How's the Pandemic Going For You?

Visiting Old Friends Plus The Alex and Ronni Show

Let me get past that too cute headline right away: the referenced “old friends” are books, my books. There have always been books. I have always called them my friends. I do not recall life without books.

In the last year or two, books have begun to accumulate in small-ish piles around the house mainly because I'm running short of shelf space but also out of laziness. Books impart a sense of coziness that the piles seem to enhance.

Just last week I wrote a bit about browsing through Still Here by Ram Dass (remember the frog story?) which has since led to me to search out my copies of some other books by him.

I am part way through Walking Each Other Home written with his life-long friend Mirabai Bush which was published a year or so before Ram Dass died in 2019. It is subtitled, “Conversations on Loving and Dying”. The book is also about living because talking about death is not possible without talking about life.

Do you mark up your books? I do. I highlight the parts I think I will want or need to read again. Of course, the problem with that is in time I forget the context of the highlighted portion so I need to back up and read the lead-in and next thing I know I'm re-reading the whole book.

Ram Dass has been talking (and teaching) about death and dying pretty much since we, the public, first became aware of him in the 1960s. While tracking down some information about him the other day, I came across a print interview done when yet another of his books, Polishing the Mirror, was published in 2014.

The interview was conducted by journalist and author David Crumm who has covered religion and spirituality throughout his long career. The full conversation is worth your time but these two excerpts stick with me.

”RAM DASS: When you get old, everything changes - your body changes, your family changes. You can’t do what you’ve always done, anymore. And, either you can complain about things changing - or you can be content. Instead of complaining, you can say: 'Oh, yesss! Look at all this change!' You can welcome it.”

As I spend some of my time these days taking stock of my 79 years, the surprises are sometimes about how lucky I have been. Not lucky in riches or love, but in ideas that have served me well. I can't claim to have arrived at them from deliberate study or contemplation or even having idly wondered about them. They were just there for me when I needed them.

One of them is precisely what Ram Dass says about growing old in that quotation: “ can say: 'Oh, yesss! Look at all this change!' You can welcome it.”

This entire blog for more than 16 years is the product of that idea that came to me sometime in the early 2000s when I was first researching what it is really like to get old.

What I slowly came to understand in the years that followed but did not actually grok until I read this interview is that old age is not a single stage of life. It is at least two, maybe three and could easily be several more than that. Ram Dass:

”DAVID: And now we’ve come full circle to our previous interview, haven’t we? I remember interacting with you, at that time, just a few years after your stroke when Still Here was coming out - and that book supposedly held your teachings on Aging, Changing and Dying.”

”RAM DASS: (Still smiling broadly.) When we talked, I had written that book about what I thought aging and dying was all about. But I was in my 60s. Now, I’m in my 80s and this new book talks about what it’s really like.

“Now, I am aging. I am approaching death. I’m getting closer to the end. (He pauses, tilts his head back and looks out at the Pacific.) I was so naive when I wrote that earlier book. Now, I really am ready to face the music all around me. (And he laughs.)”

Me too. Or, at least I'm getting there. Thank you, Ram Dass.

* * *

On Wednesday, my former husband, Alex Bennett, and I recorded another episode The Alex and Ronni Show. We spent the greater portion of it with me haranguing him for complaining about not receiving his mail-in ballot for the recent primary election in New York and not taking any action to remedy the problem.

Although I believe it is the sacred duty of every citizen in a democracy to vote, I had no idea I was that adamant about each of us doing everything in our power to make it happen.

You can check out Alex's online talk show here.


We've been reading aloud every morning from one book or another. The one i had bought years ago along with another by Carl A. Hammerschlag. M.D. we just finished-- The Theft of the Spirit. He's a healer who learned much from the Native Americans he worked among for 20 years. His point is that healing is not about curing but about the spirit. We're on a third one by him now with the same general themes. Definitely books are old friends.

As an ancient English major, I think it is safe to say I have majored in books all my life. As my activities have decreased during the lockdown, my book reading hours increased. I dutifully record every book I read, which may seem onerous, but it proves a handy reference when my memory fails me and I think, "Have I read this book before? It's vaguely familiar." Yup, there it is on my list from six months ago. The bad news here is the failing memory. The good news is that I get to enjoy the same book again within such a short time. As Ram Dass says, "Celebrate the changes."

