I know, I know - I've posted this video at least twice before but it is so damned cute and perfect for Halloween - an adorable young kitty watching a scary movie:
968 posts categorized "Culture"
In the time since I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer more than two-and-a-half years ago, an appeal of the writings by very old people and of those near death has grown within me.
On the weekend, I came across one that I want to share with you. It is from a book published last year in the United Kingdom titled, Written in History: Letters that Changed the World by Simon Sebag Montefiore.
An excerpt from the book turned up last Saturday in a weekly newsletter titled Air Mail from former, long-time editor of Vanity Fair magazine, Graydon Carter.
Briefly, this is a hastily-scribbled letter from Czech prisoner Vilma Grünwald to her husband, Kurt, as she and one of their two sons are selected by Joseph Mengele for instant extermination at Auschwitz on 11 July 1944.
The letter is almost unbearably poignant and I urge you to read the full background at Air Mail. Here is the text of the letter:
"You, my only one, dearest, in isolation we are waiting for darkness. We considered the possibility of hiding but decided not to do it since we felt it would be hopeless. The famous trucks are already here and we are waiting for it to begin.
“I am completely calm. You—my only and dearest one, do not blame yourself for what happened, it was our destiny. We did what we could. Stay healthy and remember my words that time will heal—if not completely—then—at least partially.
“Take care of the little golden boy and don’t spoil him too much with your love. Both of you—stay healthy, my dear ones. I will be thinking of you and Misa. Have a fabulous life, we must board the trucks.”
“Into eternity, Vilma.”
The original letter was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum by Vilma's and Kurt's son who, like his father, survived.
You may think a 40-odd-year-old TV show has nothing to do with growing old. I would have said that too until I took a new look at M*A*S*H, as a 78-year-old. Let me explain.
Before I settle down to sleep, I have now and then been watching a rerun of the 1970's sitcom M*A*S*H. They're short, 30 minutes, just the right length to take me out of the concerns of my day before falling off into limbo until morning.
The show had been a favorite when it was first broadcast way back when (1972-1983) and it is no less so now. It's great fun watching Hawkeye, BJ, Hot Lips, Klinger, Radar, Frank Burns, Trapper and all the rest of the cast again. Not to mention some of the best writing in the history of television.
Until this new viewing, I had not realized how much I identified – and still do - with Hawkeye.
The show specialized in my kind of gallows humor, and I don't get tired of Hawkeye's and Klinger's efforts to escape the horrors of a war neither of them believe in while tending to the often gruesome medical needs of the wounded and dying young soldiers.
The reason I'm writing about a TV show that's nearly half a century old is that it struck me a week or two ago that there is not much daylight between Hawkeye and me. Klinger too.
We each find ourselves in an impossible predicament over which we have little control and is likely to kill us at any time. North Korean bombs in the case of Hawkeye; a nasty disease in mine.
Of course, anyone's instinct is to get out of the way as fast as possible but both of us are trapped having to make the best of that predicament. Hawkeye resorts to women, pranks, mordant jokes, his beloved martinis conjured from homemade gin in the tent he shares with BJ along with a strong sense of decency and compassion.
My defenses include never pretending that my disease won't kill me, doing my best to follow my doctors' instructions, keeping myself honest about the cancer by writing about it here, some mordant jokes along with a strong sense of moral outrage aimed at the current U.S. administration.
What struck me a few nights ago after watching a M*A*S*H episode is that the sitcom is an excellent course in coping with dread in the face of Hawkeye's and my individual predicaments.
It is easy with a diagnosis of terminal cancer to feel despair, wishing even that the wait for the end be over soon. But after watching M*A*S*H, which I do two or three times a week, I feel empowered to persevere, that there are people I love I want to spend more time with, books to read and this blog where you, dear readers, allow me to hold forth on whatever crazy ideas I have.
No matter how discouraged Hawkeye and his M*A*S*H cohorts become, they rely on each other to keep going in frightening circumstances and do you think the writers and actors imagined that even 50 years later, they could inspire me to do the same in my own predicament.
Or, maybe you already know this and I am just a very slow learner.
As I was winding up writing this, I checked the web to see if anyone else had ever found such inspiration in the show. Lo, on exactly this day one year ago, Howard Fishman, writing in The New Yorker (how did I, a lifelong subscriber, miss it), was a year ahead of me.
The piece is titled, “What M*A*S*H Taught Us” and Fishman concludes:
“In 1968, the notion that our true enemy could be the callousness, hypocrisy, and small-minded ignorance of our own leaders was fashionable. Fifty years later, it’s become evergreen.”
Let's end with a fine monologue from Hawkeye, a eulogy when a nurse is killed by a landmine following a date with him, that is more explicit about the show's goals beyond exquisitely rendered entertainment.
As I of write here, the few news stories about elders, a large number are about those, even 80 and older, who climb mountains, jump out of airplanes, run marathons and otherwise outdo even much younger people at physical challenges.
These super-achieving old people are always portrayed as heroic, as the ideal, and that the rest of us should be out there biking the brutal Tour de France or its equivalent.
The result is, of course, a not-so-subtle pressure for all elders to keep doing, keep achieving and push, push, push ourselves to be like 30- and 40-somethings until we're dead.
What those reporters, young 'uns themselves, don't know is that the old people they are interviewing are the aberration. A large majority of us are quite happy to stick closer to home and take our exercise, and our lives in general, in lighter form.
What important today is that In many cases it is not just a preference, it is all we are capable of. On Wednesday, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, noting that “energy in an arc, and it bends over a lifetime toward depletion”, wrote
”I’m 54 now, and aging is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s also the greatest blessing that I’ve ever been given: I’m not just still around, but I also savor the wisdom of greater perspective and the freedom of letting many of the demands I once made of myself fall by the wayside.
