Sunday, March 29, 2009
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, under the headline "Healthy Aging for Older Adults," says:
"The United States is on the brink of a longevity revolution. By 2030, the proportion of the U.S. population aged 65 and older will double to about 71 million older adults, or one in every five Americans. The far-reaching implications of the increasing number of older Americans and their growing diversity will include unprecedented demands on public health, aging services, and the nation’s health care system.”My God, that sounds discouraging. It gives me a mental picture of slack-jawed, empty-eyed, ungroomed old people in wheelchairs parked in filthy institutional corridors. That vision could menace my mind like Poe’s raven if I allowed it.
We baby boomers are an Aging Population.
Well. Everybody’s aging.
As soon as a baby’s born, he begins aging.
Aging is simply living.
Sales and marketing industries, thriving on fear of infirmity and poverty, would go belly up without products purporting to control and reverse the signs of aging in everything from fingernails to brain function. Advertising for anti-aging cosmetics features airbrushed photographs of twenty-two-year-olds. No sign anywhere of a pore or the tiniest facial hair.
Not so long ago, women were the target market, but now more of that appeal is targeted toward men. Men with gray hair: won’t get jobs; won’t get women; are consigned to sitting in easy chairs reading newspapers.
Once they become restored to the youthful look of full-color hair, their social and economic prospects instantly improve. Presumably, they will never again have inclination or time to read the news.
I have never truly feared growing older; I have always been only too happy to move onward.
When I was contemplating one of the early “zero” birthdays, a friend tried to relieve my momentary flutter of apprehension, telling me, “You might be halfway through your life, but you get to live the second half the way you want to.” Still mid-apprehensive flutter, I looked at him askance. It sounded like good propaganda, but I knew him to be not excessively wise. He was right, though.
When I was twenty-five I knew several women who all happened to be forty-two. They seemed far more comfortable than I. They seemed to be having fun. They seemed to know who they were, to have formed a life matrix to which they could, if they chose, add new experiences. Forty-two was a great year for me. So good, in fact, that I looked forward to forty-three. I still know people far older than I who are comfortable with their lives and themselves. I think there is a leveling at some point in life, at which the chronological age matters not at all in how much enjoyment can be achieved and shared.
The mechanics and the chemistry of my body are slowing down: There’s that. My eyeglass prescription grows stronger with each examination. If I eat pizza, I'm puffy a little longer than I used to be.
A few years ago, after a wonderful long dinner at a fine local restaurant, a friend and I stood up slowly and creakily. “We’re like two old wooden lawn chairs unfolding!” she muttered, and the aptness of the image sent us into gales of helpless laughter. We would have laughed longer, but we both had to progress expeditiously to the ladies' room.
I think I will continue to be comfortable with the gradual physical changes of aging. I know people, some far younger than I, who attend to each ache and pain and assiduously seek medical attention at astonishingly short intervals.
If you think too much about how you feel, you’ll never feel good.
I’ve benefited so much from growing older that I can hardly imagine that continuing that process will be a negative experience.
Aging suits me, I think.
The only part of aging that concerns me is something that has begun already. My linguistic mental rolodex cards are becoming a little slower to flip, and I find that I need to ponder a little longer to avoid repetition when I want a different verbal nuance. Still, it’s nothing to the repetition I hear in people still at Aging Denial stage: Consider the frequency of “Awesome!”
I'll keep my slow rolodex, thanks.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Saturday, March 21, 2009
“How are you doing today?” I asked him.
“Well, I’m not eating much,” George said. “I feel weaker, but I went out for a ride in the garden in my wheelchair, and the pain’s not bothering me. But I can’t find my passport. Do you know where my ticket is?”
“It sounds like you’re planning to go somewhere, “I answered. George nodded.
“Are you going on a journey?”
Nodding again, George said, “I don’t have my papers.”
“Are you talking about a different sort of journey?” I asked. “Maybe about leaving here? Maybe about dying?”
George responded to this suggestion with relief. He nodded, opened his mouth as if to speak, then shrugged.
“If you’re talking about that journey, you don’t need a passport and tickets,” I said.
