968 posts categorized "Culture"

Election Day

This morning finds me with an overwhelming anxiety. I have been up for hours, and have reached for my phone three times to call one of the only people I know who could understand, empathize, and validate the terror I am feeling about the state of the world and more so, the state of our country. Ronni and I have spent COUNTLESS hours talking about health care, Social Security, Medicare, taxes, global warming, education, equality... well, you get it. Recently, however, our conversations had changed to the basic difference between right and wrong. We discussed that this election has drawn a moral line in the sand. We are no longer living in a time where we can discuss basic policy (am I insane to admit there are times that I miss W?) but instead, a time where we are deciding the fate of our country.

I promise that the future of this blog will not be one draped in political agenda. Ronni felt so strongly about this election — please VOTE.

– Autumn

A Sliver of Hope in Terrible Times

Last week, protests erupted in dozens of U.S. cities over the killing in Minneapolis of George Floyd. They have continued for days - buildings have been burned, people injured, several killed and thousands have been arrested. As I write this on Sunday, it continues and has even spread to Europe.

President Trump publicly gloated over the quality protection he received when demonstrators, on Friday night, gathered across the street from the White House. It's worth noting how he said it:

"The front line was replaced with fresh agents, like magic. Big crowd, professionally organized, but nobody came close to breaching the fence. If they had they would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen. That's when people would have been really badly hurt, at least. Many Secret Service agents just waiting for action.”

America is burning. The national shame of dead black men and women at the hands of police over many years has come to a boiling point. (It appears to also be an opportunity for provocateurs with other agendas to join the demonstrations, but that's a story for a different day.)

It cannot be incidental that this explosion of unrest is happening as a global pandemic has kept people in most of world under lockdown in their homes for more than two months.

And the president appears eager to have protesters attacked by “vicious dogs”? But that's the way he rolls. On Thursday, he warned the governor of Minnesota in another tweet,

“Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

And so on. You have undoubtedly seen the wall-to-wall coverage of the protests on television and online.

For people our age, it must immediately bring to mind the summers of the late 1960s and early 1970s: Newark, Detroit, Orangeburg, Dr. Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, Columbia University, Democratic National Convention, Stonewall, Kent State.

And those are only the ones I can recall off the top of my head. There were dozens, if not hundreds more. It is unnerving now to see it happening again.

It seems to me that something is building now toward a level of violence fueled by ignorance, lies, misinformation, stupidity, fear along with justifiable revulsion and frustration at the number of dead black people year after year for whom no one pays a price.

Is it just me, or is there a sense in the air that something more terrible than what we are seeing now is going to happen?

But then this came along - a sliver of hope.

Over the weekend, The Guardian published an essay by Dorian Linskey about W.B. Yeats poem, The Second Coming which was published 100 years ago.

The entire essay is interesting and you would probably enjoy reading it but here is the salient part to my thinking today:

”As the world is wrenched out of joint by the coronavirus pandemic,” writes Linskey, “many people are turning to poetry for wisdom and consolation, but The Second Coming fulfills a different role, as it has done in crisis after crisis, from the Vietnam war to 9/11 to the election of Donald Trump: an opportunity to confront chaos and dread, rather than to escape it...”

If you think you don't know the poem by it's title, just notice all the astonishing number of phrases within it that you have heard and read in reference to many situations throughout your life.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Maybe this helps a little. You can read the full essay here.

Memorial Day 2020

From TGB reader Henry Lowenstern on the unofficial beginning of summer:

Tomorrow, as we've done before,
we'll commemorate those we lost in war.
This year, we'll also pause to grieve
for those who have taken leave
after succumbing to a virus that
we don't yet know how to combat.
As we celebrate Memorial Day.

Over the weekend, there were none of the usual previews leading up to Memorial Day parades that have taken place in towns large and small throughout the United States since just after the Civil War.

That's because they were canceled - even the national parade on Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C. Blame the virus.

In place of all those marching bands (I love marching bands), the American Veterans Center is producing a television program:

”The National Memorial Day Parade: America Stands Tall is an original television special featuring the story of our shared history through newly-produced celebrity engagements and narrative pieces, along with memorable moments from the National Memorial Day Parade including historical reenactors and active duty military personnel, musical performances and celebrity greetings.”

It will be broadcast nationwide on the affiliate stations of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox at 2PM EDT.

Just in time for the holiday, the president managed to coerce all 50 governors to open their states to one degree or another – restaurants, bars, nail parlors, hair salons, national parks, beaches, etc. - even as virus statistics continue to climb.

What will this open holiday do to the number of virus deaths? I wonder if the country – or perhaps the entire world – will need a new holiday to commemorate the people we have lost and are still losing to the COVID-19 pandemic when it is finally over.

Here is a Memorial Day tribute to the fallen men and women who gave their lives to protect the United States.

THINKING OUT LOUD: How the U.S. Coronavirus Mess Affects Elders (and Everyone Else)

Among the few things understood about the coronavirus is that it hits old people harder that younger adults and children.

In addition to elder deaths from the virus at home and in hospitals, at least 20,000 deaths due to the virus have been reported in U.S. nursing homes but the number is undoubtedly much higher because many do not release the number of such deaths.

So much else is wrong with the U.S. official response to the virus, I cannot in good conscience focus only on the people – old folks – this blog generally addresses. Everyone of every age is at risk.

Although a few countries and some U.S. states show a slight reduction in the number of new coronavirus cases in recent days, thousands are still dying.

Nevertheless, local governments are allowing certain retailers, some beaches, restaurants and other venues to reopen. And even when governments do not yet sanction openings, there are business owners who just defy officials and open anyway.

Some reports are telling us that even without this loosening of restrictions, the number of deaths per day, now averaging about 1,000, is expected to double by early June.

And I haven't even gotten to those armed, masked men at the Michigan statehouse. I'm still not clear what they were protesting but those gigantic guns they carried were shocking enough to scare me about what could happen.

A better kind of leadership, I am convinced, would bring the country together rather than leave it open to threats of violence. (President George W. Bush after 9/11 comes to mind. Also President Barak Obama after the church shootings in Charleston.)

For myself, I gave up on Dr. Deborah Birx when she declared a few weeks ago that the president has a deep understanding of the science of the pandemic. She confirmed my misgivings about her further when she tried to defend the president's Clorox delusion.

Meanwhile, the closest thing the U.S. has to national leadership that can be believed is New York Governor Andrew Cuomo but he, rightly, is focused on his state.

