Advice On Aging? You Can Keep It.

I have nothing against “More” magazine – in fact, I read it and applaud its mission to publish a magazine specifically designed for women who have traded their concerns about thigh-gap for hot flashes.  However, on the cover this month (in the largest font possible) is the phrase “Secrets To Aging Gracefully” and in smaller print “from real women like you”.

Please.

Let me tell you what the secrets are – exercise, eat healthy foods (eat vegan – or not), color your hair – or not, use injectables – or not, live in the country or in the city, moisturize and be happy in your skin.

Thank you very much “More” magazine.  I had no idea.

There’s something ironic about using the adverb ‘gracefully’ when one has joints that crack, a back that is willing to debate the merits of good posture, and an ever-increasing awareness that you will never be carded again.  “Ha”, I say.  “Ha.  Ha.  Ha.”

There is nothing graceful about aging.  There is grace in aging.  And there’s a rockin’ big difference between the two.

I spent a good part of yesterday at a local hospital receiving an I.V. infusion (for osteoporosis – I share this only because I don’t want you to think darker thoughts).  This will be an annual trip; it’s nothing compared to some other unpleasant medical moments I’ve had and none of them come close to the challenges others face every single day.  I may feel a little off today and I know that tomorrow will be far better.  This doesn’t even qualify as a roll in the barrel -it’s a jostle.

The infusion center is where people go to receive their chemo treatments.  On either side of me and all around me were patients watching hope as it slowly dripped into their ports.

To my left was a 67-year-old man who cheerfully told me about the hardy qualities of the liver, much of his having been removed a year ago; the 70-something woman on my right was laughing at the nurses who had to come and adjust her Taxol drip every two minutes.  These two knew each other so they just pulled me into their conversation.  They talked about their children, books, the cupcake shop in Georgetown.  Significant others and good movies.  Oncologists and naps when it rains.  Joking with the nurses and occasionally closing their eyes as the minutes dragged.  Just as I thought we were going to take a break, one of them piped up with a thought.  I kissed them both when I left.  The nurse and I hugged.  Don’t know why – it was right though.

This post isn’t about cancer.  It’s about moving forward in and with life, holding delight and intent in one hand and awareness in the other.  It’s about fighting for your life like a street brawler while handling it as a newborn child.  There’s nothing graceful about it – it’s scary and messy and fraught and unfair and arbitrary and clumsy.  It’s also magnificent and wise and proud and freeing and luscious.  Aging with grace?  It’s those moments in between the extremes when you smile and weep and whisper ‘thank you so, so much’.

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Just Another Musing

I came across this little sentence this morning (though there was no attribution, so forgive me) – “An ugly personality destroys a pretty face.” Sounds like something my maternal grandmother might have brought with her from the ‘old country’,  packed in the suitcase with the two silver candlesticks.  (There were some great Yiddishisms that don’t necessarily translate too well, but they’re so evocative – “may every tooth in your mouth rot except one, and may that one ache for the rest of your life”.  Who came up with this?)  Sorry – off on a tangent.  Anyway, I never met her, though I was blessed with her name.  I still think I’m too young for the heft of “Miriam”, though it’s a name I have grown to love.  True, in the Bible she saved her brother (which one really can’t dismiss, for it was reflective of love and bravery and selflessness and there wouldn’t be a whole lot to write about if Moses hadn’t made it), but she died from leprosy – not exactly a happifying ending for a really nice girl.

Our family’s Miriam – my grandmother – appears in photos as this beautiful, serious grown-up with incredibly wise eyes and lips that remain fixed in a straight line.  She betrays nothing in those few pictures – not what she has seen, endured, celebrated or lost.  And arguably there wasn’t a lot for her to smile about until my sister was born and I believe that her arrival was her greatest joy, the most affirming, gorgeous, delicious experience she would ever know.  I wish there were pictures of her holding Deb, for I think she would have been breathtaking, revealing far more than a stoic image with beautiful features.

And that really is just it – what distinguishes one lovely structured visage from another?  What echoes in your soul when your memory constructs its image of a person?   The initial description is often cosmetic – the color of a person’s hair and eyes, relative height and overall appearance.  Laws of attraction come into play, I realize, which brings me to another one of my grandmother’s great lines – “an owl to one, is a nightingale to another”.  I realize that some people are physically more attractive than others, and I am definitely vain enough to want to qualify for the more positive adjectives that can be applied to short women (though I really feel that ‘perky’ and ‘cute’ can’t compete with ‘gorgeous’ and ‘stunning’, but whatever).

So with those caveats, life has also been lived long enough for me to see that with a second look, there is nothing that diminishes or enhances a person more than their core.  Some of the most good-looking people I have met are also the least appealing.  Smiles that at best are disingenuous and at worst don’t reach the eyes, callous comments and narcissistic perspectives.  Too much lipstick and too little warmth; six pack abs and an empty ‘can o’ care’ inside.  Eyes that search for the next-thing-that-isn’t-good-enough and never settle upon a magical moment.  Hands that are ridiculously smooth because they haven’t held onto anything for dear life.  The most beautiful people I know are not indifferent to their appearance at all.  They also don’t define beauty too narrowly.   I gravitate to the magnificence of an open heart, the delicate touch of kindness, the warmth of an expansive smile.  I think most of us do.  At a certain point you realize that the reflections of a person’s heart redefine the parameters of attractiveness.

Or as my grandmother used to say “pretty is as pretty does”.  Have a great Sunday everybody.

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The Thing About Snow

I am not a snow bunny.  Never have been.  I don’t ski – the mere thought of choosing to go downhill on two highly polished slats of fiberglass prompts paroxysms of vertigo.  I had beautiful white ice skates when I was a kid – with blue and white pom-poms.  They far exceeded in loveliness the grace with which I used them.  I’m clumsy on dry pavement, so you can imagine my impromptu choreography when the weather is inclement.  I’m a walking slapstick skit.

