More July 4th illuminations

My 4th was filled with unexpected illuminations, of the personal kind.  Stunned to hear two friends, both in their sixties, discussing risk of dementia, worried about the potential of being a burden on their children.  In their sixties!

The biggest surprise on the 4th was discovering that someone I’ve long turned to for clarity about & a more tender perspective on my complex & frustrating sister is & has been for lo these many year engulfed with anger at her for not being what my friend felt/feels I deserved.  Her ire seems especially stirred by Mim’s lack of kindness towards me.

How could Mim be kind toward me?  She held a deep distrust of kindness.  To her dying day, she held any kindly action toward herself as suspect, totally – and I mean COMPLETELY – rejecting its sincerity.

The depth of my friend’s outrage over the perceived injustice blew me away.  How had I missed it?  Small wonder it took me so long to step far enough away from my confusion & heartbreak to get a clearer picture of Mim’s unhappiness.  Never suspected that the “wise woman” to whom I turned for decades to help gain clearer sight was clouded by her emotions!

Two days later, it still astounds me.  She wouldn’t allow me to say a word in Mim’s defense.  “She should have been there for you!

None of it made sense to me, until I remembered how close she is to her own baby sis, a naturally tight bond made snugger tighter when their father died when way too young.

Perhaps it’s as simple as my friend’s horror at life without the love & constant support of a sister.

Was also taken unawares by her statement –  “All you wanted was to love & be loved!”  – which made me realize how forcefully she was projecting her feelings onto me.

Yes, I thrive on loving, on being a friend, on providing support when I can, on being present.  But since I never experienced the same in return, expecting it never occurred to me.  The very thing that’s an essential nutrient for her wasn’t missed by me.  But it was clearly on my radar, since I embraced it fully when John showed up.  But expect it from my family?  Nope.

How could someone I thought was so wise – infinitely wiser, more experienced in the ways of family & relationship than I – be so shut down in her opinion of a tortured heart?  Am still shaken by July 4th’s unexpected, unimaginable illuminations.

Play as an Rx against loneliness

Am jazzed beyond imagination by an article by the great Jane Brody in today’s NY Times that lead me to an earlier opinion piece in the Boston Globe by Jeremy Noble & Michelle Williams.  Both speak directly to my current across-the-age-spectrum playfulness work.

As a society, we thrive when we are connected. Strong social bonds play a causal role in long-term health and well-being. Social connections, in a very real way, are keys to happiness and health.

The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health. Taking care of your body is important but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too,” said Dr. Robert Waldinger, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, an ongoing research project since 1938.” 

 

As a nation – world – increasingly oppressed by a mounting wave of chronic depression anxiety unhappiness, how do we combat the two chief culprits:  loneliness & isolation?

First off, what are they?  Social isolation is defined by researchers as something with objective, measurable markers such as living alone, lacking a social network & regular ties to other people.  Loneliness is harder to measure – it’s more subjective, something we perceive & feel, a sadness over a lack of desired social connections, companionship, close connection.  Social isolation often leads to a sense of loneliness, but being alone often does NOT.

Who’s affected by the emotional fall-out of isolation & loneliness?  Over 1/3 of American adults, with another 65% reporting feeling seriously lonely some of the time.  Yikes!  Current research pegs the toxic effects of the two as matching obesity, alcohol abuse & smoking 15 cigarettes a day as health risk factors, upping the chance of an early death by a whopping 30%.  And the internet, which most people think of as a communication tool, more typically increases both – ironically, heavy use of social media more often lead away from engagement connection happiness to increased feelings of loneliness depression anxiety.

As a society, we thrive when we are connected. Strong social bonds play a causal role in long-term health and well-being. Social connections, in a very real way, are keys to happiness and health.

And what combats depression loneliness isolation?  a sense of PLAY!  The too-often overlooked power & importance of PLAY is at the root of the connect creatively monthly discussion circles I’m kicking off tomorrow at Be Well, turning The Hive into a play pen as we toss around Stuart Brown’s thought that the opposite of depression is… natural PLAY!

Taking a moment to express my heartfelt thanks to & gratitude of an abundantly generous & awesomely present Universe, an invaluable partner & inspiring side kick in the work before us (aka my John et moi), for two great articles that showed up in my cosmic news feed JUST in time to include them in tomorrow night’s premiere Bodacious Building Blocks – connecting creatively  back & forth.  Was excited before, beyond zoomed now!  For a over-the-top unimaginable connection between Stuart Brown & Adam Steltzner’s JPL.  Freakishly fabulous!