“The hell of aging is limits. But that’s the heaven of it, too. Sometimes to have the parameters of your life shrink is to be unburdened of too many decisions and of indecision itself...” *
All true and it may be the first time I know of that a reporter wasn't giving us the usual “but...” about running at least a half marathon or starting a new business from scratch.
Those limits Bruni mentions? Whether a result of illness or “just” old age, they are impediments even to everyday, ordinary tasks as my most recent mystery malady has made clear.
Without going into detail, it is mostly joint and body pains that come and go and move around my body. An over-the-counter pain killer makes them mostly tolerable but leaves some everyday activities difficult to do.
I can't reach the microwave without a sharp pain in my arm. Getting in and out of bed produces shots of pain from neck to knees. Sometimes my hands hurt so much I can't hold the toothbrush. You get the idea and compared to some I know, I'm doing well.
Yet as difficult as it can be, most old people keep going. Maybe slower, maybe not getting out and about as frequently as they once did and taking more rest breaks but as much as possible, they are doing the things that need getting done along with the pleasures, old and new, they can accommodate.
As Frank Bruni understands, they can “...savor the wisdom of greater perspective and the freedom of letting many of the demands I once made of myself fall by the wayside.”
Yes. Old people know a lot about how unimportant are the things that once seemed crucial. And even as physical demands become more difficult, that “perspective” of which Bruni speaks comes into great play in old age, just when we need it most.
How lucky for us.
It is the patience, creativity and persistence of old people, largely without complaint, that allow them/us to adapt to the one thing that is constant in everyone's life: change. There is just more of it coming at us faster when we are old.
For all that, to me it is not the elder mountain climbers who are heroes to be held up as paragons of old age. It is the majority of old people, the millions who take the lemons life gives us and make the best lemonade we can in our individual circumstance.
They are the ones who deserve our hero worship and hurray to all of us.
* The Frank Bruni quotations are from his weekly, email newsletter which is not yet available online.
Every day, my email box fills with half a dozen, often more, newsletters urging me to do, do, do. (AARP and Next Avenue are particularly prolific at this.)
Walk 10,000 steps, they tell me, volunteer, get a part-time job, take a class, declutter my home and much more depending on what a new book or media star is recommending this week.
One important thing about these messages: I can't prove it of course, but I believe they are written by younger adults (let's call them pre-elders for now) who haven't a clue yet what old age is like.
This idea has been rolling around in my head for awhile now. I had intended to write about it but TGB reader Ann Burack-Weiss beat me to it in a TGB Reader Story that I published on Tuesday titled My Comfort Zone.
”You’d think they’d let up by the time you reach your 80s,” writes Ann. “That all you need do to keep yourself going is to keep yourself going. But no; everything you hear or read pushes you toward new horizons...
“Old folks are repeatedly told to heed the siren call of the untried that, from the beginning of time, has lured humans from their caves into the sun of enhanced existence...”
After giving a bunch of good reasons to reject this kind of thinking about elders, Ann concludes:
”So I’ll stay right here. Comforted by the familiar, buoyed by memories. Relaxing? Lolling? No, wallowing – that’s the word I’m looking for, wallowing, in my comfort zone.”
The comments on Ann's post, with only one demur as I write this on Tuesday, join me in enthusiastically supporting her point of view.
These days, I like being home. One trip per day out the door is about all I can tolerate now – to the grocery store, lunch with a friend, and in my particular case, doctor visits. I love it when friends come to my home for a visit. Home is my comfort zone and I “wallow” in the days I don't need to go somewhere – no matter what the pre-elders think I should be doing.
If you missed Ann's story yesterday, check it out.
* * *
On The Alex and Ronni Show this week we covered a bunch of topics that are in the news this week. Alex emailed to say the picture freezes at some point but the audio is okay, then the video comes back. Sorry. As he says, "I'm getting to hate all technology."
During an interview a few weeks ago, a reporter asked me, “What was the best time of your life?” You would think it should be easy to come up with a few stand-out eras or events but I failed. Blank. Empty. Not even a hint or two.
Since then, I've spent some private time with that question and of course, the first problem is the question itself: how to define “best”?
Does it mean healthiest? Happiest? Most successful? I don't know.
A little, light research around the web turned up a lot of pages addressing the question and among them are advocates for every age of life. The majority of respondents, however, said they were 20-something, drifting up to 40 here and there, but they all gave a similar answer: childhood, teen years, college and 20s were, in their eyes, the best times of their lives.
Explanations for that choice were also similar, variations on this:
”Independence without bearing responsibility or burden. You have no family, your parents don't require your obligation yet, and you are physically and financially free to do whatever the hell you want.”
Does that – a period of no responsibility – really represent the best of life? Not for me. I have no recollection of not being responsible for at least myself, and for others as needed or wanted through the years. As far as I can figure it, responsibility to a variety of people and entities is part of what life is.
It's clear then that “best” means different things to different people but for now, let's go with what I am guessing was the reporter's intent: the time or times in life that stand out above others in a positive way.
I've had a lot of good times – from being blessed with smart, interesting friends to fascinating jobs. During the decade I was a producer for The Barbara Walters Specials, I traveled the U.S. and the world on someone else's dime visiting places I would never have gotten to on my own.
There was another bunch of years as part of the team that created and then ran one of the first two news websites (cbsnews.com) at the start of the internet era. Now, as for the past 15 years, I've used what I learned in all those earlier years to turn out this blog.
