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The Bookends of Life

As I left my apartment for a quick trip to the corner deli, there was a nanny pushing a stroller with a kid about one year old. When I opened the gate, the kid suddenly raised his arm, waved at me and with a big smile on his chubby, little face, he shouted, “HI.”

About a 50 feet further on, another kind of nanny was helping a 90-year-old who, with the additional aid of a walker, was slowly making her way along the sidewalk. Still grinning from my encounter with the kid, I said, “HI.” The old lady’s face lit up like sunshine and she said “HI” too.

On a glorious spring afternoon with crocuses and daffodils decorating curb areas around trees that were preparing to burst into green any day now - the bookends of life.

Silver Threads - 4/9/06

Hanimal_1 It’s called a Hanimal and there are many more of them that are just as amazing from Sonia - recently added to the ElderBloggers list - at Leaves of Grass. They’re peculiar and beautiful and fascinating, and I keep going back for another look.

Now don’t go telling anyone I said this, but not all new babies are cute. And neither are all dogs. It’s that time of year again and you too can vote for the World’s Ugliest Dog. Be sure to scroll down - there are a lot of worthy entrants.

Everyone's favorite kindly uncle of the blogosphere, Frank Paynter, has abandoned Sandhill Trek and (with some ado as to the backend mechanics) up and moved himself to a new place called Listics. It says, in the upper right corner of the new blog, a la Spike Lee, that Listics is “a Sandhill joint” which still doesn’t tell me what a listic is. And I miss the name of his previous blog. But it’s everyone’s right to redecorate and the same inimitable, Frank-style commentary can now be found at his new blog home.

Over time, Claude Covo-Farchi at Blogging in Paris has made this a signature piece: to juxtapose a poem with a photograph taken on one of her many walks around Paris - giving each a deeper resonance and meaning than it might have alone. She titles a recent one, Beautiful Old Age - and so it is, magnificently done.

Caught unawares last Sunday when the United States made its annual switch to Daylight Savings Time, I sighed at the prospect of resetting all the clocks in the house and considered not bothering with it this year. So I laughed out loud when I read this post from Suzz at Suzzwords. She had the same thought and added, “I think it’s time we retirees all stood up and started a campaign to end this foolishness.” Hear! Hear!

There are a million of these lists floating around the web and I they always tickle my fancy. Maria at Silver Fox Whispers posted a bunch of things kids have misunderstood, this time from a Catholic elementary school. A favorite: “When Mary heard she was the mother of Jesus, she sang the Magna Carta.” There are a whole lot more at Maria’s place to brighten your Sunday.

Tom Pry at The Old Man and the C:\ posted a list this week too - an astounding number of pieces of useless information. I knew a few of them, but most are new to me including, “The dot over the letter i is called a ‘tittle’", and (can this be true?), “Susan Lucci is the daughter of Phyllis Diller.”

Puns and limericks are two of my favorite word games but to my everlasting chagrin, I’m terrible at both - although I am a great appreciator. Limerick Savant, a master, knocks my socks off and he’s caught our Leaker-in-chief this week in his clever web. Also, in case you missed it on Friday, Mr. Savant wrote me my very own birthday limerick. I am so proud.

Turning 65 - The Morning After

category_bug_journal2.gif Well, now, my blogosphere friends, what a glorious celebration you made my 65th birthday. Ecards, blog postings and email poured into my inbox all day. It was a 24-hour, non-stop, fabulous, surprise party, and I didn’t stop smiling all day. I’m a bit hung over from it all this morning.

Except for Cowtown Pattie and Millie Garfield who, I am told, organized this bash, I won’t mention names because I would be mortified to leave out anyone. You’ll have to find out for yourselves (through the comment links on yesterday’s post) the astonishing variety of thoughtfulness and creativity in all the blog posts about my birthday: videos and photographs and images and word decorations of all kinds that closely suit each of your personalities and sensibilities.