Certainly we cannot pay attention to President Clorox and anyway, on Tuesday, The Guardian headlined a story thusly: “Trump Gives Up on Virus Fight to Focus on Economic Recovery – and Re-election.”

So I guess we can move on from the fantasy some might have entertained that he would ever have anything useful to contribute to a future triumph over our global health predicament.

In recent days, Trump has also withdrawn U.S. funding of the World Health Organization (WHO), refused to join world leaders in funding COVID-19 vaccine research and announced the intention to “wind down” the White House coronavirus task force.

Here is something else Trump is working on. As reported in Common Dreams (and other places) on Monday,

”President Donald Trump on Sunday said he will not approve another badly needed Covid-19 stimulus package if it doesn't include a payroll tax cut, a policy that would strike a blow to Social Security and Medicare funding while offering no relief for the more than 30 million people who have lost their jobs over the past six weeks.

"'I told Steve just today, we're not doing anything unless we get a payroll tax cut,' Trump said during a Fox News town hall Sunday night, referring to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. 'That is so important to the success of our country.'”

In case anyone is in the dark about what payroll taxes are, they are deductions from every employee's paycheck to fund Social Security and Medicare. Employers match the payroll tax.

It's hard to keep up. As I am writing this on Tuesday, it is being reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, following a Republican lunch, told reporters that the Senate is in no hurry to pass any new legislation related to COVID-19.

I guess that means we can, for now, relax about Social Security and Medicare cuts. More broadly, it means that individual states are on their own without anywhere near the resources of the federal government.

In the history of the United States, I'm pretty sure there has never been such incompetence and dereliction of responsibility. This is a horror show.

THINKING OUT LOUD: Growing Old with Chronic Conditions

Judging from comments on this blog, a lot of us live with chronic conditions. The National Council on Aging tells us that

”Approximately 80% of older adults have at least one chronic disease, and 77% have at least two.”

Eighty percent! Think of it.

Unless you grew up with a grandparent or two living in your home (not uncommon to our generation but not so much since then), you probably had little first-hand knowledge of how old people are (and are not) different from younger adults.

For most of my adult life, I didn't know any old people – that is, older than 70 or so. There were a couple of neighbors at different times who were well into their eighties. We exchanged pleasantries in the hall or at the mailboxes, but we were not friends; we didn't hang out together.

Otherwise, it was usually in the subway or the markets that I saw old people. What I mostly noticed is that they were slow. Very slow. I remember wanting to sprint up the stairs from the subway one rush hour but being stuck in the crowd behind an old woman who took the stairs one at a time with a little rest on each step. To my shame, I know I rolled my eyes to myself. It can't be the only time I did that.

On the other hand, you know those old folks – they keep confounding you. When I visited one neighbor about some local issue our block association was dealing with, he – then about 85 - showed me how he had expanded his living quarters by building a sleeping loft and used a ladder to get up and down.

These days, as I fast approach my own eighties, I'm overly cautious even with a small step stool. I quit ladders entirely about a year ago and should have done it sooner.

(This is the same man who, as I was on my way to work one day, said good morning and then, walking along with me to the corner, eagerly told me, “Viagra works.”)

These days, I am like the woman slowly climbing the subway stairs. One of my two conditions, COPD, is forever pulling on my metaphorical dog collar. It doesn't quite order me to “heal”, but if I'm walking at my old, pre-chronic conditions pace, it steals my breath forcing me to stop walking for a minute or two. It happens way too frequently.

I also tend to forget that I can no longer carry anything weighing more than about five pounds without heaving for breath after a few yards, even when I'm walking slowly.

These (and others that I will spare you) are not new phenomena in my life. They have been accumulating for three years now and you would think I would be done with the annoyance they continue to cause me. But no. I keep making the same mistakes.

Earlier this week, I found myself thinking about the old woman climbing those subway stairs so long ago.

Grocery shopping since the pandemic began is a fraught enterprise for me. Once I've gathered my nitrile gloves, face mask, left disinfectant supplies on the patio table to clean the packages when I get home, I am compelled to sit down. Scared. Am I doing enough to avoid the virus? Is it this time I will get it?

So I sit for 10 or 15 or 20 minutes practicing some calming breathing techniques until at last, I'm on my way.

With COPD, shortness of breath can be caused not only by over-exertion but by anxiety too. And that day, I found myself in the ice cream aisle heaving to get my breath. I stood leaning against the shopping cart when I heard, behind me, “Excuse me, I need to get by.”

Because the aisles are not six feet wide, there was nowhere for me to go but forward and so I pushed the cart – slowly, still trying to breathe normally – until I could get out of the other shopper's way. And that's when the memory of the old woman on the stairs kicked in.

When I saw that the woman behind me was a couple of decades younger than I am, I imagined her rolling her eyes at me.

Maybe she did. Maybe she didn't. But I also didn't care. And later, I thought it was a not unreasonable payback for my own impatience with the woman on the subway stairs who, I hope, would not have cared either if she had seen me roll my eyes.

Lockdown is Not So Bad for Some Old Folks

Throughout the U.S. lockdown I've been saying to friends (and may have mentioned in these pages), that staying home is more tolerable for old folks than younger ones.

Now, along comes John Leland, one of the finest reporters and writers at The New York Times, to back me up.

Noting that “People age 70 and up account for two-thirds of all coronavirus deaths in New York, though they make up less than 10 percent of the population,” he continues,

'Yet many New Yorkers in this age group are thriving during this catastrophe — skilled at being alone, not fearful about their career prospects, emotionally more experienced at managing the great disruption of everyday life that is affecting everyone.”

That's pretty much what I was thinking and it's nice to have confirmation from another source, especially one I respect so much. Unlike me, however, Leland spoke with half a dozen old people in New York who are making good use of their at-home solitude. A sampling:

“'I'm fine,' [Janet] Wasserman said the other day, taking a break from her research and twice-daily walks with her dog. 'I’m not complaining. In 85 years I’ve seen just about everything that can happen on this planet.

“'If you haven’t lived as long as I have you might think this was the worst thing that ever happened. But people who know history know the difference.'”

Ninety-nine-year-old Sterling Lord is eager to start a new literary agency from his home but frustrated that he can't hire assistants during lockdown:

“'Am I nervous about the virus?' he said. 'Yes. But not that nervous...I have not been out of the house at all since this thing began. It’s very little change. With my work, it’s very easy for me to go the whole day without going outside.'”