For someone whose enthusiasms are all over the map, I couldn't have asked for better kinds of employment - although I am dangerously close to admitting that during my life, “best” has meant “entertaining” and I'm not sure that's a good thing. But it's too late to bother with now; time is running short.
After all that explanation, my answer is, “now, right now” - as it would have been during each of the eras (and others) I've described – is the best.
Best is not necessarily synonymous with happy and sometimes, when terrible things happened, I was miserable. But the overall arc of my adult life is that each year or era was the best as it was happening.
That may sound disingenuous from a woman living with pancreatic cancer but I've always been a realist: take what life throws you way and if you can't fix it, do the best you can with it.
And so it is now. I'm trying.
What was the best time of your life?
In addition to tomorrow, I'm taking an extra day (today) off from the blog.
Even though the president of the United States has hijacked our country's traditional celebration in Washington, D.C. and replaced it with a campaign rally, including a VIP section at the Lincoln Memorial where only his friends and family are allowed, you and I can still celebrate in our own ways.
Usually I post fireworks on this holiday. But it occurred to me that given the kind of man we have in the White House and the many assaults/insults he has visited on our laws, institutions and ideals, perhaps it would be good to have a reminder of one of our founding documents which this holiday was created to celebrate.
It's a short video, just four minutes, and it couldn't be more timely. Listen to this women who has spent 20 years teaching the Declaration of Independence, explain the “self-evident truths” sentence in that document. The YouTube page explains further:
”Few Americans are aware of the fact that the first printing of the Declaration of Independence contained a copy error. As a result, many subsequent republications of the text display the typo.
“In a new video filmed at the 2018 Aspen Ideas Festival in June , Danielle Allen, a political theorist and professor at Harvard University, explains why this seemingly innocuous oversight can have grave consequences.
“Interpreting this sentence correctly, Allen argues, is crucial to understanding how the powers of government are organized—and, consequentially, how to be an effective civic agent.”
Happy July Fourth, everyone - and one more thing:
Here is latest episode of The Alex and Ronni Show. I think we talked way too long about elder ailments but Alex doesn't agree.
There was barely a world wide web at all when I got my first computer in the late 1980s. No banks, no stores, no YouTube, not even any advertising and the phrase “social media” was years from being invented.
But among the few offerings were photographs of the Moscow subway stations. I can't find that original website now (with images that took several minutes to load on the dial-up connection we all used back then) but if you've never seen how beautiful those stations are, take a look here.
Later, I got lucky in terms being prepared for our digital future. A friend had convinced CBS News to give her a couple of millions dollars to build a website for the 1996 presidential election and she hired me as managing editor.
None of us knew how to build a website yet and there were no other news websites to help us get started. The closest was that CNN was building their first website too and we freely stole ideas from each others' sites.
Meanwhile, over the next year, our engineers, coders, graphics artists and the rest of us, made mistakes but we learned from one another how websites work and we even launched on time. Successfully too.
That was almost 25 years years ago and the web has since become essential to our daily lives. Personally, I bank by mail, pay bills, get automatic reminders of when they are due. Between in-person visits, all my communication with doctors and nurses is via the internet. The pharmacy let's me know when prescriptions are due for refill.
A growing number of physical stores no longer take cash for purchases and whether we like it or not – we won't be able to stop it – banks, employers and many others are checking our online presence before doing business with or hiring us.
Plus, many people work from home which is not possible without the internet, and for all of us, there is hardly a question known to humankind the web cannot answer.
(Please don't take that as a challenge.)
My point is that even if we are not quite there yet, more and more personal and other important business is done only online and that trend will do nothing but grow leaving old people behind and in some cases, unable to get ordinary, daily business done.
Plus, only a couple of weeks ago did I realize I haven't received a yellow pages book in several years. How can anyone, without access to the internet, find a store or service they need without the web?
Recently, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey of who is not online, using several criteria, including age.
”For instance, seniors are much more likely than younger adults to say they never go online,” reports Pew. “Although the share of non-internet users ages 65 and older has decreased by 7 percentage points since 2018, 27% still do not use the internet, compared with fewer than 10% of adults under the age of 65.”
I was amused to see that no one between the ages of 18-29 is not online which helps convince me of my contention that babies are now born clutching a tiny, little cell phone in one hand.
Those numbers tell us that more than one-quarter of old people in the U.S. have no access to what is fast becoming an essential tool – right up there with things like electricity, running water, transportation, etc.
I can think of reasons elders are not online. Some are too ill to use a computer. Others can't afford one. Old people are more likely to live in rural areas where internet reception is still sketchy.
If you've been online a long time, you may not recall how intimidating the web is to use when you know nothing about it. So many families live hundreds and even thousands miles apart these days that elder family members often have no one nearby to help them learn.
And just because we old people are old people, a whole bunch of us will tell you something like, “I've lived 75 years without the internet; I don't see any reason to change that.”
The local senior center holds regularly-scheduled, free computer classes as do some libraries around the country but we're not doing enough. Twenty-seven percent of the fastest growing age group is being left out the internet age and we should change that.
TGB reader Christi Fries sent a link to a Washington Post feature about how funerals are changing. Although there is discussion of green funerals and alternative burial choices, I've written about those at some length and will again at some point.
What I was most interested in is the information on how funeral rituals are changing.
”...end-of-life ceremonies are being personalized,” writes reporter Karen Heller, “golf-course cocktail send-offs, backyard potluck memorials, more Sinatra and Clapton, less Ave Maria, more Hawaiian shirts, fewer dark suits. Families want to put the 'fun' in funerals.”
”Funeral homes have hired event planners, remodeled drab parlors to include dance floors and lounge areas, acquired liquor licenses to replace the traditional vat of industrial-strength coffee.
