My belief system about old age has contained one of the same truths since my Mom was placed in the locked Alzheimer’s unit six years ago. It feels as if you have to change on a dime more often than not in your last several decades. Either because your situation with health, money or living situation shifts, or those around you face changes you want to help support. Just when you think things are set for a bit, they suddenly are not, and the situation must face a reevaluation.
Research told my generation as we reached middle age, that strong skills in resilience would serve us well in surviving and thriving in life and that there are lots of ways to improve that skill. I agree, although it can be exhausting to be a resilient elder. Now I know, that not just the situation may need to be reevaluated, but your personal part of the whole picture too. YOU CAN ONLY DO SO MUCH. I write that to remind myself as much as the reader. While you are assisting others, your health, money or living situation may shift and there is not enough physical or emotional energy to deal with that effectively.
Making choices, from which new phone to buy, to what therapy to get for bone spurs have many of the same methods. Gather as much information from as many “experts” in the field, figure out what your priorities and value systems say to you and move ahead with out haste, but quickly enough so the whole situation has not shifted and your choices are more limited. There is that little quirk now that we have so many choices we can become overwhelmed–and that is not just us elders either.
If you have a large enough social circle and people you trust, you already know immediately whom to call or text or email or send up a flag for. If not, ask a medical professional or religious leader who knows your situation.
In my life, I have recently done all the due diligence and am leaving most of my teaching or volunteer projects behind for some serious hours learning to write a personal essay or letter to the editor that may impact an issue that interests me. Traveling to the last of the places on earth I hear calling to me is another decision, that requires more self-care in the short-term to get all of it done while my body can enjoy the trips too. As we know too well, don’t wait, do it now.
So, this will be my last blog for a time, with the hope that when I am traveling a new set of observations will need to be set down to share with anyone who wants or needs to read them. The discipline of a blog has helped me to learn focus and practice mindfulness and writing it may be a constant companion that will not go away. It may be the ultimate self-care for me.
May you encounter more joy than sadness, less suffering than expected and spread kindness and compassion all of your days.
November 4, 2017
On a financial site on-line there was a pundit that proposed that we have a line item in our monthly budget for some “decent human behavior”. My thinking is a video class in decent human behavior for 15 minutes a day in schools and required in bars and lounges and coffee shops before a drink is poured or expensive latte is consumed. But, beginning to address the issues of abundance versus scarcity and the belief the “there is enough for everyone” to shift a collective mindset from needing more and more and more to be considered worthy, probably needs more than 15 minutes.
Of course, a rational definition would be required first and all the black and white and grey areas addressed. But, funny enough, my belief is that most human beings already know what is decent…even if it is difficult to always do the right thing.
If you notice the picture at the top of this post you will see what a few friends are doing in the course of trying to be decent. Today, Saturday, we set a hundred pieces of winter gear out in Denver’s Civic Center Park that is a gathering place for those who live on the street most of the time. Scarves and hats and ear warmers and new socks were left with notes for the people most in need. We had interaction, even though it was very early, with several people who needed the gear very much as the weather had shifted overnight. We did not harm trees, basically using metal benches and concrete balustrades as places to tie our metaphors of warmth.
Among our family and friends and neighbors and thrift stores on half price day, we found enough to share with people who actually needed a warm scarf or pair of socks as opposed to the ones of us who have many to choose from to match our various coats. My personal goal has become to have one of something and hopefully one to share or loan or give away. How many winter hats will you wear on the gurney in the crematorium?
Another personal goal for the winter is to start a conversation with groups I know to help define what decent human behavior is in our particular culture, age, gender, ancestry, neighborhood and economic group to see if the actual human behavior of being civil and decent should be more important than any of those tribe expectations.
How could we manifest that behavior in our lives in addition to starting the seed of a scarf tree ? How can we speak of it in conversations to help people shift?
Today was an experiment that was exciting and next year our flash mob of elders and friends will be larger and louder.
Share hot chocolate with a neighbor,
My psyche craves seeing wide open spaces and horizons that are closer to a 360 degree view than 90 degrees. This may come from growing up in the western part of the US or the DNA from the pioneers and wanderers of my ancestry.
Instead of chocolate for physical nourishment, two weeks ago a trip across the mountain to Durango was in order as a treat for the eyes and heart and soul. There is history between myself and this part of the state and several of my oldest friends and my brother and his wife live there. My psyche is very aware of the mixed feeling of returning to one’s past to see the scenery, but knowing that the introspection can be brutal. But, extraordinary elders in training also understand that you can’t always choose what experience will be the “best” to help you on your journey through this life.
