Je ne regrette rien

Je ne regrette rien.

Gosh, for DECADES – since French 101 with Margaret York – I’ve looked for a reason to quote the Little Sparrow.  Finally, I do!

For the second time over the past sixteen years, John & I are running on financial fumes, with any number of interesting possibilities hanging over our head.

Looking at our money in/money out last year compared to this & wonder – should we have done things differently?

Last year, we paid off our 2015’s tax obligations & 2016’s home costs & life expenses & $$ dental work AND underwrote my taking a January memoir writing workshop at Rowe Conference Center, the Leading to Well-Being Conference in the spring, the mid-summer Positive Aging Conference -and- the early fall National Center for Creative Aging Conference.

Do I regret shelling out the serious big bucks for those moments; would it have been wiser to store up our dollars like so many nuts against a potential income freeze?

Non, non et non!

It wasn’t that we believed 2016 marked our return to Summer 2001 prosperity.  Hoped – naturally.  But we know that having an older client base makes long-term projecting impossible.

Would we have set aside the funds for any one of the four “splurges” to boost 2017’s dearth of dollars?  Non!  Our attitude was that the return made from my attending each of those was significant enough to outweigh any other consideration.  That whatever hard financial times might crop up in the future, the forever benefits of what could & did come from each far outweighed any potential dire dilemmas.

AND WE WERE RIGHT!  We could be tossed on the street come Jan 2018, kept warm by a kaboodle of cats, but what was gained by me & indirectly by John was worth even that prospect.  It could turn out that being literally show our own door could be the genesis of a great book, leading to lecture tours & our own joint TED talk.

Because each of those events, from NW Mass to D.C. (2!). to northern VA revealed a new level of me to ME ~and~ I was old enough to hear see appreciate & APPLY what I heard saw appreciated.

That last – applying what I’d learned, experienced – was worth every penny spent & way more.  Applying what’s known & ostensibly understood was/is where my family went/goes horribly awry.

Enter to learn.  Go forth to serve.”    “Courage of the deed.  Grace for the doing.

The motto of  Lower Merion High School came into my life in my late teens.  A friend introduced me to the second, Shipley’s motto, just yesterday at Be Well.

It’s a 6-minute, 2.6 mile drive between the two schools, but they are forever connected in my heart. Neither is what I saw reflected in my surviving family, but their truth is clearly shouted out & LIVED by the dearest family of my heart.

With Mom, Peter & Mim, what mattered most was what you PLANNED to do, not what you completed.  As Mim explained it more than once to me & (sadly) lived, to keep the image of what could be accomplished at its greatest, leave it forever inviolate in your imagination, unsullied with the grunge work that would turn it into reality but forever less than imagining.

It speaks volumes, at least to me, that my keenest memory of the most awesome friends any human could have is of Dave stripping & refinishing a bureau for his unborn 1st child’s bedroom.  Stronger even than “Mom” Z teaching me how to play Yahtzee or Mark trying to say Chubby Bunny through a mouth stuffed with golden-toasted extra large marshmallows.  It gave the young dad-to-be such pleasure to be taking each step toward completion – small wonder it’s seared into my heart, personifying as it does courage for the deed, grace for the doing.

It took one Omega workshop, three Leading to Well-Being Conferences, two NCCA Conferences, one Rowe workshop, one Positive Aging Conference & the 2017 International Association of Gerontology & Geriatrics (IAGG) World Congress to get me to the point where it’s possible to realize that my CORE problem, the thing I didn’t see in my life even when Dad was alive was the basic understanding that end of any process is COMPLETING it.  If I was to go back in time & share that interesting factoid with my elementary & high school teachers, they’d look struck with a Eureka! moment, smack their desks & exclaim, ‘THAT explains her!

Regrets for shelling out the event, transportation, lodging meal costs, from $$ for the first two NCCA conferences (stayed with friends outside DC) to the $$$$$$ IAGG in SF?  Encore – non.  We could lose our place, but it pales in comparison to finally finding mine, after a 40+ year search.  We could be car-less by 12/01/17 if Gibbs doesn’t pass 11/17 inspection (don’t count him out – he has 1444,000 miles on his odometer & packing tape sealing cracks on the front passenger window, but he is stout-hearted & true),  but if are, will consider it an exercise in character building.

If we lost everything – which we hope won’t happen, but could – it would be nothing compared to all we’ve gained from investing in my conference/workshop bops.

Omega 2014* ? $$$.

NCCA Conference 2015** & 2016*** ?  $$$$.

2017 IAGG World Congress* ?  $$$$$$$.

The cost of finally feeling grounded in a sense of BEing wholly human, a mega step toward seeing feeling experiencing the divine in all?  PRICELESS.

Is that truly worth financial fumes?  Oui!


*Underwritten by friends      **Costs split between friends & myself          ***WE underwrote


Gene D. Cohen – forever in my heart

Will never forget the moment at my first (the first) National Center for Creative Aging Leadership Conference & Exchange when it hit me like a lightning bolt that the NCCA is the child of the great Gene D. Cohen, MD – a man I never met & who changed my life for all time.