"Walking Each Other Home" will be added to my book list today. Like you, Ronnie, I've not been blessed with the typical love and riches............yet as soon as I write that, I wonder. I love my house, the nature around and riches. Anyway, I am not able to maintain an openness nearly as much as I'd like, but I'm sure it's the way for me. At first I was terrified of dying alone, in a hospital, on a ventilator.
Now, I feel it totally possible, even to my benefit, if that were the case, to die with the words "Thank you," on my lips. My life has been a wonder, very hard at times, (who escapes that?) but a wonder in so many ways I never could have imagined.
And Rain's post resonated with me, without healing the spirit, all physical healing is beside the point. Another good book ahead!

Listening to your conversation with Alex, I have a dear friend who has lived abroad for decades but is now retiring back here in California and has been here for a few months remodeling a condo to live in. She has an apartment in the Netherlands that she is trying to get back to from California to get it packed and to get her cat to bring him to his new home here. The Netherlands will not let her enter from California. Can we blame them?

Just listened belatedly to the "A&R Show" -- VERY spirited discussion. I can see both sides, especially given NYC's experience with the coronavirus. Traveling downtown on a crowded subway sounds a bit risky to me (I'm 3 years older than Alex), BUT I also feel that voting is of paramount importance, especially this year. So, I'd pursue whatever other avenues I could to obtain an absentee ballot.

I SO hope the tRump Train doesn't succeed in quashing mail-in voting in some states and/or defunding the USPS. As old and physically un-able as I am, I'd be sorely tempted to march in a protest against both of those concepts! I haven't seen any widespread public attempt to fight either of them. Being from a mostly-blue state with a well-entrenched vote by mail system (whew!), my legislators are 100% on board with preserving both.

I hope dkzody's friend from the Netherlands is able to retrieve her cat. None of this is the kitty's fault!

You must have moved to this part of GV after AgentOrange's favorite mayor clamped down on civilian fireworks. I remember washing my dinner dishes, sobbing. Shaking. I vowed never to spend another 4th of July season in NYC. You clearly have no idea. Alex is right on this one. But here and now: nary a sparkler. The kids are gone. Villagers mostly repaired to the country for the duration. The working class doesn't live here anymore.

I live up Bedford Street at the Seventh Avenue So./Leroy Street intersection, Ronni, probably at most three blocks from your last NYC digs. On the subject of voting, it goes without saying that I hope fervently you'll participate In the joint flushing of AgentOrange and Malaria from the White House. But since you express some doubt, I hereby volunteer to take your virtual ballot with me into a real voting place near--or maybe even the same as--your old one.

The only extended posting I remember about your years in the nabe was your memories of the WTC attack. It would be a treat to read happier, or just other, memories of your life while the nabe morphed from legit legend to theme park. Any memories of Sonia Sotomayor, a fortress 3 Bedford resident before her SCOTUS confirmation?

I haven’t come across the word “grok “ since I read that strange book, “Stranger in a Strange Land” back in the '70's. I recall only that it was open to promiscuity. And that word. I wonder what I would think of it now?

I am really worried about dying and leaving my husband alone. He is 9 years younger than I am and much healthier. If he goes first it will be by accident. Over the last 2 years he has had to take over shopping, house cleaning and partial cooking for himself. He is now much more self sufficient than he used to be. I cannot change our emotions though. Our love of over 40 years is very deep. I think that he will move to be nearer to our daughter and her family, some states away--maybe yes, maybe no...

I enjoy cooking our main midday meal but find this exhausting.

We have come to a good place financially and now wait for a covid-19 vaccine, ha!

Ronnie you have helped me so much. God bless you. Silly expression as neither of us are believers!

Alex, like me, you are old. VOTE.VOTE.VOTE. If it kills us, VOTE.VOTE.VOTE.

Your vote is more important than your person. I am sorry but this is true, your very useful life is nearly over so go out with a bang if needs be.

I recently finished reading Ram Dass' book on dying, and it's helped give me a new perspective on the process. His optimism about life and death is a good antidote to all the gloom and doom now.

I like your and his observation about aging. It's not just one time in life, but a process--one that starts as soon as we're born. We're all aging and changing. Best to welcome it.

I don't think the Netherlands is picking on California. The EU is pretty much closed right now. The big question right now is will they even allow the US in there on July 1 when they open the gates.

Support Alex to vote. Important for those of us who love our country and want to keep our limited democracy is to slowly and persistently begin to restore ordinary things that help us care for each other. Deliver Meals on Wheels, pick up trash, and for pity's sake, Alex, vote.
Let's stop focusing on Trump. He does his drama to distract us. So spend our time focusing
on making our immediate community better.

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