heart to heart talk about aging. Her husband recently had a stroke and can’t speak. She is his fulltime caregiver. “There are so many years behind me,” she said sadly, “and so much fewer ahead.”  So true.

 A few days later, a friend confided, “Aging is hard. I never knew it would be this hard. Sometimes I wonder if I have the strength for it.” She just got out of the hospital after what she thought was a routine bronchitis, which she’d had before. This time, she couldn’t shake it alone.

 Another emailed after taking a cruise to say that he had, “really wanted to hike through Europe” but feared his legs might not hold him up. Instead, he “saw it mostly through my cabin window.” Still another told me that she is, “terrified of falling.   I’ve put night-lights every six feet in my house. If I fall again, I’m dead. That’s it.” She recently had a hip replaced and the recovery took almost a year.

 I could chalk my friends off as being ‘alarmists’ or ‘overly pessimistic,’ but they echo my own sentiments. I, too, have set myself a daily routine to maximize safety and minimize stress. I swim, but only so far, so as not to overtax my shoulders. I walk, but avoid hills, so as not to overstress my knees. I eat healthy, nap, meditate, do mild yoga, read enlightening books and practice music daily to keep my synapses sharp.

 However, all of this moderation only carries one so far. There is no accounting for the surprises that life can throw your way. This afternoon, I made a salad and went outside to enjoy it in the sunshine. As I sat down on the chair, the seat underneath me gave way. Not only did I jolt my joints but my lovely salad spread itself all over the pavement.

 Apparently, there’s good reason for all of us to take extra precautions. Right now, the accidental death rate is up 12% in the US. Why? Falls among the elderly and drug overdoses. Shakespeare, describing impending death in Hamlet said this: “And by a sleep to say we end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” For now, I’ve decided to appreciate those ‘shocks.’ It means that I’m still here to tell you about them.  

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

MIRROR, MIRROR!

mirror mirror

While Christmas shopping, I stopped into Bed, Bath & Beyond to pick up a larger oven mitt for my husband. Lately, he’s been cooking up a storm and mine is much too small for his hands. While there, I noticed a woman my age staring at herself in the above mirror. Now I don’t know about you but the last thing I want for Christmas is a $200 mirror that lights up AND magnifies my face up to 5 times its’ size!

 But apparently this woman did. Her husband, however, was not such an easy sell. He was astounded by the price tag and kept staring hard into the mirror, as if trying to figure out just what the heck she saw in that thing. Maybe it was like the magic mirror in Snow White and was telling her that she was the, ‘fairest of all,’ but somehow I didn’t think so.

 At one point, he even raised his voice and said, “Jesus, Lorraine. No one should have to spend that kind of money just to look at their own face. You already know what it looks like by now. Besides, it’s beautiful to me. That’s all that matters.” I was impressed by the way he finessed his way out of that one, cuz moments later, they both left happy.

 As soon as they did, I hustled over and stared hard into that mirror. Fortunately, I wasn’t wearing my glasses, for even without the lights on, it was a startling sight. My face was about the size of a cantaloupe, my pores looked like the surface of the moon after multiple Apollo landings and my nose clearly resembled the big dipper. Yikes!!

 This afternoon my husband came home from the ophthalmologist who just prescribed him, ‘blue light blocking’ glasses to wear when driving at night. Apparently, removing this band from the visible spectrum enables us to see better in the dark and also protects our eyes. Gosh, if they can do that, surely they can make those, ‘rose colored’ glasses for real, right? Until then, I shall muddle along happily seeing through my ‘glass darkly,’ without spending one, single, solitary cent.   

 

 

REALITY CHECK

 

ssa

This is where I found myself last week, registering for Medicare. Yes, that program for OLD people; the one my grandmother was on for as long as I can remember. The whole process felt like a dream that someone—anyone–else should be doing but me. And yet? Here is where I find myself: almost 65. It’s not that I don’t own the years. I just can’t quite come to grips with the fact that now they own me.

 If you look at the statistics—and I do—they are sobering: 63% of folks over 65 are in need of long-term care. The probability of my becoming disabled or cognitively impaired is 68%. Finally there is this: 69% of us will develop disabilities before we die and 35% of us will enter a nursing home! ‘Not me,’ I can hear you saying. Well, I’m saying it, too, but talk is cheap.

 It’s hard enough to face one’s own mortality without having to sign on the dotted line about it. I also have to, “Choose a plan from A to N.” What that really means is: do I pick the Pollyanna plan which says that I’m healthy, will live forever and nothing bad will ever happen to me? Or, do I pick the plan that has me covered if I break every bone in my body, contract cancer and have only 6 weeks to live?

 In times like these, I often refer to the wisdom of noted neurologist and philosopher, Viktor Frankl, who wrote, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” It is a book that I read in my youth and one which speaks to me still.       

 “The pessimist observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day. The optimist removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it carefully away. He reflects with pride and joy on all the life he has already lived to the fullest. What does it matter to him that he is growing old? What reasons has he to envy a young person? For the possibilities that a young person has? ‘No, thank you,’ he will think. ‘Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered.”

 Ah, clearly I should face this new reality with the spirit of possibility and carry on.   N’est-ce-pas?

THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

tarantula

This cute, furry-legged fellow ambled across our deck a few weeks back. Any rock climber would envy his ability to ascend a vertical face. What? You don’t think he’s cute? That’s the funny thing about the mind, isn’t it? One persons’ fascination can be anothers’ terror.