In January, 89-year-old Gordon Rogoff lost his husband to Parkinson's disease. He told Leland,

“'Those of us who are older are singled out for a form of house arrest. I like it, actually. I’m recovering some sense of space and time that’s been lost in the hectic arrangements in which we live on a daily basis.

“'I hadn’t realized how deeply immersed in the bustle of contemporary life I have been. One musician, for example, said to me, This is the sabbatical I’ve longed to have. I can see the point, I really can.'”

Leland tell us that despite the grim statistics of nursing home deaths and frightened, isolated elders, the old ones “offer a counternarrative of resourcefulness and perseverance.” As Gary M. Kennedy, director of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center and professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, told Leland,

“'The reality is that older adults as a group have a positivity bias,' or tendency to see the good side of situations...

“'Their pessimism and anxiety tend to abate with age. They’re no longer striving for material achievements, so what matters to them now is what’s emotionally satisfying. They’re more likely to say, I’ve been through this before.'”

Well, none of us has been through a pandemic before but I have noticed in recent years that I don't get as disturbed by bad news as when I was younger. I suppose it helps, in this virus circumstance, to be a homebody like me.

What about you?

Letting Elders Die to Save the Economy?

When I asked my palliative care provider on Monday what it would be like with my COPD lungs to die of COVID-19, he spoke directly. Drugs can help with pain, but it would not be fun.

He also mentioned that like everywhere, ventilators are in short supply here. I told him that if it comes to that, give any ventilator I might use to a younger person. I have lived almost eight decades; it's the right thing to do. For me.

Most definitely I did not mean that old people should do all the dying in this pandemic or that old people should be specifically targeted to die or that the economy should take precedence over whether anyone lives or dies.

But some people – well-known ones - do. Huffpost reports on one of them,

”TV and radio personality Glenn Beck is urging older Americans to return to work to keep the economy going despite the coronavirus infection risks.

“Younger people, he said, could stay home to protect themselves from the virus that causes COVID-19 while older people ― who the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says are more prone to the most serious cases ― should keep working.”

Beck seemed to be following the lead of Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick who, earlier that day,

”...went on Fox News to argue that he would rather die than see public health measures damage the US economy, and that he believed 'lots of grandparents' across the country would agree with him”, reports The Guardian.

“My message: let’s get back to work, let’s get back to living, let’s be smart about it, and those of us who are 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves,” Lt Gov Dan Patrick, a 69-year-old Republican, told Fox News host Tucker Carlson on Monday night.”

Trump has been with these guys all week. You've undoubtedly heard that he wants to re-open the U.S. economy by Easter Sunday:

”Following his National Economic Council chairman’s [Larry Kudlow] declaration that 'we’re gonna have to make some difficult trade-offs,' i.e. we’re going to have to let some people die so the stock market can live, Trump told reporters during an evening press conference that while the death toll is 'bad,' and 'the numbers are going to increase with time, we’re 'going to be opening our country up for business, because our country was meant to be open.'”

I'm pretty sure there is not a scientist among us who believes we should return to the previous status quo anytime soon. Here's something else Trump said on Fox News:

”...more people could die by suicide because of stress and anxiety about the economy than would die from COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.

"'You're going to lose more people by putting a country into a massive recession or depression,' Trump said. 'You're going to lose people. You're going to have suicides by the thousands. You're going to have all sorts of things happen.'”

As several people noted around the web, the president has limited power to stop the lockdown and reopen the economy. Those decisions mostly occur at the state level, made by governors. But little seems to be working as it has in the past since Trump became president so as he too often likes to say, we'll see.

It is a frightening precedent to hear well-known people such as Beck, Kudlow, Patrick, Trump and others (people who, whatever you think of them, are admired and believed by tens of millions) declaring who among us should live and who should die.

Hardly anyone has raised a voice against them for this.

Not About the Virus

Believe it or not, there are other things besides the virus going on in public and in private that affect elders and warrant a mention. Here are a handful.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced on Friday that Tax Day has been delayed until 15 July 2020. In addition, he tweeted,

”All taxpayers and businesses will have this additional time to file and make payments without interest or penalties.”

However, if you expect a refund, you can file your tax return anytime earlier and a check will be sent when your return is processed.

You can read more at Yahoo! Finance.

My Census form arrived on Friday. Well, it isn't a form. It is a letter with my census ID and a website where I could fill in my questionnaire.

I was amused when I noticed that the letter referred to my “invitation to respond” but the envelope states in bold print, “YOUR RESPONSE IS REQUIRED BY LAW.”

It was an easy questionnaire that I finished in under five minutes. Be sure to respond to your “invitation” by 1 April.

Some of you who have been around this blog for a long time might recall that when I was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2017, I instantly gave up the daily 45-minute exercise routine I had hated doing for many years.

From that moment forward, for two years I was diligent about not working out each morning. I never missed a day. Then I went to pulmonary rehab last October. In addition to some breathing techniques, it's all about exercise.

I graduated from rehab at the end of January but I was more hit-and-miss about exercise (a day or two a week) and didn't get serious about my new at-home routine (which I had devised for myself with the help of the nurses at rehab) until the end of February.

By then, I was having mild but increasing breathing problems of the kind I hadn't experienced since before rehab. So I got serious about morning exercise.

It is not nearly as hard as my old, years-long routine but it is difficult enough for this 78-year-old with two deadly diseases to benefit from. I could feel the difference in my breathing by the morning after the first workout and now, three weeks later, I am breathing as well as when I left rehab.

I pass all this on to say that while we are stuck at home we should make time every day, or every other day, to get in some mild exercise – something that your own body and condition allow you to do.

When I first went to rehab, I did not believe exercise while sitting in a chair (which is about 60 percent of my routine) could be useful. Wow, did those nurses prove me wrong from day one. But it sure does pay off.

TGB reader Karin L. Bendel asked on Friday how virus things are going here in Oregon. As of Saturday morning when I'm writing this, there are just over 100 confirmed cases of the Corona virus in Oregon and three deaths.

Governor Kate Brown, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Multnomah County Commission Chair Deborah Kafoury have been working together on an order to help limit new infections, reported Q13Fox:

“'This is not a lockdown. This will be a stay at home unless it’s absolutely necessary order,' Wheeler said, adding that people can still walk their dog, go to the pharmacy, grocery store and get takeout.”

“The officials said they would draft the specifics over the weekend and would provide more details on Monday.”

Also, I received an email from Safeway supermarket (where my pharmacy is located) on Saturday advising that cash register aisles are being fitted with self-checkout counters.

I'm keeping in touch with friends everywhere by email and phone. How about you?

