To tweeze or not to tweeze…

eyes-161265_640I always prided myself on eschewing the mainstream makeup wisdom that requires eyebrows to be neatly curved and well defined. There was also a time during my mis-spent youth when I refused to shave my legs and underarms.  It was the 60’s and social norms and expectations of all kinds were being questioned and tested, including those that defined proper womanhood during the 1950’s. Besides, the argument went, European women, who at that time seemed to occupy an exulted place in the average male’s pantheon of ideal woman, didn’t shave either–or at least that was the generally accepted information then.

I still don’t use makeup, much to the chagrin of my lovely daughter–an artist for whom all life is a canvas, including face, hair, clothing and accessories. Whenever I am going anywhere more classy than the local grocery store (believe me, the bar is not too high here), she offers to make up me!  I decline, not because she doesn’t do a good job, but because I just don’t feel like myself all dolled up like that!

As I grew older, I knew that physical changes were inevitable.  Wrinkles don’t bother me too much.  Minor flareups of arthritis are manageable. Other problems, which I am too polite to mention here, are annoying, but so far can be kept under reasonable control. Grey hair is a badge of survival. There are a few more serious issues to deal with, but I’m learning to minimize their effect on my health and emotional well-being.

cat-205651_640But those doggone bristly white hairs that have decided to populate my chin drive me to distraction. How I can be so calm about spinal stenosis which, let’s face it, could ultimately cripple me, but go over the edge at the sight of a few stray hairs, I have no clue. And, please, don’t let me get started about the ones that are dangling out of my nose.

I tell myself I shouldn’t sweat the small stuff or make mountains out of mole hills. I used to get impatient with older people, back when it wasn’t personal yet, if they would become agitated over some small detail, or irritated because of some minor change in routine.  But I understand more now.  Aging is a long, hard process of letting go, of health, friends, independence and ultimately everything.

It takes a lot of pluck to survive these golden years!  So if I want to be obsessive over a few stray hairs, just remember, I’m in charge of the tweezers, thank you very much!!

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Smart and Fashionable?

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It took me a couple of weeks to gather up the courage to participate in my first Silver Sneakers swimming pool exercise program. “Silver Sneakers” is a program provided by insurance companies that entitles senior citizens to go to classes at the numerous participating health clubs free of charge and without the necessity of joining that particular club. Some would say that this is evidence of kindness and generosity on the part of insurance companies.  I, however, think it is a great conspiracy to slash another excuse for not exercising off my list.

In any event, while recovering from a ruptured disc and the resultant nerve and strength problems in my right knee, I had gone to this health club pool during free periods and walked back and forth, doing a few gentle stretches to benefit my knee and back.  After I began to feel somewhat better and was able to walk less like Lurch and more like a dignified, although slightly lame, older woman, I convinced myself that driving 25 miles round trip to the nearest pool wasn’t a good idea because it increased my carbon footprint too much and I could put my footprints in the path around the field or on the street.  Of course, that would involve actually going outside and, you know, it’s been raining a lot and the black flies and ticks are waiting and the ground is uneven, which is really bad for someone with hip, back and knee problems.  (Anyone who thinks I may run out of excuses anytime soon does not know me well!)

In a moment of facing the truth about a week ago, I checked out the pool exercise classes at the club and made a pact with myself that today, June 6th at 9AM, I would be in that pool come hell or high water (pun intended).  And I was!!!

lake-constance-1937136_640My advance fears and expectations were typical of someone who has struggled all these years with weight and body image.  I knew for sure the following:

  • I would be the fattest person there.
  • I would be the most out of shape.
  • I would be the only weirdo who keeps her glasses on in the pool because she doesn’t like to squint and bump into people.
  • My bathing suit would be the least attractive and definitely not fashionable.
  • I would embarrass myself by leaving after 10 minutes.

I arrived in the pool early.  There were already at least 20 women chatting away in various groupings like old friends.  Many of them smiled or said hello to me as they maneuvered their way toward people they already knew. Not knowing anyone, I used the time to check out some of my fears and advance assumptions.

