Tuesday, August 29, 2017

ICING

And you may ask yourself, well
How did I get here?

                  -Talking Heads

        
         While swimming the other morning, I pondered the very young lifeguards (probably local community college students), and wondered what they make of the grey-haired swimmers who populate the pool most mornings.

         Given that 40-year-olds seemed impossibly old and barely worthy of my notice when I was 20, I imagine the lifeguards view us (who are well beyond 40) as ancient and not meriting a thought beyond making sure we don’t drown.

         I think about these young lifeguards as I prepare to travel east for my 50-year high-school reunion.  I will come back to the lifeguards in a moment, but allow me to first share my initial reaction to the notices I received about the reunion.

         Astonishment--plain and simple.

         Really? 

         Already?

         How did I get here?  How is it possible that I have a history that stretches back 50 years and more?  Where did the time go?  When I expressed this sentiment to a daughter recently, she insisted that I am still young, and kindly added that I look younger than I am. 

         I think she may have missed the point.  (How could she not?  She is 29).    

         Regardless of how I look or feel (fine, thank you), the years ahead are looking more finite.  When I was very young, the end of life was a distant fog.  I understood that it would come, but it was so far away—old age itself seemed so improbable--that it hardly warranted my attention.   

         In mid-life, I had young children and was too busy to think much about the end.  It was out there, but I had daughters to raise and a job to go to.    

         But now.  Now, I have reached the point where the end has weight and heft.  It is in sight.  It may not come for 30 more years – my family is long-lived – but it is clear that it will come. 

         I do not write about this because I am afraid.  I am not.  Nor am I unhappy.  I am just surprised.  Closely following upon my surprise is gratitude.  I am grateful to have made it this far -- I love my life.

         Here is what those young lifeguards can’t see and won’t know for a very long time.  We 60-somethings may not look like much, but my life and the lives of my friends are rich and full of meaning.

         And we have something those lifeguards don’t have. 

         We have time. 

         Does it seem odd that I say we have time right after saying that it has been 50 years since high school?  Well, of course, I don’t mean that we have endless years stretching ahead, but while those years last, we do have time.

         If we had kids, they are grown.  Most of us have seen our parents through their final years.  If we are fortunate, our 30- or 40- or 50-hour-a-week work is done.  We can now take up paid or volunteer work that feeds our souls. 

         We have time to do the things that we love.  To write or to garden or to paint. We have time to travel.  To read.  To take classes.

         For me, the two most precious things for which I have time are relationships and the causes that were given short shrift during mid-life.  I can hang out with friends or daughters or grandkids.  I have time to do things with my husband. And I am delighted to be able to devote time to the social justice activities that are dear to my heart.  

         When I retired, a friend said to me, “We have had our cake.  These years are the icing.”  So, I don’t envy those lifeguards their youth.  I had mine.  And I don’t mind that I am all but invisible to them.  I am too busy enjoying the icing, and I intend to continue to do so for as long as I am able.
          


Friday, July 14, 2017

FEET DON'T FAIL ME NOW!

         You know those memories that stick in your head for no apparent reason?  Today’s example is the clear echo in my mind of the words on Bruce (now Caitlin) Jenner’s T-shirt during the 1976 Olympic decathalon:  “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now!”

         Why would I remember such a thing, when I can’t remember what I did two days ago?  Perhaps it is the boot I have been hobbling around in for almost five weeks that has jarred loose this memory.

        

         Yes, dear reader, I have injured my Achilles Tendon, and after months of stretching, icing, resting, and PT-ing, I am now in a boot that is supposed to immobilize the tendon so that it may heal. 

         May it be so.

         It is not, however, the boot, the tendon, or even Jenner, that I wish to talk about here.  (Although I do want to mention that it was rude of the podiatrist to opine that I have a “disorganized tendon.”)

         What I want to address here is the seemingly mundane subject of feet themselves. 

         Why feet?  No, I haven’t run out of more interesting topics.  I just think (at this moment when one of mine is not working as it should) that it’s time to give feet their due.  

         Feet, of course, keep us upright and mobile.  They allow us rise from sitting, to stand, to balance, to walk, to run, to dance, to hike, to climb stairs and mountains.  They are, in short, indispensable to ease of living, as I am now only too well aware. 

         Still it is not their everyday heroics that I want to write about here.  I instead wish to describe two ways in which our feet can keep us from losing our way – metaphorically that is, not while hiking. 

