Monday, January 29, 2018

Growing into our gifts

When the veneer is peeled back to reveal the reality of it, blogging---pretending to offer one’s own insight or wisdom---is like most human activities. It usually says more about the blogger than the world he or she claims to understand.
That was one of those personal insights that bubbled to the surface as I began a deeper look at ‘Becoming,’ especially late-life ‘Becoming.’ For a dozen years or more my stories and blogs have endorsed the virtues of using the gifts we have received and the time we have been given.
Yet rarely have I paused to wonder where that ‘Becoming’ obsession came from, or what it says about me. Then, somewhere in the course of this return to ‘Becoming,’ it began to sink in. For some reason I have developed an aversion to ‘wasting’ the God-given years I have left. I am not sure if that is normal, or even healthy, and I don’t pretend to know why that is, but I am sure that reality will color what follows.


Allow me to introduce Brene Brown, Ph.D. (, an author and research professor at the University of Houston. As I noted in an earlier post, her emphasis on “growing into our gifts” strikes me as another way to frame the notion of 'Becoming.' I happen to believe that her closing remark ---”it’s time to show up and be seen” applies to us October and November types as much as it does to the midlife folks she is addressing.
Here is what she has to say.

I think midlife is when the universe gently places her hand upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear:
“I’m not screwing around. It’s time. All of this pretending and performing - these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt - has to go.
“Your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armor could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy of love and belonging, but you’re still searching and you’re more lost than ever.
“Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging. Courage and daring are coursing through you. You were made to live and love with your whole heart. It’s time to show up and be seen.”


With that, let’s move on to ‘Becoming.’ As I explained a while back I am devoting a few posts to the in-depth exploration of some of the ideas and concepts I have addressed over the years in my writing about seniors, and the daunting world they face. Today’s post, about ‘Becoming,’ deals with a reality I have addressed in both novels and blog posts. 
Perhaps I have returned to the notion of late-life ‘Becoming’ because so many of my peers seem to have settled for the status-quo, as if at their age they have nothing more to give? --- Disclaimer #1 - If that is my reason, it is far too presumptuous of me. How could I possibly know their degree of ‘settling?’ Besides, who am I to judge how they live their lives? I have trouble enough with my own.
On the other hand perhaps this ‘Becoming’ obsession of mine is a purely defensive mechanism, sparked by my own weakness---fueled by the guilt of having wasted so many opportunities, and having left so much of my own life undone. Or could it be that my extended exposure to Wayne Dyer’s mind-bending wisdom has tilted my brain in that direction.
Anyway, no matter the ‘why’ of it, ‘Becoming’ --- making the most of late-life in our own unique way --- has become an important focus of my stories and blogging---including today’s post. There is even a novel, of which I am rather proud, titled Becoming. The series of blogs I posted last summer, and the resulting book---Living With Dying---turned a spotlight on my efforts to continue ‘Becoming’ in the face of a serious medical diagnosis.
Along the way I have learned that in late-life, when the need to chase the almighty dollar is hopefully less urgent, there are many other satisfying reasons to keep ‘Becoming.’ Best of all there are few rules and no ‘right’ way to do that, beyond what you find fulfilling.
It was that thinking which had me subtitling these pages ‘Thriving in late life.’ True, at the time I was referring to our 60s and 70s. Now in my 80s here I am again, back for another bite of the apple. 


So, first things first. Whatever our age and whatever our goal, ‘Becoming’ is a matter of change---of moving our thoughts and actions from Point A to Point B. To be clear, that minimal understanding makes no judgment about whether tomorrow’s Point B, the result of our change, is better or worse than today’s Point A. In the same way ‘Becoming,’ as a process, which does not imply any particular outcome, positive or negative. 
There are other things we know about ‘Change.’ To begin with, it is a given---we are always changing. That is easiest to see over time. Take a moment to recall the person you were five or ten years ago. Can you identify some of the ways that you, the person you know best of all, have changed in that time. Now, take a peek into your crystal ball. Will the ‘you’ that appears four or five years from now look and feel like like today’s ‘you?’ (I realize, of course, that at 81 it is an act of faith to believe I will be here in five years.)