Katrina Spade of Recompose in Seattle, "considers herself part of the 'alternative death-care movement'”:
"Spade questions why death should be a one-event moment, rather than an opportunity to create an enduring tradition, a deathday, to honor the deceased: 'I want to force my family to choose a ritual that they do every year.'"
One interviewee wants her “'personal possessions...auctioned off,' the proceeds benefiting a children’s charity. Why can’t a memorial serve as a fundraiser?”
So: Put the fun in funerals, event planners, force my family.
Certainly everyone should celebrate their life passages and those of loved ones any way they want but the lengths many Americans go to deny and ignore the monumental nature of death and its sorrows appears to grow year by year.
At about the same time I received this WaPo story from Christi, I ran across a TED video from a man named Bob Stein. At age 71, he had been searching for a way to mark the passage into old age.
He settled on a ritual of giving away his stuff (he confesses to having 250 boxes of it collected through his lifetime!), wanting to make the observance “less about dying and more about opening a door to whatever comes next.”
Here is Stein's six-minute video:
As I wrote in these pages a few years ago,
”The big rituals of life – you know, religious, social, community, rites of passage, family, even some political events - serve to initiate, transform or reaffirm the philosophies and values by which we live.”
As years come and go, and the care and feeding of our culture passes to the next generations, old rituals may not apply comfortably anymore. I, as a member of the oldest generation, may feel a bit queasy at “putting the fun in funerals” and “end-of-life event planners” but that doesn't mean they are wrong for a different world than I have lived through.
None of this means that I haven't found need for a new ritual or two. Way back in 2006, I created a rite of passage for myself: signing up for Social Security. I turned what might otherwise have been a boring chore in a drab government office into a celebration of my official entry into old age. You can read it here.
What rituals do you observe?
SELF-SERVING EDITORIAL NOTE: A year ago, Jana Panarites, host of The Agewyz Podcast, interviewed me about my cancer and a bunch of other things. She has posted again and if you missed it the first time, you can listen to it here.
* * *
If you go by the number of fraud alerts aimed at elders that drop into my inbox (unless you are an overwrought conspiracy theorist, there is no reason to believe they are wrong), you couldn't be blamed for thinking old people are idiots.
Look at this chart from the 2018 Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2018 [pdf]:
As you can see, the largest age cohort, 60-69, takes up the largest number of fraud reports in 2018 – 20 percent of the total. Apparently, however, we get better at identifying fraud as we get older: The 70-79 age group accounts for 13 percent of fraud reporting; 80 and older, only six percent.
On 7 March this year, the U.S. Department of Justice reported in a press release:
”Attorney General William P. Barr and multiple law enforcement partners today announced the largest coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in history, surpassing last year’s nationwide sweep.
“The cases during this sweep involved more than 260 defendants from around the globe who victimized more than two million Americans, most of them elderly. The Department took action in every federal district across the country, through the filing of criminal or civil cases or through consumer education efforts.”
As to my rude assumption above that elder fraud victims are idiots, many are dementia patients and sometimes victims have been threatened by the scammers:
”Among the would-be victims highlighted were William Webster, the former director of the FBI and CIA, and his wife, Lynda,” reports the Associated Press.
“The couple described how they were targeted by a man from Jamaica who threatened them. The Websters involved the FBI, which arrested the man after he arrived in the U.S.”
It's the scale of this crime that leaped off the pages for me: 260 defendants with 2 million victims. I know this kind of fraud aimed at elders has been going on for decades but at this particular political juncture in U.S. history, it seems almost as normal as the president's tweet storms have become.
And neither should exist. Or, at least should beget more outrage than I can see happening.
Further, the harm beyond stolen money itself is that unlike younger victims, old people do not have the time to recoup their losses often leaving them without enough money to afford both food AND medications.
The FTC encourages reporting fraud. The complaint page at the FTC is here. Or telephone 1.800.FTC.HELP.
Have you or anyone you know been a victim of elder fraud?
AT LAST: FINAL DAY OF DONATIONS
This is it – the last day of the 2019 TGB donation drive to help support the costs of maintaining Time Goes By for the next five years. You can read the details on Wednesday's post.
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 post.
* * *
Two years ago
I was “the one”
who ran to hold the bus
for a slow-walking older friend...
and now I don't.
Two years ago I could spend all Saturday
on a flea market, department store shop,
no need for a break or a sit down
because I was tired...
and now I can't.
Two years ago
I didn't have periods of fatigue, didn't
need moments to pause in the day,
didn't contemplate the idea of a nap...
But now I do.
That poem comes to us from Jane Seskin, working psychotherapist and writer and having now read her latest collection, I feel like I've found a soulmate in regard to elder issues.
Talk To Me
Hey, is there someone who's
supposed to warn you of the
health stuff as you age?
Doctor? Friends? The internet?
No one sounded the bell for me on
belching, dehydration, constipation
or flatulence. No talk of elongated
earlobes, receding gums, facial hair
or that I would get winded and need
to pause in the middle of the sidewalk
to catch my breath. Were body
malfunctions too private to share?
Did I not make the time to ask the
questions? Did you not want to
tell me about my physical future?
I want to know what's normal and
what's not. Maybe...maybe we
could just be a little more honest
and vulnerable with each other.
Perhaps we could connect on a
deeper level through sharing our
stories, even the scary ones, of
our health fantasies and fears and
what makes each of us feel better.
There aren't very many people – actually, there is hardly anyone at all – talking about these real, day-to-day surprises that afflict our old age. Which is what makes me excited to have found a soulmate on “what it's really like to get old.”