  • I was not the fattest person there.  There were people of all sizes and shapes, and it didn’t seem to matter where I fall on that useless judgmental scale.
  • I wasn’t the most out of shape.  It’s hard to determine where on that useless judgmental scale I fall, either.
  • For a while I was the only weirdo with glasses on, but nobody put themselves in danger of drowning by falling down in hysterics over it.  Then another person descended the steps with her glasses on, and then another, and another.  Four weirdos in one place means we are no longer weirdos!
  • There were all kinds of bathing suits, most of them more or less like mine.

I was feeling pretty confident. More people joined the group, until there were about 30 of us. As each one entered the pool I wondered if she were the instructor.

Then a clearly out-of-place woman entered the pool area.  She was YOUNG, TALL, and BUFF!  Her black exercise pants were painted on her long, lithe legs and skinny little butt.  Surely, I thought to myself, she is just passing through.  But no, you guessed it, that was the instructor.  She plugged in her music and started yelling:  “Jog, move to the right, move to the left, jog, turn right, turn right, turn right, move forward, move back, march, turn left, turn left, turn left, jog, jog, jog.”

beach-1295588_640The lady next to me sidled over, introduced herself and asked if I was new to the group. She told me she comes regularly and she really likes the instructor.  We exchanged a few words about arthritis, which is sort of like the weather as a conversation starter for me now. Looking around at the pool full of senior citizens, I realized that few of us were doing the same moves as that manic young person standing above us yelling like a Drill Sargent on steroids.  Many were talking to each other and just halfheartedly moving more or less in time to the music.  But moving!!

I wasn’t embarrassed, didn’t feel fat, ugly, or out of shape.  Yes, I know that according to some judgment scales I may be.  But you know what?  Being natty, cool or fashionable is not so important any more.  What is?  Being nice, friendly, and tolerant of my own and other people’s shortcomings.  Gathering the courage to step out of my comfort zone and realizing that most people are doing the same.  Noticing when someone is alone and smiling and saying hello in welcome.

A few women left after 20 minutes.  I made it to 35, and plan to go back on Thursday.

 

 

 

If I am Right, Do You Have to Be Wrong?

A recent post by Dwight Welch on religious pluralism, in which he described his experience at a symposium on that subject, initiated a period of intense thinking for me. Initially I planned to “like” the post and make a comment on the site, but I am someone who likes to cogitate, ruminate, and argue with herself for days on end before writing about anything important.  When his post and the comments he received combined with the spiritual intensity of Passover, my thinking on this subject grew into its own post!

The defense of religious truth has certainly caused immense human suffering.  With perhaps a few exceptions, most religious groups have been both the victims and the perpetrators of spiritual and physical violence and destruction during different periods of human history.  It has always been unfathomable to me how inflicting suffering and death on “others” can be justified in the name of providing them with the benefits of the truth as perceived by the perpetrators, especially when that “truth” is expressed in concepts of justice, compassion and righteousness.

Perhaps at least one of the core issues here is that we humans tend to see the world as having only two possibilities:  right or wrong, day or night, light or dark, you or me. Whether this is an innate tendency or not isn’t something that I am qualified to determine.  But operating under this world view requires that in order for me to be right, you must be wrong.  This viewpoint invariably creates problems, whether at the level of individual interactions within our families and neighborhoods or on national and international levels.

The question of what is ethical or moral behavior and whether the existence of divine power is necessary to enforce that behavior is a complicated one.  Those who favor traditional forms of religious and spiritual belief and ritual argue that these forms are necessary in order to define and enforce morality.  Otherwise, what would make my definition of ethical behavior any more compelling than yours?  It’s an appealing argument.  But there are many people who do not buy into traditional forms of religious belief, yet are still kind and ethical people in their outlook and behavior in the world. That is a compelling argument for the opposite position.