 This morning at Trader Joe’s, I met a charming, very talkative, older man. We discussed our interest in healthy foods, scorn for Big Pharma and concern over the opioid epidemic. As we spoke, a woman with wrinkly skin, hideously, tattooed legs and dyed, pinkish, red hair stood listening nearby. She smiled at me a few times to reveal a mouthful of missing, broken and discolored teeth. Suddenly, he noticed the woman and his eyes lit up so brightly you’d have thought he was seeing his firstborn for the first time.

 “Oh! I want you to meet Janet, my beautiful wife of 49 years!” he exclaimed beaming with pride.

His exuberance must have rubbed off on me, for at that moment, I found her as beautiful as he did! As we spoke, she even seemed to radiate. Mindset is everything, isn’t it? How we ‘see’ a thing makes it what it is. And that initial perception affects our choices, decisions, moods and ultimately, even our futures. Aging is like that. For some it is a feared reality. For others, it is merely the next adventure.

Recently, I read an article that said that, ‘being mature’ and ‘being old,’ are two, very separate things. These were listed as, ‘signs of maturity’:

  1. Understanding that aging is a natural part of life and accepting it.
  2. Being alive to the wonder you experienced as a child.
  3. Paying attention and learning from others who are aging well.
  4. Not trying to ‘be young,’ but wearing your age with pride.
  5. Appreciating how little you know.
  6. Accepting that others’ faults are no worse than your own.
  7. Realizing that few of your beliefs/ideas originated with you.
  8. Being at ease with your imperfect life.
  9. Making a will, arranging for death and then getting on with life.

 When I first read the list I thought that I was pretty ‘mature.’ However, after meeting that couple this morning, I have decided that I need to add another sign of maturity to that list: 

  1. Finding beauty in ALL creatures, eight-legged and otherwise.

 

THE HARDEST WORD TO SAY

Food Truck

 It’s only two letters. You’d think that it would fly right off the tip of your tongue. Nope. It protects you not just from yourself but also from others. It can be your strong defense or a gentle offense. It encourages you when you’re about to give up and discourages you when you want to do something that you shouldn’t. In the 1980’s, Nancy Reagan, during her anti-drug campaign, coined it in the phrase: “Just Say No!” At the time, people made fun of her but I think she was spot on.

 I have been saying, “No” since I was very young. You’d think I’d be a past master at it. Eh, not so much. Don’t get me wrong. I say it probably more than most. If you don’t do so with conviction and often, you’ll be run ragged by demands, expectations and guilt trips ad infinitum. Until recently, I was sure that most people my age also knew when to call it quits, not just at the gym or in relationships but in the workplace, too. They don’t.

Last weekend, 25 of us, ages 12 to 80, volunteered to unload food donations from across the city to replenish our community food bank. From 2-6 PM, outside in 97-degree heat, we sorted and boxed foodstuffs. We laughed, sang and talked through the work. By 5 PM, the 20 something’s finally figured out that they needed to do the heavy lifting and we older folks continued to bag and sort the incoming goods.

 By 5:30, I noticed that the much older man next to me was bright red in the face, perspiring and visibly wincing as he opened the incoming bags.

            “Darlin’,” I said to him, “It’s time for you to go home.”

            “Oh, no, I can’t,” he argued. “We still have a half hour left.”

            “That doesn’t matter,” I said. “You’ve been on your feet in this heat for 3 ½ hours. That’s more than enough. You’ve done great work. It’s time to go now.”

            “But I volunteered until 6,” he protested.

            “Sorry, we’re going,” I said, taking his arm.

            Reluctantly, he let me lead him away and out to his car. As he got in, the relief in his face was obvious.

            “Now go home, take a shower and put your feet up,” I said.

          For those of you reading, I advise the same.

           

 

          

BROKEN BUT BLOOMING

broken but blooming

 I’m a pretty adept gardener but removing mistletoe from Palo Verde trees and pruning huge, spiny branches is not my forte. So, last week I hired a gardening crew for a few hours. When they arrived, I cautioned them to, ‘be careful’ of some of my new plantings. Now granted, most people do not scatter sunflower seeds among rocks but I do. It gives me immense pleasure to fill barrenness with beauty.

 It wasn’t until the following morning that I noticed one of the men had stepped on several of my sunflower shoots and broken the stems. They probably did look like weeds. I was tempted to pull them out and start over but stopped when I noticed that each one had a round, green bud that someday would yield a yellow flower. So I left them, broken and lying flat on the rocks. Perhaps the birds might peck out a bite or two I surmised.

 This morning, I was alone in the pool, which is both blessing and curse. Blessing, because I don’t have to fight for a lane and curse because I am alone with my thoughts. Today, I was a bit blue because there is so much less time ahead of me than behind me. I pictured the older people who are often here, many of who can no longer swim at all and merely tread water. I wondered if that would ever be me.

 Then I thought of the gal who arrives daily on crutches, sits down, removes her prosthetic leg, slips into the water and swims a vigorous mile.  My brief depression ended abruptly. I returned home to find this beautiful flower, which actually bloomed more than a week after it had been trampled!!  ‘Such spunk,’ I thought to myself– just like the girl with no leg and just like the kind I intend to cultivate in myself.  As Hemingway once wrote, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”