         1.      Our feet remind us that we are embodied.

         We human beings often forget that we are embodied, that we are in fact creatures -- animals.  It is so easy for us to live in, and rely upon, our heads alone and to believe that we are different from other embodied beings. 

         Nothing brings me out of this delusion faster than taking a good look at my feet.  Try it yourself the next time you are in the shower. Is there anything more creaturely than a foot?
          
          You can paint the nails.  You can admire a slim ankle.  But, come on. Take a really good look.  Stare at them for a while. 

         Yep.  You are an animal.
        
         Periodically spending some time with this knowledge is a good way to deflate the ego and remember that we are part of, and dependent upon, an intricate web of other beings.  Whereas, living in the head alone can lead to anxiety and a feeling of separation from the rest of creation.

         When we come back into our bodies and really abide there, instead of treating them as nothing more than conveyances for our brains, we experience life differently.  I don’t know about you, but when I am fully in my body, I am more open to intuition.  I experience, and am able to better regulate, my emotions.  My ego quiets.

         And moving my body calms and centers me.  A solitary walk or swim or bike ride can settle an unquiet mind.  A half an hour of yoga can bring body and mind into balance. 
        

         2.      Our feet remind us to stay grounded.

         Our feet literally connect us to the ground as we move through our days.  And they can remind us to stay emotionally and spiritually grounded. 

         Every morning I stand in front of my bedroom window and do the yoga tree pose.     

(No that isn’t me – it someone younger and more coordinated, but it’s a good illustration.)

         Outside my window, is a giant Douglas Fir.  I stand in front of its trunk and feel my foot connecting with the floor, while picturing the tree’s roots connecting to the earth.  After switching feet, I take a moment to remember to ground myself in the earth and in what is important to me.  

         On a good day, this helps me to keep from losing my way in the thicket of information, noise, and obligations that obscures my path. It just might work for you too.

         So, please don’t wait for your feet to fail you.  Take a good look at them, and let them remind you to live in your body as well as your brain. And if they are working well, appreciate them and notice how they ground you as you move forward through your days.






Tuesday, May 23, 2017

THE ROAD NOT TAKEN


    Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
    And sorry I could not travel both
    And be one traveler, long I stood
    And looked down one as far as I could
    To where it bent in the undergrowth;

    Then took the other, as just as fair,
    And having perhaps the better claim,
    Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
   
    * * * * *
    Oh, I kept the first for another day!
    Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
    I doubted if I should ever come back.

* * * * *
                                    - Robert Frost


            A while back, I was talking with an old friend on the phone when she mentioned that one of the characters on a popular TV show looked like me.  I was flattered, but puzzled.  Why was she seeing me in an actress over 30 years my junior?

         And then it dawned on me – my friend, who lives 3000 miles from me, still pictures me as I was not just 30 years, but, if truth be told, 40 years ago.  Sure, we have seen each other every couple of years since I moved away from New Jersey, the place where our friendship began, but her enduring image of me is apparently carried forth from the few years in our late teens and early twenties when we developed our friendship and shared our lives. 

         I miss her.   

         I am well aware of all that I gained by moving to the Pacific Northwest over 40 years ago.  The benefits have been varied and many.   I live in an area of unmatched natural beauty.  I met my husband here, as well as the former husband who is the father of my fabulous daughters, and this was a great place to raise those daughters. I have developed deep and life-affirming friendships.  In truth, I believe that, for a number of reasons that I need not go into here, I had to move away to grow into my authentic self. 

         And yet.

         And yet, as I grow older I begin to understand that my decision to move so far away from where I started was not without cost.  Certainly when I moved west at age 25, I was not, in Frost’s words, “sorry I could not travel both.”  I was ready to move far away.  It is also true that, although I did not leave with the idea of staying forever—it was only going to be for a few years while I went to school, I have never gone back, except to visit. 

         Yesterday, while listening to Carole King’s song, So Far Away, I thought to myself, "Isn't that the truth.  No one stays in one place anymore." Then it occurred to me that I had no cause to complain, given that it was I, not my friends or family, who had moved so far away.  My temporary move west had somehow turned into a lifetime as I put down roots, made friends, and learned to love this place.