On Thursday, someone named anon and on Friday a person named Amanda Smith, left an identical comment:

”you boomers are shutting down the entire economy because you're afraid of a flu. Seriously, can you boomers kill yourselves? You are the most selfish generation to ever exist. You don't give a shit about climate change, why should we young people give a shit if you get sick and die of some virus? I HOPE the virus gets much stronger and kills you all.”

I left the two comments up until Saturday just so we know how some people are spending their time in regard to the virus. If I could say anything to them, I'd send both to all the video of, ahem, YOUNG PEOPLE crowded on beaches in Florida.

Besides being beyond the pale, the two comments led some readers astray from the day's topic, falls prevention, when I had hoped some would have more good suggestions for keeping safe from falls.

So on Saturday, I removed the two comments along with all references to them in other comments. So if part or all of your comment is now missing, you know the reason.

If there are more such drive-by comments in the future, I will delete them as soon as I see them.

Becoming More Emotional in Old Age

TGB reader Doug M., who blogs at ApacheDug's Teepee, left this comment on Saturday's Interesting Stuff post:

”I think the older I get, the more emotional I become. The video of the storks & that kind man tending to them and giving him a reason for living, left me a bit teary-eyed. Such kindness here.”

In another item in Saturday's potpourri, reader Kate Gilpin told us about how the musical flash mob similarly affects her:

”I have always found that [this flash mob] actually brings me to tears,” she wrote, “because of the amazing sense of community it illustrates.”

It is something that, like Doug, I have noticed about myself in recent years – that I become weepy easily at sad stories, inspiring stories or any other kind of story, it sometime seems.

There doesn't appear to be much research or information on this phenomenon (if it is one) and when there is, too often the undocumented assumption is that it is a medical problem. In addition, the few articles are mostly about men becoming more weepy in old age, but not women.

Do you think that might be due to the fact that most of our lives we have lived in a macho culture that discourages men from crying in public but allows women to do so? I don't know. But I immediately related to both Doug M. and Kate Gilpin when I read their comments.

In one article at the website, A Place for Mom, five of six given reasons for why old men cry are ones that are not unlikely to require medical attention:

Hormonal changes
Previous trauma
Depression, anxiety or mental illness due to aging
Social isolation
Health issues and medications

Since no one with any kind of expertise is cited in that story, let's ignore it and move on.

In an ambivalent piece in Psychology Today from 2011, the writer suggests that outsized reactions to important life events may increase with age:

”In circumstances in which strong emotions are aroused, older adults (of either gender) may not be able to regulate their emotions as well as younger people.”

Does the writer mean, do you think, that feeling strong emotions more frequently in old age is somehow a personal failure? Phooey.

Moving on.

Have you ever been so happy that you cried? I have. There seemed no other adequate response at the time and I think that is partly what Doug M. is getting at and Kate Gilpin too.

Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Professor Emerita of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, writing in Huffpost in 2015, says that the older we get, the more complex our emotions become and the more we are willing to live with mixed emotions.

”There’s no reason, then, to worry if you have those feelings in which joy and sadness become intermingled,” she wrote. “It doesn’t mean that you’re getting more depressed or losing control of your emotions.

“Take pride in your capacity to appreciate the subtleties of your emotional life, a feeling that should only add to your happiness and fulfillment.”

Now we're getting somewhere.

Five years ago, psychiatrist James S. Gordon, writing in the Washington Post admitted that he sometimes starts the day weeping. It just happens, he said, maybe while reading the morning paper. He went on:

”Almost 40 years ago, anthropologist Gregory Bateson — a pioneer in cybernetics and architect of the double bind theory of schizophrenia — wondered aloud to me if he were becoming more sensitive and affectionate as he moved into old age, more prone to tears.

“A few years later, playwright William Alfred, my former Harvard tutor and long-time friend, said something similar: poems which had once touched him now brought him to tears...”

For all the less-than-edifying copy I waded through to write this post. James S. Gordon is the most thoughtful and interesting. Even though he is writing about men, much of what he says feels right for me. Let's allow him to continue:

”Gregory, gifted observer of patterns, may have put his finger on it. Men may, as they age, indeed become more sensitive. I’ve noticed the changes in classmates at high school, college and medical school reunions, and in the e-mails we sometimes exchange, as well as in myself.

“The competitiveness, the real or assumed toughness of our youth is, as we age, being balanced; our Yang tempered by Yin.

“Perhaps social scientists will eventually find a way to exhaustively quantify the changes. Right now, though, it’s important simply to know what I and other men are seeing and feeling.

“We are more willing to admit to and feel the terrible pain of our losses; to weep in celebration of our own and other’s loving connections; to know and feel the threat that individual and collective greed and selfishness, and the fear that feeds them, pose to all of us and to generations beyond us.

“That our tender emotions are hopeful signs, not of weakness or pathology, but of a necessary and welcome growth — in our compassion, wholeness and, perhaps, our wisdom.”

Although it is clearly a question that could use more research, I think Gordon and Bateson are on to something. What do you think? Do you relate to any of this?

Old People, Fraud and the 2020 Census

Not long ago, I mentioned here that although more young people (age 20 to 29) are victims of fraud, older people (50 and older) lose larger amounts of money to fraud, according to an AARP survey.

Now, it seems, the upcoming U.S. Census will be a big opportunity for fraudsters.

The survey, titled The Impostors: Stealing Money, Damaging Lives, focused in part on government imposters who pretend to be from the Census Bureau, Social Security Administration, Internal Revenue Service or other agency types of scams.

According to the AARP survey, 77 percent of U.S. adults are not familiar with Census scams which, of course, would make them more vulnerable to one. The upcoming Census – as with any public event – is expected to “substantially” raise the number of scams.

First, here is the official Census schedule – what you can expect and when:

March 12 – 20
Households begin received a snailmail notification from the Census Bureau with instructions on how to respond to the 2020 Census via snailmail, telephone or online.

March 30 – April 1
During these three days, the Census Bureau will count homeless people.

April 1
This is Census Day, observed nationwide, by which date every home in the U.S. will have received their Census form. When you respond, tell the Census Bureau where you live on April 1.

The Month of April
Census takers will begin visiting college students who live on campus, people living in senior centers, and others who live among large groups of people.

May – July
Census takers will visit homes that haven't responded to the 2020 Census to help make sure everyone is counted.

Now take a look at this short video on five ways to avoid Census scams:

Here are some warning signs that someone is a scammer:

You get an unsolicited email purporting to be from the Census Bureau. For household surveys and the decennial Census, the agency almost always makes contact by snailmail.

