632 posts categorized "Journal"

Internet Friends Redux and The A & R Show

To my surprise, Friday's post about disappearing internet friends drew a lot more comment that I would have expected. It appears to be a common problem, losing track of web friends.

It was lovely to hear from so many readers who are still here but who don't comment. There is nothing wrong with that; no one should feel obligated to leave a comment. Here are some notes after re-reading through the comments starting with

COMMENT AUTOFILL
Some people mentioned they do not like entering their information every time they want to comment; some others don't have the problem. That is because autofill (or not) is a function of your browser. Plus, new privacy restrictions have recently gone into effect which may have removed your autofill.

Every browser handles privacy issues differently. You can find out how to change your autofill settings by searching “how to enable autofill in firefox”. Substitute the name of your browser (chrome, safari, etc.) for firefox.

SURPRISES
I am surprised to find out how many of you have been reading Time Goes By since I lived in Manhattan, followed along when I moved to Portland, Maine, and then to Oregon in 2010. That is so nice to hear.

A few who have not commented in a long while wondered if I would remember their names and in every case, I do – it is terrific to see you here again.

I was pleased to be able to put one reader together with another to find out what had happened to a third person they both know.

WHEN WE DIE
Regarding my demise, I have a blog post written titled, If You're Reading This, I'm Dead. When I first wrote it, I meant to update it every year but I think I've fallen behind on that and I'll put it on my to-do list.

My good friend, healthcare proxy and executor, Autumn, will post that entry when I die. You might recall her keeping you updated in June of 2017 when I'd had the Whipple surgery and was out of commission for a week or so.

People who have blogs, Facebook pages or some other social media presence can set up something similar. It's everyone else – the people who comment but don't have an online space of their own that we lose track of and I don't have a solution for that.

Thank you to everyone who finds this online place to be worth your time. After all these years, I still enjoy doing it and even more, reading each day what you have to say.

THE ALEX AND RONNI SHOW – 25 January 2020
Alex and I recorded this episode on Saturday, the only day we were both available at the same time. (I thought retirement means you aren't so busy anymore...)

We covered more territory that we usually do: pockets (or lack thereof) in clothing, health (typical old people talk), racism, Alex's beard, hair loss, the impeachment trial and so on.

Here it is:

You can find Alex's show – Alex Bennett's Ramble – on Facebook and Apple Podcasts.


When Online Friends Disappear

“Ghosting” is a slang term among young people (they come and go so fast, this one may already be out of fashion) for having been dropped by someone you thought was a friend or, at least, a good acquaintance.

When someone ghosts you, he or she abruptly stops telephoning or responding to text messages or posting on your social media pages. When I was in high school, we referred to such behavior as cutting someone dead.

Recently, I was perusing some posts from the early years of this blog (TGB has been here since 2004). Reading along day-by-day, I was amazed to see a lot of familiar names, commenters who are still around, who have been contributing to these conversations for a decade and more.

Some of those people are “blog friends”, people with whom I exchange email now and then (or, sometimes, more frequently). Mostly we haven't met face-to-face, but we know one another quite well after all this time. I think of them as friends.

Or, perhaps they are more like neighbors – people we “see” regularly, stop to pass the time of day and continue on our way until next time.

As I continued reading those ancient posts, other names stood out too. Not close internet friends, but people I had come to know through their comments and occasional emails. Why their names leapt out now, however, is that they have not shown up in the comments for a long time, years.

What happened to them?

Certainly, some of them stopped reading Time Goes By and unsubscribed. That happens all the time. People leave, others join and so it goes. Nothing out of the ordinary but still, one wonders.

So I checked some of those names against the subscriber list. Several were no longer subscribed but a larger number are still there and the emails have not bounced which would indicate a closed email account. So they are either still reading TGB or – what?

Are they dead? That is not an unreasonable question for a blog about what it's like to grow old. And it is also not unreasonable to believe that no one unsubscribed them – that's hardly on the to-do list when a loved one dies.

One thing I've learned from producing this blog for so many years is how much of ourselves and our personalities we reveal over time in words, phrases and ideas we choose. Years of reading the thoughts of people on a variety of topics cannot help but lead us to care about them, to feel a connection.

That makes it more than disconcerting when they disappear. Sometimes it happens as I have described above – that I didn't notice for a good while after a reader stopped commenting. Other times, I notice after a couple of weeks: Geez, what happened to Mary, or John, etc.

I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that I doubt any TGB readers are “ghosting” me. Some, undoubtedly, decide they have gleaned all they want from Time Goes By and move on.

But some, too, have died and there is no way for me – or for readers who enjoyed a person's comments – to know.

I suppose it makes sense. Who in a family knows much of anything about what other family members do online. Or further, knows that mom or dad or anyone else in the family has been enjoying conversations, maybe for many years, at a certain website and feels a kinship with those people.

I've written about these cyber-friends in the past and how important they can become.

”I believe that the internet arrived just in time for our generation(s) to develop a new kind of friendship that opens – quite literally – a world of possibilities for human connections that can prevent loneliness, expand our horizons and help us form bonds that can be as nurturing as some in-person relationships.”

About two months ago, a woman who had infrequently but regularly posted comments here over many years emailed to tell me she had entered hospice. She was grateful in her last days, she said, that someone else was doing the small chores that had become difficult for her, and she could die in peace.

We exchanged several emails talking about all kinds of things and then several days went by without a response from her. I knew she had died.

Then I did what I always do when someone I know has died. I lit a candle. I sat quietly for a good while and thought about her. I went went back over some old blog posts and read her comments. What a remarkable memory jog it is to have that – perhaps a little like saved, hand-written, snail-mail letters in days before the internet.

A whole life of many decades gone, to be grieved and honored. Undoubtedly, some of the names that have gone missing from TGB comments have died. I'm so sorry to not know.


How Old Age Shrunk My Life and Why That is a Good Thing

On Monday's post, long-time TGB reader Salinda Dahl made reference to one particular way her life has changed:

”My life, though so much 'smaller' than in the past...I stand smiling, befuddled, feeling somehow less-than. But when my secret life is in sway, oh the inexplicable wonder and beauty, and sometimes terror! Big, very big.”

(I'm inviting her to expand on that thought in the comments below today.)

Although I'm not certain, I think I know some of what Salinda means. My life has become smaller for reasons that can all be filed under one header, “You Got Old.”

Even before the cancer diagnosis in 2017, I had begun slowing down my life. It's not that I made a decision to change my activity level exaxtly; mostly I just followed inclinations as they appeared.

Fewer social evenings out. Internet purchases and delivery instead of shopping trips. And I generally gave up entertaining at home and on holidays because my energy and stamina began going south in relation to my intentions.

I had some earlier practice at cutting back social life after I took a job that involved a four-hour, round-trip commute which. If you've never done that, you might not realize that although you can get a lot of reading done, it is all about work and sleep during the week and chores catch-up all weekend.

There is no time for much else when you lose 20 waking hours from a week.

During my three years at that job, I think I became accustomed to having a smaller social life and some friends disappeared when I so regularly declined invitations because there was simply no time for a social life beyond a quick coffee date, for example, among weekend chores.

But that's not an excuse anymore. All kinds of things change as old age settles upon us. Certainly less energy in general leaves me tired but there are other reasons too.