Recently there has been discussion among physicists about the possibility of parallel universes–that there may actually be universes other than our own and to which we have no direct access.  If so, “reality” and “truth” in those universes could be entirely different.  Could there potentially be truths in those universes that are opposite of what we see?  It’s mind boggling and somewhat scary to think so, but even if it isn’t true or possible, it exercises our limited outlooks by thinking about it.

Not too long ago a pair of friendly and polite young men knocked on my door.  While this does not happen frequently, it isn’t the first time that people who are easily identifiable as missionaries have appeared at my home.  I used to feel annoyed and struggled to be polite to them, or on occasion reverted to the ploy of pretending no one was at home. But as I have become more secure and confident in my own particular spiritual outlook toward the world, I have realized that they are living out what they perceive as their religious duty, just as I strive to live out what I see as my religious duty–though it certainly differs from theirs.  As long as they are not going to engage in harmful acts or spiritual bullying, I now smile and thank them politely and then say “no thank you.” The fact that they feel it is their spiritual duty to promote their view of salvation, and may indeed think they are saving me from eternal damnation, does not in any way diminish the validity of my spiritual construct or deny the reality of what I believe to be true.

I do not think it is a question of deciding whose truth is right, and therefore makes all other religious formulations false.  The divine presence is ultimately vast enough to encompass all of the various ways that human beings struggle to answer the questions that come with being human and mortal. What is the meaning of life? Why do good people suffer? How do we respond to violence and hatred? Why is the distribution of wealth, health and opportunity so unequal?  And perhaps the most difficult question: How do we face the loss of loved ones and our own physical aging and death? elegant-1769669_640

In the end, this is what I believe.  If there really exists a divine entity that we call God, who created an infinite, complex universe(s?), populated by thinking, creating, complex humans (made in God’s image), who see the world in so many different ways, is it in any way reasonable to think that there is only one true way to picture that entity, and only one pathway to bring that divine presence into the world?

A life in the color of dreams.

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When I was 10, I dreamed of being a nurse.  The dream was pale in hue, a light sterile green, because that was the color of hospital walls then and I didn’t know any better.  But I was told, by someone who thought she was being kind and giving me good advice, that I should be a doctor because they made more money, and although she didn’t say directly–they have more status and are more important.  So the green became darker and bolder, because it now represented money.

By 15 I dreamed of just making it through high school and getting into college.  My dreams were darker, hospitable to those things that are not invited, but still arrive in the night.  I was really terrible at science.  I no longer dreamed of being a nurse or a doctor.  heart-1899822_640

At 20 I dreamed of being accepted, part of the cool girls clique at college.  The dream was in reds, not the bold hue of an “arrest-me-red” sports car, but a pale, pale red, of blushing, hesitancy, uncertainty, an appropriate female-type red.  I knew I wasn’t cool.

At 25 I dreamed in grays and pinstripes, classic colors for office girl attire; living on my own, keeping company with loneliness; longing for brighter hues and vibrant colors for my dreams.

beautiful-909553_640At 30, I dreamed of a white wedding dress that I wasn’t sure I would ever wear and the red of valentine hearts from someone I probably would never meet.

At 35 I met the someone and got the dress and began to dream in the daytime, because  being in relationship can often be so much more difficult than being lonely.

At 40 I dreamed in pink and blue, for the children of my dreams who were never there in the morning.  When we finally became a family, just not in the way we had originally expected, my dreams for them came in all the colors of the rainbow.

fairy-2164589_640At 50 I fell in love with the poem about wearing more purple and a red hat when I was old, but 50 is not old and I hadn’t started to dream old lady dreams yet.  But I resolved that when I did, my dreams would be in purple.

At 60 I made peace with the fact that I do not look so good in a red hat and that purple clothes designed for “mature” ladies are not so much to my liking.

At 70 my dreams are finally colored in peacefulness and serenity; in kindness and compassion; in blessing and love that, despite its fragile nature, can change the world. This is one of the surprising gifts that has come to me as I have learned to make peace with aging and its inevitable flow toward the end.  I will dream this way for the rest of my life.