A supposed census agent asks you for money or financial data, such as the number of and amount in your bank account.

A supposed census taker threatens you with arrest. Taking part in the Census is required by law, and you can be fined for not doing so, but you can’t be imprisoned.

Here are other important do's and don'ts.

DO check the URL of any supposed Census website. Make sure it has a census.gov domain and is encrypted — look for https:// or a lock symbol in the browser window.

DO NOT give your Social Security number, mother’s maiden name, or bank or credit card numbers to someone claiming to be from the Census Bureau. Genuine Census representatives will not ask for this information.

DO NOT reply, click links or open attachments in a suspicious census email. Forward the message to [email protected].

DO NOT trust caller ID — scammers can use “spoofing” tools to make it appear they’re calling from a real Census Bureau number. Call the National Processing Center at 800-523-3205, 800-642-0469 or 800-877-8339 (TDD/TTY) to verify that a phone survey is legitimate.

If you keep all this mind you should be safe from scams and scammers. Here are links to further information:

The U.S. Census 2020 Website

AARP Census Scams

Key Findings from the AARP Survey

Have you or someone you know been scammed? If so, what did you learn from the experience?

Successful Aging

DONATION WEEK IS DONE – aren't you glad about that – and I thank each and every one of you for your generous support.

Quite a few of you included nice messages with your donations and I had intended to answer each one. But there are just too many and not enough time. I hope you understand.

Thank you all, you are the best.

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The phrase in that headline always sets my teeth on edge. As popular as it is in newspaper, magazine and online headers, and particularly as a book title (I stopped counting at Amazon when I got to 24), it always makes me wonder this: Successful as opposed to what? Unsuccessful aging? Failed aging?

A percentage of old and retired people live in poverty. Is that failed aging? A lot of old people refuse to acknowledge they are getting old. Does that fall on the success or the failure side of aging? And who sets the criteria?

I'm not even sure it's possible for anyone to fail at aging.

This is not new material to me but it came 'round again when a friend and TGB reader who uses the name doctafil to comment here emailed a link to the Montreal Gazette review of yet another book titled, Successful Aging.

The author, 62-year-old Daniel J. Levitin, a cognitive psychologist, musician and neuroscientist (hence the subtitle, “A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives”) believes current popular writing on old age has not kept up with the science:

“'Part of the societal narrative that I want to push back on,” he told the Gazette, “is that we tend to think of life as comprising these developmental stages — prenatal, infancy, toddlerhood, childhood, adolescence, young adulthood and so on, and that after some point — 65, 70, whatever — it’s just decline,' Levitin said. 'And that’s not borne out by the research.

“'(Old age) is a distinct developmental stage,' he continues, 'and as with any other, there are pluses and minuses. So I wanted to write about what science had to say about the course of aging and what happens in the brain, from the womb right up to old age.'”

[STOP RIGHT HERE FOR A MOMENT: I'm not going to tell you what that science is because the review skips that part and I haven't read the book. If that seems unfair to you, I would agree. But the title and review became such a mental “ear worm” (as when you get a tune stuck in your head) that I decided to riff on it and see what happens.]

What the review does give us is a list of the usual suspects about how to grow old such as choose carefully where you live and be sure to get enough sleep:

”Older people tend to get less sleep,” says Levitin, “but they need eight or nine hours just like the rest of us. Many cases of Alzheimer’s are misdiagnosed cases of sleep deprivation.”

I didn't know that about Alzheimer's and sleep. However, a quick trip around the internet tells me that research shows lack of sleep MAY lead to dementia but it is a long way from being proved.

Not surprisingly, Levitin says that too much time online isn't good for a person's well-being and face-to-face conversation is important to help avoid loneliness, a problem for people who are more inclined to introspection and solitude than some others.

“You can’t just will yourself out of that,” Levitin says. “But for many adults, after a certain age neurochemical shifts cause them to be more outgoing.”

That may be true for some but Levitin makes a welcome point that I've not run across much from other writers on successful aging:

“...I would add a distinction that I maybe didn’t make enough of in the book — that loneliness and solitude are not the same. Some people enjoy solitude and don’t feel lonely; other people are lonely in a crowded room.

“Loneliness is the killer, not solitude.”

Ageism in general and in the workplace plays a role in Levitin's idea of successful aging:

“It’s a huge battle,” Levitin concurred. “Even within the neuroscience community it’s not talked about. When you think about all of the different isms or prejudices that face society, whether it’s sexism, racism, prejudice against LGBTQ people...all of these are far from solved, but at least they’re part of the national conversation. They’re on the table. Ageism is not.”

Most of this confirms my personal positions on these issues but it still doesn't explain what “successful aging” is which no one seems to have adequately defined.

Again, I am not critiquing the book – I haven't read it. But you would think I'd have gained a sense of what people who spend a lot of time writing an entire book mean by successful aging. And I don't.

That's what irritates me and undoubtedly caused my mental ear worm. If successful aging is going to be a “thing” for old people, as it has appeared to be for 15 or 20 years, it would be a good idea to know what the failure is that these writers want us to avoid.

Or is it just another way of saying saying, take good care of yourself?

Old folks get plenty of useful information about sleep, nutrition, loneliness, falls prevention, etc. from our physicians, AARP and dozens of other good resources. Until someone tells me how “successful aging“ books are different, I'm done with it (except I'm interested in what new things neuroscience has discovered about old brains).

What do you think?

Tender Love and Hair

This is day five of the 2020 TGB donation drive to help support the costs of maintaining Time Goes By. You can read the details on Monday's post.

It's lovely this week to see so many names that don't turn up in the comments as the donations arrive at Paypal – and the familiar names too.

But, whether you donate or not, nothing will change. TGB will always remain advertising-free with never a membership fee or paid firewall. If you would like to help support the work that goes on here, click the button below. If not, which is perfectly fine, scroll down for today's Valentine's Day post.

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Remember when I was bald last year? I had lost my hair to chemo therapy and after I got over the shock, I rather liked having no hair. It saved a lot of time and effort and when it started growing back in, I shaved it a couple of times.

But eventually, I let it grow in and it had become a crazy mess so last Monday I had my first haircut in many months. I feel a whole lot better which is what a haircut should do for us. Keep that in mind.

I was early arriving at the salon so I settled down to peruse a hair industry trade magazine, Beauty Launchpad, where I found this lovely story suitable for Valentine's Day.