Sleep overtakes me much earlier now. It's hard for me to follow a conversation let alone participate after 6PM. My brain seems to stop parsing language by then. Mostly, nowadays, I see friends for lunch.

For some reason too (I think we've touched on this one previously in these pages), more than one trip out of the house per day is all I can handle. If I've done the grocery shopping, stopped at the pharmacy and driven to the cannabis dispensary, I'm done for the day.

Sometimes I'm stuck doing all those things in addition to rehab or seeing a doctor. On those days, there is not a chance of budging me from home once I get back there.

Another important contribution to a smaller life: Old age is greedy – it wants all the time it can steal from you and even more if you plug in a disease or ailment.

Our bodies are wearing out as we reach late life and force us to slow down almost everything we do. Household chores I once did for myself require a handyman or specialist – more time gone. For decades, I cleaned the house on Saturday morning. The goal was to finish by noon and most of the time I did. Now? It's a joke. I do a little every day but I don't finish everything every week anymore.

More doctor visits. Weekly pill counting into little boxes. If you don't live in a big city and give up driving, trade in that half-hour trip to the dentist for 60 or 90 minutes each way on public transportation.

COPD has cut my normal walking speed at least in half. Something in my condition or perhaps a medication has weakened my hands so I cannot carry as much weight – e.g. groceries – as I did not long ago. More time gone. And so on.

There is no telling how many books I haven't read, movies I haven't seen and blog posts that are not written because life's boring maintenance, which I hardly noticed for 70 years, takes so damned much time now.

I feel the walls of my life closing in, making the room - life itself – smaller.

But here's the great surprise: For all this shrinkage, my life doesn't feel small. It feels huge, much larger than all those years I worked in a glamorous media business, traveled the world and was always on the go when I was home.

Let it be said that I'm no stranger to lots of time alone. I've always needed more of that than many people but now my inner life is so much richer, filled with new curiosity, understanding and insight to life and to myself almost daily discovering my truths, if not universal ones.

Maybe that's the purpose of old age, to slow us down just so we can have the time to savor and delight in the realizations that become available to us now if we pay attention. To quote Salinda again,

”Oh the inexplicable wonder and beauty, and sometimes terror! Big, very big.”

What a splendid thing to have happen when all the rest of the world believes old age is a bummer. This has become the best time of my life – just as I believed every earlier time was the best when I was living them.


Happy New Year 2020

NewYearclockchampagne

It is good to have these few days at the end of an old year and beginning of a new one to reflect on what has been and wonder at what will come.

In my personal life, I gained a second disease, COPD, and just kept going anyway even though all the statistics say I should be dead of pancreatic cancer by now.

Obviously, I am not and am living in golden time – way past my life expectancy. I am grateful beyond measure.

Outside my personal milieu, there are only two stories that matter: Climate change and what fresh hell Trump will inflict upon us next. I think a lot about the immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers – especially the children snatched from those parents and scattered around the 50 states.

The Trump administration kept poor records and some of those families will never be reunited. America, the United States of America, made this happen and I am ashamed.

The big thing about a brand new year is that we have a clean slate upon which to imagine how we can collectively make things better. Maybe we're only dreaming but every great thing I ever heard of began with a dream.

As has been so in years past, I am deeply fortunately to have the best group of readers any blogger could wish for. You are here every day – smart, caring, thoughtful, compassionate, funny, and you say the nicest things.

As this new year makes it way through the universe, may every one of us have enough.

[This post will stay up through tomorrow and we will return with a new post as usual on Friday.]

Now, tell us about your 2019 and your dreams for 2020.


Goals and Resolutions for 2020

It's that time of year again. You know, the gazillions of 10 Best lists, although many of them, when I wasn't looking, seem to have morphed into 50 Best and 100 Best.

Are there even 100 airlines in the world? I'll repeat what I said here a few days ago: Too many choices is no choice at all.

(There is even a list of 50 New Year's Resolution Ideas. Do you suppose there really are people who can't work that out on their own?)

New Years Resolutions are a long-time, annual ritual for many people, a chance for a clean slate to put a plan in place to improve one's life in some way. Back when I did such things, I mostly thought about finding a new job I would like better or getting married or losing 15 pounds.

Nowadays, at age 78, resolutions don't seem to apply as much in old age. After all, how much time is left for me to enjoy whatever fix I might manage to accomplish after I've struggled to achieve it. Plus, old age often brings restrictions to what is possible.

That is certainly true for me.

Unless it's totally flat ground, I don't walk there. And I don't do stairs anymore without thinking about each step and breath. I almost never accept nor plan evening activities now. Dinner at 9PM? Are you kidding? That's bedtime.

But there are still all kinds of other things one could resolve to try in a new year: run for local office, for example. Or learn a language. Volunteer. Start a book club or discussion group.

Another choice is to skip the whole idea and keep doing what you've been doing if that's what you enjoy. That's my decision this year.

I'm not making resolutions or setting new goals for 2020 because I have no memory that I every achieved the ones I made. Why would that change now.

These days, I live with two incurable diseases, cancer and COPD, which limit my life each in its own way. Outside of following doctors' instructions and doing what I can to remain otherwise healthy, I'm stuck with the limitations they impose.

Many TGB readers have their limitations too. It is true that few of us get to the end of long lives without some impediment, great or small.

So my interest in the new year – and perhaps yours too – has changed. It has less to do with accomplishment and more about hope and curiosity.

For me, it involves first, the result of the impeachment trial and second, whether President Donald Trump is convicted and removed from office or not, the November election.

Either way - with Trump as the Republican candidate or someone else – it will be an election like no other we have seen. With more at stake than we have ever contemplated in a previous election.

If Trump wins election, I believe we – humankind, the planet – are doomed. If the Democrat wins (I hardly care which), humankind might eke out a chance. A small one, but a chance nonetheless.

In this bright, shiny new year that is almost upon us, I hope to live long enough to see that outcome. I have no idea if, in my health condition, it is reasonable to have that hope. But it's my goal for the year 2020.

What are your resolutions or goals or hopes for next year?



Happy Thanksgiving 2019

HappyThanksgivingFINAL

There is a lot in my life to be thankful for this year. First of all, I didn't think I would still be here for what is my third Thanksgiving since they told me I have cancer.

Who could have guessed? Not me. There are not enough words in the English language for me to properly thank the many medical people who have helped keep me going - from the surgeon to that wonderful man Keith who brought me a perfect cup of coffee each day I was in the hospital, and these too – so many:

Nurses, medical assistants, certified nursing assistants, doctors of various specialties, schedulers, phlebotomists, physicians assistants, medical technicians and all the other professionals I have forgotten to list.

To my friends and neighbors and even a former husband who all, living far away and near, keep in regular touch and are always caring and understanding as I navigate through this end-of-life journey.

And last though never least, as they say, you dear readers of Time Goes By. You help give shape and order to my days, you let me bang on about anything that's on my mind and are always politely receptive to (and sometimes even enthusiastic about) my meandering thoughts. Every day I am thankful for your stories, your experience, your advice and your humor.