--from Final Gifts, by Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley
Less than ten, more than five, years ago I held my mother’s hand while she died in the downstairs bedroom here. She had been ill for a long time, but the diagnosis preceded her death by only seven weeks. Both of us intuitive, sensitive, and high-strung, she and I understood each other. During most of my life, we were not comfortable with each other, despite, or perhaps due to, the similarity in our natures.
We never spoke of exactly what was happening. I never brought it up and when Mom would mention it, it was always, “This.” On her final trip to my house, knowing that she would not be going home again, she remarked, surprised, “This isn’t so terrible.”
“What?” I asked.
“This!” she said, making a small wave around herself with one graceful fine-boned small hand.
In the evenings the first few weeks, we would enjoy a nightly treat of ice cream. One night, Mom happily exclaimed, “This isn’t like being sick; it’s like a party!”
During the weeks that hospice nurses and I cared for her, with the calm, desperate, undiscussed knowledge that time was short, I finally came to see her as someone other than my mother . . . as a person in her own right. I saw the positive side of our similarity in her sense of humor at the ridiculous indignities of the failure of a human body. She demonstrated “It is what it is” to me before the phrase became a part of my customary lexicon. I felt her disgust with her brain when it lost the ability to follow a game of five-hundred rummy.
One day she told me about a dream she’d had. She’d been on an elevator, going up. The doors opened and some people got off, but she wasn’t meant to get off and was sent back down. Another dream was about her visit to a restaurant where the chef was famous for a magnificent sauce of his own invention. She waited in line, she told me, and then was told she wasn’t yet allowed to taste the exquisite sauce. There were other dreams about maps and driving and the time of her arrival being something she need not worry about.
I hadn’t yet read Final Gifts, but it was clear to me that she was on the verge of a not necessarily unpleasant change.
After Mom’s death I dreamt that I saw a group of older ladies in an anteroom somewhere. They were dressed to the nines, and having a grand time. I asked if my mother was there and they said oh yes, she's in at the party, but you can’t see her yet . . . it isn’t time.
I don’t know what dreams Marly had in the days and hours before she left me. I would not be surprised to know that they were of sunny fields full of voles and squirrels who could be hunted and caught over and over again . . . of running running running, her legs strong and no pain in her belly. I sat outdoors with her two days before she went and watched her as she listened to the calling and singing of the birds that have finally returned. I saw her ears prick and swivel at the sound of her dog friend calling hello to her from up the road.
She was ready to go. She looked reproachfully over her shoulder at me when I didn’t take off the leash and let her go off on down the field, regretful that I understood her purpose and that our record of perfect accord would be marred at this time. On St. Patrick’s Day evening, alone in a clinic kennel, free of my unwillingness, she went on her journey to those endless sunny fields.
Marly is a Good Dog.
Weekend Wordsmith's suggestion this week is "Passport."
Sunday, March 15, 2009
In addition to the financial incentive, there is the Get Me Away From My Pets factor.
I love them; I love them.
But the two small poodles, whom I acquired in their adorable tiny, weak, chrysanthemum-headed puppyhood, have somehow learned the value of a persistent
bark................................. bark.................................. bark
It is an aural equivalent of Chinese water torture.
I don't know who taught them that: Surely it was not I.
Someone must have come into my home during my absence (if I had been at home, all hermity, I would have barred the door) and trained them to interrupt any activity at regular one-minute intervals. Like circus poodles doing syncopated jumps on and off trotting ponies, they can even do the
bark.................................. bark.................................... bark
in alternating rhythm, like a round of Row Row Row Your Boat, so that the interval is diminished from one minute to thirty seconds.
If you knew how many times, just during the writing of this small piece, I have been required to inquire as to their needs, to cajole them to ..."get up here!" ...to "eat that!" ...to "go out!" ...to "come inside!" without losing my temper and twisting their noisy tiny heads from their bouncy little bodies, you would more greatly appreciate the fact that some of these words are strung together in a way that makes any sense at all, never mind that I'm half a week late with a "Wednesday" post.
These three factors...
- need for lucre, filthy or not
- one poodle
- the other poodle
...account for the reality than I am at this time in my life unable to pursue my natural inclination for a life in solitude.
I might soon look into investing in a sensory deprivation tank as the only means to save what is left of my sanity. Maybe it would help get rid of this pesky twitch, too.
Thanks to 3-Word Wednesday for the goad resulting in the creation of this vent.