Others of you, like me, have a stronger connection to words than pictures. Your generosity is overwhelming and you made me cry - in the warmest, fuzziest, best, good way. If I am half what you say, it is enough to hold me unto the grave.

And to those of you who can do pictures and words so magnificently - well, that’s just not fair.

It’s two years since I dipped my toe into the blogosphere with Time Goes By. We didn’t know one another then and now we do. That is the magic of blogging. Let’s give a big hand to the unnamed people who invented blogging software and services that make it easy for us to form such extraordinary communities among ourselves.

We sit at our screens tapping our keyboards, some half a world away, and we matter to each other. We listen and tell our stories, share our pleasures and concerns, teach and learn, laugh and love and cry - the last sometimes in sorrow and others, as I did yesterday, in joy.

Thank you all for making my 65th birthday the most special one I can remember.

What a Difference a Year Makes

Category_bug_timeline [NOTE: Elaine of Kalilily posted a wonderful birthday greeting for me on her site that includes a drop-dead funny video clip. It's like peanuts - betcha can't watch it just once...]

[FURTHER NOTE - 5AM: I had set this to publish on its own this morning, but I woke early and discovered a whole bunch of birthday greetings. You are - every one of you - the absolute best. Thank you.]

Ronni at 65 So swiftly passes a year at my age. It seems only yesterday I was writing here about “when I’m 64” and today, I have reached what is generally considered to be the traditional age of full retirement. Sixty-five. Halfway through my seventh decade. One of those rites-of-passage birthdays - like 13 (if you are Jewish), 21 (legal adulthood) and 50 (the half-century mark) - that rings with portent.

No denying it: I really am old now, although bloggers Millie Garfield and Golden Lucy, both past 80, will giggle at that statement.

I am always irritated when people say, “I don’t feel 65.” Or 70 or 75, etc. Of course they do. Since not one of us knows what it feels like to be older than we are, whatever we feel is what that age feels like. Equally irritating are recent boomer slogans such as “50 is the new 30.” Anyone who can’t tell the difference is a case of arrested development and a contributor to our youth-crazed, ageist culture.

The downsides of becoming 65 have, so far, been minimal. I don’t have the stamina and strength I once had and need to spread out chores and errands over longer periods of time. But I don’t find that a burden. I like the extra walks necessary to finish shopping, and if it’s harder to stay awake into the wee hours, I’ve known since my twenties that nothing noteworthy happens at the party past midnight.

Famous and celebrated contemporaries who have defined the era in which I have lived die more frequently now. Just last year, Richard Pryor, Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, Prince Rainier of Monaco, Hunter Thompson, Arthur Miller, Johnny Carson, Betty Friedan.

Youngsters who know these people only historically probably can’t grasp the force with which each one, at their peak, etched his or her sensibility on the public consciousness of the second half of the 20th century. But that was then and this is now.

In recent years, the rightness of death makes more sense to me. Those scientists who spend millions researching life extension, predicting 200-year life spans one day, are selfish and wrong. Elders must make way for younger people who are unencumbered by attachments to the past and are a better match to new times, new eras, new issues. (More about this soon.)

The upsides of getting older far outweigh the negatives. I am more patient with myself and others. Experience has alleviated the fears that plagued my twenties, thirties and even forties. Having learned that aside from putting a gun to one’s head, few decisions are irrevocable, they come more easily now and with less anguish.

Well, maybe not all decisions. This turned out to be a significant year. Settling in New York City in 1969 was a childhood dream and in a sense, all 28 years before were prelude. I have been extraordinarily happy living here, so much so that when I bought this cozy, little apartment, 23 years ago, on one of the prettiest streets in Greenwich Village, it felt so permanent that I told friends I would be taken out feet first - it was my last move.

We should be wary of asserting such absolutes. At about this time last year, months of fruitless searching for work forced me to rethink that pronouncement. I agonized for weeks about what I knew was inevitable and then, in a long, sleepless weekend spent pacing, weeping, shaking my fist at the gods and the insidious bigotry of age discrimination in the workplace, I made a hard-won decision to sell my apartment and move to a less expensive part of the country.