In fact, I'm pretty sure the medical community knows more about cancer and diabetes than about Jane's list of belching, flatulence, facial hair and rest. And no one ever talked about this stuff when we were younger, so surprises – mostly unpleasant ones – become key elements of growing old.
Not that everything is a complaint. Here are a couple more poems from Jane's book that resonated oh so strongly with me:
Most of the time
I'm in love
with my single life
which is not to say
I don't have room
to be in love
with a good man,
but this time around
I think I'd just like
and every other
Ha! I cannot count how often I've had exactly that thought. Here's another, more whimsical than some others:
I look behind, in front,
around. No one
on the street.
And then I do
what I've been
yearning to do
since last week
when I saw and
and then grinned
while I watched
the two little girls.
Jane Seskin's book of poetry, Older Wiser Shorter: An Emotional Road Trip to Membership in the Senior Class, is available at Amazon. I highly recommend it.
Back in January, Jodie Jackson of Primaris, a healthcare consulting company, interviewed me about my blog, about ageing and about my cancer diagnosis for the company's blog.
I particularly like the title on the podcast page: The Space Between Life and Death which nicely captures this indeterminate period I'm in now.
We had a fine ol' time talking this over and in addition to publishing the podcast, Jackson excerpted parts that you can read at the website. What struck me is how closely what Jackson and I spoke about meshes with Jane Seskin's poetry. One example:
”What the aging 'experts' didn’t explain or even talk about were daily details about aging,” writes Jackson. For instance, 'I had dropped a knife that came perilously close to my toes.' She wrote about dropping things and the response was resonating.
“'It turns out that old people do drop more things' because their fingers lose sensitivity to touch. 'Yes, me too, me too, me too,” was the cacophony of responses. 'There are all kinds of things like that. Your doctor won’t tell you…the little things you’re going to have to accommodate as you get older.'”
You can read Jodie Jackson's article and/or listen to the podcast at the Primaris website.
TIME GOES BY DONATION WEEK REMINDER
This is day two of the 2019 TGB donation drive to help support the costs of maintaining Time Goes By for the next five years. You can read the details on Wednesday's post.
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 post.
* * *
Perhaps you have noticed that this is Valentine's Day – a perfect time for me to again thank you all for your continuing support of this blog and especially your many good thoughts, prayers and well wishes throughout the ups and downs of this cancer predicament in which I find myself.
Sending all good Valentine's Day greetings to each and every one of you.
Last week, well-known American poet, Mary Oliver, died in her home in Florida at age 83. She had won both the Publitzer Prize and the National Book Award.
In Oliver's obituary, The New York Times reported:
”Her poems, which are built of unadorned language and accessible imagery, have a pedagogical, almost homiletic quality. It was this, combined with their relative brevity, that seemed to endear her work to a broad public, including clerics, who quoted it in their sermons; poetry therapists, who found its uplifting sensibility well suited to their work; composers, like Ronald Perera and Augusta Read Thomas, who set it to music; and celebrities like Laura Bush and Maria Shriver.
“All this, combined with the throngs that turned out for her public readings, conspired to give Ms. Oliver, fairly late in life, the aura of a reluctant, bookish rock star.”
Many TGB readers noted Oliver's passing - so many that it feels like every one of you sent this particular poem of hers. I thank you all and can't imagine how I have missed it all these years.
When Death Comes
By Mary Oliver
When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence
and each body a lion of courage, and something precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom; taking the world into my arms.
When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.
Because my son and his family are due here this weekend so we can spend some in-person time together, I've been looking for a quick way out of having to think too hard for a post today while I get ready for their arrival. This may be a nice solution.
Crabby Old Lady's disdain for the months-long holiday season in the U.S. notwithstanding, there is at least one classic Christmas movie I watch almost every year.
Is there anyone alive who can resist Jimmy Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life?
Like two other favorites of mine - Casablanca and The Third Man - I pretty much know the entire script by heart but, like many little kids, I still enjoy having a familiar old story retold to me.
Back in the 1930s through part of the 1950s, there was a popular radio program titled Lux Radio Theater. The show recreated Broadway shows and, later, popular movies for radio audiences using the original actors. I listened to a lot of these when I was growing up.
One of the great values of radio (and, these days, podcasts) over television is that you can do all kinds of other things while listening and last year, I discovered that some of these old radio programs are available for free on Youtube.
This has come in handy in recent weeks as, due to the lung cancer, my energy level has diminished a great deal and I need to do everything much more slowly than before, leaving less time for video or TV.
So I've substituted podcasts and some old radio shows to listen to while I get other mindless chores done.
This “Lux Radio Theater” production of It's a Wonderful Life was first presented on 10 March 1947 starring the original actors from the movie, Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed who, of course, your grandchildren have probably never heard of. Oh well.
You're stuck with Lux soap commercials but they're kind of interesting in their own right as advertising artifacts from a distant past. There is no video – just the black screen and the audio. I hope you find time to enjoy it.
In a world that has devolved into 24/7 bad news, it is a treat to run across two stories in one day that are all about making the world a better place and, in these two cases, show how elders are indispensable to the ideas.
Although too many people and institutions deny that ageism exists (or when they concede that it does, insist that it is without consequence), there are others who get it and who are finding ways to help old and young find common ground.
This is important because we live in an age-segregated society where weight is generally given to the interests of youth over those of elders, so finding mutual points of engagement can only lead to more understanding and then more respect among generations, improving outcomes for all ages and, perhaps, the culture at large.
What both of these innovations tell us is that it's all about spending time together and listening.