You fill in useful information I've left out, and you teach me things I doubt I could learn in any other way. For all of you I am thankful and my greatest wish today is that you have as much to be thankful for as I do.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

[I am away for the holiday but will be back here with a new Interesting Stuff on Saturday.]



On Thanksgiving Eve 2019

Thanksgiving week reminds me that quite a long while ago – 12 or 15 years I would guess, or more – I spent a five-hour drive home from visiting a friend for the holiday in the company of a person who had planned each step of his life.

He worked it all out on a gigantic graph he updated as events and plans came to be. It started at graduations from college and law school, then career goals, financial goals, when to marry, when have children and how many, etc. all on a timeline with target dates to be met.

It got more granular than that but I have forgotten the particulars. What I recall is thinking (then and now) what polar opposites we were – his pre-planned, methodical roadmap through life as opposed to my more free-wheeling, lets-see-what-happens, laissez faire, meandering path.

It was always that way for me. Maybe it started when I was a kid, when parents make all the big decisions, and I never outgrew it. Or, perhaps I had a commitment problem. If I don't make a firm choice – my thinking might have been - I can't blame myself or regret what goes wrong.

Never having known what I wanted to do in life, I have mostly just let things happen, leaving necessary choices until timing required them. It's not that I was a ditherer, unable to make up my mind. Never that.

But I am lazy and, for example, when I needed a job as after a TV show I was working on was canceled, I put off doing the legwork until, more often than not, work turned up from out of the blue.

Not every time but frequently enough that you could call it a pattern, someone I knew telephoned: “Hey, Ronni, are you working? I've got a job to talk with you about” or something thereabouts and my problem was solved.

Back then I made light of such occurrences by attributing them to a guardian angel watching out for me even if she or he too often waited to deliver until the wolf was scratching at the door.

That angel probably has had something to do, too, with my personal life going well most of the time. Or smoothly enough to not complain much. (Don't take that statement as gospel, though. Old age seems to have provided me with a sunshine filter on my past that screens out a lot of the bad and bitter stuff.)

But it is hard to fault the angel for this end-of-life journey I have been on since mid-2017. I expected to be dead of cancer before now yet here I am. I expected to be in pain of the debilitating sort. Not so, so far.

I am acutely aware of my great, good fortune and not just in regular and interesting employment. I've been blessed with health, enough money to get by without too much effort and wonderful friends. After that, the smaller stuff is only an annoyance.

Even with my playing it so loose, life has turned out remarkably well and I really ought to remind myself of that more often than just on Thanksgiving.

Enjoy the holiday, my friends.



What Others Say About Death – Take Two

Barely two months after I was told I have pancreatic cancer and one month after the Whipple surgery, I posted a story of quotations from people ancient and modern about death.

Now that I am coming up on two-and-a-half years since then during which time I have gained even a more up close and personal relationship with my own death, I wondered if my choices of quotations that speak to me have changed.

There are a dozen or so quotations about death in that post and I must say that looking back with newly educated eyes on the subject, I did a pretty good job of selection. But there are a few that take on a stronger resonance now.

This one because death is serious but should not be somber:

”Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.” - George Bernard Shaw

Because I know even better now that this one is so too:

“A dying man needs to die, as a sleepy man needs to sleep, and there comes a time when it is wrong, as well as useless, to resist.” – Stewart Alsop

Because death is a prerequisite to continued life on Earth:

"It is life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.” - Steve Jobs (who died of pancreatic cancer in 2011, eight years after diagnosis)

I have always liked quotations. I keep running lists of them by topic, adding those that are new (to me) as they turn up. This one, that sits in a small frame on my desk, is from Albus Dumbledore, the head master of Hogwarts school in the Harry Potter series of books:

”Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”

Exactly. It is why, at this blog, we use the word “old” instead of such euphemisms as “golden-ager”, for example, and “death” instead of “passed” or “demise.”

The 29 months since my cancer diagnosis have given me a lot of time to think about the death sentence it puts me under. Dying is no longer an abstract idea I can pretend is far in the future anymore.

So here are a few more quotations about death that have stuck with me since I found them (or they found me).

”While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.” - Leonardo da Vinci
”Death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back.” - Marcus Aurelius
”If life must not be taken too seriously, then so neither must death. - Samuel Butler

This next one opens up a world of speculation to ponder and play with about death.

”Death is only the end if you assume the story is about you.” - Welcome to Night Vale (Podcast)
”Death is a law, not a punishment.” - Jean Dubos
”I was discovering that I was not afraid of death; rather, I was in awe of it.” - Kathryn Mannix
”Do not seek death. Death will find you. But seek the road which makes death a fulfillment.” - Dag Hammarskjold

The first half of Hammarskjold's quotation is a good lead-in to a story about death that I have liked since I first read it when I was a kid and have posted it here before (all good stories deserve repetition).

From W. Somerset Maugham in 1933, The Appointment in Samarra as told by Death.

”There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. “She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.

“The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went.

“Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?

“That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”

Now it is your turn. Do you have any quotations about death and dying you want to post here?



What It's Like to be Dying

A friend emailed about his grandson. “What's it like,” the nine-year-old asked, “to be dying?”

(Dear god, is this what happens when kids are done with dinosaurs? I would have guessed that at least a couple more years would go by before this kind of serious question comes up.)

The short answer is that it's not much different from living. I eat and sleep and read and watch TV or movies, see friends, write this blog as I have done for years along with cleaning house, grocery shopping, cooking, the laundry, etc. You know, the everyday necessities and pleasures of life.

The longer answer is that each one of those ordinary tasks takes longer now than before the cancer diagnosis and the surgery that took several months of recovery.

Now, since the additional diagnosis of COPD, they all take even longer and require more rest periods while I'm doing each one.

Getting that stuff done has become the framework of my life – the measure of my days – so that I can be free to spend time on whatever catches my fancy and, regularly, what it means to stop living. To die.

That weighs on my shoulders, it's there all the time although not always at the forefront.

Simple pleasures are greater now. For several weeks, I've been carrying on about this year's fall colors to anyone who will listen. I don't recall them lasting so long or so stunningly in the past.

On Monday, driving a road through a woods to a doctor appointment, the brilliant yellows of last week had become a deep, burnt orange. I've never seen that. Or, rather, not so much of it. It makes me happy.

Sometimes I read what others have written about being terminally ill. They are all more erudite and thoughtful than I although they usually are nearer to death than I am yet (well, one doesn't really know that). Maybe I will magically become more wise as my time gets shorter. Hmmmph.

Other times I hope that when it is my turn, I will have let go enough of earthly life so to be eager for (or at least, accepting of) what comes – or doesn't come – next.

I watched this happen to my mother and to my great aunt. They gradually lost interest in the world around them. I believe I've noticed hints of this phenomenon in me recently. Just a few days ago, I deleted saved videos of two television shows I have watched regularly for many years. That evening, they just seemed dumb. They offered nothing that engaged my mind.

Although my “trip” last December with magic mushrooms (psilocybin) went a long way toward easing my bone-chilling fear of death, it is not a total relief.

Facing oblivion, the wiping away of one's unique self doesn't stop being unimaginable, and when those thoughts come to mind (they have a habit of creeping up from behind me when I'm not expecting them), I purposely dwell on them. I breathe deeply and try to make myself believe it will be all right.