I had many months to make peace with that decision as it took longer to sell my apartment than either the real estate agent or I expected. Now, with my New York home at last sold, I am eager to begin my next adventure in a new place.

Already, I have the core of a personal community in Portland, Maine. Packing cartons arrived this week. Moving day is set for late May with settling into a new home to begin a week or so later. And what a relief that will be.

My life has been disordered and disorderly for nearly six years. The dotcom at which I was employed collapsed abruptly in mid-2000 owing me (still) $25,000. I was unemployed that time for 14 months and the job I eventually found required a four-hour daily commute leaving no time or energy for a personal life for two-and-a-half years.

For nearly a year after I was laid off from that job, I beat my head against the wall of a bad job market and age discrimination until this decision to leave New York, and then I waited seven months for the sale of my apartment. Some downtime and routine will be a welcome change.

We celebrate holidays to remind us of our common history or our faith. Anniversaries and birthdays mark time, allowing us to take stock of the recent past, to renew our commitments to ourselves and others, and to create new beginnings. It is hard sometimes not to believe that the universe has its reasons, and it seems to me an excellent time to let go of one life and start another on such a momentous birthday as 65.

“For age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress,
And as the evening twilight fades away,
The sky is filled with stars invisible by day.”
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Morituri Salutamus [1875]


Bush's Bid to Blame the Old Folks

Crabby Old Lady is coming a little late to this party, but mainstream media has not mentioned it and it’s - well, just so Freudian a revelation from our president.

On 21 March, at a press conference, President Bush blamed the size of the national debt on Social Security. It came about when a reporter, noting that Bush has never vetoed a bill, asked the president if he is satisfied with the large increase in the national debt (now at $8.9 trillion) during his presidency.

Although many spending bills that do not include mandatory increases cross a president's desk, Mr. Bush answered thusly:

“As you know,” Mr. Bush answered, “the president doesn’t…veto mandatory spending increases. And mandatory spending increases are those increases in the budget caused by increases in spending on Medicare and Social Security…

“That’s why it’s important for us to modernize and strengthen Social Security and Medicare, in order to be able to deal with the increases in mandatory spending…

“In terms of the debt, mandatory spending increases is driving a lot of that debt.” [Crabby is not responsible for the president’s grammar and syntax errors.]

- White House website

Crabby is uncertain if this is a deliberate manipulation of facts in hopes that Americans don’t understand how Social Security works or if the president himself doesn’t understand.

Mr. Bush twisted his response into a another chance to beat the dead horse of Social Security privatization and, in essence, blamed the deficit on greedu geezers and disabled people. As though an unwarranted war, tax cuts for the rich and billions in pork barrel projects funding bridges to nowhere don’t count.

In case anyone else is confused, by law Social Security is treated as an “off-budget” entity. Contributions are held in and benefits paid from an account separate from the federal budget and therefore have no relationship to any deficit or surplus the government runs. It is absurd to state otherwise.

Why the 2007 Medicare Means Test is a Good Idea

category_bug_politics.gif A little-known provision of the legislation that created the Medicare drug plan (Part D) is a means test for the Part B premium which covers doctor visits, outpatient hospital care and other medical services not requiring hospitalization.

Beginning next year, beneficiaries whose annual earnings top $80,000 will be required to pay a larger premium. In 2007, the basic premium for Part B will increase from $88.50 per month to $100.40. Those who earn between $80,000 and $100,000 will pay an estimated $113.30 per month and the premium gradually increases to a limit of $173.30 for elders whose incomes are greater than $200,000.

In subsequent years, there will be additional premium increases for high-bracket earners. The Senior Citizens League has posted a chart of the increases along with the organization's objections to the means test which are as ho-hum and meaningless as every advocacy group's standard resistance to any change in the status quo before seriously considering its merits or lack thereof.