That look into a future we can’t actually see is apt to produce an obvious question. What is it we want to ‘Become?’ As I’ve said, the word itself denotes ‘change.’ And no matter where we are headed we will continue to change. We will not be the same next week as we were last week. That is a given. But can we influence the course and direction of that change? Can we choose the change we want, using our ‘Becoming’ to accomplish or avoid a particular result?
Many of us know how October and November can sneak up on a person. By now our ‘status-quo’ has certainly deteriorated a notch or two. Some of what we could once do, we no longer can. It probably feels like we are decelerating---sometimes slowly, sometimes not so slowly. And there are bound to be times when we believe the opportunity to become more than we are has passed us by. 
I don’t want to sound like I spend my waking hours dwelling on nothing but ‘Becoming.’ Truth be told, it was the Living With Dying series I mentioned earlier that renewed my interest in how I could make better use of the time I have left, be it weeks or years. From that point of view, what options do we have? 
On one hand, we can accept that we are too old and too set in our ways to become something more---whatever that means to us. In that case we can settle for what we have, and remember the good old days, while bemoaning the sad fact that those days are gone forever.
Or instead we can draw on a lifetime of hard-learned lessons to steer us toward a modestly-optimistic use of the gifts we still have in our quiver. Of course, our notions of what amounts to a worthwhile result have changed over the years. In my own hopeful moments I like to believe that my understanding of what makes me ‘whole’ and ‘complete’ has matured with time.
On the plus side, however, I believe that everything we need to create such change is close at hand. Actually, it has always been with us. If I am going to ‘Become’ something more than the person I am now the implied change, however modest it might be, must begin with me. There is no one else who can do that for me.
We are already familiar with the seeds that create change. They are called thoughts, and most of us have them every day---by the thousands. It is our thoughts about a desired result that trigger change, promoting the urge for something more or different---first as a wish, then as a willingness to imagine how a desired change might feel, and finally as a determination to follow through.
Of course our dreams of change must be realistic, as well as age-appropriate. In the end, however, achieving those dreams, whatever they may be, is not nearly as important as knowing in our hearts that we have done our best in that pursuit.


When all is said and done the choice---whether or not to keep moving ahead in our own way, at our own pace---is ours to make. The Divine Life Force I accept as real does not judge how far or how high our Becoming takes us. But rather, the test is how well we live out the Source’s love-based expectations.
To become more than we are today and expend our life energy, however limited it may be, on what we perceive to be a higher purpose---that is my idea of a worthy goal, something to strive for. That is especially true when those energies are pursued in the name of love, kindness, and caring, as opposed to meeting our need for ego-gratification.
You remember, don’t you---those dated images of late-life as ‘rocking chair’ time? I believe we are called to make it more than that. What form of ‘more’ works for us is our choice to make. No matter what we have in mind it will always begins with the same first step---a thoughtful decision to change, to keep Becoming.


It is not often I can include such graphic evidence to support my rambling logic. But when it comes to ‘late-life Becoming,’ and making the most of our senior years there is convincing proof close at hand, in the form of the recently published The New Senior Man, a companion volume to the earlier The New Senior Woman, by my friend Thelma Reese and her late collaborator, Barbara Fleisher
Each of these books is devoted to contemporary examples of ‘Becoming’ in action---profiling dozens of men and women who have found their own very personal way of dealing with late-life. I recently checked out the following reviews for Senior Man, the latest of the two. I encourage you to click on the links below to read what the professionals think. 

    - HuffPost
 - BuyBooksPro
  - Elderchicks

I have read the Senior Man volume from beginning to end. It is an amazing collection of stories that show how ‘Becoming’ can be lived out in many unique and different ways. Disclaimer #2 -- As I noted a couple months ago Thelma and Barbara, the ‘Elderchicks,’ were kind enough to include my October adventure in their assortment of New Senior Men stories
With that you have heard my pitch for ‘Becoming.’ I happen to believe it should be an important fact of late-life. At any age we are on the way to somewhere. Why not chart that course ourselves, rather than trust some random fate to take us somewhere?