“I don’t think it is too much to say that play can save your life. It certainly has salvaged mine. Life without play is a grinding, mechanical existence organized around doing the things necessary for survival. Play is the stick that stirs the drink. It is the basis of all art, games, books, sports, movies, fashion, fun, and wonder—in short, the basis of what we think of as civilization. Play is the vital essence of life. It is what makes life lively.”   ~Stuart Brown ~ 

Death loosens its spectral grip

No, am NOT getting kick backs from the NY Times for leading my readers to its articles!  Can’t be helped, with some of the best writers on living expansively issues on staff.  All hail Paula Span & John Leland, with a special place in my heart for two Janes –  Gross & Brody!

Going analog – at home – is a whole new world for me, especially on the weekends, when our local libraries cut back the amount of time someone can fritter… I mean spend on their computers.  Assigned 40 minutes yesterday, so didn’t dig deeply enough into my digital subscription to find John’s article on America’s changing attitudes toward death.  Praise be, he has a dandy short piece in today’s issue, spotted while perusing the print edition this a.m. at Be Well, my beloved café/away-from-home office.

In Sunday’s lengthier piece, John discussed attending Shatzi Weisberger’s FUN-eral.  As the 88-year old former nurse explained,  “I have been studying and learning about death and dying, and I want to tell people what I’ve learned.  Some people are coming because they love me, and some people are coming because they’re curious about what the hell it’s about.”

John was there because covering a revamped/revitalized funeral was a natural build on three years of becoming friends with & writing about a variety of seriously-old (85+) New Yorkers.

The centerpiece of the standing room only party, held in the commons room of her Upper West Side apartment?  A biodegradable cardboard coffin on which enthusiastic guests were writing greetings, from  “Go Shatzi! (but not literally)” to “Shatzi, many happy returns … as trees, as bumble bees, as many happy memories.”

At 88, Shatzi has become a prominent voice in the “positive death movement.”  My heart leapt at the description – didn’t know there was a movement to describe what I experienced seventeen years ago with Mom, three years ago with my sister Mim & even with Dad, who died in 1973 before the first wave of integrating more humanity into death & dying yet still held a remarkable attitude toward what he was experiencing rather than crumpled & devastated at the prospect of dying at 62.

Shatzi & her “Go, Death!” compadres speak to my concern that American culture finds death to be icky, a topic to be avoided rather than embraced, resulting in a silence that diminishes the lives that lead up to it. 

I think about my oldest brother.  After decades of a relatively distant relationship, they became close over the last twenty years of Mim’s life.  But he still has not seen her online memorial service – the first of its kind in our church, inspired by the unescapable fact that the best minister to capture my sister’s unusual persona was retired & living in Arizona.   I can’t understand WHY Peter has yet to see it, but he hasn’t.  Which is too bad, since it is a wonderful collaboration,  a heartfelt tribute to a creative & complex spirit.

Schatzi would understand the inspiration behind Mim’s tribute, honoring a woman who exited this world cracking up hospital staff who’d swing by for a visit if they felt down in the dumps, knowing that a patient facing death within days would make them smile at her jokes & feel awed by her “bring it on!” attitude.

More & more people feel like Ms. Weisberger, who simply got fed up with Death American-style after sitting with a dying friend who was was so terrified at the prospect of her death, “she couldn’t even talk about it…  And then she died.  So that was a problem.  We had not dealt with the issue – myself, herself and the others.

Schatzi Weisberger used her FUN-eral to educate her friends about having a positive death experience.  She showed them the burial shroud she plans to have cover her for burial (she considers cremation to be environmentally unfriendly), which she got from Amazon.  Friends have agreed to was her body, in keeping with Jewish tradition, and another will bring dry ice to preserve it before burial.  But she assured one & all that she’s in good health, good spirits, and will wait her own good time to have the good death for which she has so carefully prepared!

Schatzi Weisberger does have a final wish – “I really want to experience my dying.  I don’t want to die in a car crash or be unconscious. I want to be home, I want to be in my bed, I want to share the experience with anybody who’s interested.”   She doesn’t expect death to take her hand in a spectral grip, but with a friendly touch.