ANTI-AGEIST PROGRAM IN MEDICAL SCHOOLS
Having studied ageing for the past 25 years, I thought I knew a lot and I suppose that's true in some areas. But this statement from Dr. Ronald Adelman, co-chief of geriatrics at Weill Cornell, who developed an annual program to correct medical students' ageist beliefs about elders, was an aha! moment for me:
“'Unfortunately, most education takes place within the hospital,' he told Paula Span of [The New York Times].
“'If you’re only seeing the hospitalized elderly, you’re seeing the debilitated, the physically deteriorating, the demented. It’s easy to pick up ageist stereotypes.'”
Obvious, isn't it. But in all my reading about medical care and treatment – or lack thereof for old people – it had not occurred to me or, apparently, to anyone who was writing those articles, reports and studies I read.
”These misperceptions can influence people’s care. In another classroom down the hall, 88-year-old Marcia Levine, a retired family therapist, was telling students about a gastroenterologist who once dismissed her complaints of fatigue by saying, 'At your age, you can’t expect to have much energy.'
“Then, in her 70s, she switched doctors and learned she had a low-grade infection.”
I've heard this story again and again from friends and acquaintances and I found myself in a similar situation some years ago. I fired the doctor too.
Marcia Levine was among the elders who were speaking with second-year medical students about their lives.
The Times tells us that at least 20 medical schools around the U.S. have some form of required study about (excuse me for quoting myself) what it's really like to get old that involves old people themselves.
”Some schools, like the Medical University of South Carolina and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, match students with older patients they follow throughout their four-year educations, making home visits, accompanying their 'senior mentors' to doctors’ appointments, and visiting them if they’re hospitalized.”
According to the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, in the 10 programs of this type they reviewed, “the universal goal of positively influencing student attitudes toward older adults was resoundingly achieved.”
There are 141 accredited medical schools in the United States. They should all be using programs like these. You can read more at The New York Times.
MORE THAN HALF A CENTURY SEPARATES THESE ROOMMATES
The Boston Globe reports on a new program matching college students in need of cheap digs with old people who could use a little extra cash:
”...according to one 2017 survey, some 90,000 spare bedrooms [in the Boston area] are going unused in the homes of aging empty-nesters.
“That got a pair of MIT urban-planning graduate students thinking: Those rooms might be valuable to young people, especially students. And they might also provide a way for older people, who increasingly are living alone, to stay in their homes as they age.”
This isn't the first of such programs. Another I've read about allows music students from a nearby school free or low-cost rent in their own rooms at a retirement community in exchange for regular concerts for the elder residents.
Given today's high rental prices and the terribly debt students incur, this seems to me to be, as they say, a win-win.
Although both were wary at first, 77-year-old Sarah Heintz and 25-year-old Dean Kaplan hit it off:
”They bonded over a shared love of politics — both volunteered for Elizabeth Warren’s campaign — and an affinity for cooking.
“Under the terms of their lease agreement, rent is $800 a month (about half the cost of apartments Kaplan had been looking at before the arrangement with Heintz), knocked down to $700 if he devotes eight hours each month to helping Heintz with a range of chores.
“But even without that incentive, they said, they’ve discovered they like doing favors for one another. He helps in the garden and gives her a hand logging into her e-mail account; she offers him rides to Market Basket and recently taught him the proper way to gut a fish.”
Besides helping each other with the practicalities of life, living as full time as roommates can't help but foster understanding between youth and age for which there are few enough places to do that:
”Each weekend, Heintz and Kaplan plan some kind of event — dinner with neighbors, afternoons in the garden — and he has taken to picking her brain on a variety of topics, from botany to the year she spent at a French cooking school in the ’70s.
“'It’s the type of repository of knowledge that you can’t Google,' Kaplan said.”
No kidding. Read more at The Boston Globe.
These are both excellent and important programs that should be encouraged in every way.
On Monday, I published a short post about why I had no time to write a story for that day. Now there has been a different kind of disruption that prevents me from getting something useful – or, at least, entertaining – done for today. More on that in a day or two or three or so.
Meanwhile, here is a fascinating video I found of moving pictures of Paris in 1900. the YouTube page tells us:
”A collection of high quality remastered prints from the dawn of film taken in Belle Époque-era Paris, France from 1896-1900. Slowed down footage to a natural rate and added in sound for ambiance. These films were taken by the Lumière company.”
I don't care much for the added audio, but that doesn't make the film any less interesting. Here is a list of what you will see at what time in the video:
0:08 - Notre-Dame Cathedral (1896)
0:58 - Alma Bridge (1900)
1:37 - Avenue des Champs-Élysées (1899)
2:33 - Place de la Concorde (1897)
3:24 - Passing of a fire brigade (1897)
3:58 - Tuileries Garden (1896)
4:48 - Moving walkway at the Paris Exposition (1900)
5:24 - The Eiffel Tower from the Rives de la Seine à Paris (1897)
And here is the video:
A few weeks ago I featured another video from this company, of New York City in 1911. You'll find it here.
Following my cancer surgery last year, it was six or eight weeks before I felt capable of driving to the market, medical checkups and other appointments. I live in the suburbs so there isn't much choice in getting anywhere beyond walking distance except by driving.
I was lucky. Terrific neighbors and friends stepped in to take up that slack while I needed it but not everyone has that choice.
According to the 2016 Older Americans Key Indicators of Well-Being report [pdf], 25 percent of men age 65 and older live alone and 36 percent of women in that age group do. Some have friends and family nearby to help out when needed but tens of millions of us do not.
That's what Andrew Parker realized not long ago that led to his founding Papa, a service that matches elders in need of some assistance with college students who want to help.
