What Do Your Eyes Behold?

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“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”  That may be true, and there is certainly no one definition of beauty.  But the perception of beauty varies widely depending on the individual beholder, and the eye of the beholder is influenced by the prevailing social ideas about beauty, often with negative consequences for those whose beauty is being assessed.

What is beautiful is a question that has been answered in vastly different ways throughout history.  According to an article on the history of beauty standards, in ancient Egypt the ideal woman was slender with narrow shoulders, a high waist and symmetrical face, while in ancient Greece  she should be plump and full-bodied with light skin.  During the Italian Renaissance, ample bosoms, rounded stomach and full hips were beautiful, and in Victorian England, a woman should be plump and full-figured, but with a cinched waist.  By the time of the Roaring Twenties in the last century, the standard of beauty included a flat chest, short bob haircut and a boyish figure.

From there, standards went through increasingly rapid change.  In the 1950’s, the glamor of Hollywood actresses called for an hourglass figure, large breasts, and a slim waist.  The 1960’s required a thin, willowy, adolescent figure, which gave way in the 1980’s to the supermodel standard of a tall, curvy, but athletic body with seriously toned arms.  Since then, standards have gone from waif-like/androgynous and extremely thin with translucent skin, to healthy skinny, flat stomach, large breasts and butt, with the all-important thigh gap!

So what does this review of beauty standards have to do with me at this stage of my life?  Notice that nowhere in the perceptions of beauty listed above are these:  liver spots, wrinkles, puffy feet, prominent blue veins, or stray hairs sprouting from places they aren’t supposed to be.

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In the past several years, as I take on most of these beauty signs of aging, I have tried to celebrate them.  The first time I realized I had the hands of an old lady, I experienced a moment of sadness, but then remembered my mother’s hands that touched me gently and looked just like mine as she grew older.

These signs are proof that I have lived to an old age, something that is not guaranteed. For today, it is enough for me to be thankful that I have reached this time of life and that true beauty is intangible and not dependent on the eye of any beholder.

 

People are like stained-glass windows.  They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.  Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

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©Martha Hurwitz, 1/30/20

Living Until the Curtain Falls

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Newly retired and eager to prove that my life was still going to be useful and exciting, several years ago I set up my blog and named it “The Golden Years Revisited.” From the name it was obvious to me that I believed most of the myths about retirement and growing older.  In a youth-obsessed society with an evangelical belief in the powers of medicine and technology to delay or erase the natural progression of life, the images surrounding aging and being  “old” are pretty negative.  The most damaging message is that the right attitude (i.e., thinking young and following the example of those few exceptional seniors who never seem to get old) will delay aging, but once the battle is lost, you are irrelevant and useless, often even to people who love you, but definitely to society as a whole.

As an avid reader, I frequent our town library on a regular basis, and suffer anxiety whenever my unread book stack is down to one.  I always browse through the new acquisition section that is divided between fiction and non-fiction.  For most of my life, my choices were firmly in the fiction (escape) section.  Good escape fiction, of course, and hopefully thoughtful and pertinent to my own life, but fiction nonetheless.  I worked full time, was deeply immersed in the intense world of raising children and then helping them at a distance through the early years of adulthood.  I survived breast cancer and the deaths of both my parents.  I had all the non-fiction that I could handle.

Then I finally arrived at that golden shore of retirement.  I could read as much good fiction as I got my hands on and think of myself first in most situations.  I could be that woman who wears purple with a red hat and doesn’t care what people think.  Not that I was unaware of the realities of aging, but I come from a long line of strong and healthy women and I was sure it would be smooth sailing.  Eventually, of course, I would arrive in that amorphous stage of life when I would actually be OLD.  And that would be it, so to speak, even if I was still physically alive.

Something mysterious happened to my reading preferences.  I gravitated toward the non-fiction section.  I became obsessed with biographical and autobiographical stories.  I read books on politics that I would previously have dropped like a hot potato. I wanted more than ever to understand the world I live in and specifically the roots and consequences of the choices we make as individuals and a society.  Naturally the subject of aging was of paramount interest.  I know that I will never be president or live a fascinating life that someone will want to read about long after I am gone.  But I would get (and have finally gotten, I guess) to that place called Old.