You could say at this point that death and I are dating. I think we've made it to the holding hands stage. We're open to each other. We want to know more although if I'm going to anthropomorphize death, it's probably a good idea to assume that he/she already knows me well enough.

So living while dying is not all that different from living without a deadline (so to speak) which is how I think I like it. I can't be sure because I've never done this before and – damn, there are no rehearsals.

My god, this blog post is so much less than I wanted it to be. Maybe I'll give it another try down the road.



Too Young We're Old, Too Old We're Wise

A search around the web for the phrase that is today's headline got me nowhere. (Well, I didn't try all that hard but still.)

Now I wonder if I shouldn't just credit my mother who uttered it so frequently in my childhood that I thought it was a universal truism carved in stone somewhere for all to see.

What has happened in my old age is that finally, at last and after all these 78 years of life, I realize that for all those previous decades I made life harder on myself than it needed to be.

It's not like I hadn't heard advice similar to the list below, or that if I had listened to that little voice in my head I would have known what I was doing was probably futile. But I did it anyway.

It has taken cancer, a months-long recovery from surgery and recent new limitations due to COPD for me to see there is an easier way.

So here is a partial list of good advice I ignored for too many years. I know some of them sound like platitudes but that doesn't make them wrong or unhelpful.

⏺ When things aren't going well, remember: This too shall pass.
⏺ Don't spend time worrying. It never changes outcomes.
⏺ Trust your instincts. (Unless your life has proved you shouldn't.)
⏺ Enjoy what you can do; ignore what you can't.
⏺ Remember: Most of the time things work out or, at least, don't fail catastrophically.
⏺ Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer is always good to keep in mind:

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

⏺ Laugh long, loudly and often.

These “rules” (suggestions? advice?) are unique to me and as you undoubtedly noticed, relate mostly to control – the fact that a whole lot of what happens in life is not under my control. Which took me a lifetime to learn.

“Too young we're old, too old we're wise.” Yeah, yeah, yeah, Mom. I got it now.

Feel free to add your own life lessons, especially those you learned late in life.



Crabby Old Lady Would Rather Stay Home

What's wrong with a lot of advice for old people is that it promotes living with the same goals and interests as midlife people.

A week or two ago, Crabby Old Lady read (or heard somewhere) about a woman's aged grandmother lamenting that everyone always wants her to go somewhere and do something when her choice is to stay at home.

Crabby knows how the grandmother feels.

Part of the reason – and nobody told Crabby this would happen when she was young or even middle-aged – is that it takes so damned long these days to get ready to go anywhere. Actually, everything takes longer now and it's exhausting.

You don't even see it coming. Whether it is the due to disease, debility or simple old age, you don't realize how slow you've become until you've been slow for awhile. At least, that's what happened to Crabby.

Crabby has always had an excellent sense of time, an ability to know how long a given task will take or how much time has passed since an earlier marker. It has been so much a part of her life that she never thought it as a “thing.”

Never, that is, until one day a year ago or so when she glanced at the clock as she started washing up the lunch dishes – a plate, a cup, a knife and fork, a cooking pan – and then saw when she finished that 15 minutes had passed.

That was a three-minute task at most. So where did 12 minutes go?

It happens all the time now and it feels like someone is surreptitiously speeding up the clock when Crabby isn't looking, snatching away minutes and hours that rightly belong to Crabby.

Time speeds by so quickly that most days Crabby needs to move several items on her to-do list to the next day. And the next. And the next...

It also means Crabby would rather stay home although not for those neglected to-do items.

Crabby well remembers the many years she was out of the house from early morning until late night without any consequence – it was just a normal day.

But now she would rather be home. Not every day. Not all the time. But more than younger adults would probably find tolerable.

As is frequently mentioned in these pages, people age at different rates. Crabby is 78, diagnosed with cancer and COPD. Her energy level is about half what it once was.

Some other people her age and older might be working full time or volunteering or have places to go, things to do every day. The afflictions of old age don't catch up with all elders at the same age or to the same degree.

But they are more common in late life than not, so most old people will find themselves making age-related adjustments, large and small, than they ever planned for.

When Crabby was younger, getting out of the house and off to some new experience seemed urgent and important. But now she finds there are plenty of compelling things to do at home: read books, write a blog, talk to friends on the phone or Skype, watch a movie. Or just sit and think.

All good reasons Crabby Old Lady would rather stay home most of the time.



Wasting Crabby Old Lady's Time

It's not as though the topic of today's blog post is news to anyone. Crabby Old Lady doubts there is anyone reading this who hasn't been there but that doesn't make it less irritating, even enraging.

All Crabby needed to do a few days ago was update a payee's bill payment information on her bank's website. It should have been a 30-second operation. But no. When she clicked the “enter” button onscreen, a pop-up told her the operation could not be completed and to call an 800 number for help.

Of course you know what happened next. Crabby went through four – count them, FOUR customer service representatives who, the various on-hold recordings told her, are apparently called “bankers” nowadays: “A banker will be with you shortly.”

It's anyone's guess, as far as Crabby can tell, why a “banker” would know anything about a webpage malfunction but that's how things go these days.

With various amounts of time on hold, the dreaded “I'll transfer you”, one broken connection during a transfer with each one requiring Crabby to navigate the phone tree yet again, Crabby Old Lady spent more than 45 minutes before finding a person who even understood the problem, simple as it was.

And get this: Crabby told each of the four people that she probably knew the cause of the problem: that the new name of the payee was nine words long and would not fit in the character-limited box on the screen.

After another five or ten minutes on hold, the fourth person told Crabby that she was correct, the name was longer than the character limitation allows but she had fixed the problem and it would now work.

It did.

Does a happy ending make you feel any better for having slogged through eight paragraphs of a story you know all too well?

Probably not but Crabby wanted to give you a flavor of her hour and 15 minutes on a phone call that should have taken two or three minutes.

In her old age, Crabby Old Lady finds that everything takes longer and that's not her imagination. Undoubtedly, that's true for some of you.

Crabby wears out so easily nowadays that she has no more than about six, maybe seven hours of productive time a day. All her life, Crabby was a jump-out-of-bed kind of person, eager to get going on a brand new day.

Now she lies in bed each morning, so comfy, cozy and warm, free of any kind of pain and thinks seriously about staying there. She hasn't done it yet but you never know.

With her new-ish COPD diagnosis, simple walking becomes problematic. Crabby Old Lady forgetfully starts out toward the trash bins or mailbox as if she's still in New York City at rush hour. It takes only a few steps before she is heaving for breath.

Changing the bed takes at least twice as long as all her previous life because she needs to sit down for a short rest two or three times before she's finished.

And then there are the mystery time losses such as this one: Crabby decides to wash up the few dishes in her sink and when she's done, she sees that 30 minutes (!) have gone by.

Really? It's only Crabby eating here and the dishes are few – those from lunch and maybe left over from breakfast too so it should take five minutes or so of mild effort.

What happened to those other 25 minutes?

Sometimes it happens when she is getting dressed or folding laundry or sorting the papers on her desk. Large swathes of time disappear and Crabby doesn't know where they went. Did she black out for awhile and not know it?