Thursday, January 18, 2018

A year later - still spinning our wheels

Once again I have returned to an earlier post, focusing on this new and different world that has me scratching my head. Will this rant of mine change the course of what I fear is our descent? Not likely. Still, there are some things I need to get off my chest before I choke on them.
It was exactly a year ago, as we awaited the beginning of a new presidency, when I first posted my unsettled concerns on these pages. Sad to say, little has happened in the ensuing year---with its party-bound politics, lack of civility, and the apparent demise of everyday truth---to soften my grim uneasiness. 
True, the new tax measures promise to spur the economy. That can’t be bad---though the full price of that windfall remains to be measured and paid. The economy, however, was the least of my worries a year ago, and remains so today.


As you might expect, over the years I’ve had a few folks take exception with my depiction of our 60s and 70s as “only” October. So far no one has argued for “September,” but quite a few of you have suggested a later month. 
Having recently crossed into my eighty-first year, these days “November” better describes my mood and physical capabilities. Heck, I’ve probably dipped a toe in “December” a time or two. So it was, a while back, that I stepped forward to add “and November too” to the blog’s title.
But of course my use of “October” was never meant to be simply about age. It also denotes a state of mind. More to the point, like the month of October on a calendar, our October and November Years are times of harvest---times to gather the fruits (Some of them dried and withered) of the seeds we’ve sown in the course of a lifetime and the things we’ve learned along the way. I happen to believe that even in these late-life years there are ways we can put that experience of ours to good use.
        I will admit that one of the risks I faced in telling the October stories I told was the temptation to dwell on the maudlin---stressing the negatives and hardships of late life. Of course, by this stage of the game we’ve had our share of bumpy roads and unexpected detours. And there will be more of those. If we’ve been paying attention at all we should expect that. 
But today I am prompted to move beyond those individual circumstances to address something I find even more upsetting ---something for which my personal life journey and the life views I have accumulated along the way have not adequately prepared me to deal with.
You see, if you are my age, odds are infirmity and distress have been part of your personal experience. Most of us have learned to accept that. Yet it seems that every day this November mind of mine struggles to make sense of a more sinister form of reality---the cultural infirmity and divisive distress that plague our society. 
What I perceive as the chaotic unraveling of our national persona has me wondering how much I overlooked as a younger person. Have things always been like this? Was I just too blind to notice? Have we as a  nation been lulled into complacency by decades of relatively-civilized peace? Are we simply experiencing a regression to the human norm, or has there been a fundamental change in the path of social evolution---a new “human norm” being created before our eyes?
How else would you interpret the headlines that assault our sensibilities daily? On the local level it feels like every morning’s newspaper and every evening’s newscast provides new evidence of predators and perverts, addicts and con-men, not to mention politicians gone amuck. Have we simply become accepting of an unprecedented scale of violence and mayhem? 
Have we grown so numb that we look right past the all-too-obvious warning signs---middle-school girls being bullied to death---wide-eyed young men unleashing their lethal revenge in our high schools---an ever-increasing number of us, young and old, dependent on mind-altering pharmaceuticals? There are times when it feels like our beloved nation is drowning in a tsunami of insanity.
And while our towns and neighborhoods struggle to stay afloat, our national political dysfunction continues to stir the flames of discord. Finger pointing and blame have displaced bipartisan problem solving. In a world of spiteful politics and crushing, always mounting debt, most of which will never be repaid, I fear the great majority of us are being hung out to dry. 
Meanwhile the Wall Street and Washington vultures slowly circle, fighting to get an even larger piece of the pie before it vanishes into the economic quicksand. The supposedly “drained swamp” still hides menacing creatures, and smells as bad as ever.
Surely I am not the only one who wonders what has happened to the world we knew. It becomes harder and harder to recognize the country where I grew up and perhaps thought I understood. Small wonder the October characters I wrote about were apt to stumble as they tried to make sense of it.
Again, my question is simple enough. Has it always been like this? We may have grown up hearing our parents and grand-parents grumble about “the younger generation,” and how things were not this bad in “the good old days.” Sometimes they even hinted of ancient cultures where age was venerated, and equated with wisdom. Truth to tell, I’m getting old, but the wisdom and understanding I had hoped to gain seem to have eluded me.
So, are today’s headlines just more of the same? Did the world of our childhood and adolescence always include the troubles we read about now and watch on the tube? And if it did, is it the scale and frequency of those problems that has changed---or is our increased awareness simply a matter of more thorough and divisive reporting, better police work, and cameras on every street corner? 
Whether or not our generation is dealing with something new and different, I have no doubt that for many of us, this crazy new world impacts our ability to “thrive in our 60s and 70s.” If so, I’d say that makes it an October issue.
I would appreciate your help here, your input. If you wish, I hope you'll pass this on to your October  and November friends. (The email link below is easy to use.) As always I'd be interested in hearing your input via “Reply.” (below) 

With that, I will try to calm down a bit in time for the next post. (Who hid the scotch?)