Parker had been regularly helping his grandfather – whom he calls Papa – but as his day job workload increased he couldn't always get away to run errands. He hired a woman via Facebook who began assisting Papa in Parker's stead. But as he told TechCrunch:
”The experience made Parker realize there was a gap in the market for seniors who, like his grandfather, were mostly independent and don’t require a caregiver, but still needed occasional help from a trustworthy person.”
That's when he quit his job to create Papa, providing “what he describes as 'pre-care' from college students he named Papa Pals.”
Here's Andrew Parker talking about Papa:
Parker further explained how it works in an interview with Pymnts.com:
“'The first time someone contacts us, they often have a specific idea about what they need, and we catalog that and send it on to the student who will be working with them. Sometimes they want a ride to the doctor, sometimes they are looking for someone to teach them how to use Netflix.
“'We had a member who was on the campaign trail with Ronald Reagan 30 years ago, and her family hired a Papa Pal to help her transcribe her very interesting life story into a digital format for her family.'
“What they often found, however, is that the relationships evolve between the users and the Papa Pals, so that the tasks they end up doing together often range widely from where they started.
The students are carefully screened before being accepted as Papa Pals. Among the requirements, according to the Papa website:
• 3.0 GPA or higher
• Major/Minor in Nursing, Psychology, Pre-med, Health Sciences or other health-related field preferred
• Full or part-time student enrolled in a four-year university
• Must have a valid .edu email address, a vehicle and a valid drivers license
• Must be able to pass a full background check
Clients can pay for services a la carte at about $20 an hour, or use the subscription service. The student Papa Pals earn about $15 per hour.
Beginning in 2019, new rules will make it possible for Medicare Advantage to pay for some of Papa's services, particularly medical appointment transportation.
For now, Papa operates only on Florida but they have plans to expand, first to 10 more states and then beyond.
I think this is an extremely important innovation. Whether we elders like to admit it or not, the time will come when we can't do as much as we once did and may even need to give up our driving privileges.
As I mentioned above, I had a taste of what is to come after my surgery. It was a long time before I could shove the vacuum cleaner around and even pulling the laundry out of washer and into the dryer was difficult.
For people who don't need full-time care but can use some help in other ways, this is a great solution.
* * *
Here is the latest episode of The Alex and Ronni Show recorded yesterday. In the second half there is a lot of Judge Brent Kavanaugh chat. I'm not sure we said anything you haven't heard.
Yes, these look like items that would usually turn up in Saturday's weekly Interesting Stuff post. But I think they both deserve more attention than perhaps being lost among eight or 10 other items. See what you think.
ITEM 1: NON-VOTERS ANONYMOUS
Certainly I have banged on here – and will again - about how important it is for Americans to vote for their local and Congressional candidates in the midterm election on 6 November.
But never in my dreams could I have envisioned other voting advocates dismissing the need of some citizens to vote, and definitely not for the reason in this video.
It comes from an organization called the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) that sounds righteous enough in their About statement on its website:
“NRDC was founded in 1970 by a group of law students and attorneys at the forefront of the environmental movement. Today's leadership team and board of trustees makes sure the organization continues to work to ensure the rights of all people to clean air, clean water, and healthy communities.”
“...ensure the rights of all people to clean air, clean water and healthy communities” but not, apparently, the right to vote after a certain age.
The video is obviously meant to have a little fun while promoting voting by imagining a Non-Voters Anonymous meeting based on the many flavors of such self-help groups. Take a look and be especially attentive at 2:40 in from the top:
Did you get that?
SPEAKER 1: You can vote in your 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s.
SPEAKER 2: Not 80s. Stay home.
SPEAKER 1: 80s too old. What's the point.
If that exchange was meant to be funny, it missed the mark by 100 percent. Shame on the National Resources Defense Council and everyone involved with the production of this video.
ITEM 2: OLD AGE IS A CEREMONY OF LOSSES
It is a credit to the simpatico between readers of this blog and me that most of the time when readers send links to stories, videos, books, movies, etc. they find interesting, I have just that day or so discovered them myself. (That doesn't mean you should stop sending them; there are plenty I wouldn't know about without you.)
I had just spent 13-plus minutes watching this documentary about Donald Hall when an email arrived from Jack Handley recommending it. He included this message in his note:
No woo woo
No sky gods
No perversion of emotions
And so it is.
American poet laureate, Donald Hall, who has been featured here on several occasions through the years, died in June at age 89. His most recent and now, alas, final book was published in July: A Carnival of Losses: Notes on Nearing 90.
The video, titled Quiet Hours by the producer/director Paul Szynol, premiered at The Atlantic website on Monday – a lovely meditation on old age in which Szynol gives us plenty of silent moments to contemplate what has been said and shown.
(One suggestion: Hall's voice is sometimes muffled and it helps to turn on the closed captioning which is, however, far from perfect but it will help you understand without having to stop and back up the video.)
For all my years producing television, it is words that have always mattered to me first. Two moments among others from the documentary that stand out for me – Hall speaking:
“My companion was her absence.” (Regarding Jane Kenyon, the love of his life who died 22 years ago:)
"Often, at night, solitude loses its soft power, and loneliness takes over. I am grateful for when solitude returns.”
Take a look for yourself:
More at The Atlantic website.
When Crabby Old Lady was growing up, the most ubiquitous radio and, later, television commercials for health remedies were about tummy upsets (Pepto Bismol), headaches (Bayer aspirin) and sore muscles (Ben-Gay) – nothing serious enough, most of the time, for a doctor and the products were relatively benign.
These days, drug commercials have gone big-time. They are all about cancer, diabetes, COPD, stroke, heart disease, dementia, and the rest that strike fear into those who are diagnosed and are, you will note, almost entirely to old people.