 

Dangerous woman on a mission

It’s rare that I post something smacking of political current events on this blog, but an article in today’s NY Times calls out to be shared, summing up the WHY behind my current calling.  (I regret that it paints the president with such a coarse brush, but even his staunchest supporter should be able to acknowledge that his language & demeanor are rooted in shock jock incivility.)

It seems to me that those who think the president caused the coarsening of America’s character are mistaken – it’s a symptom, not cause.  Presidents are term-limited, but the qualities of our national culture that made millions rejoice at his “politics of rage” will go on UNLESS checked.

Hence my calling – not to take people to task for this that or another thing, but to present & model different ways of engaging with others, connecting within & across communities, feeling about our self.

My hopes dreams endeavors can be summed up in Live Like a LEGO! ~ connect creatively.  Celebrating kindness, generosity – especially emotional generosity, respect, civility & all the other core qualities of a decent life.

Having taught American history from theories about how people first arrived on the continent to 1850, am perhaps more aware than most of the shaky moral underpinnings to what we embody to ourselves as a nation.  I recently wrote out my understanding of our history in order to acknowledge it, then tip my hat as it’s left in the past because my work is rooted in the present, in this moment & this & this.  Not “What did I/we do?” but “What am I doing?”  & “How can I get to better?

In short, am a dangerous woman on a mission.

The NY Times article points out a truth that opponents would do well to remember – only Donald John Trump can get away with being unfathomably coarse.  When other people try to go toe-to-toe, it invariably ends in failure; they come across as honorable people saying dishonorable things of which they should be ashamed.  President Trump can do it without any blow back because no one has any illusions of him having any sense of honor, of being capable of feeling shame.  Love him or loathe him, that’s not a condemnation but an objective observation.

Dangerous woman on a mission.  People distrust all those qualities of decency that I listed, plus the many more I left off.  How well I know.  My corporate world co-workers were openly wary of me due to being too nice.  I learned to counter, “You’re too good to be true!” by pausing, cocking my head to the side & replying, “And part of  you believes that.”   If someone said, “You’re different,” I’d get right into their personal space, look them straight in the eye, drop my voice as I answered, “And trust me – you have NO idea just how different I am.”  It was only when I started countering with those two responses that others relaxed around me, were open to being friends.  But to the end, being open & supportive were negatives in the workplace, where people tend to put faith in the negative & see kindness as mindless fluff at best or insincere at worst.

Bring it on!

We cannot counter an coarsened culture with even more coarseness.  We need to be brave, to have the courage to act with restraint without rolling over, countering canny manipulation with conscious awareness of the values we learned at our parents’ knees.  Let Trump be Trump – praise it or rebuke it.  Just don’t lower yourself to the same level.

My thanks to my dear, much-missed mother, who advised me as a young girl how NOT to respond to school yard bullies.  She quoted George Bernard Shaw’s advice – – I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.

Dangerous woman on a mission.  Recognize & call out incivility when it raises its head without stooping to return in kind.  Openly practice the qualities of a decent life.  If you are frustrated with 45, do all you can to channel 16, Abraham Lincoln.  Put your inner Lucy on mute, amp up your inner Charlie Brown.  Focus on resiliency more than resistance, on being awake & aware & active instead of going numb or shrug off.

Forbes had a great article six years back – The Ten Golden Rules on Living the Good Life.  make a great prescription to counter today’s civil malaise:

  1. Examine life, engage life with vengeance; always search for new pleasures and new destines to reach with your mind.
  2. Worry only about the things that are in your control, the things that can be influenced and changed by your actions, not about the things that are beyond your capacity to direct or alter.
  3. Treasure friendship.
  4. Keep your life simple. Seek calming pleasures that contribute to peace of mind. True pleasure is disciplined and restrained.
  5. Master Yourself. Resist any external force that might delimit thought and action; stop deceiving yourself, believing only what is personally useful and convenient.
  6. Live life in harmony & balance.
  7. Bear responsibility for your actions (and lack of them).  Hold yourself accountable.
  8. Prosperity by itself, is not a cure-all against an ill-led life, and may be a source of dangerous foolishness.
  9. Don’t harm others.  Doing people dirt is a dangerous habit. 
  10. Kindness to others is a good habit that supports and reinforces the quest for the good life.

