When You can see the Cliff, Stop Running.

To my supprise, I’m still sitting up and taking nourshment and I count that as a victory for today. I can remember wondering what motivates the elderly people in our midst. Now that I’m fully qualified to speak on the subject, I think it is the desire to see another day. When she was in her early eighties, my mother, a Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher, asked me to tell her a reason to live. Stunned, I said “curosity and a sense of humor”. She did not find that satisfactory. But I haven’t found much conversation about this kind of thing; end of life decisions, I mean.

I’m going to just treat this locus of time and space like a journal and write about my experience as I go.

Long Ago and Far Away

It seems like a very long time ago that I last made a contribution to my diary. I aged 10 years in Febuary and part of March while I spent a total of about 6 weeks in the hospital; most of it in ICU and RCU. Much of the time I was in an induced coma while the medical team struggled to get control of my heart rate, blood pressure and white blood cell count.

I learned that the people who took care of me were extraodinary. They did unplesant jobs with great heart. I can only marvel and thank them. They saved me from immediate termination and bought me more time. Thanks to the doctors, RNs, LPNs, Technicians, Orderlys, and house keepers for their excellent work and positive attitudes while doing it. I know that the whole world has begun to recognize the debit we owe people who dedicate their working lives to the well being of others in the pandemic that is COVID-19.

I had grown cynical about the medical field and its financing. I have put that down now.

I am six treatments into a course of 45 sessions of radiation to treat prostate cancer and once again think I can see a horizon instead of being limited to the immediate. Perhaps foolishly, I feel the tiny seed of optimisim sprouting within.

I don’t like the feeling that this post should have a black border around it but I want to be straight forward about the circumstances that have a bearing on my views. Be mindful today.

Cogito ergo sum

I am. I am black, white, brown, red, yellow, pink; young, old; male, female, some of both. I “am stardust, I am golden …”.  I am a small, brief point in time and space serving as a location for an aggregation of colonies of organisms. I am plural. Turns out I = we.

Descartes wanted a place to pin a certainty and he concluded that there cannot be a thought without a thinker and therefore he must exist. That’s a little shakier today than when he wrote it.

I wrote the two paragraphs above at least 18 months ago and never finished the draft. I was and remain appalled at the phenomena of the current fear of the “other”. I do not understand how we do not see ourselves in others. I am still troubled by tribalism, exclusivity, and demonizing anyone or anything we consider different.

I sincerely hope we can grow in this area and overcome these dark forces.

Good Intensions and the Road to Hell

Today I gave a friend of mine a hard time. He’s another old guy and he has been struggling with serious medical issues for several years. He also suffers from clinical depression. On numerous occasions over the last ten years I have tried to help him with his work when he gets seriously behind. almost every time he wants to spend the time talking or eating two hour lunches.

I think that friends help friends so I’m trying to be sure we got things done and make some headway against the mounting workload and deadlines. He says he can do things faster without help. In frustration today, I lectured him on the virtues of good planning and time management. He suggested that I thought he was stupid and insisted that he planned well.

I hammered away on the lack of results and the fact that neither one of us would have unlimited time to complete elaborate plans. “We need to focus on what is most important to us and do those things and give up the grandiose expansive plans that we could not actually execute”, I said.

I very much regret that conversation now that I understand that my friend needed me to be a friend, not a planning consultant or the voice of reality or a critic. Just be a friend. Sometimes we all need to listen more and talk less.

In Praise of the Single Track Wheelbarrow

I have two wheelbarrows. One is a newer huge capacity, two wheeled monster with metal frame and handles; the other is an old wooden handled, single tire, shallow pan model that I have had since the 1980’s.

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Guess which one this is above………

This weekend I was reaquainted with the beauty and utility of this simple tool. I had about 2 yards of dirt to put pack into the trench I dug to bury pipe for our gray water system. I started with my big two wheeler and quickly discovered that maneuvering between the azaleas uphill and over edger stone was too difficult for me. These big two wheelers are made to allow twenty-year-olds to move large volumes of wet concrete and pour into forms. Heavy, awkward and hard to guide on anything but flat level ground.

The old single track above was originally yellow  and tagged in rattle can silver “Happy Anniversary” around the interior of the bowl. Although it still rolls on the original wheel and tire, I have replaced the wooden parts at least twice over the last thirty-five years. When I use this tool, I am reminded of all the work we have done together and the countless days it has endured outdoors in the rain, the heat, and the freezing cold. I am grateful for its reliability and durability. Like a simple hammer, it’s use is obvious and immediate. A lever and a wheel.

I noticed this weekend that the wood of the handles holding the front strap had deteriorated. Time for new handles and a repaint this fall.

Steamer Trunk

 

Memory is like a backpack you packed for a long trip and you are unpacking it years later after spending months on the trail. – Ugh! that smells bad. I thought that shirt was green. Are those my sox?

Digging around in my bag of experience to recall what younger me thought and felt when in my twenties or thirties. He was not thinking much about elderly people. They weren’t on his cultural radar unless they were relatives. Even then they didn’t warrant much thought. He didn’t feel their identity within him. They were not current. Regardless of what knowledge or skills they might have had,  it was dated and no longer relevant. They were place markers.

Now when the roles are reversed and I am “elderly” the rub of that kind of discrimination chafes painfully. Admittedly I am getting a dose of my own medicine (as my grandmother used to say). Cleverly, I now see the errors of my youth. I would like to connect to travelers who are walking this trail behind me. Some close behind. Some further back.