Joey Lane had become a certified nursing assistant during high school but moved on to become a hair dresser at a salon in the small town of Brunswick, Georgia where, he says, that high school nursing assistant training stuck with him.

After five years working in the salon, Joey

”...made the decision to combine my two passions...There are so many people who are underrepresented and forgotten about during what can be the scariest time in their lives, so I decided to do something about it.

“I felt the need to reach out to my local hospice facility, the Hospice of the Golden Isles, and that’s how Tender Love & Hair was born.”

Volunteering at local long-term care homes and hospice, Joey has found ways to adapt his hair dressing skills to a different clientele:

”One of the most genius kit items for me at hospice is no-rinse shampoo caps. I warm them up in the microwave, put them on the patient’s head, massage the cap and they’re good to go!

“Another go-to is my mini flat iron. It enables me to create that signature 'bump' on shorter hairstyles while minimizing the risk of burns for patients who may suddenly move during styling.”

But for Joey it's more than helping to keep patients' hair looking good.

”By far, the best part about what I do is interacting with the patients,” he says. “I hear their stories, and we become friends. Being able to bring them any bit of happiness, no matter how small, is a privilege and an honor.”

With his organization, Tender Love and Hair, Joey urges other hair dressers to volunteer their time too. He says it's easy to

”...reach out to your local hospice facility to inquire about volunteering, or donate to existing programs that help serve this population. You may go into a hospice facility expecting to change lives, but you’ll probably realize that you’ll be the one whose life is changed for the better.”

Joey's life has certainly changed as he is delving even deeper into his first passion, studying now for an RN degree. I don't have any doubt he'll be a terrific nurse.

Isn't that an excellent Valentine's Day story? There is more at the Beauty Launchpad website.



Maya Angelou – On Aging

In the five or six years before I started this blog 15 years ago, when I was doing my early research into aging, there were hardly any books about the subject. The few that existed were mostly academic tomes, popular instructions on how to appear younger and collections of jokes about how awful getting old is.

That changed at just about the exact moment the oldest baby boomer turned 65 in 2011. I don't mean the books necessarily got better. Only that the passage of those earliest boomers into elderhood begot a tsunami of books on ageing.

From that point forward, anyone who lived to be 60 or more, with or without discernible English language skills, wrote a book about growing old. (Near illiterates were, apparently, as ticked off about incessant disparagement of growing old as I was/am.)

No one writes about other ages of life while they are living them. Teenagers don't. Nor do young adults. And the only person I know who wrote about middle age was my late friend, Eda LeShan. It is titled The Wonderful Crisis of Middle Age, a book Eda approached from her professional perspective of family counselor.

Books about ageing – good, bad and mostly indifferent – now pour forth annually, so many that I no longer bother with them unless I can discern their relative value before reading.

I know. I miss some good ones but what's an old girl to do – there is only so much time.

Sometimes years later I catch up with a book I ignored when it was first published (I'll be telling you about one of those soon). Other times, I turn to shorter pieces which, depending on the writer, can be as knowing and wise as book-length thoughts occasionally are.

An important one came to mind over the past week or so.

It has been more than five years now since author, editor, college professor, truth-teller Maya Angelou died in 2014. Undoubtedly, I don't need to tell you how wise a woman she was and she found her way to writing about age now and then.

Her slim 2009 volume, Letter to My Daughter, is packed with her charm, insight and warmth including this:

"I am convinced that most people do not grow up. We marry and dare to have children and call that growing up. I think what we do is mostly grow old.

“We carry accumulation of years in our bodies, and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are innocent and shy as magnolias."

Isn't that splendid: “our real selves, the children inside, are innocent and shy as magnolias."

She also said this:

”The most important thing I can tell you about aging is this: If you really feel that you want to have an off-the-shoulder blouse and some big beads and thong sandals and a dirndl skirt and a magnolia in your hair, do it. Even if you're wrinkled.”

She sure did get a lot of good use out of magnolias.

Maya Angelou wrote an entire poem about being old and snippets from it have been bubbling up in my mind frequently enough that I had to track it down.

I posted it here when Ms. Angelou died and since there is nothing I can say about this extraordinary, inspiration of a woman that others have said well, here is the poem again, On Aging.

When you see me sitting quietly,
Like a sack left on the shelf,
Don’t think I need your chattering.
I’m listening to myself.

Hold! Stop! Don’t pity me!
Hold! Stop your sympathy!
Understanding if you got it,
Otherwise I’ll do without it!

When my bones are stiff and aching,
And my feet won’t climb the stair,
I will only ask one favor:
Don’t bring me no rocking chair.

When you see me walking, stumbling,
Don’t study and get it wrong.
‘Cause tired don’t mean lazy
And every goodbye ain’t gone.

I’m the same person I was back then,
A little less hair, a little less chin,
A lot less lungs and much less wind.
But ain’t I lucky I can still breathe in.

Merry Christmas, Everyone

And now for what has become a Time Goes By tradition, the eighth annual playback of Penelope Keith's marvelous reading – as Miss Cynthia Bracegirdle – of And Yet Another Partridge in a Pear Tree: A Cautionary Tale for Christmas Showing That it is Better to Give than to Receive.

It was originally broadcast on the BBC (Radio 4) on 25 December 1977 – and is wickedly funny. From Soundcloud.

British Christmas Adverts – Part 2

(Part 1 is here.)

Following on from a week ago, today we have Part 2 of the 2019 British Christmas Adverts survey. It's not all of them, but a whole lot. Some are just okay and some are spectacularly good. All enjoyable.

In the videos below, the top line, in bold caps, is the title of the video. The second line is the name of the sponsor. Enjoy.


In our online shopping era, people need to be reminded about their local stores. There are 13 real-life shopkeepers in this advert including a bookseller, greengrocer, antique dealer and café owner.


To quote the YouTube page:

”150 years ago Sainsbury’s opened their first store and Christmas changed forever. Coincidence? Almost certainly - ho ho ho.”


Jack and Tilly spread Christmas magic around their town.


Witness the Flying Tra-peas, a guest appearance from bad guy Russell Sprout and of course, the star of the show - #KevinTheCarrot.


Many of the Christmas adverts are expensive extravaganzas. This low-budget video is just as heartwarming.


This is the company's first Christmas advert.


From the YouTube page.

”Very's Christmas advert tells the story of a community that comes together to give Sidney, a lonely man, a Christmas that he’ll never forget.”


This year, eBay promised no holiday promotions until November.

TK Maxx

The goal, they say, is to break the monotony of gifting.