I previously read “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande and am currently reading “Elderhood” by Louise Aronson.  They are both physicians who question the wisdom and approach of the medical establishment when working with older people and confronting death (at any age).  “Elderhood,” in particular has given me a veritable banquet of things to consider and ways to formulate my choices related to the medical establishment in the years to come.

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In September this year I will reach 75 years of age.  I do not want to buy into the myth that as long as I eat right, exercise, and do mental puzzles (though they are important), dye my hair or start wearing makeup to cover the wrinkles (not so important), I won’t actually die someday.  I want to celebrate this time in my life, not by trying to be one of those exceptional older people who run marathons (let’s face it, I never liked to run, not even when I was 20) but by finally learning to love myself and the place where each day takes me – closer to the end, yes, but anticipating one heck of a curtain call!

 

©Martha Hurwitz, 1/6/20

Temporal

Constant Friends

“I think you need a dog.”  My husband had just informed me somewhat sheepishly that he was considering getting me a puppy as a Mother’s Day present and there were a few possible candidates he was checking out on-line and wouldn’t I like to go see them, you know, just to look.  No pressure, no commitment, as if any dog lover could visit a pack of puppies and come away without one!  I could think of many things that I needed, but a puppy was not on the list.  Maybe an older dog.  A senior for seniors special.  A dog who like me had been around the block a few times.  But a puppy?

Dogs have been a part of my life since childhood, and while there were periods of time when I was dog-less, a fair number of my happiest years not to mention happiest relationships have been with members of the canine world.

Zanzibar Puppy

My husband and I had gotten a dog early in our relationship–a Golden Retriever named Zanzibar whose greatest joy in life was retrieving food handouts from the neighbors, and whose goofy behavior and happy-go-lucky personality graced our family life for 15 years.             Steve and Zanzibar

 

Then one morning he fell over on his side and by evening he had crossed over to wherever it is that dogs go to claim their well-deserved reward.

 

Lucy Puppy

Then there was Lucy.  Our children were ten and eight and it had been a year since Zanzibar died.  On impulse one day I took them to the local animal rescue and there in a cage was a white Shepherd/Lab puppy who looked at me with a calm dignity as if to signal that she had been waiting for just such a family to come take her home.  Lucy turned out to be one of the best dogs I have ever known, a combination of steadfast loyalty, pack instincts inherited from her wild ancestors, and playfulness that complimented that of two young children.  She lived 16 years and then her hind quarters began to weaken.  She was often unable to go to the bathroom without falling and she was clearly stressed at the frequent accidents she had in the house.  I was now faced with the decision that an animal lover dreads.  When is enough enough?  I was not unwilling to continue cleaning her after accidents or cleaning up the floor and carpets, but it was her obvious distress and discomfort that finally made me ask whether I was delaying the inevitable for her or for myself.

Lucy

It was two years before I could drive past the vet’s office without choking on tears and at bedtime I would gently touch the small cedar box containing her ashes as a talisman against whatever evil comes in the night.  Six years passed, and yet there were still times when I whispered my longing for her to return. Probably I would never live with another dog because in all fairness I did not want to burden a new dog with the expectation that she couldn’t possibly live up to my memories of Lucy.  My husband said he would never have another dog because the emotional investment was too intense and the inevitable end too painful.

But here he was with his Internet research, facts, figures, names and addresses.  I hemmed and hawed, perplexed at this development.  Despite my belief that I would never replace Lucy, there was always that small hope that someday I would find her spirit living in another dog.  But I was now happily retired and one of the biggest perks of retirement for me is that in the morning I can sit in bed as long as I want, sipping coffee, reading a book or just looking out the window at the hummingbirds, the budding apple trees, or the winter evergreens covered in snow.  An older dog would obviously require some pre-coffee attention in the morning.  But a puppy would mean a mad dash to the door at 5 AM, and at 72 years old, mad dashes hampered by arthritis, a slipped disk and a bad knee were something I thought it was prudent to avoid.