Predictably too, Rep. Nita Lowey [D-NY] has introduced a bill that would eliminate this first-ever means test. But the increased premium affects only three percent of Medicare beneficiaries (about 2.3 million out of the 36 million Medicare recipients) whose additional cost would amount to between $11.50 and $73 per month ($138 and $876 per year) - hardly a burden for elders in the $80,000 to $200,000 earnings bracket.

The average Social Security benefit is $917.90 a month and 22 percent of elders have no other income except Social Security. So the basic Medicare Part B premium is already a stretch for millions of people. Add in the cost of Medigap coverage, Part D premiums and co-pays and it’s obvious why some elder Americans must choose between food and drugs.

Healthcare is a human right and there is no reason those with more should not contribute more. We already accept this theory of social economics with a graduated income tax. To apply it to the most comfortable Medicare beneficiaries is a step in the right direction toward paying for Medicare costs as the large number of baby boomers soon begin to enroll. (The one glitch is that there is no bult-in inflation index which should be enacted.)

Universal healthcare is a better idea. With that, everyone is covered for basics and the rich can pay for whatever other healthcare they want. Until then, the means test is a responsible beginning to tax those who can afford it to ensure that everyone is covered.

Representative Lowey’s misguided bill to repeal the Medicare means test reveals where her priorities lie - with the people who have benefited from the president's tax cuts for the rich for the past five years. Anyone who lives in her Congressional district should keep this in mind when they vote in the November election.

The Melancholy of Youth

There was a time - up until about 30 years ago - when I knew every rock-and-roll and pop band there was: album titles, bios of personnel, Billboard rankings, even the names of B sides of singles (remember those?).

No more. I gave up popular music when disco hit and I switched careers from radio to television at just about the same moment. I’d be hard-pressed to name any current bands on the charts, or any at all that have arrived and passed into oblivion between 1974 and now.

Surfing around the Web one day recently, I ran across a reference to a tune titled Help the Aged by a band named Pulp. In following a few links, I soon discovered it's an old band that has been around since 1978. But I already admitted I’ve ignored popular music starting four years earlier.

You can hear ten or 15 seconds of Help the Aged, which is vaguely - very vaguely - reminiscent of the early Beatles, at [registration required] - although that's hard to tell in its brevity. When I read the lyric, I was struck by its melancholy:

Help the aged,
one time they were just like you,
drinking, smoking cigs and sniffing glue.
Help the aged,
don't just put them in a home,
can't have much fun when they're all on their own.
Give a hand, if you can,
try and help them to unwind.
Give them hope and give them comfort
cos they're running out of time.

In the meantime we try.
Try to forget that nothing lasts forever.
No big deal so give us all a feel.
Funny how it all falls away.
When did you first realise?
It's time you took an older lover baby.
Teach you stuff although he's looking rough.
Funny how it all falls away.

Help the aged
cos one day you'll be older too -
you might need someone who can pull you through
and if you look very hard
behind those lines upon their face
you may see where you are headed
and it's such a lonely place.

In the meantime we try.
Try to forget that nothing lasts forever.
No big deal so give us all a feel.
Funny how it all falls away.
When did you first realise?
It's time you took an older lover baby.
Teach you stuff although he's looking rough.
Funny how it all falls away.

You can dye your hair but it's the one thing you can't change.
Can't run away from yourself.

In the meantime we try.
Try to forget that nothing lasts forever.
No big deal so give us all a feel.
Funny how it all falls away.
When did you first realise?
It's time you took an older lover baby.
Teach you stuff although he's looking rough.
Funny how it all falls away.
Funny how it all falls away.
So help the aged.

There aren’t a lot of songs in the world about old people. This one was written in 1997, when one of the composers and lead singer, Jarvis Cocker, was only 34 years old. But the melancholy is perhaps understandable when you find out that he’d been leading Pulp, at the time, for 19 years.