Crabby Old Lady was blessed with 76 healthy years of life before being diagnosed with cancer and don't think she doesn't appreciate it. But it has been so hard to adjust to living with the time demands of ongoing disease – and that's on top of the normal slowdown due to age alone..

So it time is already short in old age. When poorly trained or incompetent people can't deliver what they are paid to do so that hours go by, that is theft of Crabby Old Lady's time.

And it's not like stolen money - no one can pay back time.



And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

Every now and then – much more frequently these days than I would ever have believed in the past – something happens in the world that is not directly related to the topic of this blog but is so important that I want to give us a chance to discuss it.

Events move so quickly these days that you might think I'm talking about the whistleblower and the U.S. House of Representatives' opening a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump. It certainly meets my criteria for this kind of blog post.

But I haven't caught up to that yet. I'm still on climate change, on the worldwide climate strike marches last Friday and that astonishing young girl who is wise and brave beyond her 16 years, Greta Thunberg.

Listen to her fierce and powerful speech to the United Nations' Climate Action Summit in New York City on Monday. Even if you have heard it before, it's worth paying attention to again. And again.

(You can read the transcript of Ms. Thunberg's U.N. speech at NPR.)

Isn't she wonderful. In the 30 years that have passed since science made it clear that humankind is killing our only planet, have you heard any world leader match her understanding and passion and intention?

She reminds me a bit of David Hogg and his fellow students who survived the Valentines Day 2018 mass shooting at Margery Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and who are making their way through college these days while still working as gun control activists.

Ms. Thunberg inspires me. She makes me believe that we – humankind – can win the climate challenge before Earth is destroyed by it – even while I am still pessimistic.

Pessimistic about Earth's future because the leaders of the world attending the U.N. Climate Action Summit haven't offered a whit of concrete support for Ms. Thunberg's almost desperate call to action.

In an opinion piece in The Guardian, Michael H. Fuchs, noting that the United States should be leading world-wide cooperation to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis, compared Greta Thunberg and the U.S. President Trump:

”Her remarks reminded us what leadership, courage and sacrifice look like...”, Fuchs wrote.

“Trump refusing to participate in the UN climate summit was little surprise from a president who gutted domestic environmental protections, announced his intention to withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement, and is even trying to prevent California from enacting higher emissions standards for automobiles.”

In Isaiah 11:6, the Old Testament tells us,

“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,
The leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
The calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
And a little child shall lead them.

In the aftermath of terrible, frightening events like shootings and climate, it does seem like it is the children, not adults, who are leading the humane response.

Ms. Thunberg, who is actually a teen, won't be a child for much longer but as far as I can tell she is working circles around the grownups who refuse to face our ultimate existential problem.

It occurs to me that if her passion were matched with the knowledge of scientists, with others who can apply the scientists' solutions and still others who can organize countries worldwide, maybe, maybe, maybe there is a chance to save the planet.

Pipe dream? I hope with all my might it is not.

Last week, former U.S. President Barack Obama called Greta Thunberg “one of our planet’s greatest advocates.” It looks like she may have arrived at the last minute but perhaps there is still time if we start soon.

While she was in New York City, Ms. Thunberg was a guest on The Daily Show with host, Trever Noah. It's worth the eight minutes of your time.

If you want to know more about Greta Thunberg, Wikipedia has some good background, and there is a 30-minute Vice documentary titled, Make the World Greta Again about her early efforts. You will find it here.



Scheduling Old Age

Let me say right up front that the thoughts in this post are speculative. I have not discussed them with anyone (except for you today) and it could be that there is a term for this I don't know that caused me to come up empty when I tried an internet search.

Nevertheless, it is a real and important issue in my life and I wonder if its an old people's thing more generally.

I have always kept a detailed calendar. It relieves me of trying to remember if we said we would meet on Monday or Tuesday, and it is a central place to keep notes about the items on the calendar I might otherwise misplace.

Nowadays, electronic calendars make themselves even more useful than the pre-computer paper ones with such conveniences as reminders and syncing phone to desktop. And a calendar is no less important to keeping track of my life in retirement than when I was working.

What has changed, however, is that I am older, sicker, tireder and, compared to my work years, have much less time to take care of what's necessary each day, set aside time for leisure and be sure to meet the obligations I have made with others.

Thank god for calendars.

All that is to say that I curate my time and energy via the calendar. If I have medical tests or doctor appointments, I make no other plans that day and often not the next. With travel to and from, those usually eat up three hours of the day, sometimes four.

And for some reason activities away from home are extra tiring than whatever I'm doing at home.

One of my greatest pleasures is keeping up this blog. That involves setting aside hours of time on certain days, sometimes full days, because there is never any telling how long it will take to get something written that is good enough to publish.

I rest more often than I once did. A couple of times a week, I feel the need for a nap. If not, I usually stop whatever I'm doing now and then to just sit. Sometimes to meditate, sometimes to be still and let my mind wander for awhile.

In addition to the usual household chores – cooking, cleaning up, sweeping, laundry, taking out the trash etc. - I schedule regular, long telephone calls with friends who live far away. They tend to last about an hour but three hours is not unusual either.

So on paper, I would seem to have all my ducks in a row to, within the circumstance and requirements of my age and health issues, keep daily life running smoothly.

And that's true. Except when it's not.

Although I schedule my time loosely so not to be too rigid, it is a schedule nonetheless and when I book too many appointments in a short period of time, I pay for it with increased fatigue and distraction which, of course, means things don't get done.

I might be too tired to do the grocery shopping I'd planned or if it's late in the afternoon, I can't seem to concentrate on the blog post I'm writing. When I'm that tired I even have trouble answering email sometimes.

What no one told me about being old is how long it takes to do everything and if you (well, I mean me) don't plan your time well enough, you end up getting nothing done – neither requirements nor the fun stuff.

So much to do, so little time.

So if a friend wants to reschedule a phone chat or change the day of a lunch, I'll probably wind up with a day crammed full of too many activities – it doesn't take much these days for that to happen.

There are many reasons any of us might reschedule appointments and I don't recall ever thinking much about it until the past few years. In my working years, it was no big deal; now it can throw off my energy level for two or three days.

The worst, the thing that incurs my wrath, is when someone doesn't show up. A while back, a person I hardly know, never arrived at the coffee place we had agreed to meet. After a half an hour wait, I went home, seething.

Three or four days later, I received an email saying she'd forgotten and, as though that was a normal thing to happen, suggesting we reschedule. I don't know what you would do but I hit delete.

But right now, I'm interested in the bigger picture – that after a certain age (undoubtedly different for each of us but in the same ballpark) – it is crucial to manage our energy and stamina. Oddly, too much time with people as when I have two or more appointments in a day, exhausts me even while being with people always enhances my sense of well-being.

Does any of this sound familiar? Do you schedule your time?



Living Large in Old Age

“What's new?” asked an old friend in an email filling me in on his latest adventures.

I was stumped, unable to think of anything new (which is probably good news for someone with cancer but not what my friend meant). I would need to think about it for awhile and in doing so, I made a list of what it is I actually do during a given week or so.

And no, I'm not going to copy out that list here. On its face, it's boring but after spending some time thinking about it, I changed my mind. Let me explain.

Among what generally passes for public thinking about life in old age are such platitudes as, “It's not the years in your life that count, but the life in your years.”