That afternoon when I returned from the grocery store, I was informed that we had an appointment to see one of the puppies the next day.  In his well-practiced and skilled way my husband downplayed the whole scenario by saying that he didn’t know if it was a legitimate offer, the ad was vague and confusing, he wasn’t really sure how much they wanted for the dog, so it probably wouldn’t work out anyway.  The owner lived almost two hours away in a large city with some really good restaurants.  My husband sweetened the pot with “What’s the worst that can happen?  At least we can get a really great Italian meal!”

It’s probably no surprise to anyone how all this played out.  We did have an excellent Italian meal, and then brought home 20 pounds of Black Lab puppy exuberance named Molly.  It’s been a mere three days and I am bleary-eyed and exhausted, an echo of those early motherhood days now long behind me.  I have survived several mad dashes in the middle of the night, cleaned up the usual puppy messes, rescued slippers in danger of extinction and suffered shock over the amount of money that we are already spending on one small creature.

Most people say that the best way to assess a situation is with your eyes wide open, and honestly I did do that three days ago.  But then, as every dog knows, sometimes it is better to keep your eyes tightly closed and your heart wide open.   Puppies will make you do that.

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©Martha Hurwitz, 5/19/19

 

 

 

Road Map

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Real Wrinkles

First, of course, there are the real ones.  Wrinkles on my face, wrinkles on my elbows, wrinkly skin on the backs of my hands, and wrinkles in numerous other bodily areas that I am too polite and lady-like to discuss in detail.  (You may discover this to be a blatant lie if you are kind enough to read further, so fair warning….)

dog-1721499_640.jpgPerhaps about 20 years ago, I naively thought that getting wrinkles on my face would mean crows feet around my eyes and maybe a few tiny lines here and there that would lend a certain dignity to my looks and convince people to treat me as a revered elder with  lots of sage advice to share.

I have always felt a great deal of pride (okay, a bit of snarky smugness) in not being overly concerned about looks, fashion, styles, driving an impressive automobile, or belonging to a prestigious country club.  So I was a bit surprised to find that looking into the mirror now requires me to engage in a pep talk to myself about how “wrinkles mean you laughed” and all that other touchy-feely, hippie philosophy that I used to subscribe to without reservation (or real-life experience).

But many wrinkles that aren’t physical arise during these golden years.

The Naming Wrinkle

What do I call myself?  What adjectives placed before “woman” characterize me now?  Old?  Sorry, don’t like that one.  Older? Not much of an improvement, and kind of vague.  Older than whom or what?  Senior?  That’s a little better, but sounds as if I’m about to graduate, and quite frankly, I’m not in a hurry to “graduate” from this time in my life because my next stop is probably the end of the line.  Elder? I do like the image gathered from cultures that hold older people in a more positive light, but it doesn’t really seem to fit here.  So this is still an unanswered question for me.  Maybe I’ll try Impatient older woman, left with only one nerve, upon which you are standing, so step lightly.  That would work most days!

The Time Wrinkle

phone-booth-295795_640Some days I do feel much like I stepped into a phone booth, made a short call, and then stepped out into a world where phone booths are seriously out of date.  Perhaps this phenomenon would be better described as a time warp.  Wikipedia defines time warp as “… an imaginary spatial distortion that allows time travel in fiction, or a hypothetical form of time dilation or contraction.”

The time distortions experienced during these years do seem to have some relationship to dilation, as any woman who has undergone a D&C can tell you.  (I warned you we might get back to bodily images!)  It may be temporary or, as one (male) doctor said to me once prior to doing the procedure:  “You may feel a little pinch!”  All I can say to that is “Pinch, my ass!”  These time warps and distortions are confusing, troubling, scary and they often hurt.  “Wasn’t it only yesterday ……?”  “Will  I live long enough to ……?”

The Communication Wrinkle

I am referring to the interesting phenomenon that happens with internal communication among the parts of the human body. One of the first posts I wrote about the physical changes of the older years explained how the different parts of my body no longer seemed to communicate effectively and now were like a dysfunctional family full of self-centered kids all clamoring for attention from a stressed out parent. It was a cute little fluff piece, written as I was getting my feet wet as a new writer.  Two years later, I can only say it is no longer cute and funny.