Although Crabby resents the constant presentation of elders as diseased and sick, she understands that to advertisers, we are where the money is - a large, still growing cohort that does, after all, use more of these drugs and treatments than younger people.
But nowadays it's not just hangnails and cancer. There is a burgeoning industry of “smart technology” specifically for old people. At least one writer calls it “gerontechnology” and by that he means:
”...devices or solutions, including telehealth, telecare, information and communication, and robotic options.”
Crabby Old Lady calls it elder tech and it is both much more intrusive than is mentioned in the reporting about it, the brochures and the advertising.
Writing at Atlas of Science, Stephen M. Golant tells us the goal of elder tech is to help elders lead healthier, more independent and active lives. He then lists specific solutions which Crabby is quoting in full because you should know what is available, in development and/or being planned for us:
'This technology relies on sensors found in the bracelets, necklaces, clothing, watches, or smartphones of older adults, inserted in the walls, floors, lighting, appliances, or furniture of their dwellings, or even implanted in their bodies.
“Robots with human-like appearances may also incorporate these sensors. They can continually monitor and evaluate the physical health conditions of older persons, their cognitive (e.g., memory and reasoning) and sensory (e.g., hearing and vision) performance, physical agility, activities in their dwellings, and social connections.
“They also monitor the comfort, safety, and security of their homes by measuring their air pollutants, dampness, water leaks, mold, bacterial infections, poor lighting or visibility, accident risks, and extreme temperature conditions.
“These sensors communicate their monitored information to older persons and designated family members and professionals who can respond to their unmet needs or problems.”
That's a whole lotta elder tech going on.
Given the amount of time Crabby has spent with physicians and other health care professionals over the past 15 months, she is most looking forward to telehealth and telecare. It exists in a few quarters but is, apparently, slow to be adopted.
If it were available to Crabby, she could have avoided about half the dozens of in-person visits she made with health care individuals in the past year. And it would be a boon to people who cannot or do not drive any longer.
Some of this technology, such as home sensors, bracelets, smartphones, etc. (the ones aimed at old people) have been on the market for at least a decade, becoming more sophisticated with each new release. Some others are at various stages of development, all often marketed to the adult children of elders, and not to elders themselves.
And that's the part about this equipment that makes Crabby Old Lady dubious, deeply so, with the use of these phrases:
“they can continually monitor”
“implanted in their bodies”
"communicate their monitored information”
It's just plain creepy that someone would know and make note if Crabby slept in past her usual waking time. Or that she stayed up all night. Or if it reported her to some anonymous monitor for “accident risks”.
Not to mention that if someone has not yet incorporated Alexa-type listening devices into these monitors, they soon will so that nothing an elder says or does in his/her home is private ever again.
Some elders may like all this peeping Tom elder tech and certainly many can attest to the importance of their medical alert buttons if they have fallen or have needed another kind of help. The difference is that no one is listening 24/7 through those alert devices and they are activated by the persons wearing them.
Golant's purpose with his article is to explain his study into whether elders will even use these smart devices. He has come up with four factors that would influence their decisions:
• How serious they are about their health conditions
• How resilient and receptive they are to new ideas
• How persuasive the information is about the product
• How good and/or bad past personal experience with technology has been
It sounds to Crabby that according to Golant she, at age 77, would make a decision pretty much on the same bases as she did at age 27. He suggests that elders focus on three attributes in choosing to purchase these products and services:
- Ease of use
- Collateral damage
To Golant's credit, he mentions “assaults on privacy” as an example of collateral damage.
Overall, Crabby Old Lady is unsettled by these devices and solutions even as she can see some of their merit. A big problem for Crabby is that we know now after several decades of computers and related technology, that nothing is private anymore.
Not to mention the omnipresence of surveillance wherever we go. These new products just add indoor home cameras and microphones to the public ones that track us on every block.
Really now - Crabby Old Lady would like to walk around naked in her own home when she feels like it with the certainty she is not being watched.
What about you?
Just for fun here at the end, this is a trailer for my favorite robot movie, Robot and Frank starring Frank Langella and Susan Sarandon. As one of the YouTube commenters wrote:
”A brilliant piece of science fiction and drama without a single alien or spaceship."
Two months after it was fixed, my computer crashed again on Wednesday and this time I'm just going to replace it. That will take a little while.
The backup laptop I'm working on hasn't gotten any better since last time. It is slow, cranky and painful to use so until I am up and running with a new one, posting will be sketchy.
Peter's music column is already set for Sunday, so that will be here and a new reader story will post next Tuesday.
I can't promise an Interesting Stuff tomorrow or a Monday post. But maybe. Meanwhile, I can tolerate being on this machine only in short bursts without pulling my hair out so I'm just letting you know.
For today, I had intended to write a piece on elder guardianship but I can't get to my notes in the broken computer so let's do it this way:
- It was last October that I first meant to report on this important subject based on a frightening story published that month in The New Yorker. Due to some personal health issues, I didn't get back to it until now.
- In June this year, John Oliver, host of the HBO program Last Week Tonight, made elder guardianship the main story of his show one Sunday based largely on the same New Yorker material I had.
So I'll just run the Oliver video without the additional information I had tracked down and intended to include until it got lost inside the broken computer.
Oliver's piece is as excellent (in John's inimitable way) as the New Yorker story. It's important for all elders to know this can happen and to be sure all your late-life, end-of-life papers are in order.
Here is Oliver. If you have access to The New Yorker online, their story is here and includes a lot more detail and useful information than Oliver could fit into his video - although you get to see and hear the people discussed in the magazine piece.
There. I'm done – this is all I can stand to do on this laptop right now.