That's it – all the British Christmas adverts I have. Oh, except for this one that I posted on it's own about three weeks ago. It's my favorite of the year – maybe the best reunion ever – and worth a second viewing. Or third. Or fourth.


Merry Christmas, everyone.

British Christmas Adverts – Part 1

In November and December each year, some of Great Britain's oldest and most well-known retail establishments spend gobs of money on Christmas commercials that can warm your heart, make you laugh and even, sometimes, force an unexpected tear or two from your eye.

In past holiday seasons, I have sometimes posted one of the adverts that caught my eye but this year I did a survey of all that are out there. Whew! A lot. Some are fantastic. Others are only so-so. But it's been fun checking them out.

There are so many that I'll share these with you in two batches – today and next Monday. This is not every British Christmas advert but it's a large enough number for me. In the videos below, the top line, in bold caps, is the title of the video. The second line is the name of the sponsor. Enjoy.

Hafod Hardware

Just to prove that you don't need to be a big, rich corporation to make a terrific holiday advert, here is one from the hardware store in the small town of Rhayader, Wales, population 2,000.

The little boy is Arthur Lewis Jones, age 2.

John Lewis and Partners and Waitrose and Partners

About a little girl and her friendship with an excitable young dragon who almost derails festivities with his fire-breathing excitement.

Parody of the Edgar/John Lewis video

I know – some people think we should leave politics out of the season but this is worth it. Some guy named Joe with a YouTube channel fashioned this video from the John Lewis dragon vid above.


Also titled All Mariah Carey Wants This Christmas, this is what happens behind the scenes when Mariah Carey and a Christmas elf discover the last bag of Walkers Pigs in Blankets.


A Tesco delivery driver takes an unexpected detour through time, embarking upon 100 years of Delivering Christmas in one magical night. Loaded with a van full of ‘food from the future,’ he might just make a few historic deliveries along the way.

Iceland Foods

Iceland Foods teamed up with the Disney film Frozen 2 for this advert. Three words: Perfect Christmas Dinner.

THE BOOK OF DREAMS (Extended Version)

Argos renames the catalogue ‘The Book of Dreams’ as a dad’s childhood dreams are awoken when he sees the drumkit his daughter has circled.

Disneyland Paris

How Disneyland in Paris came to be.

M & S Food

It's M&S Christmas Food – that's what they tell us. The M&S Food Christmas Market – where good food and festive fun collide to create a magical Christmas experience.

Sure Petcare

Once upon a time, in a happy, comfortable home, the Bell Family were preparing for Christmas. On Christmas Day, Mrs Bell left the house before dawn to go to her job as a nurse. Though she was sad to leave on such a special day, she knew that even in her absence she would still feel connected to her pets.

Part 2 of British Christmas Adverts is here.

The Limits of Longevity

”An American biotech company has launched clinical trials in Colombia to test a new therapy designed to reverse the aging process, and in turn, treat age-related diseases...” reports Live Science.

Here's the catch: it will cost you US$1 million to participate and you will need to travel to Cartagena, Colombia, where the trial is being conducted.

According to reports, the new treatment focuses on lengthening telomeres, structures found at the tips of chromosomes that become shorter after each cell division until they either stop dividing or perish.

The theory is that if telomeres are repaired, ageing will reverse. I can't prove this but I'm pretty sure the pertinent literature is littered with failed experiments based on that telomere theory – I certainly have read of several such studies over the years.

Announcements of new longevity treatments have been dropping into my inbox a couple of times a month for as long as I've been writing this blog (15 years), never to be heard from again. But this is the first time I know of that researchers are charging people money to participate in the clinical trial.

What intrigues me with every announcement of a possible longevity treatment is the unspoken assumption that lengthening human life beyond the ancient four-score-and-seven is always a good thing.

But is it really?

Let's play with that idea today. Something like how would life change without death looming or, at least, if an average life span extended to – oh, let's say 200 or 250 years.

My practical side always kicks in first: if people lived that long, where would we put everyone? We have already overpopulated our planet, perhaps beyond our ability to save ourselves. There are people in Hong Kong right now who make their homes in cubicles not much larger than a coffin.

Would ageing continue as it is now with our bodies slowly losing vitality as now or would good health necessarily need to be built in to treatment for increased longevity? (And does that put a monkey wrench in even the idea of life extension?)

If the trial mentioned above were successful, what would reversing the ageing process look like? Would a person treated for extended longevity look younger and younger by the day? How far back would people's ages reverse?

No one yet has come up with any way to extend human life. In fact, in the United States, life expectancy has been dropping in the past three years. So since this is fantasy today so go as wild as you like with predictions.

And let's not forget the cultural questions.

If life stretched out in front of us for two, three or more times the current life expectancy, would we still fall in love, have children, form families? Or would that become less important? Or...

How would work and its meaning change?

If you were the age you are now and knew that barring accident, you would have another 150 or more years, how would that affect your daily life? Your goals?

Does death give life meaning that it would not have if we could double or triple humans' current life span? How so?

Don't take this too seriously – have some fun with it today. Or, if you've got an extra million dollars lying around and you're thinking you might spend it in that clinical trial, let us know and be sure to send us updates from Cartagena.

Among Generations

It has been longer than it feels like to me since President Donald Trump announced he is pulling the United States out of the Paris Agreement on climate change – 1 June 2017 – proving yet again that he is dumber than I thought he was.

He followed through on that threat (yes, it is an actual threat to the survival of planet Earth) on Monday by sending paperwork to the United Nations that begins the year-long process of U.S. withdrawal from the Agreement.


As reported in the Washington Post, on Tuesday while speaking about the dire need for a stricter climate change policy, 25-year-old member of the New Zealand Parliament, Chlöe Swarbrick, reacted to a jeer about her youth with an insolent aside, “OK boomer,” before smoothly continuing her speech.

It comes so quickly at :16 seconds into this video that you can barely hear it:

Just this week, I've run into that epithet about a dozen times. As befits someone even older than the boomer generation, I am apparently way behind the curve on the slang term. In fact, as Molly Roberts writes in the Washington Post,

“OK, boomer” was fun and funny, so we said it about a million times on Twitter in the space of one day, and now it has become unfunny and lame.”

Before that happened, a conservative radio personality, Bob Lonsberry who at age 60 is a member of the Gen X generation, denounced the word “boomer” as “the n-word of ageism.”