Seagull Sunset

 

 

 

Riding the Medical Merry-go-Round

Spending a major portion of 2016 dealing with some major health issues, my life was consumed with frequent PCP appointments, numerous tests, consultations with several specialists, day surgery, and physical therapy, as well as attending to some on-going, but not life-threatening, conditions that need regular maintenance.

My usual fall-back position in dealing with stressful emotional and physical situations is humor. I like to poke fun at myself and the funny but mostly ineffective ways that we humans try to deny, spin, and re-shape reality when facing some of the less wonderful parts of life. I don’t know if laughter is the best medicine, but it certainly is a good one.

After all of the general practitioners, specialists, physical therapists and nurses had contributed their expertise and advice, it was all crystal clear:

The urologist says I must drink copious amounts of water to keep things circulating in my kidneys. The three large kidney stones will be removed surgically, but that can’t be done until the fluid building up in my lungs is resolved. That fluid is likely a result of the fact that one of the stones is blocking the exit from my kidney, and will continue to do so until the surgery is performed. That surgery can’t be done until a cardiologist has given the okay! The fluid has put strain on my heart, so my cardiologist has advised me not to drink too much liquid.  

In the meantime, the arthritis in my spine decided on an advance attack. I won’t elaborate on the pain involved in a ruptured disc, but humor made a speed-of-light exit from the room due to the loud screaming. Fortunately I had some serious pain medication prescribed by the urologist, which is what bought him my forgiveness for cancelling the surgery until further notice.

After crawling to the sofa and a short nap, my attempt to walk to the bathroom resulted in learning that my right knee no longer worked properly, buckling immediately and nearly dropping me to the floor. My husband helped me to the car and we headed to the health center, where he told me to stay in the car while he went to get a wheelchair. Of course, I listened to his good advice (as I always do). Instead of standing patiently by the car, I took a step. Hitting the pavement on my right knee would have resulted in a lot of additional pain except the aforementioned pain killers were still doing their job. X-rays determined that nothing was broken (except maybe my pride, but that’s a subject for a different post).

Obviously my spinal stenosis was getting worse. Now it was necessary to visit the specialist whom I had effectively avoided for almost a year because I am terrified of the idea of “spine surgery.” I know that Gronk survived it, but he is in a lot better physical shape and no doubt has much better health insurance. I’ll opt for additional physical therapy and humor.  (Okay, yes, and pain medication.)

There are many more gory details, but I’ll pass up the opportunity to continue my thinly disguised attempt to gather sympathy. Suffice it to say that the surgery was eventually done successfully and I am now free of kidney stones; I can drink the recommended amount of daily fluids (enough to float a small boat) without asking my heart to do any extra work; my right knee is still stiff, but I can walk and drive with minimal difficulty. This is all wonderful, but unfortunately I now have no more excuses to lay in bed all day reading, other than admitting that I am just lazy.

There are so many changes during this stage of life, necessary adaptations, facing whatever physical or mental decline may occur with as much dignity and grace as possible. Going through an intense period of medical issues and facing life’s inevitable major crises is difficult at any time, but now they contain an element of seriousness that was not present before. Laughing over the image of riding this medical merry-go-round, I still hear a small, scary voice asking “Is this going to be my last ride?”

And then there are the small, daily indignities, hints of more to come. The forgotten name, the morning stiffness, the digestive system that no longer handles things in the same way.  Those small things that happened to my mother as she aged, when I didn’t really understand that someday they would probably happen to me. Sure enough, yesterday I called the cat by my daughter’s name.  I laughed, because what else can I do?

Maybe labels would help.

                  CAT                                                           DAUGHTER              cat-300572_640  child-1721932_640

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Images thanks to Pixabay.

Am I Smarter Than My GPS?