         And so, 40 years on, I pause to contemplate what I left behind.  There is family, of course—my brothers live in New Jersey and Florida.  And then there are the handful of east-coast friends who remain dear to me, despite my seeing them only infrequently.  For a long time, the distance did not feel terribly daunting.  There were visits and, in the early days, letters and infrequent phone calls, and then, with the advent of cell phones, more frequent phone calls, and, most recently, Skype and Facetime talks.  As the years pass, though, I feel the distance more keenly.  I realized during my last two trips east, where years of updates were packed into days, what a loss it has been not to have had these friends and family members close by as I have made way through adulthood.  And it also crossed my mind that the day will come when long plane trips will become more difficult or even impossible.    

         So this has been the cost of the move that has otherwise been good for me in every way -- my geographical distance from family and friends.  My older brother is the only living person who has known me since I was born, and he and my younger brother are the only living people who shared my family of origin with me.  No one else has those memories—both good and bad.  

         And then there is the loss of proximity to my oldest friends.  The one who has known me since we were seven.  The one I have known since junior high.  The ones I met in my late teens and early 20s.  Some of my current friends have known me for a very long time.  These are the friends with whom I shared my entry into adulthood, the childrearing years, the working years, and with whom I will share whatever it is that lies ahead.  If I had not moved west, these friends would not grace my life.  I love them, and cannot imagine my life without these friendships.

         Still, we do not replace friends, we just add to them.  As the years have passed I have come to value those who knew me when I was a girl and a very young adult.  We shared the years when everything lay ahead of us, the years of riding bikes around the neighborhood and talking about boys, the years when everything looked shiny and new.  We shared the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Beatles.  The Kennedy assassinations and the moon landing.  And for the continued sharing of that history with friends so far away, I am forever grateful.  

         So, thank you to the friend who was able to see the long-ago me in a young actress.  And thank you to all of the friends, both old and new, who have seen, and continue to see, me through. 

         I am truly blessed. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

JOY IN DARK TIMES


         My parents were married during a world war, a war where bombs were dropped on their city.  With WWII now a matter for the history books, it is easy to forget that in 1943, my parents did not know how the war would end.  They married anyway.  I trust that they felt joy on their wedding day.     

         I am thinking about this now because on November 8, a quarter of my fellow citizens elected a president who, for me, represents the opposite of all that this country stands for, signaling for me a dark, uncertain, and frightening time, and on November 23, my daughter, Anne, married her sweetheart in my living room.  Her father (my former husband) and I performed the ceremony.  Her sister and a cousin and their husbands, as well as my current husband, were in attendance.  It was a joyous occasion.

         In the aftermath of these two events, I have struggled to hold my joy and fear at the same time.  I have wondered if it is fair for me to feel such joy when others are so afraid.  And I have concluded that it is not only fair, it is necessary. 

         Here I pause to make a distinction between seeking escape from what is real and embracing moments of joy.  Me binge-watching House is escape.  Me playing with granddaughters is joy.  The distinction may seem obscure, so I will attempt to illuminate the distinction by borrowing these words from the poet, William Stafford:

         Your life you live by the light you find
         and follow it on as well as you can,
         carrying through darkness wherever you go
         your one little fire that will start again.

         Moments of joy—my daughter’s wedding, watching a granddaughter twirl around in her new tutu—remind me of what is important, remind me of what is worth fighting for, of what is at stake.  They energize me.  In Stafford’s words, they restart my fire.      

         My attempts at escape, on the other hand, are engaging in the moment, but ultimately leave me feeling heavy and lethargic. They do nothing to help me to feel empowered.  I do not pretend that I will cease to look for escape, but I am trying to keep from giving it a central place in my life.    

           My parents did what they could during WWII.  My father built ships for the war effort; my mother joined the Women’s Forestry Service.  And it feels important for me to do what I can now, to pay attention to what is happening in Washington D.C. (or, for the moment, New York).  It feels important to figure out how to make my voice heard when rights are threatened, and to be present for those who are rightly afraid for their personal safety now that certain portions of our population feel free to express their hatred through ugly words or violence.    

         So, I will continue to give money to organizations that safeguard civil and human rights.  I will keep my Senators and Congresswoman on speed dial.  I will be alert for opportunities to reassure those who feel threatened. 

         I will try not to let fear still my voice. 

         And I will remember that WWII ended, that my parents went on to raise three children, one born during the war.  We do not know for certain what the next four years will bring, but we can vow to resist those who would endanger our future, and we can use our moments of joy to feed the flame of our resistance.

         May it be so.

































Wednesday, November 2, 2016

TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME (or how I learned to stop resisting and embrace baseball)

       This one is for Bill.