But I love the first serious snow of the season.  I love how the snow forces commitment.  It commits itself to the ground with purpose, hugging the ground as if it will never let it go.  It demands that the world be quiet, muting everything but this delicious silence that you can’t help but notice.  It reduces the myriad of alternatives and choices that we make throughout the day.  Somehow the highest imperative becomes to snuggle in to the moment and let it have its way.  Snow gives you permission.  To remain mesmerized while looking out the window and forget about how much time has elapsed, to hide under the blanket with a good book, to drink hot chocolate (with three marshmallows).  Snow – silently, persistently commits you to a relationship with coziness, arguably a state that we don’t find enough excuses to enjoy.

The first snow.  It’s something I can commit to.

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“The Rhythm Of Life”

In the musical “Sweet Charity”, there’s a song with a chorus that often repeats in my head (and occasionally out of my mouth) – “The rhythm of life has a powerful beat/Puts a tingle in your fingers and a tingle in your feet/Rhythm in the bedroom, rhythm in the street/Yes, the rhythm of life has a powerful beat”

I’m not tingling this morning, let along feeling the beat.  I think I’m working off of the kind of hum a light bulb makes before it burns out.  Ok, that’s a bit severe – I’m not tired of writing (how can I be when this site is barely four months old), or tired of consulting, or tired of being retired.  My rhythm is just off.  my sense of timing has been disturbed.  Ergo, no tingle.Image

We got back from four days in Puerto Rico last night.  On the flight home, I felt like we had been gone for weeks and began filling my head with my ‘to-dos’ and the ache behind my eyes began.  By the time the taxi pulled into our driveway my list had given birth to more lists and I could only isolate the top priorities – check in with the kids, grocery store run, trip to PetsMart for more dog food, piles of critical mail that must need immediate attention…my heart begins to accelerate and I haven’t even put the damn key in the door.

I was wrong on all counts – w-r-o-n-g.  The truth of the matter is that the half-and-half didn’t spoil, we have enough coffee, the fruit isn’t rotten (though we could use some bananas), no need to head to PetsMart for another week or more, more junk mail than real mail and lots of emails but none that make me groan with guilt for delaying my response.  So – four days is just four days.  This is just too much to wrap my head around.  How can it be that absolutely nothing critical happened?  All just went along as it should.  This is clearly a reality for someone smarter than me.

Take me out of my daily environment and I lose all sense of perspective – even when there’s no time difference between where I’ve been and where I’m going.  I become part of wherever I am, almost as if there was nothing that preceded it.  If ever this truth was underscored, it was made clear to me after a late evening boat trip (we’re talking small motor boat holding no more than eight people) out onto a bay in which bio-luminessence is evident in the blackness of night.  To get to the bay, this lone boat winded its way through a narrow lagoon with mangroves for walls and a roof over our head.  Through the lagoon there was no sky, no sense of being anywhere other perhaps the set of a Wes Craven movie.  Occasionally the Captain would shine a light on a large iguana balanced on a branch, indifferent to the intrusion; ribbons of translucent snakeskin left in aged, gnarled roots, as its owner slithered away at some point comfortable in a newer version of himself/herself; a lone bird sleeping peacefully with feathers that were startlingly white and orange and a beak so black one couldn’t discern its beginning or end (perhaps it was the Pinocchio of the lagoon and had a beak so long it was almost endless).  Once out on the bay, the water looked as if it was receiving stars as they fell from the sky.  The scientific explanation is that the plankton in this area light up when disturbed, the fish glow as they skip above the water.  This nexus of nature’s variables – the type of water, weather, fish, plankton, etc occurs in only four places in the world.  The romantic version is even better.  A wooden pole in the water left a shiny wake similar in its smoky silver color to that of a witch’s brew.  The only distinction between the sky and the water was the sound of the waves lapping against the boat.  And stars in the sky don’t jump with such enthusiasm.  My hand in the water took on this ethereal glow – so beautiful and shiny I never wanted to remove it for I was sure it held magic.  The seven others people sharing this experience were equally awed.  At first we all ‘oohed and ahhed’, occasionally we each would marvel aloud..and then quiet seemed more appropriate.  It was too magnificent to absorb with anything other than silence.

Captain Suarez and Mingo his assistant were characters out of a novel – maybe Hemingway, maybe not for they were gentle and reverent.  Their days-old beards covered the craggy lines that define a life on the water, aging hands that were ropier than those which moored the old boat at the end of the day’s work, broken English that shared their knowledge of astral navigation in a language we all could understand.  I asked Mingo why the traveled with little if any light even in the lagoon and he said that one who sailed was supposed to know where they were going by the stars – the light did more harm than good.Image

You can’t be a part of time like this and not feel with certainty that there is something way bigger than we are.  We disembarked with gracious silence.  What had we just seen?  How do we capture this in our memory?  is there any way to do such moments justice?  What day is it today?

I can’t say much else happened while we were gone.  Our most intrepid friend zip-lined gloriously in the rain forest, my husband golfed (that’s not new), he won more than he lost at the blackjack table.  We flew home – gone for not much longer than a long weekend and I’ve misplaced my rhythm.

I read your blogs last night and this morning perpetually shaking my head with wonder at the extraordinary talent of the people I follow (and some that I don’t), wondering how I will ever get back into the swing.  I know I will, for life calls regardless of where one may be, and we adjust accordingly.  But right now, I am slow to re-enter the music of my day-to-day life while the beat of the last four days still echoes faintly in my head.  That’s the beauty and the bane of going away and coming home…I answer to a powerful beat.