A trip in autumn through the Rocky Mountains allows for a dose of beautiful colors and Mother Earth’s wonders that are difficult to see in a city. Travel across the state from north to south abounds in various ecosystems along the way and subtle changes in the landscape every two dozen miles. I have driven this route more than 50 years in all seasons and seldom tire of it or approach it with certainty. A dust storm across the fields in the San Louis Valley, the slick road and blizzard getting across Kenosha into South Park, deer and antelope crossing a road at dusk, and a family classic, my needing to take a nap break when I was the driver with children, and stopping atop Red Hill for my brain to shut down for a few minutes. Every trip leaves me with the same abiding sense that while, being allowed to pass this way again, it is never guaranteed in this vast space of nature and time.
As a driving trip full of memories and full of the joy of a bright blue sky, the shades of brown and yellow and green and red showing all around the season enveloped me. Looking more closely you can see that the leaf of a cattail is brown a the top, moves to a dark yellow as you proceed to the green at the base of the leaf. All the seasons of life for the year shown for all to see.
This year, when passing by the Collegiate Range, the clouds in the sky required a longer look. Recently having become a member of the Cloud Appreciation Society, an obligation to cloud watch was presented me and I could not resist fulfilling my duty. There had been fog in Turkey Creek Canyon and ventricular clouds after that and now a huge Cumulonimbus with its lower half starting to slosh with liquid to water the mountains.
The rest of the trip was filled with migrating flocks of birds and at my brother’s a large family of Colorado blue birds helping him irrigate with his water allotment, by hopping on the sprinkler heads set in the field. The land he and his wife and animals live on is outside of Durango to the south. On the other side of the road from the ranch some of the farms refer to their spot in the landscape as the edge, or rim of the mesa. But the true mesa is behind the Hudson land and standing at any spot gives me the nourishment of the long line of horizon and enough open space to breathe. That, at the end of the trip, is a beautiful thing.
Along with my fellow teacher, Terri, we had little idea about what energy was about to be unleashed. The number of participants was three times what was expected, vocal, well spoken and engaged in our teaching process. Keeping them all on one subject at a time was the only difficulty.
The class was held at the Park Hill Library in Denver and was our first outing with “Help Me Understand”, working through how to dialogue with each other about volatile or difficult topics without overt animosity. How to listen deeply, what words to speak encouraging us to get us to the next level of sharing, and what our individual culture has us do without thinking are major topics of the venture.
Terri and I have, what I think, are good stories to express situations of human dialogue that either fail miserably, or chug along without too many hurt feelings to go on with the relationship. Because one word can be a trigger to fear and anger and a break of property or heads, the need to be aware of your language in difficult situations or times is VERY Important…as is your tone of voice.
One of the books I have read over and over is Deborah Tannen’s “That’s Not What I Meant”. Her examples are the best…The first time I read it I saw why several of my relationships had floundered or failed. She also talks about the conversation pauses we all use, like “sorry”, to smooth things but it is not a true apology. (The first time I heard some one say “MY BAD” thinking that was enough of an apology, I almost fainted.) ok, that was a bit of an exaggeration.
Training your brain to take a breath or three before you swim into deep water is a free and easy technique to practice. Practice becomes habit.
Our audience said that they were a bit tired of just talking their “truth” to the few people who agreed with them. They could see that it narrows your world view and that is never a step forward in your life. So, get out there and join a conversation–and watch the words that are falling out of your mouth into the collective culture. Kindness and respect for other opinions are always essential, but especially in times of upheaval.
Speak with love,
When, as an elder, I stop and focus on the type of person who inhabited this body and mind in my early earth years, it gets fuzzy. Is it the perception of me about me, or others about me that I remember. It really doesn’t matter much, except the part of me that was always decisive and felt powerful can now feel very far removed from the present me.
For a year or so I have given in to the idea of upgrading my condo and enjoy the new light rail a block away, neighbors I know and get ready to age in place. Then, I realized that could be 15 years of living in the same place, looking at the same non-existent view and eventually having a boring existence instead of the living fully until dying way Ithat is more my style.
A month of introspection followed that thought and a plan is emerging. There will be numerous family members and friends who will want me to take the safer and saner way of planning, but, if I remember, my younger self never let that stop her. Not all my decisions were practical, but at each turn of the long road I learned what I needed to.
One of the major issues of course is finances–my poor choices resulted in those worries being carried along into old age. But, I have enough–except in an inflated housing market. One of the fall outs from any plan may be moving to a storage shed in Iowa.
This was not going to be something that I wrote about in a blog, but I am not the only widowed women this impacts…actually any woman period.
In several months when the plan is in place I will write an update and hopefully have some information to share that may help you or friends to expand their thinking.