Yeah, yeah. People designated as old-age experts say things like that. They also write things like this from the U.S. National Institutes of Health website:

”Quality of life (QOL) is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as 'individuals' perception of their position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which they live and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards, and concerns.'”

Whatever that means. Plus, there is always some version of the five things (or eight or 10 or any other number) people should do to make an elder's life better:

Monitor and treat depression
Remind seniors that they are useful and needed
Encourage physical activity
Encourage mental activity
Keep them connected

Did you notice that all five are things someone is supposed to do to improve the lives of old people who, it is implied, cannot can't work this out on their own.

That is so for some elders but most of us can and there is little information to be found about old people who are not deemed deficient in one or more of the categories on that five-point list.

This happens because even among agencies and organizations whose goal is to help elders, too often there is an attitude of “If you've seen one old person, you've seen them all.”

Puh-leeze. One size does not fit all.

Nevertheless, old people are seen mostly as homogeneous, particularly when care-giving and government policy are being considered, and that filters out to everyone else.

Add to that how we become when we get old: most of us walk more slowly, we don't stay out late at night much, some of us nap more frequently and we all look the same to younger people. Just like high school – it's all about appearance.

Because of my newly diagnosed COPD, I don't do stairs anymore, I don't walk as fast or as far as I once did. I doubt I'll ever get on an airplane again. I won't drive on highways these days and I don't much like driving to new places. I don't recall last time I had dinner with friends. I can't stay awake that late so I do lunch dates instead.

And if that's all younger people know about an old person, it's a good description of a small, gray, little life. But wait.

With a book of contemporaneous maps and a marvelous book about the street (Broadway: A History of New York City in Thirteen Miles), I “walked” the entire length of world-famous Broadway from its beginnings in 1624 to the present day.

How's that for an exciting trip. I'm sure from the outside I looked like any old woman reading a book – well, in this case, two books. From the inside, I was thrilled to “see” the shops as they closed down and moved a few blocks north each time the center of Broadway gravity relocated farther uptown, and to recall which buildings are still there, buildings I have walked past or been in.

I'm currently watching a Netflix drama series about the 1970s beginnings of the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit (BSU), now renamed the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU), as in the Criminal Minds TV series.

There are a lot of fascinating ideas, well fleshed out, about what commonalities serial killers sometimes share and if you have any wit about you, you will glean some important information about people who are not serial killers - like you and me, for example.

I regularly spend at least an hour, often stretching to two or three hours at a time, talking on the phone with friends who live far away. I can wish I were in-person with them but circumstances of life change possibilities so I do the best I can – which works out fine.

These chats are deeply nourishing to me – an old (and one new) friend's voice in my ear; news of mutual friends; in one case, an ongoing discussion on the nature of Manhattan and how it has been changing; not to mention what we have learned from books we've been reading; movies; the nature of life in general, growing old in particular. And so on.

And, of course, I write this blog. I work on it every day, for hours.

In one way, TimeGoesBy is like a journal - I can flip through past posts and see what I was thinking in the past. But in a much larger sense it is a community. There is an amazing group of smart, interesting, funny and thoughtful people who comment here.

Readers say they learn from me, but they are teachers too. I learn at least as much as they do, and many blog posts grow out of ideas readers have written in the comments. Through readers who comment, I expand my vision to the whole world.

Is this a “small, gray, little life?” I sure don't think so.

I'm doing at least as much as I did before I got old. It's just that more of it takes place in my mind, and from the outside maybe it doesn't look like much.

But I think my life is bright and shiny, full of light and color and with all that, I'm livin' large.

How about you?



18 Years Ago Today Since 9/11

EDITORIAL NOTE: When important days – birthdays, certain holidays, change of seasons, anniversaries – come 'round, I pay closer attention to these than I might have in the past because, given my cancer diagnosis, I might not be here for the next one.

Eighteen years ago today, terrorists attacked the United States killing nearly 3,000 people. We call it just “9/11” nowadays – everyone knows what that means - and it looms large for me still.

Below is the blog post I wrote for the fifth anniversary of the attacks. I've edited it lightly for clarity and some embarrassing writing choices but no facts or thoughts or opinions are changed.

It's a good deal longer than I usually publish but – well, that's how it is.

* * *

FROM THE ARCHIVES - 11 September 2006:

In the late 1950s, there was an excellent television drama titled The Naked City set, of course, in New York. The show's tagline was, "There are eight million stories in the naked city. This is one of them." And so it is today on Time Goes By, one small story among millions:

In the late summer of 2001, I was 60 years old, unemployed since the overnight demise, 13 months earlier, of the dotcom where I had been vice president of editorial and interactive.

The stack of printouts and folders on my desk had reached a height of two inches – more than a year’s worth of email and snailmail job applications, cover letters, lists of potential employment contacts, headhunters, notes of telephone conversations, rejection letters, follow-up schedules and spreadsheets tracking it all.

As everyone in the world would soon know, the morning of 11 September dawned gloriously cool, bright and sunny - a good day, if you were not working, to go to the park, stroll the city streets or bicycle down the urban path toward the World Trade Center. But not for me.

The wolf had been scratching at my door for many weeks and on top of that stack of job search detritus was a list of contacts I intended to call as soon as offices opened.

By shortly after 8AM, I had been at my desk for a couple of hours working on a design for what would, before long, become my first blog (not this one). I only half listened to CBS News Radio88 in the background, the usual litany of national and local politics, deliberate and accidental death, and celebrity stories to fill in the blanks between commercials.

Then the breaking-news alert sounded. I remember groaning; it would be just another fender bender or commuter traffic snarl breathlessly reported as though it were the start of World War III.

But instead, the news reader said something about an airplane and the World Trade Center. I dashed to the bedroom to turn on the television and saw to my horror that perhaps it was, this time, World War III.

It’s the little things in life that can turn me into a crazed harridan. When the big things happen, I am calm and rational, running potential next steps through my mind and then taking action, if any is needed. My lifelong broadcast career training kicked in; I needed to get to the office right away to help cover the story. But I had no office to go to. So, I phoned a journalist friend who was recently retired from full-time work.

“It’s like the Empire State Building years ago,” he said.“Some pilot lost his way.”

“No way,” said I. For three years, I had worked in an office on 11th Avenue overlooking the Hudson where I had watched planes large and small move up and down the river all day. I knew that 1: no planes are allowed to fly over Manhattan and 2: pilots are taught to ditch, when something goes wrong, in water and there is plenty of that around Manhattan.

“It’s a terrorist attack,” I told my friend (which we all know now came horribly true).

As soon as we hung up, the phone rang - my upstairs neighbor. His wife took their two boys to school in Brooklyn each day by subway and then returned home. She was late, he said. He just knew she had stopped to shop, as was her habit a couple of times a week, at a clothing store across the street from the World Trade Center. He knew she didn’t have a cell phone with her and he was terrified.

My Greenwich Village apartment was half a block from the intersection of Sixth Avenue, a major north/south artery, and Houston Street. For 20 years, it had been my private ritual, as I left home each morning, to check north for a view of the Empire State Building and then south to check the twin towers of the World Trade Center. If they were there then all was right, I liked to believe, with my world.