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy Healing

Happy New Year to all. 2018 is only hours old and already it has me off on a new tangent. Fact is, I did not plan to be writing this. The inspiration---if I may be bold enough to call it that----seemed to arrive out of the blue. I’ll bet that’s happened to you. The path you set out to follow, the one that seemed so right, even tempting, yesterday seems to have lost its appeal. I’m not sure where this detour will take me, but I am willing to spend a day or two to find out.
You see, I have spent years weaving ideas, some of them important and some rather trivial, into stories about late life. It has been an enjoyable challenge---telling what I believe are true-to-life tales about today’s seniors---wrapping the lives of those  friends I have created out of thin air in the values, virtues, and vices that seemed to me worth depicting. 
But I will admit there have been times along the way when I was tempted to forego the storytelling part, and instead take time to focus on those October/November values, virtues, and vices in greater depth than a fictional narrative allows. There are things that happen to us every day---things we too often let pass without notice. With that in mind I decided that for the next few weeks I will concentrate my blogging efforts on recalling the lessons learned in those special moments and how blessed I am to have had them in my lives.
If you are a late-lifer like me, chances are you view the world from the relative quiet of an October/November perch. From there we sometimes revisit the times and events that shaped our lives. In our more reflective moments we may even consider which of our efforts have been worthy and worthwhile, and which have been a waste of time.
That certainly holds true for this old guy, who claims to tell stories about folks living out their October years. As I said before, of late I have felt less committed to telling those stories, and more inclined to dwell on the hard-learned realities they were meant to illustrate. Having spent a lifetime learning those lessons, perhaps it is not surprising that I want to explore some of the more important ones in depth, without the distraction of weaving them into a story.
That’s what I hope today’s post will be---an in-depth look at one of those realities we have dealt with for a lifetime, but have perhaps never given the attention it deserves. Hopefully by the time we are done you will have spent a few minutes remembering the ways you and your life have been touched by this bit of magic. Whether you consider it a virtue or a vice, it is something everyone of us has experienced, and been thankful for.
At this stage of the game I want to focus on what seems to me the heart of the matter---the handful of lessons that make their way into my thoughts when I leave the door opened a crack. That is exactly what happened a couple nights ago, when a particular notion, or more precisely a particular word, caught my attention.

The word in question was “Healing,” a plain, but powerful, word that everyone can relate to. In the course of our lifetime each of us has been healed many times, in many ways. Truth is, we are constantly in the process of being healed, sometimes successfully, sometimes less so. In any case, for reasons I still don’t understand, my midnight thoughts settled on that seemingly unremarkable word, and a rather remarkable truth I don’t remember considering before---that being healed is one of life’s great blessings. 
Some of the best moments of my life, and yours too, have been times of healing, when we are made well and wholeness has been restored. You know the feeling. Having endured a time of infirmity or deprivation, you are restored to your allotted degree of health and wholeness. That welcome reprieve can arrive in many forms---physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual to name a few. But whatever the burden that has been lifted from your shoulders, the resulting wholeness has qualified as healing.
Like I said, it is a good word, one of many lurking behind those mind doors. There are so many interesting possibilities to choose from---words and ideas I have explored in my stories. I look forward to dwelling on some of the others in future posts---topics like ‘life choices made,’ ‘what is really important,’ ‘starting over,’ ‘family and friends,’ ‘trials and temptation,’ ‘lingering hatred,’ or the old standby ‘true love.’ It is hard to know why, with all those candidates waiting to be explored, it was ‘Healing’ that captured my thoughts the other night, but it did.
So, as I put my thoughts on paper I hope you will take time to refer to your own moments of healing and restoration. I invite you to consider your personal experience---comparing your insights on the universal reality of healing to mine. After all, healing is an important part of life at any age, but especially old age.