A bit over the top, don't you think, and it misses the point but I still wondered what “OK, boomer” means. The WaPo's Molly Roberts tells us that young people use the phrase to mock their elders:

”The all-purpose reply is designed to disarm oldish people who dispense condescension dressed up as wisdom,” she writes.

“Your mom tells you that your peers’ phones are rotting their brains, and that they should spend some time outside mowing the lawn. 'OK, boomer.' “Your grandpa tells you that kids these days have lost all sense of civility because they yelled at Ellen DeGeneres for going to a football game with George W. Bush. 'OK, boomer.'

“Some random grump in your replies on Twitter tells you Greta Thunberg should go to school back in Sweden instead of gallivanting across the 50 states spreading the green gospel. 'OK, boomer.'”

To put a button on the definition, Ms. Roberts further tells us that that young people use the slogan

”...because they’re inheriting a collapsing climate, an unequal economy and endless battles overseas that they didn’t start. They’re saying a lot with very little, and by saying very little they end up saying even more.

“'OK, boomer' sends the message that the grown-ups have screwed up so totally, and are veering so speedily into irrelevance, that convincing them of anything is a waste of keyboard characters.”

So what they are saying, it seems, is that some young adults can be just as thick-headed and intolerant as some old people. (Thick-headedness is not a generation-specific trait.)

While I was tracking all this down, I recalled a video that's been around the internet in one form or another for a long time. I'm sure I must have posted before but it's relevant in a different way now:

Once again it is a matter of people - generations in this case - talking past one another when in reality they have everything in common on the subject of saving the planet. Old folks have a lifetime of experience and the young ones have the energy and stamina to do what is necessary.

Although “OK, Boomer” is clever and it may be effective (among the young people who understand its meaning) in raising awareness, it is also divisive at a time when we all need one another as never before in the history of Planet Earth.

The Alex and Ronni Show Plus Fear of Phone Conversations

In the summer of 2018, Brigid Delaney, writing in The Guardian complained that talking with a friend on the telephone was a “time suck” - too tedious to be bothered with.

Instead, we should all be using WhatsApp or texting, she says. When her phone rings,

”I feel such a wave of animus and fear that I am unsettled for the rest of the day. Usually I don’t answer it.”

Amimus? Fear? A couple of weeks ago, a different Guardian writer, Melanie Tait, at first confesses to a similar response:

”There are lots of things to panic about with a phone call,” she writes, “chief among them being: what if we run out of things to say, and there’s, God forbid, silence?

But Ms. Tait has now discovered the joys of phone chats and her goal is to explain their attraction and benefits to the likes of Ms. Delaney which apparently means most of the younger generation. Discussing a friend who calls her in the evening, Ms. Tait writes,

”We’ll spend a lot of these conversations trying to make each other laugh, but I’ve also noticed we’re both able to share a little more in this telephonic friendship than we do in real life (our real-life friendship also being a very robust one).

“The lack of eye contact means some questions are easier to ask and some things are easier to reveal.

“It’s like being transported back to high school in the 90s, where you’d be at school all day, and at night, extension chord dragged into the pantry while the rest of the house slept.

“Phone D&Ms (“deep and meaningfuls”) were one of the great emotional releases in pre-mobile teen life, a chance to talk away the existential drama of the school day.”

Of course, people of our age have always known that and personally, it's how I keep my far-flung friends close – with long, sometimes two or three hours at a time, phone conversations where we solve all the problems of the world together. Until next time.

Tait winds up her essay as a thoroughly convinced convert:

”Tonight, headphones in, a phone call or two means I’ll discover something new about someone I care about, laugh at least three times, reveal something I wouldn’t tell anyone else and maybe even discover a new Liza Minnelli impersonator I’d never heard of.”

* * *

My former husband, Alex Bennett, and I had our biweekly Skype chat yesterday. I think we spent way too much time on my health predicament, but he doesn't agree.

Celebrating Día de Muertos

”...Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is such an important occasion. It holds that dying and living are not opposites but rather two parts of one process, with just a breath in between.

“Through this lens, death isn’t an antagonist, a horrifying thing we must look away from. Death is festooned with flowers, candles and brightly colored papel picado because Día de Muertos wants us to look squarely at the way things end.

“It wants us to accept it, laugh at it and revere it. The only thing it asks us to not do is ignore it.

“I’ve come to understand that this holiday isn’t about romanticizing the past or about wishing we could bring those who’ve died back to life. Día de Muertos instead asks us to consider that we exist in conversation with the people who came before us and the people who will come after us.

“It says the border between life and death — and every border we encounter in between — is porous. It asserts the joyful fluidity of being alive.”

To repeat: “With just a breath in between.”

In this lovely and eloquent essay in the Washington Post last week, John Paul Brammer walks us through how he and his family, thoroughly assimilated into American culture since his grandparents emigrated from Mexico, came to understand and celebrate Día de Muertos.

If you've been hanging around this blog during the past two-and-a-half years, you know we sometimes talk about death and dying. Ever since I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I have been working to make my own death acceptable to me or, at least, to find ways to reduce the paralyzing fear that rattled me every time I thought about dying from this terrible disease.

One way took place last Christmas. With the help of an experienced guide, I spent five or six hours under the influence of “magic mushrooms” or psilocybin. Like most others before me, I have never found words to adequately express what transpired that afternoon but it did change me.

The closest I can manage to explain is that I came to see that life and death were two sides of the same door. Not such a dramatic transition after all and it is not far off, is it, from Brammer's “two parts of one process, with just a breath in between?”

(You can read about my “trip” in two parts here and here.)

From the time of my childhood until recently, hardly anyone talked about death or even referenced it much beyond religion-specific rituals. Apparently that is no longer so.

In our weekly Sunday phone visit, my friend Autumn told me that her six-year-old daughter, Catherine, had learned about Día de Muertos this year in her Spanish-language class.

She told her mother all about how it is celebrated by building an alter and decorating it with flowers and photographs of beloved relatives who have died along with, as Brammer explains too, “sugar skulls and marigolds and offerings of food.”

And so Catherine built a Día de Muertos alter at home to honor her grandfather. Here is a photo of Catherine at her alter.


Maybe the holiday will become as important to Catherine as it has become for John Paul Brammer who writes,

”I still look forward to every October, when the bakeries fill with pan de muerto and sugar skulls. I look forward to the first days of November, when the wall between life and death comes tumbling down, and we, no matter who we are or how far away we’ve traveled, find our way home.”

You can read Brammer's entire essay at the Washington Post. If you do not subscribe to this newspaper or have used up your monthly number of free articles, let me know via the “Contact” link at the top of this page.