Dear Past Me, Dear Future Me .
Dear Little June,
You don't know me yet, but in time you will. I am you almost fifty years from the time you're reading this! I know how afraid you are of so many things, but you know what? The fear that freezes you in your tracks now will make you courageous and strong.
I know that: It is true.
I know how you tremble at new things . . . remember when you thought you would be the only one in your class who never would be able to do the Australian crawl? Remember the night you went to bed and thought through how this arm moved and your head turned one way and then that arm, and your head turned the other way, and your legs kicked all the time? ...and the next morning at your swimming lesson, you did it!
You're going to have sad things happen to you that will be beyond your control. You will feel lost and alone. But from here I can see how, in time, you lifted your chin and figured out how to carry on.
I see how courageous you are, even if you don't yet know your strength.
Courage isn't not being afraid, you know. Courage is putting one foot in front of the other despite being so afraid that you tremble and cry. Your courage is going to be your Very Greatest Strength in life.
I love you, and I am very very proud of you.
Dear Old June,
I wish I knew how you see me, with one foot poised to step into old age, and the other foot with the toe of its shoe still dragging in barely-attained adulthood. I hope you're looking at me and nodding and smiling, approving of my late attainment of the knowledge that my life is not in my hands, but my happiness is.
I hope you're a wise and wry funny old lady.
I have a feeling that you will look back at Little June and me and think of the last stanza of the Millay poem, "To A Young Girl":
For there came into my mind, as I watched you winking the tears down,
Laughing faces, blown from the west and the east,
Faces lovely and proud that I have prized and cherished;
Nor were the loveliest among them those that had wept the least.
Sometimes I think I can feel your comforting hand on my shoulder, telling me that I am okay, and that it will be all right. I know you're right: I've said the same to Little June. I've learned that all those things that I thought would bring the sky crashing down were simply temporary discomforts. I've learned so much, and only in the past few years.
I hope my acquisition of wisdom accelerates at the same pace as the seasons are beginning to pass. We aren't that far apart, you and I, after all, and if you're going to be a funny and wise old lady, I need to get a move on.
My most fervent hope is that you will be proud that I finally saw the worthiness of me, just as I am.
June, Aging Gratefully
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Friday, March 6, 2009
A few years ago Prince, an acquaintance of mine, and I held an email discussion about economy, government, political correctness, et al. I saved the email because I found it an interesting exchange of ideas with someone who is intelligent and advances his points cogently, not to mention passionately. I knew that his business was in a privately-held heavy industry company, so I knew how that colored his view.
This is part of what he wrote:
"Given that 'heavy' industry is the engine of our economy, I find it disturbing that jobs created in these businesses are so callously discarded. First, who decides what is and isn't acceptable? I would argue that the PC crowd is a very vocal minority. Second, if every community bans these politically incorrect industries, then how are the needs of society to be met? Every resource that we utilize comes from two (and only two) sources: 1) It is grown or 2) it is mined."
The reason it's on my mind today is that Prince is one of the Big Fish in the Small Pond in which I am employed, and he has twice voted to abolish my position.
Prince also has said that "government employees are a net loss to society" since any income we get is a handout from honest hard-working taxpayers, and any money we put back into the economy could just as easily go from his hand to the hardware store. My admiration for his ideas, with which I intellectually agree to an extent, is now colored by the emotions of fear and anger, and I am thinking over the idea of public service.
I live near our state capitol and an oft-repeated wry joke is that there are no state workers, only state employees. Until I was forty-two, I worked in private business. I worked for automobile dealerships, and insurance companies and agencies, and many of my private-industry working years were spent as a waitress in restaurants where there were no busboys, no dishwashers with their arms sunk deep in pots, no cleaning crew that came in after hours to vacuum. I know how hard it is to work in private industry. I remember hearing, in the 1990s, that the economic wave coming in this country would be in the service industries. It wasn't good news, but it turned out to be accurate, partially because of the truth of Prince's arguments.
I probably would have kept waitressing had I not broken my ankle, spent six months in a cast, and been unable to pick up my aging pace to get back into the rhythm of the job. I took a civil service exam and went to work in a state office doing data entry. My private industry work ethic served me well, and three years later I was working for the general counsel in the state agency.