Take putting on socks, for example.  For those lucky enough to live in a nice warm climate, this may not seem like a big deal, but during a typical New England winter, let me assure you that several pairs of socks are often necessary (in the house).  Putting on socks is a simple task, is it not?  A toddler could do it.  True enough, but the toddler does not have to factor in a hip that refuses to assist the leg in lifting up the foot high enough so the hands can reach the toes.  Ignore this situation at your peril.  Straining to complete the task may eventually get socks onto your foot, but now your hip has alerted the muscles in your thigh that they are under attack and they better spasm up and man the barricades!  Staving off impending muscle cramps usually requires instantaneous change of position and to that I say, “Yeah, right, how does that work out for you?”

The Attitude Wrinkle

Although I am someone who generally sees the world from a positive perspective and tries hard to lighten the mood and laugh at difficulties and troubles, I find myself tempted frequently to slide into self-pity, irritation and sadness.  This time of life requires a great deal of fortitude and spiritual strength, even in the best of times.

In June of 2016, Huffington Post photographer Damon Dahlen took portraits of 14 women aged between 50 and 90 and in the accompanying article Shelley Emling said these women “roll their eyes at ageist (and sexist) standards of beauty. Rather than fight the inevitable effects of aging, they see the lines on their faces as a road map of their lives. They are the etchings of many years fully lived — and each and every one of them has been earned.”  To that I say “Amen!”

 

©Martha Hurwitz
3/16/2018

 

Promises, Promises

 

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Usually I start thinking about possible New Year’s resolutions right after Thanksgiving so I’ll be prepared, but I don’t have to take them seriously because any promises made right after a major holiday are null and void.  This applies to resolutions made before a major holiday, too, so between Halloween and New Year’s Day, I’m good.

Changes in behavior have to start on a Monday that falls on the first of the month, but only if the weather is nice and the moon is full.  That’s a known fact!  Otherwise, it’s okay to wait until the following month (or year, or holiday, or whenever).  January 1, 2018 would have been an awesome day to start those serious changes that I want to make.  It was not only a Monday, but the beginning of a month, the beginning of a brand new year, the weather was reasonably nice for New England this time of year, and the moon was full.

My motivation for not making  any specific resolutions was based on the fact that for most of my adult life I have listened to the fake newsreel in my head convincing me that “next Monday,” “next month,” “on my birthday,” “after the holiday,” definitely will change, and “this time it will really work.”  In the meantime, of course, it’s okay to continue the same behaviors, because changing any old time is just not possible!

As Dr. Phil always asks:  “How’s that working for you?”  Not so well would have to be my honest answer.  Barely a week into the New Year, and evidence is mounting that my decision not to make resolutions hasn’t worked any better than making them.  Clearly, I needed to reconsider and make at least a few serious resolutions.  But “which ones? how many? when do I start?  My head aches, I’ll think about that tomorrow.”  So imagine my excitement when I opened my news feed this morning to a New York Times article titled:  “9 Ways to Be a Better Person in 2018.”

“Here’s what we’ve learned about living your best life in 2018, using lessons from some of our most-read Styles stories of 2017.  We encourage you to be a better prepared, less anxious and more showered person in the new year. ”                                                                                                       Anya Strzemien, 12/28/17

Jackpot!!

