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.

 

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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.”

 

  

ANONYMOUS VALENTINE

heart-leaf

 This lovely leaf appeared on my doorstep last Valentine’s Day. No tree in our yard had leaves like that, so I pondered its’ arrival. Did the wind blow it smack to the center of the doorstep? Had someone put it there? I picked it up and put it in the kitchen window and all day admired my anonymous valentine.

 Valentine’s Day has always been my favorite holiday. My love affair with Cupid began in 1st grade. I had abruptly been skipped from kindergarten the week before Valentine’s Day. I was the smallest, newest addition to the class and didn’t know anyone. The teacher had us make big, red, colored paper hearts with our names on them. Then she stapled them to the bulletin board with the tops left open. We were to slip our Valentines into each other’s open heart.

 My mom bought me a stack of valentines with sweet tarts already attached. Excitedly, I began writing the names of all my new classmates on each one. The next day, I arrived early to slip them into their red hearts. Some were too high for my reach, so the teacher gave me a little step stool to stand on. All week, I watched my classmates stuff their treasures into each other’s Valentines, too. A few of them even bulged at the seams.  I was so excited that it was hard to sit still in my seat.

 The big day came. The teacher pulled all our valentines off of the board and placed them on our desks. The kids around me were pulling out lollipops, bubble gum, and chocolates. I opened mine and reached inside. There was only one valentine and it was from the teacher. She had also put in a Hershey’s kiss, which was my very, best-loved candy!

 While the memory is bittersweet, it reminds me that it only takes one act of kindness to make someone’s day. I was thrilled to get a special valentine from my teacher with my favorite candy. In fact, all day I wondered how she knew. At the time, it never occurred to me that she gave ALL the kids a Hershey’s kiss! Sometimes I think it’s better not to know how something happens and simply appreciate it when it does, like finding a heart-shaped leaf on your doorstep.  

 

A TEMPORARY FIX

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 I was shocked today to learn that a friend of mine, fully 15 years my junior, recently had Botox. Granted, she does look a bit more relaxed and slightly more youthful about the face. But bottom line? It won’t last. It’s like wearing a pushup bra. You look pretty hot, until you take it off that is. Time marches on and despite our temporary fixes, we will indeed, age, infirm and die.

 Consider this: I have worked out almost every day of my life for the last 40 some years. Yes, it has paid off in terms of ‘staying fit,’ but really? My workouts have become shorter and less aggressive over the years. My rotator cuff is hanging by a thread and my knees are shot. So, though I swim a half-mile a day, and do yoga and play a bit of tennis, the decline is continuous and certain. I’ll be honest. I am watching myself go downhill piece by piece, although I am trying to stay upbeat about it all.

 Then you add the actual statistics. Right now, 1,000 people a day are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. 1% of us will have it by age 60. By the time we reach 85, fully 40% of us will have it. Not only that, the disease itself will begin a full 10 years before we even notice the symptoms! There is NO cure. There is NOTHING that will slow it down and even science says that at this point, “nothing can be done to stave it off.”

 Oh sure, you can exercise, eat well and get Botox. But frankly? That’s like getting a polio vaccine after you already have polio. If you’re lucky, you’ll be one of those,‘super agers,’ and the disease won’t even darken your door. If you’re an average Joe, though, you’d better get your affairs in order: make a Living Will, find someone you trust and make them your power of attorney, and if you want to spend your final years at home, keep your eyes open for a good caretaker!! I am ALWAYS looking—even at the supermarket!

 My advice? Close your computer right now. Turn off your cell phone and walk outside. Look up at the sky. Notice how cumulonimbus clouds merge into cirrus and keep on moving. Whether you see stars or mountains, sea or cactus, love the view. Realize that whatever you see before you right now, you will someday not see at all.  Be grateful for the moment, this moment. Now.

 

 

TIME FLIES SO WALK THE MINUTES WISELY

alz-clock

Amazon is now selling a special clock just for those with Alzheimer’s. Apparently, the big selling point is that it spells out the day since those with dementia struggle with abbreviations. But here’s the thing. Just because you can say what time it is doesn’t mean that you’re ‘all there.’ It simply means that you can mimic a clock. It’s the minutes that really count in life, particularly the ones you spend making friends.

 A few days ago, I reunited with three women whom I first met when I was only 13. Our re-connection was seamless, as if little time had passed at all. However, having lived 50 more years since then, we now have much more to share with each other. Yes, time has changed, re-arranged, shrunk, expanded, puffed and wrinkled us in ways that we never dreamed possible at 13! That’s probably a good thing. One should feel fresh, fearless and free in youth but we tend to lose those qualities as both time and experience wear us down.

 That’s where friends come in. If you choose them wisely when you are young they will help keep you young as you age. They will remind you of your earlier self while encouraging your present one. They will forgive your youthful missteps and help you up the steps now that you are older. Most of all? If you choose friends with attributes that you wished you had yourself, you will receive the benefit of those very qualities albeit indirectly.

 My ‘old’ girlfriends still have the gifts that I once envied as a child, but now deeply admire. One was gregarious and accepted others just as they were even all those years ago. She still does. Another was an artist who could fill a blank page with beauty so breathtaking that you simply stared in awe. Today, she is a talented interior designer. The last had a rebellious, adventurous spirit that even now keeps her freshly on the edge of things au courante. So, dear readers, should I ever lose my mind, kindly put the faces of my friends in front of me, not a clock!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

STANDING TALL

saguaro

 My granny raised me in Phoenix, Arizona. My most vivid memory of those years was always trying to make friends with someone who had a pool. Otherwise, you spent your summers trying to uncap fire hydrants, stand under sprinklers or stick your blistering feet into six-inch, deep creeks that held more crawfish than water. By the time I was 18, I fled to California in my VW bug, swearing that I would, “never, ever return to a land of nothing but cactus and old people.” Well, two weeks ago (and 45 years later), I have returned to that desert once again.

 This time, though, I am one of the ‘old people,’ and that’s fine by me. No more shoveling snow or slipping on ice. No more bundling and layering against the cold and watching the sky grow dark by 4 PM. No more hunkering down under blankets in front of the fire or turning on the faucets at night so the pipes don’t freeze. At last, I’m warm under a wide, open, bright sky and it’s heaven.

 One Christmas, shortly before I graduated from high school, Granny gave me a Smith Corona, portable typewriter, along with a silly joke book about saguaros. I LOVED the typewriter. The book? Not so much. Inside were silly pictures of saguaros with goofy captions. At the time, I remembered thinking, ‘I hope I never have to look at one of these old, prickly things ever again.’

 Now? I love their weaving arms and the holes that birds have made in their trunks for nests. I admire how they rise from desert rock with seemingly no water or nurture whatsoever. I applaud the statuesque beauty with which they carry themselves. Mostly, I wish that I had that old, silly book back. It told me that saguaros don’t reach their full height or produce their first blooms until they’re 70 and that they don’t even grow their first arms until they’re close to 100!

 Next week, I am hosting four girlfriends at my place for Thanksgiving. Some of them I have not laid eyes on since Granny gave me that typewriter and saguaro book. I worry they might find me old, wrinkled and gray. But if they are worried about the same, I shall remind them that if we were saguaros, we have not yet reached our full height! For now, I am thrilled THAT we are all still here, standing tall and upright!!