         When my husband and I joined our lives 12 years ago, he brought to the marriage three adult sons, one grandchild (to be joined by four more over the ensuing years), a gazillion boxes of books, and a love of baseball.

         I quickly came to love the sons and their families. 

         And I made room for many of the books among my own large collection.

         Baseball, however, was another story.  Making my peace with that one has been the work of years.

         Perhaps my backstory will help to explain my resistance. 

         Except for the occasional childhood game of stickball in the street and some mandatory games of basketball and field hockey in high-school gym class, I have never played a team sport.  There weren’t organized leagues for girls when I was young, and, in truth, I probably wouldn’t have been interested.  I spent most of my girlhood with my nose in a book or running around with my friends, playing games involving imaginary characters.  There was lots of built-in walking and bike-riding in those days of free-range children, but not many adult-organized sports outside of Little League, which was still a boys-only activity.  And as an adult, I’ve been more of a walking, swimming, yoga-izing type of exerciser. 

         And then there is this:  I was born without a sports-watching gene.  Sure, I went to some football games in high school.  It was nice to be outside with my friends in the autumn, but I didn’t pay much attention to the game and never learned the rules.  I also went to some basketball games in high school and even pretty much caught onto the rules.     

         And that, with the exception of some excitement the year the Trailblazers won the NBA championship (1977) and a couple of years cheering for a daughter’s volley ball team, pretty much describes the extent of my sports fandom.

           So, there I was 12 years ago, blissful in my sports-free world, cheerfully unable to follow the constant talk of teams and their wins and losses at my work place, scornful of those who wasted hours of their lives in darkened bars and family rooms screaming at and for their favorite teams, when baseball walked into my life and demanded my attention.   
  
         Mind you, I wasn’t introduced to the world of baseball by just anyone.  The man with whom I had cast my lot wasn’t just a baseball fan.  He was a rabid and perpetually disappointed fan of the Chicago Cubs, the team, as I was to learn, with the longest play-off losing streak in the history of baseball.  I had married a man who had listened to the Cubs on the radio as a child in Indianapolis (a city without a major league baseball team), and who had spent the decades since dreaming of the day when they would play in the World Series, something that hadn’t happened since 1945, when, sadly, they lost.   

         What was I to do?  I didn’t care about baseball; when I was a kid, my best friend’s dad used to watch the game and it looked really boring to me.  Still, I felt fortunate that I hadn’t married a man who spent the better part of  every week watching ESPN.  We didn’t even have ESPN – still don’t.  The least I could do was look into this baseball thing that was so important to him and only really occupied him during the play-offs.

         So, after we were married, I started watching the World Series with him each year.  Not every game and not every inning of those games that I did watch.  But I hung out with him and I learned a few things, such as:  The game is mostly about the pitching.  Who knew?  I would have thought, if I had thought about it at all, that it was all about the hitting. 

         And then, 2016 rolled around and there were rumblings that this was the year, the year the Cubs would finally make it to the Series.  And I watched my husband grow cautiously hopeful.  I watched some play-off games with him.  I even texted my excitement to a sports-loving friend as the Cubs looked like they would win the pennant.  Yes, I, Ms. I-don’t-care-about-sports, was excited, drawn in by the Cubbies’ mystique. 

         I found out that watching baseball could be—dare I say it?—fun, not to mention a great distraction from a long and ugly political season.  

         And then, the remarkable, the almost unprecedented – the Cubs in the World Series.  And I folded.  The tension was too much.  I kept leaving the room, rather than watch as the Cubs snatched defeat from the jaws of success again and again.  They would break Bill’s heart.  I couldn’t bear to watch.

         Except.  It wasn’t over.

         They came back.  Back from a 3–1 game deficit.  Winning first one game.  And then another.  And then . . .

         (Here is where I stopped writing to watch the seventh game.)

         You know the ending.  You know (unless you have been living under a rock) that the Cubs ended their 108-year World Series drought tonight.
 
         And, yes, it’s only a game.  A game that will make the players and their handlers and coaches rich whether or not they win.  It will not end world hunger or solve the problems of humankind.  But it was fun to root for the underdogs, even if I accidently called a “full count” a “full house,” and referred to “overtime” instead of “extra innings.” 

         It is good to watch people do something at which they are excellent.  It is good to see success where success has been delayed.  And if we elect our first female President during the same week that the Cubs won the Series, who knows what else might be possible.