You may carry a day pack and I a steamer trunk and still have a lot to offer each other. Jus’ sayin’.

Who? & Why?

IMG_0049“Wouldn’t it be strange to be 70?” (Phrase from Simon & Garfunkle’s 1968 recording of Old Friends)  I’m a guy surprised to find that I’m in my 7th decade. I want to share how this stage of my life feels to me. My hope is that occasionally someone will get a glimpse of somebody or something familiar that will add to our understanding of each other.

In a nutshell, it’s like being out of context. One minute you’re operating in an environment that you understand and feel at home in; the next you realize that the world around you is slightly out of focus. Double vision. The same but not the same.

Somewhere along the line you stopped attending to every little change in current interests, current styles, popular culture. (I’m not the least interested the Kardashians, Justin Bieber or skinny jeans.)  Until sometime in the 19th century, you could grow old in the same world you were born into. The rate of change was so slow. Not anymore. Today the world changes so fast that we reminisce about prior decades and the last season of “Game of Thrones“.

I don’t want to live in the past but I’m not caught up enough to share the present with people who are 20 years or more my junior. I don’t want to lose contact with the people around me so I am searching for a solution that will help me re-connect.

There are also many wonderful things about this time in my life. I take more time to enjoy the sights and sounds around me. The gardens, the woods, the wildlife, fresh air, gentle breeze on a hot afternoon, new friends, old friends, sitting on the porch at sunset, riding my motorbike along back country roads, fresh vegetables from the farmer’s market, cold glass of beer at the end of a long day, the rapt attention of my dog Charlie, butterflies, birds, the comfort of 40 years of companionship and marriage, the pleasure of hard work, making things, the smell of honeysuckle on the cool morning air – just to name a few.

I want to get the most out of this part of my life and I think that must include trying harder to connect and share with others.

 

Discovering Summer Again

In the early summer of my 73rd year I am suddenly aware that my body does not manage heat as well as I remember from years past. Here in the northeastern corner of Alabama the drought coupled with very high humidity and temperatures in the upper 90’s have driven me indoors in the middle of the day.

Yesterday morning I was digging a trench to bury 2″ drain line for my grey water system and after only about 20′ of trench I had to go in the house to cool down despite working in the shade of the porch. It took far too long to recover. I am searching for the silver lining in this but the search must go on…

Some better news is the harvest of blueberries, strawberries, and goose berries from our gardens. Despite this, I have decided that I am kidding myself each spring when I get the urge to prepare the garden area. For a week or two I cultivate, weed, mulch and plant with the expectation that I will care for this garden and produce lots of peppers, tomatoes, onions, kale, eggplant, asparagus, and herbs. Every year my faithful gardening ends within two to four weeks. Gardening begins to be an obligation rather than a joy.

I am resigned to supporting the local farmer’s markets in order to enjoy fresh locally grown food and stock my freezer. I admire serious gardeners but apparently I will have to do so from outside the circle of master gardeners. – I may stick with composting, that seems to hold lasting appeal for me.

Aspirational Acquisitions

I like books. I keep a steady flow of them coming from Amazon by post and I harvest sackfuls from the local library sale room. Going through the shelves where they pile up fast, I discover that I have a lot of books that I haven’t read. While quite a few are strictly entertainment, such as the 70 or so Robert Parker novels, many are more challenging. Many books that I find on my shelves reflect topics of art, literature, history, philosophy, artificial intelligence research, social research, and the unifying principals of science. Most of these reflect the interest of the person I would like to be and therefor are not all read. All of the Parker books have been read at least once.

I have a stack of drawing pads along with all sorts of pens, pencils and fancy erasers. Some of my pads are filled with a mixture of notes, journal like entries, and drawings. I find that I use drawing to think about how to make something more than to make representations of the world I see around me; although there are drawings that are studies of real objects. I have acquired this stack of pads while thinking I “ought” to draw more. I think I would draw more if I didn’t feel so pretentious doing so in public.

I have acquired exercise equipment and watched it languish in a corner gathering dust until I stored it under the eaves or donated it to Goodwill or Habitat. I have gathered bicycles and dispersed them most of my adult life. Thinking each time that I would ride for exercise and pleasure.

I have bought old British sports cars thinking I would restore them and use them as daily drivers. Only once did that actually happen and that caused my wife distress each time she had to drive my “Bug-eyed” Sprite. The beautiful maroon and silver Austin Healey 3000 spent most of our life together sitting in the driveway waiting for one part or another.

These things come from a longing to be more or better, or both. They are signs indicating direction from who I am to the person I would like to become. Just as the volunteer work for the Red Cross or the local Volunteer Fire and Rescue Squad points in a direction.

I could go on about vegetable gardening, blacksmithing, stone carving, Arduino robotics, Android application development and other interests but the point for me is that there is only so much time and so much energy that I have to spend each day. Choosing just a few is the hardest thing for me. I know that I am very lucky to have such a problem.

New Policies

For the year of 2016 I am determined to “get out of myself” by:
1. Strengthening ties to other people
2. Being relentlessly positive everyday
3. Finding someone to help everyday
4. Reincorporating meditation in my yoga practice
5. Increasing mean daily steps to 5000 by June 1 and to 7500 by October 1