  •  Make your bed.  I can do that.  Heck, I already do.  Check!
  • Wear weather appropriate shoes.  I do that, too.  What do I look SOREL Women's Caribou Boot Size 11 - Bufflike?  A high school student waiting for the bus in a snowstorm wearing flip flops?  Laugh at my big clunky Sorrel boots if you want to, but my feet are warm and dry.  Check!
  • Wash Your Hair.  Pretty sure I learned this one at an early age, but I guess it’s never a bad thing to include on a better person list.  Check!
  • Schedule Sex.  I know we are a nation of over-scheduled, multi-tasking, device-dependent maniacs.  But maybe a better idea than adding a sex appointment to your iPhone would be to let intimacy grow from the experience of being together sharing a quiet evening, and actually talking face-to-face.  Besides, SIRI does not want to know that you plan to do the deed on Saturday night.
  • Accept the things you cannot control.  As a philosophy this is a good idea.  However, I believe there are some things that should never be accepted, even if they are clearly not under my control.  Taking this one seriously involves self-understanding and discipline.  I am generally able to do this, but will keep working on it.  Check!
  • Distract yourself with a fairy tale.  I’ve done this too much in my life, so no check here.  It’s fine to indulge in some royal-watching or brief fantasies of winning the lottery, but I think I have to pass on this one as a way to become a better person.
  • grandma-2234070_640Embrace your age.  Absolutely, without a doubt.  I have earned every grey hair, every wrinkle.   Not too crazy about the arthritis, weakening eyes and ears, and other common problems of aging.  But it’s good to be here, no matter what shape I’m in.  Check, check and double check!
  • Pack condoms.  Seriously?  Doesn’t this belong in the scheduling section?  I was forced to go back and read the whole article to figure out the purpose of this one (beyond the obvious, that is).  Turns out it was one small item in a long article about survivalists preparing for an apocalypse.  Apparently condoms can be used (beyond the obvious) as “makeshift canteens, a fire starter, elastic bands for an improvised slingshot to hunt small game,…inflated they can also be used as fishing bobbers or signaling devices for semaphore,….”  Give me a break here.  Wouldn’t balloons do the trick?  Sorry, but this one sounds like that old excuse about buying Playboy to read the articles.  Yeah, right.
  • If you suffer a setback, just keep going–and going out.  This article was about Hillary Clinton and how she responded after her loss of the election in 2016.  Overall it’s a good philosophy, but needs to be put into context.  Some setbacks are serious and the old stiff-upper-lip response is not a healthy one.  Still, I’ll put a check here to keep myself from over-dramatizing small setbacks or using them as an excuse to postpone doing what needs to be done.

While commenting on this list was fun, I don’t believe that most of these items would make me, or anyone else, a better person. Perhaps more organized, or less anxious, or prepared for the Zombie Apocalypse!

Becoming a better person has much more to do with how we treat people (particularly those who are weak and dependent on the kindness of others), about the choices we make that affect the health and welfare of this planet and all the creatures who call it home, and in the way we engage with those whose backgrounds and beliefs differ from our own.

Instead of making the same recurring resolutions that I mostly don’t keep, I think I will just make a greater effort to live by those important values that make the world a better and safer place for everyone.

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©Martha Hurwitz, 1/6/18
Pictures from Pixabay

 

 

 

Lunching Through Life

I should probably drink a second mug of coffee prior to checking on the daily word prompt.  This morning I was convinced the subject was “lunch.” My morning read includes some of the responses from other bloggers, partly to get my brain cells firing, but also because I’ve discovered some interesting new blogs that way.

LurchImagine my surprise when confronted with this image:

Lately, I’ve been a bit uneasy when wanting to write more personal thoughts that might seem frivolous or insignificant.  It feels unseemly given the state of the world to write anything that isn’t serious and insightful regarding current events, or at the very least inspirational and encouraging.  I’m reminded of my mental and emotional conflict while in the initial grieving period after the deaths of my parents. I would find myself chuckling over a good joke or the antics of my children, or would realize I was mindlessly watching some sitcom and laughing at the inane and worn-out humor. But then my inner Emily Post would scold:  “Your mother died just two weeks ago, and you’re laughing?  Have some respect!!” I believe, however, that one powerful way to counter grief or the overwhelming negativity that characterizes so much of our current public discourse is to rejoice in our humor, our creativity, our shared human foibles and quirks and to give them full expression. So, I’m sticking with “lunch.”

brunch-154850_640When I retired a few years back, some friends told me “Now you can be one of the ‘ladies who lunch’.” Familiar with the song, I briefly thought they were predicting retirement would change me from a hard-working, sober woman into a booze-soaked slacker sliding off her bar stool at high noon.

person-1081159_640Surely they were joking, and what I have become is a better version of myself. I have learned to identify more clearly and speak more gently my own truths. I have been visited by dreams that were waiting patiently while I worked and married, raised children and grew older.