During those three years I had moved to Small Pond, far away from my state job, and was hired by the municipal government, where I made the acquaintance of Prince.
In a 1997 speech, Reflections on the Role of Public Service, then Congressman Lee H. Hamilton, said,
"I know it is fashionable to decry government, but I don't think I would want to live in or under a government marked by mediocrity.
People often say to me, 'Just get government off my back.' They say that-until a child dies from eating a tainted hamburger, or the earth cracks open and wreaks chaos, or until they want a bridge built, or the education of their children improved, or their
Just think what we depend on the government to do: to keep us safe in a dangerous world; to secure justice and domestic order; to maintain infrastructure and social services; to educate our children; to provide health care to a large segment of our population; and to solve a whole host of problems pressing upon us, such as drug abuse or the diminishing ozone layer.
I don't want second-rate people dealing with those problems. "
The principle of caveat emptor would seem to figure prominently in the logic of someone who disdains public service and public servants. If Prince's son were swimming in a neighbor's pool and if he were electrocuted because no inspector checked to see if the installation was in compliance with the state electrical code, I wonder if Prince would blame himself. But then, why would his kid swim in another's pool when the kid has an indoor Olympic size pool of his own?
Prince complied with the law by getting a permit to build the addition to his house. The cost of this project, he said, would be $10,000, and he paid the required application fee for a $10,000 project. It was a great deal for him, considering that his addition is a couple of thousand square feet, is enclosed by glass, has a roof that rolls back during good weather, two fireplaces and a wet bar. The assessor sees a $10,000 building project and looks no further in his assessment of Prince's property.
Prince has arranged for several acres adjacent to his village home to be forever wild. He will never be bothered by his neighbor's outdoor lights or hear their radios or hear children's skateboards bang-slapping on parking lot pavement because he has insulated himself from the zoning-law-free market development that he propounds.
Lee Hamilton, whom I'm beginning to see as my new hero, is quoted elsewhere (Why political virtue matters in the voting booth) as follows:
"Voters today might think of virtue in any number of ways: as moral probity, honesty, self-discipline, a sense of responsibility, and, of course, integrity. These are all qualities that citizens look for in their candidates, and understandably so. Yet the Founders had something even larger and more encompassing in mind when they talked about virtue. They were looking for a sense of civic self-sacrifice - the ability to overcome self-interest and act for the benefit of the broader community.
"There is nothing old-fashioned about 'virtue' when seen in that light. Our Republic functions best when it generates political leaders who are capable of setting aside their own desires for power or partisan domination or pecuniary self-interest. It suffers when our politicians are incapable of doing so."
We have a man who lies to avoid paying his fair share toward the support of his community, and we have a woman whose paycheck and job performance are public record, both of which have lately been hung on the community clothesline for wide and lengthy viewing.
Part of the earlier-quoted email exchange included this from Prince:
"I believe strongly that those who can must help those who can't. That does not mean that someone physically and mentally capable of working has the right to sit on their lazy ass, drinking beer, procreating with another lazy SOB breeding other lazy SOB's on mine or any other taxpayers' nickel."
A public servant’s job might or might not consist of moving piles of rocks from one place to another all day. A public servant’s job is to be available when the public needs him. Sometimes many people need him for several days in a row. Sometimes nobody needs him but they know where to find him. I am "physically and mentally capable of working," but Prince wants my income to go away. He disdains unemployed people, yet he advocates my unemployment. Do I not have the same right as he to honor my obligations to my family, my creditors, and my community by remaining employed?
Prince's income derives from state contracts. I pay the state taxes that pay the man who wants me unemployed. I feel unfortunate that I, his employer, cannot affect his income in as direct a way as he can affect mine.
Monday, March 2, 2009
Today we're buffeted by a storm that is more wind than snow, but there's enough of both for the police to have blocked the interstate eastbound beyond my home exit.
I have just time enough to get the soapstone stove heated through and then I'll turn it down and turn myself back toward work for an evening meeting. It would be a good night to curl up with a book and listen to the wind howling around the eaves, and I will do that as soon as I get home again.
I'll enjoy that coziness more now than I would have a week ago: a few days ago I heard and saw the first redwing blackbird of the season.
Sunday, March 1, 2009
I'd be grateful for a little bit of informed and civil Old Anger.