To begin with, I submit that our word-of-the-day---Healing---describes one of life’s greatest blessings. It is also an incredibly versatile word, that can be used in many different ways, to mean many different things. But in every instance it implies ‘making healthy’ or ‘returning to a higher degree of wholeness.’
We most often think of ‘healing’ in terms of physical health. We sometimes refer to health care professions as the ‘healing arts.’ And thankfully they are all that and more. Everyone of us can cite examples how healing has restored health and wholeness to ourselves and loved ones. 
Still, we understand that ‘being healed’ is not the same as ‘being cured.’ Our October/November world is full of people like me who have had more than one brush with cancer or some other life-threatening condition, and been returned to a satisfying and functional lifestyle---without being ‘cured.’
Still, whether our search for physical healing has led us to health-care professionals, faith-based spiritual gurus, or sincere thanks for a fortunate genetic inheritance---at one time or another each of us has sensed the comforting warmth of having been made well again.

We realize too that those moments of blessed healing will not last forever. The time will come, tomorrow or ten years from now, when some form of misfortune will once again have us wishing and praying for a new round of healing. Yet, we must not allow that blunt realization to lessen our gratitude for the welcome healing we have experienced in times past.
We are, after all, a vulnerable species. As long as we live our need for restoration, in one form or another, will never end. Beyond that, we know by now that late-life healing is a relative thing. No matter how well the bones heal or the new knee works I will never dunk a basketball again. (Not that I ever could.) I know by now that October/November ‘wholeness’ is at best a mental judgment, a willingness to accept a level of renewal in keeping with the rest of my late-life existence. Truth is, by this time of life it seems we are always healing in one way or another.
For example, Roma’s pacemaker arrived as a mechanical means of coping, not curing. My new round of immunology therapy is simply the next step in an ongoing cancer coping journey. On the very afternoon I started to create my first notes about healing, our daughter Amy lay in a hospital bed, recovering from the ordeal of donating a kidney---itself the very definition of a blessed healing act.

Healing, however, can mean more than restoring a broken or infirmed body. Some of our most satisfying healing experiences, the ones that have touched us most deeply, had nothing to do with mended bones, restored organs, or renewed health. The same sense of ‘being made whole’ that we usually associate with physical healing applies just as well to other facets of our being. There are innumerable non-physical conditions on our October/November plate---vital elements of our being---that may need restoration and wholeness. Truth is, there are some infirmities the army of caregivers, who stand ready to serve us with their skills and pills, cannot heal.
By this time of life we may be alone or isolated, perhaps dwelling on wrong turns taken in the past, or ‘what if’ moments we managed to misplay. We may be in need of another, more personal, sort of healing---something beyond physical restoration. Perhaps it is a hard-to-define blend of emotional, mental, and spiritual infirmity that has us seeking, in our own way, a more satisfying sort of non-physical healing. Hopefully by this time of life we have cultivated our own means of addressing those intangible healing possibilities.
And for some there are more intimate and personal sorts of ‘unwholeness’ begging to be healed. Relational health---getting along with family and friends---is an important part of a ‘whole’ life. If that is a problem for us, perhaps it is time to mend the relational bridges we have burned over the years. At any time of life, but especially in our October/November years, restored and revitalized personal relationships are a most notable sort of healing.
And then, of course, there is perhaps the most vital and satisfying form of restoration---Spiritual Healing--the soul-deep wholeness we all seek, no matter what we call it. There will be no miracle drugs, space-age cures, or other short cuts to help us accomplish that. A million books have been written on the subject, each claiming to show the way to spiritual health. Yet in the end it is our personal inner compass, not someone else’s advice, that will guide us on that most personal of faith journeys.

Finally, as you can certainly see by now, I am not here to tell you anything you don’t already know. I do hope, however, that a few minutes spent revisiting the notion of ‘healing’ will help each of us shine a light on our own blessings of healing and wholeness---and perhaps renew our sense of awe at how fortunate we have been, in ways we don’t always stop to appreciate.

In the course of our lifetime we have been healed over and over. But it is not our passing acknowledgment of that healing which matters. Instead, it is our expression of gratitude that validates how good life has been to us.