Given the rock-band lifestyle, no doubt he was feeling old - but without the experience and awareness yet that real elders have. If I could do such a thing as write a song and it were about getting old, mine would be more joyful.

Learning To Navigate Medicare

category_bug_journal2.gif Now that I am, as of last Saturday, a card-carrying Medicare member, I’ve discovered first hand the pain of selecting a prescription drug program (Part D). There are so many choices, with so many differences that the only solution was to create a spreadsheet. I used these criteria:

  • A plan that can go with me when I move to Maine in two months. That reduced the number of choices by more than half.
  • No deductible. After comparing the prices of a random number of drugs within a sampling of plans, it made no sense to accept a deductible. In some cases, the co-pay was higher in plans with a deductible than without.
  • Monthly premiums in New York and in Maine. The New York cost was minimally important since I soon won’t be here. The biggest difference in premiums was only $7.00 more in one Maine plan.
  • Monthly co-pay for the one prescription drug I use which varied by as much as 50 percent.
  • How much of the standard formulary (drugs covered) the plan includes. Since I have no idea what I may need in the future, I chose 100 percent.

The Medicare Part D website is badly designed and hard to use. Depending on which of the variety of paths you use to follow to the same information, different answers appear. In one instance, I got a list of 47 plans. When I approached it from another starting point, I was told no plans were available.

But if you remain calm and accept that it will take a lot of trial and error to find answers, you can get through the labyrinth without too much hair-pulling. I spent about five or six hours over two days before I completed my spreadsheet.

In the end, I found four plans that met my criteria and were reasonably priced, and I enrolled in the least expensive. In the first year, including both the monthly premiums and co-pays, I will save 50 percent of the full retail price of the drug I use. Not bad. And, I will not get anywhere near the infamous “doughnut hole” where no drugs are covered until you’ve anted up $3100 out of pocket.

The relative ease with which I signed up is due to the simplicity of my current drug needs and because wanting a plan that is in place in both New York and Maine reduced the number of available plans. It would be a nightmare for anyone who takes several drugs and there is no recourse but to plow through the plans, drugs, deductibles, premiums, prices, approved pharmacies, etc. one item at a time.

What I kept thinking through my minor ordeal was how much simpler it would be if we had universal healthcare.

Silver Threads - 4/2/2006

Marja-Leena Rathje posted a link to Wikipedia’s fine list of well-known April Fool’s jokes through the years. My all-time favorite is the famous (or infamous) Spagetti Tree piece the BBC ran in 1957, which I was lucky enough to catch somewhere on television on Friday. It's a hoot.

Not being a fan, I’ve never attended a Michael Jackson concert, but I heard a lot about the juggler who opened for him during his 1984 “Victory Tour.” This week, my friend Neil Thompson sent me this link and everything they told me is true: Chris Bliss is an astonishing juggler. If you’ve never caught his act, you’re going to love it. And if you have seen him - you’ll enjoy it again.

Deejay at Small Beer knows a lot about China and Chinese movies. Watching the Marlene Dietrich/Josef Von Sternberg classic, Shanghai Express recently, he was reminded of a similar real-life story which took place in China and which, in his telling, is every bit as dramatic and compelling as the fictional movie.

I like this that Donna Woodka posted at her blog, Changing Places.

Do not assume that you know all.
Notice nature and abide in the infinite.
Travel openly on uncharted paths.
Be all that you are, but do not make a show of it.
Be contented and remain empty,
and learn to sustain the Beginner’s Mind.

Go see the contemplative tao image that goes with the poem.

Susan Kitchens at 20/20 Hindsight posted a link to a map site that contains this:


Countries have been resized to show the world distribution of people 65 and older as of 2002 when seven percent of the population was that age. There are other resized maps at this site too: the distribution of children, the population in year 1, in year 1500 and much more.

Speaking of Susan Kitchens, she has recently inaugurated a new blog devoted to Family Oral History Using Digital Tools. We’ve discussed the importance of telling our stories here and here at TGB in the past and Susan kicks off her new blog with an excellent family story about “How It All Began.”