The past two weeks that included the release of the movie, based on the book, The Glass Castle, has had me thinking about dysfunction in general, and of course in elders. Loving mysteries, my first thought about the subject was that every homicide detective is dysfunctional in some major way. While I may love the plot and the setting and the minor characters and the red herrings, it gets very boring to see that the psychological dysfunctions do not improve much in a series of novels.
It would be enjoyable for me to see that Barbara Havers, in the Margaret George novels, had learned how to dress and do her hair as a professional woman, as opposed to the ragamuffin look she favors…..because she is lazy about herself and giving her all to the job? The author could invent another dysfunction since all humans have them, especially it seems, the ones on the front lines of human stupidity, i.e. killing, violence, hurting living things in general.
Quirky is different from full-blown dysfunction. Quirky can be charming and fun and when you read or watch a show or movie for entertainment it is almost a required character trait for someone. We sometime hear or see words on the page that are important to the plot coming from the quirky one. So how does a person with “normal” quirks versus one with dysfunctions impact us in reality? As elders how do we deal with the continued or worsening dysfunctions of family and friends or even society?
After conversations with several only slightly dysfunctional friends, my take is this: If the person has enough redeeming behaviors and attitudes and is aware of the dysfunctions that are harmful to the world, who am I to judge beyond what my standards have become? We forgive or tend to minimize traits that are balanced by either the greater good of a person or society or a physical or temporary situation. In a relationship we tend to balance each other out with a physically stronger one taking over outdoor chores and one of the techies in the family helping everyone.
We can moan about the “lack of a functional city council” and then use the democratic process to remedy it. A friend has a stroke and when the physical therapist says you can help by listening to a less than perfect speech pattern from him/her, you figure out how to develop patience–which the lack of has become almost a dysfunction for you. We adapt and adjust and survive until the malfunctions are too much for us and we withdraw. Level and severity impacts our decisions.
The fictional homicide detectives are divorced, alienated from parents and children, drink too much, sleep in their clothes and have few social skills with peers. But, they do their jobs, speak for the victim and are necessary in a society of the numerous dysfunctionals in the book.
While life is not a novel, reading can give you examples about how differently minded people deal with reality and disaster and those around them who may reflect the people we know who are beyond our help. Balancing your own systems going into meltdown is the number one priority for the exceptional elder. Put on your oxygen mask first.
This past month has found me reading too late and starting too early and avoiding house tasks to read a bit more. The energy comes from trying to make my own definition of joy. As a usually happy person, my joy always seems to be a combination of gratitude and happy. I have been reading and rereading The Book of Joy ( not the Joy of Sex that was another decade) with discussions between the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. I started it in January after my friend Jeanie gave it to me for Winter Solstice and I pick it up and read and underline and highlight and then think about it for the days needed to absorb the ideas.
As an Extraordinary Elder in training, the aspect of introspection always leads me to the need to read and study what other people think and to ask myself the same questions they have asked. The answers of the two powerhouse wisdom keepers mentioned above no doubt come more easily than mine. And then, in a work of fiction I was reading, a character asks, “what would be essential for you to bring to the house to make you comfortable”. The accumulation of stuff raises its overstuffed head again. How does that impact joy in a human being? I find it interesting that Marie Kondo, who taught the world how to fold underwear in her tidy book, named her second book ” Spark Joy”.
In her first writings she tells us that if an item does not create a sense of joy, get rid of it. While I get a sense of productivity and prevention from my toothbrush it does not bring me what I consider joy….but it does give me a sense of well-being on some level and gratitude that I have it and the dentist has not taken any money in several months.
Great pleasure or delight seldom comes and settles in when an object (even a living one) attracts my attention for a moment. I am happy to see a lady bug, but true joy will be more likely to come to me from the delight of time spent with a person with whom I have a relationship. Sharing the sight of a lady bug with a child would double the happiness and maybe joy for the moment in time with the two of us.
In The Book of Joy, the authors understand that exploring what makes the human experience satisfying is the task they wish to discuss. Please read the book so you don’t have to watch me regurgitate it, but know that one of the outcomes is that the ability to be joyful is work done from the inside out. Possessions and jobs and money and gold bathroom fixtures are not long-term joy producers. As elders we should know that by now, but occasionally get caught up in the anticipated joy of new kitchen cabinets .
The picture at the top of the page is of a baby celebration cake. A library book club to which I belong lost our facilitator to maternity leave this past week and we celebrated the coming birth with a cake and small presents for her. In the room was a sense of joy from our relationships with each other and to her and for being part of the joy she was anticipating. A small example of relationship and community creating a space for felicity in a world that can be full of fear and anger and sadness. But, it came from inside of all of us–even thought the cake was a success, it was the interactions that counted.
May you find joy in your life,