A second, less uplifting ritual – mental exercise, really - that began following the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, was my now-and-then attempt to calculate, should a Trade Center building fall over northward, whether the top of it would crash into my townhouse.

My conclusion had been that it didn’t matter. Even if it didn’t reach as far as my block, the concussion would probably kill me. You shrug in the face of such potential catastrophe you can't control and get on with life. But my mind wandered back to it from time to time.

On that morning five years ago, my upstairs neighbor and I sat watching television near his phone waiting, hoping, silently praying to all the gods the world has ever worshiped to let us hear from his wife. We took turns joining neighbors at the corner of Sixth and Houston, staring south to the fire and smoke and, before long, the collapse of the buildings.

Within an hour or so, my neighbor’s wife telephoned from a friend’s house in SoHo and soon, sitting on our stoop together, we saw her, covered in soot, walking toward us. Later, she told us her story:

Yes, she had been shopping at that store and was just entering the stairs to the subway in the lower concourse of the World Trade Center when there was a tremendous noise above. It shook the entire building, she said. Debris was raining down as she and everyone raced out and away, not looking back. She hadn’t known what had happened until she reached her friend’s house.

I heard many more stories that day. I spent much of it sitting on my stoop and as thousands of survivors walked north on Sixth Avenue toward their homes, some turned into my street.

The first time, I was surprised when a stranger in a dusty business suit, carrying a briefcase plopped himself down beside me and wept on my shoulder as he told me his story. When he had collected himself enough to head home, another stopped, and another, sometimes two and three at a time. We wept together for the dead, for ourselves and for our city.

That evening, the journalist friend I had spoken with in the morning came by and we walked Greenwich Village looking for a place to eat dinner. Hardly any restaurants were open and those that were, were crammed with people, most of them strangers to one another just wanting to be with other people. We joined them and then wandered over to Washington Square Park where thousands of others had gathered too.

The next morning, I went to St. Vincent’s Hospital to give blood, but by then, sadly, it wasn’t necessary – too few injured survivors - and I was turned away.

Home-made posters with photos of the missing were posted on many buildings in the neighborhood. Spontaneous memorials with American flags, candles, flowers, prayer cards and notes had appeared on street corners.

The authorities shut down traffic except for emergency vehicles below 14th Street for the next four days, and we used the winding Greenwich Village streets as the cowpaths they once were, ignoring street lights and crosswalks, walking where whim took us.

During those days, knots of people – sometimes neighbors, sometimes strangers – gathered here and there. The first question, carefully worded, was always, “Is everyone you know okay?” Sometimes they were; sometimes they weren’t. Often we just stood together silently for awhile, stunned still by the events of that terrible day.

Three weeks later, at last, I was offered a job and a week after that, I was on a plane to Florida for a conference. Planes approaching New York travel up the Hudson River and then turn right toward LaGuardia Airport. On my return from Florida, I deliberately chose a window seat on the Manhattan side of the plane because although I had seen the aerial photos of Ground Zero, I wanted to see it "for real".

The size of the devastation was shocking. I'd had no idea that so much of downtown was gone. A big, ugly, open sore on the city, much larger than any photo or video had conveyed.

The first anniversary of 9/11 hit me as hard as the first anniversary of the deaths of loved ones I’ve buried. I mourned for the dead, for the kind of world we had come to live in now, and for the damage done to my city.

It disturbs me that from the day of the attack – and still – when I have stood at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Houston Street, I can’t remember which buildings the World Trade Center towered above. It feels as though my lack of attention all those years to their exact location in the sky is a betrayal.

I am sorry for that.



About the Next Generation and the Next and the Next and

While chatting on the phone with a friend recently, we noted that we often have no idea, these days, who people named in headlines are - especially young movie and music stars along with, in my case, sports stars. Some examples:

How Lizzo Does That

Trump again attacks ‘Will & Grace’ actress Debra Messing

Kaitlynn Carter Celebrates Her Birthday

Lizzo? Debra Messing? Kaitlynn Carter? I don't know who these people are and although Debra Messing's name is vaguely familiar, I'm unfamiliar with her work or what she looks like.

We are born into whatever cultural zeitgeist predominates in the place we are born. We identify with the famous, the infamous and celebrities of our early childhood. As teenagers, we were eager to embrace writers, performers, musicians and other public people who were coming to be the shared touchstones of our generation.

For people our age now – that is, elders - we don't quite know what to make of a young person who has never heard of, for example, Frank Sinatra. Even if you were not a fan, he was such a force in our youth that what do you mean you've never heard of Sinatra seems a logical question.

In my case, Sinatra was of my mother's generation but young enough that his celebrity continued a long time into my adulthood. So for a younger person today, say 20 years old, Sinatra is two generations removed from her world.

Have you heard of any important people from your grandparents' youth? I didn't think so.

A week or two ago, TGB reader, Tom Delmore, sent an excerpt from a 1993 book by Frederick Buechner who, Wikipedia tells us, is an American writer, novelist, poet, autobiographer, essayist, preacher, and theologian. He is an ordained Presbyterian minister and the author of more than 30 books.

The book today is Whistling in the Dark – A Doubter's Dictionary. For easier reading onscreen, I have re-paragraphed the excerpt that Tom sent.

I think it explains in a lovely and loving way why we so often prefer the company of people our own age and why it is necessary for the young to gradually supplant older generations as the movers and shakers in culture, the arts, business, politics, etc.

”When you hit sixty or so, you start having a new feeling about your own generation. Like you they can remember the Trilon and Perisphere, Lum and Abner, ancient Civil War veterans riding in open cars at the rear of Memorial Day parades, the Lindbergh kidnapping, cigarettes in flat fifties which nobody believed then could do any more to you than cut your wind.

“Like you they know about blackouts, Bond Rallies, A-stickers, Kilroy was Here. They remember where they were when the news came through that FDR was dead of a stroke in Warm Springs, and they could join you in singing "Bei Mir Bist Du Schön" and "The Last Time I Saw Paris." They wept at Spencer Tracy with his legs bitten off in Captains Courageous.

“As time goes by, you start picking them out in crowds. There aren't as many of them around as there used to be. More likely than not, you don't say anything, and neither do they, but something seems to pass between you anyhow.

“They have come from the same beginning. They have seen the same sights along the way. They are bound for the same end and will get there about the same time you do.

“There are some who by the looks of them you wouldn't invite home for dinner on a bet, but they are your compagnons de voyage even so. You wish them well.

“It is sad to think that it has taken you so many years to reach so obvious a conclusion.”

I don't know about half of Buechner's references in this piece. The film, Captains Courageous, was released in 1937, four years before I was born. Without a great deal of research, I cannot know how it was reviewed, if it was a success and how people talked about it as I can know with most movies of my generation.

And what in the world are A-stickers, flat fifties, the Trilon and Perisphere, along with a couple of others?

Undoubtedly these holes in my knowledge have to do with the fact that Frederick Buechner has 15 years on me, nearly a generation, so our cultural touchstones don't match up.

But his observation that we are often more comfortable with our compagnons de voyage, our age mates, answers a question or two about growing old for me.



THINKING OUT LOUD: My End-of-Life Job

Not too long after a dire diagnosis such as my cancer, an unwelcome fact appears in one's mind (or, at least, in mine): “Oh, you mean I'm mortal after all?”