 

student-315029_640I’m not sure if Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader? is still on television.  I haven’t seen it lately on my daily ring-around-the-channels game.   I don’t have cable service because  I had it once and quickly learned that my monthly financial layout just provided me with more options that I didn’t like.  So basically instead of having only 10 channels to choose from, I had 70, all of which played different versions of the same insipid nonsense. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to watching something insipid or mindless.  When Maury advertises his show by saying “You know you watch!” I look quickly around the room to be sure nobody is checking my reaction.  I’d just rather not pay for the privilege of wallowing in stupidity when I can just as effectively do it for free.

Somehow I digressed, which seems to occur with great frequency in the land of the golden years.  See, I’m doing it again.  Back to the subject at hand:  lately I have been questioning the “intelligence” of many of the items that we use on a daily basis, and to ask a similar question:  “Am I smarter than my GPS?”

new-york-286071_640Not long ago I drove into New York City. In no way did I expect this to be easy, and the route to my destination was fraught with construction, one-way streets, rude and ruthless drivers (don’t even get me started on that one), double-parked delivery trucks, idling taxis and pedestrians who clearly believe they possess a superpower that protects them from injury by moving vehicle.

This was just a one-day “in and out” trip, and I had no expectation that getting out of the city would be any easier.  I practiced deep breathing, anti-road-rage visualization and prepared for the worst.  Imagine my utter amazement when the route took me along a wide, lightly traveled (for NYC) and tree-lined boulevard, with reasonably polite drivers, no double-parked, over-sized moving trucks and pedestrians who actually used the crosswalks and waited for the light to change.  I don’t generally talk to inanimate objects, but made an exception since I was alone in the car.  I politely asked why my highly intelligent GPS didn’t manage be logical enough to use this nice route both times.  I may even have said something like, Na Na, I am SMARTER than YOU!

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It is common, I am sure, for people my age to have a love-hate relationship with cell phones, I-Pads, GPS, Siri and computers.  I vividly remember reading maps, knowing my own telephone number by heart, and getting weather reports by  actually stepping outside and looking around.  But now I have DEVICES that talk back to me and try to make me feel foolish and ignorant.    Wait, didn’t I have children for that?

 

 

Neither here nor there.

 

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This is the time of winter doldrums, when I would settle for any kind of warm. Unless you are a fan of winter sports, two feet of snow with more arriving daily is the time of “I have had it, get me out of here.”  As a woman of a certain age, shoveling is risky (heart), ice is trecherous (bad back and knee) and anything more than a gentle breeze is likely to knock me over.  The only kind of “activity” that seems safe is going into mental hibernation.

I am going into my cave to ponder what the word lukewarm has conjured up. It pretty much describes my approach to life, passive about what I don’t like, never angry, just not enthused.  It’s easy to stake out the middle ground all the time because nobody will get upset.  My mother’s voice: “It doesn’t do any good to get angry. Make peace.  Let him be the boss.”  I know this was the message she was given about a woman’s place, and she dutifully passed it on, not just in words, but in example. Eventually she began to see the futility of this position and once wrote me a letter apologizing.  She did not say so, because she was kind to a fault, but it was obvious that it had not served her well either.

There have been many times when frustration took over and my mouth has replaced my brain as the driver of the bus.  Those were not my proudest moments by a long shot and my family would assure me that as wife and mother I am the center that holds everyone else together. Okay, I know that I am the one who [is supposed to] knows where everything is kept, filed, scheduled and what the heck is in the back of the refrigerator.  I also know where you left your glasses/hat/I-phone and the remote control, but sorry, not your mind.

Living in the middle seems easy, but is ironically also difficult.  Because it is really nowhere.  It is not the same as being moderate or attempting to negotiate middle ground so that opposing positions can find a suitable compromise.  In the end, it never provides contentment or satisfaction at a job well done, because absolutely nothing has been done.

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I’m tired of being lukewarm.  I’m not sure where the hot water faucet is now if I ever knew, but am determined to find it.  It’s likely to be rusty, but so am I.  We’ll make a good team.