Easy to copy, not so easy to live.  My older sister was uneasy around me because, as she rightly pointed out, I wallow in joy doing things for others.  She was right – doing things for others is a great pleasure.  It wasn’t for her, but she felt like my way was a rebuke to hers.

Mim might have been the first to think my Goody Two-Shoes, Pollyanna ways make me a dangerous woman.  She won’t be the last!

Shoulders to the wheel

Wednesday, June 13, 2018 – – a red letter day in my life!  John & I sought counseling from our pastor for some irksome communication issues that have been gumming up the workings of our relationship.

Much as my human nature likes to think of them as my KEET’s issues or ours, it became very clear very fast that a) they were in fact MINE; b) were tightly entrenched in past issues which are no longer active in my life EXCEPT when my Ego drags them in, unbeckoned by my healthier sense of Self; c) the very things that I’ve worked on faithfully for 44+ years to identify, engage & resolve have been stubbornly hanging on by their fingernails to keep a presence in a life that’s ready to roll onward & upward.

At the end of that first session, Tom made one simple suggestion – stop dragging the past into the present.  Live in the NOW.

While the suggestion was simple, neither John nor I expected its implementation to be easy.  To our surprise & delight, living in the now has come easily, naturally to me.  We had three situations since Wednesday that could have turned nasty (on my part) pre-06/13/18 that instead turned out, in each situation, to stay first civil, then tender, then loving.  And each was informing & enlightening.

Today, at my beloved Be Well, a friend who’d seen us yesterday at a social gathering told me how much joy she gets seeing me & John just being with each other.  She commented, “You’ve been married a long time, right?”  Twenty-nine years this 09/03 – – head over heels since 02/03/89.

We were super “old” when we married – John was 43, I was 37.  When my brother pushed me to have him announce our engagement instead of a mutual friend, I pointed out that studies indicated I had as much chance, at 37, of being hit by lightening than getting married for the first time & I would do as I jolly well pleased.

One of the things that has kept our marriage such a pleasure for both of us is our willingness to face difficulties in the face, to head ’em off at the pass whenever we can.  Started almost twenty years ago, when we sought communications coaching from Mom’s psychologist.  We were ready to shell out big bucks for top-notch care, but were never billed!  Turned out the psychologist was so happy to be able to provide a couple with preventive care – rather than mend breaks & heal wounds – the sessions were her gift to us!

When we went to see Tom on Wednesday – an appointment which John took total charge of arranging, to my joy – I was edging closer & closer to being the basket case I was in 1998, torn between John’s healthy persona & Mom’s sweetly yet determinedly dysfunctional.  Only now a healthy present was being dislocated by a mislocated past.

It’s my experience that even the happiest marriages are filled with unhappy moments.  In our case, from day one, we acknowledge distress when it rears its head, do what we can to resolve it between the two or us ~or~ seek help.

In my experience, the same holds true for all relationships. Husband & wife, brother & sister, mother & daughter, friend to friend, co-workers, boss & employee. Being willing to spot potential quicksand, seek firmer ground or a steady hand to avert disaster, strive for the ideal & accept the real.

There, in a nutshell – my prescription for a happy marriage, friendship, family connection, work space!  Don’t expect perfection, welcome hard work, put that shoulder to the wheel & work for good better best!

“Older adults at greatest risk of suicide” – link

My thanks to NextAvenue.org for updating a 2015 article on olders & suicide, currently reposted in response to the high-profile deaths of Kate Spade & Anthony Bourdain -and- the unrelated yet timely release last Thursday of the CDC report on rising suicide rates in the USA.

Older Adults At Greatest Risk Of Suicide – poor health and isolation can increase suicide risk

 

discovering old notes

In clearing out paperwork from an unexplored file cabinet, came across notes taken a few years back.  No mention of the book they reference, but several of them hit me between the eyes, so will share a few anyhow:

Making a success of living requires resilience, courage & awareness of the blessings that surround us.  At any age.

~  Our most shattering experiences often turn into incredibly rich soil for opportunities & growth.

I believe in personal evolution rather than reinvention.

Our wisdom grows deeper the more easily it is accessed by appreciative others.

A keener perspective, trusted guides & a commitment to core practices sustained & strengthened my mother over all her years.

~  By never fearing an unknowable future, Mom was always open to the joy of each moment.