In a related vein, amba at ambivablog sent me a link to this chapter of a book by Robert Louis Stevenson in which he discusses elders of a previous era, but the truths are eternal:

“The best teachers are the aged...A flavour of the old school, a touch of something different in their manner…

“But their superiority is founded more deeply than by outward marks or gestures. They are before us in the march of man; they have more or less solved the irking problem; they have battled through the equinox of life; in good and evil they have held their course; and now, without open shame, they near the crown and harbour.

“It may be we have been struck with one of fortune’s darts; we can scarce be civil, so cruelly is our spirit tossed. Yet long before we were so much as thought upon, the like calamity befell the old man or woman that now, with pleasant humour, rallies us upon our inattention, sitting composed in the holy evening of man’s life, in the clear shining after rain.”

Reading the entire chapter is well worth your time.

Live webcams are generally disappointing, so often broken that it’s not worth the effort to follow links to them. But this one, posted by Betsy Devine at Funny Ha-Ha or Funny Peculiar is mesmerizing - a bald eagle nesting. Click the “Bald Eagle Nest, Hornby Island LIVE” link beneath the video frame.

The Political Wisdom of Elders

category_bug_politics.gif A couple of days ago Jay Bookman, deputy editorial page editor at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, noted in his biweekly column that public discourse on the serious problems the U.S. faces has hit a “dead calm.” Proposed solutions, he writes, are too small, too timid and too protective of the status quo.

This is no partisan screed. Mr. Bookman indicts Republicans and Democrats alike for, in the first instance, their rote support of tax cuts and corporate welfare and in the second instance, their lack of any ideology at all nor recognition of the need to reinvent government to address modern-day issues in ways that are relevant to our times.

This is reflected in the national mood which, according to the Gallup Poll, counts only 29 percent of the populace satisfied with the nation’s direction.

So far, so good - a reasonable synopsis of progressive-leaning criticism. But then Mr. Bookman’s column takes a remarkable turn. He quotes from emails he has received over the past year or so from elder Americans:

"’I am 79…I am 84…I was born in 1931,’ they start out. ‘I fought with the Eighth Army in Korea…We lost our oldest son in Vietnam…My husband served in the Pacific…I taught school for 35 years,’ they continue, each recounting their personal contributions to this country and establishing their own perspective on its history.

“Then comes the statement that breaks your heart. The words vary from author to author, but the sentiment does not:

"This is not the country I wanted to leave my grandchildren…Is this what we sacrificed so much for all those years?...I really don't understand how it has come to this…We took for granted that in America it would always be better for the next generation, but I can't see that's the case anymore…Where did we go wrong?’"

There is so little acknowledgement of elders in mainstream media (or, for that matter, in the blogosphere) that is not focused on decline, debility and disease and here, at last, is a man who suspects that the knowledge and understanding elders have gained in decades of participating in the national agenda may have some relevance to the change in political direction our country needs.

He seems somewhat dismayed that elders are more concerned for the future than for themselves but with the zeal of a convert, he has seen the light:

“Unlike our elders, we refuse to tax ourselves to pay for our wars, our roads, our government. We elevate leaders who promise us tax cuts and free services and cheap oil and the strongest military in the world, and we shun any who dare to suggest that sacrifice might be necessary for such things.”

I might argue that it is not younger voters alone who have brought us to our current political impasse. Certainly millions of (misguided) elders went along with the Bush agenda at the ballot box in 2000, 2002 and 2004. But in general and in larger numbers, elders do have a greater concern for the commonweal than those who currently make short-sighted decisions for us in Congress.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is a respected newspaper widely read outside its home city and Mr. Bookman is the first mainstream media columnist I know of to promote the wisdom of elders. We can only hope others will follow his lead and listen.

You can send your appreciation to Mr. Bookman at jbookman AT ajc DOT com.