There is not date inscribed in my copy of Creative Awakenings ~ awakening human potential in the second half of life  to clue me into when I first came across it ~ my guess is it was well after its 2000 publication date, probably several years after Mom’s 2001 death.  I remember buying it, then not reading it for several more years, so my best guess at when I actually settled down for a read would be around 2007 – ten years ago, seven years before that first NCCA Conference, two years before Gene’s death in 2009, at a mere 65 years old.

I have even less memory of what drew me to that first NCCA Conference.  There wasn’t any buzz on it; the group was an enthusiastic circle of creatives who believed what I had come to see over two years, at that point, of working with Anne Davis Hyatt as our client – – that the arts are the key to full-throttle life experience, straight across the age spectrum & health condition.  Through many years with Anne, John & I saw real-time the impact creativity can have on squashing the heartache of dementia.  It was that new -found, present-moment awareness that lead practically penniless me to an auditorium at the Arena Stage in D.C., looking at a program that featured not a single name I knew.

When I heard one of the earliest speakers prepare to introduce Wendy Miller, no bells started ringing, no lights of recognition started flashing.  Was still, incredibly, clueless as she was described her as the wife of the late Gene Cohen.  But then Wendy started talking, opening up the umbrella in her hand with its under-canopy of clouds & sky, started sharing the work she had done with her husband, the amazing strides he’d made in a too short life & it hit me – SHAZAM!  Everything fell into glorious place – literally, it was like little threads  had been brushing past my face & magically coalesced into a beautiful shawl draped across my stunned shoulders.

Gene Cohen, first in Creative Awakenings & then The Mature Mind, expressed what I had observed over a lifetime of casual & intimate connection with the incredible oldsters elders ancients in my little hometown, particularly with my mother & her WOW! circle of friends.  It made NO sense to me that surveys typically used “65+” to cover all the ages from getting-their-first-Social Security check to centenarians, because I could see, right before me, what differences are found in the years between oldster & ancient.

Not kidding – when I realized who Wendy Miller was, that many of the strangers around me were no strangers to the work of Gene Cohen, I started to cry tears of discovery & joy.  After a lifetime of searching, I had found my tribe.

Gene Cohen looked like a larger-than-life pixie & brought a pixie’s joy of play & dusting of magic to his work as a geriatric psychiatrist.  He famously teamed up with George Burns to produce Public Service Announcements on aging!

His outlook on what my mother described as “tripping the old-ometer” upward was upbeat & optimistic – a radical departure from the too-common prognosis of aging as constant decline & deterioration devoid of any up side.   He was an early researcher into brain function in the elderly, a neglected area of study since young whippersnapper scientists assumed there wasn’t anything of interest to know about aging.

Even before baby boomers were old enough to make studies into aging financially viable, Gene was beating the drums that our brains are ravaged by diseases associated with age, not aging itself, and therefore many can be treated; that our brains are more flexible, that they are more attuned to creativity & blossom through the arts in ways few scientists or people who hold the purse strings to funding suspected.  He showed that the neurons that engage us in creative endeavors are not profoundly affected by the ravages of Alzheimer’s – they follow a different track & can be accessed when others are shut down.

How he would have loved the video of the old man who had seriously declined to a virtually non-responsive state who LIT UP on hearing music – even when the headphones were taken off, he remained responsive & connected, talking where he had been mute.  Gene would have grooved out over the story of Edward Hardy, a 93-year old jazz pianist with dementia who seemed to have given up, whose life changed due to a young activities director, also a musician, who reconnected Edward with music – and life.

There is so much I could write about Gene. It’s an honor to feature him in one of my first blog postings, since I am writing this & doing all that’s before me because of all he wrote & did.  You can expect many more blog postings ahead spotlighting this remarkable man who had every grace except that of years.

I do want to recall the most special moment from last year’s 2016 NCCA Leadership Conference & Exchange.  That first year found us in an auditorium-in-the-round at the Arena Stage; by 2015, the number of participants saw us moving to a considerably LARGER auditorium;  last year sent us to the Newseum!  I think it was the second morning of the conference that found me arriving late, having rushed so much I’d skipped breakfast at my delightful Airbnb.  What joy to discover the breakfast buffet spread was still available.  I’d picked up my bagel & fresh fruit, was pouring my cup of coffee, when I was joined by a lovely woman wearing an shawl that looked like it was spun of the sky.  Her ID showcased not her name, but the front cover of a book – Sky Above Clouds.  We talked about Gene, I shared how he was the one who woke me up to life’s calling.  Several minutes went by before it hit me ~ SHAZAM! ~ that she was Wendy Miller!  And she was talking to ME!

The short conversation & that 2nd awakened moment are with me still.  They will be with me when I head to the International Association of Gerontology & Geriatrics World Congress in less than two weeks.  They are with me always & forever.