One of my youthful dreams was that I would someday be a female Hemingway (I’m pretty sure there is a bar stool somewhere in that scenario). I would live exuberantly as an ex-pat in Cuba or Greece (or some other not-Yankee American, exotic place), crafting powerfully written and wildly successful books that would take the world by storm.

Clearly that didn’t happen.  I made choices that took me down different roads.  But still, I have finally begun to write.  I don’t think any published author, dead or alive, is in much danger of serious competition from me.  But this is my version of ladies who lunch, and I am satisfied.

 

 

©Martha Hurwitz, 8/21/17

Inspired by Daily Word Prompt: lurch

 

 

 

 

 

Friends?

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I’m always very pleased to see that readers are checking my site even when I haven’t posted anything new for a while.  I used to try to follow the common advice about posting frequently–every day being the gold medal standard. Usually, though, I didn’t even earn a silver or bronze.  I come from a long line of tight-lipped Yankees, whose motto is “If you can’t improve on the silence, don’t break it!”  

There are clearly enough people around who have something to say about everything and anything on a daily basis, so I don’t feel much pressure any more to add to the incessant background noise of our modern lives.  Today, however, is an exception, thanks to my recurring irritation with devices.  To be more specific, it’s not really so much the devices themselves that irritate me, but the way whoever is in charge of this matrix tries to make me believe that they personally know me, really give a damn how I am, what I did 5 years ago, and whether I will remember to take my umbrella today because it’s going to rain.

Several years ago, when my brother was a newbie on Facebook, a pitiful message (cue the violins and break out the tissues) popped up on my news feed saying “Steve Crofter doesn’t have any friends.  Suggest friends for Steve!”  Let me set the record straight here. Steve Crofter has more friends than most people I know.  He makes friends with the mailman, the clerk at the local store, the curmudgeon next door and the recluse old lady who lives down the street.  He doesn’t have that many friends on Facebook because he’s busy making friends in real life and real time.

A few weeks ago, my morning started with another Facebook announcement:  (Cue the trumpets and give an enthusiastic drum roll, please…)

You and Steve Crofter have been friends for five years!!  

EXCUSE ME?????

Steve Crofter has been my youngest brother since 1953.  I wish I could claim that we have been friends for 64 years, but unfortunately my two brothers and I wasted time during our childhood years picking on each other and playing “two against one.” Thankfully, however, and due in large part to the fact that Steve is a natural-born peacemaker, in our adult years the three of us have become fast and loving friends.

Yesterday at 9:28 AM,a notice appeared on my Facebook feed that said:

“cultivatingdignity.com has 1 new post share and 1 new post like.”  

All day I basked in the happy knowledge that even when I wasn’t inspired to produce a wordy gem to post on my blog that due to the ever-present cyber world, I was still popular!!  So imagine my distress when checking Facebook (just one more time, honest) before going to bed, this notice slapped me in the face:

“cultivatingdignity.com didn’t get any new post shares or likes this week.”

Damn!!  Now rather than drifting blissfully to sleep, secure in the knowledge that my readers have not forgotten me, I have to toss and turn trying to figure out where things went wrong.  Maybe the Facebook week starts on Sunday evening, say around 8PM.  That would mean that the 1 new share and 1 new like were true last week, but so far nothing this week.  But that can’t be the case, because even if the week starts on Sunday night, surely they wouldn’t smack me down so quickly.  Wouldn’t they give me at least a few days to see if I can rise to the publishing standards I’m supposed to meet? Isn’t Facebook my friend?  Don’t they really care about me?  Isn’t that why they say good morning to me every day and warn me about the weather conditions I might have to face?

Look, even an old lady like me can appreciate the usefulness of Facebook and other social media.   It is a wonderful way to keep in touch with family and friends who live long distances away or to share news and information with many people without the necessity of making numerous phone calls.  I also know that it can provide critical information to people in times of political crisis or natural disasters.

Image result for man behind the curtain ozMaybe I am living in the past, but I am really irritated by this attempted personification of software and computer programs.  I never want to forget that friends are live human beings with whom I can have a conversation over a cup of tea, who can laugh with me when I am joyful and wipe my tears when life knocks me to the ground. And sorry, Facebook, no offense, but you are not my friend, and the man behind the curtain is not either.