Once it appears, there is no denying it, no going back to that blissful state where all your life you kind of vaguely believed death would always be somewhere down the road.

Of course I knew that wasn't true, but when reality is too complex or too painful, humans are good at fooling themselves. I am not immune.

It has been awhile, certainly more than a year now, since this stark reality began plopping itself down next to me several times a day, poking me in the ribs to remind me that I need to prepare, to make peace, to be ready when the time comes.

Sometimes I pay attention, performing a mental check see how I'm feeling in regard to shuffling off this mortal coil. I've already done some fairly major preparation such as a magic mushroom (psilocybin) session last December (which you can read about in Part 1 and Part 2).

That “trip” was every bit as useful to me in reducing my dread as responsible researchers at major medical and academic institutions have been reporting for the past 10 years or so. And it continues.

Having been given this fairly lengthy reprieve from death – more than a year now - I have made it my job to get ready to die. I don't want to leave being terrified.

On the other hand, sometimes I wonder if giving one's death any attention at all is worth the effort. Like it or not, we are each going to die whatever we feel or think about it.

Nevertheless, it is in my nature to watch myself, to pay attention to what's going on in my mind when I'm not directing it, as now while writing a blog post.

I have discovered that without naming it or dwelling on it much, I seem to have believed for a long time that when people are nearing death, they lose interest in the world around them. I don't know if that's true or not but it doesn't matter because somewhere years ago I came to believe it.

And nowadays, when I have stopped doing certain things either because they are too physically taxing or, more likely so far, take up more time than I am willing to allot them anymore, I start to wonder if death is closing in.

When that happens, my mind takes off to my personal fantasy land telling me that if I instead keep doing those things, I will forestall the grim reaper.

What horseshit. Apparently, for some of us, there is no end to our ability to deny the inevitable even when medical science has been clear about what is next.

But maybe that's laying it on too thick. Not counting psilocybin, the best thing I've done for myself is to start meditating again. I had done so off and on for most of my life but even as I appreciated its effect, it was still more off than on.

Today, I think of it as, simply, my daily quiet time. A few minutes to be still and just notice what's going on around and within me.

When thoughts of death creep in, they occasionally feel as natural as the breathing to which I am paying close attention. I'm working on increasing the frequency of those feelings but there is no pushing that kind of thing further than it's ready for.

For now, I am trusting this “quiet time” will help me build on the good that the magic mushrooms did and lead me to welcome the wide river and drifting into the sea, as Bertram Russell describes the end of life. (See Wednesday's post.)

It's my job, or rather, the job I have assigned myself to make this time of my life and particularly its end as peaceful as I can manage.



Living While Dying

What I have always liked are the surprises in life, the unexpected events that seem to occur to remind me that I don't control everything, and this surely is the biggest ever for me.

There has always been a lot of loose activity going on in the ether that impinges on my plans. Some of it is pleasurable, but a large amount gums up the works.

Knowing perfectly well that some people die hard deaths didn't stop me from assuming I would be as disgustingly healthy up to the end as I had always been – that is, until I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at age 76.

Ruminating on my own demise now and then in those many pre-cancer years, I never got further than something like, “I lived and then I died”, anticipating no remarkable lead-up to death.

To repeat myself from a week ago, “Man plans and god laughs.” You can't say in the case of this particular unexpected event, cancer, that it doesn't gum up my personal works.

The joint and body pains from a medication that didn't work out is one of those. Three weeks or so since ending that medication, the pains are receding in small, daily increments, but it is so slow I wonder if it will entirely go away.

As interesting as life has been these past two years, and continues to be, this is not one of the better surprises of my life nor is the COPD that the medication was meant to help control.

Backing up a couple of years, after the Whipple surgery from which it took months to recover, I watched myself create a smaller life, shrinking it down closer to essentials without many frills.

I wanted more time alone, too, and tried to arrange my social life to accommodate that. I was winding down my earthly existence, concentrating on only what was most important to me in the time left.

Then, early this year, my oncologist told me that the chemotherapy had shrunk my tumors by half or so and that he expected me to be around “for quite a while yet,” he said.

Soon after, I noticed that I was gradually expanding my life again. A few more social engagements, purchasing some books I had thought I wouldn't have time for and I even bought a sweater I liked – the first new clothing since the cancer diagnosis.

Before the latest diagnosis of COPD and the body/joint pains, I liked to tell myself (and others who would listen) that I was so free of symptoms that if I didn't know better, I would think I don't have cancer.

I suspect now that will never be so again. Even though, if you don't count the body pains and shortness of breath, I feel reasonably good, from now on I will be living while dying.

That was true before but I was not so out in the open and honest with myself about it as now, and maybe that's why I have been searching out smart thinkers, philosophers and others who have written well about growing old and getting closer to death.

Last week, that brought me back to 20th century, British philosopher Bertrand Russell and his essay written when he was about 80 titled, “How to Grow Old.”

It is very short – just three pages – and here are his points that are salient to me. Well, this week. We'll see how that changes or not.

”Psychologically there are two dangers to be guarded against in old age. One of these is undue absorption in the past. It does not do to live in memories, in regrets for the good old days...

“The other thing to be avoided is clinging to youth in the hope of sucking up vigour from its vitality.”

These have not been issues for me but it is still good to be reminded. More interesting is this, about facing the fear of death:

”The best way to overcome it – so at least it seems to me – is to make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life.

“An individual human existence should be like a river – small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past boulders and over waterfalls.

“Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged with the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being.”

Although this cancer/COPD event was a surprise to me, I think if given a choice, I would prefer the situation I'm in, knowing death is coming relatively soon but with time to appreciate and make good use of the new and different perspective it gives me.

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[EDITORIAL NOTE: This is the first of what will probably be more such ruminations on my predicament. Like today, they might be triggered by something I've read or what someone tells me. Other times it might be random thoughts without any conclusions. Perhaps we can call it, simply, thinking out loud.]



Happy 94 Years, Millie Garfield

Actually, Millie's birthday is Sunday so we're a little bit early but when someone is in their tenth decade, several days of celebration do not seem excessive to me. So...

HBMSingleFlower

In recent years, Millie has spent less time with her blog, called My Mom's Blog presumably because her son, Steve, helped put it together, and then Millie was up and running on the internet in 2003, a year before I was.

We met soon after I started Time Goes By which means we've known one another for about 15 years. For several of those years, Millie produced an ongoing video series for her blog called “I Can't Open It” - something a lot of us have problems with and which became an internet classic.

Here is one of them. Her son Steve is the videographer:

These days you'll more frequently find Millie on Facebook. Here she is having a beer with Steve and his wife Carol last week at Riverwalk.

MillieAtRiverWalk

Here's another photo from Millie's Facebook page with Steve and his wife, Carol. Have you noticed that this family eats a lot?

MillieSteveCarol

As we have done for many years on Millie's birthday, we add up our years. So if you take Millie's 94 and my 78, we get 172. Add yours to this total or the last total in the comments.

Yes, it will probably get all mixed up and not exactly right but that's the fun of a party – just giggle and move on.

Meanwhile, let's all sing Happy Birthday to Millie and her amazing 94 years. I love you, Millie.